Stuff and Nonsense: historical romance

Showing posts with label historical romance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historical romance. Show all posts


The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer

Depend upon it, you are just the sort of girl a man would be glad to have for his sister! You don't even know how to swoon, and I daresay if you tried you would make wretched work of it, for all you have is common sense, and of what use is that, pray?

Gervase Frant, the seventh Earl of St. Erth, has returned home from the Napoleonic wars to lukewarm welcome. His stepfamily resents him for getting in the way of a fortune and title which they deserved far more than he. Why, they wonder, couldn't Gervase have been a good sport and died on campaign? The nerve of the man! Only Cousin Theo and Miss Morville, a guest of his stepmother, seem pleased to see him.

And then a series of strange incidents and unfortunate accidents beset the Earl. Is it all just coincidence or is someone trying to get him out of the way ...

Oh, how I enjoyed The Quiet Gentleman! It's not a traditional Heyer romance -- indeed, the primary romance is so subtle as to be barely there -- but it makes for a rollicking good mystery. The characters and dialog were so well written that, while I detested Dowager Lady St Erth, still I took a great deal of pleasure from her barbs. And, even though this is a mystery, there is a lot of humor and wit afoot.

One of my favorite scenes is in Chapter 10, when Miss Morville is walking through the wood at twilight and hears the thud of horse's hooves. The scene could easily go Gothick, but Heyer pushes it in the opposite direction:

The woods were full of shadows, and already a little chilly, after the setting of the sun, but Miss Morville, neither so fashionable as to disdain wearing a warm pelisse, nor so delicate as to be unable to walk at a brisk pace, suffered no discomfort. She did not even imagine, when some small animal stirred in the undergrowth, that she was being followed; and was so insensible as to remain impervious to the alarm which might have been caused by the sudden scutter of a rabbit across the path ... The thud of a horse's hooves came to her ears, which led her to suppose, not that a desperate, and probably masked, brigand approached, but that the Earl, having parted from the Grampounds, was on his way back to the Castle.

Mind you, the poor girl was raised in an intellectual household and cannot be expected to demonstrate proper feminine sensibility!

The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer (Harlequin Books, 2006)


Arabella by Georgette Heyer

He said there was a great deal of nonsense in such books, and that the moral tone was sadly lacking.

Arabella, the eldest daughter of an impoverished country vicar, is on her way to London to make her debut (and secure a good marriage which will guarantee comfortable futures for her younger siblings) under the auspices of her godmother when her carriage breaks down in the rain. Forced to take shelter at a nearby estate, she is treated coldly by its owner -- that most sought-after of bachelors, Robert Beaumaris. Outraged by his presumption that she is just another conniving miss out to trap him into marriage, Arabella sets herself up as an heiress without peer. Arabella has quite a lot of fun telling whoppers about herself ... until she arrives in London and it becomes clear that her lies have arrived ahead of her!

You will not be surprised to discover that I really enjoyed Arabella. The principle characters were well written (and frequently hilarious), the story chugged along at a good pace with lots of witty dialogue and entertaining interludes, and Heyer’s use of historical setting and detail is always so much delicious icing on the cake.

I must admit, though, that as much as I loved the dialogue between Arabella and Beaumaris, it was Beaumaris’s conversations with Ulysses (the mongrel dog Arabella persuades him to shelter) that stole the show:

Mr. Beaumaris released Ulysses, who shook himself, sighed his satisfaction, and looked up for approbation. ‘Yes, you will, I perceive, ruin me yet, ‘ said Mr. Beaumaris severely. ‘If I am any judge of character, you picked your language up in the back-slums, and have probably been the associate of dustmen, coal-heavers, bruisers. And other such low persons! You are quite unfit for polite circles.’

Ulysses lolled his tongue out, and grinned cheerfully.

‘At the same time,’ said Mr. Beaumaris, relenting, ‘I daresay you would have made mincemeat out of that creature, and I must own that I am not entirely out of sympathy with you. But poor Poodle will certainly cut me for a week at least.’

