Posts Tagged Historical Romance

Wednesday Reflections #28 – The Bad Luck Bride by Janna MacGregor

Via: Daily Prompt – Believe & Tame

51mhw3wneol-_sx303_bo1204203200_Title     The Bad Luck Bride

Series     The Cavensham Heiresses #01

Author     Janna MacGregor

Genre     Historical Romance | Regency Romance

Publisher      St. Martin’s Press

Publication Date      May 02, 2017

Format      eBook

Setting     England, 1812

ISBN     1250116139

Synopsis: Lady Claire Cavensham, the only child of the late Duke of Langham, is a veritable heiress and beauty. But that does not save her from being the subject of a cruel joke. The ton believes her to be cursed and the rumor is not wholly unwarranted. As a child, she was in a freak flood accident that resulted in the demise of her parents. To top that, she lost four fiancés in three years to death, disease, dismemberment, and debt, in that order. But on the night that her latest intended reneged on their engagement, one of England’s most sought-after bachelors Lord Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, offered to rescue her by announcing their “spot” engagement – one to which she did not agree – to her family and a few stragglers at a ball. Claire finds Lord Pembrooke’s motives highly suspect but feels the pressure to accept his offer if she ever hopes to stamp the rumors of the curse and have a family of her own, which she so intensely desires. Her only condition is that their marriage is a faithful one. Alex readily agrees to her terms and raises it by telling her just how much he desires her. Only, Alex’s pursuit of Claire stems from his determination to ruin his former friend and Claire’s most recent ex Lord Paul for abandoning his younger sister after getting her with child, leading to her suicide. Alex spent the past year systematically driving Lord Paul to destitution by arranging unlimited credit for his high-stakes gaming and then paying for the debts, accepting all his properties as repayment. The final nail in the coffin is forcing Lord Paul to give up Lady Claire, thus relinquishing his potential hold on her inheritance and any means of recovering his possessions. Lord Paul’s only respite is to tell Alex that he has “had” Claire and when Alex discovers that Claire often purchases men’s apparel from the town’s top retailers, he begins to suspect that his new bride may be keeping a lover, despite her advocacy for loyalty. Too bad he is also ardently falling for her. Maybe she is cursed after all…

Experience (some spoilers): Janna MacGregor’s debut novel The Bad Luck Bride is not half bad. However, there was definitely room for improvement – namely, sounder editing. First, let’s discuss all the reasons that made this novel promising:

  • An ominous beginning: The antagonist is the hero’s former best friend, a reprobate whose actions led to the hero’s sister’s suicide, and against whom the hero has sworn retribution. Also, the antagonist has protested that the hero jumped to conclusions by blaming him, so maybe he is not the cause of the sister’s demise?
  • An edgy hero? The hero is deeply loyal to his family and feels no compunction in the manner with which he goes about exacting said revenge, including using the heroine as an instrument in a way that permanently ties an innocent to him. The secret is bound to get out and then where will they be?
  • A heroine with a mysterious past and fraught with scandals: The heroine already comes with her share of problems, the most obvious of which is her streak of misfortunes with men. But she also suffers from PTSD from the event to which she lost her parents, which has led to some eccentricities and secretive behaviors that throw further shadow over her impending marriage with the hero.
  • A failsafe for conflict resolution: Given that the hero is a generally considerate person (apart from his deceptive manner of procuring a bride), he is readily available to come to the heroine’s aid whenever she is in need, namely during storms and carriage rides which set off one of her traumatic episodes. Potential for them to bond as husband and wife. The heroine, having suffered her share of losses, is able to easily empathize with hero’s loss of the sister, thus becoming someone he may confide in. Additional foundation for build a relationship.
  • A rescue marriage: without any prior courtship or even acquaintance portending an extended adjustment period in which we can only hope to see the characters gradually reveal each of their character traits to the other. Maybe heated disagreements with hotter makeup sex? Who knows?

