Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: Nearly A Lady by Alissa Johnson

I just finished Alissa Johnson's Nearly a Lady. It was a very humorous and sweet romance. It is not, unfortunately, a clean romance.  
From Goodreads: Lord Gideon Haverston wanted to right his family's wrongs. So when he promises young Winnefred Blythe the money that his stepmother had cheated her out of over the years, he expects to be greeted as a hero. But the situation is much more complicated than Gideon had expected-and the task of taming the untrusting Winnefred much more alluring.

So, here are my thoughts as an aspiring writer.

First, there is a prologue. I believe it is unnecessary, as the information contained in it could have been relayed in other parts of the book. However, it is from a certain POV that is not found in the rest of the book and tries to establish the importance of a woman named Rose.

The book is sectioned into two halves -- Scotland and London. If it were to follow the three act structure, then we would have:
Inciting Event: Gideon comes.
First Plot Point: Gideon's dreams and Winnefred's attempts to comfort him
Midpoint: Going to London
Third Plot Point: Ball where Gideon feels jealousy for regarding Winnefred's attentions to another man

Character Arcs: The main character arc is with Gideon. On page 40 (13% of the way through the novel) the narrator declares in his POV that: "Gideon had made one promise and one promise only. Never again would he be responsible for the well-being of another person." This is a result of an ill-fated battle at sea where he feels he failed to protect the people in his care. For the first half of the book he tries to stay away from the ladies as much as possible (especially Winnefred). Then, on the way to London (the midpoint), he starts to take care of her. Through the second half of the second act he is doting on her and taking care of her in all sorts of ways with the belief that he can withdraw, that he is only hurting himself, and that he will withdraw his affections in the end. In the third act he realizes that he is in love with Winnefred and, by the climax, that he wants to take care of her because he can no longer live without her.

The other character arc is Winnefred's. She believes that something is wrong with her because she has been cast off so many times. The only person to stay with her is Lilly, and even Lilly wants to live in London. She tentatively begins to believe that Gideon can love her, and during the second half of the second act she debates if he has feelings for her as she is or if he loves the person he thinks she will become. At the climax she realizes that he loves her just the way she is.

Here are some things I found interesting in the writing:

The first 4 scenes open with dialogue.  The first two are a direct reference to life or death ("Move so much as a finger, and I'll blow a hole clean through you." and "Is he dead, then? Did we kill him?") which is a very efficient way to draw the reader immediately into the story.

The opening two chapters presents questions and then answers them rather quickly.
First scene: who holds the gun?
Second scene: the ladies. What are the ladies going to do now that they've knocked him out?
Third scene: Pretend they saved him from ruffians. Why were the ladies living in poverty?
Fourth scene: Characters become developed and we are now invested in the story.
Fifth scene: The ladies are living in poverty because they weren't receiving the 80 pounds per annum they were supposed to. They were only receiving 5 pounds. And the story is off and running and I'm loving it.

I love the few times when this author uses repetition in her paragraphs. Like this: "Oh, yes, everything about the man spoke of an uncommon physical strength. And everything about that had an uncommon effect on her."
or this: "Never before had she met someone capable of making her laugh and dream, wonder and want in the space of an hour, and then make her laugh and dream, wonder and want all over again in the next."

The two main characters are great.
Gideon speaks the tangents he thinks, making him unpredictable and quite hilarious in a witty way. He has a limp from his time as a naval captain.
Winnefred is just as witty. She speaks to her pet goat. She has a few 'save the cat' moments to help us like her (ie, she took in the goat, she teaches a boy in prison to read, etc). She is a country rustic that speaks her mind. We end up loving Lilly because Winnefred loves Lilly, and we end up rooting for Lilly to get with the man she loves because Winnefred wants her to.

Thoughts about the romance
  • Winnefred notices Gideon is handsome in the third scene.
  • Gideon decides Winnefred is beautiful four paragraphs later.
  • A few pages later he starts to do things to see her reaction.
  • Then he catches her in an awkward situation and helps her out. Her body reacts to his touch ("For reasons she couldn't or didn't want to name, the sensation sent pinpricks of heat along her spine.")
  • There are a few more touches, one of which seems out of character for Gideon but leads to a sweet moment.
  • After the first day Winnefred thinks of Gideon as 'endearing' and by the second day Gideon is having quite deep physical thoughts about her.
  • After that it continues to build between them.
  • By page 50 (16% of the way through the book) the narrator openly states, "She was attracted to Lord Gideon Haverston".
  • A week passes in a sentence and we take back up with much deeper feelings of attraction on both sides.
  • They observe each other while the other is unaware of the observation.
Much of the physical attraction is a surprise to each person and out of their control. In the end there is the relationship based on characteristics that adds depth to the attraction, but in the beginning it is all physical and 'surprising' and beyond the control of the character, especially for Gideon.

Lines I love
-Winnefred shoved Lilly inside and slammed the door behind her decisively. "We can, and we will. If I can leave Claire"--and oh, how that thought tore at her heart--"I can bloody well leave him."
"Claire is a goat, Winnedfred."

-Gideon wondered if she'd helped her friend in the stable last night. He certainly hoped so. Being knocked unconscious by two small women was a degree better than being knocked unconscious by just the one.

-"A moment, Winnefred. Do you mind if I call you Winnefred?"
"Excellent." He cut her off for the simple pleasure of watching those golden eyes flash a little in temper.

-Shelves along the far wall displayed dishes, cooking utensils, medicinal supplies, and an array of knickknacks women everywhere--to the bafflement of men everywhere--felt compelled to collect and showcase . . . .

