Tag Archives: Victorian romance

The Mackenzie Series: Rules for a Proper Governess by Jennifer Ashley

Foxy Mary Poppins!

That’s as far as I got in my review last October and it does really say it all about this entry in Jennifer Ashley’s frequently overwrought, yet personally strangely compelling and habit-forming, Mackenzie historical romance series. I read ALL of her Mackenzie stories and yet I don’t recommend any of them. I lovehate them. Why both? Because Ashley excels at moments of sincere romance while simultaneously over-plotting her novels, thus turning them into melodrama. They have gotten better in time, but Rules for a Proper Governess featuring the Mackenzie in-law McBride family was forgettable. I’ll re-read my guilty histrionic pleasure Many Sins of Cameron Mackenzie instead.

Widowed barrister Sinclair McBride has a busy criminal law practice; two beloved, out-of-control children; and a chaotic home life. He’s swamped. Roberta, “Bertie”, Frasier is a pickpocket with a heart-of-gold and light speed fingers. Bertie falls under Sinclair’s spell watching him in court and when she “accidentally” runs into him later, sparks fly and a pocket watch disappears. Hijinks ensue, Bertie ends up as governess to Sinclair’s lost and motherless children (which Ashley overplays), and everyone falls in love in a manner appropriate to their respective relationships.

Why is it that in fiction there is always a Magical Caregiver who can waltz in and immediately meet all of a child’s needs, inspire loyalty, understand her/him perfectly, and – this is the most incredible part – make them behave in a reasonable and logical fashion? It’s a trope I see all the time and it just strikes me as inane. I understand that it is a short-hand motherhood audition, but I would love a governess story wherein the nanny is inept, but their besotted father doesn’t give a toss and marries her anyway. Given the time period and the certainty of replacing the governess once the marriage takes place, surely all the spousal candidate needs to be is loving, kind, and willing to be a good step-parent to the children.

A summary of Jennifer Ashley’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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Lisa Kleypas’s Catalogue

Themes: Make your own life and your own luck. Hard work is rewarded. To find a true partner, you will need to leave your comfort zone. Also, find an incredibly hot  man who adores you.

HISTORICAL ROMANCES

Standalone Novels/Early Series:
Surrender – don’t, dated
Stranger in My Arms – don’t
Suddenly You – pretty good, reasonably racy
Somewhere I’ll Find You – don’t
Because You’re Mine – don’t
I Will – nope
Where Dreams Beginpersonal favourite, I LOVE THIS BOOK
Again the Magic main plot has sturm and drang, secondary plot is great and has a marvelous hero

Gamblers Series:
Then Came You  – good, a lot of readers really like it
Dreaming of You CLASSIC, one of romance’s ultimate heroes, I have read it many times
Where’s My Hero – novella follow up to Dreaming of You – for completists

Bow Street Runners Series:
Someone to Watch Over Me – a bit dated, one great moment
Lady Sophia’s Lover  – SMOKING hot hero, pretty good overall, dated
Worth Any Price – don’t, unless you want a lot of sex and no emotion, then do

The Wallflowers Series:
Secrets of a Summer Nightpersonal favourite, delicious hero
It Happened One Autumn – good not great, pompous hero, the heroine is a bit of a pill
The Devil in WinterCLASSIC with the ultimate Rake/Wallflower combination
Scandal in the Spring – sweet ending to the series
A Wallflower Christmas – for completists only

The Hathaways Series:
Mine till Midnight
great, has my all time favourite heroine
Seduce Me at Sunrise – too much agita for me
Tempt Me at Twilight personal favourite
Married by Morning a near miss, but still good
Love in the Afternoon excellent, sweet and grows on me with each re-read

The Ravenels:
Cold-Hearted Rake – lays groundwork for the new series, could be stronger
Marrying Winterbourne – middling, hero manhandles the heroine
Devil in Spring – best of the series, but not up to Kleypas’s standard
Hello Stranger – strangely dated; hero born and raised in England has an Irish accent
Devil’s Daughter – best of the series, charming hero

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCES

The Travis Series:
Sugar Daddydidn’t really like the hero
Blue-Eyed Devilgood, not great
Smooth Talking StrangerGreat, but can a hero be too perfect?
Brown Eyed Girl – Based on reviews, I didn’t bother.

Crystal Cove Series: Not my cup of tea, did not read.

The Brothers Sinister Series: Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

Wrapping up her brilliant Brothers Sinister series, the novella Talk Sweetly to Me, wisely centers on one of Milan’s most charming characters: Stephen Shaughnessy. Readers know him as the sole male writer for the  newspaper in the penultimate book in the series, The Suffragette Scandal. An irreverent iconoclast, he makes an unlikely suitor for an astronomer’s computer (mathematician) and also the perfect one to help her seize her chance at happiness on her own terms. Courtney Milan continues to play with tropes and write spectacular prose, but I found Talk Sweetly to Me fell short and despite some powerful and entertaining moments, the story never quite gelled.

