Tag Archives: historical

Belated TBR post for January

Wendy the SuperLibrarian is hosting the TBR Challenge for 2011.  I slacked off last year and read very few books from the TBR, so I didn’t feel like I should sign up to participate officially.  Serendipitously, I was reading a book pulled from the TBR on January’s TBR day, even though it wasn’t the correct subgenre.

Title:  Lord Carew’s Bride
Author:  Mary Balogh
Publisher:  Signet
Subgenre:  Traditional Regency
Publication date:  June, 1995

Her Heart’s Dilemma

Samantha Newman’s heart skipped a beat when she found herself dancing with the irresistibly handsome and notorious Earl of Rushford. This ruthless libertine, who had betrayed Samantha six years ago, was waltzing back into her life. She had vowed never again to become his plaything, yet she could not deny the strong attraction that drew her to him.

Faced with a marriage proposal and feelings that have been stirred by Rushford’s charming cousin, the Marquess of Carew, Samantha must decide if she can ignore the embers of an old passion–and ignite the flames of a new one….

I can remember loving Mary Balogh’s European historicals back around 2000-2002. Since then? Eh, not so much. The Bedwyn series killed my interest: they were all pretty interchangeable, and were part of her move to hardcover. Was disinclined to pay hardcover prices for material that didn’t feel original. But I have some of her older trad Regencies in the TBR mountain.

My synopis of the plot:
While staying with her happily-married cousin (see Balogh’s Dark Angel), Samantha meets gentleman who works as a landscaper on the Marquess of Carew’s estate. He’s lame, but lovely company. Except he’s actually the Marquess, he just introduced himself as plain Mr. Harley Wade. But she doesn’t know that and just enjoys his company until it’s time to go back to Town for the season. While there, she becomes entangled with Rushford, a nasty bit of work who nearly ruined her cousin (again, see Dark Angel) and Samantha herself. Slimy, smarmy, smirky, he’s still nearly irresistible to Samantha, who is dumber than a stump. Up pops Mr. Wade to her rescue: he proposes and she accepts, thinking it will be a friendly marriage but not a love-marriage. But then she learns he’s the marquess. And later that Rushford is now her cousin by marriage. Sturm und drang follows. But eventually they get a happy ending.

What did I think? Well, I might’ve enjoyed this if I’d read it when it was first released. Now, though, I think Samantha is a self-centered, ignorant twit, and Wade deserves better. The plot was slow. Extremely slow. I spent most of the book waiting for something – anything! – to happen. Maybe if you’re looking for a quiet, slow read, with very little action and mostly introspection, this would be a good read for you? But I was bored.

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SBD: more Austen fan fiction

For SBD, I’m sharing a vacation read.

Title: I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend

Author: Cora Harrison

© 2010 MacMillan

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of a journal must write all her secrets in it.

Meet Jenny Cooper: shy, pretty cousin of clever, sparky Jane Austen (who has lots of handsome brothers and a vivid imagination).

These are Jenny’s secrets:


• She has never gone to a ball.
• She hates her school.
• She longs to wear a new gown and flirt with a handsome naval officer.
• She wishes real life could be more like a novel.


A delicious dance between truth and fiction this is a thrilling story of a moonlight flit, a dashing young man, and two girls in search of a hero.

Why this book? Because I was wandering around the bookstore at Dublin Airport, searching for something to read, and the cover caught my eye. As a general rule, I’m not a particular fan of Jane Austen fan fiction, but I was in a rush and needed something new to read.

What did I think? Well, it’s YA fiction, which I often enjoy, but it felt very…juvenile.

The book is loosely based on reality, in that Jane Austen did have a cousin named Jane Cooper who lived with the Austen family at Steventon for a time. Jane becomes Jenny, for ease of reference in the book. Otherwise, it is basically a mishmash of characters and plot lines from Austen’s books.  Jenny and Jane spend a lot of time doing teenaged girly things, talking about boys and family and what they want from their futures.  Jane’s not the most likable person, really, and Jenny is a bit of a twit, although they are both products of their time and social position.

I don’t know, it wasn’t terrible, as JA fan fiction goes.  Neither does it stand out as being particularly well-written or original.

Keep or pass on? Passing on.

Read this author again? I wouldn’t go out of my way to read her other books, assuming that she’s written any.

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SBD: A Murderous Procession

It’s time for SBD again…and I have something to talk about! It feels like ages since that’s happened!

Okay, first, I must say that the reading slump is on-going.  Very little appeals.  I’ve finished two books — two! — in the last two weeks.  That’s terrible!  Normally, it’s two or three a week.  I shouldn’t complain, I guess, since reading fewer books means buying fewer books, which is always better for my budget.  More for the vacation fund.

