It’s been a long time since I’ve done a book review, either here or at the former Debuts and Reviews. As much as I’ve missed it, though, thoughtful reviews are a lot of work, so it takes a very special author to drag me back for one. Of course, you know by now that I’ve found such an author—you read the title of this post, you clever thing, you!
Julianne Donaldson is the author of two “proper” Regency romances: Edenbrooke, published in 2012, and Blackmoore, released just last month. Rather than review each individually, I’d like to look at Donaldson’s writing traits as seen over both novels, which is why I’m calling this an author review, not a book review. Donaldson is a master of breathtaking emotion and sizzling romantic tension—all while keeping it clean (thank you, finally, someone outside the inspirational genre who can write romance without resorting to bedroom scenes!). It’s been a long time since I’ve found an author I enjoy this much. Here’s what each book is about:
Edenbrooke: “When Marianne receives an invitation to spend the summer with her twin sister in Edenbrooke, she has no idea of the romance and adventure that awaits her once she meets the dashing Sir Philip.”
Blackmoore: “Having decided she will never marry, Kate Worthington plans to escape her meddlesome family by traveling to India. Her mother agrees on the condition that she gets—and rejects—three marriage proposals. To fulfill her end of the bargain, Kate travels to the manor of Blackmoore in northern England, where her plans go awry.”
In any novel, but especially a romance, developing a depth of emotion in your characters is key to a good book. Why should the reader care if the protagonist reaches her goal if the protagonist doesn’t care? But there’s a difference between showing the reader your character’s emotions and making the reader feel those emotions with every ounce of themselves. In Blackmoore especially, Donaldson accomplishes this by infusing her character Kate with longing so boundless that it feels as if a bottomless pit has been turned inside-out in your chest. From Blackmoore’s’ first line, you sense it, even though it’s not until a little later that you get a feel for what Kate longs for.
Connected to Donaldson’s mastery of putting emotion on the page is her ability to strike sparks between hero and heroine. Because we so intimately see the heroine’s emotions and past, it is all the more squirm-inducing when she matches wits with someone who threatens to conquer her resolve not to fall for him. And speaking of matching wits! The banter in these books! No one writers banter like Julianne Donaldson. The scene in Edenbrooke where Marianne pretends to be a milkmaid, and then the one where she first encounters Philip again at the river—I can’t describe them. Just read them. Donaldson can set a whole room on fire without hero and heroine having a single physical touch.
And that’s amazing. These books aren’t about characters with a physical attraction alone. Donaldson doesn’t just write romance—she writes love. She writes real love, not society’s imitation. Love that is deep and selfless, between people who not just claim they’d do anything for each other, but put their money where their mouth is and make sacrifices for the one they love. And maybe it’s this more than anything that makes Donaldson a master of striking sparks. Books about characters with chemistry—even well-written ones—aren’t difficult to come by. But books which really delve into what true romantic love means are hard to find.
I have read Blackmoore twice, and devoured Edenbrooke in one night, and each reading has left me feeling three things. First, a complete infatuation with these stories and characters—which I want to revisit over and over again. Second, a rekindled fire to get back to my own work-in-progress and write and revise and write again until it is just as passionate and wonderful. And third, a bit of despair, because matching Donaldson’s work seems such an insurmountable task.
(But no—I will not be intimidated by despair!)
I try to be balanced in my reviews and point out both the good and the bad, but I’m wracking my brain here, and the only thing that bothered me about either of these books is so small that in any other review, I’d consider it not worth mentioning. And in this case, explaining the very small issue I had would involve spoilers, so I won’t do that.
No matter your usual fiction genre, if you enjoy well-written emotion and evocative romance in your reading, I highly recommend Julianne Donaldson, who is destined for a spot on my list of favorite authors. (Which, by the way, is a really odd list. Seriously, how does Jane Austen end up on the same favorites list as Brandon Sanderson?)