Technically a Regency romance is set during the British Regency, 1811 to 1820.
Helpful order of precedence chart for European honorific titles.
Palladian architecture was a mid-17th and early 18th century English interpretation of a 16th century Venetian interpretation of early Greek and Roman architecture.
scorzonera, skirret, cardoon, couve tronchuda
Games of chance: Vingt-et-un (literally ’21’ in French; Blackjack), Hazard (a dice game forerunner of Craps), Whist (supplanted by Bridge), Loo (or Lanterloo; a card game related to Écarté and Euchre), and Faro (a card game evolving from Basset). Gaming hell, gaming tables, gentlemen’s clubs White’s and Brooks’s, Ascot (horse racing; Tattersalls to buy and sell horses to be used for racing and other purposes), cock fighting, mills (boxing matches).
In Vixen in Velvet, a novel set in 1835 London, author Loretta Chase has the exceedingly stylish dressmaking heroine clad in brodequins footwear described by the hero as “a bit of satin and a sliver of leather” and by the heroine as “half-boots called brodequins”. The sixth definition for buskin provided by Dictionary.com states “a woman’s low-cut shoe with elastic gores at the sides of the instep, popular in the early 20th century.” And Merriam Webster refers to brodequin as “a high shoe worn by women”. The English Wikipedia buskin article refers to brodequins but does not reference the 19th and 20th century ladies footwear variations of brodequins.
Other elements of attire: corset, stays, pelisse
In the 19th century, corsage was a common term for a woman’s bodice or jacket. Its origin is French. A corsage is looser than a corset. A “corsage en pointe” is a pointed bodice.
pelerine – a woman’s cape of fur or cloth, usually waist-length in back with long descending ends in front.
huswife – a small sewing case
distemper – an archaic term for measles, a close cousin of modern distemper in canines (which is not – yet – zoonotic).
consumption – an old name for tuberculosis, a bacterial disease generally residing in the lungs. In 2017, up to 1/3 of the world’s population is infected, 10% of which will progress to active infections. The fatality rate for untreated, active infections is 50%.
scarlet fever – symptoms include “strawberry tongue” and a rash. After the rash fades, the skin peels. Today, though there is no vaccine, this disease is readily treated with antibiotics. Strains with antibiotic resistance are to starting to appear.
diphtheria – generally diagnosed by a growth in the throat. Today prevented with a vaccine and treated, as necessary, with intubation or an antitoxin. Fatal in 40 to 50% of those untreated.
croup – a respiratory infection.
Scandal Wears Satin is a Regency romance centered around Sophy, the second of three French-English dressmaking sisters with a dab of disreputable bluebood, and Harry, the Earl of Longmore, and his sister Clara. This book picks up where Silk is for Seduction, the story of the romance between Sophy’s older sister and Clara’s longtime intended, left off. Fortunately this story doesn’t dwell on whether or not Sophy should reveal to Longmore her connection to the “Dreadful DeLuceys”. I enjoyed the cultural context provided by the period quotes prefacing each chapter. I appreciated the lack of a dangerous villian – no kidnappings or brandishing of weapons; the stricutures of polite English society and threats to one’s reputation were more than sufficient motivators to keep the plot moving. Having viewed fashion plates from the 1800’s, I enjoyed the detailed womenswear descriptions; these passages may be a bit obtuse for those not familiar with the Regency antecedents to the outrageous headgear worn in Beach Blanket Babylon, but they can easily be skipped over. Overall I found these characters entertaining and I enjoyed Sophy’s story more than that of her sister Marcelline. I wonder what Loretta Chase has in mind for the youngest sister, Leonine; there wasn’t an obvious hint in this book.
It’s In His Kiss marries off Hyacinth, the youngest of the eight Bridgerton siblings – chronologically only her slightly older brother Gregory remains unmarried; his story is book 8 in the Bridgerton family series. Hyacinth and the indomitable Lady Danbury, grandmother to Gareth St. Clair, the hero, are both entertainingly intellectually sharp and “refreshingly direct” (though that latter attribute would likely have not been countenanced in a young, unmarried lady no matter how wealthy and well-connected). Thankfully the rather fanciful plot is grounded by its origin in a mundane act of adultery. The lead characters’ interactions and the generous helping of ‘Lady D’ are sufficient to warrant the suspension of disbelief necessary to carry the reader past the historical shortcomings – inherent though they are to most Regency romances. The only disappointment was the Epilogue – though Julia Quinn has apparently rectified that by the stories second Epilogue in The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After (a collection of second Epilogues for the story of each of the eight siblings and a bonus story about their parents). Though there are repeating characters, this book may be read before the others in the series (with the exception, of course, of the aforementioned second Epilogues collection).
