Tag Archives: Victoria Alexander

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Is romance queen Lisa Kleypas’s current historical romance series old school, out-of-date, or both?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 Importance of Being Wicked & Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements by Victoria Alexander

The Importance of Being Wicked is a romantic comedy of manners of the “you are everything I never knew I always wanted” variety. Victoria Alexander’s dialogue is wonderfully droll. I should have loved the book and yet it took me forever to get through. As my romance total climbs, I sometimes think I am losing interest in the genre, but the real issue is that it is taking better stories to claim my attention.

Winfield Elliott, Viscount Stillwell, has been engaged and left at the altar three times. He has retreated to his home to manage his family finances and estates, as one does in a historical romance. When a fire destroys part of his ancestral home, he hires the only firm willing to do the work in the short  timeline he requires, and this brings Miranda Garrett into his life. She is a widow continuing what she claims to be her husband’s work, but is really her own. With the prevarication of a silent partner, she is able to work as an architect and oversee the rebuilding project. Miranda and Winfield (Win) spark and banter and fall in love.

Set in 1887, the subplots show women on the cusp of their first sustained attempt to win rights for themselves as voters and people. Win is conservative and needs to acknowledge that his views are entrenched in tradition rather than rationality. Miranda is trying to escape the people pleasing she was taught and undertook in order to be a “good” wife. They each find in the other their necessary foil and catalyst.

The Importance of Being Wicked is frequently laugh out loud funny. The characters are wry and self-deprecating, but at times it came across as a saucy P.G. Wodehouse novel. There just didn’t seem to really be anything at stake. I know that sounds odd for genre with clearly proscribed expectations, but the story needed a little less aplomb and a little more fire to be truly successful. Just a little more, and  less civilized, smolder, and the novel would have achieved a better balance and had more oomph.

But wait! There’s more… Continue reading

Love with the Proper Husband by Victoria Alexander

And with that the Victoria Alexander historical romance experiment is over. I’d read a novella and a novel and decided to give her one more go with her highest rated book on Amazon: Love with the Proper Husband.

There’s a woman, Gwen, whose sister ran away when she was young and then her parents died, but not at the same time, and she was left penniless and alone, so she went to the United States and worked as a governess there, even though she doesn’t like children, but then a solicitor sent her free passage home because of something with her father’s estate, and she’s not penniless after all and has a house, and she will be financially secure, but she can have even more money if she gets married but she doesn’t want to.

There’s this guy, Marcus, whose dad was friends with Gwen’s dad and he finds out from the same solicitor that there were conditions in his father’s will that no one ever mentioned before and he will lose everything, and so will his mum who he loves dearly, if he doesn’t get married before he is 30, in three months, but he has to marry Gwen and only Gwen or all his wealth and privilege will go away.

The guy asks Gwen to marry him and she says “No!” and he says “Please”, and then Gwen finds out that her long-lost sister is dead and she had three little girls she has to take in cause the only other person available is, as the girls point out, a “pickleface”. So Gwen needs money to raise the plot moppets and agrees to marry the guy and things proceed from there in the standard fashion.

The book was fine. It was pleasant and moved along nicely, it had some funny moments, and was nothing special whatsoever. He was a charming. lovely guy, but Gwen was what is known as TSTL* in the vernacular of the genre and she was so more than once, but still it all turned out fine because it always does in these books that’s the point and it’s the journey not the destination. The End.

The (Shameful) Tally 2013

TSTL: too stupid to live

The Prince’s Bride by Victoria Alexander

There is a prince, there is a bride, there is ACTUAL BODICE RIPPING!

What more could a historical romance reader ask for?

The Plot: Attempted murder. Marriage of convenience. Obscure European royalty.

Jocelyn Shelton needs glasses and likes big words, plus her given name is one I am in no position to object to. As a child in genteel poverty, she promised herself she would marry a rich, handsome prince, live in a castle, and thus she and her family would be protected from the world. Rand (Randall), Lord Beauchamp, is a devilishly handsome former spy, and her brother-in-law’s close friend. He encounters Jocelyn during a pre-empted assignation and saves her life. For spectacularly maguffiny reasons, the only way he can continue to protect her is by marriage and secreting her away to his uncle’s castle. For further maguffination, Jocelyn is voluntarily kidnapped and pursued to the obscure European country of “Avalonia” [insert eye roll here].