The novel starts on an ominous note with the scent of death and duel in the winter air and proceeds to revenge and a rescue marriage, making for a promising plot. However, halfway in, the tension begins to dwindle, mostly because the narrative gives way to relating the daily events of the couple’s married life in a chronological fashion that was not truly necessary for the development of the story, wasting much of the word limit that could have been better utilized in other efforts. There are plenty of conflicts thrown early in the novel to make Alex and Claire’s marriage a challenging one and I was hoping for some tumultuous disagreements between the two that could have brought out their differences and individualities but these never came. For the most part, I felt there was a loss of focus from the main conflict, which is the secret Alex keeps of how he came to securing his marriage to Claire, and turns to the secondary conflict of his being misguided about her fealty to their marriage. Even then, the secondary conflict is not done full justice because, despite his mistrust, Alex is never exacting with Claire even though in the early stage of the novel, he is so hell-bent on ruining his former best friend, leading to some character inconsistencies. It made me wonder, is he a badass or not? He turned out to be more docile than initially expected. Which is why, when his secrets begin to unravel, we hit the apex suddenly. While in most cases that would make for a great plot twist, here it made the pacing uneven.

Claire, at the receiving end of his manipulation, seems to have got a good bargain out of the marriage. Alex is handsome, titled, wealthy, enterprising, of apparent good character, and loyal to those dependent on him. He seems to genuinely find her desirable despite the rumored curse and is always attentive to her needs. However, if theirs is to be a marriage of convenience (the only explanation for his sudden appearance with a proposal), his end of the convenience should seem entirely improbable to her. Sure, he claims an attraction towards her, but that cannot lead to an offer of marriage to the woman with the worst luck in fiancés and that too on the very first night that they are in company of each other – no matter how large his hero complex or how ready he is to settle down. And just how did he come to know about Lord Paul’s renege of their betrothal anyway? It perfectly warrants her reluctance to accept his offer or end their engagement when he inadvertently accuses her of hiding the extent of her relationship with Lord Paul or telling him to stay out of her bed until he is ready to believe her truthfulness. However, it does not make sense she always puts up her fences after the fact, i.e. informing him she lost her virginity to her first fiancé after the engagement is announced even though she had planned to be honest with him from the beginning in order to give him a choice, telling him she cannot consummate their marriage unless he believes Lord Paul was not her lover after they have already been in bed together, etc. While the motives behind her decisions were believable, the timings of her actions were not. Again, even though I found each plot mechanism employed perfectly plausible, they were executed with too much convenience for me to relate to.

The traits of every character, from principal to supporting, too felt very conveniently brought in and out of focus. I already explained some aspects of inconsistencies in the ways the characters of Alex and Claire were developed. When it came to the villain and Claire’s support system (her uncle’s – current Duke of Langham – family members), the same applied. For one, is Lord Paul meant to be a thorough scoundrel? The evidence surrounding his seduction and abandonment of Alex’s sister is suspicious and we are given hints that it might be a misunderstanding, but then we see him as a gambling addict and he turns out to be a true reprobate when he hurls slander at his intended’s virtue, and again he seems genuinely sorry for his missed opportunities with Claire that pertain to more than her lineage and inheritance – he likes her but also disparages her character to Alex. This is mirrored by the fact that Alex too is using Claire as an instrument of revenge but desires her and cares for her, yet engineers a bet in Lord Paul’s name at a gentlemen’s club that further sullies her reputation (frankly, a man actively contributing to risking his fiancé’s reputation is an irredeemable flaw). But we are meant to see one as a villain while the other is a hero. Yet, what was Alex doing with a potential reprobate like Lord Paul in the first place? For all purposes, Alex seems like a gentleman (other than betting against his betrothed or his mean streak when it comes to revenge) and a responsible member of the nobility whereas Lord Paul is a man with a gambling habit and a propensity to lie about the women in his lives. Yet, apparently they were once thick as thieves, which makes Lord Paul’s betrayal so painful – you know, apart from the resulting death of a sister. I felt that if Lord Paul was mistakenly accused, he could have been presented with qualities to truly redeem him and not just exonerate him – at least to reflect upon Alex as a hero (the companies you keep and all that).

To complement, Claire’s family members each concentrate on the wrong misgivings regarding Alex. Whereas, any reasonable person would wonder at his motive for swooping in with a proposal when Claire needed one most despite never having personally met her, everyone too easily gives in once they determine he is not after her inheritance. If I were the Duke Uncle, I would set the Pinkerton after him to find out exactly why he’s angling after my niece or what’s his connection to Lord Paul that he became privy to the decision to end the engagement at the same time as (or maybe even before) my niece – not agree to the marriage after one night of mulling over. While her aunt seems to be the only one worried that Claire is giving in to a marriage not based on love and romance, her cousin Emma (possible heroine for the next book in the series) is fixated on a rumor she heard that he might have a mistress even though the “overprotective” male cousins gave Alex’s reputation a clean bill. And what is up with Emma anyway? She does not make for a very promising heroine if she can so easily allow Lord Paul to flirt with her after Claire’s betrothal with the man is ended. I mean, where is the sisterly solidarity? It seemed that the novel introduced a lot of characters but did not explore any of them fully or, for that matter, rationally.