The Huxtable Quintet
Three sisters, one brother, and one male second cousin each get a volume. The books don’t need to be read in any particular order unless you really want to be surprised by the pairings – but the dust jackets of each give that away.
Then Comes Seduction, the second chronologically, tells the story of Katherine, the youngest sister, and Jasper Finley, a baron and good friend of second cousin Constantine. The book gets off to a rough and very implausible start with an unwise wager but redeems itself with characters that show growth during the three years after that first meeting. The delightful country manor setting in the latter part of the book is also a big plus. The buffoonish villain’s comeuppance was well done with an unexpected twist. And the story ends on the dance floor (with a waltz).
Seducing an Angel is an improbable tale with too many twists to be enjoyable.
A Secret Affair tells Constantine’s story – the second cousin born a couple of days too early to inherit the earldom. This story deals with both homosexuality and Down’s syndrome (though of course neither term is used by the characters). The former is simply a plot device to preserve the heroine’s virginity and to cast her relationship with her elderly first husband in a purer light… though personally I found those explanations an unnecessary conceit. The latter was much more central to the plot and I appreciated it as a rarity in the genre (not that I’m particularly interested in a slew of Regency romances covering this topic). The characters were enjoyable – and as a very wealthy widow the Duchess of Dunbarton is free from a lot constraints placed on the young, unmarried ladies. The proposal scene near the end is the best part of the book in my mind.
The Survivors’ Club Series
The Arrangement, second in the series (by publication date), is an entertaining and easy read. Balogh deals thoughtfully with war injuries – in this case blindness (and deafness)… though the trauma is not PTSD but rather happens to have occurred on the battlefield. The story is mostly believable – I only quibble over the heroine’s willingness to forgive her relatives after they were willing to ship her off to London with only coach fare in hand and no one to call upon for help. I appreciated lack of additional trauma to bring the happily ever after to fruition: no splitting apart, no near-death experiences, and – best of all – pregnancy was not the trigger. … The hero and heroine sing two songs: Early One Morning (1787) – an English folk song – and The Lass of Richmond Hill (1789) – a love ballad which was then used as a military march by the British Army.
No Man’s Mistress abounds in plot twists that surprise and that, after reflection, are highly improbable. Likewise the crisis resolution and the Ton’s acceptance of the soiled but redeemed heroine into their number is less than plausible but is nevertheless satisfying. This novel may be read independently of the other two novels in the trilogy – unless you really want to be surprised about the eventually pairings.
Mary Jo Putney
The series can readily be read out of order.
Sometimes a Rogue, the fifth volume in the ‘Lost Lords’ series, was an enjoyable straight-through read – some thriller mystery elements but never sufficiently over the top to interrupt the plot flow… though after serving to get the hero and heroine together, the quasi political / revenge / ducal inheritance plot thread was superfluous to this story. (The thread’s resolve was more of a sop to readers of the first volume in the series, Loving a Lost Lord.) [SPOILER ALERT] Some of plot points were acceptable but again were not necessary – most notably the hero’s heretofore unknown illegitimate daughter and the hero’s retirement investments in India. Was the latter just a red herring or did Putney mention them late in the story (but to no purpose) because that was easier than writing out their mention early in the story? And I was left puzzling how the hero’s father (and older brother) became such a spendthrift and poor estate manager when his paternal grandparents were such savvy investors and estate managers – particularly given that his grandmother was a wealthy merchant’s daughter. A good read so long as you don’t demand too much realism.
Not Quite a Wife, the sixth volume, lost my interest. The hero and heroine were too emo and yet too bottled up. Complex contradictions can make for interesting characters but in this case it just made for implausible responses to Putney’s improbable plot twists.
The Rake, the second volume in this series, is a revision of an earlier novel and brings back a less-than-heroic side character, Reggie Davenport, from the first volume in the series (The Diabolical Baron). With a sympathetic backstory and a reveal of the many kindnesses that he’s done, we are more inclined to root for Reggie to become a hero. Putney further improves his likability by quickly getting him out of London and into a position of responsibility – and she’d already removed his primary antagonist before the start of this story. The heroine has her own problems to overcome – most notably the old Regency novel standby: lack of sexual self-confidence… which of course gets addressed by having sex with the hero. Fortunately her confidence in other areas and her lustiness keep her from being a simpering ninny. Interestingly, as her full backstory gets revealed toward the end of the novel we are less in charity with her… she was old enough by Regency standards to know and act better than she did. Fortunately that slip is long after the reader is fully engaged in the story and in any case at that point our focus is on Reggie and rooting for him to win his battle with alcohol.
