Tag Archives: Regency romance

Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly

My list of unread novels from Carla Kelly’s Regency romance catalog is ever dwindling. I have as much faith that I will get to all of them eventually as Kelly herself does in the innate goodness of people. Beau Crusoe, like Libby’s London Merchant, goes in a different direction from many romances and it was pleasing to read something a little bit different and from such a skilled and experienced author.

From Amazon: Stranded alone on a desert island, he had lived to tell the tale. A triumphant return to the ton saw James Trevenen hailed as Beau Crusoe—a gentleman of spirit, verve and action. But only he knew the true cost of his survival! Susannah Park had been shunned by Society. She lived content with her calm existence—until Beau Crusoe determinedly cut up her peace! The beautiful widow wanted to help him heal the wounds of the past—but what secrets was this glorious man hiding?

After years living alone and tracking the local fauna to keep himself sane, James is back in civilization, (Regency England) and an unwilling national celebrity. He is understandably traumatized by his experiences, moreso than the reader learns initially, and in possession of a few eccentricities as a result. When asked to present a paper on his island’s crabs to a zoological society, James needs a place to stay and lands at the house of an odd, isolated family. One of the daughters of the house, a widow with a young son, works as an illustrator for a friend of the family and the man who is James’ host, if not his hotelier. He gives James a To Do list:

  1. Get rid of the toucans living in the front hall of Susannah’s family home
  2. Do something about Susannah’s awful sister
  3. Marry Susannah

Accomplishing all three tasks, the first by simply leaving the front door open, James forms a bond with Susannah and her young son. Desperately lonely and intermittently haunted, James’s embrace of an instant family feels logical as does Susannah’s longing for adventure and making good her chance for escape. Her decision to marry for love created a family scandal that no one, particularly her sister, will let her live down.

Beau Crusoe suffers from a bit of saviour syndrome, though James himself doesn’t, and everyone must be very glad he’s there to put everything to rights. Because Kelly is such a good writer and I was reading this off-kilter romance with absorption, it wasn’t really a problem, just something I noticed. The overall tone of the novel might be from what people are accustomed to, but with Kelly’s usual sincerity and lovely prose style, I simply appreciated what she was doing and that it succeeded so well.

My summary of Carla Kelly’s catalogue 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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The Survivors’ Club: Only a Promise by Mary Balogh

Oh, Mary Balogh, reading one of your Regency romances is like slipping into a warm bath. Comfortable, always enjoyable and relaxing, you are so wonderfully consistent in your heartfelt stories about broken people finding a kindred spirit to fit their pieces to.

Only a Promise is book six in Balogh’s current series, Survivors’ Club, and one I greatly enjoyed. The full series, so far, is as follows –

The Survivors’ Club Series:
The Proposal (Hugo/Gwen) – pleasant
The Arrangement (Vincent/Sophia) – very sweet, understated
The Escape (Benedict/Samantha) – meh
Only Enchanting (Flavian/Agnes) – Wonderful, read this one. Read it twice.
Only a Promise (Ralph/Chloe) – very good
Only a Kiss (Percy/Imogen) – meh
Only Beloved – sweet

As is the way of things for women in all but certain parts of the modern era, Chloe Muirhead is a victim of circumstances beyond her control. Blessed with the kind of vibrant good looks and vivid red hair that have made men tell her she looks like an elite courtesan (much like that time someone told me, “You have a really nice voice, you should be a phone sex operator”) and a trio of family scandals, Chloe has made not one, but two precipitous departures from London matchmaking seasons. Settled into spinsterhood as the companion of an elderly family friend, it’s not an unhappy arrangement, but neither is it one in which she is particularly content. It will do.

Ralph (which I know is pronounced “Rafe”, but I have to constantly correctly myself) Stockwood is one of the survivors of the series name. He went to war at eighteen with three of his closest friends and came back alone, horribly wounded, and with deep-seated guilt for both his role in convincing his friends to buy commissions and for not dying with them. His recovery was slow and fraught with suicide attempts, but many years on he is once again functioning, although not fully emotionally connected to his life. Like Chloe, Ralph is largely going through the motions, although he is more obviously weighed down by his demons.