It all sounds very dire, doesn’t it? But I will still say that, for all intents and purposes, MacGregor shows a lot of promise as a novelist in her first novel. She had a good plot concept, the beginnings of interesting characters, scintillating conflicts, which all could have resulted in a fine debut. However, I think the tying up of the plot points and rounding off of the characters needed more finesse. For that, I would actually say her editors could have helped her more by providing some fresh perspective. I’m hoping with experience, her storytelling will become more cohesive because she definitely has the potential of becoming a good historical romance author.

Recommendation: Despite the various setbacks in the storytelling, this novel does not make a bad investment of time. What it suffered for inexperience made up for with imagination and, after everything is said and done, I found the read enjoyable. I will definitely read the next book in the series because I see the potential for more tightly written stories and see wish to see how that pans out.

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Wednesday Reflections #26 – Last Man Standing by Jane Ashford

Via: Daily Prompt – Irrelevant & Coincidence

0d4d9e81eab7c76d8e1efaa6be9e06fe-historical-romance-romance-booksTitle     Last Man Standing

Author     Jane Ashford

Genre     Historical Romance, Regency Romance

Publisher      Sourcebooks Casablanca

Publication Date      September 05, 2017

Format      eBook

Setting     Regency England

ISBN     1402276796

Synopsis: Ever since her father’s death, Elisabeth Elham has fended for herself by teaching at a finishing school for girls. So when her curmudgeon reclusive elder uncle – a man who cut off both his brother and sister for choosing spouses he did not approve of – dies and leaves her all his possessions as a joke to instigate further family estrangement, Elisabeth chose not to fall for it. Instead, she collects her aunt’s orphaned children, who are almost of age and should have received their share in the will, and brings them to live with her in her new London home. At the advice of her solicitor, she also invites a very eccentric matronly cousin from her mother’s side to act as her chaperone. Soon she finds herself in a flurry of activities that include refurbishing the London house, arranging a complete makeover for the country estate which was left to decay for two decades, bringing up her wardrobe up-to-date, launching one beautiful cousin into society while schooling the other overexcited cousin and his even more unmanageable dog into proper decorum, and, of course, navigating the height of season among the ton. The responsibilities of a newly-minted heiress are many and not the least critical is fending of fortune hunters. Elisabeth’s artless and unassuming air and easy sense of humor endear her to many of London’s eligible bachelors, including a most-sought-after heir to a viscount, a self-proclaimed and jovial fortune hunter, and a Byronic hero with a checkered past from the West Indies, all the while she herself collects a bevy of unconventional friends to occupy her time. Though Elisabeth enjoys her trials and pleasures alike with humor, misfortunes still threaten to set her stoic constitution into decline. Especially, at the risk of losing the regards of the one man she could indeed fall in love with.

Experience: I have been reading romance novels for nearly twenty years now but ventured into historical romances only as recently as 2013. The reason for my general aversion to historical romances was, I’m ashamed to admit, something very superficial – the models on the cover in their usual state of undress. My ultra-conservative mother would have a conniption if she saw me reading them (the fact that some of the stories I have written emanate moderate amounts of steam is not yet known to her). So it was only when I started reading off of tabs that I dared procure my first copy of Regency romance [not including classic literature, of course]. There. I have now revealed the most hypocritical secret of my reading and writing career. String me up if you will, fellow romance readers, I probably deserve it.

You are probably wondering why I have chosen to reveal this about me in this particular post. What does my proclivity to hide the cover arts of some of my favorite novels have to do with Last Gentleman Standing? Well, it’s the fact that those steamy cover arts do deliver what they promise; most historical romances have no trouble fogging up my spectacles every few chapters. The prude in me that my mother managed to instill usually just peruses through them unless they are written exceptionally well or, even better, exceptionally ill [really, some of them are sheer comedy]. So when Last Gentleman Standing did not feature a single such specs-steamer and I discovered that quite a few reviewers condemned the story for it, I decided this book needed my defending.

