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
After an excess of mystery-reading, I was ready for some romance. And you can’t get more of a romance-concentration than in an HP. And Dani Collins being one of my favourite HP authors, I was set. I stayed up way past my bed-time to finish A Hidden Heir To Redeem Him and it wasn’t because it blew me away. Rather, there’s something so viscerally satisfying in the HP that even a less-than-stellar effort from a favourite author keeps you glued to the page. Is it over-the-top-ness? Is it every wish-fulfillment fantasy for safety and devotion? Is it pure escapism and thus a respite from this surreal, frightening year? Probably all of the above. Hidden Heir hit the notes, but Collins didn’t always hit them as perfectly as her Cinderella’s Royal Seduction, which is as perfect an HP as Sarah Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules or Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife. These three titles distill the best of the HP. They’re tightly focus on the couple’s relationship. A Hidden Heir, on the other hand, lost its way when the hero’s and heroine’s painful backgrounds overwhelmed their romance.
There are books I hoard until I know another one is imminent. But the wait for another Russ Van Alstyne/Clare Fergusson mystery was seven years in the offing. I kept One Was A Soldier and Through the Evil Days piled on the night-table, winking and beckoning and giving me the come-hither-reader. But I resisted. Now, with, finally, after a seven-year wait, a new Russ/Clare novel, Hid From Our Eyes, I decided to go whole hog and catch up on all of them. With covid-work and sundry tasks, reading-time has been at a premium, usually consisting of three sleepy-eyed pages and then oblivion until the alarm chirps. Nevertheless, I was glad, even piecemeal, to sink into One Was A Soldier, though it was as unlike the previous books in the series as I’d ever expected. Oh, I liked it, loved it for Russ and Clare, but it did come as a surprise. For one thing, Spencer-Fleming played with her narrative timeline and frankly, for another thing, I barely recognized Clare and Russ, their personalities usually running along the lines of serene wisdom to street-smart a-whole-lot-o’-mess respectively, suddenly turned on their head. Reverend Clare was a hot mess and Russ, an island of calm and reasonableness … until I started reading Through the Evil Days, but that’s for another post. (Be warned, what follows contains spoilers, so continue if you’re already a series fan and have read up to the present volume.)
I adored Rock Hard, Gabriel Esera and Charlotte Baird’s story, and was delighted to find the opening scene to Love Hard was their wedding day. By the time I tapped the final page, I realized it was the novel’s best, most vibrant one, with droll moments and full of affection, fun, and Esera family high-jinks. The Eseras are QUITE the clan. It is in this scene we are introduced to hero and heroine as they take their places as groomsman and maiden of honour. They are Jacob Esera, Gabriel’s rugby-star younger brother, and Juliet Nelisi. They are also former HS antagonists and, as a result, there’s a lovely dose of banter when they reunite. Not all is light and fluffy, however; they share a great sadness. Juliet’s best friend and Jacob’s HS sweetheart, Calypso “Callie,” died of meningitis soon after giving birth to their daughter. Callie and Jacob were teen parents. Jacob has been a single-dad to Esme going for six years.
