Scarlett Peckham’s The Rakess is an interesting experiment in reversing the rake figure in historical romance. I’m not sure it succeeds. We’re familiar with the rake-“anti”-hero, who remains “anti” until he meets the heroine: dissipated, carousing, given to sin and excess and focussed solely on pleasure, two of my favourites being Hoyt’s Duke of Sin and Balogh’s Notorious Rake. The rake is inevitably confronted by a good woman, a woman of purpose and substance who unearths his deeply-held desire for connection and an abandoning of his soul-destroying dissolute ways. Peckham’s heroine, with the unfortunate name of Seraphina Arden, exhibits the trappings of rakedom: she uses sex as an anodyne, drinks, and gads about town with unsavory characters. When the novel opens, she’s returned to her Cornish childhood home to write her memoirs, a much-anticipated double-volume of salacious deliciousness. There, she meets and has an affair with the upright, hard-working Scot architect, widower, and single father of two, Adam Anderson.
On the Betty Neels scale of perfection to meh, The Edge of Winter falls closer to perfection, except for one great big ole blip near the end. In the dramatic opening, our heroine, with the unlikely name of Araminta Shaw, is rescued from a treacherous Cornish cliff (she descended the ramparts to save a stranded child) by a mysterious sailor, who … behold, shows up as Dutch visiting Dr. Crispin van Sibbelt at the hospital where Araminta is employed as a nurse. Like my favourite Neelses, Araminta and Crispin do NOT hit it off: he’s arrogant, overbearing and teasing; she’s annoyed and peevish. She hates him and especially herself for finding him attractive. One night, after a particularly harrowing hospital day, Crispin shows up at Araminta’s flat, with supper … from Harrod’s. Is there anything to compare to a hero who appears when the heroine is too tired to deal with supper? They eat companionably enough and Crispin kisses Araminta. She’s half in love with him and in total denial, giving rise to one’s of Betty’s finest peevish-heroine passages: “He had invited himself — and he had behaved very strangely; she had been kissed before, but somehow this time she had felt disturbed by it, and that was strange in itself, because she didn’t like him. She would take great care to treat him with polite aloofness when next they met. She entered the Accident Room, carrying on a mythical conversation with him in which he came off very much the worse for wear” (40). WARNING: spoilers ahead. Continue reading
I’d never read a Maxwell romance and embarked on A Match Made In Bed with curiosity and enthusiasm. Because I’m a naïve, gullible reader who’s too easily pleased, I lauded Maxwell to a Twitter friend and smiled smugly to myself on having “discovered” a great, new-to-me historical romance author. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up where I began. A Match Made In Bed showed initial promise. The hero and heroine intrigued me and the narrative promised compelling themes about money, women’s place in society, class, and family dynamics.
Soren York, Lord Dewsberry, and Miss Cassandra Holwell meet at a house party held outside of London. It’s not their first encounter. They share an interesting history: their Cornish-origined families have long feuded over past deception. Soren, aware of Cassandra’s dislike, yet woos her … because he needs an heiress’s money to bolster his soon-to-be-lost estate, Pentreath Castle. The novel opens with great banter and a wonderful antagonistic attraction between Cassandra and Soren. Even though Soren is mercenary, Maxwell manages to show us how he’s also kind and honourable. Cassandra is bookish and intelligent and has a lot of our sympathy, nursing a childhood hurt inflicted, unknowingly mind you, by Soren.
The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince, especially the latter, are two of the best romance novels Miss Bates has read. With what enthusiasm Miss Bates delved into another Hoyt Georgian romance in Dearest Rogue. Eighth in the Maiden Lane series, Dearest Rogue, like the sublime, early Leopard Prince, is a cross-class romance. It opens on Bond Street, where bodyguard James Trevillion, formerly a captain in his majesty’s dragoons, saves his charge, Lady Phoebe Batten, from kidnapping. It’s obvious that James is sweet on Phoebe, but there be complications. Phoebe, sister to the powerful Duke of Wakefield, is blind and needs James’ protection from would-be kidnappers and to ensure her safety as she navigates city and society. (She is an innocent 21 to his jaded 33, so there’s a May/December trope as well.) Phoebe resents James’ close watch over her and her brother’s over-protectiveness. She imagines James dour and old, at least until Artemis, her sister-in-law, tells her he’s young, blue-eyed, and handsome. James, in turn, thinks he’s too old, too poor, too lame (he sustained an injury in the course of his dragoon duties) and too humble-in-origins to be anything but an annoyance to Lady Phoebe. Phoebe and James’ journey to love, friendship, and desire, while fighting kidnappers, Wakefield’s loving, controlling solicitude, and confronting James’ fraught family history, is told with Hoyt’s elegant prose and delightful humour. Continue reading
If Miss Bates as romance reader has a romance writing twin, it’s Jessica Hart. Hart pushes all of Miss B’s romance-loving buttons: her books are a perfect balance of realism and fairy tale, emotional intelligence and ideas. (Miss Bates is indebted to Emily J.H., a Twitter friend, for inspiring this post, and hopes inspiration is with her.) All of this wondrous goodness is in Miss Bates’ latest Hart read, Christmas-inspired of course, the 2009 Harlequin Romance, Under the Boss’s Mistletoe. Miss Bates suspects that Hart’s writing is both intuitive and conscious (as the best writing is), aware of craft and led by muses and the unconscious. In Under the Boss’s Mistletoe, Hart offers a classic romance narrative arc, as defined, always for Miss B., by Pamela Regis’s A Natural History of the Romance Novel (social context defined – meeting – barrier – attraction – declaration/realization – point of “ritual death,” what Miss B calls “darkest before dawn” or “dark night of couple-soul” – recognition/overcoming of barrier(s) – betrothal/marriage/baby-filled epilogue, preferably all three!). In this case, Hart frames the narrative most beautifully with a prologue and epilogue set where hero and heroine first meet, reconciling past to present. Under the Boss’s Mistletoe isn’t quite re-united lovers, or second-chance at love, but it does bring together one wild youthful kiss shared by antagonists into their present, now ten-years-later, meeting. Let’s get the review part of this post out of the way first by quoting Audrey Hepburn to Cary Grant in one of Miss B’s favourite films, Charade. “You know what’s wrong with you?” says Audrey to Cary. He shakes his head. “Absolutely nothing.” (All right, it lags a tad in the middle; and the dialogue sounds contrived there too as Jake and Cassie debate what makes a good marriage. But Miss B. quibbles.)
Other than the virtuoso handling of the romance narrative, what fascinated Miss Bates about this novel and, in general, novels deemed “sweet,” or “fade to black,” is how, when they’re as good as Hart’s, they portray as passionate and interesting a “take” on physical attraction and desire as more explicit ones. Miss Bates examines how the masterful Hart does so in this delightful novel. Be warned, dear reader, Miss Bates quotes the novel at length. Mixed up in these quotations are maybe-spoilers, though the joy of the novel lies in language and characterization, not plot. Continue reading