Finally finished the fourth mystery in the Adelia Aguilar series by Ariana Franklin, A Murderous Procession.

In 1176, King Henry II sends his ten-year-old daughter, Joanna, to Palermo to marry William II of Sicily. War on the Continent and outbreaks of plague make it an especially dangerous journey, so the king selects as his daughter’s companion the woman he trust most: Adelia Aguilar, his mistress of the art of death. As a medical doctor and native of Sicily, it will be Adelia’s job to travel with the princess and safeguard her health until the wedding.

Adelia wants to refuse – accompanying the royal procession means leaving behind her nine-year old daughter. Unfortunately, Henry has arranged for the girl to live at court, both as a royal ward and as a hostage to ensure that Adelia will return to the king’s service. So Adelia sets off for a yearlong royal procession. Accompanying her on the journey are her Arab companion, Mansur, her lover, Rowley, and an unusual newcomer: the Irish sea captain O’Donnell, who may prove more useful to Adelia than Rowley would like.

But another man has joined the procession – a murderer bent on the worst kind of revenge. When people in the princess’s household begin to die, Adelia and Rowley suspect that the killer is hiding in plain sight. Is his intended victim the princess . . . or Adelia herself?

I pre-ordered this book and it arrived on the release date. Sadly, it has taken me more than a month to read it. It’s not badly written or completely out of the normal style or voice established in the first three Adelia Aguilar books. It just…didn’t compel me to turn the pages consistently. It felt kind of episodic, starting and stopping in dribs and drabs, with the things happening in Aveyron not really mattering much to things that happened in Caen. Yes, yes, politically connected, but just not well-strung together. And, to be honest, a lot of the plot felt repetitive. Adelia and Rowley disagree because he withholds information and/or puts kingly duty above their relationship. She gives him the cold shoulder, but then regrets it when she learns the whys and wherefores. Separation followed by rescue at the last minute.  Where have we read that before?  Oh, right, in the earlier books of the series.

I think also, Adelia’s devotion to pure truth coupled with her brush-off of reality is beginning to frustrate me. Her precarious situation has been made clear in books past, between accusations of witch craft, her social situation being outside the nobility and the peasantry, and the physical threats and injuries she’s suffered. Her obstinate refusal to consider her own personal safety begins to feel a little blinkered and martyrish, verging on TSTL.

As usual, the blurb both reveals and misleads. Adelia’s daughter is not nine years old: the first book was set in 1171 and she wasn’t even conceived yet – how could she possibly be nine in 1176?  Also, the blurb implies that Adelia and Rowley work together to solve this mystery, which is not really the case. They spend the majority of the book separated, and while he suspects something, Adelia has her head buried in the sand about the possibility of someone seeking revenge against her.

The POV of the Big Bad…eh. It felt like too much.  Knowing after the last book that he was still around was creepy, but the POV crossed out of creepy and into deranged to the point that I found it hard to believe no one noticed his psychosis.  There may not have been psychiatrists in the 12th century, but certainly there was crazy back then, and  people would notice, no?

This sounds like I hated the book, but I didn’t – I finished it, after all, and I don’t begrudge paying the hardback price for it. The book is different from a lot of the current mystery offerings, a medieval forensic mystery, set in a locale that I find fascinating. I suppose it just feels not different enough from the first three books of the series.

One other reason I enjoy this series is the periodic cameo by Henry II. His unfortunate relationship with the Catholic Church and the murder of Thomas Becket aside, he was an amazing character, the father of English Common Law.  I may need to go watch The Lion in Winter, or maybe dig out some of Jean Plaidy’s Plantagenet books.

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Okay, so it’s Monday again

And it must be time for SBD.

My topic today is:  Duchess in Love by Eloisa James.

This book was published back in 2002, but I haven’t read anything from James since her first few books, the "Pleasures" series.  They came out in hard back and got all kinds of attention.  Romance!  Written by an academic!  OMG!  Validation for genre fiction!  Eh, whatever.  They were okay but not great, and I’ve felt no urge to read her since then.  Why this one?  Well, she was a speaker at RWA last year, and I really enjoyed her speech, so I thought I’d give her another try.  

Blurb:

A duke in retreat
Gina was forced into marriage with the Duke of Girton at an age when she’d have been better off in a schoolroom than a ballroom.  Directly after the ceremony her handsome spouse promptly fled to the continent, leaving the marriage unconsummated and Gina
quite indignant.

