Book Reviews, Romance Novels, Travel

Blind Date With a Book Review!

A magical Irish romance by a well known author

As a newly serious romantic comedy fan, I recently made a trip to The Notting Hill Bookshop to find my next read. The small pile of paper wrapped titles labeled “Blind Date with a book” was absolutely irresistible. Here’s the one I settled on:

Image: Julia Dath

I chose this one for several reasons. First and foremost, I love reading stories about Ireland. The setting, the culture, and the rich history and folklore always draws me in. I’ve also been reading quite a lot of romance lately and knew I came to the bookstore for just that. Also, I had no idea what this book was! Sometimes I read blind date book descriptions and I can immediately guess the book. Here, I had not a single inkling of what I was buying.

Romantic rural Ireland and a fun story? Any guesses?

***

Image: My mystery read revealed! Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts

It is Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts! What a delightful little story. This was my very first Nora Roberts novel. I know her mostly through hours spent alphabetizing her titles during my shifts at the local library in high school. She always existed in the mythical area of “adult romance” that felt far beyond the bounds of my once YA only reading interests.

But now I’m old enough to recognize that general fiction offers many great stories. Jewels of the Sun was first published in 1999 and is the first novel in the Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy.

Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Jude Murray needs to step back from her hectic life as an academic in Chicago. When the opportunity to spend a few months in Faerie Hill Cottage out in rural Ireland arises, she jumps at the chance.

Aidan Gallagher has seen enough of the world to his liking. He’s since returned home and now runs the town favorite and generationally passed down Gallagher’s pub. Aidan has a gift for sharing old Irish myths, and Jude is looking to study the mythology of the area for her own academic pursuits. The two connect through the stories of Ireland as their own story together begins to unfold.

Setting and atmosphere are the core of this story’s allure. Jewels of the Sun features rolling Irish fields, tall majestic cliffs, quiet peaceful gardening, and a tight knit little village community. Just a handful of pages in and I was ready to pack my bags and move to this peaceful rural Ireland atmosphere just like Jude.

Jude’s arc is well written in this story. She’s holding onto a lot of expectations of herself and a lot of personal let down. She’s had difficult relationships in the past, and she’s always been a career driven romance. Opening her heart up to romance and creativity is a slow journey for her. Obviously, with romance novels, the protagonist is going to develop emotionally in some area related to her romantic life. But Jude’s relationship to life beyond romance is explored, and the other areas of growth we get to see in her are nice. It’s nice to see a woman reclaim her life not just romantically but also on a personal, emotional level.

If you’re a reader like me, the feminist lens is always working. In Jewels of the Sun, there is nice representations of female friendship and the development of bonds between women. Granted, a lot of these interactions involve conversations relating to men, but it is the nature of a romance novel for the protagonist to have discussions about romance with others. There’s also a bit of exploration of what it means to be a woman in Ireland — particularly the social and domestic expectations. Jude interacts with women is different ages in this story and sees just what womanhood looks like in these rural settings. There’s the stubborn, tough, and no-frills Brenna, and also the biting, strong, and longing-for-more Darcy. These women paint a vibrant picture of rural life and the ways that women exist in it. It is my understanding that these women will have their own romances in the sequels, which I hope to read soon. These characters hold a lot of interesting potential.

The romantic interest Aidan Gallagher appears tough but is also a kind man and a smart storyteller. As the man running the town pub, he’s never had the time for romance before. There are moments where Aidan’s language and views can be a bit… for lack of a better term, traditional, in discussions of sex and marriage, but overall he’s a charming character with enough swoon-ability that you’ll get why Jude falls for him. Do I think there was more opportunity to explore his desires outside of romance the way Roberts did with Jude? Absolutely. There’s enough here for readers to like Aidan, but is there enough substance to this character for us to love him? I’d say I need to know a bit more about Aidan Gallagher past his storytelling and attraction to be so endeared.

Jewels of the Sun was not a book I ever would’ve picked up for myself, but I fell hard for this quaint little town of characters. ‘Romantic’ is the word of the hour when it comes to this story. A romantic plot, romantic setting, and a romantic view of rural life in Ireland. No, it doesn’t feel entirely realistic how Nora Roberts represents Ireland. The story seems to be distinctly suspended in a time before computers and phones entirely dominated our lives, which gives it a sweeter quality of community, but there’s also no mention of any of the troubles the people in Ireland have faced. The Ireland of Jewels of the Sun is all of the beauty but none of the hardship. For international readers like myself, it is not difficult to buy into a romantic representation of this place and life. But I bet anyone who actually lives in rural Ireland would find humor in the romantic treatment of rural life.

Still, stories are just that — stories. And I can’t deny that this story has me longing for green hills and the blue sea over the horizon. If the sweeping romanticism of the prose wasn’t enough, I read the final pages of this book just as my flight was descending into Dublin. A wild coincidence, or perhaps a bit of Irish magic.

My own first views of Ireland

5 thoughts on “Blind Date With a Book Review!”

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