-For a few awful seconds, Winnefred stood, stunned, with her arms above her head and her face hidden in the folds of her skirt. She'd seen a drawing of a turtle once, and had the ridiculous thought that she very much resembled one now.

-Gideon wondered if a few weeks would be several years too short a time to polish the girl up, but he thought it best not to voice that concern.

-That question was greeted with narrowed eyes that held a hint of humor. "A change of subject on your part does not constitute an agreement on mine."

-"Why raw?"
"Why . . . I'm sorry?"
"Why eat my heart raw?" he repeated. "It's such an odd qualifier, as if it were assumed I'd prefer it first be roasted and smothered in a fine plum sauce."
"Plum sauce?" Her mouth fell open, and a bubble of laughter escaped from her throat. "I think you are mad."
"I'm curious. Would the act of cooking really render the deed less barbaric? And what of the rest of dining etiquette? Is anything permissible? Silverware, for example, or napkins? A seat at the table and a glass of port?"
Her amber eyes began to dance with humor, and her lips trembled with suppressed laughter. "I'm going to take my leave now. Good day, Lord Gideon."
"Could there be side dishes and lively conversation?" He lifted his voice as she spun on her heel and walked away from him, Claire shuffling along at her side. "'Pass the rolls, Mrs. Butley, and another helping of Lord Gideon's raw heart. No, no, just use your fingers, dear, he's being punished.'"
He heard her laughter echoing back to him. Unable to look away, he continued to watch her move away from him toward the house....

-"If, upon meeting these men, I decide you would be better off outside the prison--"
"It's a prison. Everyone is better off outside--"

-If she refused, he would turn the carriage around and take them back to Murdoch House. Possibly, he would attempt to lock her in her chambers. Certainly, she would resist. It would all be very ugly.

-Winnefred turned to Gideon as Mr. Clarkson disappeared down the hall. "You frightened him."
"I didn't say a word to the man."
"You didn't need to." She gestured at him with her free hand. "You just stand there, looking . . . foreboding. I'm sure it can be very disconcerting for some."
"Can it?" He frowned a little in thought. "I find that surprisingly rewarding to hear."
She rolled her eyes and pushed her basket at him. "Here. If you cannot be pleasant, you can at least be useful.

-"Connor will do," the man finished for her.
She gave him an annoyed look. "Fine. Connor Willdo."

-"As the petals of an orchid," he crooned poetically and--in her opinion--stupidly. "As a single snowflake in spring."

-She was drooling on Gideon...
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"There was no reason for it."...
"Easy for you to say." His dignity hadn't dribbled slowly out of his mouth for the last few miles.

-"What is a lippet?"
A word she'd made up on the spot, but she wasn't about to admit that. She smiled instead, winked, and walked away.

Lines to remember for writing
-Miss Blythe opened her mouth as if to say something--something unpleasant if her expression was any indication of her thoughts--but closed it again when Miss Ilestone gave one, almost imperceptible, shake of her head.

-Gideon thought this new information through carefully before speaking.

-One corner of her mouth hitched up.

-Most certainly not from handsome men whose presence made her feel strangely restless, as if she wasn't quite comfortable in her own skin.
It was the oddest sensation, the way her heart had tripped and her skin had prickled.... There had been a pleasant tightening in her belly and an unexpected temptation to shuffle her feet closer until they were standing arm to arm.

-It was, without question, a "you are the dearest, cleverest, most wonderful of men" sort of smile.
Simply put, she beamed at him, and Gideon felt the power of it down to his toes. Her amber eyes lit up, her full lips parted, and her face flushed a lovely shade of peach. She looked, he thought, altogether too tempting.
He cleared his throat, pulled out another box, and very nearly shoved it at her.

-His heart sped of its own accord. It seemed to always do so when he caught sight of her. And he seemed to always be torn between turning his eyes and thoughts away and lingering to watch.

-He shouldn't have touched her again. He knew it even before he'd reached out with his hand. But he'd been unable to stop himself.

-...but it was the kindness of it that made her chest tighten and the air catch in her lungs....

-She shuffled her feet, bit her lip, and told herself....

-He shut the book carefully, placed it on the side table carefully, and spoke so very carefully, he succeeded in unnerving her a little.

-He bent his head a little to catch her eye.

-...she could smell his soap.

-....the muscle still working in his jaw.

-Maybe it was simply that she was wrong. Maybe there were good reasons why people like her father and the Engslys had rejected her in the past. Maybe Gideon's tastes, like theirs, simply did not run to unsophisticated hoydens. Maybe she just wasn't likable. Maybe she wasn't worth the trouble . . .

-Other times she caught him watching her through hooded lids, and every nerve in her body would jump to life.

-...she teased, hoping to change the subject before either her limited education or her embarrassment at her limited education became obvious.

-She felt a cool hand slip under her neck and she swatted at it without thought and with even less force.

-His scowl briefly intensified....

-It was absurd, and it was the trip from Scotland that was to blame. He'd grown used to being able to talk to her anytime he wanted, and feeling the warmth of her pressed against his side, and seeing the details of her face with just the slightest turn of his head. He'd become so accustomed to having her there, right there next to him, that he found he could no longer go the day without needing to see her. Even the space of a few hours made him feel restless and dissatisfied.

-She wanted to leave her little corner of the ballroom so she could go and tell him of the happy realization she'd come to about her visit to London, and how she had bluffed Lilly into dancing, and every detail of everything else that had occurred since they'd spoken last.

-She looked at the ground and put her hands on her hips the way a person did when they were trying to catch their breath.

-Sometimes, hope could wound deeper than a rejection and damage more than just the heart.

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