Tag Archives: historical romance

Castles Ever After Series: Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare’s latest Regency romance series is The Duchess Deal and I would recommend its first book, Girl Meets Duke, over Do You Want to Start a Scandal. This crossover story between Dare’s Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After novels, features the youngest of the Highwood sisters and longtime troublemaker, Charlotte, who has both eldest sibling Diana’s desire for a loving home and intellectual Minerva‘s sense of adventure.

Piers Brandon, Lord Granville is an agent of the crown performing reconnaissance at a two-week house party in the English countryside. Devoted to his duty to King and country, he is caught off guard when Charlotte Highwood presents herself to him with a warning: Her mother will be trying to force a match between them and they must be careful to avoid it. Before you can say “in flagrante delicto”, Charlotte and Piers are caught alone together and giving the appearance of having crossed several lines. Their betrothal now imminent, they agree to the appearance of an understanding to get through the remainder of the estate. Kissing book plotting has other plans for them. After all,  it is a romance novel truth universally acknowledged that a peer must be in want of an heir.

Autocratic and closed off Piers is drawn to Charlotte’s intelligence and charm, while she soon learns that below the surface and behind his protective walls is a loving and passionate man. As they wend their way through plot machinations, they discover they are mad for each other and all that’s left is the genre’s forgone conclusion. I didn’t buy it for a second.

I tried reading Do You Want to Start a Scandal twice –  once in my original attempt and again for this review. It’s amazing how much of my time was taken up with wondering “How old is Piers exactly?” in the midst of skipping forward to find a more interesting part of the story. Charlotte is “not yet twenty-one” and while Piers’ age is never specifically stated, he must be at least 32. A twelve (or more) year age gap is not unheard of, but it didn’t work here. While I’d like an older heroine, the problem is not actually her age. I just don’t see what she has to offer Piers. What could they possibly find as common ground to build a relationship on? All of her youthful exuberance serves to remind me that he is a person of much greater experience in life and of the world and the writing failed to convince me that they were on the same page.

With the lack of well-matched characters overshadowing the story, I wasn’t especially worried about Dare’s usual requirement that I bludgeon and sequester my willing suspension of disbelief or that the revelation of the true goings on by the supporting characters was preposterous. I require somewhat more Regency and somewhat less modern farce in my historical romances.

Julie Anne Long’s classic historical romance What I Did for a Duke features a large age gap convincingly rendered. She’s twenty years old to his thirty-nine.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, 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 which includes the aforementioned observations.

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A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

“I don’t think anything inspired me except the necessity of coming up with a story so that I could fulfill my obligation to a contract I had agreed to! I had to dream up a story, and this one popped into my head.” Mary Balogh in the interview following A Matter of Class. Nonetheless, as an experienced, and clearly honest, professional writer, she delivered a sincerely charming  historical romance novella.

Reggie and Annabelle are lifelong neighbours divided by a waterway as well as the barriers of class levels in so-called polite society. Their estates may be next to each other and they may go to the same church, but his self-made father and her top-lofty, though cash poor,  sire have been at odds for Reggie and Annabelle’s entire lives.

Told in present day and flashbacks, the reader learns that Reggie has become a dissolute spendthrift more interested in the tassels on his new Hoby boots than settling down. He’s a minor scandal compared to the fact that Annabelle has recently been recovered from an unsuccessful, but nonetheless scandalous, elopement with a family servant. Disgraced, impecunious, and in need of being advantageously foisted off on a man f means but  and in need of being foisted off on a man of means, the fathers make a plan for their children to marry. Reggie and Annabelle have plans of their own

Light and quick, A Matter of Class moves entertainingly towards its resolution with some clever twists along the way. I recommend it as and strongly suspect I will be revisiting it when in need of a lift.

My favourite Balogh novels:
The Survivors’ Club: Only Enchanting – great book and wonderful hero
The Slightly Series: Slightly Dangerous – this one is a classic

For more Mary Balogh book reviews you can go 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 or my  streamlined recommendations list.

Girl Meets Duke Series: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

What was being a duke, if not arching a sardonic eyebrow?

