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Monday, December 19, 2011

Daring Divertissement

I must preface this by saying that I am not really a fan of the romance genre. I tend to shy away from "chick lit", being it romantic, modern, or historical fiction. It just isn't a genre that appeals to my reading tastes.

However, that being said...

This week-end, between decorating the tree and almost last-minute shopping—I still have a few things left on my list—I spent a few relaxing, most enjoyable hours reading a delightful historical romance: The Robber Bride , by Jerrica Knight-Catania. This offering, written by a dear acquaintance of mine and recommended to me by mutual friends, is one of many in Knight-Catania's romance fiction genre collection*. It is the first in The Daring Debutantes series, each novella featuring the daring escapades of a young "high-society" girl—adventures that you would normally not suspect a debutant of "supposed" refinement to have.

But here we have in a straight-forward, focused plot line, with concise, sometimes witty writing, the story of Victoria Barclay, a member of the ton  in London, England during the mid-Nineteenth Century. Victoria—sometimes called "Vickie" by her best friend and neighbor, Lord Phineas "Finny" Dartwell—at a very young age is dismayed and repulsed by her mother's negative attitude toward the poor and destitute—whom she calls "those" people. Vickie vows to figure out a way to assist the needy, to "somehow make a difference" and, as an older debutante, does—she becomes what another reader and fan of Knight-Catania calls a "Lady Robin Hood"—the quintessential female highwayman who robs from the very rich and haughty—often her parents' friends and neighbors that she “scouts out” at parties and soirees to “hit”—to support the poor. 

This is a seemingly straightforward premise, and would have been a good escapism read in its own right. But, as the story unfolds, there are a few surprising twists and turns along the way, including the return of Victoria's wayward brother, Tom, from the torrid clime of Jamaica; her mother's unwanted meddling in her social life and daily activities—after all, she is twenty-four and should be able to make decisions for herself, shouldn't she?; and the seemingly unexpected transformation of her platonic relationship with Finny from best friends to...um, well, without giving the rest of the plot away, that is the reason this is primarily a story of romance instead of a rip-roaring, historical adventure. Although, given a bit more plot twists and deeper characterizations, I suspect Knight-Catania has the talent to turn this tale into one that could easily stand alongside the works of Lynn Kurland, Jean Auel, and, maybe, even Esmeralda Santiago. 

Knight-Catania's style is rich with historical detail, including accurate and proper terms and nouns that were used during the era—including a few even I didn't know. For example, a "reticule" is a purse; a "pelisse" is a long cape or coat normally lined in fur; and the ton is not a heavy weight, but the fashionable "jet set"—the heavyweights of the stylish fashionistas of the 19th Century. Great ones to add to one's vocabulary to keep in the back of my mind when playing Scrabble© or Words with Friends©; although I am not quite sure if "ratted out" was a common term in use back then. 

Her characterizations, while being a bit more formulaic to suit my tastes, are in keeping with the general mores of the genre: the main male love interest has to be ruggedly handsome, but not quite an Adonis; his heroine has to be a bit incorrigible, yet strikingly beautiful. They are, in fact, delightfully and strikingly true-to-life. I came to truly hate the Lady Beecham and her smarmy appearances, and I thoroughly enjoyed the repartee between Vickie and her many-faceted brother; not to mention his surprising taste in inamorata. We meet a few other endearing souls along the way who turn out to be as equally surprising, including the dandy Victoria literally picks up at a Handel concert, and the precocious and determined Sally, whose juxtaposition in the plot line is a good parallel to and of the feelings between Vickie and Finny.  

In addition, Knight-Catania does have a way with words, especially in the dialogue between her characters. I surmise being an actress as well as an author helps, giving her a finely tuned ear for subtle speech patterns. Her nuances and phraseology have a flowing tempo, almost as if the characters are acting on stage rather than conversing in a book.

The ending, while predictable, was engrossing enough, as was the rest of the novella; the “kissing” scenes are especially descriptive, yet in keeping with good taste. Engrossing enough so for me to call this a satisfying read—an enjoyable afternoon's divertissement. Okay the truth is, once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. All my Holiday tasks had to wait until I finished reading The Robber Bride. I am anxiously looking forward to the second in the series (apparently due out next spring).

My only complaint is that most of Knight-Catania's works are only available via Night Shift publishing in e-reader format, both for Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook. This, for me, is a shame. While, despite the format, I did enjoy the read, but I would have loved to have a hard copy, signed by the author, as part of my library collection of first editions. 

In any event, I have to venture to say that if there is a creative historical romance story to tell, Jerrica Knight-Catania is the author to write it. And I certainly will be one of her fans to read it.

*Other romances by Jerrica Knight-Catania that you might enjoy include: The Wary Widow , The Bedeviled Bride and one of my favorites, 
Christmas Warms the Harts --all part of her The Wetherby Bride series.

1:58 pm est          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,