Arabella by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2009)


Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Sir Gareth Ludlow is a good-looking young man with sufficient fortune and dashing ways to attract the attentions of any gently bred lady. Alas, he ignores them all as he Grieves the Unfortunate Demise of his True Love who Passed from this Mortal Coil seven years ago. Or, so he had been doing until his brother snuffs it on the Continent and it is up to Ludlow to carry on the line ... which means, of course, finding a wife!

His eye falls on Lady Hester Theale -- a quiet, self-effacing, practical, and rather plain old maid, Lady Hester spends her days at her father's country seat surrounded by the most vulgar and exhausting of relations. Her family makes it clear they would be pleased to be rid of her -- especially if it might make their fortunes. And shouldn't Lady Hester be eager to escape her family by making such a brilliant match?

Alas, on his way to propose to Lady Hester, Ludlow finds himself burdened with a young, beautiful runaway who leads him on merry chase across rural England ...

I admit I did not enjoy this novel quite as much as other Heyer romances I have read. Oh, I admit the subtle romance between Hester and Gareth was quite well done and I was, of course, pleased to see her accept his proposal in the end. However, Amanda's adventures and romantic silliness made me want to toss the novel out a window. I could only hope Heyer was using Amanda to spoof those romantic heroines who have more hair than sense!

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2011)


Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer

There is always a thought of marriage between a single female and a personable gentleman, if not in his mind, quite certainly in hers.

Recently orphaned Judith Taverner and her brother Peregrine travel to London to introduce themselves to their guardian, the Fifth Earl of Worth, and discover, to their dismay, that the Earl is the same horrible dandy who accosted Judith on the road! The Earl really doesn't want anything to do with his wards, but allows them to remain in London so long as they promise to not make cakes of themselves. To improve the odds, he arranges for them to be properly housed and chaperoned -- a deed when drives Judith a little mad. Happily, their long lost relative, Cousin Bernard, is a sympathetic party to their tale of woe and injustice and becomes quite a good family friend.

Then poor Perry suffers a serious of suspicious accidents ... Judith is left to wonder if these accidents are murder attempts. But who would want to kill her brother? Worth? Would he really kill her brother and force her to marry him to get his hands on the Taverner fortune?

Of course not! (Although he does arrange a kidnapping).

When I started reading Regency Buck, I had a hard time liking Worth and almost resented that he was our hero -- he was so cool and supercilious (and there was the dishonor he had done Judith). However, as the story progressed and more of his inner character was revealed, I came to quite like him and wished him great luck with headstrong Judith.

Quite the opposite happened with Cousin Bernard -- I liked him immediately (although I was suspicious of his amiability) and wanted him to do good by Judith. Alas, it was not to be and Heyer slowly revealed Bernard as a subtle, conniving, black hearted ne’er-do-well. In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed hating him. (In my head, I kept visualizing him as Pride & Prejudice's Wickham as played by Adrian Lukis -- always smiling, but so slippery).

Overall, this romantic mystery was quite enjoyable. Heyer's use of humor, sarcasm, and wit made Regency Buck a ripping good read and her development of secondary characters and side plots was, as usual, excellent.

Random factoids learnt from Regency Buck:
  1. Orgeat is a fancy name for barley water
  2. "Clorinda" is the name of a warrior-maiden from Jerusalem Delivered (La Gerusalemme liberata), epic poem by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso

Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008)


Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer

“You have had Ravenscar murdered, and hidden his body in my cellar!" uttered her ladyship, sinking into a chair. "We shall all be ruined! I knew it!"
"My dear ma'am it is no such thing!" Deborah said amused. "He is not dead I assure you!”

In Faro's Daughter, Mr. Ravenscar is outraged to discover his young pup of a nephew has (the fool) declared his intention to marry a girl out of a gaming house! He sets out to thwart this union by any means necessary, but soon finds that the girl won't be easily overthrown ...