The Importance of Being Wicked
The Importance of Being Wicked may readily be read out of order with subsequent books in the ‘Milworth Manor’ series or the prequel ‘Sinful Family Secrets’ series. However, though the novel is appended with the bonus novella Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements I recommend reading the novella first to provide more perspective on the hero, Winfield Elliott. By the time of the novel Win is long ago outgrown wicked – and doesn’t really evidence wickedness (in the naughty fashion) during his courtship dance with the heroine, Miranda. The central characters were enjoyable – the more so for being a bit older than the Regency norm… especially the heroine, who is also notable for her business and architecture skills. The surrounding cast was likewise a plus – supportive parents all around – and I look forward to reading more in the series.
When We Meet Again
As read by Jill Tanner, When We Meet Again was an enjoyable romance though repetitive – particularly noticeable in the audiobook. The central couple, Miss Pamela Effington and Prince Alexei of Avalonia spend most of the novel avoiding their HEA due to misguided – and tiresome – notions of honor and duty. Fortunately the supporting cast picks up the slack and carries the story through to the end.
See the Castle Krentz Quick post for reviews of books by Jayne Ann Krentz under her married name (Jayne Ann Krentz), her given (maiden) name Jayne Castle, and and her pen name Amanda Quick. Her Krentz novels are in the murder mystery / thriller / romance genres with a contemporary setting – often the wine country north of San Francisco. Many of the lead characters in her contemporary novels have psychical abilities and in the remaining one or both of the leads are strong intuitives. Her Jayne Castle novels are set in the future on another planet with emigrants from Earth with psychical abilities and her Amanda Quick novels are Regency romance / mystery / thrillers, usually with paranormal (psychical) elements.
Surrender to the Earl has a sufficiently unusual tweak to the usual plot to easily overcome a few less than plausible character developments. The main tweak is that the heroine is blind (due to a childhood illness contracted when she was 7) and though she is otherwise fully capable, her family has kept her confined to running their country estate with little outside contact. Her coping mechanisms and the reactions of the minor characters to her blindness made the story interesting. The hero’s (an earl with baggage related to the heroine from his recent military service) pursuit of the heroine is reasonably paced and engaging. My only objection was the plot powered by the heroine’s steadfastly unfeeling father coupled with too quick an about face of the heroine’s siblings’ feelings.
A Winter Scandal is moderately entertaining – no particular clunkers but nothing particularly special either. I found it hard to relate to a “plain and proper” vicar’s sister appealing to a dashing London rake – with or without the baby of unclear provenance – and her scholarly satisfaction in writing her brother’s sermons rings false. It’s the first in a trilogy so if you like connected novels then this trilogy is a reasonable read.
The Handbook to Handling His Lordship by Suzanne Enoch has the outsiders combined with the Regency over-the-top element of governess turned shady lady turned marriage candidate for a titled gentleman.
A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior
I liked A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior much more than I had anticipated based on the back cover blurb – which misleadingly depicts the hero as an uncivilized boor and the heroine as a hoyden. The plot’s surprising twists and turns and the story’s denouement were very satisfying.
Because You’re Mine pits the plucky heroine against the emotionally walled-off hero – who ironically is a very successful actor conveying great emotions on the stage – with a pregnancy tipping the scales in favor of marriage and eventually their HEA. At least the pregnancy at the critical factor wasn’t glossed over – but it still irks me when it’s used. Overall too overwrought too be more than a skip and jump read.
Lessons of Desire had a promising start and an encouraging middle – other than the heroine’s telegraphing the ending in blithely sweeping away pregnancy concerns – but soured at the end with the old trope “I really want to be married only for love… and somehow being pregnant means that we’re marrying for love”??? Jeesh. It took over 375 pages (in the paperback edition) for the heroine to overcome her free love / ‘marriage is a prison’ beliefs (waaaaay too long) – and even then it was pregnancy not true love that appears to have been the tipping point… which to me made it appear that she wasn’t getting married because she’d independently decided that she’d be stronger and happier with those legal and ecclesiastical contracts in place.
