Bodice rippers and beyond - 


I'm an avid reader of "Regency romance" and historical romances set in the British Isles in the 18th and 19th centuries. I try to avoid "wallpaper historicals" where the mores and behaviour of the characters are contemporary rather than what would be expected of the period and social class in which their book is supposedly set. Georgette Heyer and Mary Balogh are my favourite authors by far, but I've also enjoyed many books by Loretta Chase, Madeline Hunter, Eloisa James, Jo Beverley, Laura Kinsale, Judith Ivory, Julie Anne Long and many others. 


As an escapee from Goodreads, I'm using this site to record my impressions of the books I read and to share them with other readers.

A Fine Passion - Stephanie Laurens

The storyline was fairly interesting and the heroine Clarice had an interesting background as the unfairly disgraced daughter of a marquess living in the country as, essentially, the housekeeper of a cousin of hers who is a parish rector and military historian. The hero Jack is a baron who returns to his country estate, near the house where Clarice lives, after 13 years away at the wars, although he spent the war as one of those dreaded "Regency spies". Clarice and the rector get inadvertently involved in some obscure scheme by an unnamed "traitor" (I guess this guy is only unmasked in the last book in the Bastion Club series) and Jack is of course the perfect guy to save them from this plot.  


There were a few things that really bothered me with the book, but I managed to finish it anyway. First of all, in typical Laurens fashion, Jack and Clarice are super-humans. Clarice is constantly and annoyingly described as having "regal" stature - this is one of the things that apparently Jack admires about her the most. However, most of the queens of England in the last couple of centuries have been tiny in stature - Victoria, the current queen Elizabeth II, her mother Elizabeth - if "regal stature", i.e. well above-average height, was a requirement for being a queen, they would be disqualified!  


Secondly, Clarice and Jack engage in a great deal of boringly and lengthily described unprotected sex, with no mention of the possibility of pregnancy, and with Clarice having no intention of marrying Jack until near the end of the book. This just put me right off - the concern of possible pregnancy would surely have been at the top of Clarice's and Jack's mind considering the time-period of the story, and should have been dealt with by the author instead of being completely ignored. Maybe Jack and Clarice, being super-human, could just decide mentally that pregnancy won't happen unless they want it to happen ...


Thirdly - in several places in the book the author ascribes Jack and Clarice's attractiveness and super-humanness to their class, i.e. the English aristocracy. In one sense this is correct for the time-period - England was an extremely class-based society at that time (and still is, but to a lesser extent), so it's very likely that neither Jack nor Clarice would consider as a colleague or friend or romantic partner anyone who was not born into the aristocracy. But to say that the hero and heroine are attractive and wonderful in all ways because they are aristocrats is ridiculous and rather ugly in the 21st century.  



Desperate Duchesses - Eloisa James

What a joy to read! Full of humour, fun, interesting characters (especially Jemma and Villiers), fabulous clothes (especially Villiers' and Jemma's), fabulous parties, amazingly good writing about chess as a metaphor for life, sex, everything. And hilarious, brilliantly written secondary characters - Teddy, Damon's six-year-old son; Marcus, the versifying Marquess of Wharton and Malmesbury and Roberta's excruciatingly embarrassing father; Fowles, the imperturbable butler; Caro and Brigitte - Jemma's French secretary and dresser. Even the Prince of Wales puts in a very funny appearance in the hilarious river cruise scene. 


Some reviewers have not appreciated that the primary love story in the book, between a young ingenue named Roberta and Jemma's brother Damon, the Earl of Gryffyn, actually takes second place in the book to the setting up of the story of Jemma and her husband. For me it didn't really matter, because the book as a whole is wonderful and filled with the author's love for her characters, the Georgian period and literature, and Roberta and Damon's love story is just fine as it is. 



The Wicked Duke - Madeline Hunter

Another highly enjoyable read from Madeline Hunter, who is an auto-buy author for me and has rarely disappointed me.  


This is the third book in a trilogy which features 4 brothers - a dead duke Percy, his two full siblings Ives and Lance, and his bastard half-brother Gareth. Percy was a very nasty man and there are rumours that he was murdered, although no cause of unnatural death has ever been determined. Lance (short for Lancelot), who takes over the dukedom, has never hidden the fact that he despised Percy, but when legal maneuvers start to implicate him as his brother's murderer, he finally has to take action to figure out what happened. One of things he is forced to do is marry Marianne, the niece of the local magistrate, who tells Lance that he knows someone who can implicate him in the murder, but that he will ensure that this never happens if Lance marries his niece (and thus ensures a great deal of social, economic and political advancement for the magistrate).  