I should clarify that the fact I found the lack of sex scenes in this book perfectly in-form has nothing to do with my natural diffidence [I already confessed to writing some myself]. Rather that I feel Ashford remained true to a Janeite scheme of romancing. Austen’s heroes and heroines always demonstrated a rather restrained form of courtship. It did not mean that their emotions lacked intensity but only that because they felt it so deeply and consistently, they did not need to prattle on about it to attest its existence. To have discovered the same characteristics present in Elizabeth and her wooers was a rather refreshing promenade down the “original order”. After all, to me, the primary reason for reading Regency romances is the fact Miss Austen is no longer alive and printing new materials.

Moreover, I did not think the main hero was “tame”, as one reviewer put it, but respectful to the heroine’s wishes. I thought he was consistent of character. He fell in love with Elisabeth because she was independent of mind and spirit and very unlike other simpering toadying females of his acquaintance. So if he gave her space, it was because he did not want those very attractive qualities of her to diminish. While he did have one or two spurts of admonishment to issue her way when he felt she took unnecessary risks with her person, he soon reconciled that he had no authority to do so either because she was, after all, an independent woman – perhaps more independent than most women of her time since she was an heiress without a guardian. He was perfectly aware of all her strengths, both intrinsic and extrinsic, and acted with the caution the situation demanded. I thought his wisdom and ability to not be guided by ego rather sexy in itself. He did not need to demonstrate his sexual awareness of her to make me enjoy a secret smile or two or feel the temperature kick up.

The Elisabeth of this story, too, shared a very telling trait with my favorite Elizabeth in literary history. Early in the story, the narrator shared how the heroine had inherited her father’s good humor and ability to take life’s hurdles with a pinch of salt. And throughout the novel, we see just that – Elisabeth brushing off any jittery sensation or blinking away any prickling of the lashes. When her father died, instead of seeking assistance from the family Scrooge, she chose to find employment to sustain her livelihood – it was the quality that made her stand apart in her uncle’s eyes and procured her the inheritance. The same self-sufficiency with a side order of humility that allows her to graciously accept assistance once actually offered is what helps her survive through all the ordeals in the novel. Very admirable quality to have in a heroine.

If the heroine and her hero are not convincing enough that the book is worth the read, there are still a host of very entertaining and very eccentric characters to motivate. Even better, I liked how varied these characters were in their appearances. For example, not all the men who managed to steal the belle of the ball were tall, dark, and dashing, which is like stepping away from one of the cardinal rules of historical romance writing. Also, not all fortune hunters were without a heart. I liked one particular fortune hunter extremely who had a bit of dash in him but moreover was burdened by a penniless title that his mother tried to rectify by being the ultimate Mrs. Bennet, and he felt his shortcomings acutely. My heart went out to his sense of vulnerability that he hid so well behind a jovial demeanor and I dearly hope that Ashford will provide him with a good romantic ending one day. [I think that last bit could be a spoiler… oops! Well, at least there are plenty of other competition for Elisabeth’s hand to keep readers guessing]

Coincidentally, the book was apparently originally titled Bluestocking. And, indeed, when I searched online, Ashford had published a novel by such a name in 1980 with the blurb indicating a very similar plotline and same name heroine. I would love to get my hands on that book and see if it varies in any way because how else does the same book continue to exist simultaneously with two names [I can imagine customers clamoring for their money back]? In any case, the new name is so much more suitable to the plot because indeed it was about a crowd of romantic contestants vying for Elisabeth’s affection as well as hand and fortune and only the most faithful gentleman gets ahead. Moreover, by definition and historical account, to be a bluestocking, a woman would have to demonstrate a certain desire for intellectual pursuit. While Elisabeth was quite intelligent and levelheaded, and even once a teacher, she does not demonstrate particular craving to build her knowledge. She enjoys reading when the opportunity presents her with a good book and circumstances had compelled her to acquire the level of education necessary to survive. This provided her with cognitive independence but it was all very contingent of her various stations in life. No, no, Last Gentleman Standing is a vast improvement to the title.

Recommendation: Though I branched out a bit on my book review for this post, what I’m trying to say is, romance readers, do not write this book off just because it does not offer the usual display of amour. But rather embrace it for the practicality with which it upholds the Puritan nature of a society once lived.