A lady in the middle
Now, she is one of the most well-known ladies in London…living on the edge of scandal — desired by many men, but resisting giving herself to any one.

A duchess in love
Finally, Camden, the Duke of Girton, has returned home, to discover that his naive bride has blossomed into the toast of the
ton.  Which leaves Cam in the most uncomfortable position of discovering that he has the bad manners to be falling in love — with his own wife!

As usual, the blurb is pretty inaccurate.  And also, not very well written.

Gina and Camden were married as children (12 and 18, respectively) (for a trumped up reason that makes little or no sense when it is revealed) by his father, who appears to have been a right bastard.  Camden ran away and stayed away, even after his father died, leaving the estate to be managed by his estate agent.  Except there’s a lot of stuff that the landlord needs to do that an agent can’t, and so Gina’s been doing all that stuff.  But she’s now met someone she wants to marry, so she wants an annulment.  Camden comes home to give it to her, after spending twelve years living abroad, doing as he pleases.  He is purported to be a talented sculptor, known among the ton for his goddess sculptures based on his various lovers and mistresses.  He’s planning on annulling his marriage, then returning to Greece and his sculpting.

Frankly, Camden as hero was a huge loser in my mind.  He ran away as a teenager, okay, fine.  But he behaved like Peter Pan for most of the book.  I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but his sculpting comes across (to me) as dilettante-ish, rather than as a vocation.  He wants what he wants, and no one has ever made him grow up or think outside of himself.  The idea that the estate agent couldn’t decide everything or take care of everything, or do the things traditionally done by a landlord in terms of the personal relationship with the tenants, seemed utterly alien to him, which seemed odd given his likely education and training as a young man.  (Weren’t ducal heirs supposed to be brought up learning that kind of thing?)  

Plot-wise, the book felt too busy and a bit frenzied.  Readers are treated to not one but two subplots, both involving friends of Gina’s who are estranged from their husbands for various reasons.  And there’s series bait all over the place.

Also, when Rounton the solicitor returned to his offices in the Inns of Court, I wondered two things:  first, would he call them offices rather than chambers?  (Was "offices" even used in that sense at the time? Must look up the etymology.)  And second, which of the Inns of Court?

The cover art is pretty, if generic.

The plot was well-paced and did not lag in any spots.  The prose…well, it didn’t stand out as being wonderful or terrible.

All in all, this was not a bad book, it just wasn’t a great book.  Which makes me wonder where it falls on the continuum of James’ work.  This alone wouldn’t send me on a search for the rest of the backlist, which appears to include several books related to this one and a preponderance of duchesses.

C+ for me.

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Seducing Stephen: ebook giveaway!

Seducing Stephen is, I believe, the first published collaborative work by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon.  And I was fortunate enough to receive an e-ARC, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

What does a jaded earl see in a studious young man? Everything he never knew he was missing.

The dark, alluring Peter, Lord Northrup, is Stephen’s every nighttime fantasy made flesh and he’s in Stephen’s bed, ready for passion. When Peter discovers the bedroom mix-up, he’s ready to leave until Stephen begs him to teach him all the things he’s only imagined.

The two men, visitors at a country house, begin a delirious, passionate affair with Northrup as teacher and Stephen his eager student. Peter knows their liaison is about hot sessions of sexual exploration, not love–and backs away when he sees shy Stephen’s heart is involved. Passion and commitment can’t coexist for men like them.

But Peter is haunted by memories of the summer fling and the quiet young man he spurned. But he may have taught him Stephen too well the lessons of a cynical roué.

Let me begin with a caveat:  In my reading of m/m romance, the majority of my reading has been of contemporaries, with the occasional paranormal thrown in.  I’ve read a few historicals, usually because they were highly recommended by reviewers I trust (False Colors by Alex Beecroft and the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries by Charlie Cochrane) or because an auto-buy author was trying something different (An Improper Holiday by K.A. Mitchell).  As a general rule, gay historical romance is a hard sell for me, because while an HEA may be possible, it seems inherently more difficult in an era when lovers could be executed for engaging in homosexual behavior. 

Having shared that…I was impressed by Seducing Stephen.  It’s being added to my short list of favorite m/m historicals.

