In 1825 Edinburgh, Miss Elizabeth “Libby” Shaw yearns to follow in her father’s footsteps, to become a doctor, to heal others. But a woman in 1825 Edinburgh, or anywhere in the Western world, cannot apply to Surgeon’s Hall for studies and sit qualifying exams, for the very reason that she is a woman. Miss Libby Shaw strikes an arrangement with Mr. Ibrahim Kent, a society portraitist and exiled “Turk,” actually Ziyaeddin Mirza, Prince of Tabir. Libby will live in his house as his guest, under disguise as Mr. Joseph Smart, surgical student. In return, as Libby, she will sit as Ibrahim’s artist’s model. With this convenient bargain, Ashe begins her fourth Devil’s Duke historical romance and a remarkable achievement it is too. I’d read the first, The Rogue, and liked it very much, but The Prince far surpasses it. The two novels are linked in having admirable, easily-loved stubborn heroines who have a cause and mission that they fulfill by taking on acts then only enacted by men. Their heroes are taciturn loners who come to see the rightness of their heroines’ causes and aid and abet them without taking over, dictating, or directing. The novels are linked by questions about what it means to be a woman, a man, and have meaningful work. By virtue of their eccentricity, these heroes and heroines are outsiders yet live within society and are rewarded with a warm circle of friends and family. Continue reading
Miss Bates waits for, anticipates, and relishes every volume of Donna Thorland’s “Renegades of the American Revolution” series. She is especially intrigued by Thorland’s cold-blooded, single-mindedly-devoted-to-the-cause American spy, Angela Ferrars. Thorland’s author’s note to “Christmas At Mount Holly” (in the Christmas In America Anthology) offers fascinating information about Ferrers: she is based on a historical character; we don’t know much about her except she was the cause of the hero’s loss of face and Washington’s triumph at an important Revolutionary War battle; she mentors the first book’s heroine in the interest of creating a female figure who is cunning spy, instrumental in America’s victory against the British, and unusually characterized as female mentor to female-neophyte-spy. In this short, moving, and beautifully-written story, Thorland gave Miss Bates what she and other readers long for: Angela Ferrars stripped of craftiness and uncompromising devotion to the American cause, Angela Ferrars weakened by desire, liking, maybe even, in the end, love. Thorland gave her a worthy hero: strong, ruefully amusing, loving, honest, kind, and most importantly, capable of showing The Widow a glimpse of another life, one of connection in place of conflict, love in place of hate, hope in place of resignation.
Miss Bates read Phillippi Ryan for the first time, having noted time and again Phillippi Ryan’s name on the Agatha Awards nominee or winner lists. Phillippi Ryan’s murder-mystery-thriller-police-procedural narrative structure brings a wheel’s hub and spokes to mind. The novel opens, most dramatically, with a back-stabbing murder in the midst of a hot, tourist-laden June day in Boston’s Curley Park. This central incident radiates outwardly to a number of characters and situations, which come together in a masterful dénouement. The Curley Park murder scene draws hero and heroine, Jake Brogan, BPD detective, and Jane Ryland, unemployed journalist and Jake’s secret-lover. Jane freelances for a local TV station, working to resurrect her defunct career. A student-photographer claiming to have pics of the murder waylays Jane. Jake and DeLuca, his partner, run into an alley to discover a security expert wrestling the perp to the ground. Jane and her new photographer-friend follow. The scene is chaotic; neither Jane, representing the media, nor Jake and his partner, representing law enforcement, can tell the crime’s why or who. Meanwhile, in the mayor’s offices above Curley Park, teen-age Tenley Siskel, whose mom, Catherine, Mayor Holbrooke’s chief of staff, got her a job working the security video, may or may not have recorded the murder. Moreover, Jane responds to a call from her sister Melissa who’s frantic with worry over the disappearance of her nine-year-old step-daughter-to-be, Grace.
Sometimes a romance writer’s vision lies in wait. Miss Bates started reading Blythe Gifford’s Secrets At Court two years ago and, to her shame, dropped it. The heroine is clubfooted: Miss Bates was uncertain how well the author would handle her disability. The opening left her doubtful. Wendy’s TBR Challenge, however, led her back to neglected titles, buried TBR shames and uncertainties. Miss Bates doesn’t know why a novel whose opening left her cold captured her on second reading (but there’s a lesson there for us all), but it grabbed her like the hero’s firm and gentle touch on the heroine and didn’t let go until she tapped the final glorious page. As poor Guildenstern and Rosencrantz say to the mad Prince, they are neither atop Fortune, nor underfoot, but abide amidst her “private parts.” Thus with our heroine Anne of Stamford, lady-in-waiting, companion, and confidante to Joan, Countess of Kent and Prince Edward’s secret wife, and hero Sir Nicholas Lovayne, emissary and right-hand-man to both Edwards, king and prince. Our protagonists aren’t nameless servants. They attend to the highest in the land and navigate the dangerous waters of royal whims and strategems; as our hero says, ” … the privilege of royalty. To be rewarded for behaviour that would damn any other mortal.”
Miss Bates approaches a new-to-her author, especially a self-published one, with trepidation. Witness? Her DNF posts. But Bliss Bennet is the writer of the Romance Novels For Feminists blog, which Miss B. reads and enjoys. And she was curious: what kind of a romance would a long-familiar blogger write? Given the blog content, will it be “feminist”? Though Miss Bates calls herself a feminist, she doesn’t read romance, or rather she doesn’t deliberately read romance because it carries a particular stance. She went into reading Bennet’s romance with these questions and departed, as she tapped the final page on her Kobo, not really caring how they were, or not, answered. Because she was completely swept up in the story.
Miss Bates loves to see historical romances beyond Regency England and anytime 19th century. She adores ye old duke and governess/housekeeper and still enjoys reading them, but she welcomed Robinson’s unusual and uniquely set 1925 Minnesota romance, with its strait-laced law-upholding federal agent hero, Ty Bradshaw, and law-bending bootlegger’s daughter, resort/club manager Norma Rose “Rosie” Nightingale. When the novel opens, Rosie is collecting her Uncle Dave from the local jail, arrested for boozing and carrying on. Except Rosie knows Dave is lethally allergic to alcohol. And, she knows something’s up when smooth-talking, broad-shouldered and too handsome for words lawyer Ty Bradshaw shows up to defend Dave. Though only 25, Rosie’s a savvy gal. She nursed and lost most of her family in the flu epidemic of ’17 and now protects her three younger sisters and father, Roger Nightingale, with all her might. She suspects Ty of being a federal agent, but Ty’s strong, capable, and frankly, quite charming presence convinces her father to keep him on to investigate Dave’s poisoning (as Ty rightly figures out) and dangers to the Nightingales’ livelihood. Papa Roger toes a fine line between a legitimate business and supplying Minnesota 13 (some very fine hooch) to the big lights in the bright cities. But Ty, posing as a private investigator (as he confesses to Rosie and Roger, “not” a lawyer) has another agenda, one he’s determined to see through, even if Rosie, Roger, the Nightingale sisters and resort keeping local families employed and fed are collateral damage. Continue reading