I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity and page-turning élan of Sarah M. Eden’s The Lady and the Highwayman. Eden is a new-to-me author and I’m glad I’ve discovered her romances; this first read won’t be my last, thanks to her robust backlist.
Victorian-set among the humble and working-class, Eden’s thriller-melodrama-romance boasts a former-“guttersnipe” hero, now successful penny dreadful author, and girls-school headmistress heroine. Fletcher Walker struts the streets of 1865-London with the swagger of a man who brought himself out of the gutter and into success. But Fletcher is not an advocate of the every-man-is-an-economic-island making his own way in the world. He is the defender, rescuer, and fighter for the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of London’s invisible people, the widowed, fatherless, and orphaned; the sweep’s agony, the harlot’s cry come under Fletcher’s protection and his penned stories tell of their pathos, endurance, and spunky survival, the importance of helping one another, and defending those who cannot defend themselves. His author’s income isn’t for himself alone, but largely given to the poorest of the poor. Continue reading
Betty Neels’s Cobweb Morning reaches peak Other Woman over-the-top-ness. And in reaching this apex of romance-tropish-goodness, our Betty spotlights Neelsian values with an intensity borne of ethical conviction. Oh, it’s all typical enough: Nurse Alexandra Dobbs happens to be on duty when an amnesiac is brought to emergency by Dutch doctor Taro van Dresselhuys. Sparks fly: Taro is arrogant, officious, and cruelly teasing; he provokes Alexandra into fits of temper. Despite bringing out the worst in each other, he’s as good a man as she is a woman. I especially loved Taro’s remark when he sees Alexandra in a temper and notes, ” ‘ … you walked down the street as though you hated – er – whatever his name is. You have a very eloquent back.’ “Isn’t that “eloquent back” marvelous? Taro asks Alexandra to help him care for the amnesiac, “Penny,” first at his aunt’s house in England, then, in his own home in Holland, and she accepts. Penny is manipulative and meretricious, playing pathetic, hurt victim to Taro and simultaneously Delilah-like in her come-hither-babe routine. Alexandra nurses Penny with gentleness care, but sees through her damsel-in-distress act. While the romance is typical-Betty enough, aloof, mysterious, impenetrable hero and gah-all-feelings-out-there heroine with no hope of their return, it was Betty’s contrast between the two women I enjoyed most. (Be warned, dear reader, there be plenty of spoilers beyond this point.)
With every volume in my Great Betty Read, I have to reconsider the Great Betty’s continued appeal. And with every volume, I unearth another reason why I continue to love to read her romances.
The Moon For Lavinia is wonderful, one for the keeper shelves, to be savoured and reread. It’s standard Betty fare: Nurse Lavinia Hawkins takes a nursing job in Holland in the hopes of greater funds to allow her to bring her long-suffering baby sister, in the hands of a nasty aunt, to live with her. Soon after she arrives and settles into her work, Professor Radmer ter Bavinck, large, solid, blond, attractive, possessed of medical fame and independent fortune, proposes a marriage-of-convenience, seeking a mother for his fourteen-year-old daughter. He’s kind, gentle, and removed, but Lavinia likes him; though she yearns to be loved, Lavinia knows her plain looks and ordinariness will not see her with a better “offer”. She accepts, knowing this will let her bring her sister, Peta, to join them in Holland.
I loved Liz Talley’s Superromances and I’m sad and sorry that category line is no more. I was glad to see Talley on my Netgalley shelf, however, and with one of my favourite settings, Christmas! I figure if Costco can set up its Christmas tree display next to the lurid Hallowe’en costumes, I can certainly read a Christmas romance in September …
A Down Home Christmas is a most christmasy of holiday romances, with Christmas cookie baking, the crooning of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, massive-tree buying and decorating, and a pageant. It’s also the story of rediscovering roots and finding one’s way when all feels lost. Though less quirky and sexy than Talley’s categories, A Down Home Christmas still had her signature humour and heart. Unlike her categories, however, Down Home is hero-centric and the rediscovering and finding one’s way belong squarely to the hero. The heroine is settled and sure and knows exactly what she wants. It’s Kris Trabeau’s journey we follow, as the country music star returns to his hometown of Charming, Mississippi, for the holiday season, ostensibly to visit his Aunt Tansy, the woman who took him in and brought him up when his parents were killed in an airplane crash. The opening scene is a hoot: as he arrives at his Aunt’s and his ancestral farm, he’s greeted by a great floppy dog, scampering chickens, and a barefoot beauty in pursuit. Continue reading
After the magnificence of Henrietta’s Own Castle (the cat alone sent me into paroxysms of reader-joy … Henry in his tea cosy), I was ready for a gentler, quieter Neels and found it in A Star Looks Down. It’s so quiet and gentle, there’s an absence of OW (Other Woman, for those not used to rom-lingo) and the villain is a hardly-villainous ten-year-old. But there is really something quite lovely about the story of heroine Beth Partridge of the plain face and violet eyes and the laconically mild-mannered, patient Dr. Alexander van Zeust. Indeed, if there’s a nasty, it’s Beth’s brother, who takes advantage of her good nature, impeccable house-keeping, generous heart and hand, as he’s constantly asking for a fiver. He’s in medical training and Beth is paying his and her way on her nurse’s pay. But a generous offer comes from Alexander, who recognizes Beth’s nursing and personal worth and offers her a great sum to nurse his sister while she recuperates from an appendectomy and to care for her four young ones (while their father is away). Continue reading
“Hello, Betty, my old friend … ” It’s been a while, folks, since I did an update on my Great Betty Read. Not that I wasn’t enjoying Henrietta and Marnix, but with a hot summer, I tend to cool showers rather than hot baths (which is where I like to do my Betty reading). With the weather cooling off (thanks be to the weather gods), back to Bets I went and a quick conclusion to the lingering Henrietta, her castle, and her cat in a tea cosy (truly delightful!).