When Ralph’s elderly grandmother, and Chloe’s host, summons him for a Your Grandfather Is Ancient, You Need to Marry and Produce an Heir to the Dukedom discussion, Chloe takes a wonderfully bold step. She knows Ralph isn’t looking for a love match and she wants a home and family. She proposes to him. He refuses, then reconsiders. Lickety split, Chloe and Ralph are married, the duke dies, and the two of them are thrust into a new world.  Not only are they negotiating the terms of their relationship, one they had agreed would not go beyond mutual respect and politeness, but also how they’ll function in their public roles.

Ralph is a very closed off character, a polite and dutiful automaton. He’s not cold per se, just distant and unengaged. His unfurling takes time and Balogh gives it to him. Weeks pass instead of the usually compressed timelines in these novels and that’s one more reason Balogh is very good at what she does: People heal slowly. Chloe is likeable, relentlessly capable, and practical, but she has issues eating at her as well and has one fantastic, and I felt realistic, freak out that relieves her character from being too ideal. She’s strong, but she’s not invulnerable. The quietly stalwart and encouraging way Chloe and Ralph support each other confirms how well they match as a couple.

Of the Survivors’ Club series, I enjoyed this book and Only Enchanting the most. Only a Promise did reference a lot of characters from Balogh’s other series and that gave me mixed feelings as I both wanted a visit with the Duke and Duchess of Bewcastle (CLASSIC!) and had trouble keeping everyone straight. There are enough characters in this series to keep track off without bringing in guest stars. I am on my library waiting list for the next book, Only a Kiss, and would buy it immediately if Balogh’s publisher caught up to the rest of the romance world and lowered their prices for e-copies of their authors’ works.

Also by Mary Balogh is A Handful of Gold  for which I created a romance review template.

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

Spindle Cove Series: Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare

I have an addition to the Things That Occur to Me While Reading Historical Romance Novels:

LUST IS IMPERVIOUS TO COLD.

Never mind all those times people in these books get down to their skivvies in drafty old manor houses, lust’s powers are even greater than I supposed. How else could a person wearing a linen shift and corset while standing barefoot in a snow squall be aware of anything than the fact that she is bitterly cold? But I have gotten ahead of myself. First an explanation:

Elinora, having written a popular pamphlet reminding women that they don’t need marriage to have value, is on her way to Spindle Cove. Tessa Dare fans know it as the setting of her highly entertaining series of the same name and a hive of unusual, outcast, and delightful young women. Waylaid by coach schedules and finding herself riding in a carriage with the man who rejected her years before, she and the very subject of her pamphlet (“Lord Ashwood Missed Out”) end up needing to spend the night alone together in a shepherd’s hut to last out a winter storm. They have quite a bit to sort through these two and part of it leads Nora following Dash out into the snow scantily clad. Fortunately, they make it back inside and under the covers with reasonable alacrity. Events proceed apace from there.

Being a Spindle Cove novella, the reader gets to visit with Dare’s previous characters – Griff and Pauline; Thorne and Kate; Colin and Minerva; and Bram and Susanna – who  are caught up in  Nora’s impending visit and sexual one-upmanship amongst themselves. More importantly, we get to see Minerva’s sister, Charlotte, who is going to have a book of her own. Huzzah!

Lord Dashwood Missed Out is not a particularly strong novella. My battle with Dare’s insistence that I not only willingly suspend my disbelief, but club it into submission continues. It’s not just that some events are historically questionable, but that they are questionable full stop. I didn’t feel like I ever really connected with the characters, particularly Dash, and as a whole the plot seemed haphazardly joined together. Dare does have a charming novella called The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright which I suggest you read instead.

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.

Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride by Christi Caldwell

Christi Caldwell is a historical romance author I have been meaning to try for a while and the free copy of Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride helped with that considerably.

