Tag Archives: historical romance

No Better Angels Series: The Secret Heart by Erin Satie

I received The Secret Heart in a gift exchange for the Cannonball Read which is an online book club I belong to. It was selected for me by my “romance twin“, the fellow reader with whom I most often agree on books. It was interesting.

From Amazon: Adam, Earl of Bexley, lives to work. His only relief is the sordid savagery of bare-knuckle boxing. Not women, and definitely not a disreputable, scheming woman who dances in secret with such passion…Caro Small is desperate to escape her selfish family. Her only chance is a good marriage, and she intends to marry Adam—whether he likes it or not. But the more she schemes to entrap him, the more she risks trapping her own heart.

Despite that description, and having read hundreds of romances, The Secret Heart was a change of pace. The tropes and expected genre twists were still present, but Erin Satie balanced historical reality and choices that skewed a bit differently from most. Starting with a hero who is of less than average height and leads whose private pursuits are unusual, but understandable and give personality insight, it was the character elements I enjoyed most.

“Don’t look down, little bird.”

In terms of types, romance heroines are victims of circumstance or a wallflower, sometimes both. Caro needs to make an advantageous match to save her mostly undeserving family from financial ruin. She is very young, 17, and was raised by her father’s mistress whom he had planted in their household as a governess. This combination of family dysfunction and the older woman’s grooming have resulted in Caro being naturally calculating in her pursuits. Often, the victim of circumstance type is reduced to “poor thing”, but I really enjoyed the notion that Caro had been shaped into a basically well-intentioned, but crafty, quietly scheming individual.

Almost equally as compelling as Caro’s character is Adam’s. Eking out what freedom he can in his (exalted) lot in life, he may fall into the Protector hero type, but he is a Victim of Circumstance as much as Caro is. With an aggressively autocratic father, Adam is still young enough at 19 to be figuring out how to secure his own independence and to make good as much of an escape as is possible for someone in his world. In this, Adam and Caro fit together well, but their respective thorns make it far from comfortable despite their attraction and sincerity.

Satie writes well and with style, but the Adam and Caro’s story never really caught me emotionally. Their youth, while likely realistically in keeping with the setting, was a distraction to me as I considered both of them, especially Caro, children and I don’t want to read about sexually active characters that young. Written with both high stakes and a healthy dose of melodrama, The Secret Heart caught my attention more as an engaging experiment in romance than as an involving read. I’m not planning to follow up with the other novels in the No Better Angels series.

Sidebar with [SPOILER]: In the story’s final act, Adam asks Caro to be his mistress and he will reject his familial obligations in favour of their relationship. I have long wanted this to happen in a romance and Satie’s writing had been interesting enough that I hoped the plot would resolve itself in this way, but the ending took a turn for the traditional. It’s a shame since their lives will be a gilded cage and it would have been lovely for Adam and Caro to achieve genuine autonomy.

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

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My Favourite/Favorite Romance Novel Heroes and Heroines

There are books and novellas that I recommend. There are novels I loathed.

Inspired by a commenter’s request, these are my favourite romance novel heroes and heroines, and I have a separate post for my couples. Ranking them would take too long, so I haven’t.

If you’re uncertain, I suggest leaning towards the couples list for a starting point.

Favourite Heroes

Ashley, Jennifer Many Sins of Lord Cameron  – GUILTY PLEASURE
Ashley, Jennifer The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie
Balogh, Mary Only Enchanting
Bowen, Sarina The Understatement of the Year M/M clarification: Graham
Callihan, Kristen The Game Plan
Dare, Tessa Three Nights with a Scoundrel
Dare, Tessa A Week to Be Wicked
Enoch, Suzanne The Rake
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Temptation
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Kelly, Carla Libby’s London Merchant
Kelly, Carla The Surgeon’s Lady
Kleypas, Lisa Where Dreams Begin
Kleypas, Lisa Lady Sophia’s Lover
Kleypas, Lisa Secrets of a Summer Night – Top 5 Hero
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Tempt Me at Twilight  TWO REVIEWS
Kleypas, Lisa Smooth Talking Stranger
Lauren, Christina Wicked Sexy Liar
Linden, Caroline Blame It on Bath
Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke  CLASSIC
Milan, Courtney Unveiled – I’d marry him.
Milan, Courtney Unraveled FAVE
Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter  CLASSIC
Quinn, Julia An Offer from a Gentleman
Zapata, Mariana Kulti 

My Favourite Heroines

Bryce, Megan To Tame a Dragon
Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrels  CLASSIC
Dare, Tessa One Dance with a Duke
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Heyer, Georgette Venetia
Jenkins, Beverly Indigo She’s amazing.
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Scandal in the Spring 
Kleypas, Lisa Mine till Midnight – I’d marry her.
Lauren, Christina Beautiful Player
Milan, Courtney This Wicked Gift
Milan, Courtney The Countess Conspiracy
Milan, Courtney The Suffragette ScandalI want to be her.
Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton 
Quinn, Julia It’s In His Kiss
Reid, Penny Neanderthal Seeks Human
Thorne, Sally The Hating Game CLASSIC

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

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My Favourite/Favorite Romance Novel Couples

There are books and novellas that I recommend. There are novels I loathed.

