Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Once Upon a Kiss by Jayne Fresina

The Basics:
Once Upon a Kiss by Jayne Fresina
Sourcebooks Casablanca
Book One in the Book Club Belles Society series
Published June 3, 2014
Source: Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why I picked up this book:

This time it was the tag for the series that got me - the Book Club Belles Society. Me and books about books, right? So predictable!

In the sleepy village of Hawcombe Prior, the five young ladies of the Book Club Belles Society are looking for their own leading men.

The Perfect Hero

When handsome, mysterious Darius Wainwright strolls into town, the Book Club Belles are instantly smitten with this brooding good looks and prideful demeanor. It's as if he walked out of the pages of their favorite new novel, a scandalous romance called Pride and Prejudice. But Justina Penny can't understand why her fellow Belles are starry-eyed in the newcomer's arrogant presence—surely a wicked Wickham would be infinitely more fun...

An Unlikely Leading Lady

Justina is the opposite of Darius's ideal woman—not that he's looking for romance. But when he discovers her stealing apples from his uncle's orchard, he can't resist his own thieving impulse. A stolen kiss from the mischievous Miss Penny leaves Darius wanting much, much more. If it's a dashing villain she desires, Darius is more than willing to play the part...

My thoughts:

I'm reviewing two historical romances from Sourcebooks Casablanca this week and both feature rather unconventional heroines, I thought, as well as having book connections.

So in Once Upon a Kiss, we have Justina, the daughter of a doctor, and as sassy and plucky a heroine as I've ever read. She's got an older sister of whom great things are expected because she's the beautiful, obedient one. I loved Justina's spunk. It was sad that she felt it was a given that she would get in trouble and that she'd never amount to any good, but I appreciated that she counteracted that by seizing the day, as it were.  

Darius, for his part, is much more retiring. He's come to the country to avoid the meddling of his stepmother and stepsister, and finds himself fascinated by Justina and her antics.

If you haven't already made the connection, there are several elements from Once Upon a Kiss that are drawn and adapted from Pride and Prejudice. Not all, to be sure - this isn't an extremely faithful retelling, which I actually really appreciated. I would guess that the other four young ladies in the Society will be receiving their own novels and I'm curious about whether or not they will also draw on Austen's works. I kind of hope not, to be honest.

Fresina's managed to capture something like the essence of an 18th or 19th century novel - something Austen-like - but with this sexual streak to it. That thread made me feel like I was reading something really naughty even though there's nothing here that's any more explicit than we might expect from contemporary romance. It felt so very deliciously scandalous to read, which is a rare feeling these days, I think.  

Bottom line:

A historical romance about a young woman from a very middle-class family, with distinct Pride and Prejudice influences, a book club and a hero who finds himself drawn in by said young woman and her outrageous antics?  Yes. Yes, please. I recommend this one for the novelty of it and just in case you get that same scandalous thrill from it that I got! 

5 stars
For fans of historical romance, spunky heroines

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