If there’s one thing I miss, it’s a good category romance. With many categories going the way of the bodice-ripper and trusted, true category writers absconding with their talents to other publishing pastures, it’s a rare and wonderful thing to have a few trusted category friends. One such is Sherri Shackelford, whose inspirational histrom I continue to miss. Though I’m not a fan of Intrigue, or this inspie-light parallel category, I ready by author and every other perimetre be damned (it’s how I *shudder* followed Sarah Morgan, beloved HP-author, to WF). In Shackelford’s latest, Stolen Secrets, I found the same delightful sense of humour and likable protagonists as I did in the histrom. The “suspense” part wasn’t to my particular interest, but I went along, and the narrative clipped along nicely, just to reach the HEA for heroine Lucy Sutton and hero Jordan Harris. When Shackelford’s scene opens: Lucy and Jordan are meeting in a coffee shop, a year after Lucy lost her fiancé and Jordan’s mission partner, Brandt Gallagher. Jordan has had a long road to recovery from the blast that killed Brandt and both Jordan and Lucy are still raw from grief. Their meeting is interrupted by a shooter in the café and Jordan and Lucy barely make it out alive. Continue reading
Sabrina Jeffries was among the first romance writers I ever read, so a new book is always welcome. The Bachelor is second in the “Duke Dynasty” series, following Project Duchess. While it isn’t a cross-class romance because both hero Major Joshua Wolfe and heroine Lady Gwyn Drake are aristocratic, Joshua, as a third son, is poverty-stricken compared to Gwyn’s heiress-status. Blue blood, however, throws them together. Joshua, injured and at half-pay from the Royal Marines, acts as the Drakes’ Lincolnshire estate’s, Armitage Hall’s, gameskeeper. They are also connected by marriage: Joshua’s sister, Beatrice, is married to Gwyn’s half-brother, the Duke of Greycourt. When the romance opens, Gwyn is dealing with a blackmailing villain from her past, former-Captain Lionel Malet. Gwyn and Malet had an affair ten years ago, when Malet took advantage of her innocence and made promises he did not intend to keep. Now, he’d like a piece of her dowry in exchange for not ruining her reputation. Continue reading
I looked forward to a new-to-me author, Weatherspoon, and have always been a sucker for an amnesia narrative. It’s residual love from my many years of day-time soap-opera watching. Weatherspoon’s premise attracted me; sadly, her execution didn’t hold my love, or attention.
Premise first: Chef Evie Buchanan, tv-cooking-show-darling, is pushed down the stairs during a pre-Christmas cast-party and left in the stairwell for two days. (The believability-metre for Weatherspoon requires a wide reader berth.) Her agent, Nicole Pruitt, finds her and takes her to the hospital, where she’s declared fit (after two days unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell?!), except for the teensy problem of brain trauma and total amnesia. Best-friend Blaire and assistant Raquelle enter the picture to care for her while she’s in hospital. We soon learn, however, that Evie is without family, though her emergency contact is one Jesse Pleasant, co-owner of a California dude ranch. (Why did Evie name him her emergency contact when she lives with Blaire?) Jesse and his brother, Zach, come to NYC to take Evie home with them for recuperation. In the meanwhile, Nicole and Raquelle will hold the SM fort and keep Evie’s memory-loss out of the media spotlight. In California, Evie will have a chance to heal, reunite with her found-family (parents and beloved grandmother died ten years ago), as well as the man who broke her heart, Zachariah Pleasant, cowboy, entrepreneur, and heart-crusher.
When you’re in a pandemic, what can you do but pick up your GREAT BETTY NEELS READ from where you left off, victim of neglect and ennui? Sigh. So glad I’m back on my epic quest to read all 134 of her oeuvre. It was a comfort to return to a world where the tea is good, the sandwiches are better, there’s always a pudding, the hero is enormous and ethical, as is the heroine, and everyone receives rewards commensurate with their qualities. A warning to readers: our eponymous heroine had a childhood accident, which left her disabled in one foot. The novel’s first half is dedicated to her encounter with the hero, Dr. Thimo Bamstra, a renowned Dutch surgeon, who will “fix” her foot. This may be offensive to some, that Esmeralda needs “fixing” in any way and, indeed, I don’t think the hero feels compelled to “fix” her. It’s Esmeralda herself who has crawled into a hole of shame, aided and abetted by a society that sees disabled people as less than (pub. date is 1976). I can’t say I embraced Esmeralda when I started reading because of this. But I can’t help but say how much I ended up enjoying it. Continue reading
Lisa Kleypas’s romances were some of the first I ever read upon returning to the genre after 30 years away. Derek Craven remains one of my favourite heroes and Devil In Winter, one of my favourite romances. (On the other hand, there were those Kleypas woo-woo books I’d rather forget.) Kleypas went the way of contemporary romance, I started reading a variety of new, interesting romance writers and somehow, our paths never again converged until the pandemic saw a certain publisher largesse and I scored an e-galley of Chasing Cassandra. I thought I’d encounter the usual Kleypas fare, overprotective hero, heroine in peril, intense love scenes … and, Chasing Cassandra has some of that, but they’re not what stands out. Instead, I found a deeper, funnier, more relaxed Kleypas, a narrative richer in humour and characterization and less inclined to melodrama. Continue reading