REVIEW: Mimi Matthews’s GENTLEMAN JIM

Gentleman_JimI have a hard time finding historical romance to enjoy, most are trite and tired, but not Matthews. She never fails to engage and I easily immerse myself in her fictional world. It was so with The Work of Art and “Fair As a Star,” and it was certainly so with Gentleman Jim. I stayed up late and woke up early to read; groggy as I am, I’m here to praise it. The blurb will launch us by filling in some details of character, plot, and setting:

Wealthy squire’s daughter Margaret Honeywell was always meant to marry her neighbor, Frederick Burton-Smythe, but it’s bastard-born Nicholas Seaton who has her heart. Raised alongside her on her father’s estate, Nicholas is the rumored son of notorious highwayman Gentleman Jim. When Fred frames him for theft, Nicholas escapes into the night, vowing to find his legendary sire. But Nicholas never returns. A decade later, he’s long been presumed dead.

After years spent on the continent, John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare has finally come home to England. Tall, blond, and dangerous, he’s on a mission to restore his family’s honor. If he can mete out a bit of revenge along the way, so much the better. But he hasn’t reckoned for Maggie Honeywell. She’s bold and beautiful–and entirely convinced he’s someone else. 

As danger closes in, St. Clare is torn between love and vengeance. Will he sacrifice one to gain other? Or, with a little daring, will he find a way to have them both?

Hmmm, I’m not sure St. Clare is concerned with restoring his family’s honour so much as his grandfather is. With a scoundrel son, notoriously reputed to be the highwayman Gentleman Jim, the Earl of Allenby has put his energy and vast fortune into ensuring grandson St. Clare inherits. Rumours simmer about John Beresford: who was his mother? Were his parents married? Is he legitimate? To Maggie, after a long illness and years of mourning her father and aunt, her beloved Beasley Park is bound to her marrying her hated neighbour, Frederick Burton-Smythe, the very man who exiled her beloved Nicholas from her love and protection. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s MARRYING WINTERBORNE (Ravenels #2)

Marrying_WinterborneI continue my rediscovery of the new, possibly-better Kleypas with her second in the Revenel series, Marrying Winterborne. We met hero Rhys Winterborne and heroine Lady Helen Ravenel in the first book, Cold-Hearted Rake. Though Rhys was laid up injured for most of that encounter, it definitely established a connection between the genteel, gentle, ethereal Lady Helen and the rough-and-tumble, self-made-man hero. When the present volume opens, Rhys and Helen’s engagement has been severed: Helen was shocked by his punishing kisses and reacted to hurt his sensitive working-man’s pride. But she arrives at his department store, unattended, to convince him to reestablish their engagement-of-convenience, $$$ for her family and an illustrious, blue-blood name for him. Except neither of those “facts” are valid any longer: Lady Helen’s family has stumbled on a financial boon and Helen’s name had nothing on Rhys’s desire for her, which, like Kleypas heroes of long memory, borders on the pathological. To fill in the pub’s version, here’s the back-cover blurb:

Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better… Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable… the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss.

Hmmm, Rhys doesn’t “take” Helen’s “virtue”, she rather uses her virtue to win and keep him. No enemies conspire against Rhys, but they definitely conspire against Helen. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kleypas kept the hero-to-the-heroine’s rescue nicely balanced with a once-shy, developping-a-spine heroine’s ability to take care of herself. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s COLD-HEARTED RAKE (Ravenels #1)

Cold-Hearted_RakeIf I can say a few things about Kleypas, they would be: she still writes books that made me fall in love with romance in the first place (Derek Craven!) and she’s only gotten better over time (except for the woo-woo books). It’s sad that I side-eye so much romance these days: afraid I’ll find yet another novel with trite, or formulaic ideas; or another trying so hard to do something new that it fails to come alive. But Kleypas still takes joy in the genre and it comes through in the Ravenel series. Though I’d read and reviewed Chasing Cassandra (back when the pubs most likely to decline a small-time reviewing outfit like Miss Bates went into pandemic-sales panic and granted ARCs right left and centre), I’m glad I went back and started the series from the first volume.

The pub-blurb makes Cold-Hearted Rake sound like any other standard-fare histrom, but the sheer delight and reader-joy I took in it was more than most historical romances I’ve tried to read have offered:

Devon Ravenel, London’s most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl’s three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon’s own. Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny-and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Mimi Matthews’s “Fair As A Star”

Fair_as_a_StarThough I don’t read as much historical romance as I used to, Mimi Matthews is one histrom author whose books I’d never miss. They’re elegantly written, with finely-drawn characters, and thoughtful themes; her protagonists’ journey to the HEA is sigh-worthingly romantic. Her heroes and heroines are beautifully compatible, showcasing Matthews’s ability to match characterization to plausible future happiness. Her ethos agrees with mine and mine with hers.