The book is set in Victorian England, which is such a promising time period.  Huge changes were taking place socially, politically, technologically, and those changes serve as part of the background of the book. The authors did an excellent job creating characters who felt accurate (as far as I could tell) for their era — they weren’t 21st century men plopped down in the 19th century, but were products of their time and social classes.  They cared about what their contemporaries and peers thought of them; their reputations were important; their obligations to their families and others had to be considered when making significant decisions.  Peter was very much the jaded lord; he wasn’t jaded so much by experience (though he had that) but by the emptiness of his life.  Enter Stephen, a young man of the expanding middle class who was just figuring out his own sexuality and his own place in the world.  Their first meeting and entanglement left them both a bit worse for wear: Peter because he was surprised by how he still thought of Stephen after leaving him behind, and Stephen because he was abandoned by his first lover and love.  

The conflict within this novel was not just "does he love me" but "how can we (can we?) be together while meeting our obligations?"  The two struggled with their own obligations (family, financial, social) to others, and their situation at the end of the novel (together, trying to balance the different burdens) was clearly going to be a work in progress going forward.  That ending, while perhaps not the HEA that many romance readers would like to see with an epilogue and 2.3 children, was utterly satisfactory to me:  the lovers were together and they were committed to each other and their future.

ETA:  Forgot to mention — look at that gorgeous cover art!  Dee/Devon lucked out with the beautiful job by Anne Cain.

ETA #2:  To be perfectly honest, as much as I enjoyed this book (it was a B/B+ read for me), the next book to be released by Dee & Devon, Wounded Heart, a Regency, utterly wowed me and is absolutely a keeper.  It is much more a fantasy-type romance, requiring a bit more suspension of disbelief, while Seducing Stephen felt more grounded in reality.  I’m not entirely sure why, although it may be a function of POV and narration.  My point being, I look forwarded to reading more (much more!) from these two authors.

Earlier this week, I mentioned that I would like to share this book with other readers, readers who perhaps are new to m/m romance or who are regular readers but haven’t tried either of these authors yet.  Summer Devon graciously offered to provide a copy of the e-book for a giveaway.

If you are interested in checking out this new collaborative duo, please leave a comment.  If you feel like sharing, tell whether you’ve read any m/m romance before or if this will be your toe dipped into the waters, so to speak.  Or just comment saying you’d like to be included in the "drawing".  The winner will be selected randomly on Monday, February 15th. Wednesday, Feb 17th.

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Lessons in French

Laura Kinsale is a legend among romance readers. Even the Smart Bitches gush like fangirls about her work in their book Beyond Heaving Bosoms. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that while I have most of her backlist TBR, until last week the only Kinsale book I’d read was Uncertain Magic. And, tbh, I wasn’t all that impressed by it: yes, the writing was pretty – but the characters and plot were kind of ~meh~.

But I’d read awesome things about Ms. Kinsale’s Lessons in French, published this month after a five year hiatus. So I downloaded a copy for Kindle. Overall, I was very pleased by my reading experience with Lessons in French, despite a technical glitch.

Lady Callista Taillefaire is firmly on the shelf, having been jilted by three suitors. Jilted seems like such a kinder word than dumped, doesn’t it? But the end result is the same – she’s unmarried and stuck in her childhood home with the new Earl (a cousin) and his wife, desperate to be away from them. Trevelyan d’Augustin, her sort-of youthful sweetheart returns to Shelford as the Duc de Monceaux. While everyone in the neighborhood believes he’s won back the lands to accompany the title, in reality he is a successful prize fight promoter who is in England under threat of hanging. He’s been pardoned for forging a note, but only inasmuch as he was spared the hangman’s noose and exiled instead. Why is he still in England? Because he’s come to see his mother in her last days. And thus begins the farce.

Things I enjoyed:

  • the smart, quick dialogue between Trev and Callie
  • Trev’s pursuit of Callie, and their adventures as children and adults
  • the beautiful writing – cry havoc and unleash the hens of war!
  • Hubert the bull and his obsession with Bath buns. I sympathize, because Bath buns are tasty! Despite the description given, I pictured Ferdinand whenever I read Hubert’s name in the text. 😀

Things I enjoyed a little less:

  • the duchesse’s malaprops – the first couple were cute, but they become progressively less cute and more irritating.
  • the epilogue – without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the thing revealed in the epilogue strained credibility and required more suspension of disbelief than I am capable of.
  • the constraints that both Callie and Trev put upon themselves when it came to their relationship. Oh, no, I can’t tell her the truth because she’ll waste herself on me! Please, respect her ability to make her own choices. Oh, no, I can’t accept him, I’ll accept another suitor I don’t even like because I want to be miserable – if he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve then I don’t want him. If they would just communicate rather than making “the best” decisions for each other, the store would’ve been shorter but the characters less irritating.