Living with her pregnant sister to provide support in her husband’s absence, Rose Sweetly has a quiet life that she hopes to keep that way. Her appealing neighbour, satirist and bon vivant Stephen Shaughnessy, keeps disrupting her peaceful life by his very existence, proximity, and sincere flirtation. Rose knows the price she could pay with her family and in society for walking out with such a man, but he is persistent, even following her to work to hire her as a tutor to “help” him with an article he is writing.

I liked Rose and Stephen individually and was happy when I found out he would have his own story. It was almost enough to overlook the borderline inappropriate persistence he showed in pursuing the object of his affection. Rose does her best to resist, taking the role she is told she may have in life and then quietly succumbs to Stephen’s well-intended and honourable overtures.

Milan has a special gift for writing spectacularly appropriate romantic gestures for her characters, one of which, in A Kiss for Midwinter, might be the most romantic thing I have ever read. She does not let her readers down in Talk Sweetly to Me either. Between that and the marvelous way her writing carries you into the story, I almost forgot the seemingly insurmountable obstacles these characters face. Romance novels are built around the notion of “you and me against the world” and this is rarely so true as it will be for this pairing.

On a side note, and I can’t believe I am saying this either, I think Milan rushed the consummation.

A complete summary of Courtney Milan’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.

 

The Complete Reading List by Author

Short Version: Recommended books are in bold, reviewed books are linked, these are ruthlessly streamlined recommendations lists –

So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance
Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started
Plus just for funsies: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

I have more content based lists over there on the right  –>

Annual Reading Tallies & Author Commentary 2012 – 2017
On reading romance: Emotional Version and Pseudo-Intellectual Version.

My AUTOBUY List (Links Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)
Tessa Dare (on double-secret probation right now actually)
Laura Florand
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

-A-
Albert, Annabeth Waiting for Clark (Bryce/Clark)
Albert, Annabeth Save the Date (Randall/Hunter)
Alexander, R.G. Ravenous novella (Declan/Trick/Jennifer)
Alexander, Victoria Love with the Proper Husband (Marcus/Gwen)
Alexander, Victoria Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover novella (Robert/Amelia)
Alexander, Victoria The Prince’s Bride (Rand/Jocelyn)
Alexander, Victoria The Importance of Being Wicked (Winfield/Miranda)
Alexander, Victoria Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements novella (Winfield/ Felicia&Lucy&Caroline)
Alvarez, Tracey In Too Deep (West/Piper)
Andre, Bella The Way You Look Tonight (Rafe/Brooke)
Ann, Jewel E. When Life Happened (Gus/Parker)
Ashe, Katharine In the Arms of a Marquess (Ben)
Ashley, Jennifer The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Ian, not surprisingly/Beth) – GENRE OUTLINE
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Author Commentary & Tallies Shameful

Shortcuts:    

I have more lists over there on the right—>

My AUTOBUY List (Links Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)
Tessa Dare (on double-secret probation right now, so not an autobuy, but still an autoread)
Laura Florand
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long – historicals
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

2019 READING LISTS:

Recommended books are in bold.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2019

  1. Shrimpton, Jayne Victorian Fashion

The (Shameful) Tally 2019

  1. Balogh, Mary Someone to Trust (Colin/Elizabeth)
  2. Balogh, Mary Someone to Honor (Gil/Abigail)
  3. Blakeman, Aviva Stacked (Mags/Imogene)
  4. Blakeman, Aviva Say My Name (John/Zelda)
  5. Bowen, Sarina Brooklynaire (Nate/Rebecca) DNF
  6. Bowen, Sarina novella Studly Period (Pepe/Josephine)
  7. Bowen, Sarina novella Yesterday (Graham/Rikker)
  8. Dare, Tessa The Wallflower Wager (Gabriel/Penny)
  9. Kelly, Carla The Unlikely Master Genius (Able/Meridee)
  10. Kennedy, Elle The Risk (Jake/Brenna)
  11. Kleypas, Lisa Devil’s Daughter (West/Phoebe)
  12. Lang Ruby Acute Reactions (Ian/Petra)
  13. Lang, Ruby Hard Knocks (Adam/Helen)
  14. Long, Julie Anne Lady Derring Takes a Lover (Tristan/Delilah)
  15. Milan, Courtney Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure (Violetta/Bertrice)
  16. Morton, Lily Rule Breaker (Dylan/Gabe)
  17. Parker, Lucy The Austen Playbook (Griff/Freddy)
  18. Reid, Penny A Marriage of Inconvenience (Dan/Kat)
  19. Thorne, Sally 99 Percent Mine (Tom/Darcy)

2018 READING LISTS:

Recommended books are in bold.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2018

  1. I managed ONE book in this category in 2017.

The (Shameful) Tally 2018 

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Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James Series: Once More, My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath

Short Version: NO!