Matthews’s novella, “Fair as a Star,” (“A Victorian Romance”) is a wonderful introduction to her work if you’ve yet to read her and thoroughly satisfying an addition if you have and are a fan. Matthews’s Victorian Era is neither idealized, nor villified; if the HEA is an argument for the idyllic over the realistic/pragmatic, this is why I read romance. To follow, verbatim, the blurb-ish summary of “Fair as a Star”:

After a mysterious sojourn in Paris, Beryl Burnham has returned home to the village of Shepton Worthy ready to resume the life she left behind. Betrothed to the wealthy Sir Henry Rivenhall, she has no reason to be unhappy–or so people keep reminding her. But Beryl’s life isn’t as perfect as everyone believes. As village curate, Mark Rivenhall is known for his compassionate understanding. When his older brother’s intended needs a shoulder to lean on, Mark’s more than willing to provide one. There’s no danger of losing his heart. He already lost that to Beryl a long time ago. During an idyllic Victorian summer, friends and family gather in anticipation of Beryl and Sir Henry’s wedding. But in her darkest moment, it’s Mark who comes to Beryl’s aid. Can he help her without revealing his feelings–or betraying his brother? Continue reading

Miss Bates’s 2020 Year-End “Review”

Sky_Dec_31_2020Dear readers and friends, if there’s one quotation that ran through my mind this annus horribilis, it’s Fitzgerald’s, “It occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence, or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well” (The Great Gatsby). And we have lived it every single day since March, when the subtle rumbling of the covid avalanche came to our attention. Then, lockdown … and a strange, united elation of singing from balconies and applauding health care workers and a kind of strange peace for those of us staying home that took the form of bread-baking and staring out windows. And, what I thought would be “reading time”, despite WFH. It wasn’t. Not the reading time part: instead a length of days, lost, in dream and lethargy. Of the books I did read, few stood out. Here they are. Continue reading

Scarlett Peckham’s THE RAKESS

RakessScarlett 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.
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MINI-REVIEW: Sabrina Jeffries’s THE BACHELOR

BachelorSabrina 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

MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s CHASING CASSANDRA

Chasing_CassandraLisa 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

REVIEW: Julie Anne Long’s ANGEL IN A DEVIL’S ARMS

Angel_In-Devil's_ArmsI haven’t read a Julie Anne Long histrom in a “long” time, not since I dipped my reading toes into one of the Pennyroyal series and thought “meh”: opaque style, puerile humour, characters I couldn’t bring myself to care much about. Despite the weirdly lacking-in-perspective cover (look at his arm and that bed, how short are his legs?!), I wanted to read this latest series, the Palace of Rogues, thanks to my great enjoyment of her contemporary romance, The First Time At Firelight Falls.

Since the Pennyroyal experience, Long has dropped the overwrought and wrought a wonderful romance. I was skeptical at first, sensing that opacity I didn’t find in the contemporary, evident in Angel. But after the first chapter, this was a lovely read, indeed. Read on, for my full review. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Kate Bateman’s THIS EARL OF MINE

This_Earl_Of_MineIn these days of coronavirus isolation (I’m blessed to be healthy for the time being and hope you, Miss Bates’s readers, are well), a diverting, witty book is the best of companions, offering respite, amusement, and the hope that we will, once more, “embrace one another joyously” (as we chant in my church on Pascha). Such is Kate Bateman’s first in her new series, “Bow Street Bachelors,” This Earl of Mine. It’s light, fresh, engaging, and written with ease and a lovely flow. It is premised on my favourite histrom trope, marriage-of-convenience, which, in truth, if it’s well done, should turn into a marriage-of-inconvenience when those pesky feels come into play for hero and heroine. This Earl of Mine captivated me from the opening scene: wealthy cit-heiress, Georgianna “Georgie” Caversteed, has arranged to marry a Newgate condemned convict to put an end, once and for all, to her cousin Josiah’s, among others, constant, persistent, and unwelcome forays into acquiring her fortune for himself, or as Georgie thinks, “Better a temporary marriage to a murderous, unwashed criminal than a lifetime of misery with Josiah.” A convenient marriage and subsequent widowhood, while Georgie hightails it to her Lincolnshire estate, will ensure her independence of person and fortune. Instead, she marries undercover Bow Street runner and impoverished second son, Bendict “Ben” William Henry Wylde, Etonian and formerly of the “Rifles” during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a most engaging opening scene when Georgie notes, despite the grime and overlong hair, how handsome, strong, and confident her husband is, he of the teasing, twinkling eyes and “broad shoulders, wide chest, and long legs.”      Continue reading