Although that Miss Deborah Grantham and her aunt live in reduced circumstances and have been forced to open their house for gaming, Deborah has no intention of marrying silly young Lord Mablethorpe, instead fully intending to chuck younger, prettier girls at him until one sticks -- but she won't suffer Ravenscar's superiority or assumptions! No, she'll teach Ravenscar a lesson he won't soon forget.

Overall, I found Faro's Daughter an absolute delight. As a heroine, Deb is refreshingly sensible and forthright. Yes, I admit her decision to have Mr. Ravenscar kidnapped was ill-advised, but she was so deliciously outraged when she arranged it and the outcome was so amusing I did not mind her momentary lack of sense. Of the Heyer romances I've read, she's definitely one of the older heroines and so it is possible I simply found her more relatable?

As with all Heyers, there's little in the way of physical romance in Faro's Daughter yet Deborah and Max's sensual future is never in doubt. Besides doing such a marvelous job creating (and maintaining) the delicious combination of desire and rivalry which motivates Deborah and Max, Heyer also does an excellent job with her secondary characters and their respective plot lines. Yes, even silly young Lord Mablethorpe.

Faro's Daughter is definitely one of my favorite Heyer romances and I would love to see it made into a Netflix or Amazon miniseries.

Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008)


Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

Miss Annis Wychwood, firmly on the shelf at twenty-nine, lives an independent life in Bath and is quite content to keep on that way. Alas, Fate has other plans when it throws two young runaways in her path -- Miss Lucilla Carleton and Mister Ninian Elmore who have run away together (more-or-less) because they don't wish to be married to each other. Befriending Lucilla, Miss Wychwood takes the girl under her wing and thus earns herself the attention of the girl's guardian, Mr. Oliver Carleton -- "a damned unpleasant fellow" whose "reputation is not that of a well-conducted man."

I found Lady of Quality a little slower-paced than some of Heyer's other novels, but that didn't kill my pleasure. Annis and Oliver's verbal sparring was quite entertaining and their love plays out in a realistic way -- especially Miss Wychwood's struggle over accepting Carleton's suit and how she reconciled what she saw as a choice between freedom and love. The passage about kindred spirits and the indefinability of love was especially moving, I thought. Less I sound mawkish, just let me note that I laughed my way through most of Lady of Quality.

Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008).


Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer

Lady Serena Spenborough's papa has died and left her inheritance in a trust controlled by, of all people, her high-handed ex-fiancé (obviously, dear papa had harbored certain hopes!). Now of "reduced" means, Lady Serena and her young step-mama take up residence in Bath where Serena becomes reacquainted with a man who had loved her long ago. Meanwhile, the ex-fiancé is up to shenanigans of his own with a terrified young thing just out of the schoolroom!

I must admit that, shockingly, I did not think this Heyer romance was all the crack. Ivo's behavior towards Emily, when he wanted her to jilt him, was rather reprehensible. Especially as he only became engaged to her because Serena had engaged herself to the Major! Not good ton, dahlings.

Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2011)


The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

Sir Waldo Hawkridge, a paragon of masculinity, comes down from town with his cousin, Lord Julian Lindeth, to turn a recently inherited ramshackle estate into an orphanage. Yes, he's rich, handsome, educated, and philanthropic -- no wonder the ladies are all a-twitter!

Being quite the catch, the two men are invited to various parties hosted by the local fashionable set. And so they make the acquaintance of the local Beauty, Tiffany Wield, and her wrangler Miss Ancilla Trent, a somber-minded young woman of impeccable breeding who is the perfect foil for Tiffany's spoilt and reckless ways.

Waldo and Ancilla fall in love from afar. Of course, there are obstacles in their inevitable path to matrimony (Tiffany Wield, for one), but everything works out as it ought to in the end.

All of Heyer's romances are enjoyable reads, but Nonesuch takes the cake. 'Pon rep, its witty repartee and use of cant make it one of the most enjoyable bags of moonshine I've read in a long time (well, since April Lady).

