When I read the title of Louise Allen’s A Lady In Need Of An Heir, I immediately thought of Cecilia Grant’s incomparable A Lady Awakened. And, of course, reading Allen’s effort, I couldn’t help but compare it to Grant’s. At first, I thought it would be too similar and prepared to be disappointed, harbored a certain peevishness at Allen for copying Grant’s idea. I was happy to discover that Grant’s Lady and Allen’s are two different animals. Allen wrote her own story; I just didn’t like it very much. It was smoothly written, researched, considered, an attempt was made at thematic richness, a feminist message was conveyed without betraying the historical realities. It was rich in stuff. It was a romance that Allen obviously worked carefully and hard on. Still. I was, at least initially, deceived into a false sense of reader-enthusiasm. Allen’s Lady had a promising opening: atmospheric, a compelling premise. In the fall of 1815, former Colonel Nathaniel Graystone, Earl of Leybourne, from hereon referrred to as “Gray,” arrives in Portugal’s Douro Valley at his godmother’s, Lady Orford’s, behest. As his barge moors at the port-producing estate of Quinta do Falcão, Gray is beset by memories of the Peninsular War. I thought, “oh, wounded warrior, this could be good … ” (Alas, this aspect of the novel wasn’t dropped. A romance red herring I do not like.) Continue reading
Things are looking up reading-wise since my last post. I had a few quiet days at home to catch up on work and find some leisure reading time. DNF-ing a few turgid titles helped too: there’s no greater reading downer than that awful reviewer’s ARC-obligation. You can kill it with snark, or you can kill it by shutting down the Kindle before crossing the reading Rubicon. You know, that point where you’ve bloody read 68% of The Thing and you might as well finish it. Enough, though, of reading despondency.
I made a few decisions about reading and things are looking up. When I’m in a romance-reading slump, there’s only one author who can coax me back from the reading blues: Betty Neels. I put the ARC list away and started Betty Neels’s Tabitha In Moonlight (you can follow along with my nightly #bathtubromreading hashtag on Twitter). I put Frankopan’s The Silk Roads away for a less fraught working time. Then, I plunged back into the ARC pile with the express purpose of divesting myself of a few more dreary, meh titles. What I found instead was a funny, charming, flawed little romance in new-to-me Lenora Bell’s What A Difference A Duke Makes. It has all the eyebrow-raising qualities of wallpaperhood, but it delighted me. It’s first in a new series and I liked the characters so much that I’m looking forward to reading the second, about the hero’s Egyptologist sister and her archaeological rival and nemesis. Continue reading
Miss Bates is a fan of Gifford’s medieval-set romances. Rumors is set among the machinations and intrigue of Edward III’s court. One of Gifford’s many appeals is her hero’s and heroine’s place among royalty and aristocracy. Though not of peasant descent, they are always subject to the whims of the royals they serve. Decisions are made for them, even by benign lords and masters such as the ones featured in Rumors.
The romance opens as John of Gaunt, Edward III’s third son, marries Constance of Castile and becomes, in potentia, King of Castile (once he wins it back from the present king). Gifford’s hero, Sir Gilbert Wolford is a man of war who yearns to return to Castile, retake the kingdom, and make his life there. Gifford’s heroine is the widowed Lady Valerie Scargill. John decides one of his greatest warriors, Gilbert, should marry, and who better than the genteel Lady Valerie. Valerie and Gilbert both have reasons for being averse to this marriage, but the royal’s word is law and their lives not their own. They agree to marry, despite the emotional impediments to their marriage becoming a love-match.
Miss Bates admits she is excited when she sees a new Kate Hewitt romance. Hewitt hits all of Miss B’s reading sweet-spots: a reverence for fidelity and commitment, a diffident sensibility about sexuality, and a portrayal of sympathetic vulnerability in her characters. The first in Hewitt’s latest series (with its cumbersome title, The Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite), A Vicarage Christmas has all that and Christmas! And a curate hero! The BESTEST heroes are Protestant clerical types: Miss B. has a real penchant for them. Also, Miss b. loves a northern England setting, and celibate, but not Puritanical, protagonists. Perfect, thought Miss B., and delved into the romance between third daughter/sister Anna Holley and Simon Truesdell, Anna’s vicar father’s curate. Anna travels home to the village of Thornthwaite (from Manchester, where she works as a legal librarian) to spend the holidays with her family: father Roger and mother Ruth, and two of four sisters, Esther and Rachel. The Holleys are a loving family. The girls obviously grew up in a home of care, comfort, and security. But Anna’s visits home are rare. She usually spends her holidays in Manchester and, while Anna’s mother, Ruth, has the cookies and trimmings and Christmas bows and whistles making up most of the vicarage’s spaces, there is something sad about the family, something off.
