Mini-Review: Elizabeth Hoyt’s DUKE OF SIN

duke_of_sinOne of Miss Bates’s favourite romance tropes is the villain’s redemption, the character who serves as the foil and nasty in previous books FINALLY! gets his story, or enters a rom nasty as death and emerges a poignant hero. Miss Bates counts some of her favourite romances among these tropishly-delicious rom-narratives, especially Kleypas’s The Devil In Winter and, oh my goodness such goodness, Georgette Heyer’s first two Alastair trilogy books, These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub. Elizabeth Hoyt’s tenth Maiden Lane novel, Duke Of Sin, has a villain-hero who combines the qualities of Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent; Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon; and, his son, the Marquis of Vidal. Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery is “the most wicked man in London … as deadly as a coiled adder.” He’s beautiful, decadent, a blackmailer and murderer and, though exiled, he’s back and ready to restore his rightful place in society by all unsavory means. But into his blackened heart and hollow soul crawls a little avenging angel of a housekeeper, Bridget Crumb. 
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REVIEW: Elizabeth Hoyt’s SWEETEST SCOUNDREL

Sweetest_SccoundrelElizabeth Hoyt: Miss Bates just can’t quit you. Thus Miss B. found herself reading Hoyt’s, yes, ninth Georgian-set, Maiden-Lane novel, Sweetest Scoundrel. And what a scoundrel Asa Makepeace was, paired with a plain-Jane heroine, his “harpy,” as he called her, Eve Dinwoody, sister to Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery (the previous novel‘s villain). As the old duke’s illegitimate daughter, Eve lives an introvert’s ideal life: Val provides her with a lovely home and servants, ample income to indulge her miniature painting hobby, keep her caged dove in fancy seeds, and a bodyguard, a great character in and of himself, Jean-Marie Pépin. Eve is the only person who genuinely loves her nefarious brother. Responsible for Val’s interests in his absence (his shenanigans sent him into “exile” on the continent), she ensures his investment in Asa Makepeace’s grand rebuilding project, the pleasure garden known as Harte’s Folly, is solid. Officious, book-keeping, and dignified Eve meets volatile, foul-mouthed, and crude “Mr. Harte”, Asa, when she confronts him about his cavalier spending of her brother’s money and then goes about controlling Asa’s purse-strings.
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REVIEW: Elizabeth Hoyt’s DEAREST ROGUE, Of Caged and Lame Birds

Dearest_RogueThe 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

He RULES Over All: Georgette Heyer’s CONVENIENT MARRIAGE and Omnipotent Hero

Convenient_Marriage_2Sometimes, Miss Bates’ reading is desultory. Sometimes, “the world is too much with us” and our ability to immerse ourselves in a book is distracted and restless, no matter how willing we are, no matter how much we desire to lose ourselves in story. Miss Bates read Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage in fits and starts, dribs and drabs: picking it up for only minutes at a time; then, dropping it to follow the latest debacle on Twitter. She read trusted points of view on the Kathleen Hale/Guardian disappointment and wrestled with her redefinition of Miss Bates Reads Romance and a return to her original purpose. The blogger black-out was a blessing in disguise: for the first time in over a year, Miss Bates had to put the blogging aside and think about the blogging. With so many voices raised in protest, she re-acquainted herself with other blogs, ones she’d visited daily before MBRR, always anticipating a post, places where she typed her first comments, places of welcome and delight. Throughout, she read without any great concentration, but with commitment to get through the darn thing, Heyer’s Convenient Marriage proving inconvenient.