[fires confetti cannon, then starts pointing and yelling, “YES!” at Tessa Dare]

Girl Meets Duke has all of Dare’s cleverness and less of her recent series’ tweeness. She’s back and I’m in! It’s not her best work, but it’s what I (and very possibly no one else as captious as I am) consider a return to form, and in some ways a step up. It’s like she unleashed her full wit and wordplay on this Regency romance.

Ash is a brooding, forbidding Duke. Manly, muscular, and scarred by cannon fire, he focuses on running his estates and wallowing in his despair. Aware of his responsibility to the duchy to provide an heir, he proposes to the first, well, second, acceptable young woman he meets. He threw over the first one when he discovered she was disgusted by his appearance which seems more than fair on his part. Emma arrives in his study to demand payment for that first fiancée’s wedding dress. Working as a seamstress, she left home when her father, a vicar no less, shamed her for a liaison with a local young man. Ash instantly proposes a marriage of convenience, Emma rightly declines, and then circumstances conspire to bring them together anyway.

The Duchess Deal continues with Dare’s tendency to make a kind of musical comedy of her romances while pulling in current cultural elements, in this case superheroes. The writing crackles and I found myself thinking this is what it might be like of P.G. Wodehouse wrote romance novels and worked blue. The book works to Dare’s strengths and I did not find myself as bothered by the overarching need to willing suspension my disbelief as I did with the Castles Ever After series. Yes, the servants love the above stairs folk, and it’s more of a family than an aristocratic household, and there were sundry other non-historical elements, but I will be buying the next Girl Meets Duke story and hope that Dare’s return to my autobuy list will be long-term.

Dare’s best works are A Week to Be Wicked , Any Duchess Will Do, and The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright . A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with more recommendations, 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 which includes the aforementioned observations.

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Fly Me to the Moon: Star Dust by Emma Barry & Genevieve Turner

Buy Star Dust and read it. Heck, it’s free on Amazon right now.

Genevieve Turner and Emma Barry have written a solid romance with great period detail and poignant moments that go with and beyond the love story Star Dust tells. The first of the Fly Me to the Moon series, each of the historical romances in the group feature an astronaut. It looks like they jump around in decades, so there are lots of period elements – the heroine os Star Dust smokes! – to enjoy. Set in Houston in 1962, I was able to picture the bungalows with their “space age” furniture as the ASD stood in for NASA and Star Dust got underway.

Moving into a brand new house in a neighbourhood still under construction, Anne-Marie’s life is in much the same state as her surroundings. Recently divorced and working to settle her two children into their new family home, she stabs herself while opening boxes and goes to the only available neighbour for help. Having seen him on the cover of Life magazine, she recognizes Commander Christopher “Kit” Campbell immediately. He bandages her hand and makes overtures for other parts of her, but she has no time for games.

Provided with a house by her parents, but taking a job outside her home to help pay her way, I very much liked that Anne-Marie is often stubborn and prickly, despite her social graces, and she does not change. Eager to prove to those around her that she was right to abandon her cheating husband, she gets her back up very easily and as a divorcee she is given a lot of opportunities to do so. Everyone is ready and willing with judgment or insinuations about her life. Even well-intended assistance is a cause for suspicion. Seeing the double-standards she is challenged with, I’m not surprised. Kit comes to understand her demeanor and the woman underneath it. It’s a nice twist on the hero being the difficult one in a romance and Kit is far from that. He’s a wonderful guy, honest, loyal, and respectful. He’s doing his best to cope with his own onslaught of attention, ambitions, and the fears he is not supposed to even acknowledge, never mind share with anyone.

One of the delights of Star Dust is that Anne-Marie is 30 and embarking on a new life with nine and seven year old children. Kit is 34 and getting ready to travel to space. Adults really were younger 50 years ago. At the age when people nowadays are often getting married for the first time, both of them are on to second stages in their lives.

I stumbled across Star Dust, and discovered that Amazon has an actual  book review site, because the magnificent Courtney Milan had provided a list of 9 Historical Romances for Those Who Want Something More Than a Little Different. I snapped up Star Dust and a couple of samples for my e-reader. I haven’t always enjoyed Courtney Milan’s recommendations, but they are always interesting and worth trying.