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2009).


April Lady by Georgette Heyer

Nell, a young bride still unused to her new wealth, finds she has overspent her quarterly allowance and has acquired a (to her) frightful debt. Desperate that her husband, Cadross, not know, she turns to her gamester brother. While her brother is skint, he does have a Cunning Plan.

Which fails. So he concocts another plan. Which does not go as ... planned. Meanwhile, Nell's behavior towards her husband becomes increasingly distant and formal. Cadross begins to think all his friends were right when they said Nell was marrying him for his money and title. And Nell (thanks to bad advice from her Mama) fears Cadross married her out of convenience and will never believe she loves him -- especially now that she is in debt up to her eyeballs.

And then there is Cadross's sister, Letitia! Pretty, headstrong Letitia who is up to no good with an upstanding young man of prospect but no position ... she will turn their love into something out of a horrid novel, see if she won't.

Oh, the silliness! Such a lovely bit of of escapism. A perfect dessert of a novel.

April Lady by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2012)


Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole

Since the untimely death of her mother, Sofie has tried very hard to be a good girl. A church-going, law-abiding young lady. Nice. Quiet. Docile. Decidedly not someone who participates in sit-ins or falls in love with a white Jewish boxer. But there’s a fire burning deep inside Sofie and nice isn’t enough, anymore.

Let It Shine was as much a coming of age story as it was a romance. Sure, it was delightful to see Ivan and Sofie reconnect after years apart, discovering a love so tender and true that it made me a bit goofy. But, even better was watching Sofie come out of her "good girl" shell, fighting through others expectations to become the woman she was meant to be. Yes, Sofie was frequently scared of what might happen to her given the dangers of the era, but she kept going.

Let It Shine was not always an easy book to read -- there's simply no way a Civil Rights era romance wasn't going to make me cry or chew my thumb -- but it was a very rewarding, satisfying one.

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole. CreateSpace, 2016.


The Lark by Edith Nesbit

Furrowed Middlebrow, a new imprint for Dean Street Press, as reprinted a slew of fabulous works by neglected, now lesser-known British women novelists and memoirists. These books largely describe women's lives and culture in early 20th century Britain and probably feel out of fashion for being too "domestic," but as this is exactly the kind of fiction I eat up with a spoon, I am over the moon.

After downloading five Furrowed Middlebrow releases to my Kindle, I decided to start with Nesbit's The Lark. I mean? How could I not? 1919, two capable young women recently from the school room discover their guardian has lost all their money and then done a bunk, leaving them with a country cottage and a wee bit of money to get buy on... it sounded completely charming and fun. A lark, indeed.

And it was. Jane and Lucilla Quested were charming, embraceable characters who had a grand little adventure as genteel business women before finding love and settling down to become good wives and mothers. They engaged with a patchwork of interesting characters taken from varied classes and backgrounds and the entire thing read as a cheerful, "can do" slice of life.

Be warned -- The Lark was by no means a realistic treatment of the economic difficulties faced by single, genteelly impoverished young women in the aftermath of WWI. However, it was a kind, optimistic book in which even the meanest characters were not so very mean and everything worked out well in the end. In other words, precisely what I needed to reading on a dreary March day in 2018.

If you enjoy Montgomery's The Blue Castle or Lovelace's later Betsy-Tacy books, I think The Lark will appeal to you as they all share a similar spirit and time.

I always thought of Edith Nesbit as a children's author -- Five Children & It, The Railway Children, etc -- but it turns out she wrote quite a few novels for adults and I look forward to reading more of them. Middlebrow has only reprinted this one, but others (The Red House, for example) are available for Kindle.

The Lark by Edith Nesbit. Dean Street Press, 2017.


No Other Duke Will Do by Grace Burrowes

After Anne Stuart’s Never Kiss a Rake, I knew I wanted a quiet, sensible romance. Something sweet and fun, centered on two people who talk to each other like sensible adults (with, yes, some quiet, gentle ribbing and flirtation thrown in for good measure), listen to each other, and fall in love in very real way. And that’s precisely what I found in Burrowes’ No Other Duke Will Do. No frustrating misunderstandings due to a lack of clear communication. No dark secrets. No masquerades.

