I’ll repeat what I tweeted a few days ago … “Virginia Heath, where have you been all my life?” There’s nothing more satisfying to a reader than to find a great new author. I’ve loved the length and ethos of Harlequin Historicals, but haven’t found a glom-worthy, auto-buy author among them. I am cautiously, optimistically saying Heath may be “it”. The final book in her King’s Elite series, The Determined Lord Hadleigh, had me in thrall the past few days with engaging characters, a slow-moving, slow-burning romance, and an ease and smoothness to the writing that we rarely see in romance, sadly. (I didn’t even mind that I came to the series at the end, even though I was sorry to have missed the previous books.) I was captivated from the opening scene: dramatic and “tell me more” compelling as it was.
I haven’t read a Hedlund romance in a long time, not since 2013’s Rebellious Heart, a loose telling of Abigail and John Adams’s courtship and marriage (which I loved, btw). The Bride Ship, Book One, has a compelling historical context: a bride ship, in 1862, headed for Vancouver Island and British Columbia with poor women on board preparing to become the wives of the sparse-of-women British colony. One of them is heroine Mercy Wilkins, an angel of “mercy”, a gem, a flower, from the London slums. When we meet Mercy, she hurries towards the Shoreditch Dispensary with an ill child. Instead of the kindly, but getting-on Dr. Bates, a new, handsome doctor (more of him later) is ministering to the poorest of the poor, like Mercy, like the baby in her arms, like everyone in this wretched neighbourhood. When Mercy’s family has to eject yet another of her mother’s many children, Mercy, in hopes she can help her sister Patience leave the workhouse and at Patience’s urging, agrees to board the bride-ship. Continue reading
Though I consider myself a reader of inspirational romance, I do find it cloying at times. My rule is to keep my inspie romance reads on spare occasions … until I read Michelle Griep’s The Noble Guardian. What a refreshing voice and ethos! I want to read ALL the Grieps. (She is to historical inspie what Kara Isaac is to contemporary, breathing new life into the subgenre.) The religious element is present, but more in the characters’ personalities and actions, less in finger-wagging didacticism. In The Noble Guardian, Griep’s protagonists occasionally enjoy ale, travel together chaperoned only by a one-year-old adorable moppet, and share affection, passion, and desire that is more palpably sexy than many an explicit, pages-long love scene. There’s a shared horse ride that is sensually magnificent.
Moreover, Griep’s Regency setting, with its evil, violent highwaymen and the eponymous “noble guardian,” Samuel Thatcher, is beautifully developped. Our heroine, Abigail Gilbert, “Abby”, hires Samuel to act as protective escort on her journey to her fiancé, Sir Jonathan Aberley. They travel Regency England’s dangerous byways, sleeping in inns, deflecting dangerous criminals, braving stormy weather, and caring for a tyke named Emma, the daughter of one of Samuel’s fellow-veterans too grief-stricken over the death of his wife to care for her himself. On this at times joyful, at times sad, at times perilous journey, Abby and Samuel banter, converse, share their lives, and grow to love one another and their charge, Emma. Continue reading
I have come ’round to being a Kelly Bowen fan-girl. I think her romances are among the best in the historical subgenre. They are elegantly executed; the characters are sympathetically idealized without being insipid. Her plots clip along at an excellent pace and, thematically, she is the nonpareil, with a feminist twist to her heroines, taking nothing away from the rich historical context. I’ve enjoyed two Bowen romances to date, with reservations, but I think this third in her Devils of Dover series is her best. I had been intrigued by glimpses of the hero in previous books: the mysterious Dr. Harland Hayward, Baron Strathmore, healer and comforter, ever on some mysterious, not-quite-legal coastal “operation.” (Sadly, the strangely somnambulistic figure on the cover doesn’t do him justice.) Everything comes home to roost for him in A Rogue By Night, when he finally meets his doctoring and smuggling match, “Dr” Katherine Wright, beauty, healer, veteran, and daughter and sister to two of Dover’s greatest smugglers, Paul and Matthew Wright. Though Katherine is of humble beginnings and Harland a noble, they have more in common than their social status suggests.
Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors was everything I wanted in Sharma’s The Takeover Effect. Though it’s distasteful to praise one author at the cost of another, Sharma’s ugh-failure was fresh in my mind as I read Dev’s latest and revelled in it. In all fairness, Dev herself came under my miffed-reader scrutiny as my one foray into her books wasn’t positive. I found The Bollywood Bride overblown, melodramatic, and humorless. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is none of those things. Dev bleached the Bride‘s flaws and created a novel that is rich in humor, deeply felt, tender, and moving. Moreover, I’m leery of Austen-homages, finding them derivative (I guess they’re meant to be, so schoolmarm picky of me to say so) and never as good as the original. Dev convinced me otherwise. Her Austen-love comes through as sheer delight and joy in the frothy glory that is Pride and Prejudice. But Dev has wrought something uniquely her own: twisting and turning in Austen’s wake, leaping like a joyful dolphin by taking the familiar, beloved Austen tropes and making them hers. This constitutes Dev’s “other flavors”: coming from teasing out of Austen a remarkable POC-hero-heroine, American politics and the “dream”, class struc-and-stric-tures, family dynamics, and Austen-up-ending gender stereotypes, the most brilliant stroke of which is Dev’s rendering of smarmy Wickham.
