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Review: Find Me Love

Find Me Love audiobook cover. A woman in a jonquil gown faces away from the viewer in a beautiful garden. Find Me Love by Dawn Brower.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 2 hrs 34 mins.
#BennetSistersScale: Lydia - 🌹🌹 Very sweet and idealistic, but hurtles headlong toward its HEA without taking quite enough care over how this is accomplished.

Find Me Love, Scandal Meets Love Book 2, by Dawn Brower is a short and very sweet Regency novella about a young woman who longs for the freedom to follow her passion for fencing, and the tortured Earl who determines to protect her; from scandal, and even from herself if he must.

Audible Summary: "As a young girl Diana decided she liked fencing more than being a proper lady, but sometimes embracing the rules of society is a necessary evil. Fortuna’s Parlor gives her the opportunity to utilize her love of fencing, and town balls are the perfect place to hold the clandestine matches. Roguish behavior, gambling, and expensive brandy are Luther Wright, Earl of Northesk’s favorite vices. They each play a part in burying the demons that haunt him. One night everything changes and he is forced to question every decision he’s made. 

After a chance encounter at one of Diana’s fencing matches Luther decides to court her. Her strong will and his need to protect her clash, and only time will tell if they are able to find a way past their differences, and in turn, an enduring love.

©2018 Dawn Brower (P)2018 Dawn Brower." 

When I say that this story is sweet, I need to be clear; I don't only mean that it is a 'clean', traditional type of romance. This novella is Donny-Osmond-singing-Puppy-Love levels of sweetness, and if you have a single cynical bone in your body then you will struggle not to roll your eyes at it in places. If, however, you want to be immersed in a story where the lovers fall hard and fast and the declarations are as grand as the fanciest ballroom, then it's ideal escapism.

This novella begins with a prologue, which introduces the characters at their first meeting as adults. I found it very odd to have a prologue in a story of less than three hours duration, especially when their meeting was referenced later in enough detail to render it unnecessary. I actually think it took me a little longer to connect with the characters because of the awkward beginning and the fast-forwarding of six years.

Diana's penchant for fencing was great, and I liked the fact that she helped run an all-female gaming hell. It would have been nice to have had this discussed in more detail, especially alongside the risk that society Ladies like Diana, Katherine, and Mary would have been running by participating in such an establishment. Equally, I would have liked to know more about Luther's emotional turmoil, especially the grief surrounding his father's death. The consequences of the loss are explained but the darkness is never explored, and I think there is a richness to his character that is missing due to the story's brevity. I feel the same about Diana, whose dissatisfaction and cool relationship with her family is never really covered in enough detail for me to truly have a rounded sense of her.

The friendship Diana has with 'Gypsy' girl, Lulia, is problematic. The cessation of travelling with her people "to remain near Diana" would have been a monumental decision for Lulia, and not one she likely would, or could, have taken just to maintain proximity to a young Lady of little consequence. (Diana was sixteen when they met, not from a particularly influential family, and not in line to inherit the family estate as it would pass to her cousin.) Even if Diana's family failed to sever ties between the girls, it is likely that Lulia's community would have had something to say about it, too. Glossing over this felt like cheating the characters out of the sincerity needed to support their bond. [Edit: I am reliably informed that their friendship is addressed later in the series, when Lulia gets her own story, A Gypsy's Christmas Kiss.]

I found the inclusion of Lulia as a prop to enable Diana's unconventional interests rather troublesome throughout, as the use of a beautiful 'exotic Gypsy' stereotype without exploring Lulia's own story is always unfortunate. Regardless of her presence in later books, Lulia's main purpose in this story is to be 'a Gypsy' rather than a complex character in her own right who just happens to have Romany heritage. This perpetuation of a stereotype was evidenced with lines like, "Lulia could be so enigmatic. It came with her Gypsy roots.". Substitute another ethnic minority and racial stereotype and it would be unacceptable. I appreciate that the attitudes of the day were uncompromising, and that would have influenced Diana's opinion - and Luther's - but it is the author's apparent lack of awareness in creating such a one-dimensional character that makes it feel so awkward. That fortune-telling is one of Lulia's defining characteristics in her own story does little to dispel my unease. 

This is not the first time I have encountered very heavy-handed 'Gypsy' characters in historical romance. I wonder if, perhaps, American authors do not comprehend the racism inherent in many 'Gypsy' stereotypes? I don't know how prominent the various Romany and traveller communities are in the US compared to Europe, as it often seems as though they don't appreciate that they are discussing an ethnic minority with a very specific culture and a history of persecution. They often use a non-specific 'Gypsy' character the way they might have had an 'indian girl' before the world became more sensitive in its portrayal of Native American people and culture. By which I mean that many authors write such characters in a way that is very othering, and focuses on their exotic beauty and mystical beliefs or practices, without ever actually honouring their culture, their roots, or even naming the clan, tribe, or community to which they belong.