I enjoyed the small domestic details of Elizabeth and Julian’s romance -- Elizabeth gave Julian the supportive and loving friendship he didn’t know he was missing while Julian showed Elizabeth how verrry good a good man could be. She mended his waistcoat, befriended his siblings, and helped sort out his runaway house party. He brought her flowers and pillows to increase her bookish comfort and generally showed her that she was both desired and beloved. It was all very sweet and nice.

Of course, there had to be some obstacle standing in the way of True Love. In this case, the obstacle was a thirty-thousand volume library which, while of little presumed value, had impoverished the dukedom to such a point it was impossible Julian should marry anyone anytime soon. There was also the so irritating (but probably completely correct) Lucas Sherbourne, who saw no point to the aristocracy and would have dearly loved to chop down Julian’s woods and put in a colliery to improve the local economy.

The whole "there’s nothing of value in this library!" shtick irritated me to know end. I was, like, really? How have you not had anyone who knows books in to value your collection? And then, of course, my suspicions re: value of books were proved correct and Sherbourne kind-of made friends with Julian (and, more importantly, Elizabeth’s sister Charlotte) and it was just a complete Happy Ever After. Hooray.

Books, kissing, friendship ... it’s all good.

No Other Duke Will Do is the third book in Burrowes’s Windham Brides series, but made perfect sense on its own. Yes, the scandal in Elizabeth’s past and the various relationships between characters would probably have been clearer had I read the preceding books, but I got the gist of it and that was enough for me. While I could go back and catch up with Megan and Anwen, I’m more likely to steam ahead and read Charlotte’s story in A Rogue of Her Own as I really want to see how Burrowes will turn Lucas Sherbourne into a romantic hero. He was such an ass in No Other Duke Will Do that my mind boggles at the very idea! (But, if any woman could bring him up to scratch, it would be Charlotte).

No Other Duke Will Do by Grace Burrowes. Forever/Hachette Book Group, 2017.


Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart

After the Russell sisters’ father dies in a carriage accident, whilst attempting to flee the country with embezzled funds, they find themselves friendless and in greatly reduced circumstances. Unwilling to accept their father’s presumed perfidy, Bryony -- the eldest sister -- decides to masquerade as a housekeeper in order to infiltrate the home of one of their father’s business partners and discover the truth.

Of course, the Earl of Kilmartyn quickly suspects his new housekeeper, Mrs. Greaves, is more than she appears to be and determines to get the truth from her. Also, to get up her skirts. Because this pox-marked, prim, and prickly woman is totally, inexplicably hot. Way hotter than his impossibly beautiful, but duplicitous blackmailing wife. It’s clear Bryony is a virgin, though, and Kilmartyn is a gentleman so he just can’t “fuck the hell out of her, hard and fast, as he desperately needed to do.” No, he has to woo her.

It’s a hard thing, being a gentleman of principles.

To me, there was no real romantic connection between Kilmartyn and Bryony -- he clearly wanted her and she clearly had feelings for him and they did have, apparently, really hot sex after he de-virgined her. But love? Eh.

And the ending ... well, it didn’t make a lot of sense. The villain -- who threatens Byrony with necrophilia and might have an interest in pederasty and, well, just needed a monocle and twirlable mustache to complete the whole over-the-top Evil Guy ensemble -- did not really explain who he was, why he was fucking Kilmartyn's wife, why he hated Kilmartyn, and why he killed Bryony’s father. It’s clear he did some of it because of a flippin’ country house, which is sheer bonkers when you realize the house would have come to him, anyway, when Bryony’s dad died of old age. But why he slept with Kilmartyn’s wife when he clearly hated and despised her, and why he hated Kilmartyn so much ... I don’t really know. Anyway, I’m sure he appears in the next two books -- starring the two younger Russell sisters and the other business partners -- and I’ll eventually learn his story in its entirety. Were I to read them.