Pledged to each other as children, Lady Emmaline Fitzhugh and Lord Drake have spent virtually no time together and she is sick and tired of it. Relegated to the sidelines of her own life, Emmaline learns of Drake’s return to London and decides it is time to GET ON WITH IT ALREADY! She doesn’t really question the validity of the match chosen by their parents, she naively believes that she and Drake just need a chance to spend time together and they will naturally fit. What with it being a romance novel, that is precisely what happens and both of them find what they need in each other.

A chance encounter in the street opens the book and proves Emmaline’s mettle as a partner and as a person, but Drake is ready to dismiss her and return to his life of mistresses and routs; however, he has an interfering friend who likes Emmaline and feels she will be good for him. Working in cahoots, Emmaline is assisted in frequently showing up and surprising Drake at social events. He finds himself annoyed and increasingly intrigued by her omnipresence. When he gives in to his feelings, things almost proceed apace, but there is that pesky little matter of the lingering trauma from his wartime experiences. Afraid of what he might be capable and in spite of his feelings for her, Drake makes a valiant and ultimately doomed effort to push Emmaline away.

Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride was a better than average romance and I will seek out more Christi Caldwell books – it seems to me that I have one called A Marquess for Christmas or some such lingering on my Kindle – but I will be borrowing her books rather than buying them for now. Even so, it’s nice to have a new author for my B-list and the promise of a large catalogue to fall back on in a pinch.

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

The Pennyroyal Green Series: The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julie Anne Long

Having read Julie Anne Long’s eleven book Regency romance Pennyroyal Green series, I am not really in a position to judge how this novel reads as a standalone, but as a long-awaited end to the series, I have but two syllables: BRAVO! Somehow The Legend of Lyon Redmond manages to be both epic in the way required of its buildup and personal in its sweet and believable love story. What’s more, Long successfully tied up every single loose end I could think of from the preceding books. I can’t imagine the planning and plotting involved.

As the two big fish in the small pond of Pennyroyal Green, Sussex, the Redmond and Eversea families are centuries-long rivals for fame and fortune.  They also share a legend that once in every generation, there will be a pair of star-crossed lovers in their rival folds. In the current generation, it is eldest son Lyon Redmond and eldest daughter Olivia Eversea. Like Romeo and Juliet, they spy each other across a crowded room and are instantly, overwhelmingly drawn to each other. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, they do not die owing to a Big Misunderstanding; however, when their secret relationship is discovered it ends with Lyon disappearing for five years. Nothing is known of his whereabouts or what on earth Olivia did to make him leave, so this thread of the missing son and the self-contained, possibly pining woman has woven through the first 10 books. Olivia and Lyon have had character development over the series, so when Olivia decided to moved on and take a suitor, readers knew their end was in sight.

The Legend of Lyon Redmond starts with Olivia preparing for her wedding to an incredibly patient man, Lord Landsdowne, and then flashes back and forth to her relationship with Lyon and the eventual final straw that drove him away.  I loved it. The juxtaposition of who they were then and are now was a great display of character development, particularly hers. Lyon may have gained a reputation as a mystery man, and possible pirate, but Olivia has been living under the weight of her role as a jilted woman, and consequently a matrimonial prize, for years and she has been worn down by it.

Long is always a funny, clever writer, but she sometimes leans towards the twee. That was not the case with The Legend of Lyon Redmond. What I found instead was that she seemed to be giving the historical romance genre and its tropes a big, enthusiastic kiss. I greeted so many of the events with a delighted “of course!” as Long used many standard romance turns, but the joy was in recognizing and embracing them while they were happening. They ALL work because the reader is in on the joke (such sounds of glee, I made), knows what is going on, and because the emotional connection between Lyon and Olivia is written so sincerely and is so completely understandable. Thank you, Julie Anne Long. The Legend of Lyon Redmond  was a long hoped-for gift wrapped with a beautiful bow.

