Tag Archives: Dressmakers series

So You Want to Read a (Historical, Contemporary, New Adult, Paranormal) Romance …

Alternatively: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

This recommendations list is gleaned from at least 80 authors and over 500 books.

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

Looking for something specific? Here’s a list of authors I’ve read enough to see thematic consistencies and it’s hard to go wrong with these writers:

Tessa Dare – FUN, bring your willing suspension of disbelief, on double-secret probation right now
Laura Florand – contemporary romances set in France, great intensity
Carla Kelly – lovely Regency romances, often military-themed
Lisa Kleypas  – the gold standard, also writes contemporaries
Julie Anne Long – extremely clever and funny
Courtney Milan – The very best currently publishing, one for the pantheon.
Julia Quinn – An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons.

I lovehate Jennifer Ashley’s sincere romance mired in tortured heroes and overwrought plotting.

This list is an edited version of my Complete Reading List by Author. Reviewed books are linked.

Mallory, a frequent commenter, asked me to make a personal Top 5 list. I tried. I couldn’t do it.

CLASSICS

  1. Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous – historical
  2. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date  – new adult novella
  3. Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrelshistorical
  4. Gabaldon, Diana Outlanderhistorical
  5. Heyer, Georgette Venetia (Dameral/Venetia) – historical
  6. Jenkins, Beverly Indigo  – historical
  7. Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm old school, historical
  8. Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of Youhistorical
  9. Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter  – historical
  10. Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke – historical
  11. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter – historical novella
  12. Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  – historical
  13. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle – historical now, but not when published
  14. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton  Bridgerton Book 4 – historical
  15. Thorne, Sally The Hating Game – contemporary

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The Dressmakers Series: Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase

Short Version: I adored the hero and heroine and can’t remember another time I liked both protagonists so much. The plot was very good, but not quite great, so read it for Clara and Oliver, their every moment together is a delight.

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Long Version: Looking forward to Clara’s book in Loretta Chase’s Dressmaker’s Series, I was not disappointed. You have to love it when it feels like a book was written with you in mind. Dukes Prefer Blondes featured a Nick and Nora Charles style courtship but, as it is a historical romance, in the Regency. Chase uses the narrative structure incredibly effectively to both maintain the brittle, consciously closed-off outward appearances of the main characters while still sharing their true feelings and the effect they have on one another. All books with an omniscient narrator can do this, but this genre really lends itself to it, and few novels have done it quite so well as Dukes Prefer Blondes.

Clara is beautiful and rich which is hard to feel sorry for, but she is also considered the top marital prize of her season and her time as a trophy is wearing on her. Men pursue and propose to her, but only for the potential notoriety of being the man who gains her acquiescence. They don’t really see her; they talk at Clara, not to her. She is “wrapped in cotton wool” and stifled in every attempt to assert, not even her independence, but her brainpower and energies in anything other than the most safe and stultifying activities. Her mother is very concerned about social status and any notion of womanhood which maintains it, so Clara is allowed to participate in charity work and her efforts bring her into contact with an impoverished young woman looking for her missing brother. When Clara needs someone to help her locate the boy, she is brought to barrister Oliver “Raven” Radford.

Having embraced a nickname originally intended as an insult, Raven is the cousin of a duke and the son of a younger son who made good practicing law. He’s not touched by scandal, but his family is, though they don’t care – at least not until he falls for Lady Clara. A man of searing intellect and deficient in tact, he is startled and fascinated by the goddess who has appeared before him and appears to have wits on par with her beauty, not that he will admit that out loud, although occasionally his powerful reaction to his magnificent equal overwhelms him long enough for some imprudent physical contact. Raven helps Clara out and she plagues him until he marries her. He knows they are a bad match on paper, as deeply as he may want her, but he cannot resist and she does not play fair. In the end, they find a surprising way forward and Clara gets the freedom she hoped for, but not in the form she expected.

The sub-plots about Raven’s contentious relationship with London’s underworld did not work as well for me as the love story, but as long as Raven and Clara were in the same room, I didn’t need anything else. Dukes Prefer Blondes had all the smart banter I love and managed to convey true depth of emotion without any flowery speeches and dramatic declarations which would make people trained not to express emotion uncomfortable.You want to read this book, you’ll want to re-read it, too. I have added Dukes Prefer Blondes to my streamlined recommendations list to make sure as many people know that as possible.

Also by Loretta Chase – I’ve read twelve of her books, but only reviewed two:
Lord of Scoundrels – CLASSIC!
Silk Is for Seduction

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Vixen in Velvet by Loretta Chase

The review is in verse for which I sincerely apologise. I was bored. Let’s pretend it never happened.