Medium Version: My romance spirit guide, Malin, gave me this book and guessed it based on the blurb.

It’s a Victorian romance this –

overboard

 plus a Victorian romance that –

taming

 resulting in a Victorian romance reading experience of:

stabby

Long Version:

While continuing to be an author I try to avoid actually paying for Lorraine Heath is solidly B-Minus List writer with some decent books under her belt. She can be dated in her plotting and characters and Once More, My Darling Rogue is no exception.

Lady Ophelia (God is kind, so she is called Phee by her friends) is an uptight snob, a Mean Girl. Gaming Hell owner Drake is a member of her social set, the adopted urchin son of a family friend. Drake’s sister and Phee’s best friend was the heroine of the first book in this series, When the Duke Was Wicked. It was not really a success either, but it did not inculcate violent urges. Phee has had snobbery engrained in her from an early age, which is admittedly historically accurate, and she is particularly awful to Drake. She treats him like a servant. He puts up with it, but it is wearing thin. They each wear masks to protect themselves and hide their true blah blah blah. You can see where this is going. The movie posters gave it away.

Phee has an accident and loses her memory. Drake conveniently finds and takes her in to his opportunely newly purchased, and thus undecorated and under-minioned home. Telling her she is his housekeeper/cook/maid of all work, he lets this illusion go on for more than .1473 seconds and it crosses the line into unforgivable. I remember thinking things like, “If these two embark on a physical relationship before she regains her memory I’m going to go postal!” They did and I didn’t, but I finished the book out of spite. There was some vague rationale about her unhappy past and the healing that comes with forgetfulness, but to hell with that. All I know is that her character flaws were rooted in trauma and SOMEHOW the fact that the character development that came with new trauma Drake inflicted was liberating for her is supposed to make it okay. It does not.

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

Also by Lorraine Heath, But for Romance Novel Withdrawal Emergencies Only:

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The Mackenzie Series: Scandal and the Duchess by Jennifer Ashley

Scandal and the Duchess is a fabulous romance novel title. Five stars for that. All gold.

I continue to lovehate Jennifer Ashley, but the fact that I have read everything in her Mackenzie series would seem to indicate that she is my guilty pleasure. Despite frequently overwrought plotting, but with sincere emotional connections and excellent smolder, I just keep reading her books, and in a couple of cases re-reading them. Maybe I enjoy her brand of tortured heroes more than I like to admit. Scandal and the Duchess is restrained from that perspective and a mostly gentle romp with a moustache twirling villain thrown in.

Rose, Dowager Duchess of Southdown, is the zaftig and scandalous second wife of the erstwhile Duke. The new His Grace has successfully blocked any knowledge of his father’s will and Rose has been left dependent on her former coachman’s hospitality. As her husband, whom she genuinely cared for, died early in their marriage, she has become a figure of public speculation. Obviously, she is a Victorian sex bomb whose appetites overwhelmed the old guy, though he did die happy. One night, while out and about being pursued by scandal mongers, she is literally run into by Captain Steven Sinclair. Three sheets to the wind, he still knows a good thing when he lands on it. Rose misunderstands his situation and offers a place to crash and in the morning, sober and deliciously disheveled, he suggests a false engagement to get the reporters off her back.

Steven and Rose embark on an “engagement” that, it is a romance novella after all, quickly becomes a genuine love match. It seems Rose’s husband liked puzzles and left her an inheritance if only she and Steven can figure out where and what it is. It’s an efficient McGuffin that does the job nicely. They gad about looking for clues and being sexually attracted to each other. Steven is a Mackenzie in-law, so characters from previous books in the series pop up, in particular the ones from her most popular novels. They have a cursory participation based mostly on being in the same room as the hero and heroine.

Scandal and the Duchess was light and pleasant-ish. There was less drang and virtually no sturm which is quite a change for Ashley. The novella felt perfunctory and yet I’ll still read the next one. Ashley has a formula that works well (read: profitably) for her and is an incredibly prolific author. She currently produces at least three different series under two different pseudonyms. The Mackenzie series alone has seven novels and three novellas published since 2009, with one more of each planned into 2015. She keeps pumping them out and I keep reading them, thus drowning out my clearly disingenuous protestations of ambivalence towards her work. It’s the sincere, emotional and romantic moments. I live in hope for them every time.

A summary of Jennifer Ashley’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.