I’ve read someone describe this as a quiet romance, which boggles me. Quiet? There is a bar fight. And a near riot at the Hereford fair. And a bull let loose in a kitchen, then smuggled away in plain sight. At one point, Bow Street Runners appear and stake out likely locations to find Trev. How on earth is that a quiet romance?

As a reader, I had a similar feeling about the recent releases by Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Courtney Milan, all books that have received rave reviews. Beautifully written, all of them, which I appreciated as I read the books…but they weren’t keepers for me, or books that I’ll go back and re-read. I’m sure it’s a commentary about my (low) tastes in reading, rather than a reflection of the books. Perhaps also it combines with unrealistic expectations of the book, based on the glowing, squeezing fangirl love found across Romanceland. I’m contrary like that, y’know.

Anyway, Lessons in French is a fun romp  and a bit of a farce.  Charming, very charming.  B read for me.

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SBD: Proof by Seduction

Beth reminded everyone that Laura Kinsale’s Lessons in French has been released to the wild, even though the street date has not yet arrived. Guess it’s not a strict lay down date?  I dunno.  I’ll pick up a copy.

My SBD: Courtney Milan’s Proof of by Seduction

It’s her debut release.  I think.  She had a novella in an anthology with Mary Balogh for the holidays.  Which is the debut? Does the novella count or does the full length book count?  I dunno.

Anyway, here’s the blurb from the back:

She was his last chance for a future of happiness . . .
A gifted fortune-teller from a humble background, Jenny can make even the most sophisticated skeptic believe her predictions simply by batting her smoky eyelashes. Until she meets her match in Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, a sworn bachelor and scientis.

He just didn’t know it yet
Broodingly handsome, Gareth is scandalized to discover his cousin has fallen under the spell of "Madame Esmeralda," and vows to prove Jenny a fraud. But his unexpected attraction to the fiery enchantress deifies logic.  Jenny disrupts every facet of Gareth’s calculated plan — until he can’t decide whether to seduce her or ruin her.  Now, as they engage in a passionate battle of wills, two lonely souls must choose between everything they know . . . and the boundless possibilities of love.

First:  smoky eyelashes?  If they are on fire, she should put the fire out?  Who wrote this blurb?  

So, Jenny (as Madame Esmeralda) got to know a depressed maybe bipolar young man and more or less talked him into living.  His cousin, the Marquess of Blakely, is a scientist who is determined to cut Ned’s association with the petty con artist.  Except he’s attracted to her — shocking, since he’s a sworn bachelor and basically has a stone for a heart.  (Wasn’t "sworn bachelor" code for gay in Victorian and Edwardian days?)  Except he decides to have sex with her in addition to driving her out of Ned’s life.  Jenny’s attracted to the Marquess as well, but is aware that it can’t go anywhere.

The heroine was a fraud, or was presented as such.  Eh, I found that characterization to be odd.  Seriously, a psychic?  Maybe it’s my modern sensibility (aka profound cynicism), but I find it hard to believe that anyone really took her predictions seriously.  And while con artist heroines or heroes are a hard sell for me, Milan did a good job selling Jenny — there were relatively few respectable careers for women at the time, and she was making do.

Milan did a really good job building Gareth as frozen, cold and heartless.  Too good, in fact.  He spent too long being an ass to Jenny and to everyone else, incapable of communicating like a normal human being.  His reasons for being so frozen just…didn’t work for me.  People get hurt every day without turning into automatons.  And his constant harping on the fact that Jenny was not his equal really bothered me.  It’s something I struggle with in historicals generally, the idea that by an accident of birth one human being is deserving of respect while another is not.  And his lack of recognition of her humanity, her right to dignity and respect, his plan to fuck her and then discard her made his holier-than-thou attitude hard to take.  

It probably isn’t a huge spoiler to say that the two marry and have an HEA.  But I find the HEA to be not all that convincing.  After telling Jenny that she isn’t his equal, he changes his mind — she’s too good for him and he must marry her, despite the fact that he had determined not to marry and have an heir because the burden of the marquessate was too much to impose on anyone he might love.  So they marry because she is his equal and her birth (or lack) doesn’t matter.  Except in the epilogue, her origins do matter to the extent that he feels the need to insult a woman of perhaps better birth or background in order to intimidate the ton and leave her history in the murky past.  Whatever.  

I appreciated the writing, which was lovely.  And the pacing, which was even and not at all clunky.  I even enjoyed the elephant.*  I just didn’t care about the MCs all that much.  Was much more interested in Ned, whose book is due out later this year.

*As I read the elephant scene, all I could think of was Bujold’s Simon Ilyan and his tale of procuring an elephant as a bribe for an ambassador in Memory.
 

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