But I don’t think I care to. In hindsight, I realize I would have preferred far less Upstairs shenanigans and more Downstairs adventures in housekeeping. Indeed, if someone would write me a fanfic about the romance between Mrs. Patmore Mrs. Harkins and Mr. Molesley Mr. Collins with some lavish descriptions of baking and general housewifery chucked in for good measure, I’d be over the moon.

Never Kiss a Rake by Anne Stuart. Montlake Romance, 2013.


Tainted Angel by Anne Cleeland

During the Napoleonic war the British government recruits toothsome young women as “angels” -- special agents who seduce information from the unwitting enemy. Vidia's mission is to spy on a very wealthy man who has the power sink the British economy. But soon Vidia’s colleagues suspect she’s double-crossing them and working for Brodie. And, maybe, she is. Or isn’t. It’s, frankly, impossible to tell as everyone engages in a very dangerous (and, at times, quite sexy) game of cat-and-mouse.

Loaded Tainted Angel onto my Kindle before going on holiday and it turned out to be just the sort of read I needed to get me through a five hour flight. Tainted Angel is a fun, romantic romp through Regency London with lots of cross-and-double-cross cloak-and-dagger type espionage. I wasn’t always sure what was going on --the author sees fit to let you figure out things as you go and Vidia isn’t the most forthcoming protagonist when it comes to her past adventures -- but I found I didn’t care very much. Eventually, I would know what Vida was up to and all would be well. In the meantime, I just enjoyed the journey.

I greatly enjoyed Vidia’s interaction with her maid, Maisie, and only wish there was more of it. The Dokes’s surprise twist was great fun and I hope she gets a book of her own ... if this is going to be a series and I have absolutely no reason to think that! (I know, I’m anti-series only until it suits me not to be). Indeed, nearly all of the characters were delightful -- even the villains, whoever they might be.

Tainted Angel by Anne Cleeland (SourceBooks, 2013). AZW file.


The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is set three years after the events detailed in Pride and Prejudice. Mingle's Mary is a good deal different from the priggish, pedantic girl Austen too-briefly described in Pride and Prejudice and the change is a little surprising at first, but makes sense if you accept Mingle's premise that, with the absence of the older married sisters, Mr. Bennet has more time to spend improving his younger daughters. Also that Mary, having seen the happiness attained by her older sisters, has become more aware of of her own character flaws and actively worked to smooth them over.

I was willing to accept both suppositions and embrace this improved Mary. I was glad to see her with Jane at High Tor, enjoying the gentle attentions of Mr. Henry Walsh, even if silly Kitty did keep getting in the way. However, the baby craziness in the second half really put me off, because it was so unexpected and, well, a bit creepy. Poor lonely and unlovable Mary! Don't be another Lady Edith!

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride & Prejudice Novel by Pamela Mingle (William Morrow, 2013)


A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

After engaging in some simply scandalous behavior in France, artsy Victoria Darling is sent home in disgrace. Appalled by her hoydenish behavior, her parents try to explain to Vicky why her behavior and desires are so terribly wrong. They're not written as ogres and, while they break her heart, they clearly believe they're doing it for her own good. Basically, this statement by her father sums it all up:

I know you have ideas for your future, but I must say that further schooling is quite out of the question. A girl’s duty in life is to be a pretty and entertaining wife to her husband. She should not outshine him in knowledge lest she show him up among his peers. Advanced study is harmful to women as it makes them discontent and unfit for lives as wives and mothers. You are quite a pretty girl, so your prospects are much more promising than Louisa Dowd’s anyhow, poor thing. She is but a plain girl, and education is the only option for her.

Of course, Vicky longs to be more than a pretty, entertaining wife. She wants to be a proper artist and study at the Royal Academy. But her father would never grant permission (or pay tuition) and, as an unmarried miss, she has no voice or funds of her own. But maybe the man her parents so clearly desire her to marry (her family has new money, his family has title and ton) will allow her ...

