Without a doubt, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin was one of the best romances Miss Bates ever read. It was natural, therefore, that she greatly look forward to Duke Of Pleasure, Hoyt’s 11th Maiden Lane novel. She had a glimpse of its hero, Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle, as probity to Valentine Napier’s debauchery in Duke Of Sin. Therein and as Duke Of Pleasure opens, Hugh Fitzroy has been pursuing the Lords of Chaos, a group of immoral, aristocratics who use and abuse children and women. With Valentine’s semi-taming by his house-keeper-heroine, Bridget Crumb, Hugh finds himself relying on Valentine’s Constaninopolean correspondence to help him identify and eventually destroy the Lords. Late one night, he is beset and hurt by a hired group of thugs near the notorious St. Giles area of London. The night-bound Ghost of St. Giles rescues him, the boy who doubles as the information-gathering daylight guttersnipe, Alf. When Alf, at the end of their encounter, boldly kisses Hugh, he realizes that the guttersnipe “from the dung head that was St. Giles” is a guttersnipette! Hugh brings Alf to his ducal abode to help him pursue the Lords. What Alf finds in Hugh is an emotionally closed off widower with two troubled young sons , still mourning the mere months-old loss of their mother and Hugh’s estranged wife, Katherine. At 21, Alf herself feels a certain restlessness with her life, wondering what it would be like to live as a woman, have children, and how to react to the strange heart-and-body-stirrings Hugh elicits in her. Continue reading
Miss Bates was travelling for work on old chugga-chugga trains this week and, to their rocking motion, read a rom novel and novella, Sabrina Jeffries’s The Danger of Desire and Meredith Duran’s “Sweetest Regret”, two of her favourite romance writers. Jeffries’s rom was the follow-up to one of last year’s top MissB. roms, The Study of Seduction. As for Duran, it had been a while and MissB. was most happy to find herself in Duran’s erudite, moving romance ethos.
Jeffries’s late-Regency Danger of Desire sees yet another St. George’s Club heroes, Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, so-called rakehell (though he never behaves as such) pit himself against the shenanigans of miss-dressed-as-boy, Delia Trevor. Clarissa, Study of Seduction‘s heroine, asks Warren (possibly the worst rom-hero name ever) to look out for Delia. Delia, on her part, spends her nights, disguised as a young man, gambling her way to discovering the identity of the man who cheated her deceased brother of her, and his wife and son’s, living. Delia’s mystery and intrigue isn’t the only challenge facing her and Warren as they, at least initially, spar and circle each other. Warren, on the surface devil-may-care, contains a psychic wound, which explains his reluctance to marry. Continue reading
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.
It’s rare that Miss B. reacts to a romance (maybe because her choices tend to the tried and true these days) as she did to Amy Sandas’s The Untouchable Earl. About half way through, she wanted to DNF. But there was a sense of purpose and theme to it that said, “No, no, keep reading.” So, she did. And now that it’s done, she doesn’t quite know what to say about it. At its heart is a sexual healing theme that Miss B. despises, akin to her curled-lip reaction to Lisa Valdez’s Passion, possibly rivaling Old Skool romance to be the worst romance novel ever written. And yet, she also can’t dismiss The Untouchable Earl the way she can Passion. Its premise is the stuff of high eye-rolling melodrama. Melodramatic circumstances conspire to bring Plain-Jane husband-seeking ton debutante Lily Chadwick, kidnapped and drugged, up for auction at Madame Pendragon’s, a brothel. It’s all pretty sordid and awful until the eponymous Earl, a hero with possibly the most ridiculous name in romance, Avenell Harte (with, yes, the obvious pun there) purchases Lily and her intact maidenhead. As far as maidenheads go, hers isn’t half as impressive as Passion’s, but still. It doesn’t look like her maidenhead’s in any danger when we find out that Avenell (she’s strictly forbidden from saying his name and when you consider how lame it is, you can understand the guy’s reluctance) … well, he’s functional and all, but he can’t bear to be touched.