Some notes because I can’t be bothered to compose inter-connected paragraphs:

Jocelyn notices that Rand is about six inches taller than her and thinks this is a perfect difference. As I am a reader who notices height differential illogicalities, this detail won the author a golf clap.

The heroine is problematic and behaves inconsistently: Jocelyn #1 is an extremely ambitious, occasionally petulant, shallow, mercurial character. Jocelyn #2 is mature, calm, charming, devoted, and  tired of being considered an ornament. Frequently, both Jocelyns appear together in one scene resulting in a whole big bunch of COME HERE! GO AWAY!: Rand says something she finds insulting, she storms off, she forgives him before he can apologise, he does apologise, they make up, Rand says something she finds insulting, she storms off…

If I’ve done the arithmetic correctly, Jocelyn is 18 years old, which probably explains a lot, if I am giving Victoria Alexander credit for writing her young as opposed to capricious. Rand is 32. That is a big age difference. I chose to ignore it. I have read a large age difference extremely well-done, but this is not that book. Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke is that book. It’s fantastic. Go read it.

A bodice gets ripped and a shirt rent in one of the love scenes. Go try to rip open a men’s dress shirt. I’ll wait. [humming, filing nails, sorting feathers] It didn’t work did it? Now try to rip a quilt in half. I’ll be here when you get back. [starting next novel] It didn’t work, did it? EXACTLY. I’ve read novels where the hero deftly slices the laces or starts a tear in her shift with a sharp object, but there is no way in hell that a bodice several layers thick and sewn together with tiny stitches is simply going to give way.

The pacing was wackadoo. People often fall in love quickly in romance novels, and in real life, but I never understand the extremely compressed timelines romance authors use. After Jocelyn and Rand come together as a couple, they get about 3 days of bliss before things go kablooey. Why can’t they have three or four weeks? That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

Other than the quibbles above, Victoria Alexander is a competent romance writer. She is funny and she portrays the romantic connection well. Since I enjoyed her novella, Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover, and this book was inconsistent, I’m going to give her another try. Next up was going to be The Importance of Being Wicked, but I didn’t want to buy it and the only copy available at my library was LARGE PRINT. There was no way that was going to happen, not even so I could make a joke here, which I did seriously consider. (I still needed my reading glasses to peruse it. We all age, dearest.) Instead I picked up a couple of Alexander’s other books; a couple by another new-to-me author Celeste Bradley; a Meredith Duran; and the new Suzanne Enoch which is guaranteed to alternately charm and vex me.

13 days to the new Tessa Dare novella Beauty and the Blacksmith! Dare is an autobuy author I haven’t reviewed yet, but look!, I’ve already started my review –

This is the part of the review I wrote before I read the novella:

I am very much enjoying the cheesy title. It’s fun and the Tessa Dare Spindle Cove series is always fun. How is it that I haven’t reviewed any of her books yet? Malin has, if you want to check a couple out.

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

Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover by Victoria Alexander

New author! Victoria Alexander’s latest book, The Importance of Being Wicked, has quite good reviews and I liked what I perused* when I picked it up at a book store, so I decided to give her a test read. Because my never-ending quest for a new historical romance writer has resulted in disappointment, after disappointment, after disappointment, I started with a novella. That way, if I was once again let down, the hope crushing would be less time-consuming.

Not a typical romance, Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover is about a couple going through the seven-year itch. The title character, Amelia Hathaway, shares a name with one of my all time favourite heroines (Mine Till Midnight ), from my all time favourite author, Lisa Kleypas, and I have decided it is a loving homage. Madly in love with her husband when she married, Amelia has noticed that their lives have settled into a comfortable, safe routine. Upon discovering a diamond bracelet she assumes to be for her husband Robert’s mistress, Amelia sets out to get his attention by announcing that she has decided to take a lover. Hijinks ensue.

Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover was a quick, enjoyable read. I didn’t understand why, if one were to embark on an affair, one would choose the identical twin of one’s husband as the whole point is, one assumes, to get some strange, but it was required by the conceit of the story. The writing was of good enough quality and sufficiently entertaining that I have purchased another of Alexander’s books, The Prince’s Bride, and have reasonably high hopes for the novel. If the second book goes well, I might finally have that extensive romance back catalogue that I have longed for. Woo and hoo!

*I’m following my own advice as “peruse” in this context means reading the first few pages and then skipping forward to check on the canoodling to make sure there will be no unpleasant surprises.

The (Shameful) Tally