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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Whyborne and Griffin: Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk

This review required a little research from me on the genre distinction between paranormal and fantasy, so I could resolve that Widdershins is the former. The first in a series, which takes its name from the main characters, this paranormal romance features a couple interacting with occult forces and things that go bump in the night. I would recommend Widdershins, even though it was not my cup of tea. It was fun, but I like significantly less violence and prefer a dearth of imaginary creatures in my kissing books as a rule.

Set in the late 19th century, a linguist working away happily in the bowels of a museum, Percival Whyborne is approached by private investigator, Griffin Flaherty, to decode/translate an encrypted text left behind by a murder victim. As they work together freaky events happen around them and in turn reveal a cult trying to end the world. Racing against time, Percival and Griffin have a grand, but occasionally creepy, adventure and fall madly in love. I was very much in favour of that last part.

Given that I prefer my romances without the paranormal elements, I’m not sure how to judge the ones here. They were fine and well portrayed, I guess; however, Widdershins was suggested first and foremost as a fun M/M romance and it did deliver. Whyborne is closeted even beyond the requirements of the time, owing to a very bad experience, but he steps out enough to let Griffin into his life and his heart. That portion of the story did not disappoint and I appreciated the historical detail, not just of the complication of being gay in a world which tells you it’s wrong or a sin, but also of the time period itself. I won’t be continuing with the series, but I can see how it would be a delightful romp for people who are interested in nightmare creatures skulking around the workaday world.

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. I have a list of LGBTQ romances, too.

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The Ravenels: Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

“He smelled like an expensive forest.”
The goddess of romance writers, Lisa Kleypas, has not lost her clever touch.

What starts as potential ruination and scandal quickly changes into a fierce love match when Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, and Lady Pandora Ravenel are caught in a compromising position when her dress is caught in the scroll work of a settee at exactly the wrong moment. Encouraged, but not badgered, by her family, Pandora agrees to spend time with her erstwhile seducer despite her very strong and laudable resistance to marriage and her complete loss of civil rights and public identity the moment she becomes someone’s wife. She has plans for a business and doesn’t want to be subsumed by her relationship with a man. Gabriel, on the other hand, is damn sure he wants her to be his wife almost immediately and is eager and willing to accommodate her need to be her own person, if that is what she needs. Huzzah! Things proceed quickly apace with one of those nonsensically condensed romance novel timelines and they are married mere weeks later. Why a young woman who was reluctant to marry would turn around and storm the altar is beyond me, but sure.

The best of the Ravenel series so far, Devil in Spring is still not up to the standard readers are accustomed to from Lisa Kleypas. As in the preceding two books, there were some uncomfortable elements which I did not remember from her earlier works. I went so far as to check a couple of Kleypas books (one Wallflower and one Hathaway) for the patronizing and infantilizing details that caught my eye here. They were absent in those books and especially jarring in this one where so much of Pandora’s character is built around her avowed need for self-direction and independent regard; for example,

  1. “Easy child…”
  2. “Poor mite.”
  3. “…and tuck you in like a good little girl” (after a sex scene)
  4. “…good girl…”
  5. “Be a good girl today…”
  6. “her fist closing in a fold of Gabriel’s shirt like a baby’s”

It’s not just that he sometimes talks to her like a child and always seems to know best, though I don’t appreciate that, it’s that he does it in juxtaposition with their very adult sexual relationship. Additionally, there is a love scene with dubious consent. I understand that the heroes of these books are meant to be seductive and alluring, but in one particular interaction, it was very clear to me that Pandora was reluctant and unwilling to participate in a sexual act. What I had hoped it would be a moment about a completely inexperienced young woman being given time to adjust to new activities turned into a standard, “I promise you’ll like it,” and Gabriel continuning after she has pushed him away. What the hell?

On a more charming note, yes, the reader does get time with Gabriel’s parents, the incomparable Evie and Sebastian, and their family gets a last name. I am hoping that Gabriel’s sister Phoebe, last seen as a screaming infant in Mine Till Midnight, gets her own story, although I will be reluctant to pay for it at this point. The Ravenel books are 0.5 for 3  and while I keep reading and hoping, Kleypas hasn’t yet provided a consistently enjoyable read in her return to historical romance.

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 or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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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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