Tag Archives: Victorian romance

The Worth Saga: Once Upon a Marquess by Courtney Milan

Courtney Milan is the best, the very best, romance writer currently publishing, but she is not perfect and Once Upon a Marquess is a delightfully imperfect novel. Her trademark elements – eloquence, unexpected romantic moments, family politics, deciding for oneself who one will be – are here, they just don’t come together quite as successfully as they have in some of her previous efforts. The first book in her new Worth Saga, Milan is laying a lot of groundwork and she is mostly successful in establishing not only the main characters, but the necessary supporting relationships that leave the reader looking forward to the novels to come. I’d pre-order them now, if I could.

Lady Judith Worth is living in less than genteel poverty after a treasonous father and brother ruined the family name and fortune. At 26, she has held her remaining family together for eight long years through force of will and the kind of determination a general would marvel at. In her care, she has a fourteen year-old sister and a twelve year-old brother. The latter has just come home from a term at Eton, bloodied, bowed, and refusing to return. The former is somewhat spoiled and meant, I think, to come across as eccentric, but I found myself wanting either a fuller explanation for her behavior or some movement towards maturity. I assume both the reasons for her character and the growing up will be ongoing through the series.

Christian Trent, the Marquess of both Ashford and the novel’s title, comes back into Judith’s life when she requests his help. Once upon a time, they were young and in love. Once upon a time, he was asked to press the case against Judith’s brother and he did so successfully. Knowing he broke her heart – and she his – Christian wants nothing more than to do something, anything, to help the Worth family, even if it means keeping himself from Judith. He really does try, but Judith may be practical and managing quite well as head of the family, but she’s still unable to resist to the undeniable chemistry Milan has created for her leads. It handily separates itself from the “his eyes looked into her soul” fare of many genre works and, like real life couples, Judith and Christian have so much fun together and truly revel in each other’s company. Of course, their history stands in their way and Judith is determined to forge ahead on her own, but Christian is the world’s most adorable and charming tortured hero even when his quirkiness can be a bit much.

A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here. Since it’s the holiday season, I’ll specifically recommend A Kiss for Midwinter as both a classic of the genre and one of my top five (three? two?) romances of all time.

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

Rules for the Reckless Series: Lady Be Good and Luck Be a Lady by Meredith Duran

This is a previous review updated with the next book in the series…

Lady Be Good

Meredith Duran writes very strong, character driven historical romance, but Lady Be Good never quite grabbed me. It was as accomplished as readers have come to expect from Duran and involving at the time, but I didn’t really think about it once I was done. That said, I would really like to read the next novel in the Rules for the Reckless series, Luck Be a Lady, as it involves an up-from-the-the-gutter hero and a very proper heroine and those are almost always fun.

From Amazon: Born to a family of infamous criminals, Lilah Marshall has left behind her past and made herself into the perfect lady. Working as a hostess at Everleigh’s, London’s premier auction house, she leads a life full of art, culture, and virtue. All her dreams are within reach—until a gorgeous and enigmatic viscount catches her in the act of one last, very reluctant theft… Christian “Kit” Stratton, Viscount Palmer, is society’s most dashing war hero. But Kit’s easy smiles hide a dark secret: he is haunted by a madman’s vow to destroy anyone he loves. When his hunt for the enemy leads to Everleigh’s Auction Rooms, he compels Lilah to help him.

From Me: Hijinks ensue.

In addition to that whole “a crazy person wants to destroy Kit and all he holds dear” thing, Lady Be Good has some great fish-out-of-water elements and commentary on the place of women in the Victorian world. Hamstrung by convention, Lilah must steer herself very carefully in making her place, and her employer, Catherine, is fighting the same battles, but from within a different class. The romance worked well, too, but I found female characters more interesting and look forward to meeting them again. Not that Kit wasn’t charming and engaging, as was his interaction with Lilah, but he didn’t jump off the page the same way his heroine did.

Luck Be a Lady

From Amazon: THE WALLFLOWER – They call her the “Ice Queen.” Catherine Everleigh is London’s loveliest heiress, but a bitter lesson in heartbreak has taught her to keep to herself. All she wants is her birthright—the auction house that was stolen from her. To win this war, she’ll need a powerful ally. Who better than infamous and merciless crime lord Nicholas O’Shea? A marriage of convenience will no doubt serve them both. THE CRIME LORD – Having conquered the city’s underworld, Nick seeks a new challenge. Marrying Catherine will give him the appearance of legitimacy—and access to her world of the law-abiding elite. No one needs to know he’s coveted Catherine for a year now—their arrangement is strictly business, free from the troubling weaknesses of love.

To go all Accuracy Police on Amazon’s ass, Catherine is a Victim of Circumstance rather than a Wallflower and this character type combined with a crime lord is quite common in romance. Why, if I had a nickel for every one of those I’ve read, I’m guessing I would have maybe, conservatively, upwards of 60 cents. As a rule, the term “crime lord” simply means the hero climbed up out of the gutter and now owns a casino, or “gaming hell” in the genre parlance. It’s shorthand for rich and ruthless climbers. Nick is no exception having started out as a thief and worked his way up to a position of power and, most importantly, wealth through his gambling establishment. When we meet him, he’s become a kind of pater familias to the local rogues gallery. Catherine is resolute and pretty ambitious herself, so they make a potent combination against her brother and his willingness to be simultaneously gormless and uncompromising at every turn.