Venus_and_Mars

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The Dressmakers Series: Silk Is for Seduction by Loretta Chase

I signed up for a quarter Cannonball (13 books) with my online community, but I’ve completed it and I’m working on my half Cannonball (speaking of cannonballs, my behind is one), and, not wanting to let the 79 works I’ve read in this genre since February go to waste, I now return to Loretta Chase, who, while not my favourite romance novelist, is extremely reliable and entertaining. I’ve chosen Silk Is for Seduction because it’s about romance and fashion, specifically 1830s clothing which is particularly ridiculous. Look at what the fashionable wore under their clothing, and keep in mind that a shift, drawers, and more petticoats would be added, and that those things on her shoulders would be like wearing down pillows –

Once fully dressed, she might look like this:

Isn’t the thumbnail hideous? I dare you to click on it.

Have you stopped laughing yet?

Now, you would not know it to look at me, but I really like fashion, past and present. My interest in period clothing has led to the purchase of coffee table books, museum visits, and hours of trawling the internet for drawings, extant clothing, recreations (huge subculture), and I have a lovely memory of cooing through drawers of lace samples at the Victoria and Albert museum with the Dowager Julien. These efforts have resulted in a reasonably decent overview of 19th century dress styles by decade. My favourite era is the 1870s, famous for its bustles. Can you blame me? I mean, Sweet Fancy Moses, I nigh on swoon when I look at this kind of dress –

How could I not? It is all that is beautiful and good. So beautiful and good, that when it came to my wedding dress, I unconsciously chose this kind of style even though I hadn’t started learning about specific eras yet. To wit –

I know, I know the overskirt is too long! It mocks me in the photos. That is not a bustle, by the way, it is the aforementioned cannonball. These days, it’s an entire armory.

Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers Series features the three Noirot sisters who work as modistes. In contemporary language they would be couturiers, but since Frederick Worth hasn’t quite blazed his trail yet that term is not used. Marcelline, the oldest and the designer, is featured in the first book, Silk Is for Seduction; Sophy, the saleswoman, is featured in book two, Scandal Wears Satin; and Leonie, the money manager, will be the heroine of the third book, as yet unnamed, but let’s go with Velvet Is for Viscounts. They are “in trade”, but come from a shady upper class background. Their work requires them to rub shoulders and cultivate relationships with the aristocracy and wealthy gentry. They seek a young, beautiful aristocrat to dress and enhance their reputation and set their sights on Lady Clara Longmore who is the almost fiancée of the Duke of Clevedon. (His first name is given as Gervase, but in keeping with the era, he is referred to as anything other than “Clevedon” only once). Marcelline approaches His Grace in hopes of winning his lady’s patronage for her shop. From there, it all goes as one would expect from the genre. Poor Lady Clara, there are two books published so far and she gets a fuzzy lollipop in both. I hope Chase takes proper care of her in the next book.

The women’s clothing is an important element in historical romance novels. The men’s clothingalways skirts around any effeteness that would be consistent with the era and is plain and elegant. With main characters who are dressmakers, Chase spends a great deal more time than usual describing and talking about clothing. She either did a lot of research or is very good at making up words. Of particular enjoyment in both Marcelline and Sophy’s books is the acknowledgement of the extremely complicated nature of a woman’s toilette. Some romance authors simply ignore these details and with a quick pull of a few buttons the heroine is fully disrobed. Julia Quinn, who writes charming, funny, and mostly chaste novels, often has the heroine wearing ONLY the dress and it annoys me every time the hero unfastens a row of buttons and BOOM! she’s naked. I wear more cannonball management layers than that and it’s 2012. Any 19th century man trying to get to the good stuff would have to get through gloves, the dress, layers of petticoats, maybe crinolines, corset, drawers, shift, shoes, garters and hose, and possibly the “sleeve plumpers” seen above, plus any outerwear, bonnet or head covering, not to mention a potential Gordian knot of a coiffure (H/T Courtney Milan). These layers could have hooks, pins, myriad buttons, and/or lacings. It was like penetrating an Eastern Bloc bureaucracy to get all the way to the woman herself. Loretta Chase includes all these details and plays them for laughs and practicality. As fashion purveyors, the Noirot sisters’ clothing is especially complicated. Marcelline actually stops Clevedon from trying to undress her at one point because they simply don’t have time. Still, these are romance novels, so the men are very experienced and at some point the heroine can’t help but notice how adept he is with her assorted fastenings and adjustments.

Loretta Chase is one of the big names in romance for good reason. Lovely banter. Good at the smolder. Her Lord of Scoundrels is considered a classic of the genre and I’ve been working my way through her collection as my favourite writer, Lisa Kleypas, has moved on to writing exclusively hardcover contemporary romance. (It’s more profitable.) I will read “Velvet Is for Viscounts” when it comes out and until then I have books I return to again and again to re-read the “good bits” which sometimes means exactly what you think it does, and also really does not mean that at all.

Other reviews can be found on my list of books by author or The (Shameful) Tally 2014 which includes recommendations and author commentary.

Thank you Malin for recommending this book.