What a romp! Ohh, yes, A Mad, Wicked Folly frequently made me angry because the limited sphere historically allowed women is ANGRIFYING and the novel does not downplay that at all -- the arrests, the forced-feedings, the appalling lack of public sentiment is all there. A Mad, Wicked Folly is essentially a select history of British suffragette movement wrapped up in pretty ribbons of artistic yearning and class-crossing love. All in all, a highly enjoyable read and I look forward to its sequel -- set during WWI, yay! -- whenever it comes out.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller (Viking, 2014)


The Bar Sinister by Sheila Simonson

Presently revolted passersby in the vicinity of Cavendish Square could observe a plump, middle-aged gentleman and a woman old enough to know better embracing in a carriage in broad daylight, a clear instance of the decay of modern manners.

Emily Foster, a gently-bred widow, takes in the children of an army officer so that her child might not grow up alone. Emily and Captain Falk are not at their best when they meet and each makes a poor impression on the other. There is no doubt, however, that both care for the children deeply and, as the years pass, Emily and Richard form a tentative friendship through the letters they exchange about the children. That each thinks the friendship is one-sided is a bit of a problem, but they're separated by geographic and class boundaries anyway so it doesn't really signify ...

Richard Falk is the bastard son of the Duchess of Newsham and some dude she ran away with because her husband, the Duke, was an out-and-out bounder. The Duke is dead now and the inheritance neatly sorted out amongst the legitimate heirs ... and yet strange accidents befall Richard wherever he goes. He is quite certain at least one of the late Duke's children is out to kill him. But why? The Duke never recognized him. Falk even changed his name so there could be no connection. So why keep trying to kill him? And are the children endangered by their patrimony?

I kept waiting for Falk's mother or sister to turn out to be a Machiavellian mastermind so-innocently sitting in a vast web of conspiracy, but they turn out to be exactly as written -- the nice, if perhaps misguided, members of the family. Alas, the bad 'uns are also exactly as written. A trifle disappointing as Simonson has created so many engaging and dynamic characters that it doesn't seem right the wicked parties should so clearly be BAD MEN.

Bar Sinister serves as a prequel of sorts to Lady Elizabeth's Comet in that several of its secondary characters are significant to the plot of Lady Elizabeth's Comet. While Bar Sinister was published first, I read Lady Elizabeth's Comet first and found the novels worked fine read in that order. Indeed, it's probably better to read Lady Elizabeth's Comet first, because you approach it with no preconceived notions about how nice Tom Conway may be.

Overall, The Bar Sinister is well-written Regency with a smattering of yearning and a dash of derring-do. If you like your Regencies slow to simmer, people with mature adults, full of Napoleonic detail, slightly gothick, and only tangentially related to London and the ton then The Bar Sinister is good pick.

The Bar Sinister: A Romance of Regency England by Sheila Simonson (Walker & Company, 1986)


Caroline and Julia by Clare Darcy

After Caroline's no-good wastrel of a father dies, leaving his family all but penniless, she and her mother try to make the best of it by closing up the estate and making their home in its kitchen. Unbothered by greater society, they spend a few relatively happy years together before Caroline's mother also dies. With no family or friends to aide her, Caroline determines to go to London to see her mother's dearest friend, now a famous actress, and find a way to get on in the world.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in England, Caroline's Uncle Chandos dies leaving his fortune not to his suspiciously charming nephew and grasping sister-in-law, but to fair Caroline. Clearly, something must be done about that.

Overall, Caroline and Julia is a delightful romp just as much about Caroline and Julia's deepening friendship as her blossoming love for a young lord (who pens the most dreadful poetry). I worried at first that Darcy would fling Caroline and Neville together as they are cousins and their marriage would make things very tidy, story-wise. And also very undramatic!

