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TBR Challenge – It's RITA Time!

prospero Note: This year’s RITA awards will be held next week at the RWA National Conference, so the July multi-blog challenge is focusing on reading RITA nominees and winners.

My choice for the multi-blog TBR challenge was Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler, a RITA award winner in 2004. I loved it – it’s a beautifully written and tender romance in which an ex-soldier helps a badly injured young woman to recapture her spirit and zest for life in the face of the neglect of her seemingly perfect family. Morgan Pearce is inveigled by a friend into visiting the friend’s father to assist him in writing his memoirs. Not long after his arrival, Morgan literally stumbles across a lonely young woman sitting in a bath chair in the gardens, seemingly abandoned. She is Miranda Runyon, a relative who lost her parents in an accident three years previously, and who was left seriously injured. Her family has basically shut her away and now ignores her existence, and Miranda, once a vital, independent young woman, has more or less given up.

Morgan thinks he can help her – but she wants none of it and tries repeatedly to send him away. But Morgan saw many wounded soldiers during his time in the army, and knows some of what lies behind Miranda’s determination to repulse his efforts. So he persists – and initially, his treatment of her is of the “cruel to be kind” variety. He doesn’t stop talking, and continually says things he knows will needle her, which eventually provoke a response. He knows there’s a woman of spirit inside the feeble body, and eventually, Miranda comes to see that perhaps her life is something worth fighting for after all.

For a category-length story, it has a lot of depth, and the romance – although the couple never progresses beyond kisses – is passionate and filled with longing. It’s one of my favourite kinds of romance – one where the protagonists aren’t initially attracted to each other and form a strong friendship until something changes and they begin to see each other in a different light.

It’s easy to see why Prospero’s Daughter was a winner. It’s very well-written and treats a difficult subject with great sensitivity. A I wish Ms Butler’s back-catalogue was available in digital formats. It would save me a fortune in postage!

– Caz Owens
fromthisday For my jaunt into the RITA archives, I went looking for a book in my TBR that fit the category but that had not already been reviewed here. That search took me back to the 1986 winner of the RITA for Best Inspirational Romance, From This Day Forward by Kathleen Karr. It’s really more of a coming of age/YA novel than a pure romance, and it’s a bit of an uneven read – I’d probably give it a C+ overall. However, I have to say that the setting and the backstory on this book are definitely unique.

We first meet Maggie McDonald as a ten year old child growing up on an isolated farm somewhere in Ohio in the 1830s. And I do mean isolated. Aside from a once-yearly revival meeting and the occasional traveling peddler, Maggie doesn’t often see anyone outside of her family. The chance arrival of a bookseller and his son is a major event for Maggie and her entire family. And the best part for her? The bookseller’s son, Johnny Stewart, starts teaching her to read.

What follows is almost as much about Maggie’s love affair with the written word as it is Maggie and Johnny’s love story. The book follows the next seven years, showing how Maggie and Johnny grow ever closer during Johnny’s once-a-year sojourns on the McDonald farm. It’s actually a rather sweet journey from childhood friendship into adult love. At times it’s a little on the overly cutesy side, but not unbearably so. The author doesn’t gloss over the hard work and relative poverty of the characters’ lives, but she does temper it by focusing more on the happier parts of their lives and the love that they have for each other.

However, as much as I enjoyed the first part of the book, the second portion often felt a bit tedious. The second part of the book follows Maggie and Johnny on their journeys after they marry. We get adorable orphans(an annoying Romlandia trope going back decades it seems), and plotting that was probably meant to feel heartwarming but which came across as cheesy and eyeroll-inducing instead. Perhaps if we spent more time getting to know Maggie and Johnny the story could have worked, but given the rather short (less than 200 pages) length, the author crams way too much plot action into the book and characterization definitely suffers. In the end, this is an interesting look at a time period in American history we don’t get to visit often as readers but I’m not so sure that it would be an award winner nowadays. If you want to try it for yourself, it’s only $0.99 for Kindle so not too much of a risk.

– Lynn Spencer
heywood inheritance The Days of the Week Challenge for Saturday lists one of the prompts as Read a book where the hero or heroine is or becomes wealthy. I knew I had a book in the “by the bed” pile that would suit – an old regency from 1975 by Catherine Fellows called The Heywood Inheritance.

The story opens with Sara Heywood discovering that she has been left the bulk of the family property and fortune in her late grandfather’s will – much to the chagrin of her brother, cousins and aunt. The catch is that she will remain in possession of said fortune and property until she either marries – in which case she will be provided with a dowry of fifty-thousand pounds –or dies. When either of those things come to pass, all the other bequests will be paid out.

Sara’s great-aunt Elvira – one of those no-nonsense elderly ladies so beloved in historical romance – quickly points out that her cousins – Laurence, Marcus and Miles – will probably want to marry her, or do away with her, and that the latter option could also apply to her brother given the massive sums of money at stake. At first, Sara can’t believe that anyone could want to do her harm, but it soon becomes clear to her that her life is, indeed, in danger.

The Heywood Inheritance proved to be an entertaining story, although much more of a mystery than a romance, which just “happens” in the final pages and even then, isn’t especially romantic! That said, however, the book is well-written, with a great deal of wit and a heroine who is thoroughly engaging and level-headed, showing none of the TSTL tendencies of so many of the “heroines-in-peril” one encounters in romantic mysteries. C+

– Caz Owens


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07/17/2014 5:53 pm

I third the recommendation for Prospero’s Daugher. I miss Nancy Butler’s Regencies — some of her books are in my personal Top 100.

07/16/2014 9:47 am

I have read Prospero’s Daughter and loved it as much as you did. Thankfully I’ve kept a lot of my Signet Regencies bought many years ago.