Lance is attracted to Marianne, and she to him, so they get married, although Marianne constantly wonders what the true reason for him (a duke) marrying her (a nobody) really is. The real reason is finally revealed, much to Marianne's chagrin, but everything ends well, the murder is solved and Lance's reputation is saved.


Madeline Hunter has drawn some great characters again in this book - Marianne is especially fine - intelligent, observant and nobody's fool - there is a great scene where Lance is trying to seduce her, but when he goes too far too fast she punches him in the nose. The relationship between the three brothers is just about as good as the relationship between Marianne and Lance, and their banter is very funny. There is also a subplot about the magistrate's daughter, Marianne's younger cousin, who suffers from PTSD after a violent gang rape when she was 15, and whom Marianne has taken under her wing and worries about a great deal. 


I'm not sure how well this book reads as a standalone. I would recommend reading both previous books in the series before this one to get the full story - if you enjoy historical romance you won't be disappointed.

Put Up Your Duke: A Dukes Behaving Badly Novel - Megan Frampton

I enjoyed the second book in this series (One-Eyed Dukes Are Wild), so was anticipating similar enjoyment from this book. Not to be, however. This one, about a woman who has never been allowed to be "herself" but was always expected to be perfect, and a man who has never had to take much responsibility for anything besides getting as much pleasure as possible out of life, is basically boring.


The hero has suddenly become a duke through some dubious legal technicalities, and is coerced into marrying the deposed duke's fiancee by her parents. Much of the book takes place in the heroine's rather uninteresting head, and most of the rest taking place in the hero's one-track mind - he has decided that his wife (they are married very early in the book) should be the one to decide when the marriage would be consummated, i.e. when she finally decides that she actually wants to do the deed, even though she has led a ridiculously sheltered and restricted life and knows virtually nothing about relations between men and women. Well, to me this is beyond belief - a man in his position, at that time in history, would not have been interested in "making marriage work" or letting his wife decide "when" they would consummate the marriage. A woman of that time knew what was expected of her in marriage, and she would have gone along with it. Pleasure was a bonus, not a requirement. But of course, this book is not *really* taking place at that time in history - it's just dressed up to look that way, 

Fortune Favors the Wicked - Theresa Romain

Interesting story, on the surface a mystery about a huge robbery of some freshly-minted gold sovereigns from the Royal Mint, but actually a very nice character-driven love story with two wonderful protagonists. The hero Benedict is just delicious - one of the best I've encountered - a blind former sailor who has written a book about his travels with the Royal Navy. The heroine Charlotte is a woman with a past - in London she was a courtesan, a career choice she was forced to make when she was ruined by the local squire's son, but her father is a country vicar and apparently unaware of how Charlotte supports herself. Now she has left London and her career because her last protector abused her and slashed her face, and she decides to join in the search for the coins, in hopes of helping her family and maybe figuring out what to do with herself..  


On the negative side - the book has a few too many side plots which are unrelated to either the coin mystery or the love story, and are not fully resolved, especially the subplot about Charlotte's abusive protector and the harm he does to her family - I don't think he got the comeuppance he deserved. One entire chapter devoted is to Benedict's sister as she decides to join the search for the coins, but ultimately this has no connection to Benedict's and Charlotte's story and looks mostly like sequel bait (but I'll take it!) So - 4 stars for a flawed but well-told story.    

A Talent for Trickery (The Thief-takers) - Alissa Johnson

Started off quite well with engaging characters.  However, the murder/encryption/siege/kidnapping plot took up way too much of the last part of the book to make it fully enjoyable as a romance.  The depiction of the heroine's dead father, who basically was the motivation for the entire plot, was also inconsistent, perhaps too far over the top, and detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

A Study in Scandal (Scandalous) - Caroline Linden

3 stars for this cute novella with one BIG problem.  I'm surprised that other reviewers haven't noticed this: there are no, zero, nil skunks in the wild in England!  I don't want to give anything away, but the hero, an artist, draws a picture of a skunk for the heroine at 2 major plot turning points in the story. However, the likelihood of his knowing what a skunk looks like is minimal - maybe he's seen a stuffed example in a museum? - and even smaller for the heroine, who has lived an extremely restricted and protected life - she has never been away from Richmond (a suburb of London) and London. Without this problem I probably would have given the story 4 stars.

