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.
This is the story of Nicholas Haddonfield's oldest sister Nita (Nicholas is one of the Lonely Lords, an earlier series by Grace Burrowes) and Tremaine St. Michael. Tremaine is sort-of related to Nicholas' brother Beckman, another of the Lonely Lords - he's the brother of Beckman's wife's first husband. Anyway, Tremaine is a wealthy sheep herder/trader and wants to buy a flock of merino sheep from Nicholas. Nicholas wants to get his sisters (all four of them) married off, but doesn't really have adequate dowries for them, so he figures he can package one of his sisters in with the sheep as a deal. He's pretty much given up on Nita being married because she runs around the countryside healing poor sick people, midwifing to the local fallen woman and generally behaving in a way that is not acceptable for someone at her social level. However, Tremaine finds this rather appealing, while Nita finds Tremaine appealing for his care for animals and small children.
There is not a whole lot going on in this story besides everybody fretting about Nita's behaviour. There is a very small, strange subplot about George, another brother of Nicholas', who appears to be homosexual buts ends up marrying a widow that he feels sorry for and very quickly getting her pregnant. There is the usual busyness with food and tea and horses and hearty conversation that Burrowes likes to put in her stories, but this is starting to remind me more and more of the stage busyness that directors use to liven up boring stretches of a play ...
This was a pleasant enough read, but I've read better from Grace Burrowes.
I had been looking for this book for years - it has one of Anne Gracie's very few novellas - before I finally came across it in a flea market. But in the end I was very disappointed in it. The story by Anne Gracie is so sticky-sweet and cliched it's barely readable. Gracie has a tendency to be sticky-sweet in her full-length novels too, but this usually only happens at the end of the books. Maybe she can't help it - every story she tells has to have X amount of sugar, and if it's a novella it just comes out more concentrated.
Great story, even better the second time through. Mostly a character-driven romance about a severely emotionally damaged woman (damaged not because of abuse by someone she loved, but because of his being abused as a prisoner of war) and a practically unscarred hero, who had to decide who he wanted to be when he grew up over the course of the story. There is also some danger to the hero and heroine, some villains to find and apprehend, and some cute rescue animals to liven up the story. Balogh's characterization of the two main characters is, as always, superb.
I enjoyed this one more than the previous book in the series (Lady Be Good), especially the character of the hero, Nick O'Shea, a gangster with a heart of gold and scrumptiously sexy to boot. The heroine, Catherine Everleigh, known as the "Ice Queen", is less appealing and her transformation from ice queen to a very hot wife for Nick seems inconsistent in places. The plot involving Catherine's nasty and corrupt brother Peter became a little too dense as the book progressed - the book has detailed descriptions of antiques appraisal, art restoration, the fine points and details of auctioneering, arcane municipal politics at the "vestry" (parish or ward) level, women's rights in the 19th century (i.e. lack thereof) - it's all a bit too much to absorb while trying to keep the romance at the forefront of the story.
I have to agree with Dabney's review at Goodreads - the book had its moments, but I never really felt emotionally connected with the main characters. The psychotic Russian and the random acts of violence, some of which seemed utterly pointless (the random shot in the woods at the country estate, the trap-pit in the same woods) didn't interest me in the least, unfortunately.
Yet another story in the long-running Pennyroyal Green series by Julie Anne Long. (Although apparently the one after this is the long-awaited finale to the series.) It's not bad, but the character of the hero didn't really work for me. He's supposed to be a bad-tempered, uncontrollable, vase-throwing bastard who frightens and drives away all the servants of the house where he's staying, but this never materializes in his interactions with the heroine or the other servants in the house. In fact, he's a fairly standard-issue upper-class male of the time period throughout most of the story, with a tendency to dish out put-downs with sarcasm. The heroine is great and her son is very well characterized as a small boy.
The picture on the book's cover, unfortunately, has nothing to do with the book. The heroine is always dressed as a housekeeper, in old and extremely modest dresses, and never in a ball gown, she is very fair-skinned with a tendency to blush, and the story takes place in a country manor house, not a palace with a vast hall as pictured on the cover. Maybe the picture is supposed to represent the story's villain ...
I'd read some rave reviews of this book, so I bought it with high hopes of a great read. But it was not to be. The hero's kinks (making love without touching???), the timeline of the hero's rise from literally nothing to being the greatest crime lord in England was completely unbelievable, and the big showdown with the villain toward the end of the book was just ridiculous. (The villain has been hiding for months in a filthy, stinking cellar which is accessed through a thinly-covered hidden door in the heroine's bedroom, yet she never hears or smells anything until she's abducted by the villain and taken down there??) I never could figure out why the hero's father would want to kill him. Too many parts of the story were not true to the Victorian period in England in which it happens, for example the heroine being taken into the cell with the violent prisoner to record the questioning. And WAY too much melodrama! Cannot recommend this one.
Very interesting story (I couldn't put it down and this morning I'm regretting that!), but multiple problems in the story don't allow me to give it more than 2.5 stars. There are several *extremely* annoying characters in the book (especially Lady Ridgeway and her husband) and I tended to skim through the sections where they were featured in the story, once I realized that they were just plot devices rather than actual characters. The age difference between the heroine and the hero (14 years) is too much for me to easily accept their HEA. The heroine jumps from being engaged to a very young and naive man, to marrying his father in the space of a few weeks - that is just too much to take in stride, and I don't see how they would all be able to live comfortably together after the marriage - the situation seems too squicky to me. Finally, there seems to be a lot of padding toward the end of the story, when the hero and heroine are supposed to get together, but the required Traditional Regency page count hasn't been reached - the ending is just way too drawn out and silly.