Miss Bates was bored, bothered, and preoccupied … and then, Horry took a poker to Lethbridge and she was captivated. That’s what it takes, dear readers, one delightful, or profound moment and the book can take us away, out of the daily into the “other” place … the paradox of the fictional world which, in a moment, becomes more real than waking reality. Horry emerged: impetuous, immature, and heavy-browed; Lethbridge, vindictive, unhappy, and strangely sympathetic; and then, Rule, he who ruled over all, urbane, powerful, wise, utterly charming and loveable. BUT …  Miss Bates had to contend with the breaking point of the novel: Rule, wonderful as he may be, is 35 and his wife is 17. This never left Miss Bates’ mind and she never quite made her peace with it. But she loved the novel and will have to live with her conflicted feelings. Because, sometimes, that’s what fiction leaves us, a sublime discord that we can pull out and think about for distraction, delight, and discussion 😉   Continue reading

REVIEW: Miranda Neville’s LADY WINDERMERE’S LOVER, “But summer to [her] heart”

Lady_Windermere's_LoverMiss Bates can’t tell if it’s something in the air, but this is the second second-chance-at-love romance she’s read this month. It’s not a favourite trope (hello! marriage-of-convenience 😉 ), dependent as it on filler-back-story, but it does have richness potential. Neville’s latest London-set Georgian romance, Lady Windermere’s Lover, did not disappoint. Though it wasn’t as perfect as Ruin Of A Rogue, Miss Bates read it in one sitting because, even imperfect, Neville’s characters and the unfolding of their relationships engage Miss Bates emotionally, the tried-and-true test of any romance worth its mettle.

Miss Bates’s measuring rod for the estranged-couple trope is Balogh’s Counterfeit Betrothal, the most heart-wrenching-please-please-get-back-together marriage-in-trouble story she’s ever read. Lady Windermere’s Lover doesn’t have the gravitas of Balogh’s classic, maybe because Neville’s couple, Lady Cynthia and Damian, Earl of Windermere, are younger, apart only a year after a disastrous start. They don’t have children and the road to their HEA, though painful in places, is lighter, with lovely humorous touches, like the kitten, Pudge, and a terrific larger-than-life secondary character, Julian Fortescue, the “lover of the title,” who often steals the show. There are echoes here of one of Miss Bates’s favourite romances, Rose Lerner’s marriage-of-convenience romance, In For A Penny. Like Penny, Lady Windermere’s Lover is a cross-class romance, of a cit and aristocrat who marries for lucre, and Windermere has a nice working-class history addendum in the struggle of the Spitalfields silk workers. Lerner’s hero is more sympathetic and heroine has greater depth and historical accuracy, but Neville also deftly navigates these elements. Neville is consistently worth reading; Lady Windermere’s Lover is worth reading. And awaiting that wicked, compelling, Heyer-esque Julian Fortescue to tell his story … Continue reading

REVIEW for TBR Challenge: Sarah MacLean’s NINE RULES TO BREAK WHEN ROMANCING A RAKE, Or How A Spinster Lost Her Shelf

Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A RakeMacLean’s Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A Rake sat on Miss Bates’s TBR for a long, long while.  She was averse to reading a romance novel possessed of such a lengthy and insipid title.  Spurred by Wendy’s TBR Challenge, the promise of interesting sharing on Twitter with like-minded readers, and MacLean’s sundry good reviews, she thought this month’s TBR theme, New-To-You-Author, perfect fodder for Nine Rules.   And, truth be told, she really really liked the Empire dress on the cover.  It took Miss Bates a while to warm to the characters, narrative, and MacLean’s style, but for a first-time read and début romance, it was a good reading experience: it got better the further Miss Bates read.  What started out as a middling read, mildly interesting and clipping-along, inched its way to pretty good to darn-good-ending.  Miss Bates admits that her impression of MacLean leans to “much ado;” nevertheless, Nine Rules is an amusing and heartfelt romance novel.  It doesn’t break any ground, falters on several fronts, is nominally historical, and doesn’t enter innovative, or interestingly controversial territory.  Would Miss Bates read another MacLean?  Probably, possibly, likely. Continue reading

REVIEW/Reading/Acclamation: Elizabeth Hoyt’s THE LEOPARD PRINCE, Or Why Scheherazade Always Wins Her Man

The Leopard PrinceGroundskeeper/land-steward/gardener/gamekeeper/estate manager, an eminently attractive and endearing hero-figure to Miss Bates.  This, ever since she read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a better novel than many give it credit for and more romantic than titillating.  (It concludes with an HEA and baby-filled epilogue, folks.)  There’s also the marvelous film The Go-Between, based on L. P. Hartley’s novel, the story of an innocent and humbly-originned boy carrying clandestine messages between the lord’s daughter and a local farmer. 

