MINI-REVIEW: Tasha Alexander’s THE ADVENTURESS

AdventuressMiss Bates is familiar with Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series. She read the first few, And Only To Deceive, A Poisoned Season, maybe A Fatal Waltz. The Adventuress is tenth (!) in the series and Alexander’s tried-and-true formula is evident. Reminiscent of Raybourn’s Lady Julia series, Alexander’s series introduces a widowed, precocious Victorian lady-sleuth who finds love and romance and displays her sharp sleuthing skills with each novel. Miss Bates abandoned both Victorian “Ladies” because of romance dearth, despite dashing heroes. This tenth novel finds Emily at the French Riviera with beloved agent-for-the-Crown husband and sleuthing partner, Colin Hargreaves, celebrating the engagement of best friend Jeremy Sheffield, Duke of Bainbridge, to American heiress, the eponymous “adventuress,” Amity Wells. Jeremy, Emily, and Colin are part of quite a party: Amity’s crass parents; peevish, unsavory brother Augustus; Margaret and Cécile, Emily’s friends; Jack, Jeremy’s brother; Cristabel, Amity’s friend; and, Misters Neville and Fairchild, Jeremy’s bosom pals. Amidst luxury hotels stays, celebratory dinners, and site-seeing, murder mystery arrives when Mr. Neville is found, an apparent suicide, in Jeremy’s room. Emily soon suspects more nefarious reasons for Mr. Neville’s death. Was Chauncey Neville the murderer’s target, or was the poisoned whiskey meant for Jeremy?  Continue reading

REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s A CURIOUS BEGINNING, Or Curmudgeon Meets His Match

Curious_BeginningAs Miss Bates discussed elsewhere, she was a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries. She enjoyed Lady J.’s cool, independent demeanor and was in love with Nicholas Brisbane, Julia’s sometime-partner, occasional-antagonist, at-long-last husband, enigma-in-an-alpha-hero. Her quibble remains: long on long-winded mystery, short on romance. And then … this … Raybourn’s new historical mystery series, with a delightful dose of romance, the début Veronica Speedwell mystery, A Curious BeginningSet in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, Raybourn’s murder mystery leaves behind the distancing characterization of Lady Julia and Brisbane to revel in an endearing heroine and hero, poignant back stories, humour and, dare Miss Bates say it, sentiment.

Miss Veronica Speedwell, 25, buries her Aunt Nell Harbottle in Little Byfield, England. Veronica is irrepressible and intrepid: a world-adventuring lepidopterist, sexually uninhibited, no-nonsense, and fiercely independent. She is nonplussed when Aunt Nell’s Wren Cottage is ransacked and finds herself in the protective hands of the kindly, mysterious Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach.The Baron travels with her to London and leaves her in the protective custody of his friend Stoker, a taxidermist with a workshop on London’s docks, whose robust musculature, piratical eye-patch, blue eyes, and wild Beethovenian black hair stir Veronica’s womanly desires. But Veronica lives by the rule never to take an English lover. Once Stoker growls and snarls, only a tad friendlier than Huxley, his bull dog, sparks fly and, to Raybourn’s credit, flicker, sparkle, and burn bright, depending on the poignancy, or comedy of Veronica and Stoker’s scenes. Continue reading

Review: Karen Ranney’s THE DEVIL? OF CLAN? SINCLAIR

The Devil of Clan SinclairKaren Ranney is a long-established romance writer and her books much-beloved to many readers. The Devil of Clan Sinclair, however, was Miss Bates’s first Ranney novel. While Miss Bates never says never, and always gives an author a second chance (if the sins are literary and not ethical), she’ll remain wary of any and all of Ms Ranney’s titles if this is what she has to go by. Though there are echoes to Judith McNaught’s Once and Always, Downton Abbey, and Grant’s A Lady Awakened, all of which Miss Bates loved (well, maybe not the McNaught, but Downton and Grant are the non-pareil), The Devil of Clan Sinclair does not inspire similar enthusiasm or loyalty. Only after a two-thirds slog of a read was Miss Bates somewhat engaged, the characters elicited a modicum of sympathy, and the writing style became less off-putting, but problems remained, festered, and left Miss Bates dissatisfied. She realized there may have been serious purpose to Ranney’s tale: to convey a theme of “forgiveness,” “acceptance,” and “understanding,” as the hero states, necessary to forging a solid marriage; the journey to that HEA however, fraught with lies, deceptions, and a good dollop of blackmail and kidnapping, and that doesn’t even describe the villain, only the hero and heroine, was not fun. If you’d like the details of Miss Bates’s displeasure, read on

CONNECTIONS/REVIEWISH: Juliana Gray’s A LADY NEVER LIES, Unless She’s Trapped in Shakespearean Farce

A Lady Never LiesMiss Bates read …  was it in The Invention of the Human? …  Harold Bloom’s claim that there aren’t any happy marriages in Shakespeare. There aren’t any in romance either, but there is the assumption that the couple will be happy. The reader is left feeling that the HEA is a guarantee. It may not be conventional; it may not be traditional, but it will be blithe! Not so with The Bard. In Shakespeare, we sense that some couples, think Bianca and Lucentio, have misunderstand each other thoroughly and will be unhappy; some, like the Macbeths, are unhappy; and some, like Kate and Petruchio, will fall into the give-and-take/renege/renegotiate that every established couple reaches if they want to keep their sanity and commitment (even Bloom thinks these two might work out just fine). Gray’s A Lady Never Lies, based on The Bard’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, runs into that very problem. How could it not when it doesn’t consider the inherent irony in choosing to base a romance novel on a play called Love’s Labour’s Lost? How does a romance writer make the romance per se romantic when her narrative’s basis is The Bard’s ironic, farcical, comedic mode? Well, she certainly writes a hilarious narrative; as for the irony, she has to relinquish it about half-way through. What that does to the romance narrative (at least in this reader’s opinion) is make for an ambivalent, wonky first third. As the narrative moves away from irony and closer to the troth of love and sacrifice and care that is the mark of the genre, it gains in convincing us of the existence of love and sacrifice and care. Though, to credit Gray, it remains as droll and entertaining as its inception. Read on, if you care to, for more convoluted reasoning involving Shakespeare