“The Art of Duke Hunting” by Sophia Nash – an amusing Regency romp with some twists as the hero tries to “duck” his fate. The bit about the heroine agonizing over whether or not (and when) to tell the hero that her ancestor was responsible for the “fowl” curse was unnecessary.
Rule of Scoundrels series
A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean offers a strong heroine – with the name Penelope she has to be.
One Good Earl Deserves a Lover
The hero has a bad case of survivor’s guilt; at least he didn’t spend a lot of time talking about it but it’s a stretch to buy into the guilt factor unless you have really spent a lot of time steeped in the mores of the aristocracy of Regency-era England. In real-time the prologue tells the basics of the death of the hero’s older brother from the perspective of the hero using the third-person – but it’s not until almost the end of the novel that we’re given a little more insight into that event… and even then, it’s not enough to warrant the hero’s guilt and celibacy. Does his being a born-again virgin rake make him sexier? Maybe if he were doing so because he was saving himself for the right woman instead of letting down all of the dependents of his Earldom by turning his back on his responsibilities as the head of the family. Setting aside the hero’s manufactured complications and the daughter of a double marquess heroine’s willingness to visit a gambling hell unchaperoned – this is fiction after all – the couple has an entertaining rapport and, as with the other novels in the series, the heroine’s pluckiness and resourcefulness saves the day.
Interesting references: Trotula de Salerno (Italy) or, more accurately, Trota de Salerno contributed to gynecological knowledge in the 12th century. Vega, the 5th brightest star in the night sky, is in a constellation named for its resemblance to Orpheus‘ lyre. Discourse on the difference between desire and temptation: desire is the readily procured meringue; temptation is that fleeting moment for which you’d sell your soul, consequences be damned. An incubus preying on an unsuspecting woman in the 1800’s (as in the painting in the hero’s office) and earlier could just as easily been an acceptable story to coverup a rape by an authority figure.
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished
Though No Good Duke Goes Unpunished deals with the dark themes of the then legally allowable violence against wives and children and ruinous gambling addictions the dialog has sufficient wit to keep the reader moving along without stopping to question the credulity of some of the plot points and character developments. Points that in retrospect were very implausible include the following. A woman dies in her palatial home with the family in residence of stab wounds and the authorities don’t even make a token pass to determine how she acquired said wounds? A beautiful girl with bright red hair and very unusual bi-color eyes who lived a sheltered life under the tyranny of an abusive father at sixteen flees an arranged marriage with little funds or preparation survives in hiding for twelve years with her virginity and spirit intact? And no one questions how the hero, the “Killer Duke”, could have murdered said girl on the eve of said wedding in his bedchambers in a fashion that sprayed blood all over his bed and body but not the rest of the room, disposed of the body, and then returned to the still bloody bed still wearing his bloody clothes without leaving traces of blood?
Personally I could have done without the Duke’s tattoos and I found it pretty implausible that someone of his pedigree could morph into the biggest bruiser amongst London’s upper-class – surely some of the lordlings with merchant-class blood and money would have been more likely candidates for that position. I also didn’t need the moral ambiguity of the hero becoming wealthy independent from his distant dukedom by operating a casino to feel sympathy for the heroine who catalyzed his remove from his rightful position in society. Maybe the first two books in MacLean’s Scoundrels series explain how the Duke and his partners are more righteous casino owners because they take care of the unfortunate victims of the gambling addicts who lose all their worldly possessions to the casino; I think that a little more of that aspect of the backstory would have enhanced this volume.
How to Capture a Countess is an amusing Regency romance without the over-the-top complications of kidnapping, evil parents, or murderous would-be-heirs. The complication keeping the hero and heroine apart is the hero’s overweening pride. (The dialog in the book tries to make out the heroine as overly prideful but I didn’t see much evidence of that – after all, she tried to apologize in writing the day after the incident that sets the story in motion and again when first speaking with the hero six years later.) If you set aside the hero’s pettiness in seeking revenge with such fervor six years later and view him through the eyes of his relatives’ and the heroine, then the story is very readable. High marks for the amusing scenes with the great-aunt’s pugs; the archery scene was lol. I was disappointed to an almost identical plot summary for one of Karen Hawkins’ earlier novels.
capote = ; blunderbuss = ; poultice = ; pall-mall = ; cravat pin = ; Floors Castle overlooking the River Tweed opposite Roxburghe Castle was built in 1721. Architect William Playfair took inspiration from Heriot’s Hospital in Edinburgh to remodel the castle from 1837 to 1847. www.karenhawkins.com
With the whimsical notion of warping a European fairly tale into a Regency romance Eloisa James has created the basis for a series of novels. The end result is amusing – but the fairly tale aspect is vastly over-hyped in the cover blurbs as the actual fairy tale bits are incidental and late in the stories.
