Size Doesn’t Matter (61): Exile for Dreamers; To Sir Phillip, With Love

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (61): Exile for Dreamers; To Sir Phillip, With LoveExile for Dreamers by Kathleen Baldwin
Series: Stranje House #2
Published by Tor Teen on May 24, 2016
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads
three-stars

It’s 1814. Napoleon has escaped his imprisonment on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And at Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, five young ladies are secretly being trained for a world of spies, diplomacy, and war.

Tess Aubreyson can’t run far enough or fast enough to escape the prophetic dreams that haunt her. Dreams bring nothing but death and grief, and Tess refuses to accept that she may be destined for the same madness that destroyed her mother. Until her disturbing dreams become the only means of saving Lord Ravencross, the man she loves, and her fellow students at Stranje House. Tess’s old friend, the traitorous Lady Daneska, and Ghost, the ruthless leader of the Iron Crown, have returned to England, intent on paving the way for Napoleon’s invasion. Can the young ladies of Stranje House prevail once more? Or is England destined to fall into the hands of the power-mad dictator?

I remain quite happy with Stranje House on the whole. Obviously, this setting and premise is my catnip. This is greatly improved by the fact that Baldwin clearly loves the same sort of romance tropes that I do.

Though Exile for Dreamers is in Tess’ perspective, Baldwin manages to develop Georgie’s romance a wee bit more and introduce love interests for both Sera and Jane. The ships all delight me, because they’re all antagonistic in the beginning. They rub each other the wrong way at first and frustrate one another but then turn out to be really good partners. It’s nice too that they want to protect one another and there’s a real sense that the girls are strong. The love interests don’t look down on the ladies’ abilities.

I do, however, think this series would have worked better in a multiple POV third person limited. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the first person so much as I just don’t think it works for how Baldwin’s set up the story. Because it’s not a focused book and ship per girl per book, the heroine of the book ends up sort of creepily listening in on the flirting sessions of the other girls. It’s very weird and artificial. It worked a bit better in A School for Unusual Girls because Georgie really did observe the kiss on accident, but here Tess had to walk into the middle of scenes where it didn’t necessarily make sense for her to be.

In addition, I’m still irritated by the diversity of the series. The two diverse characters of the first book are still here. Sort of. Maya continues to have absolutely nothing to do plot-wise and to have the personality of sawdust. And, of course, all four white girls have love interests but she doesn’t. Madame Cho, meanwhile, has even less of a role than in the first book. Her only purpose is to get knocked out. And, for all Tess talks about how much she cares for Madame Cho in this book, she sure doesn’t spend any time with her whatsoever. If you’re just going to leave the POCs undeveloped in the background, why bother? No brownie points for that. So far, this series would be better without the diversity, which I really hate to say, and I hope Baldwin can rectify this in later books.

The ending certainly doesn’t wrap up any plot threads, so surely there’s another book in the works, regardless of the lack of its presence on Goodreads. I very much hope so, and I hope that Maya gets to actually have a role in it.


Size Doesn’t Matter (61): Exile for Dreamers; To Sir Phillip, With LoveTo Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn
Series: Bridgertons #5
Published by Avon on October 13, 2009
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads
three-half-stars

My dear Miss Bridgerton,

We have been corresponding now for quite some time, and although we have never formally met, I feel as if I know you.

Forgive me if I am too bold, but I am writing to invite you to visit me. It is my hope that we might decide that we will suit, and you will consent to be my wife.

—Sir Phillip Crane

Sir Phillip Crane knew that Eloise Bridgerton was a spinster, and so he’d proposed, figuring that she’d be homely and unassuming, and more than a little desperate for an offer of marriage. Except… she wasn’t. The beautiful woman on his doorstep was anything but quiet, and when she stopped talking long enough to close her mouth, all he wanted to do was kiss her… and more.

Did he think she was mad? Eloise Bridgerton couldn’t marry a man she had never met! But then she started thinking… and wondering… and before she knew it, she was in a hired carriage in the middle of the night, on her way to meet the man she hoped might be her perfect match. Except… he wasn’t. Her perfect husband wouldn’t be so moody and ill-mannered, and while Phillip was certainly handsome, he was a large brute of a man, rough and rugged, and totally unlike the London gentlemen vying for her hand. But when he smiled… and when he kissed her… the rest of the world simply fell away, and she couldn’t help but wonder… could this imperfect man be perfect for her?

I’m rather pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed To Sir Phillip, With Love. The second epilogue of Romancing Mister Bridgerton spoiled how the romance/marriage would happen, and it just did not sound like it would be that great. Though not my favorite ship of the bunch, I do appreciate the many unique elements this story had.

Eloise has been pen pals with Sir Phillip since the letter of condolence she sent him following the death of her fourth cousin, his wife Marina. She’s fancied him a romantic prospect, but is shocked to receive an emotionless proposal that she come visit (along with a chaperone) to see if they might suit. What he wants is a mother for his children and someone to run the household, but what she wants is love. Still, in a bit of a crisis because her spinster friend Penelope has now married for love, Eloise impulsively decides to run off to visit Sir Phillip, sans chaperone.

Quinn obviously loves the “forced to wed because of scandal” trope, which I don’t, but she put an interesting spin on it here. This one didn’t bother me as much because: 1) Eloise really was the decider in this. She took a risk, and it was not the manipulation of Sir Phillip. 2) Because no one knows but her family, Eloise actually had an out. After initially trying to strangle Sir Phillip, Anthony’s actually pretty chill about it and, because no one else knows yet, he offers extra time to see if the Bridgertons approve of this guy. 3) They’re kind of forced to marry, but they voluntarily move the wedding up because Phillip and Eloise are willing to give it a go.

As I said, I didn’t have shippy feels about Eloise and Phillip, but I like them well enough. I appreciate the unique nature of their relationship. He was searching for a woman to basically manage him, his children, and the estate. He may look like a big bear of a man and be super strong and muscular, but he’s no controlling “alpha male.” That’s such a nice change from the standard tropes. Seriously, bless it. It’s also very sweet how he loved his children but had no idea how to parent, and he really learns from her so fast. Phillip’s a rather sad figure because he’s never been shown love, and he’s really starting to open up by the end.

The one thing that rubbed me the wrong way here was the way Marina’s treated in this book. Marina clearly suffered from depression, probably all of her life, and it became thoroughly uncontrollable when she got postpartum depression following the birth of the twins. She dies from a lung disease following a suicide attempt in a winter lake. While I think this could have been a really nice addition to the story, I don’t like the treatment of mental health here. Obviously no one knows what depression is, so the point ends up seeming something like “sad people make terrible spouses and parents.” A beautiful treatment of depression this is not.

I’d hoped for something massively shippy for Eloise, who has been such a delight in the other Bridgerton books, but her story was fairly good and fun to read.

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