Wednesday, June 18, 2014

TBR Challenge 2014: The Senator's Other Daughter

The Book: Halfway to Heaven by Susan Wiggs

The Particulars: Historical romance, Mira Books, 2001, Book 3 in Calhoun series, out of print but available digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  When it comes to her historicals, Wiggs is an autobuy for me.  Also this story features a Pygmalion theme and I tend to love those.

The Review: Let me cut to the chase: I've had this book in my TBR for an embarrassingly long time.  As in, over ten years.  The reason for this is that while I tend to enjoy Wiggs' historicals, I'm not wild about politics in my romance novels.  And this particular story is set in Washington DC during the Gilded Age.  So languish it did until finally it jumped up to bite me for this month's "classic" theme.  Now, of course, I'm kicking myself for letting it sit so long.

Abigail Cabot is the intellectual, and awkward, daughter of influential Senator Franklin Cabot.  Abigail's passion is astronomy, and she combs the night skies looking for an undiscovered comet to name after her dead mother.  As intelligent as she is, she's not much for social graces.  She's at a society wedding making a muck of things when finally the object of her secret affection, the Vice President's son, asks her to dance.  Too bad he quickly gets his head turned by Helena Cabot, Abigail's breathtaking beautiful younger sister.

Witnessing Abigail's social awkwardness at the wedding is Jamie Calhoun, a newly elected Senator from Virginia.  Jamie is the stuff of dreams for hero-centric romance readers.  He's suave, charming, and slick in a non-sleazy sort of way.  Naturally he also has a reputation as a bit of a ladies' man.  Abigail wants nothing to do with him, but thanks to sister Helena, Calhoun soon finds himself living next door to the Cabot's.  This is nice turn of events for him since Jamie is working to block a railroad bill and needs Senator Cabot's influence in order to do so.  When he learns of Abigail's crush on the Vice President's son?  He figures helping her win the poor schmuck's heart, in turn fulfilling the Senator's desire to see his daughters advantageously married off, will get him some sway with the man.

We all know where this is going, right?  Pretty soon Abigail finds herself striking a bargain with Jamie, toss in a twist of Cyrano de Bergerac, and Jamie ends up getting his head turned by Abigail even before the My Fair Lady makeover comes into play.  For her part, while Abigail thinks she's in love with Lieutenant Boyd Butler III, she soon finds that when she should be thinking about him, she cannot seem to get Jamie out of her mind.

Even with Jamie's motivation being tied directly into politics, I will say that the politics do not overwhelm this story.  Plus, it helps tremendously that Wiggs sets her tale in the Gilded Age, a terribly romantic time period in American history (well, at least I think so at any rate).  There's a nice contrast, yet warm, sisterly relationship between Abigail and Helena, and Senator Cabot is stern and seemingly disapproving without being stereotypical Evil Romancelandia Father.

My only real quibble with the story is that Abigail's "relationship" with Boyd Butler III carries on for the vast majority of the story and I would have liked more pivotal scenes between her and Jamie to further illustrate why they fall in love with each other.  I "get" that they fall in love, but I guess I just wanted more - especially since Boyd's presence lingers on the page for a while.

This book is directly related to The Horsemaster's Daughter, and I vaguely recall that story now having read it eons ago (for the record, it was a keeper for me).  Wiggs makes this story stand alone well, but part of me wished that the earlier book was more fresh in my memory bank.  Oh well.  This is your fault for letting books languish for so long Wendy, and having a TBR that can be seen from space - with the naked eye.

Final Grade = B


Hilcia said...

I loved The Horsemaster's Daughter, which I read on your recommendation by the way -- thank you. I looked up this book and hmm... wasn't taken with the summary. I do have it, but haven't felt driven to read it. I don't like it when another man's presence eclipse's the hero's for too long. It disturbs my concentration on the main couple.

Wendy said...

Hils: Wiggs wisely keeps "the other guy" off-page for the majority of the story (letter writing happens, hence the twist on Cyrano *g*) and while I never felt like he overshadowed the hero? The heroine still finds herself entangled with him in the later chapters of the book until she (and the hero) finally come to the realization that they are in love.

I would recommend you read it one of these days. I didn't love it to bits, but I did inhale it in one sitting (trapped on an airplane no less - it was an agreeable way to pass the time during my flight). And now I want to find the time to read sister Helena's story soon-ish. And, you know, not wait another ten years. Geez.

SonomaLass said...

Susan Wiggs is one of those "meant to read" authors whose books I've never gotten around to. I like politics, but I tend to be iffy about "makeover" plots in romance, particularly Pygmalion stories. Maybe I'll start with The Horsemaster's Daughter.

Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic said...

I don't know if I've read any of her historicals, but I've read several contemporaries by Susan Wiggs. I like those so maybe I'll try The Horsemaster's Daughter.

Wendy said...

SonomaLass: Another good one is The Drifter, which was recently reprinted and should be easy to lay your hands on (for digital and print). I loved books 1 and 3 of her Chicago Fire trilogy, but was meh on book 2. The Lightkeeper is also good - but honestly the plot hinges massively on coincidence, so for that reason it's not a favorite of mine, but other readers really love it.

Horsemaster is actually book 2 in the series - The Charm School is book one, but alas, that one is another sort of "makeover" story. That being said, I think you could read out of order without issues :)

Wendy said...

Jan: I discovered Wiggs through her historicals and while I've read a few of her contemporaries, so far her historical voice has worked better for me. But that could be because historical is how I *found* her LOL

S. said...

I have this one to read. I purchased it on the used sellers in amazon, a paperback. Those who don't want digital editions can try there.
I loved The Charm School!! Hilcia read it and I copied her after lol I also read The Horsemaster's Daughter and it was good. I'm probably going to read this one in October, my months are full until then! I didn't read the whole review to not spoil my impressions, but the grade gives me hope!

Wendy said...

Sonia: I came SO close to reading Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas for this month. I had that book in one hand, and Halfway to Heaven in the other and......Susan Wiggs won out in the end. As soon as I get more caught up on review requests (ha ha ha ha!), I'm going to read Enchanted Afternoon, with is sister Helena's story.