Ilze

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.

Another set of my reading stats

The other table I compiled was the list of authors by average book rating that I've given them.  Here's the list, only authors that have an average rating of 3 stars or higher, minimum of 2 books each:

 

Rank

Author

Cumulative score

Average score

# of books

1

Jude Morgan

10

5.0

2

2

Theresa Romain

14

4.7

3

3

Meredith Duran

41

4.5

9

4

Cecilia Grant

17

4.3

4

5

Judith James

13

4.3

3

6

Sherry Thomas

41

4.1

10

7

Laura Kinsale

28

4.0

7

8

Sheila Simonson

12

4.0

3

8

Heather Snow

12

4.0

3

9

Ashley March

8

4.0

2

10

Mary Balogh

425

3.9

109

11

Georgette Heyer

133

3.9

34

12

Madeline Hunter

90

3.9

23

13

Julie Anne Long

46

3.8

12

14

Lynn Kerstan

15

3.8

4

15

Jo Beverley

144

3.7

39

16

Caroline Linden

26

3.7

7

17

Patricia Gaffney

11

3.7

3

18

Eloisa James

94

3.6

26

19

Elizabeth Hoyt

43

3.6

12

20

Judith Ivory

25

3.6

7

21

Sabrina Jeffries

81

3.5

23

22

Loretta Chase

73

3.5

21

23

Courtney Milan

53

3.5

15

24

Diane Farr

21

3.5

6

25

Jennifer McQuiston

14

3.5

4

26

Lisa Kleypas

92

3.4

27

27

Grace Burrowes

78

3.4

23

28

Anne Gracie

54

3.4

16

29

Julia Ross

17

3.4

5

29

Juliana Gray

17

3.4

5

30

Mary Jo Putney

86

3.3

26

31

Carla Kelly

40

3.3

12

32

Laura Lee Guhrke

36

3.3

11

33

Emma Wildes

23

3.3

7

34

Vanessa Kelly

10

3.3

3

35

Elizabeth Mansfield

74

3.2

19

36

Alissa Johnson

19

3.2

6

37

Jennifer Ashley

28

3.1

9

38

Amanda Quick

25

3.1

8

39

Carolyn Jewel

19

3.1

6

40

Suzanne Enoch

63

3.0

21

41

Liz Carlyle

57

3.0

19

42

Tessa Dare

42

3.0

14

43

Miranda Neville

24

3.0

8

 

As with the previous table, the book counts include short stories and novellas. 

 

Some stats from my reading

Had some time on my hands today so I thought I'd do some statistics about my historical romance reading and rate the authors that I've read.  

 

Here's the results - the list of authors in order of the "cumulative pleasure" that I've gotten from them.  The "cumulative pleasure" is basically the total number of stars that I've given these authors on Booklikes and Goodreads. I only listed authors that have gotten a minimum of 40 stars from me. Mary Balogh is MILES ahead of anyone else and is obviously my favourite author.

 

Rank

Author

# books

Average score

Cumulative score

1

Mary Balogh

109

3.9

425

2

Jo Beverley

39

3.7

144

3

Georgette Heyer

34

3.9

133

4

Eloisa James

26

3.6

94

5

Lisa Kleypas

27

3.4

92

6

Madeline Hunter

23

3.9

90

7

Mary Jo Putney

26

3.3

86

8

Sabrina Jeffries

23

3.5

81

9

Grace Burrowes

23

3.4

78

10

Elizabeth Mansfield

23

3.2

74

11

Loretta Chase

21

3.5

73

12

Suzanne Enoch

21

3.0

63

13

Liz Carlyle

19

3.0

57

14

Anne Gracie

16

3.4

54

15

Courtney Milan

15

3.5

53

16

Julie Anne Long

12

3.8

46

17

Elizabeth Hoyt

12

3.6

43

18

Tessa Dare

14

3.0

42

19

Meredith Duran

9

4.5

41

20

Sherry Thomas

10

4.1

41

21

Carla Kelly

12

3.3

40

 

One small point - the book counts include short stories and novellas by the author.

The Spring Bride - Anne Gracie

Didn't finish this one - nothing objectionable in the story, but it didn't grab my interest and I just couldn't be bothered to pick it up again about halfway through.  The quotes at the head of each chapter, mostly from Jane Austen, were more interesting than the book. 