There’s a certain kind of novel Miss Bates adores and it appears Juliana Gray has written one in A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. Maybe it’s the summer Miss Bates spent in Greece reading Elizabeth Peters. Maybe it’s the heroines: feral spinsters, independent, prickly, and devoted to their work. A hero who may or may not be “heroic,” a combination 007, Indiana Jones, and Lord Peter Wimsey; he’s ambiguous, as are the heroine’s feelings for him. Nevertheless, hero and heroine must work together to solve a mystery, a mystery set in a locale east of their western European English setting, a place hot and difficult to navigate linguistically and culturally, where the narrative isn’t easy to read, Egypt, India, or Greece. Not since Deanna Raybourn’s first Veronica Speedwell mystery has Miss Bates found and enjoyed a novel of this ilk, not until Gray’s Pursuit.
Our heroine and narrator, Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove, has faithfully served the Duke of Olympia and his Duchess, Penelope, for six years. Emmeline and her employers’ relationship is a close and protective one. Sadly, Emmeline’s beloved Duke died while trout-fishing and his now-Dowager Duchess entrusts her with finding the missing heir, grand-nephew Mr. Maximilian Haywood, off studying Knossian ruins in Crete. Miss Truelove seems to have, at least initially, two companions on her voyage aboard the Duke’s yacht “Isolde” and throughout her journey-pursuit of Mr. Haywood: the charming “reprobate,” Freddie, Marquess of Silverton and Queen Victoria’s finger-wagging, admonishing ghost! Continue reading
Miss Bates is a Tessa Dare fan. She read the first three Spindle Cove novels and adored them, especially the third, A Week To Be Wicked, with its bespectacled paleontologist-heroine and dissolute rake-hero. Also, it’s a road romance and Miss B. loves a road romance almost as much as she does a closed-cabin one.
Do You Want To Start A Scandal, Spindle Cove #5, doesn’t take place in Spindle Cove, but at the Nottinghamshire estate of Sir Vernon Parkhurst and, as such, is more a closed-estate romance, with a dash of closed-room mystery thrown in. Heroine Charlotte Highwood and hero Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville, are Sir Vernon’s guests. When the novel opens, neither is in a good place. Charlotte’s marriage-machinating mum, reminiscent of Austen’s Mrs. Bennett, has landed her in the humiliating position of being a gossip-rag’s ridiculed gull, the Prattler‘s. Charlotte is the source of the eponymous “scandal” and the moniker plagues her throughout. Piers, on the other hand, is everything proper, controlled, and aristocratic. His presence at the Parkhurst estate, however, is not in the convention of the languid gentleman enjoying a few weeks in the country. He’s on official crown business, spying on Sir Vernon, who may be asked, by the government, to take a sensitive overseas position. Piers is there to find out if scandal, tryst, blackmail, or any politically-lethal weakness, may put the crown at risk of humiliation. So, Charlotte, prodded by her mother, is on a husband-finding mission while Piers is on a fact-finding one.
Last year, Miss Bates was introduced to Marguerite Kaye’s work when she read the Comrades In Arms series, The Soldier’s Dark Secret and The Soldier’s Rebel Lover. She loved them and found they brought something new to the tired old Regency romance: truly independent heroines, with will, will power, conviction, and a strong impetus to forge their own destiny and heroes who let them be themselves. In the Hot Arabian Nights series, Kaye brings the same feminist ethos to her heroines and the same consideration to her heroes. In the second book, Sheikh’s Mail-Order Bride, this heroine-centric disposition comes in the form of Lady Constance Montgomery, on her way to India to fulfill her parents’ arranged marriage for her to an English merchant. We learn that “mama” and “papa” sent her to India in exchange for Mr. Edgbaston’s hefty payment to deal with debts incurred by her father’s hare-brained money-making schemes. On the way, however, Constance is shipwrecked on the Kingdom of Murimon’s shores. Murimon’s soon-to-be crowned king, Kadar, is native and would be to the manner born had he not spent the last seven years travelling the world and putting his cultural-know-how and sharp judgement to kings’ and nobles’ disposal. With his brother’s Butrus’s death, Kadar, though he’d vowed never to return because of the “sad thing” that happened to him (ah, cherchez la femme, chère lectrice) must take power to devote himself to his people’s well-being and country’s prosperity.