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Wednesday Reflections #23 – Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

Via: Daily Prompt – Pluck

13552311Title     Seducing Mr. Knightly

Series     The Writing Girls #4

Author     Maya Rodale

Genre     Historical Romance | Regency | Adult

Publisher      Avon

Publication Date      October 30, 2012

Format      eBook

Setting     London, Great Britain, 1825

ISBN     0062088955

Synopsis: It has been exactly three years, six months, three weeks, and two days since Ms. Annabelle Swift fell in love with her boss Mr. Derek Knightly, the owner and editor of The London Weekly. This is precisely the amount of time she has been employed as one of the Writing Girls to feature in her own advice column and since the day she laid her eyes on the tall, dark, and determined Knightly. Unfortunately, not only is he totally unaware of her feelings but he seems also oblivious of the fact that she is a living breathing flesh-and-blood single woman worthy of male attention. Exasperated with being continuously overlooked and desperate to get out of her brother’s house where she lives as an unpaid servant and governess to her malicious sister-in-law, niece, and nephews, Annabelle decides to resort to drastic measures – she courageously reaches out to her readers for advice for a change on how to attract the attention of the nodcock! she’s in love with. Suddenly all of London swoops in to assist her cause, sending mails carrying the most outlandish and scandalous advice and, with the additional help from her fellow Writing Girls, she finds herself in lowered bodices and silk unmentionables, waltzing with lords of the ton, flirting up a ruse with fellow male colleagues, and being dropped off home after work by Knightly in his private carriage. Her quarry is finally paying attention but one obstacle still stands in the path of true love. Knightly, who has built his empire and reputation as a media tycoon to raise himself from the status of a by-blow of a late earl, has one other life goal: marry high into the aristocracy so that his half-brother is finally forced to acknowledge him as one of his class. Unfortunately, this puts Annabelle squarely out of the running for his affection… or does it?

Experience: I came to know about Maya Rodale a little late. Only this year, in fact, upon watching the live feeds of the #RomanceisFeminist discussion hosted by Avon Romance at The Strand bookstore in NY, NY where Rodale was on the panel of authors. I appreciated a particular comment she made about being more than willing to “throw historical accuracy under the bus” for the sake of diversity and inclusion. That is precisely what I have found – as much as the realm of believability will allow – since I began reading her works (three novels so far) and thought I should do a review of at least one. I picked Seducing Mr. Knightly because I have a soft corner for heroines who write professionally and this is the most hilarious piece of Rodale’s works I have come across thus far.

Imagine Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy and you will get a rough idea of the kind of scrapes Annabelle gets into in this novel. Short of hitting our hero in the eye with her spilling bosoms, she has done it all – leave a shawl behind to find herself alone with him at work during after office hours, fake a swoon and fall lush into his arms so she can awaken his “baser inclinations”, make all of London – including the hero’s best friends – fall in love with her and defend her heart for her candid attempts to lasso the hero, and climb into his bedroom via a gradually-splintering bark in the middle of the night in hopes of ravishment, etc. And Knightly likewise reciprocates with a steady repeat of “Oh Annabelle, you have some explaining to do” whenever he finds himself at the end of her courtship tactics. It makes the relationship between our heroine and hero positively adorably frustrating – just what good romances require.

But apart from the cat-and-mouse conflict development of the romantic plot, the individual characters of Annabelle and Knightly are also fully plausible. I enjoyed how much pluck Annabelle demonstrates as pushes herself to cross her self-imposed boundaries to blossom out of her shell even as her natural timidity continues to attempt to keep her in check. She may be meek by genetic disposition (her brother shows fairly submissive traits in his marriage too) but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t dream big or aim high. After all, she pulls the wool over her family’s eyes for over three years pretending to go out on charity work while really working for a national newspaper and saving up for rainy days. She continuously challenges her shortcomings and faces her fears, which is a lovely display of feminism.

Our hero too has his demons to fight and has been fighting them quite successfully for over a decade. Being the firstborn son of and earl and a renowned stage actress, he craves acknowledgment from his step family and society. He has slogged day-and-night to build up his newspaper, laboring at the press himself and pushing boundaries of polite expectations, to get himself noticed, following three simple rules of life: “Scandal equals sales, drama was for the pages, and be beholden to no one”. It’s has made him a bit stoic but it has worked for him. And even as his heart tugs while watching Annabelle amidst her antics and his heart begins to unfurl the more details of her he starts to notice, he refuses to examine the burning question being asked in parlors across London, “Who is the nodcock that has yet failed to fall in love with Annabelle?” because he is afraid the answer might demand he surrender his heart to the heroine, which he is not in the position to do. Because all he wants to do is marry Lady Marsden, claim his rightful place in society while avoiding getting his newspaper shut down by her brother Lord Marsden’s mass inquisition against media extortion and nefarious means of procuring news, and kill two birds with one stone. The struggle is real.

