Books Read in 2016: ‘The Captain’s Wallflower’ by Audrey Harrison #amreading
Book Summary from Goodreads:
Captain Worthington is injured in the battle of Trafalgar. Blinded by shrapnel, his life goes from being at the forefront of society to being almost cast off. He finds himself sitting with the wallflowers at a ball – something he doesn’t take too kindly to.
Miss Amelia Basingstoke has no dowry and enough dreadful relations to ensure that even on her third season, she is unmarried and a confirmed wallflower. Her only friend is a large boisterous dog of dubious character who considers himself too good to chase dead birds.
A chance meeting between the pair frees the Captain in ways that he had never thought possible since his injury.
A stubborn Captain – an opinionated young woman – an unruly dog and Christmas is approaching – what could possibly go wrong?
Premise: 4 stars
Writing Level: 2 stars
Editing Level: 2 stars
Proofreading Level: 2 stars
Overall execution: 2.5 stars
This read like a decent first draft written by someone who’s never taken a writing class or attended a writers’ conference. Now, I’m not saying that those things are necessary to being able to write a great story. However, for people who bypass pursuing traditional publishing for self-publishing, that kind of training becomes vitally important. Otherwise, you end up with what this turned out to be—something that reads like a draft by an unpolished, newbie writer.
The premise of this story was good. I enjoyed the idea of the hero being blind, and she did a pretty good job of getting across his frustration of going from someone who was a Royal Navy captain—active, a leader, independent—to someone who was completely dependent on others just to be able to leave the house.
There were some great interactions in dialogue between the hero and heroine, and while it could have been stronger, she did a decent job of showing a believable relationship building between them.
While at first I questioned the bit about the dog automatically/naturally becoming a guide dog, I did appreciate that she showed them working with/training the dog to help out. And she actually used the fact that this isn’t a professionally trained dog later in the book to somewhat good effect. Then, in her (very long) afterword, it was nice to learn a little more about the history of people training dogs to work with/guide the seeing impaired.
As I already said, this read like a first draft by someone who hasn’t studied the craft—and who obviously didn’t work with a developmental editor, content editor, copy editor, or proofreader who knows what they were doing (and probably not critique partners, either). The biggest issues I had with this, craft-wise, were:
- The head-hopping. The character development in this book could have been so much better—if only the author had written it in limited POV, giving us only the viewpoints of the hero and heroine, not every single minor character around them. POV switched from paragraph to paragraph, usually, and could be very jarring because I could never be quite sure whose viewpoint the narrative in any given passage was in, which kept me from being able to lose myself in the characters/story.
- The poor research. Ugh. Really? A simple Google search would have netted her the information that in the early 19th century, the London Season ran from approximately January/February through June, the most active part of the Season being from Easter through the end of June. It hadn’t started in November since the mid- to late-1700s. Also—Christmas trees and big family Christmas celebrations were a Victorian introduction, not something that was done in 1806. And there were several details surrounding the Royal Navy that I found errors in—though anyone who hasn’t done extensive research on this would never notice/be bothered by it. I can’t speak to the medical research. It seemed like something that could have been done, given the historical accounts I’ve read of other surgical procedures done (many on ships in the heat of battle) during this era.
- The anachronistic language. Yes, those of us who write historicals find it necessary to modernize the language so that it’s accessible to a modern audience. However, that doesn’t mean that we throw all historical accuracy out the window. Two of the most glaring examples of this that completely pulled me out of the story: at one point, she “screeched to a halt,” something that wouldn’t have happened before the advent of rubber tires or shoe soles, neither of which existed in this era; then there was the use of the word “heck” as a substitute for hell—a quick Google search for the etymology of this word shows its first recorded usage dates to 1865, or 59 years after this book is set. (That would be like having Lady Mary walking around Downton Abbey using terms like “groovy” and “far out” and “totally tubular” or even “cool.”)
- The lack of editing/proofreading. If I were the proofreader who had an “about the proofreader” blurb in the back of this book, I’d be embarrassed. There were so many grammatical errors, so many misused words, so many missing/misused punctuation marks . . . I’d have been fired if I’d let a manuscript go to print in this condition if it had been one I’d worked on at the publishing house. And that’s just the proofreading issues. As mentioned before, it was quite obvious that the author did not work with—nor likely has ever worked with—content and/or developmental editors. Because no editor worth her salt would have let the brain-twister sentence structures, the odd/misused word choices, the anachronistic language, the head-hopping, the over-descriptions, the info-dumps, and the general lack of polish get out into the public sphere.
- [Spoiler–highlight to read]The miraculous “he gets his sight back with a hit on the head” trope. No, he didn’t get his full sight back, but still . . . I find it very disappointing when romance novelists choose to go this route when they have a main character with a disability—especially blindness. As an author, if you’re going to choose to have a character go blind due to a battlefield injury, then commit to it. You don’t need to give the character a “reprieve” and have him regain some/all of his eyesight just so that he can confirm that he was right all along in thinking that the heroine is pretty/beautiful (or vice-versa with the heroine). I’ve read far too many books that use this “get out of jail free” card, as if someone who has no vision cannot have a happy ending. (It reminds me a lot of the “fat girl can’t have a happy ending until she loses weight” trope that I loathe.) The best book I’ve read that realistically deals with having a hero blinded in the war is Mary Balogh’s The Arrangement. (In fact, there were many similarities between that book and this one, including the heroine living with relatives who ill-treat her in order to put their own daughter forward in society.)
- It’s a “sweet” (clean) romance. This is both a pro and a con. It’s a pro because I enjoy reading romance novels that take the old-fashioned approach of not feeling the need for the characters to immediately fall in lust with each other or to have graphic sex scenes—without being religious fiction (not that I, obviously, have a problem with that genre, but it’s nice to see sweet romance in the general market as well). However, I was quite taken aback, toward the end, when they’re kissing in the sedan chair that he put his hand under her cloak and touched her breast, something that came across as very inappropriate for the tone of this story. It ripped me out of the story when it happened and I started worrying that there would be a very uncomfortable-to-read wedding-night scene. (I assumed from the other issues I had with the writing that it would be very awkwardly written.) But I worried for naught. She kept it sweet.
Because this book is short, I was able to make it through in two sittings—but I think if I hadn’t forced myself to push through the second half, it might have been a DNF for me, due to the technical issues I had with it and my overwhelming desire to critique/edit it as I read.
My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR = DNF (did not finish)
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