Tag Archives: historical romance

The Palace of Rogues Series: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long

Huzzah, Julie Anne Long has returned to Regency historical romances. Granted, the cover is displeasing, but the contents are not.

Delilah, Lady Derring is not only recently widowed, she’s also discovered she is virtually penniless, and had the delightful experience of meeting her husband’s mistress, Mrs. Angelique Breedlove, immediately on the heels of the first two shocks. Showing disregard for the notion that they are competitors,  and demonstrating intestinal fortitude and chutzpah, Delilah and Angelique take the jewels they have from the erstwhile Earl Derring and invest them all in the only thing left to them – a derelict townhouse and former brothel called The Palace of Rogues.

Renaming the dilapidated building “The Palace on the Thames” and down to their last farthings, Angelique and Delilah open a boarding house on the London docks. One of her first patrons is Captain Tristan Hardy. He claims to be retired and working in trade, but in reality is working undercover to ferret out a tobacco smuggling ring. He’s not sure whether Delilah and Angelique are involved, but all roads lead to their new business. I cheered Long’s choice of making Captain Hardy fight the Regency version of organized crime. Criminals aren’t dashing or particularly appealing to me and acknowledging their frequent ruthlessness was bonus in my reading experience.

Long brings her trademark wry sizzle to Lady Derring Takes a Lover. The humour is quippy, the writing dry, and the connection between the lead characters carefully built and believable. Long is especially good at portraying even the most jaded hero finding himself in over his head emotionally.

There was nice steam in the build up, in particular Captain Hardy’s realization that while he might be all tough’n’stuff, he rather likes his creature comforts, including the company of a pseudo-family, and especially Delilah. For her part, she is strong arming her way to a new life without ever losing her innate kindness and desire to make a home for everyone around her. She’s a bit naive, but that’s hardly a crime and it’s what helps her succeed. Having spent her life in the roles created for her by other people, her self-discovery leads her to a carefully reckless and droll version of the woman her parents and husband thought they created.

But.

(Did you know there was going to be a “but”? I debated between it and a “however” and decided that “but” conveyed a weaker objection.)

But while the romance is solid, there just isn’t enough of it in Lady Derring Takes a Lover. Always a liability in the first book of a new series, I found the love story took too long getting started and wrapped up rather quickly. It needed more of either conversation and connection in the build up or in the period after they formally get together; however, none of this changes Long’s historical romance status as an autobuy for me, and the tease of the next book piqued my interest and I look forward to reading Angelique’s story Angel in a Devil’s Arms.

A complete summary of Julie Anne Long’s catalogue, with recommendations and a ranked order of the Pennyroyal Green series, can be found here.

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

 

 

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The Ravenels: Devil’s Daughter – The Ravenels Meet the Wallflowers by Lisa Kleypas

The Ravenels series by Lisa Kleypas series has turned into “Sebastian and Evie’s Kids Get Hitched” and I am not complaining, Devil’s Daughter has the trademark Kleypas elements of wit, charm, a compelling hero, and delightful smolder. I’m just going to  assume you are familiar with all of the books and characters that feed into this one. 

Readers first met Phoebe, Lady Clare, as a squalling infant in one of my favourite Sebastian, Lord Saint Vincent moments from any of his appearances: “There, darling,” St. Vincent had been known to coo into the infant’s ear. “Has someone displeased you? Ignored you? Oh, the insolence. My poor princess shall have anything she wants…” 

Phoebe has grown up, married, had children, and been widowed by our next encounter with her. She’s stayed with her parents for two years while she grieves and is about to move back to her son’s estate and start dowagering for all she ‘s worth. She just needs to get through her brother’s wedding at her sister-in-law’s family estate which is managed by [cue trumpets] West Ravenel.

