Recent Reading: Harlequin TBR #514 and more

I do love plane flights for letting me catch up on my reading. I managed two TBR books and a recent release; two of the three were quite short but all were enjoyable.

Harlequin TBR #514: The Vicar’s Daughter by Betty Neels

Vicars daughter cover

Another Neels in my Harlequin ebook TBR that I remembered nothing about, but someone in my Goodreads feed reviewed it positively and I wanted a Christmas read so I read it out of order. As I read, I placed it as a late-era Betty that I didn’t enjoy that much. But this time around it was different. Like most of the newer ones it was shorter than the older ones in terms of wordcount, which meant that the tropes were all there but more sketchily presented. In spite of this, though, the plot point which brings our plain-but-with-beautiful eyes heroine together with her massive-Dutch-Doctor hero was written so effectively that it carried the rest of the story and had me believing in the HEA.

Margo is indeed a vicar’s daugher and lives in a small village where she does vicar’s daughter-ish things and will probably marry a local farmer becasue that’s her best option. Then Gijs van Kessel enters her life and when a tragedy brings them closer together, they embark on a marriage of convenience. There are all the requisite Betty touches: lashings of cream, Margo getting lost and being rescued by Gijs, a Big Mis that delays their mutual declarations of love, and Christmas celebrations. It’s a slight book overall, but it has a couple of scenes that elevate it above the average.

New York, Actually by Sarah Morgan

New York Actually cover

This is the first of Morgan’s dog-centered sibling trilogy and the 4th in her From Manhattan With Love series. It’s been in my TBR since it came out but I didn’t buy it from Harlequin so it doesn’t have a number.

Daniel and Molly are two people who are convinced they are unable to fall in love … and over the course of the novel they fall in love with each other. And they’re perfect for each other. Molly is a Dear Abby type columnist, a psychologist by training who understands relationships well, as long as they aren’t her own. Daniel, a divorce lawyer, protects women who are trying to get rid of their no-good husbands without hurting the childen. He’s a teddy bear in shark’s clothing.

Both are drawn together through their relationship to dogs. Molly has a Dalmatian she lavishes all her love and attention on, while Daniel borrows a dog from his sister’s dog-sitting and fostering service so that he can meet Molly. But of course he falls for his dog, almost more reluctantly than he falls for Molly. Both the human have deep traumas, which they hide from each other as they assure themselves that they can totally do the friends-with-benefits thing without getting emotionally involved.

Morgan’s Manhattan books are basically Tourist New York books, which is not a criticism but a description. They are set in a fairyland of twinkling lights, leafy green Central Park, delicious, always-hot-on-delivery pizza, and generally affable and friendly residents. Everyone is from somewhere else. It’s not the New York I lived in (not least because I was a confirmed Upper West Side person and these are set on the Upper East Side), but that’s OK. The characters are warm, generous, and behave mostly like grown-ups, and the supporting cast give the central couple friends and found family.

Molly is a sweet and mostly smart heroine, although she was awfully plot-conveniently gullible in her past. Daniel is a patented Morgan hero, ruthless but in a good cause with a loving marshmallow core. And the dogs. If you’re not a dog person, I don’t know how well this will work for you. But if you are, you will recognize the lavishing of love on a dog (and the reciprocity they provide) when you aren’t able to lavish that love on a human.

Elevation by Stephen King

elevation cover

I picked this up on impulse when I went into my local public library branch to check out some books I had on hold. It’s a lovely hardback edition, although I would have balked at paying $20 for what is essentially a novelette. But King writes great short stories, and I really enjoyed this one. 

The Goodreads reviews are quite divided, partly because while this has a supernatural element, it’s not a horror novel. It’s a sweet, good-hearted parable set during the fall and holiday season in Castle Rock, King’s favorite small town. The characters are archetypes, as you might expect in this kind of a story, and the emphasis is on overcoming ideological divisions and prejudices to be good neighbors, friends, and citizens. It’s absolutely a holiday trifle, but it’s a Stephen King holiday trifle, which means it’s very well written and deceptively simple. It made me feel good when I closed the book, even though parts of it are quite sad. I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline because even though you will probably  know what’s coming it is more fun to learn it yourself. For me, this was just what I needed as a respite from our annus horribilis.

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7 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Harlequin TBR #514 and more

  1. Re the Morgan. I’m not sure I could buy a trained psychologist and advice type columnist who lacks self-awareness when it comes to her own relationships. Or rather, I’m not sure such a person could make a good advice columnist. Also, does Daniel have any cynicism about marriage due what he has seen in the course of his career as a divorce lawyer?

    You’ve made me curious about the King.

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    1. I suspended disbelief on Molly lack of self-awareness because I read it as blocking more than an inability to understand herself. She needed to make sense of trauma and she used her training to do that in a way that wasn’t healthy. I don’t think that’s unusual; lots of psychologists are in therapy themselves, of course, and this character is quite young. It seemed possible to me that she was still learning how to deal with things.

      Daniel became a divorce lawyer in part because of his mother’s experience with his father. I didn’t see him as cynical because of his profession so much as cynical because of his childhood. He was actually quite admirable in his professional work, although his own experiences did color how he approached adversarial cases.

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  2. Just put the King on hold at the library thanks to your write-up.
    I liked ‘The Vicar’s Daughter’ well enough, but my favorite late era Betty Xmas story is ‘The Mistletoe Kiss’. It is all kinds of improbable in the setting, but wonderful in the relationship department.
    I keep trying Sarah Morgan–both romance and her forays into women’s fiction–and she just doesn’t work for me. I have added her name to my ‘not for me’ list of authors. I keep reminding myself that not every author works for every reader.

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    1. I think I read The Mistletoe Kiss not that long ago (perhaps on your recommendation!) and liked it quite a bit. I think what happened to me with the later Neels books is that I was expecting them to be too much like the early ones, and that’s not judging them on their own terms. All Harlequins have changed over the years and authors have changed their styles as well.

      I totally get what you’re saying about Morgan being not for you. I have a list of those too, also with authors that other readers love and I would ordinarily expect to. But there’s an alchemy between author and reader, especially in genre, and it either happens or it doesn’t.

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    2. Huh. I just checked my Calibre TBR and I haven’t read The Mistletoe Kiss, even though I bought it last December. Maybe I remembered buying it but then didn’t actually get to it. I’ll have to read it and report back!

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  3. Eep! The Stephen King book is super expensive – Nearly $13 for the ebook. I’ll ask my library to get it in I think. I remember looking at it a while back and thinking it might be an interesting read for something different.

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    1. It’s ridiculously expensive. Yes, it’s a lovely print edition, but come on, for an ebook you’re paying novel prices for a novelette or at best a novella (Kobo has it at 20k words). I read it in an hour, and I wasn’t rushing.

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