Yes, I truly did enjoy reading this book. The only thing perhaps that did not suit me entirely was Rodale’s roundabout way of prolonging the story. While I loved each scene, I found reading through all the inner workings that bracketed each scene that mostly related the same conclusions over and over a bit tedious. Frankly, I felt there was more room for editing and perhaps leaving a little for readers to infer. But this is easily discounted for the fact that the overall content was engaging and oh-so-funny.

Recommendation: Well, if you haven’t read it already, what are you waiting for? I thoroughly endorse this novel as an experienced romance reader.

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Wednesday Reflections #22 – The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn

Via: Daily Prompt – Illusion

31931722Title     The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband

Series     Rokesbys #02

Author     Julia Quinn

Genre     Historical Romance | Adult

Publisher      Avon

Publication Date      May 29, 2017

Format      eBook

Setting     Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA, 1779

ISBN     0062388185

Synopsis: When Cecilia Harcourt receives a letter from the British front in Manhattan that her brother Captain Thomas has been injured, she decides to travel across the Atlantic to take care of him regardless of the fact that the Colonies is in the middle of a war and the Brits are no longer welcome. The fact that her self-serving father has finally passed away and that her oily cousin has taken the opportunity to make untoward advances on her only fuels her cause. However, when she arrives at the war-torn continent, she learns her brother is missing and his best friend Captain Edward Rokesby – second son of the Earl of Manston, pen pal to Cecilia via Thomas’s letters, and righteously handsome to boot – has been injured and lying in a coma for some time. Nurses are scarce but given his station in life, only family members may care for him. So Cecilia does the only thing she can do – she claims to be his wife. When the local army believes her story, she promises herself she will come clean soon as he wakes up because obviously, he will know that they are not married. But when Edward wakes up, he can’t remember a thing about the past four months and confusedly accepts her as his wife. And when she learns that being the wife of the son of an earl can help her get the military assistance to locate her brother, she decides to prolong the charade. Soon the pretend-wife is working her magic to return Edward to his former health and the make-believe husband is helping Cecilia work through the mysteries of one missing brother. The only problem is, playing house with the handsome captain is churning Cecilia’s heart into deeper affections. And while he may only believe them to be married, make-believe is becoming all too real for her. Worse still – or maybe it’s the best of all – Edward is falling in love just as deeply.

Experience (Mini-spoilers ahead but maybe not): Sounds like the plot for a wonderful rom-com, right? I thought so too. That plus the knowledge that it is written by the very talented JQ had me salivating for over a year (ever since I finished Because of Miss Bridgerton last year in March). Unfortunately, the anticipation came to naught. The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is not the stuff that makes reading Quinn’s books so giddily special. And I say this as a die-hard fan who is slightly heartbroken.

But first, let’s talk about the good stuff, which in this case is the ending. I know. It sounds wrong to go straight to the end of a novel but the ending really is where the book picked up that Julia-Quinn-esque charm that has me returning to her works over and over again. Edward was desperate-to-the-point-of-being-brash in his efforts to finally make Cecilia his wife, and I do love a hero who knows what he wants and is willing to raise the stakes to obtain it. And the dialogues also made the experience more authentic. Also, there was a brief entrance of a captain of a ship who was one of Edward’s classmates from Eton that I found intriguing and funny and wished there was a bit more of. Alas, just when things were beginning to look up, it had to end.

And speaking of Edward, he was also good. JQ’s heroes are invariably good because they are so honorable even when led awry. Even when they are belligerent or worrying about their own interests amidst personal dilemma’s, you can’t help rooting for them to succeed because you know they will do the right thing. And moreover, they tend to perfectly turn-out the grand gesture so readers are guaranteed to sigh. Edward was no different. Even with his brain addled with amnesia, he had faith in a woman he only knew through correspondences made via his best friend. JQ men know how to treat women right and that is sexy as all hell. And even in his physically weaker form, he tried his best to remain self-sufficient but sometimes ceded to needing a bit of help, another thing we twenty-first-century readers can admire. Also that he doesn’t completely disregard her deception when he cottons on but has to struggle to accept it for what it is only makes his love more valuable. Yup, Edward Rokesby is swoon-worthy.