The hero with deep roots in the land, in nature, manifests a special quality, a depth and salt-of-the-earth-ness.  But, is that Miss Bates’ only attraction to these heroes?  We must also know them by their relation to the heroine.  Miss Bates draws one conclusion: simply put, she loves a cross-class romance, especially one centered on an aristocratic lady and a man of the land.  (She’ll throw another narrative into the mix that compelled her: Ian McEwan’s Atonement, though the hero was not a man of the land; nevertheless, his origins are humble and he, and his mother, work for the lord of the manor.  They don’t inhabit the manor.  Nevertheless, it did contain an anti-romance conclusion that had Miss Bates sending the volume flying across the room.) 

As for her latest read, Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Leopard Prince, it has it all: labourer hero, a man of the earth, and an aristocratic lady.  As a sampling of cross-class romance, of the stoic farmer and his seemingly flighty lady (plumb the depths, reader discovers she’s no intellectual lightweight): well, it doesn’t get better than this.  Miss Bates will temper her enthusiasm with reasons why this romance has its flaws, but her love and devotion will break through … as they do in every romance where the “marriage of true minds” overcomes “impediments.”  For that is the essence, the core, of a cross-class romance done well. Continue reading

REVIEW: Harvesting the TBR One Letter At A Time, “D” Is For Devlyn’s CHECKMATE, MY LORD, Wherein Our Hero Comes In From the Cold and Miss Bates Forgets the Letter “C”

Checkmate, My LordThere are two types of heroes that Miss Bates avoids in her romance reading: spies and pirates.  It’s the mendacity that she objects to: the hidden identities, the deceptions; inevitably, our spy/pirate turns out to be an aristocrat of the first order, blah, blah, blah.  There have been missbatesian attempts: Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, for example, which Miss Bates loved up to and including book #7, The Mischief of the Mistletoe with the “intrepid,” loveable idiot Turnip Fitzhugh … the best doltish romantic hero ever.  Also, a much-lauded romance author, Joanna Bourne, whose prose, subject of spies aside, Miss Bates finds tortured and oblique (though she, with caveats, enjoyed The Forbidden Rose).  The last pirate romance she read, and remember that Miss Bates has only been reading romance since 2007 (after a hiatus of 35 years!) was Julie Garwood’s Guardian Angel.  The Pink Carnation series is presently more intrigue than romance and Garwood … well, she kept writing the same book, same hero and heroine.  So, spies and pirates are out (and no, Miss Bates has never read The Windflower).  But into every sensibility, an exception must fall and Tracey Devlyn’s Checkmate, My Lord was it.  Though ruined by Barry’s prose in Brave In Heart until something that sublime comes along (Cecilia Grant, we’re ready for another novel), Devlyn’s was, if not inspired in the writing, a moving and engrossing read. Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts on this surprisingly adept novel

REVIEW: Elizabeth Hoyt’s THE RAVEN PRINCE, Or Writing the New Jane

The Raven PrinceElizabeth Hoyt’s The Raven Prince hasn’t been around long enough to be “classic romance,” but give it another ten years and it will be. Miss Bates is jumping the gun, but she’ll stick by this claim. Hoyt’s been in Miss Bates’s “get-to” pile of romance novels for a long time. Silly spinster should have read them ages ago because, if The Raven Prince is typical of Hoyt’s writing, she missed out. She now says with confidence that the reading of The Raven Prince is “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” This is as wonderful a romance novel as one can get and especially so because it plays with references to Miss Bates’s most beloved romance, Jane Eyre. Continue reading