Once Upon a Tower by Eloisa James is mostly set in the Scottish Highlands instead of the drawing rooms of London. I felt vaguely gypped by the cover blurb and title: the tower is a small part late in the story and somewhat resembles a trapeze artist working without a net – I’d much prefer watching the artistry of tumbling through the air without danger; I thought much less of the heroine and hero for the hero risking his life to prove his love. That said, the ending after the doing-dare outside the tower was very satisfying – complete with a few happy sniffles – and the dynamics of two virgins navigating marital bliss were unusual. Overall very readable – though perhaps not straight through.
The Duke Is Mine pairs a proper, handsome Duke with a short, bubbly, voluptuous Lady. The connection to the Princess and the Pea is eventually made but the connection is very tenuous. The story spends too much time on the Duke being coldly unemotional and therefore needing the heroine’s over abundance of emotion – when really it’s just that the Duke has not had practice interpreting others’ emotions nor in articulating those emotions. There’s a hint of Aspberger Syndrome – but I think that it’s more of an overblown plot device. Some touching scenes but not an engrossing read.
The Ugly Duchess was uncomfortable getting to the inevitable breakup of the duchess of the title and her impoverished Duke and though the Duchess’ transformation into a swan was entertaining, the path traveled by her Duke and the jump to happily ever after while entertaining was too improbable to warrant uninterrupted reading.
I picked up The Proposition by Judith Ivory based on a Heroes and Heartbreakers.com article on unusual heroes – in this case a very definite lower-class rat-catcher from Cornwall. The heroine at one point reflects on the parallels to the Pygmalion story but most of the story is much closer to a gender-reversed, age-equalized My Fair Lady (which is also based on Pygmalion). Unfortunately – perhaps to ensure an even happier HEA – the end of the story rushes into more of a Cinderella story and the scrooge relative softens into a harmless curmudgeon. I felt cheated that the heroine, in particular, didn’t have to make tough compromises… but then that would have taken a sequel. In audio book form, the no-touching sex and heavy petting scenes were really intense… until the male, British-sounding narrator (Steven Crossley) attempted to voice the hero’s labored breathing and groans. The result was laughable completely disrupting the mood that writer and narrator were trying to create. I expect that without the audio book’s pros and cons (a built-in slower reading rhythm vs. distracting sound effects), these scenes would be equally engrossing in the paper book form. I would have thought that Crossley would have had more trouble voicing the heroine. Instead, by using inflection, accent, and tone but not a higher register he made Winny, the heroine, very distinct from Mick, the hero. It also helped that those two characters accounted for over 80% of the dialog. Clocking in at 13.5 hours, the audio book dragged a bit in the middle with what sounded like repetitive bits; hard to say whether they’d present likewise in the visual book.
Though almost the same length, The Indiscretion audio book felt shorter than its predecessor, The Proposition; certainly helping was the former’s balance between the hero and heroine’s “alone time” stranded on the Dartmoor and time spent in a large, upper class summer house party. For all that she liked her maid the heroine was tiresomely class-conscious, snooty, and self-centered – not to mention occasionally emotionally tone-deaf. Fortunately the hero was very likeable (and unusual for the genre) and the sexual teasing was hot.
The narrator, Barbara Rosenblat, did a nice job voicing both the male and female characters – no off-putting vocalizations during the sex scenes as was the case with The Proposition. However, I could have done without the gulping and inhalation sounds at the end of long passages – was the editor asleep at the switch? Was the taping so rushed that it all had to be done in one take? Or were the sounds left in deliberately in a misguided attempt to add authenticity?
I appreciated the epilogue – but I have a hard time believing that a Texan of that time would have grilled a heap of BBQ ribs and then relaxed on the grass wearing denim trousers and a plaid shirt.
The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine by Jayne Fresina is a Regency romance with a few twists – notably the hero, while a charming rouge, is definitely not of the upper-class (the heroine is). However, for me those quirks were not enough to outweigh the somewhat tedious and highly improbably Dickensian life histories burdening the characters. An okay but not cover-to-cover read.
The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine by Jayne Fresina, copyright 2012, Sourcebooks, Inc.