First introduced as a dissolute charmer, West was a spoiled and bored man-child who found unexpected redemption in a purpose in life. His is the book I have most looked forward to in the series and Kleypas has done very well here. Phoebe is instantly impressed by West as a lovely bit o’crumpet, but soon recognizes him as the bully who beset her husband at school. He’s sorry, she forgives, he performs protestations of unworthiness, and the dance begins. Sebastian makes frequent appearances remaining perfect into his sixties. Evie is around, too, being all serene, maternal, and irresistible to her husband.

I don’t know if Kleypas was consciously responding to criticisms of the previous Ravenel entries, but Devil’s Daughter is BY FAR the best of the bunch and most successfully abandons the outdated tropes in the four previous novels. Any problems I had investing in the story  because of disappointment brought with me from the previous installments, was likely entirely my issue and not the story or writing. Sebastian and West are a bit too idealized, but Kleypas is gonna Kleypas. It’s a genre based on hot men and wish fulfillment, and, let’s be honest, I am going to keep buying her books. This is was the first book in the series I have revisited or exclaimed “YAY!” at the end of.

I would love to visit more of the Wallflowers, surely I’m not the only one who would gladly climb Simon Hunt like a tree, but there is another Ravenel daughter who is up next with a mystery man and ruthless, self-made gazillionaire Tom Severin. He’s floated on the periphery in Ravenels books and even his closest friends don’t trust him so it should be interesting.  I’m getting a Harry Rutledge/Tempt Me at Twilight vibe from him and that is very promising.

Captious Aside: There is no way on God’s Green Earth that Sebastian would allow himself to be called “Gramps”.

Ravenels Series:

  1. Cold-Hearted Rake – I can’t remember anything about it. Wait! She has dark hair.
  2. Marrying Winterbourne – Self-made man who  physically intimidates his beloved.
  3. Devil in Spring – Best to this point, but there’s a scene of questionable consent.
  4. Hello Stranger – Dated tropes

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.

The Ravenels: Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Is romance queen Lisa Kleypas’s current historical romance series old school, out-of-date, or both? She is four books into what looks to be a six book series and there hasn’t been a winner among them. I’m disappointed, but since her catalogue has so many great novels, and more than one classic, I will forge ahead and read the next one, too. Let’s review the Ravenels series so far, shall we?

Cold-Hearted Rake – I can’t remember anything about it. Wait! She has dark hair.
Marrying Winterbourne – Self-made man who intimidates his beloved.
Devil in Spring – Best to this point, but there’s a scene of questionable consent.

I want to begin by going back to Devil in Spring because it had an opening that I think encapsulates what Kleypas is missing for me these days. In the Prologue, Evie St. Vincent and her husband, Sebastian – the ultimate rake and wallflower pairing – engage in a flirtation after she bathes one of their grandchildren. Even as a joke with his wife, why is Sebastian making comments about taking advantage of servants working in his home? More importantly, the couple are are both still beautiful, youthful, and lithe, even after 30 years of marriage. Could they not have been touched by time in some way?  I don’t mind Sebastian’s preservation since romance trades in wish-fulfillment, but hers bothered me. I really wanted the narration to say that if Evie’s body had softened or changed, Sebastian had never noticed because that would be a sweet and romantic view of a long marriage. Instead, the reader is treated to the lissome and dashing, “everyone was beautiful forever” approach that I think of as old school romance that felt dated to me.

The kinds of heroes I remember from romance in the 1980s, 1990s, and, indeed, in earlier works by Lisa Kleypas, were always the best looking, the most skilled, insouciant in the face of pain or hardship,  perfectly in control paragons of taut masculinity. It’s what Hello Stranger has in Ethan and it kept making me cringe.  Strangely, conversely, Hello Stranger has a wonderfully modern gesture of a heroine, but I suppose at some point in this review I should provide a plot synopsis before I return to my regularly scheduled umbrage.