This list is my favourite romance novel couples and there is a separate one for my favourite heroes and heroines as individual characters. If I put them in order, I’d never get this list published, so they aren’t.

If you’re uncertain, I suggest leaning towards the couples list for a starting point.

Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous CLASSIC
Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date novella  CLASSIC
Bowen, Sarina and Elle Kennedy Him
Bryce, Megan To Tame a Dragon
Chase, Loretta Dukes Prefer Blondes  – LOVE THEM
Cole, Kresley Dark Desires After Duska guilty pleasure THUNDER SEX™!
Dare, Tessa One Dance with a Duke
Dare, Tessa Any Duchess Will Do
Duran, Meredith Fool Me Twice
Florand, Laura All’s Fair in Love and Chocolate
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Kiss
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch – Top 5 romance and couple
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Heart Whoops! One of my least favourite couples.
Florand, Laura Chase Me
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Garwood, Julie The Gift – Old School
Hoyt, Elizabeth The Ice Princess
Kelly, Carla The Lady’s Companion
Kelly, Carla Marrying the Captain
Kennedy, Elle The Deal
Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm
Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of You
Kleypas, Lisa Where Dreams Begin
Kleypas, Lisa Again the Magic
Kleypas, Lisa Secrets of a Summer Night
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Love in the Afternoon
Lauren, Christina Beautiful Player
Lauren, Christina Dirty Rowdy Thing
Linden, Caroline One Night in London
Long, Julie Anne Like No Other Lover
Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke  CLASSIC
Long, Julie Anne A Notorious Countess Confesses 
MacLean, Sarah One Good Earl Deserves a Lover
McNaught, Judith Almost Heaven  OLD SCHOOL
Milan, Courtney The Duchess War
Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  IF YOU READ ONLY ONE…
Parker, Lucy Act Like It
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Natural Born Charmer
Quinn, Julia An Offer from a Gentleman
Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Quinn, Julia It’s In His Kiss
Reid, Penny Neanderthal Seeks Human
Reid, Penny Beauty and the Mustache
Spencer, LaVyrle Vows
Thorne, Sally The Hating Game CLASSIC
Willig, Lauren The Seduction of the Crimson Rose 

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

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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 You  historical
  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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Bridgewater Menage Series Book 1: Their Kidnapped Bride by Vanessa Vale

Make no mistake, this western historical romance was the worst book I had the displeasure to read in 2016, has a place on my online list of The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read, and Vanessa Vale is on the Avoid at All Costs list I maintain in my noggin.

Emma James is sold to a brothel by her evil step-brother. Given a choice between paying off the cost of her purchase by working as a prostitute or being auctioned off as a bride, she chooses the latter. I’ll let Amazon take it from there: One look at Emma James and Whitmore Kane and Ian Stewart know she would belong to them. Marriage was the only way to truly claim her… they return to the Bridgewater Ranch and teach her the ways to please not one husband, but two.

Not just badly written, Their Kidnapped Bride is one of the vilest, most offensive romances I have had to draw on an iron will to finish, and I’m pretty sure it was actually just a novella. Never mind the threesome aspect of the plot – that’s a “to each their own” element – the story itself is a bizarre alt-right, meninist fantasy entrenched in patronizing, misogynistic notions of “female empowerment” wherein so-called female power derives from gladly subjugating herself completely to the husbands who know best what she needs and what will fulfill her.

Kane and Ian served together in a fabricated Middle-Eastern-sounding country based on ethnic stereotypes, Mohamir, and learned from their way of life that women are most satisfied in plural marriages in which all authority and obedience is given to her husbands. Contentment and happiness come from her acceptance of subservience to the men and their roles, in turn, of providing protection and sexual gratification. With constant refrains of “good girl”, Emma is treated like a child, humiliated, and physically punished to learn her place and soon she is a desperately begging for sex and seeking to keep her men sated. Nothing belongs to Emma, not her body, not even her pleasure. It is theirs to command and control.

Conveniently for the ongoing series, the threesome lives in a community in which all of the men served in the same unit as Kane and Ian and their relationships are also based on the sharing of a wife. At her first meal, Emma meets Ann and learns what awaits her. For an acquiescent woman, even eating supper is an opportunity for to prove her worth and joy by deciding she needs sex too badly to concentrate on eating.  Her men reward her with what she needs. In this way, the story alternates between erotica, shards of plot, and discomfiting juxtapositions of carnal relations and submissiveness.