Mary Burchell’s 1970 Child Of Music is the Warrender Saga’s fifth book. Though not MissB’s favourite (see A Song Begins and The Curtain Rises reviews) Burchell is unrivalled in her acute psychological penetration and articulation of character. And this is as evident in Child Of Music as any other Burchell romance.
Burchell’s heroine, Felicity Grainger, is a music teacher with a child prodigy-student in eleven-year-old Janet Morton, orphan and violinist, overshadowed by a hateful aunt. Felicity wants very much to get Janet into the Tarkman Foundation School, a musical foundation nurturing musical prodigies. Sadly, hateful Aunt Julia also happens to have set her sights on Stephen Tarkman, the handsome chief administrator of the Tarkman Trust, which administers and funds the foundation, wealthy himself and possessed of a talent for discovering and nurturing musical genius. Of course, nothing could be more wonderful than getting Janet into Stephen’s school, but Janet suffers from blocks to her playing when Auntie Dearest is around. And, Aunt Julie makes sure she’s around when Janet, with Felicity’s accompaniment, auditions, BADLY, for Stephen. When Stephen expresses an attraction for Felicity, “Aunt” Julie’s enmity and anti-Janet-and-Felicity campaign intensifies. Continue reading
In 1817 London, 20-year-old heroine Georgette Frost, “accustomed to flights of imagination” leaves the family business, Frost’s Bookshop, to seek her fortune, in pursuit of reward money for locating 50 000 Royal Mint stolen gold sovereigns. Hero Sir Hugo Starling, 32, Georgette-described “hawkish of feature, and stuffy of temperament … [r]epresentative of everything chill and sterile about the life of the mind: study, solitude, and sternness,” discovers boy-clad Georgette on her way to adventure and fortune. As a self-styled stodgy rescuer of females and taker-carers of everyone, doctor and younger son of a duke, Hugo cannot allow Georgette to proceed on her foolish errand without protection. He resolves to return her to his friend and her brother, Benedict, and she resolves to foil him. Theresa Romain’s witty pen is immediately evident in Passion Favors the Bold. Among histrom writers, Romain is gently humorous and deeply compassionate towards her characters and never more so than in her second Royal Rewards romance.
Miss Bates was conflicted reading Duran’s latest, A Lady’s Code Of Misconduct, her responses a roller-coaster of dips and climbs of disappointment or enthusiasm. Misconduct contains Duran’s signature themes: trust, conscience, identity, wealth, class, ambition, power, and how they mesh, shift, and change as two people who start out one way make their way to their better selves because they discover they love the other.
To start, Duran’s narrative takes a convoluted route, opening with a compelling scene and then flashback to bring us the sequence of events leading to it. A man in his prime, a Victorian MP, Crispin Burke, lies dying of a head wound in his parents’ London house. Charlotte, his sister, brings a young woman to his death-bed, a woman who is familiar, yet he’s ignorant of their relationship. Jane Burke, née Mason, announces she is his wife.
Duran then takes us three months prior: filling in Crispin and Jane’s unholy alliance, bred of coercion, manipulation, and expediency. Duran’s plot starts and remains tangled. Crispin and Jane have been long-acquainted: Crispin, a frequent visitor to Jane’s uncle’s, her guardian’s, estate. Allied by ambition, Crispin and Uncle Philip shared a politics of personal gain. They’re not friends, nor loyal, content to use each other for political gain. Duran sets up the villainy: by pointing to how people, without love, see the other as an object, used for personal advancement. Continue reading
When Miss Bates read her first Burchell, A Song Begins, the 13-volume Warrender Saga introductory romance, she waxed adoring and enthusiastic. With the second title, The Broken Wing, as her mama would say, she had to put a little water in her wine. Burchell remains, in Miss Bates’s estimation, one of the finest writers in the genre; her prose is refined, elegant, clear, polished, and yet still tugs at the heartstrings. An appreciation of Burchell’s writing will ensure that Miss Bates reads to the end. She has too much respect for fine prose to DNF, even when narrative elements prove problematic, or personally unappealing.