Garrett Gibson is the only Board Certified female doctor in England. In addition to her full-time job as an on-call physician for a large company, she volunteers her services in London’s slums. Trained in self-defense and armed with a walking stick, she has been successfully protecting herself, but, one night when things get rough, out of the darkness steps Ethan Ransom. Familiar to series readers as a likely Ravenel by-blow, he is a worthy man of somewhat ill repute working undercover for the government, and off the clock as Garrett’s watchdog. They bond over their shared love of hand-to-hand combat. He respects her strength, she falls for his everything.

To be more specific, Garrett simply swoons over Ethan’s “I was born and raised in North London, but my parents are from Ireland, so I have a brogue I try to hide” Irish accent. Kleypas messes up culturally a couple of times in this book, but his so-called accent consistently distracted and annoyed me. You know who else’s parents emigrated from Ireland? My husband’s. Does Mr. Julien have an Irish accent ? No, he does not because he GREW UP IN CONNECTICUT! More importantly, Kleypas’s “exotic accent” device reminded me of the aggravation of what I called the “Romany bullshit” in the Hathaways series. People who have not lived or spoken to other members of their cultural group since childhood recall its language, customs, and obscure medical knowledge. No. Ethan can be culturally Irish. He can’t be audibly so. I won’t even go into the esoteric sexual skills he learned from some sex guru in India. They tie into the outdated magnificent, stallion of a man, barely in control of his urges in presence of his beloved, and wise in the ways of pleasure character elements that also fall under the old school versus outdated question with which I began the review.

Given the level of frustration I’ve just described, I’m sure you can imagine that I do not recommend Hello Stranger. I will give Kleypas this: She finally has a book in which the hero does not give the heroine “the gentlest shake.” It’s about time.

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.

The Westcott Series: Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh writes reliable romance about sensible and somewhat damaged people finding each other. The first in her new Westcott series, Someone to Love, wasn’t as strong as it could be, but Someone to Hold featured excellent and interesting character development. I don’t pre-order Balogh’s books or run to the library to get a look at a new release, but I am rarely let down by her writing. It sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but I don’t mean to. When I buy a Balogh, I read a writer who knows her business.

The conceit of the Westcott Novels is a familiar one in romance. A family’s fortunes are changed by the death of a relative and the revelation of deceit.  The lives of everyone in the series are upended and quite suddenly someone who never anticipated possessing power or wealth is thrust into a new role and life. The series starts with the chief beneficiary of a gormless and absent father when Anna, in Someone to Love, finds herself lifted from the role of orphanage school teacher to duchess. Someone to Hold follows the no-longer-legitimate sister whose life is forever transformed by losing her birthright and fortune.

Virtually everything Camille thinks she knows about herself has been proven a lie, including her name, future, and sense of self. Lost and confused, she turns away from her family to create a new life and to try to understand who she truly is. That Camille is not always likeable is the main strength of Balogh’s latest romance and, with time, the reader comes to like and care for her. Moving into Anna’s old role as a teacher, she shields her insecurities and fear with a haughty manner learned from years of trying to be the perfect lady for her distant father.  What she discovers about herself allows her to move forward and, to steal a line from Douglas Adams, “She was mostly immensely relieved to think that virtually everything that anybody had ever told her was wrong.”

An unintended companion in Camille’s exile is the man who Anna Westcott left behind, Joel Cunningham. Raised in the orphanage, he is building a career for himself as a local portrait artist and still teaches art at the school a couple of afternoons each week. He doesn’t know what to make of the prickly and defensive Camille, but he is drawn to her nonetheless, and the two find often themselves having conversations and little adventures neither had planned. He’s a good man working towards success and financial independence. She’s an independent woman working towards her own goodness.

As I state in every Balogh book review, if her publishers set a lower price for her works, I would have snapped up a lot more of them by now. In the meantime, I get by on surprise sales, Someone to Hold was $1.99, library loans, and the occasional full price impulse purchase. That last item is what I am holding strong against for the next book in the series, Someone to Wed, but I have no doubt I will read it eventually.

For more Mary Balogh 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.

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

Tessa Dare’s latest Regency romance series is called 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.

Do-You-Want-to-Start-a-Scandal

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 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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