One-Eyed Dukes are Wild - Megan Frampton

The writing syle of the book seemed clunky at first, with too many sentences in the style of "Not that there's anything wrong with that", multiple insteads and althoughs in a single sentence and other clunkers.


But things smoothed out in the later parts of the book and it turned into a really sweet story of a socially awkward duke (who lost an eye in a silly accident) and a woman who was cast off by her parents and has to make her own way in the world. 

The Legend of Lyon Redmond: Pennyroyal Green Series - Julie Anne Long

"Whiskey in the Jar Likes to Read" wrote a great review of this book on Booklikes.  Nothing to add or take away from it! 

An Accomplished Woman - Jude Morgan

Interesting and very well-written, but drags in places, especially in the first part of the book.  Less than the sum of its parts, unfortunately. 


A few things bothered me throughout the story: 


Lydia Templeton and Lewis Durrant are the main characters and are supposed to be crazy in love with each other, and have been so for 10 years. But Lydia turned down Lewis' offer of marriage nine years ago and ever since has pretended outwardly and to herself that she doesn't care about him. Well, no, romantic love doesn't work like that, and if it did, the human race would die out pretty quickly. There is a HUGE, unrealistic deficit of lust on the part of the heroine in this story!  (The book is written entirely from Lydia's POV, so I can't say if there is a similar deficit of lust on the part of the hero.)


Phoebe Rae is the young lady Lydia is supposed to chaperone on a visit to Bath. Phoebe is a beautiful heiress who has decided that she is equally in love with two young men, who initially both appear to be in love with her as well. Well, no, romantic love doesn't work like that - I've NEVER heard of a woman being equally in love/lust with two men simultaneously! Just couldn't get over my disbelief there.


Finally, there is a rather nasty thread running throughout the book of middle-aged women who are absolutely dreadful characters. Even Lady Eastmond, who is Phoebe's guardian and is supposed to be a sympathetic character, is rather manipulative, at least with Lydia, and she has the most tedious conversational style imaginable, which the author portrays at excruciating length. But Mrs. Vawser and Mrs. Allardyce are major characters in the story, and they are both horrible. And there aren't any sympathetic, normal middle-aged women in the story to balance this. So one gets the impression that Lydia and Phoebe, delightful as they are in the story, will end up like this in their middle age, in Jude Morgan's Regency world. Not an edifying prospect.  Also not edifying for the middle-aged female who is reading the book!

Shady Lady - Elizabeth Thornton

Elizabeth Thornton has been a hit-and-miss author for me, with the misses probably exceeding the hits.  But this book is definitely a hit.


Mrs. Jo Chesney is a widow who has taken over her late husband's weekly newspaper and turned it into a going concern. A popular column in the weekly is "Lady Tellall's" society gossip column. When the book opens, Chloe, who is "Lady Tellall", appears to be in a very dangerous situation, apparently due to something she wrote in the column. She manages to write a cryptic note to Jo before she disappears and a few weeks later is feared to be murdered. The story is about Jo's search for Chloe. Jo is aided in the search, almost against her wishes, by a society gentleman, Mr. Waldo Bowman, whom she met when he invaded her office because he, too, was upset about something that was written about him in Lady Tellall's column. Waldo, of course, becomes smitten with Jo and can't keep away from her, while she takes a good while coming around to admitting her feelings for him after the initial bad impression she had of him. There is also a child in the story, an orphan of uncertain parentage who has to be rescued from a brutal school headmaster. Waldo's care of the boy goes a long way toward redeeming him in Jo's eyes.


The mystery is good, the characters are sympathetic and well-drawn, the story has a strong historical feel, and even though Jo is characterized as being hot-tempered, she is definitely not TSTL (which I've found too often with the heroines of Elizabeth Thornton's books). Waldo is an alpha hero, but a very nice one.  I can certainly recommend this one to lovers of Regency romance with a bit of mystery on the side.

An Honorable Thief (Harlequin Historical) - Anne Gracie

Started out well and kept me very interested most of the way through, but it bogs down at the end with Anne Gracie's typical overflow of cuteness and sentimentality (did she really need to put in not just one or two, but THREE happily-ever-afters?).  The one love scene in the book was completely dorky and unnecessary to the story.


