Thursday, July 17, 2014

An Apology for My Absence and A Review of Vixen in Velvet

My apologies for my lengthy absence from this blog. The causes include snafus with the blog, a freelance project that threatened my sanity, and some health issues. But the freedom from bi-weekly posts has persuaded me that the time has come to end Just Janga. Since I am woefully behind on reviews, I will be posting almost daily through the end of this month, but July 31 will be my final day to post here. I’ll have more to say about my decision in that final post. Meanwhile, I hope you will forgive my silence and join me for a final flurry of reviews over the next two weeks.

Vixen in Velvet
By Loretta Chase
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Leonie Noirot is the youngest of the three sisters who own Maison Noirot, a dressmaking establishment known not only for its fabulous fashions but also for the fact that two of its owners have married into the aristocracy. Marcelline, the creative genius whose designs are breathtaking, is the wife of the Duke of Clevedon (Silk Is for Seduction) and Sophy, whose acting and writing talents are used to assure Maison Noirot of the very best publicity, is the wife of the Earl of Longmore (Scandal Wears Satin). With Marcelline suffering from morning sickness and Sophy traveling on her wedding trip, Leonie, the sister with a head for business and a remarkable facility with numbers, is in charge. Having learned that Viscount Swanton, London’s newest literary sensation whose poetry and person have the young ladies of the ton sighing and swooning, will be attending the British Institution’s Annual Summer Exhibition, Leonie decided the exhibition was the perfect spot to appear in a Noirot creation that might draw the attention of the young ladies or their chaperones and thus increase the shop’s clientele. Her fascination with one painting in the exhibit, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, caught her by surprise. So too did the effects of her meeting with the owner of the painting.

Simon Blair, Marquess of Lisburne, has recently returned to England after a half dozen years on the Continent following the death of his father. The trip to England was supposed to be a brief one, but Swanton’s fame and angelic looks have made him the target of excessive attention. Although they are only cousins, Lisburne feels an elder brother’s responsibility for the younger man. Once he meets Leonie Noirot, Swanton is not the only reason Lisburne chooses to linger in England.

When Leonie begins the work of transforming the graceless, overbearing, physically unattractive Lady Gladys Fairfax into a woman who can attract the beau of her choice, Lisburne is convinced she is setting herself up for disaster. He believes Lady Gladys is the sow’s ear that no effort or skill will make over into silk, and Leonie’s efforts will make her ridiculous. But Leonie is confident that she can show Lady Gladys the way to social success. So the two agree on a wager. If Lady Gladys has at least six followers and one non-mercenary offer of marriage within a matter of weeks, Lisburne will pass the ownership of his Botticelli to Leonie. If Lady Gladys remains a social failure, Leonie will give Lisburne two weeks of her undivided attention.

As the two spend more and more time in one another’s company, of course they fall in love. This is a romance. One of the things that makes this story more than a charming, if predictable, wealthy lord-meets-unsuitable-heroine tale is watching the initial chemistry between Leonie and Lisburne deepen into liking and understanding of one another. Along the way, they each also come to know himself/herself more fully.
Sometimes everything in a book just works for a reader in a way that is difficult to explain. Such was my experience with Vixen in Velvet

I loved the characters. Leonie really believes she is all logic and business, but her feelings for Lisburne show her how incomplete that image of her is. The vulnerability the reader see when Leonie’s memories of the Paris riots, the dangers the Noirots escaped, and all they lost, her very real gifts for the work she does, and her commitment to the sisters’ charity all prove that she is more that an amusing lightweight. In a similar fashion, Lisburne may appear to be a practiced and not overly intelligent charmer, but in reality he is devoted to his family, sensitive to beauty, and possessed of a social conscience and a sense of humor as well as being handsome and wealthy.

I also loved the subplot centered around Lady Gladys. It serves to illustrate Leonie’s compassion and insight as well as reveal the sensitive, longing creature that Lady Gladys is beneath her porcupine exterior. And Brava to Loretta Chase for making Lady Gladys’s makeover less magical transformation and more education in how to make the most of her assets. One of my favorite lines in the novel was Leonie’s pronouncement: “I've dressed her … The rest she's done for herself.”

Other things I love included a description of Leonie’s fascination with the Botticelli that should strike a chord with any reader who has even been enthralled by a painting, a poem, or a piece of music, one of the best first kiss scenes, and Leonie’s poetry recitation. As much as I enjoyed these scenes, my favorite is the one when Lisburne visits the Milliners’ Society for the Education of Indigent Females. Leonie shows him the crafts the girls have created to sell, and Lisburne is visibly moved.

“It would seem that your friend's poetry has infected you with excessive tenderness,” she said.

“That may be so, madame, yet I wonder how any man could withstand this.” He waved his hand at the contents of the display case. “Look at them. Little hearts and flowers and curlicues and lilies of the valley and lace.  Made by girls who've known mainly deprivation and squalor and violence.” 

She considered the pincushions and watch guards and mittens and handkerchiefs. “They don't have Botticelli paintings to look at,” she said. “If they want beauty in their lives, they have to make it.”

“Madame,” he said, “is it necessary to break my heart completely?”

If you are looking for a romance with a tightly woven plot, heavy on action, you may want to skip Vixen in Velvet. But if you want a character-driven romance with delightful dialogue and real conversations and sparkling humor that is sometimes wonderfully subtle written by a virtuoso in the genre, I highly recommend this book.

Which is more important to you as a reader, characters or plot?


hope said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hope said...

I made errors in my post so I am re writing.
I am upset at your decision but respect it...I , too, am in the midst of reinventing and "finding" my self at this stage of life.

I am also very selfish to add, I wish you would reconsider.

As for Chase, I was looking forward to this book, its on my TBR pile and will pick it up this weekend. I Love her characters a great deal but I am not sure. Both Character and Plot have to draw me in, Could be the best characters but the plot is wrong, it would be a turn off, although the same can be said with Plot awesome but lame characters.

I will say this, any great character can more than likely make a sodden plot better....hmmm
THAT was a very thoughtful question

And thanks for the years of reviews...and all your help in allowing me to find new authors


Deborah Stein said...

Characters every time. I will miss your posts but am glad you will still post at RomanceDish and hope this makes your life easier.

Janga said...

Hope, I'm delighted that my reviews helped you find authors you enjoy. And I will still be reviewing for The Romance Dish and posting reviews on GoodReads. And if that's not enough, you can always ask me for recs via FB. :)

Janga said...

Thanks, Deb. Great minds . . .

I hope the change will give me more writing time too. I'm cutting back on the freelance assignments I accept as well.