Miss Bates positively reviewed the first volume of Alissa Johnson’s Thief-Takers series, A Talent For Trickery. However, it was glimpses of the hero and heroine of the present volume, A Gift For Guile, that she anticipated. Guile‘s premise remains the same: three Victorian PIs’ lives are interwoven with the thief-turned-police-informant Will Walker’s family. Walker was killed when he and the three PIs rescued a kidnapped duchess and retrieved her jewels. To Walker’s family, however, two daughters and a son, his death was blessing and curse. Walker manipulated and used them, especially the girls, and yet, for all intents and purposes, with a mother who abandoned them, he WAS their family. A Gift For Guile is the story of the daughter who, Miss Bates suspects, suffered the most damage from Will Walker’s machinations and dishonesty, Esther Bales-Walker. Will used Esther to thieve and trick. When the present novel opens, Esther, known to police and therefore in danger of being identified and caught, is in a London train station, awaiting a meeting with a mysterious young man who claims to have information about her family. The young man has revelations about Esther’s parentage and Esther is compelled, despite the ever-present danger of discovery, to find out what they are. Until, into the station and her life, again walks private investigator (and nemesis), Sir Samuel Brass and said mysterious young man runs away. Samuel and Esther embark on a quest to find him and the truth behind Esther, her mother, father Will Walker, and her origins.
As 2016 draws to an end, Miss Bates offers new-year wishes to her readers: may 2017 bring good cheer, good friends, hearty constitutions, and every book be a keeper! Every year is marked by a particular reading mood and this year was harried for Miss Bates. A new job and responsibilities made reading and reviewing more infrequent than she would’ve liked. Maybe because of this, however, Miss Bates was reminded, as she winds down her reviewing year with a final “best of” post, what a soul-sustainer a life-long love of reading is. No matter how busy the week, how laden with tasks the week-end, even a half hour in another place or time, with characters working their way to an HEA, buoyed her spirits and gave her renewed strength for entering “once more unto the breach”. Romance itself had a lacklustre year. As you’ll note from her “best of” choices below, there are as many older roms as recently published ones. Romancelandia lost its unified magic and its controversies paled in light of world events. Review blogging felt quaint, which might be in keeping with Miss Bates’s own persona, but the loss of waning, or shut-down blogs saddens her. And yet, the genre’s message remains true and good: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the promise of plenitude, of body and spirit, is a candle in the darkening room that seems to be our world. Reading, thinking about reading, and engaging in dialogue about what we read with others, which is what MBRR always wants to be about, still feels right to Miss B. Continue reading
For her final 2016 review, Miss Bates writes about a romance novel that held her in thrall though the night and into the morning, Kerrigan Byrne’s The Hunter, second in Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series. New to Miss Bates, Byrne’s Hunter reminded her of the Monica McCarty Highlander romances that were some of the first she ever read and loved. Byrne’s romance is violent; her protagonists, larger-than-life; and her writing, unabashedly melodramatic and yet elegant. At times, Miss Bates thought this feels “Old-Skoolish” but the heroine’s intelligence and sang-froid and hero’s humility and respect for her make it anti-old-skool. What Miss Bates can affirm is that she loved it. To establish sympathy for a hero who is an assassin hired to kill the heroine in the novel’s first scene, Byrne portrays Christopher Argent’s Newgate-Prison childhood. She paints a scene so horrific for his 11-year-old self that our sympathy is maintained even when, without that introduction, we’d have found his actions unacceptable. Christopher is not as nuanced and interesting as Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin, but Byrne’s romance builds our sympathy for him as Hoyt did for Val Napier: by using the pathos of a difficult, abused childhood … and then sustaining it by showing our out-of-type hero with animals, or children.