Lord Rivington's Lady - Eileen Jackson

I couldn't finish this one because of the one-dimensional characterization of everyone in the story besides the heroine and the hero. Why do the mother and sister of the heroine, not to mention other characters that have a role in the story, have to be portrayed so unrelentingly negatively?  


However, this writer has a good understanding of Regency society and early 19th century mores, certainly a lot more than the authors and publishers of the wallpaper novels that are passed off as "historical romances" these days.

The Society Catch (Harlequin Historical, #809) - Louise Allen

Very enjoyable!  I normally avoid Harlequins (titles like "Captured for the Captain's Pleasure" completely put me off) but on some whim decided to check this one out.


What saved this book for me was that the main characters are social equals. This is not a "Cinderella story" where the downtrodden virtuous heroine has to be rescued by a fairy godmother and a prince (or one of the many variations on this theme that Harlequins specialize in). In this book, the heroine is virtuous but also feisty, courageous and independent, once she decides that there is no way she's going to marry the guy her parents have chosen for her. She figures out her alternatives and plans for them, although because of her innocence her plans go badly awry. 


Besides the delightful main characters, the book is enjoyable for its genuine historical feel. The author obviously knows the Regency period, its language and customs and even more, the English landscape. The plot flows well, and the ending is not gushing with over-the-top sentimentality, which is always a danger when reading Harlequins. Will have to try some more of Louise Allen's historicals (but I'll avoid the ones with titles like "Virgin Slave, Barbarian King").    

The Runaways - Barbara Hazard

A Regency romance with no romance until the last 12 or so pages of the book?  Cripes, what a disappointment. I guess the author was trying to develop some angst, some underlying deep attraction between the Earl of Morland and Harriet Winthrop-Bates as they try to prevent their teenaged children from reaching Gretna Green and marrying. Georgette Heyer and Mary Balogh can do this so successfully, but it doesn't work at all in this book. The descriptions of the trials and tribulations of the runaway couple are amusing enough, but they go on for far too long but add nothing to the romance itself, which is, after all, the point of the story. The arguing and active dislike of the hero and heroine towards each other also continued for far too long. The addition of the other admirer of Harriet, who has apparently been in love with her forever and will love her forever, had no purpose in the story that I could figure out and I just felt sorry for the guy with his doomed love.


The mischaracterization of the marriage ceremony at Gretna Green in Regency times reduced my rating by half a star. The whole point of marriages in Gretna Green and Scotland was that there only had to be two witnesses to a couple's declaration of marriage to make the thing legal. There were no churches or ministers or banns involved! (In England, the banns were done on the three Sundays prior to a wedding, when a couple's intention to marry was advertised during service by the local minister, presumably to prevent invalid marriages. A couple could not marry until the three banns had been read, so there was always a minimum wait of about three weeks between an engagement and the marriage.)


Finally, Allan Kass, the cover artist, did some really fine covers for Signet Regency books. The one on this book is just bad, though - the couple is supposed to be traveling fast in nippy fall weather through the Lake District to catch the runaways. The guy looks appropriately dressed, but the woman, with her ridiculous parasol and summer dress that leaves most of her chest and arms exposed, plus the really dumb expression on her face, just looks stupid.  What was Kass thinking?

Tall, Dark, and Wicked (Wicked Trilogy) - Madeline Hunter

Another good one by Madeline Hunter. This one is about Ywain (or Ives) Hemingford, the youngest legitimate son of the Duke of Aylesbury. He works as a barrister (there is an explanation in the book about why he does this, something not usually done by high-ranking aristocrats) and his next assignment for the government is to prosecute the case of a counterfeiter. The counterfeiter's daughter Padua, meanwhile, asks him to defend her father in his trial, having got his name from a prostitute in Newgate prison, where her father is being held. The two of them are highly attracted to each other, and Ives risks a great deal in his life and career by helping Padua figure out who is behind the counterfeiting scheme instead of just going ahead and prosecuting her father as the powers-that-be want him to do. By the end of the book the actual counterfeiters are caught (although it was still not clear to me if her father was part of the scheme or not) and Ives and Padua get their HEA.


There is a lot to like in the book - the main characters are likeable and intelligent, the setting is believably Regency, the romance is hot, and the interplay between Ives and his two surviving brothers is enjoyable and humorous. There is also a mystery about the death/murder of the oldest brother, whom the other brothers all hated - maybe this will be the mystery aspect of the last volume of this trilogy.