 

Hoping that the last book in the series, which looks like it will feature Flynn, an roguish Irishman with a diamond earring in one ear, and Daisy, the brilliant but cynical seamstress of the four Chance "sisters", will be better.

The Duke's Disaster - Grace Burrowes

If the book had stayed true to its beginning as a character-driven marriage of convenience story, I would have given it 4 stars, and I would have accepted the rather improbable setup for the rape of the heroine (which happened before this book starts) without any comments. But as it is - the book was ruined for me by the gross, badly-plotted and ridiculous blackmail plot, which uses the heroine's rape as its pretext.

 

One example of the crappy plotting: it's the final night of the hero and heroine's first big party at their home, and with him being a duke, the party is a big deal indeed. Just as she is heading downstairs to greet the guests, the heroine notices a note on her dressing table and reads it. Turns out the writer is threatening kidnapping and worse on 2 little girls who are the wards of the hero, and demands the heroine present herself at a gamekeeper's cottage in the woods not far from the house, right away. So what does the heroine do? Does she go to her husband (the duke) and show him the note, so they can get something organized and foil the dastardly plot? No, of course not. She just scampers off into the woods to the cottage without telling anyone where she's going or why! Blech. Why did the author have to do it?

 

One other problem with the book is the author's tendency to verbosity - why use one word when you use three or more to say the same thing? Used sparingly, this can add flavour and variety to a story, but used often, as this author tends to do, it bogs down the story with unnecessary verbiage. I almost put the book away in a few places where the characters were spouting things like "You will partake of sustenance while we plan our day."  

Mary Balogh's "Only a Promise" (#5 in the Survivors' Club series)

Only a Promise: A Survivors' Club Novel - Mary Balogh

Wonderful, wonderful stuff!  What I said about "The Proposal" (#1 in the Survivors' Club) - same thing applies here, with the addition of great characterizations of people with massive guilt complexes (the hero and some of his friends) and social anxiety (the heroine, with good reason). Mary Balogh takes you right into her characters' hearts and souls like no other romance author that I have read does. 

Elizabeth Hoyt's "Dearest Rogue" (#8 in the Maiden Lane series)

Dearest Rogue (Maiden Lane) - Elizabeth Hoyt

 

Three stars. The characters are good, the love scenes are scorching, as one would expect from Elizabeth Hoyt. The plot, though - oy vey!  Lady Phoebe, sister of the Duke of Wakefield (hero of Duke of Midnight, #6 in the Maiden Lane series) has been slowly going blind. Her brother assigns her a guard, Captain James Trevillion, who is fiercely loyal, madly in love with Phoebe, and has a bad leg. Lady Phoebe, who is about 12 years younger than James, and is portrayed more like a 16 year old than a 21 year old, gradually falls in love with James, even though he is not "suitable" for her to marry, being of a considerably lower social rank than she.  The love story unfolds as the result of Lady Phoebe being kidnapped - not just once or twice, but three times. Did the author run out of ideas for plot development, or what?  And the final explanation of the kidnappings is so stupid as to defy belief. I hope Elizabeth Hoyt doesn't make the creep who was finally revealed as being responsible for the kidnappings into a hero of any of her stories.

Say Yes to the Marquess: Castles Ever After - Tessa Dare

This one is good deal better than the first one in this series and actually makes some sense.  The send-ups of the wedding planning industry and the strange decorating trend of piling on ever more decorative pillows on beds are very amusing and well-done.  But the character of the heroine was rather annoying to me - I kept being disappointed that she never stood up for herself and basically behaved like a doormat, especially with her horrible sister Daphne, until the very end of the book.  

Romancing the Duke - Tessa Dare

Just bizarre.  It has some intentionally very funny moments, but overall it makes almost no sense. (I realize that making sense is not exactly a requirement for a romance, but I tend to enjoy a story more if there is some rhyme or reason to it.)

Lord Ramsay's Return, A Regency Romance (ook Two of the Ramsay Saga Book 2) - Elisabeth Fairchild

Couldn't finish it. The heroine feels an almost overwhelming attraction for her cousin's husband, who is her employer, while the cousin herself is severely ill and has suffered a miscarriage. The cousin's husband, in the meantime, has noticed that the heroine is attracted to him, and being a weak male with a sick wife, decides she would be perfect as a mistress and propositions her. She sort-of refuses, but nevertheless can barely control herself when she's in the vicinity of this scumbag. Blecch! Completely off-putting. I also couldn't see how the heroine could fall out of love with the scumbag, recover from the horrible situation and fall in love with the hero, within the space of a week (and with less than half the length of this traditional-style Regency in the old Signet format remaining, because the heroine was still agonizing over her feelings for the scumbag at the point where I dropped the book).