One of the more prolific writers of thick (400+ page) paperback Regencies. Her series intertwine and cover multiple generations of the Cynster family tree – so if you really want to be surprised by the pairings then read in generational order… but given the predictable nature of the books the reading order doesn’t otherwise matter. The basic plot in almost all of Laurens’ novels is: handsome man and beautiful woman – at least one of whom is wealthy as well as titled – fall in love but handsome man can’t admit his love until one of both of them almost dies at the hands of another. Fortunately other than their aversion to the ‘L’ word, the improbable abundance of exceptionally good looking British aristos, and the lamentable need for a near-death experience; the characters and dialog are engaging and the sex scenes are reasonably satisfying.
All About Passion
All About Passion concerns honorary Cynster, the Earl of Chillingworth. The mentally unstable side character could have used an end note providing scientific legitimacy to the condition; as-is it came across more as a very convenient plot device. The heroine was more worldly than the Laurens norm – but still the requisite virgin. Still an entertaining read for all that.
The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh
The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh was going along swimmingly for the first 180 pages (in the paperback edition) – the hero had his sights set on the heroine as his bride from the beginning of the story and they just gotten engaged (though the aftermath of an improbably life-threatening event precipitated said engagement) – when baamm, we’re stuck back in Laurens’ cliched hero-who-can’t/won’t-voice-his-love… and Cynster females advising the heroine to bring the recalcitrant hero to heel. It was a real letdown to have the hero thinking “If he played his sensual cards correctly, she would come to him, and then he would have her without having to admit to anything more binding than desire. Desire, passion, lust – all emotions he was entirely willing to own to. Especially with her.” Further, that section wasn’t in character (at least not up to that point).
Not to be left out, the heroine also suffers writer-induced flaws. For example, on page 194 she’s described in the context of the hero’s strategy to further possess her as: “And not just by her rational mind but by the sensual, emotional, steely-tempered and iron-willed female every instinct he possessed assured him dwelled inside her.” Now while I can accept (though not relate to) contrasting her (rational) mind with her (sensual) emotions or instincts, I cannot compute placing her will and her tight control over her emotions (steely-tempered) on the other side from her mind. How can you separate mind and will? That’s like saying that a product can sustainably be better, faster, and cheaper. A person is either a head, heart, or gut type; but not all three. I see the heroine as a gut type but with access to a head wing (an 8/7 on the enneagram) which allows her to strategize and plan before issuing orders. On page 269 we have more ‘he has to say that he loves me’ with …”she’d yet to secure that one most vital thing – his love declared and acknowledged” and his perspective on page 277 is “No – he would have to find ways to deal with all he felt without allowing his affliction [‘of the heart’] to show.” After several life-threatening incidents, they made love and Mary “gave him the last tiny part of her she hadn’t yet bestowed, the small careful piece of her heart she’d held back in case he never fully gave to her”. In response Ryder recognized “the ultimate linking” “as an irrevocable step that once taken could never be undone” which “with the last gasp of his desperation, he reached for it” and “held on as, in a firestorm of passion, sensation and emotion collided and they burned”. Oh puhleeze – like anyone could release at will the last bit of emotional distance and like one’s partner is going to notice the difference in the middle of sex – regardless of how desperate the circumstances of the coupling. And note that Ryder still doesn’t actually verbalize his love until 28 pages later when they’re not sure that they’ll survive the final trap.
On page 204 in an early sex scene we have a jarring note with “…into the slick pleasures of her mouth which she freely, flagrantly, like a houri, offered up for his delectation.” I wouldn’t have minded that sentence so much if the ‘like a houri’ had been edited out – and if it weren’t followed by “She was clearly a fast learner; he should have expected nothing less. And, or course, she was impatient.” Uggh. This is compounded on page 279 by …”bent her head and kissed him. Like a houri. Like a woman whose life held only one aim – to please and pleasure him.” And what’s with “Together they reached for the sensual sun”? I can see the heat being sensual but how is sunlight itself sexy?
Another slightly off note comes on page 266 in describing Mary and Ryder’s first dinner (alone with the servants) after their wedding day: “the dishes were a superb combination of light and delicious for her, and hearty and tasty for Ryder”. This doesn’t sound authentic to me; I seriously doubt that a dinner – especially one designed to impress the new mistress of the house – would include ‘light’ dishes.
Those complaints aside, this novel was definitely a better example of Lauren’s standard formula and a nice conclusion to the series about Mary’s generation of Cynsters.
