Size Doesn’t Matter (94): Splendid; Nine Women, One Dress

Size Doesn’t Matter (94): Splendid; Nine Women, One DressDancing at Midnight by Julia Quinn
Series: Blydon #2
Published by Avon on September 7, 2004
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 375
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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Goodreads
one-star

Lady Arabella Blydon has beauty and a brain, and she’s tired of men who can see only one without the other.

When a suitor tells Arabella he’s willing to overlook her appalling bluestocking tendencies on account of her looks and fortune, she decides to take a break from the Marriage Mart. During an extended stay in the country, she never expects to meet Lord John Blackwood, a wounded war hero who intrigues her like no other man.

Lord John has lived through the worst horrors of war… but nothing could have been as terrifying to his tormented heart as Lady Arabella. She is intoxicating, infuriating… and she makes him want to live again. Suddenly he’s writing bad poetry and climbing trees in the pitch-dark night… just so he can dance with her as the clock strikes midnight. And even though he knows he can never be the sort of man she deserves, he can’t help wanting her. But when the harsh light of day replaces the magic of midnight, can this tormented soul learn to love again?

Though Splendid proved to be a delight almost across the board, in Julia Quinn’s Dancing at Midnight I’ve gotten the experience I expect/fear in diving into a romance novelist’s backlist: it’s problematic as hell.

It’s a damn shame really because the ship itself could have been really cute. Generally, when I hate a romance novel, it’s because the ship is horrendously problematic, generally because the hero is abusive. In this case, though, Belle and John actually have a very cute dynamic with each other most of the time. The instances when they’re not cute all tie back to the problematic foundation. Leaving that aside, I enjoyed John’s social awkwardness and sarcasm and the way that threw the social Belle for a loop. He appreciates her bookishness and is ultimately willing to trust her. John’s also got a persistent limp left over from his war days. That’s all good, and their romance could have been wonderful.

The problem is that, where Splendid was light and bantery, Quinn tries to go heavier in Dancing at Midnight. John’s a tortured hero, which doesn’t make him brooding (he’s so not), but does make him feel he’s not deserving of love. The reason? During his career in the army, he was unable to prevent one of the soldiers in his company from raping a 13 year-old Spanish girl who worked in her family’s bar; he interrupts the rape, shoots the soldier in the ass, forces him to desert, and the girl’s mother (who had asked him to protect the girl) tells him he might as well have raped her. Oh, and then she kills herself just a few days later. This is the albatross he carries around that makes him refuse Belle’s love.

The rape of a 13 year-old girl is used as a plot device. It’s not about her at all, and it’s scarcely about rape. Sure, it’s a horrendous act according to the text (one you will have to experience several times because John has regular nightmares of it), but ultimately it’s just to throw drama into the novel. That’s one hundred percent unacceptable. I couldn’t really enjoy anything that happened because everything came back to this central inciting incident, meant to show how tender and tortured John is that he’d feel so guilty for a rape he didn’t commit. And then there’s the fact that the resolution comes after a dramatic almost death (after a stupid accident leaves Belle desperately sick):

He had saved her life.

He could feel a weight being lifted from him. It was a physical sensation.

He had saved a life.

A voice resounded in the room. You are forgiven.

He looked quickly over at Belle. She didn’t seem to have heard the voice. How odd. It had seemed prodigously loud to him. A female voice. Rather like Ana’s.

Ana. John closed his eyes and for the first time in five years, he could not picture her face.

Had he finally atoned for his sins? Or, perhaps, was it that his sin had never been quite as eternally condemning as he thought?

So, in the end, Belle’s love heals him. Literally the text lays this out in those actual words (“You heal me,” John tells her.) and not just through actions. Of course, to do that, she also has to almost fucking die. I hate the “I can only love you fully after I almost lost you to death” trope. How goddamn romantic.

Quinn’s at her best when she’s light and funny. This book’s unfortunate, and I’m going to try to forget its existence.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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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 (94): Splendid; Nine Women, One DressNine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen
Narrator: Dorothy Dillingham Blue, Robert Fass, Tristan Morris, Mandy Siegfried, Hillary Huber, Cassandra Campbell, Erik Singer, Dan Woren, Michael Crouch, Em Eldridge
Length: 6 hrs, 57 mins
Published by Random House Audio on July 12, 2016
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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Goodreads
three-half-stars

A charming, hilarious, irresistible romp of a novel that brings together nine unrelated women, each touched by the same little black dress that weaves through their lives, bringing a little magic with it.

Natalie is a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl mooning over her lawyer ex-boyfriend who’s engaged to someone else after just two months. Felicia has been quietly in love with her happily married boss for twenty years; now that he’s a lonely widower, she just needs the right situation to make him see her as more than the best executive assistant in Midtown Manhattan. Andrea is a private detective specializing in gathering evidence on cheating husbands—a skill she unfortunately learned from her own life—and can’t figure out why her intuition tells her the guy she’s tailing is one of the good ones when she hasn’t trusted a man in years. For these three women, as well as half a dozen others in sparkling supporting roles—a young model fresh from rural Georgia, a diva Hollywood star making her Broadway debut, an overachieving, unemployed Brown grad who starts faking a fabulous life on social media, to name just a few—everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season, the perfect little black number everyone wants to get their hands on…

Another book randomly selected because I like multiple voice narration and it sounded potentially interesting. Nine Women, One Dress is Love, Actually meets The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and I totally enjoyed it because duh.

Though the title focuses on the women, Nine Women, One Dress actually splits between male and female narrators pretty evenly. I didn’t actually count the number of women who tried the dress on, but it was a lot. The dress is the connecting element between all of the stories, from the model who initially wore it down the runway to the designer to an older woman at Bloomingdale’s which has a few left of THE dress of the season, and women who try it on only to have their lives changed, mostly for the better. There’s a very slight magical realism tinge to it, though without anything actually fantastical.

As in Love, Actually, most of the stories are romantic, though not quite all. The model, for example, falls in love with New York City and finds new life goals rather than a man. For the most part, though, the characters are falling in love with each other. Unlike Love, Actually, there aren’t any bittersweet stories. Though all of the people don’t have romance, they (almost) all end happily.

While I enjoyed the romances a lot (they’re all super cute) and most of the other perspectives, there’s one thing that kept me from loving this book. For some reason, Rosen decided to include the perspective of a Muslim woman in a burka, who ends up trying on the dress when she accidentally takes the luggage of another woman from the airport by accident. Trying on the dress takes her from being happy with her burka to knowing that, though her life won’t change, she’ll never be satisfied like she was before. This is the only story line that’s bittersweet and it’s so fucking unnecessary to the larger narrative. There are only two chapters from this point of view, and it’s in no way dealing with this subject in a thoughtful matter. It feels one hundred percent like a high-handed western value judgment, and I hate it.

The narration is excellent across the board, though two of Michael Crouch’s characters sound exactly the same when he should have done something slightly different with them. The effort put into the audiobook definitely made the story more enjoyable. I enjoyed this on the whole, though I wish that judgmental POV had been taken out because it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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3 responses to “Size Doesn’t Matter (94): Splendid; Nine Women, One Dress”

  1. Joanne Levy says:

    Hmmm. Thanks for sharing. I will give this Quinn a wide berth.
    Joanne Levy recently posted…A little taste of CRUSHING IT!My Profile

  2. Calvin Green says:

    Must read these books,exciting story and plot twist!
    Calvin Green recently posted…Rapport MasterMy Profile

  3. I’d been contemplating picking up Nine Women, One Dress too… and I love multiple narrators. Putting that audio on my list. 🙂 Great review.
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday – Always: A Novel by Sarah JioMy Profile

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