Sister Henrietta Brodie, after ten years as a nurse, inherits a small home in Holland, leaves her job, and moves in. I loved that work, for Henrietta, for Betty really, is a financial necessity, duty, and responsibility, but not a virtue. The important thing to Bets is to be of service to others: how you do that, as a wife, mother, neighbour, friend, nurse, volunteer, doesn’t matter as long as its the ethos you live by. Because work isn’t a virtue, Henrietta gives notice, takes her rumbly old Renault, Charlie, and herself to her neat little Dutch cottage … Continue reading
I haven’t read a Hedlund romance in a long time, not since 2013’s Rebellious Heart, a loose telling of Abigail and John Adams’s courtship and marriage (which I loved, btw). The Bride Ship, Book One, has a compelling historical context: a bride ship, in 1862, headed for Vancouver Island and British Columbia with poor women on board preparing to become the wives of the sparse-of-women British colony. One of them is heroine Mercy Wilkins, an angel of “mercy”, a gem, a flower, from the London slums. When we meet Mercy, she hurries towards the Shoreditch Dispensary with an ill child. Instead of the kindly, but getting-on Dr. Bates, a new, handsome doctor (more of him later) is ministering to the poorest of the poor, like Mercy, like the baby in her arms, like everyone in this wretched neighbourhood. When Mercy’s family has to eject yet another of her mother’s many children, Mercy, in hopes she can help her sister Patience leave the workhouse and at Patience’s urging, agrees to board the bride-ship. Continue reading
Death In Kew Gardens, number three in Ashley’s Kat Holloway Below Stairs mysteries and, at least in its first half, the best one yet (I’d still recommend you read the first two, I loved’em). As you know, I don’t read mysteries for the “puzzle-mystery-solution”, or for the criminal’s motive or psychology, but the detecting main character and, in Ashley’s series’ case, her marvelous detecting team of “below stairs” maids, butlers, housekeepers, and mysterious policeman/detective/government agent Daniel McAdam (man of many roles and disguises) and his friends. Of all the mystery series I read, I love Ashley’s for her protagonists and friends, who help Kat Holloway, an inspired cook by profession, solve crimes and bring justice. Kat is talented, smart, beautiful, and kind. In Death In Kew Gardens, Kat’s kindness sets off the novel’s mystery. As Kat shops with her mercurial, temperamental, and hilarious cook’s assistant, Tess (I loved her!), she accidentally knocks over a passerby, Mr. Li, whom she then helps up. That night, Mr. Li knocks on the Rankin house kitchen door, where Kat cooks for the Bywaters and their niece and her friend, Lady Cynthia, and gifts Kat with a box of aromatic tea. Continue reading
Though I consider myself a reader of inspirational romance, I do find it cloying at times. My rule is to keep my inspie romance reads on spare occasions … until I read Michelle Griep’s The Noble Guardian. What a refreshing voice and ethos! I want to read ALL the Grieps. (She is to historical inspie what Kara Isaac is to contemporary, breathing new life into the subgenre.) The religious element is present, but more in the characters’ personalities and actions, less in finger-wagging didacticism. In The Noble Guardian, Griep’s protagonists occasionally enjoy ale, travel together chaperoned only by a one-year-old adorable moppet, and share affection, passion, and desire that is more palpably sexy than many an explicit, pages-long love scene. There’s a shared horse ride that is sensually magnificent.
Moreover, Griep’s Regency setting, with its evil, violent highwaymen and the eponymous “noble guardian,” Samuel Thatcher, is beautifully developped. Our heroine, Abigail Gilbert, “Abby”, hires Samuel to act as protective escort on her journey to her fiancé, Sir Jonathan Aberley. They travel Regency England’s dangerous byways, sleeping in inns, deflecting dangerous criminals, braving stormy weather, and caring for a tyke named Emma, the daughter of one of Samuel’s fellow-veterans too grief-stricken over the death of his wife to care for her himself. On this at times joyful, at times sad, at times perilous journey, Abby and Samuel banter, converse, share their lives, and grow to love one another and their charge, Emma. Continue reading
A Vicarage Homecoming is the fourth book in Kate Hewitt’s Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite series. Each book tells the story of one of four daughters to Thornthwaite’s vicar and wife. By book four, the vicar, Roger, and his wife, Ruth, are on mission in China, and three of the four sisters are attached and happy. Then there’s number four, Miriam Holley, 23 and pregnant after one careless night with a stranger while she was on her travels ’round the globe. We meet Miriam, five months along and miserable. She’s considering giving the baby up for adoption, pondering how her life lacks viable work and purpose, and feeling like she’s let her family, church family, and herself down: how hard will it be to make sure she doesn’t drag this baby along in her desultory wake? As it turns out, harder than she thought.
Hewitt’s Vicarage Homecoming is not a romance, thought there’s a romantic interest in it. It’s very much the story of Miriam’s growth and awakening to the possibilities of family, friendship, and motherhood. The first half of the novel sees Miriam spend time working for the new vicar, her sister Anna’s fiancé, Simon Truesdell. At first, I thought he was the love interest, but no. Then, she runs into her sister Rachel’s former fiancé, Dan Taylor, and he offers her a place to stay, the annexe he’s renting, in exchange for answering the phone at his veterinary clinic and dealing with his chaotic paperwork. Continue reading