Friday, August 1, 2014

Digital Review: Their Hour Upon The Stage
One of the great joys in reading Marguerite Kaye is that she is one of the few historical romance authors working today who hasn't been pigeon-holed.  She's done everything from Regency Arabia, to non-titled Regency heroes, to the 1920s and World War I.  She's also been very prolific.  In between full-length novels for Harlequin Historical, she's been publishing shorter works.  These two connected novellas for Harlequin Historical Undone are linked by sisters, torn apart by the tragedy of World War I.

The Undoing of Daisy Edwards is just the sort of angst-filled, gut-punching story I love to sink my teeth into.  Daisy is a stage actress whose husband died in World War I.  It is a loss, a tragedy, that she is slow to forget.  She didn't fight, but she lost everything.  When he died, she died.  She's not the girl she was before.  And to that end she's in a bit of a spiral when our hero, Dominic Harrington, finds her passed out in a jail cell.

Dominic is in aviation and loathe to use a title that he feels doesn't belong to him.  His family was torn apart by the war as well, when his older brother (the heir) was killed.  Mom remarried and ran off to the States.  Younger sister Grace has gone full-blown party girl flapper, which is how Daisy lands in her orbit.  Dominic shows up to spring Grace, only to find a passed out Daisy instead.  So he does what any chivalrous gentleman would do - he takes her home.

Sparks naturally fly between these two characters incapable to seeing past today.  Kaye handles the aftermath of the war, the survivor's guilt mentality of it, extremely well.  Both of these characters feel guilty for being alive when their loved ones aren't.  Both of these characters have a hard time thinking about a future in a world that let World War I happen. 

Told an alternating first person point of view, the author does, at times, rely on telling a bit more than showing.  Also Grace firmly remains off page, even though I think this story would have benefited from her having a larger role - although I'm not sure how possible that would be with the word count we're working with here.  Still it's an emotionally charged read that handles the time period beautifully without info-dumping.  I also appreciated that it ended happily while not straying into Unicorns Pooping Rainbows territory.  Frankly that would have been extremely unrealistic given the character baggage, but Kaye still makes me believe even without the saccharine.

Final Grade = B
The Awakening of Poppy Edwards takes readers across the pond to Los Angeles and the new life that Poppy Edwards has built for herself.  Also an actress, she used to have an act with her sister Daisy back before the war.  Now Daisy is the walking wounded and Poppy is left adrift.  Daisy has presence, but Poppy was always the looker, so motion pictures is where it's at for her.  She's making a decent living in silent pictures, but something is still missing, broken for her.  So she disguises herself, uses a stage name, and sings in a jazz club at night.  Which is where Broadway producer Lewis Cartsdyke finds her.  He wants her on his stage, and after seeing her sing - in his bed.  But there's a lot more to Poppy than meets the eye and then Lewis has to break the one and only rule she ever had - no falling in love.

Again told in alternating first person, this story also features the long shadow of World War I.  Lewis was an ambulance driver, witnessing the horrors of the first modern war, and Poppy watched her sister and all of Europe unravel.  Showing up late to the party, being a vast country, less dead, less wounded, less grieving families, means the United States is a welcome escape.  Plus Poppy is in Los Angeles.  Fairy tale, make-believe, glittering, flashy L.A.  A town where you can be anything you want to be, and Poppy makes the most of it by acting her way through life.  Until Lewis sees straight through her.

I felt like more "telling" crept into this story than in Daisy's romance, but I find I'm a little more willing to forgive such a transgressing when 1) shorter word count and 2) first person.  Which, yes, probably makes me a hypocrite, but ask me if I care?  (Uh, no).  Again, Kaye has a way of infusing a sense of time and place quite naturally into her story without beating the reader over the head with her research stick.  Emotional charged with good world-building, this duet is a nice ice-breaker if you're looking for something outside of your Regency comfort zone.

Grade = B-


azteclady said...

I am very intrigued by both of these, what with Willaful's and Jayne's reviews earlier, and now yours, but I'm not paying over $2.50 for 50 pages. They are going on my list, though, to get if and when the go on sale.

Wendy said...

AL: I love the Undone line but that's always been my biggest annoyance with it - the pricing.

Kristie (J) said...

I've never tried this line before. Is it regular length or more of a short story?

azteclady said...

These are very short, KristieJ, 50 pages or less.

Wendy said...

What AL said. They tend to clock in around 50 pages - so short story really, or novella if you're feeling generous ;)