Katharine Ashe's "I Loved a Rogue" (Prince Catchers #3)

I Loved a Rogue: The Prince Catchers - Katharine Ashe

 

The story of the eldest sister of the 3 "prince catchers", the heroines of this series of three books, foundlings who were rescued from a workhouse/orphanage by their adopted father, a vicar. Eleanor is outwardly the dutiful spinster daughter but inwardly is a seething cauldron of emotions and desires for adventures, true love, an eventful life. Her one love, a gypsy boy named Taliesin who did chores for her father and took book-learning lessons from him, apparently took off 11 years before and has never returned, but at the start of the book he reappears at the wedding of Eleanor's adopted father. Eleanor, now at loose ends because her place in her father's home is being taken over by her father's new wife, then decides to discover what she can about her and her sisters' real parents - apparently the girls were the only survivors of a shipwreck off the coast of Cornwall when they were still tiny children. Her only clue is a ring that she has carried with her since she was put on the ship by her mother. Taliesin offers to come with her on this search, and, with the encouragement of her sisters, off they go.

 

I almost put the book aside as a DNF about halfway through, because things didn't seem to be going anywhere with Eleanor and Taliesin and the search, but things speeded up a LOT in the second half and came to a very satisfactory, if slightly confusing, conclusion. I think the book was written slightly tongue-in-cheek - all of the "he's gone again" and "you're back!" toing and froing of the hero could really get on your nerves if you don't perceive it that way, although I think it was just meant to emphasize Eleanor's fear of the hero leaving her again, and her denial of this fear by telling him to leave and never come back.

Eloisa James' "Four Nights with the Duke"

Four Nights with the Duke (Desperate Duchesses Book 8) - Eloisa James

 

Mia Carrington, the heroine, is a 28 year old spinster who is extremely self-conscious about her figure (short and busty) and thinks she is completely unattractive to men.  She has a couple of good reasons for this - a traumatic experience of exposed infatuation with the hero at age 15, and the ensuing ridicule, and being jilted literally at the altar on her wedding day. Mia has a nephew who is an orphan and due to a complicated provision in the will of her brother, the boy's father, she can't get the guardianship of the boy unless she marries before the time specified in the will runs out, i.e. in a month's time.  Otherwise the guardianship goes to Mia's evil cousin Richard. So Mia blackmails the hero and Duke of the title into marrying her on the spur of the moment, fully intending to have the marriage annulled once she has been given the legal guardianship of her nephew. Of course things don't go quite a planned ...

 

The premise of the story isn't bad, but I wasn't too excited by the execution. Each chapter in the book is started with a page from Mia's notes about her next novel - Mia is also a successful romance novelist (under a pseudonym). These notes are probably the best part of the book - they're hilarious, and a wonderful illustration of how a romance novelist goes about constructing her stories. Trouble is, the notes take the reader out of the story - I would start to think about the plot and character developments outlined in the notes and then I would have to think about the actual plot and characters of the story, and how the author developed these, instead of just enjoying the story. So the plot developments with the evil, mustache-twirling uncle came off as completely contrived and melodramatic, all because Mia had already explained how she was going to work an evil character into her novel. The subplot with the horse Jafeer and how Mia tames him instantly just by showing up in the stables also came off as contrived and unsatisfactory. The only really satisfying character in the book, IMHO, was the character of the young physically-challenged nephew. 

 

Madeline Hunter's "His Wicked Reputation" (#1 in the Wicked Trilogy)

His Wicked Reputation - Madeline Hunter

 

4 solid stars for this one. A mostly character-driven story about a duke's bastard son and a woman from the gentry class whose wealth is pretty much wiped out and has to support herself and her sister by making copies of paintings by famous artists. Trouble is, she doesn't realize that the paintings she's copying (they're sitting in an attic) are stolen and the owners and government have been looking for them for years. The hero, who supports himself by being an art broker, has been assigned the task of figuring out what happened to the paintings, which apparently were stolen while being taken to be hidden in case of an invasion of Britain by Napoleon. He also just recently inherited a house from his father the duke which is very close to the heroine's home. Some of the coincidences in the book are a little too pat, but otherwise, it's a good, enjoyable romantic story with some mystery thrown in. No wonder Madeline Hunter is an auto-buy for me.     