Regrettably, same cannot be said about his heroine, who is heroine only situationally. While Cecilia’s initial reason for pretending to be his wife seemed totally selfless, this impression began to gradually disassemble as the plot progressed. Which is quite the opposite of usual romance novel MO where what seems to be a selfish act on the part of a hero/heroine gradually unfolds as a selfless sacrifice, so I’m hoping Quinn intended it that way? But I sort of doubt that is what happened with this novel. Cecilia risks life and reputation to sail across the Atlantic to war-riddled America to care for her injured brother but she probably would not have done it if her oily cousin at home (next in line to inherit the family estate) was not on her tail. Cecilia claims to be Edward’s wife to take care of him but probably wouldn’t have done that either if she didn’t need to stick around until he woke up and could shed some light on her brother’s disappearance. Cecilia continues to deceive everyone, including the man she is falling in love with, to bolster her search for her brother, and when she feels remorse over her actions, she treats herself to good food and better sex. When the truth about her brother finally unravels, her first reaction is to cry over what this means for her future. And when it’s finally time to come clean with the man she loves, she bolts for England, leaving him a letter (though she claims it is to release him from doing the righteous thing since she has been compromised). This final act is equivalent to breaking up over a voice mail, isn’t it? Cecilia Harcourt is weak and possibly almost as self-serving as her father. But maybe I’m being too harsh, I don’t know. I just feel she had plenty of opportunities to be honest but she kept taking the easy way out. She did not possess the integrity of Sandra Bullock’s character in While You Were Sleeping and that was a bust for me.

Which brings me to the plot. It was unnecessarily convoluted, where other characters do a bit of deceiving themselves to prolong Cecilia’s deception prolonged. I guess to give the hero and the heroine an opportunity to fall thoroughly in love. But given that Edward and Cecilia had a healthy dose of flirtation going on over letter exchanges and that Thomas aided and abetted such interactions, I think they had a good chance of falling in love without all the deception. I mean they were in the middle of a war – not many romantic prospects, are there? Besides, if Cecilia continued to help Edward heal and Edward continued to give her his protection, there is plenty of opportunities for them to mingle on its own. Yeah, it just did not click for me but I get the feeling Quinn herself did not have her heart in it. I’m thinking having deadlines sometimes gets to even the best of authors and, unfortunately, it showed.

Recommendation: If you are a Julia Quinn fan – and those who have ever read any of her previous works would be – then you have probably buckled in for the Rokesby ride. In which case, you have to read it so get on with it if you haven’t already. But if you are not planning to go through the series, still read it. I think every author goes through a phase and this is probably hers, which is fine with me because she is generally very very good at what she does.

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Wednesday Reflections #09 – The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes

Via: Daily Prompt – Quicken

trouble-with-dukes-ukTitle      The Trouble with Dukes

Series     Windham Brides #01; Windham #09

Author      Grace Burrowes

Genre     Historical Romance

Publisher      Piatkus (Little, Brown Book Group)

Publication Date     December 20, 2016

Format     E-book

ISBN     978-0-349-41543-7

Synopsis: To say Miss Megan Windham is in a pickle would be putting it lightly. All her powerful relations of English nobilities would not be able to save her reputation if words about her youthful indiscretion with a certain Major Sir Fletcher Pilkington were to get out. Worst yet, it would ruin the prospects of her sisters. Unfortunately, the sly Sir Fletcher is bullying her into matrimony and any day her fate could be sealed. Enter Colonel Hamish MacHugh, newly instated Duke of Murdoch and Tingley and commonly referred to as Duke of Murder. He steps in to save her spectacles (she has horrible eyesight) from Sir Fletcher’s boots and ends up enlisting himself to save her reputation when Megan instantly sees through the infamous reports on his character and warms up to his protective nature. In return, she has offers to help him learn to be a duke, at least as much as it would take to properly set his sisters in society because he is reluctant about his new title. During the course of all this exchange, the two come to become confidantes and more.