I didn’t like this book as much as I wanted to or felt like I should like it. I enjoyed both main characters – Nick is romance catnip – but I felt the romance never quite held together or smoldered as much as I would have liked. I appreciate how independent and canny Duran’s heroines are, and the way they fight for themselves, or learn to do so, but more couple time would have been appreciated. I would suggest reading Fool Me Twice or the delightful novella Your Wicked Heart instead.

Also by Meredith Duran:

Rules for Reckless Series (not entirely interconnected, more of a theme)
That Scandalous Summer – very good
Your Wicked Heart – delightful novella
Fool Me Twice – excellent
Lady Be Good – nothing special
Luck Be a Lady – better than Lady Be Good, but still nothing special

Not Rules for the Reckless Series
Bound by Your Touch – excellent
Written on Your Skin – not my style, but very good

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 Ravenels: Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

I will try to calm my excitement induced vibrating to write this review. I discovered Lisa Kleypas when I dove into the romance genre in 2012 and read everything of hers I could get my hands on – The Wallflowers, The Hathaways, The Travises, Derek, Gideon, and Zachary. She is the author whose work I have read the most of and I was SO EXCITED to learn she was returning to historicals. How excited? I’m writing this review and the book hasn’t even come out yet. Will it have the trademark smolder? How hot will the [insert funky bass line here] be? Will the hero be sardonic, self-made, and wry? Will he call the heroine “sweetheart” in that way of Kleypas men? Will we get to see any of our favourite characters? Probably. (Answers: some, insufficiently, yes, yes, no)

y648[1]As is the way of historical romance plots, Devon Ravenel has accidentally inherited an earldom. The last earl died in a horseback riding accident and now Devon and his brother, West, have come to look over the moldering pile of the family estate, the plentiful farmland hanging on despite the ongoing decline in the agrarian economy, and the women of the family, including the erstwhile earl’s beautiful widow, Kathleen. They had been married for only three days when he died. As the oldest member of the household, though not by much, she is acting as head of the family and arbiter of good conduct. Things proceed as well they should.

Cold-Hearted Rake lays a lot of the groundwork for the rest of the series, so much so that it was a challenge balancing that against the love story itself. I would have liked more romance in this romance novel. Devon falls hard and fast, Kathleen takes longer, but their interactions felt episodic as opposed to intrinsic to the story. The supporting characters are reasonably well fleshed out and I look forward to books for Devon’s brother West, their friend Rhys Winterbourne, and Tom Severin. Rhys in particular has been set up with a need for redemption, as there is a scene in which he acts sexually threatening towards the heroine, and he is up next. His conduct represented a couple of elements that I found dated, including West giving Kathleen “the gentlest shake” (a common Kleypas occurrence) and Devon behaving in a very high-handed fashion. I know it’s a historical romance, but certain elements were inconsistent with what I think of as the current state of the genre.

Lisa Kleypas is an autobuy author for me and, despite any disappointment I felt about the lack of couple time and, yes, insufficient sex and smolder, I will purchase the next book as I found the excerpt of Marrying Mr. Winterbourne tantalizing (his redemption is already in the works) and West’s should be a lot of fun as he was absolutely charming (if too easily rehabilitated).

I don’t often include quotes in reviews, but I wanted to share a couple of gems.

“No, he keeps the schedule of a cat. Long hours of slumber interrupted by brief periods of self-grooming.”

“You shouldn’t be in here,” Devon told him. He turned to the room in general. “Has anyone been corrupted or defiled?”

“If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find a tavern where I can pay an under-dressed woman to sit in my lap and look very pleased with me while I drink heavily.”

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.

And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke

Laura Lee Guhrke is usually a fallback author for me, with Lorraine Heath and Eloisa James, but All About Romance publishes an annual list of their readership’s top romances of all time and I had seen And Then He Kissed Her on it a few years ago, so this historical romance had been on my personal wish list for a while. Recently, it came up on Amazon for $1.99 and I snapped it up immediately. It did not disappoint.

Emmaline Dove (GREAT name) has been the personal secretary to handsome, divorced Harry the Earl for five years. Subsuming herself to her role, she is everything he needs her to be and he, of course,  takes her for granted. Having written and submitted five etiquette books to him, which he always refuses to publish, Emma’s final straw comes when she realises that Harry has never actually read any of her books before rejecting them. She quits. He panics. She gets a job writing etiquette and household advice (read: late Victorian Martha Stewart) working for a competitor. He buys the competitor’s newspaper. They work together. Harry finally gets to know the real Emma, not the perfect secretary version she portrayed for her job. They fall in love and each is freed from their misconceptions about themselves and their lives. Lovely.