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 or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

Libby’s London Merchant and One Good Turn by Carla Kelly

Libby’s London Merchant and One Good Turn  are connected novels and more lovely, consistent, sincere stories from Carla Kelly. Clearly, I am going to read and find something to enjoy in every Regency romance novel in her catalog. This time, my attention was again captured by Kelly’s consistent strengths and minor imperfections (the enjoyable prose; the successful historical setting; her belief in the inherent goodness of people and its power to improve lives; her fascination with military history; and, her ability to create truly dastardly villains and then redeem them too easily), as well as the very first time I read a romance and wasn’t sure which man the heroine was going to end up with. Spoilers necessarily follow.

Libby’s London Merchant Continue reading

One Night in London and Blame It On Bath by Caroline Linden

Their father dead and the Durham dukedom falling to a charming wastrel of an eldest son, three brothers’ grief is complicated by a blackmail scheme which threatens the exposure of family secrets that will take away their birthright. In each book in The Truth About the Duke series, one brother takes the lead in investigating the claims against their paternity and trying to find their origin.

Although the de Lacey brothers spend little time together, what time they do establishes their relationships, rapport, and the family dynamics well. I first read all three books a few years ago and re-read the first two last fall and again recently in anticipation of this review. Liking the first two novels best, I am going to review only them. One Night in London was a free and highly rated historical romance I took a chance on with Amazon. It is therefore responsible not only for my discovery of Caroline Linden, but for my increasingly frustrated hope that lightning will strike twice and I will make another such gratis discovery. That has not gone well.

One Night in London

As the second son and family gate-keeper, Edward de Lacey has run his father’s estates as a good and dutiful child. When the duke died and the blackmail landed in the brothers’ laps, Edward decided to quickly lawyer up – or solicitor/barrister up given it is Regency London – and he lands the best attorney in London for the job. In doing so, he displaces another client, Lady Francesca Gordon. A widow, she is involved in a custody battle for her niece and had just found the only counsel in the city willing to take her case. She decides that this means Edward owes her assistance and when informed of this he decides to provide it,  even if it is more because he is attracted to her than in sympathy with her plight.

Opposites attracting, both Edward and Francesca (mostly) act like sensible grown ups and the conflict in their relationship comes from their respective situations and the difference in their social position. Francesca’s subplot resolved itself with a refreshing twist and Edward decides it is time to get out from under some of his obligations and live a little. I liked both of them very much and they made sense together. What Happens in London is simply a genuinely enjoyable romance with a generous dose of spark and a level of steam I have not found in Linden’s later works.

And speaking of steam…

Blame It on Bath

Edward’s younger brother, Gerard, is a military man, strapping, practical, and focused. Realizing his inheritance is threatened, he marries himself off quickly to wealthy widow Katherine Howe. Seemingly a mouse of a woman, but one whose stiff composure Gerard is eager to crack,  she has been using all of her strength, having survived one awful marriage, to refuse a second. Her marriage to Gerard is a leap of faith and a stomp of her foot for the right to choose her own life; however, she has more reasons for choosing Gerard than he realises.

Moving post-haste to Bath in pursuit of the family blackmailer, Gerard and Kate have an immediately successful marriage in terms of physical intimacy, but the partnership that will satisfy them both takes longer to arrive. Gerard is in the military habit of deciding his wife is on a need-to-know-basis and that there is nothing she actually needs-to-know. Ignoring her by day and overwhelming her by night (hence the steam), Kate works diligently and successfully to win Gerard’s attention until her beautiful and belittling mother arrives to go out of her way to make her daughter feel small, and the extortion plot simultaneously thickens and distracts Gerard. Fortunately, these two crazy kids manage to work things out.

I enjoyed What Happens in London more than Blame It on Bath, but recommend both of them. On re-reading, they reminded me of what it is I like about Linden as a writer and what I specifically enjoy as a reader. Her newer works have left me a little flat simply because they are less my taste than these two books and I hope that in her next series she will return to the tone of The Truth About the Duke.

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