I did read another menage a trois romance this year, Home for Three, and it was awful as well, but in a completely different way. Links to my other reviews (including books worth reading) can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Sidebar: For once, I approve of the limited WordPress dictionary. It doesn’t recognize “meninist” as a word.

I Will by Lisa Kleypas

An addendum to Lisa Kleypas’s Capitol Theatre series, I Will is a very bad Christmas novella that my friend suggested had been lying in a drawer at the author’s house for years. Dated in many elements, I had at first suspected it was ghost written, but a long abandoned manuscript makes more sense. Shortly after I began reading, I found myself wondering how I would feel about the book and quality of the writing if it didn’t have the Queen of Romance’s name on it. Admittedly, Kleypas’s last couple of historicals have not lived up to her very high standards, but I Will is a mess.

From Amazon: Andrew, Lord Drake, has been cut out of his father’s will because of his dissolute manner of living. To be reinstated, Andrew decides to pretend that he has changed his wicked ways. As part of his plan, he wants to convince his father that he is courting a respectable woman with the intention of marrying her. The problem is, he doesn’t know any decent women, except for his friend’s spinster sister, Miss Caroline Hargreaves. He blackmails the reluctant Caroline into helping him, and so the charade begins …

In addition to the extortion plot, which is disappointing, the rest of the story feels either cobbled together or shoehorned in. It’s as though significant gaps that were to be filled in later were never revisited. I’ve read virtually all of her books and the writing doesn’t even come across as Kleypas’s style, it has almost none of her spark or smolder. But these shortcomings pale in comparison to issues I had with the love scene late in the book. After a period of estrangement, the hero is delivered to the heroine handcuffed to a bed. In order to convince him they should be together, this completely inexperienced, naive young woman decides she will seduce the hero back to her. It’s an attempted rape and I found it extremely distasteful to read. Had it been written by anyone else, I would have stopped reading then and there, if I had not given up on I Will already.

Despite this effort and since she is indeed one of the best romance writers in the business, please visit my complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue for recommendations, including two classics and a few of my personal favourites.

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

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The Ravenel Series: Marrying Winterbourne by Lisa Kleypas

Marrying Winterbourne is the second book in the current Lisa Kleypas historical romance Ravenel series, and, while it is better than its predecessor, Cold-Hearted Rake, it still not up to the standard of her classics or even her stronger books.  Spending insufficient time with the love story, though plenty with the smolder, it started with a wallflower and a rake, Kleypas’s forte, and swiftly landed in Big Misunderstanding territory – which experienced romance readers will tell you means the leads’ problems could be solved with one honest conversation.

Possessing several Kleypas aspects I adore, this is what Marrying Winterbourne has going for it: Rhys Winterbourne is a gorgeous, self-made man, a sardonic and magnificently self-possessed hero who calls the heroine sweetheart in that Kleypas way, and in Welsh no less, and is poleaxed by his adoration of his beloved. So far, so good. Lady Helen Ravenel is a profoundly shy, seemingly delicate woman with a backbone of steel and the willingness to step outside of herself to pursue what she wants. Excellent! Unfortunately, all of that is taken care of by Chapter Two when Rhys and Helen reach an understanding and then spend the rest of the novel trying to get to the altar. The challenge was that the stumbling blocks took precedence over the relationship building. The problem was that some elements Kleypas includes are, at best, dated and diminished the reading experience for me.

INDIGNATION FOLLOWS:

On more than one occasion, Rhys manhandles Helen.

“Rhys grasped her chin and compelled her to look at him.”

“She hated the way he guided her with his hand clasped on the back of her neck, as if she were a helpless kitten being carried by the scruff.”

“Rhys pushed from the desk and reached her with stunning quickness, caging her body with his and slamming the sides of his fists against the wall.”

Caging a woman with his body is something Rhys did to the heroine of Cold-Hearted Rake as well, though then he was also sexually aggressive. His character needed some rehabilitation and while he shows remorse, apologises to the woman he threatened, and Kleypas drops a building on him early-ish in the book, his aggressive behavior toward Helen made me uncomfortable. Is he abusing Helen? Perish the thought. Does it represent the heightened reality often found in books of this genre? I don’t care.  Is he asserting physical dominance potentially consistent with the Victorian era? Perhaps, but Marrying Winterbourne is a romance novel, not a historical document and I don’t appreciate these rough elements. Were I the woman involved, especially in the last example, I have every faith I would burst into terrified tears. In the justifiably beloved Kleypas classic The Devil in Winter, the hero is horrified when he moves too quickly and the heroine flinches. In Marrying Winterbourne, the hero takes advantage of his superior size to intimidate Helen and control her movements. If it were ever properly addressed, I could overlook it, but since I doubt Kleypas is going to drop another building on Rhys in the next book in the series, The Devil in Spring (which I will still buy), Marrying Winterbourne is going in my disappointment pile.

A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue, with recommendations (two classics and one of my personal favourites), can be found here.

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

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