Jennifer Ashley's "Rules for a Proper Governess" (MacKenzie/McBride series #7)

Rules For A Proper Governess - Jennifer Ashley

 

Not bad, but not great either. All the MacKenzie/McBride men are basically the same character, with the exception of Ian MacKenzie, and the females are all pretty similar too, especially when they re-appear as ancillary characters in later books. Better stories with the lower-class thieving heroine snagging the rich upper-class hero have been written, e.g. Meredith Duran's "A Lady's Lesson in Scandal" and Julie Anne Long's "To Love a Thief".

Grace Burrowes' "Hadrian, Lord of Hope"

Hadrian: Lord of Hope - Grace Burrowes

 

This one was just OK.  The plot with the villain who is harassing Lady Avis doesn't work at all, and pretty much throughout the book I was wondering, where the heck were Lady Avis' brothers, who were supposed to protect her both from her original disastrous engagement, and from the harassment and social ostracism she's undergoing at the time of the book???  First, they should have prevented her from even meeting the guy she got betrothed to, since his proclivities and general sociopathy were well-known in the neighborhood. Second, why didn't Avis' brother Benjamin Hazlit the super-sleuth investigate the background and history of Lily, Avis' "companion" before hiring her?  How did she even get considered for the position? And how could Benjamin have been totally in the dark about Avis' problems with her neighbours? What happened to the other brother, Vim, who is also supposed to be protecting her?  He seems to have fallen off the face of the earth in this story. (I guess if the brothers had been looking after Avis properly there would have been no story.) 

 

So - even though Avis and Hadrian are sweet characters and there are some sweet scenes in the book, it is has too many problems for me to rate it any higher. I also went back to re-read the story of Avis' sister Alexandra in "Ethan, Lord of Scandals", which I originally rated quite highly, and had to downgrade its rating too, because it just didn't stand up to a second reading.

 

 

Edith Layton's "False Angel"

False Angel - Edith Layton

 

Leonora, the daughter of Viscount Talwin, decided to never marry after a few misadventures and the destruction of her illusions about her father, among others, during her come-out year when she was 18. Now, 5 years later, she has returned to London for the Season in order to help a poor cousin, Annabelle Greyling, find a husband. Both of the women become involved with the Marquess of Severne. The Marquess is an unusual character - he is a divorced man, someone spurned by most of society, although Leonora actually admires him for this, feeling that he, unlike most men of the ton, is not a hypocrite who is willing to live in a miserable marriage or marriage of convenience alone. 

 

The plot and characters are well developed, and there is a good, if superficial, historical feel to the story, but the writing style is difficult and ponderous - I actually had to force myself to continue with the story in a few places. The love story is believable, but it takes second place to some rather unpleasant plot machinations. I would have preferred more emphasis on developing the main relationship rather than the other, less enjoyable aspects of the plot.

 

Edith Layton has a rather unlikeable habit of coyly inferring that a couple are kissing or embracing without actually stating it.  She does this in several places in the later part of the book, when the romance has been resolved - I think she got this style from Georgette Heyer, who does it in a couple of books, but it somehow works a lot better in Georgette Heyer's books than in this book, maybe because Georgette Heyer's books are a lot more humorous than Edith Layton's.

 

Finally, the back cover blurb about the story on the original Signet Regency edition is ridiculous (just ignore it if you see it), but the cover is great - a painting by the wonderful Allen Kass.

Sara Ramsey's "Duke of Thorns" (#1 in the Heiress Games series)

Duke Of Thorns - Sara Ramsey

 

Wow!  The first half of the book had me wondering "why am I reading about these rather unlikeable people and this boring house party?" but the second half blew me away. Both Callie/Callista the heroine and Gavin Duke of Thorington, the hero, are great characters and their story was a terrific character-driven romance. Can't wait for Rafe and Octavia's story, which is the next in this series about the three heiresses to the estate of Maidenstone and which one of them is going to win the prize of the "games", i.e. the estate. Callie didn't win the estate, but she ended up with something a lot better for her.