Though I’m suspicious of new-to-me authors, I was willing to give Janice Preston a try because: a) MOC is my favourite trope and b) the word “highland” in the title always evokes a frisson of excitement and anticipation. What I found was an enjoyable, uneven romance. But, first, to the plotty details!
Because His Convenient Highland Wedding is the first of a four-book, four-author series centring around a mystery, Preston’s novel opens with a silly scene of the heroine’s discovery of a creepy tower and mysterious brooch. Flash-forward seven years and heroine Lady Flora McCrieff, having refused the lecherous old goat her father had arranged for her to marry (important to saving the straitened family estate) is in disgrace with fortune and her family’s eyes. To make up for her refusal to save the family fortune and marry within her class, her father compels her to marry second-best, wealthy but from lowly beginnings whiskey-baron Lachlan McNeill. Lachlan is looking to make inroads to the aristocracy for his whiskey and hopes Flora will help him achieve his goal. Little does he know, Flora is in social purgatory …
Though I appreciate a medieval-set romance, I’m aware of its challenges. It is difficult for a romance author to capture the strangeness of the medieval world and still make the romance familiar. Thus far, only two romance authors I’ve read achieve this successfully (mind you, I haven’t read much medieval romance, these are the ones who work for me): Blythe Gifford (Secrets At Court is my favourite) and Elizabeth Kingston. But, like Kingston’s mentor’s books, Laura Kinsale’s, it took me a long time to warm to Desire Lines.
To look to the novel’s opening, “It began in beauty and in blood.” A beautiful, knife-laden young woman, Nan, rescues a Welshman, originally sent to the English King Edward I as obeisance from the young Welshman’s father, Welsh royalty.
(England’s 13th-century conquest of Wales is the historical context of Kingston’s novel.) Gruffydd ab Iorwerth has been knight, prisoner, and captive. He’s lived in the luxury of the English court, then hid for years in a monastery, made friends and enemies, tamed and hunted with his beloved falcons (his marketable skill, important to English lords) and been chained, starved, and beaten.
Theresa Romain has the wonderful capacity to sustain a delightfully funny, rompish feel to her romances while underlying them with seriousness. Her latest, Lady Notorious, 4th in the Royal Rewards series and one of her strongest novels yet, exhibits this balance. It’s heartfelt romance, adorable hero, loveable heroine, compelling suspense plot, thematically underlined with the idea that love coupled with purpose make for contented lives. Romain brings together her cross-class heir-to-a-dukedom hero, George Godwin, Lord Northbrook, and Bow-Street-Runner heroine, Cassandra Benton, via the mystery surrounding George’s father’s, Lord Armore’s, involvement in a “tontine”, a monetary agreement whereby a set amount increases on interest and is “won” by the last person left living. But many of the tontine’s members are dying under mysterious circumstances. George fears for his father’s and godfather’s lives and sets Cassandra Benton the task of helping him both protect and discover who’s threatening them. Cassandra joins the Ardmore household disguised as a notorious cousin, hence, how the “notorious” made it to the eponymous “lady”. Continue reading
I loved reading Thomas’s The Hollow Of Fear, but I was more-than-happy to sink into a thorough romance-romance, emotional, sexy, with a clear line to the HEA, littered with dark little moments. Though the day-job continues to be an albatross, I took a lot of time in my evenings to finish Kelly’s Just This Once, book three in The Wedding Date series. Like the others, Just This Once opens with the hero at the previous book’s hero and heroine’s wedding; it concludes with his own. A premise that’s a tad twee, but I forgive because the novels often win me over. In Just This Once, hotel-owning-rich-boy hero, Sean Wyse of the Chicago Hotel Wyse chain, is best-manning his guy best friend’s wedding, Max Brandt’s. His side-kick and ever wedding date is the friend of his heart and youth, Max’s younger sister, Molly. Sean and Molly’s friendship is immature, but kind of fun. He teases, she torments; they pretty much behave like two teens who secretly harbor crushes and take them out in silly pranks. Everyone in their friendship circle, the past and future heroes and heroines of Kelly’s series, look upon their shenanigans with affection and amusement. The silliness being given a critical nod, I liked how Kelly also built in true camaraderie, compatibility, and affection into the group’s relationships and a lovely tenderness between Sean and Molly, despite the occasional sophomoric behaviour.
One of the many things I love about Susanna Kearsley’s, Lauren Willig’s, Karen White’s, and now Beatriz Williams’s writing is their fidelity to the HEA. They hybridise various forms, historical novel, romance, gothic novel, mystery, murder or otherwise, social novel, they mash it up and produce novels that never fail to end up among my year’s favourites. Like their closest predecessor, Mary Stewart, they write in the first person (which used to be a romance-rarity but not so these days), creating a young, female protagonist who moves from innocence to experience during the narrative’s course. All this can well describe Beatriz Williams’s The Summer Wives, a novel that had me in its thrall over two days, waking up at dawn today to finish it. Initially, the novel impressed me as convoluted, with a plethora of characters and three historical narrative strands, but the voice of its central character and first-person narrator, Miranda née Schuyler Thomas, offered an Ariadne ball as I made my way through Williams’s labyrinth of love, hate, revenge, and betrayal. Underlying it was the susurration of Shakespeare’s Tempest, not only thanks to the eponymous heroine, but an island with native and visiting denizens, the sea’s ever-present beauty and danger, and a mystical, outside-of-time atmosphere. I would read it, stopping for a cup of tea and a biscuit, and whisper to myself, “Full fathom five thy father lies … ” Continue reading