The Broken Wing is set in the opera world that was so dear to Burchell’s heart and provided one of her most vivid settings. Oscar Warrender and now-wife Anthea Benton, A Song Begins‘s hero and heroine, play a part in Quentin Otway and Tessa Morley’s romance, yet another element Burchell handled well. Oscar and Anthea aren’t in the narrative for a reader’s glimpse of wedded bliss. They play an interesting role in nurturing Tessa’s talent and providing support and friendship, respectively. Tessa, Quentin’s “Mouse” and “Angel”, is the artistic director’s irreplaceable secretary. Quentin and conductor Oscar Warrender are the key figures and driving forces behind the Northern Counties Festival. The novel takes place during the hectic weeks of preparation that precede the festival, throwing the volatile, charming, and rogue-ish Quentin into closer and closer proximity to Tessa, his right-hand women, tea-steeper, and mercurial moods’ soother, “selfless devotion would not have been much good on its own, of course. But fortunately Tessa was remarkably efficient too.” Continue reading
It’s been said ad infinitum that the HP is rom at its most elemental, most “ur”, most wild-fantasy implausibility. Rom-readers who love their crazysauce HP tolerate, excuse, overlook, and forgive many elements they excoriate in other rom: slut-shaming, evil step-mothers, “other women,” whose shenanigans make Lucrezia Borgia demure and modest. To say nothing of the alpha-heroes: they can stomp, dominate, and toss the heroine over their shoulder, pound their chest and be possessive and jealous and paternalistically over-protective. The reader, in the meanwhile, like MissB. sits blithely sipping tea, nodding, smiling, and reading into the wee hours (only the HP has the ability to deprive Miss B. of her love of a good night’s sleep). The reason for this, dear reader?: the HP’s capacity for emotional pay-off. And no one, no one, does it better than Lynne Graham. Miss Bates tapped the last period on her Kate Noble review when she read the first few pages of Graham’s The Greek’s Christmas Bride; a mere 24 hours later, here we are. Like Miss Bates’s favourite Graham, The Greek’s Chosen Bride, The Greek’s Christmas Bride has a moral-core, forge-ahead-with-independence, poverty-stricken, humble heroine, a successful bazillionaire arrogant “man whore” hero with a secret heart of gold, and a dog, in this case, a traumatized terrier named Hector. Like Chosen Bride, Christmas Bride sees the matrimonially-averse hero have to marry and procreate to ensure control of his inheritance. To do so, he takes advantage of a poor heroine who’ll do anything to protect the well-being of the most vulnerable of her family and/or acquaintance.
Kate Noble writes romance of complexity and thought. And her most recent The Dare and the Doctor is wrought in this vein: thoughtful, with nuanced characters caught in believable dilemmas, and with growing feelings of love for the wrong person. Miss Bates admits that, while she enjoyed the novel in its entirety, prose and characterization and plot, her favourite part was the opening section for its epistolary nature. Miss Margaret Babcock of Lincolnshire, horticulturist extraordinare, she of rose cross-breeding fame, found a friend and kindred spirit in Dr. Rhys Gray, former army surgeon and now Greenwich-based, when he attended her father at their estate and relieved him of his gout. Since, and serving in a marvelous series of exchanged letters, Margaret and Rhys have enjoyed a close, warm, and witty correspondence, deepening and growing their friendship. Knowing that Margaret’s dream is to present her prize roses to the Horticultural Society, Rhys arranges for her to meet with them in London. Margaret travels to London to stay with their mutual friends, Lord Ashby, Ned; wife, Phoebe; and cherubically fun six-month-old, Edward. Rhys, in turn, travels from his Greenwich laboratory to London to reconnect with old and dear friends Ned and Phoebe and see Margaret.