This was my second reading of this story. It passed the second-reading test with flying colours and I have to give it a higher rating than the first time. Maybe I read it more slowly this time, maybe all the romances (good, bad and mediocre) that I've read in the meantime have refined my tastes and my reading, but I have to rescind all the criticisms I gave in my original rating and just say it is a damn fine story - not amazing, bet very, very good. Rothewell is fantastic as the tortured hero and George Kemble, the best character Liz Carlyle ever created, makes a memorable appearance, as always.
Just finished re-reading Anne Gracie's first two published books. When I first read them, I gave "Tallie's Knight" 5 stars and "Gallant Waif" 4. This time around, I would reverse the ratings - I definitely enjoyed "Gallant Waif" more, with its spirited, sassy heroine, than "Tallie's Knight", which left a few loose ends, such as the nasty Laetitia not getting the comeuppance she deserved. But both books are great reads if you love Regency romance, and both have excellent historical details describing how people actually lived at that time.
I ended up giving this one three stars even though most of the story was at a 4-star level at least.
The last 25 pages though - not good. A jumble of murders, abductions, deliberately-set fires, madmen, almost-drowning of the heroine, and the revelation of the villain who murdered the hero's parents 20 years earlier, who had no connection to the story as a character at all and just dropped in out of the blue. Just too over the top, and too sketchy to make much sense. Thinking about the plot after I was done with the book, I realized that the entire thing was built on a couple of completely implausible coincidences. Maximus spends 20 years (!) searching for the killer of his parents and the thief of his mother's emeralds, and can't figure out who it is, even though the emeralds were being pawned *individually* and Maximus had managed to retrieve all but one? Almost seems like he was deliberately ignoring the clues provided by the 6 emeralds he had retrieved!
However, up until page 330, the book was excellent and the love story of Maximus and Artemis is wonderful. Too bad it didn't have the sigh-worthy ending I was hoping for.
I forgot that I had given this one a DNF 1-star rating a few years ago and tried to read it again. Yuck - the big seduction scene in the story is actually a rape - the heroine is protesting that she doesn't want to have sex, but the hero is convinced that she really secretly wants it, so he RESTRAINS her and goes at it! There is also some mention of the fact that the heroine had forced him to have sex with her, over his objections, a number of years previously, although this is just a flashback, not an actual event in the story, but still - pretty disgusting.
Couldn't finish it, just dropped it with a really bad taste in my mouth.
A second collection of novellas from the same authors who published "Christmas in the Duke's Arms" for the Christmas season last year. I really enjoyed the Christmas set, so I was hoping for something just as delightful this time. But unfortunately this new set isn't quite as good, IMHO.
Grace Burrowes' "May I Have This Duke" is a sweet story of 2 people who have been attracted to each other for a long time, but have never acted on it, because he's her employer and she thinks that she is totally unsuitable for him. I would give it 4 stars.
Shana Galen's "Waiting for a Duke Like You" didn't appeal to me at all - the heroine is a princess of an imaginary country who thinks that the lower classes are "serfs". No wonder she had to escape a revolution in her country! 1.5 stars.
Miranda Neville's "Duchess of Scandal" is the best one in this set - a reconciliation story about two people who probably shouldn't have married when they did, had a huge bust-up, but now, 5 years later, are much more mature and regretful about what happened in the past. 4 stars.
Carolyn Jewel's "An Unsuitable Duchess" is a bit strange - the hero and heroine have these weird conversations that don't seem to lead anywhere and don't seem to be about anything. It seemed like I should have been able to "read between the lines" to understand what they're really saying to each other. Also, they have a bit of a prior history which the author alludes to very elliptically and vaguely. This didn't help with understanding all the undercurrents. 2.5 stars.
DNF. I don't understand why an author, who obviously knows practically nothing about the time period where she sets her books, would write historical romances. There were several historically dubious details in the book prior to the two that ended it for me, e.g. an army horse being used to drive a racing phaeton? A cobbler's son being promoted to a colonel in the English Army? I was willing to pass over these - maybe during the Napoleonic Wars the army really was desperate for leaders and promotion was more readily available to lower-class soldiers than otherwise. And I don't really know much about how horses were used in the 19th century.
The first detail that killed the book for me is a plot detail. The hero comes to visit the heroine, who is packing up to move away to Cornwall in a few days, and brings her a "gift" - a rosebush to replace the one his horse apparently ate. Why on earth would he consider this a gift to the heroine? She's moving away in a couple of days and will never see the rosebush again. In fact, the rosebush will actually be his, since he's bought the property and is moving into the house. The author, however, seems to think that this is just a wonderful and thoughtful gift on the hero's part that is certain to impress the heroine. Doesn't work for me.
The second detail is a line that says "which reminded him of nothing less than a burgher's wife gleaning wheat sheaves from the fields." (pg. 104) This is utter nonsense. A burgher is a "citizen of a town or city, typically a member of the wealthy bourgeoisie". A burgher's wife would not be caught dead working in a grainfield like a common peasant! Second, the definition of gleaning is "to gather (leftover grain or other produce) after a harvest". Gleaning is done AFTER the wheat sheaves have been hauled way to be threshed, and would only be done by the poorest farmers who need every bit of grain they can get, or when the harvest has failed. Third, a wheat sheaf is "a bundle of grain stalks laid lengthwise and tied together after reaping." Gleaning is not done on wheat sheaves, it's done in the stubble that is left over after the grain has been harvested.
After this nonsense, I completely lost my interest in the book.