The Lady Risks All
I’m sorry but I just couldn’t buy having two leaders of the distaff side of London society coming to a meeting in a public museum, carefully sending their bodyguards off to a respectful distance, and then having a quite private conversation in hearing range of a veiled woman (and also, presumably, her maid)? And in a later scene, was it really okay for a ‘widow’ to travel unaccompanied by an unrelated, well-appointed gentleman? And much later, when staying at a ducal estate I have to think that there’d be a cadre of servants waiting to assist – the heroine would not be dressing and undressing on her own (or with the hero’s help)… at least not without first chasing off at least one servant.
At more than one point in the story I was taken out of the flow by the necessity to puzzle out odd body configurations. For example, the hero and heroine are squished face-to-face, hiding in a ‘linen store’. First the hero “was all but wrapped around her” but then we have “the alluring swell of her hips all but cradling his” – which comes after “the press of her full breasts against his chest, the pressure of her sleek thighs against his,”… I’m sorry but that position does not compute. I guess that goes with phrases like “The heat of him, the muscled maleness of him, lapped around her” – all felt through her hand on his chest.
Somewhat oddly I found the repetitive sex scenes decidedly unromantic. They could only get to a deeper level of love and intimacy through simultaneous orgasms? (Speaking of which, during the first time they engage in sexual congress the hero mentally observes that he forgot to pull out before coming because he was so wrapped up in the moment. And that was that – no ‘French letters’, no thought to pulling out, and no post-coital cleanup. At least Laurens didn’t trot out the old pregnancy trope.) Each “last time” has to top the previous in terms of ecstasy? I skipped through the last several sex scenes.
As with other Laurens’s novels, a little life-threatening situation is the tipping point for the hero (and sometimes the heroine) to consciously and verbally acknowledge the “love” that’s heretofore has only been expressed physically via sex. Okay, I can accept that when the scene is well-plotted but in this case they’re all twitter-pated. First the men: the good guys set a trap for two, canny, hulking murderers-for-hire who prefer knives to guns (convenient, that) with a temporarily crippled gentleman in a second-story bedroom for bait. One member of the party is posted in the distant (family bedroom) wing to protect and corral the female family members… but no one bothers to tell the women in the guest wing to stay in their rooms? And what about the bad guys? Why take the bait? They know that they’ve been identified by the good guys, they’re pretty sure that they’re not going to get more money from the guy who hired them, and while ransom might work why take the risk on an unfamiliar ducal estate – especially if you have to get the kidnap victim out the window and down a dicey trellis? At the very least why not kidnap one of the women instead? Speaking of the trellis, if I were planning a trap I would not position my main muscle in the garden waiting for the bad guys to scale the trellis and enter the bedroom before following the same path up.
On to the women: as a properly reared upper-class miss upon hearing a resounding crash in a nearby bedroom in the middle of the night and knowing that the bad guys are still (in the abstract) lurking outside would you, with a shawl over your nightgown, rush unarmed into an unrelated male’s bedroom? At least the heroine put on a robe and grabbed the fireplace poker. And then, finding the room unoccupied, would you rush in – still unarmed – into the next bedroom? D’oh!
Overall I enjoyed the characters and the class considerations but I felt that the story would have been better served by some judicious editing; the 461 paperback pages should have been 350 tops.
transept; bailiff; Star and Garter for lunch during a day excursion to Richmond (in what was then the London countryside)
The Masterful Mr. Montague
Okay, hackneyed title aside I enjoyed this book – more so than other of Laurens’s books because the hero didn’t struggle with voicing his love for 400 pages… though the leading couple, Heathcote and Violet, don’t make their mutual commitment and have Laurens’s usual transcendent sex until the final pages. Instead she revisits her two detective couples, Penelope & Barnaby and Stokes & Griselda, and describes their bedroom exploits. Those scenes aside, this story is more a murder mystery than a romance – but that’s a plus.
The Rake to Ravish Me is an okay read – engaging sex scenes, spirited heroine (though not particularly realistic for the era), and Ben Affleck-ish hero in the cover photo of the couple are offset by a brooding hero, an overwrought medical drama, and a callous father. At least the heroine’s stepmother and stepsister are presented as loving and caring of the heroine – though the stepmother’s attempts to get the heroine happily married are somewhat misguided. Also, I found it hard to believe that the socially very astute and tastefully and fashionably dressed stepmother would fall for her stepdaughter’s ploy of wearing ugly, unflattering dresses and heavy glasses to repel would-be suitors. Regarding the medical drama, I’m not questioning the seriousness of the ailment but rather the way in which it was introduced into the story, kept a secret from the hero until too late, and was used as the story’s climax – the old trope of putting the heroine into a near-death situation in order to get the hero to recognize (and verbalize) his love for the heroine. That said, if this novel had had that little extra, then I may have been complaining about the cliche plot.
Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare has the obligatory tacked on Epilogue to show the characters happily married but facing the anxieties of childbirth (understandable given the much higher rates of dire complications during that era as compared to modern England)… but at least in this case the heroine has already successfully twice crossed that hurdle and it’s a friend who’s in the throes of birthing her first – and Dare provides an Author’s Note with some historical and scientific context. Overall the story was a good read – it would have been a cover-to-cover read if I’d had a bit more time – without extraneous plot devices and with spicy sex scenes. The characters kept me from questioning the logical disjoints too closely – a Duke crossing over all of the class lines to bring a commoner into his home for a week in a Pygmalion exercise, said Duke instantly reforming after feeling a fetus’ kick, and mourning for many months over the death of his one-week old illegitimate daughter. (The private mourning and ‘stiff upper lip’ are believable; the extended mourning by a peer – especially over the death of an infant born to a past mistress for whom he had no romantic feelings – is not.) Of course the commoner aspect was convenient in that the her loss of virginity to a previous, inept lover meant that the sex scenes could progress much more quickly but that the Duke could still be the first to bring her to orgasm. At least the heroine’s lack of missishness wasn’t based on her experience with farm animals copulating.
Romancing the Duke
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare takes on the complexion of one of Eloisa James’s novels loosely based on a fairy tale – Beauty and the Beast in the case of this novel. I much more enjoyed this novel than either Dare or James’s prior efforts and I was happily surprised by the neat twists at the ending. This story was a cover-to-cover read; I didn’t even preview the end.
When Passion Rules is somewhat between a Regency and a Historical: the heroine was raised in Regency London but instead of finding a nice English nobleman her guardian whisks her off to a small (fictional) Central European monarchy to save the country from succumbing to civil war by taking her place as the heir to the throne. The story has strong overtones of Anastasia, daughter to Tsar Nicholas II, who was rumored to have survived the execution of her family that ended the Russian monarchy. The plot was pretty implausible but ignoring that, the heroine and her guardian were pretty likable and the hero was okay if you like the strong and suspicious type.
What a Wicked Earl Wants has sufficient tweaks on the obstacles-to-love trope to provide an entertaining read – though the last few chapters felt a bit rushed in their summary dismissal of the villain and the couples mutual declaration of love. Also, the hackneyed eight-months-later epilogue was superfluous.
An Introduction to Pleasure (in the Mistress Matchmaker Novel series) by Jess Michaels uses the Regency setting to increase the plausibility of a (female) virgin forced by circumstances into genteel prostitution starting with an “education”. Good sex scenes and a quick read at 260 pages large font paperback pages – but not worthwhile if it had been a longer novel.
Rogue In My Arms stepped over the boundaries of the credible – the plucky heroine was a might too plucky and the hero too unwise and honorable with regards to his previous lady-love. The novel has entertaining characters but is not a read-straight-through – or even a skim-deeply unless, perhaps, you’ve read the first in the series.
In Further Than Passion, Cheryl Holt has heaped misfortunes on the naive heroine – why have just one nasty woman when you can have three? I started skipping and though initially I was inclined to go back and read the interim story I was dissuaded by the distasteful climax and flawed hero.
The Unexpected Duchess by Valerie Bowman – witty (at least in their own minds) hero and heroine kept apart through misplaced honor and misunderstandings reminiscent of a Shakespearean comedy were mildly engaging at first but had me skipping after a couple of repeats.
A Wedding Wager features a reasonably likeable hero and heroine weighed down by too many improbable circumstances. Ennh.
Regency Christmas Courtship – five authors’ moderately entertaining short stories, none of whom I’m going to seek out based on these stories.
Snowy Night with a Stranger – three novellas by Jane Feather, Sabrina Jeffries, and Julia London. I most enjoyed Sabrina Jeffries’s story, notwithstanding the brooding, withdrawn hero nicknamed ‘Black Baron’ – but perhaps my view was colored by her dedication to Ursula Vernon (she of the totally awesome crested fire lizard Christiana).