Thursday, March 29, 2012

Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel

March Reading Challenge:

- read a book whose author either has a three-word name or carries an official middle initial.
- read a book that you have previously started and meant to continue, but keep failing to do so.

- read a book that is set in Scotland or has a Highlander as a character.
- read a book with a medical theme, plot, cover, or setting.

International Womens’ Month: – read a book that has a single female figure on the cover.
Reading Romance’s Blogiversary: – read a book that has been reviewed or featured at the blog!

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There is a beautiful strangeness to Carolyn Jewel's writing. Her characters are jagged and raw around the edges -- flawed and imperfect -- and their conversations reflect this sort of roughness. And yet these conversations make her characters very real. Their speech is not planned or practiced or elegant or eloquent – but borne of spontaneity and personality.

Lily Wellstone is in Bitterward to visit her grieving friend, Ginny, the Duke of Mountjoy's younger sister. When she first meets him, despite his awkward appearance and ill-fitting clothes, she is instantly drawn to him. Even when given a choice between the shiny and polished Nigel and the Duke, Lily's whole being gravitates toward Mountjoy.

I wasn't certain I would like Lily Wellstone. My first impression of her was that she was vain. She's too aware of the colors she wears – and which seat/setting would best show her off.

Lily … strolled to a love seat upholstered in dark green velvet. The green would make a striking contrast with her primrose gown. She was never going to marry, for her heart was no longer available for such emotion. But that was no reason not to show herself to advantage when the opportunity arose.
p. 19

The predominant color of the Prussian salon was blue. There was, in fact, a sofa in a gorgeous shade of the blue after that name. “You're right about the rose frock. I'll wear that.” … The ash pink bodice would look delectable when she sat on that Prussian blue sofa.
p. 246

And her vanity extends to having everything conform to her tastes -- in the story, she asks Mountjoy's permission to improve his wardrobe.

But Carolyn Jewel also shows us the other aspects of Lily. Lily, the caring friend who left her own estate to be with her grieving friend. Lily, who wants Ginny to be healthy and happy. Lily who longs for family and connections. Lily, who seems to be the very embodiment of life --

When we are first shown Bitterward, it is raining and gloomy. Everything seems gray and bleak -- there is an almost gothic element to her first meeting with the Duke of Mountjoy. But Lily seems to bring sunshine with her -- and it does not rain once, during the months that she stays in Mountjoy's estate.

She thinks of silly games and activities for herself and Ginny and Nigel -- and her joie de vivre is infectious. At the end of the novel, it seems that everything is better and brighter, including the Duke of Mountjoy.

The Duke hadn't always lived the privileged life. He and siblings grew up as farmer's children and he has never forgotten his roots. Being with Lily makes the Duke realize that he should leave his past behind and step into the present. As he gradually transforms his wardrobe, his whole self also transforms and he realizes the importance of his role in his community … and realizes the importance of having Lily in his life for more than just a holiday.

Carolyn Jewel's Not Wicked Enough has some hints of My Fair Lady (or George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion) -- but Jewel has cleverly turned the tables -- it is the Duke that needs polishing but this does not mean Lily comes away unaffected. Every encounter with the duke chips away at her frozen heart, a heart that she has long thought incapable of any more emotion.

There is also a strangeness to Jewel's writing -- it is unsentimental and her prose is dense with detail and innuendo. Readers might be a bit jarred by the lack of drama and sweetness.

I also did not like the treasure hunting scene -- it was out of lark and would have been more plausible if they ended up spending the day digging. But to actually find a cache of treasure?

Moreover, aside from Lily, the rest of the characters bordered on flatness. Was this the author's intent? (Even Lily was in danger of being two-dimensional.) Jane Kirk, Mountjoy's original “intended” suffered from unequal treatment -- her scenes in the novel involved her walking, or being cold and aloof to Mountjoy or standing spectator to Lily's games and activities. (No wonder Mountjoy preferred Lily.) The one other character that stood out was Lord Fenris and I'm glad that he's getting his story told next. ^_^

I have enjoyed Carolyn Jewel's historicals. I've read Scandal, Indiscreet, The Spare and Lord Ruin and I am glad that Stolen Love is out on Kindle. I am still looking for Passion's Song.

I've waited patiently for her to publish Not Wicked Enough (she wrote paranormal romance for a while after Indiscreet) and I look forward to the next installment in her Seducing the Scoundrels series, Not Proper Enough, which features Ginny and Lord Fenris.

Final note: I love how Carolyn Jewel describes Mountjoy's attraction to Lily as “bewildering” – ^_^



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