When I started And Then He Kissed Her, I feared it would be a Victorian office romance, but it avoided that pitfall and was a great genre read. Harry and Emma had strong chemistry and the story was by turns sweet, funny, and sexy. There were some hodge-podgey historical elements that irked me a bit, such as Harry admonishing Emma to be her own person and do what she wants in life to which one of the voices in my head replied, “Easy for you to say rich, male, aristocratic person who can do whatever the hell you want!”, but my quibbles were not any great detriment to the story. It was an enjoyable read and one I suspect I will revisit. Plus, as I had hoped, the title of the book does occur in the text and it was wonderfully timed.

Laura Lee Guhrke reviews: When the Marquess Met His Match and How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days

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

Again the Magic by Lisa Kleypas

Again the Magic  has all of the trademark Kleypas smolder and charm, but a plotting issue which I feel gets in the way of the novel’s success and frustrated me again on my recent re-read; however, I have returned to the secondary plot several times as it has one of my favourite heroes and is, with The Heiress Effect, the historical romance for which I really wished a separate novella, or novel, had existed for the heroine’s sister.

Meeting as children, Lady Aline* Marsden and stable boy John McKenna were friends and then lovers (short of consummation) in their teens. Their secret was discovered and they were separated by her dastardly father. McKenna went to Brighton and, later, New York. Aline stayed home with her sister, Livia, and her brother, Marcus (of It Happened One Autumn).  In addition to the emotional blow of losing McKenna, Aline suffered a terrible accident which permanently disfigured her legs. At 31, she has never married and does not intend to. Livia, also unmarried, is still at home because her fiance died and she miscarried their child. First in a socially and then a self-imposed exile, Livia is just about ready to return to the land of the living.

With this set up, McKenna returns to the Marsden’s ancestral home. In the delicious manner of all Kleypas heroes, he is filthy rich, gorgeous, and sardonic; he also happens to be hell-bent on exacting revenge on Aline. You see, she pretended to reject him as beneath her to make him leave. McKenna’s plan is not a great one, just to “use her and leave her”, but the reader knows that these star-crossed lovers are going to get a second chance. The problem with Again The Magic  is that he’s just so grumpy and she’s so stubborn. Her friend actually, specifically, accurately describes McKenna as “sturm” and Aline as “drang”. While their denouement was absolutely swoon-worthy, this is Kleypas after all, they were an annoying couple; HOWEVER…

Traveling with McKenna to the Marsden house party is a blonde god of an affluent American, Gideon Shaw. Seductive, proudly louche, and complicated, he and Livia run into each other and the spark is instant. The amount of love story and chemistry that Kleypas gives them in their brief appearances slayed me. I adore Gideon. He is a high-functioning alcoholic who is aware of his problem, but unsure of what to do, or if he wants to or is, indeed, able to do anything about it. Kind and wry, Livia changes his perspective, not because she magically heals him, but because he realises how much more he can have, if he becomes healthy. I found his character incredibly charismatic and alluring in the way that an alcoholic can be only be in a romance (or Thin Man) novel. Livia and Gideon’s love story did yeoman’s work of helping me get through the main plot. They were so sweet together, without ever being overly so, that I found myself waiting for them to reappear and engage me in the story.

A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’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.

*Aline – Being uncertain of the author’s intended pronunciation of this name is the pebble in the shoe of my reading experience of Again the Magic.

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

HISTORICAL Romance

  1. Ashley, Jennifer Scandal and the Duchess  – enjoyable
  2. Dare, Tessa The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright  – fantastic
  3. Dare, Tessa Beauty and the Blacksmith – fun, bring your willing suspension of disbelief
  4. Duran, Meredith Your Wicked Heart  – such fun
  5. Grant, Cecilia A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong – very good
  6. Hoyt, Elizabeth The Ice Princess – nice version of a common trope
  7. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter CLASSIC as a novella and of the genre

CONTEMPORARY Romance

  1. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date CLASSIC new adult, a perfect novella
  2. Richland, Anna His Road Home – contemporary, wounded soldier coming home

PARANORMAL Romance  – Not my cup of tea, but it could help you determine if it is yours.

  1. Cole, Kresley The Warlord Wants Foreverplenty of THUNDER SEX™!

I also have a ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list: So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance.

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

Jennifer Ashley’s Catalogue

Themes: Ashley writes about the redemptive power of love and that it heals all wounds.

Ashley is a prolific author with more than one pen-name. I do not read her other works, and I don’t necessarily recommend these ones, but I have read every single one. I lovehate her.

The Mackenzie Series – Historical Romances:

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie – No, but sometimes yes, when I feel like it. He loves her so.
Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage – Occasionally.
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron – Guilty pleasure. I just really like it, okay?
The Duke’s Perfect Wife – No. I loathe the hero.
A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift – Visits with the ones I like and the ones I don’t.
The Seduction of Elliott McBride – No, I’m proud of the review though.
The Untamed Mackenzie  – novella – NO. Don’t.
The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie – No, but very almost yes, so maybe, plus Lord Cameron.
Scandal and the Duchess – Quite fun, enjoyable novella.
Rules for a Proper Governess Nothing special.
A Mackenzie Clan Gathering – Awful and not even a romance.
The Stolen Mackenzie Bride – 1745? Nope!