Happily, Caroline doesn't fall in love with her cousin and makes a much more age and temperament appropriate match. As does Julia, of course, because even thirtyish widows-turned-actress deserve a handsome, wealthy, self-aware, and age-appropriate husband.

Clare Darcy is the pseudonym of deceased American author, Mary Deasy, who published more than a dozen Regency novels under that name. Happily, my library owns three others and I shall give them a try. Unhappily, age and use have rendered them excessively unattractive-looking and rather icky-to-the-touch. As they are not particularly famous or “important” genre-wise, my best hope is someone like Uncial Press releases them as eBooks ...

Caroline and Julia: A Novel of Regency England by Clare Darcy (Walker & Company, 1982)


Lady Elizabeth’s Comet by Sheila Simonson

Lady Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of a recently deceased earl of Clanross, is quite infatuated with astronomy. While she knows she should marry at some point (she's nearly thirty!) and assume her ordained place in society, Elizabeth really would much rather discover a comet. Besides, any man who marries her would surely expect her to give up her astronomical-leanings and blue-stocking ways.

And then the new Lord Clanross arrives to take over the family estate and their personalities clash rather terribly. Total surprise there, I'm sure. Fortunately, the new Lord Clanross requires Elizabeth's help and the more time they spend in each other's company the more sympathetic they become toward one another. And that's all pretty fine, because maybe Elizabeth has found a man who wants an astronomer as much as he wants a wife.

Really, Lady Elizabeth's Comet is quite modern in its treatment of marriage and womanhood. Elizabeth, while not particularly feminine or maternal and in so many ways completely unorthodox in her behaviors, completely buys into the idea she cannot be the "right kind of woman" and an astronomer ... and so, well, she's decided she'll simply never marry. It's Clanross, who never had any expectation of the earldom, who is the feminist and proponent of personal freedom within the structure of Regency marriage. It's rather delightful. Reader, I would have married him.

(I know! After all that talk about not reading historical romances anymore, what have I been doing? Reading them! Enjoying them! Egg on my face, yes? I've also been reading "serious" nonfiction like Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness ... I just find them much harder to talk about).

Lady Elizabeth's Comet: A Romance of Regency England by Sheila Simonson (Walker & Company, 1985)


Your Wicked Ways by Eloisa James

Helene had a shrewd feeling that she would be besieged with morning callers. No staid matron could chop off all her hair, put on a flagrantly outrageous gown, and disappear from a ballroom with the Earl of Mayne, without every single female acquaintance she had in the world -- and several whom she did not -- developing a burning ambition to take tea at her house.

Your Wicked Ways is the fourth book in Eloisa James's Duchess Quartet. I haven't read the other three, but Your Wicked Ways seemed to stand well enough on its own. James provided just enough background for Helene's besties (heroines of prior novels) for me to understand why they're all friends, but not so much as to make me feel she was padding out Your Wicked Ways by rehashing prior novels (this can be a problem in series).

I know I was very grumpy about historical romances a few months ago and said I would stop reading them, but I changed my mind after James mentioned this novel during the "Steamy Stories -- Bestselling Romance and Erotica Authors" at the Big Book Getaway. A funny but sexy novel about a woman so in want of a child that she would move in with her husband and his mistress to get one? Yes, please!

And I was not disappointed. Your Wicked Ways was, apparently, the tasty romantic candyfloss I'd been secretly yearning for and (aside from the outdoor sexytimes which, briefly, made me what to put the novel aside because sexytimes do not belong outdoors) I gobbled it up in ninety minutes. Seriously. That's one and a half lunch breaks. And I was eating while I read it.

I think Your Wicked Ways is the first historical romance I've read where the male romantic lead is terrible at sex (even his mistress mocks him). Obviously, like real human beings, he gets better with practice and is pretty hot stuff by the end of the novel. And that was quite refreshing, you know, because Romantic Heroes are always Masters of the Sexyverse and the heroine's first time with the hero is always Totes Awesome.

Your Wicked Ways by Eloisa James (Avon, 2004)