I think Lulia could have been a very interesting, positive, Romany/Romanichal character if she had been allowed to shine, and I would have loved to hear her story. Learning how she came to stop travelling, who taught her to fence, and what she hoped for of her own future would have been fascinating. A lost love was alluded to but only to enable her wisdom and insight into Diana's circumstances; predicting Diana's future rather than exploring her own past. Though this was very much Diana's story, and Lulia's would have to have been another book, it meant that her culture was used as an accessory in this one and that's not especially appropriate.

There were quite a few issues with the general writing in this audiobook, which is always very noticeable in a novella because there is so little text for the mistakes to blend into. The writing generally lacks the elegance or refinement that is really needed in a Regency, as the formality of the language and customs really do show up every fault like wrinkles in silk. The clunky, repetitive phrasing was the most noticeable, and meant that the novella felt as if it had been written and published too quickly, without thorough editing. I do think that sometimes romance authors aim for quantity over quality, and especially so with novellas. For example, there were several very inelegant sentences, such as: "He scanned the area. There were no males in the area." and "There would still be enough interest to make the match interesting." or "Now she had time to consider it all, there was only one conclusion she could make from it all."

I also struggled with the inclusion of Americanisms such as "she could care less what they decided to perform". The British expression is 'couldn't care less', and the American version has always perplexed me because it claims the opposite of what it is intended to mean (that it would be impossible for one to care any less about a subject because one already does not care at all). Variations aside, not only is the phrase an Americanism, it's anachronistic too. 'She cared not' would be more appropriate grammar for the era. Another personal pet hate when it comes to inappropriate language in Historical Romance novels is the use of "making love" as a term for sexual intimacy. I understand why some authors use it to appeal to a contemporary audience but it always grates.

This novel also caused me to wonder why it is that so many Regency novellas feature heroines with "violet eyes"? This book also features two unrelated characters described as having "midnight" coloured hair, the duplication of which is a tad unfortunate given that there are fewer than fifteen named characters in the whole thing. Whilst romance novels are almost always exaggeratedly-idealistic and beatific, I do prefer stories in which the ladies resemble real women and not caricatured Disney princesses.

Whilst much of the early part of this audiobook was rather flat, it did pick up in the second half when Diana became more feisty and Luther's engagement increased. At least once they began fighting they displayed some real emotion and each had a little bite to their characters. (Though when the supposedly mature, spirited, capable Diana "stomped her foot" in temper like a willful toddler, it made it difficult to view her as a grown woman.) I did not find some of their choices very believable, and the instant-attraction seemed oddly remote at times, as if it couldn't decide if it was going to be a marriage of convenience or love at first sight so compromised on something that was neither here nor there. Too often we were coldly told how the characters were feeling rather than allowing their actions to demonstrate.

I did very much like the idea of Diana and Luther, as individuals and a couple, and I think that there is the potential to write them a compelling story. Sadly, I don't think that the execution of this novella really does them justice, and would like to see it expanded with more time and TLC. They're an interesting couple and could have a truly memorable romance if they were properly fleshed-out.

The narrator, Price Waldman, had a rich, rounded voice which was well suited to the period, but the clipped accent felt a little remote at times which - alongside the constant exposition - made it harder to get inside the characters' heads. Waldman is slightly older-sounding than the youthful characters, with an almost 1940s BBC RP tone swirled about in a transatlantic drawl. His English accent is off in places but isn't nearly as bad as the many 'spot the American' narrators of historical fiction. I feel that his would be the perfect voice and accent for reading horror, especially something classic like Guy de Maupassant. (In fact, his voice reminds me very much of B J Harrisson, who read Maupassant's stories in The Tell-Tale Heart.)

There were a few pronunciations which were rather distracting, as in British English there is no 'd' in "fighting", and we don't say "excited" or "invited" like an adorable Southern Belle at a debutante's ball. Lulia, too, has a very strange accent. It is is oddly Scottish but not like any dialect I'm familiar with, and not very representative of her culture, which would have been heavily weighted toward the Roma language at the time. If it is meant to indicate that she is in fact more Irish Traveller than true 'Gypsy' then it only makes the author's use of unfortunate stereotypes even worse, and conflates two differently-marginalised groups in the process.

Despite the language barrier, Waldman's tone is very relaxing and easy to listen to and I enjoyed his narration.

Overall, Find Me Love is a sweet story with a happy ending and a sprinkling of Regency references that help conjure up an image of a more elegant time. I wouldn't describe it as a true Regency, and it is not without its flaws, but it's a nice way to spend an evening's listening on a cold night. I would recommend it to those who are looking for a quick love-story with an unconventional heroine and a troubled hero.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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