Experience: There’s just something about Hamish MacHugh that sets butterflies in your stomach aflutter. And isn’t that a primary goal of romance novels, to feel that quickening of breath, the heat pooling in your nether regions, a hope that heroes who would help you slay demons do exist? The hero of this novel accomplished that from Chapter 01. It wasn’t simply his sturdy built or brusque manners, the fact that he is too content with his simple life in Scotland to yield to a title of English nobility thrust upon him, or even how his candid but coarse manners keep creeping out when he reluctantly attempts at being proper for a London ballroom that had me sighing. In his list of imperfections, the one that most had me intrigued was how a man so protective of others would come to earn a reputation as a murderer. And so the pages kept turning.

Then there is the heroine. I adore a heroine in glasses (perhaps because I have to rely on a pair) and, of course, enjoys reading. I liked Megan from the beginning because she seems to be the wily sort who manages to navigate around Sir Fletcher’s scheming for so long until Hamish steps in to assist her. Even after Hamish’s assistance doesn’t resolve the issue entirely, she continues to work her way around the problem, never entirely giving up. She appears to be a damsel in distress but she’s made of tougher stuff. Even lovelier is how she knows what she wants and chases down Hamish, literally has her way with him in the family music room, for it because she is not afraid to risk her heart. This makes a nice change of pace.

I particularly enjoyed the insight into Sir Fletcher’s character. When Burrowes narrates from Fletcher’s POV, we can see that his a thorough villain, able to put on his sheep’s skin effortlessly and charm the society of the ton completely, but his mind works to only serve himself and he takes pleasure in revenge, which he resorts to at the simplest transgressions. Yet, we also get a glimpse into his background to understand, if not empathize, what circumstances may have nurtured such deplorable characteristics. In fact, I felt Sir Fletcher’s character was more accurately and consistently portrayed than any others’ in the novel. It made the plot plausible and the conflict believable.

The book is the first of the Windham Brides series and ninth in the Windham series. And even though many of the characters, mostly heroes, make numerous appearances throughout the novel, this book may be easily read as a stand-alone. In fact, though Megan’s cousins (said heroes from previous novels) came and played their parts to help her and Hamish along, they were not all as call-to-action characters as Burrowes tried to portray them as. I sort of found the bromance between the cousins slightly forced in certain scenes. Rather the camaraderie between Hamish and his younger brother Colin seemed less trifling, even though Colin had fewer active scenes to play than the cousins. But this might be because Burrowes had already explored each of the cousins individually in their own stories and Colin is to be a hero in her upcoming installation of Windham Brides. But I didn’t see the point of re-introducing so many of the cousins in this book if they were not to be given due roles. It was the only part of the novel that I felt out of sync with.

Recommendation: Oh, absolutely! If you like historical romances, this novel is bound to entertain. Admirable heroine, hubba-hubba hero, a villain to make you properly nervous, you’ll be turning the pages. I, meanwhile, have already marked my calendar for the release of Colin’s story (he is expected to hook up with Megan’s younger sister, Anwen).

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #01 – The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

flame-flower

Title    The Flame and the Flower

Series     Birmingham #01

Author     Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Genre     Historical Romance

Publisher     Avon

Publication Date     First published in April 1972

ISBN     978-0-380-00525-3

Synopsis: Set in the cusp of Georgian and Regency eras over 1799-1800, the story begins in a dilapidated cottage in England, where the heroine, Heather Simmons lives a life of toil handed by fate when her father dies, leaving his debts behind. The cottage belongs to Heather’s only living blood relatives, a weak paternal uncle and his overbearing and abusive wife, who grudgingly took her in. As Heather plays the slave to her aunt, who takes sadistic pleasure in terrorizing the girl for inheriting her mother’s stunning Irish beauty, she spends moments of reprieve reminiscing about her past of relative luxury in London where she dreams of returning to one day. The opportunity arrives when her aunt’s younger brother, a rich clothier, offers to help her find employment in a ladies’ school. However, once in London, he tries to rape Heather as he discloses his true plans to sell her into a brothel. Heather manages to escape after injuring him, only to be captured by a couple sailors who mistake her as a prostitute and take her to their merchant captain for the night. The captain and hero of the story, Brandon Birmingham proceeds to have his way with Heather, misinterpreting her struggle as coyness and divests her of her virginity. His solution to the injury caused is to turn her into his mistress, albeit an unwilling one. Heather manages to escape and return to her uncle’s cottage and eventually discovers she is pregnant. Her aunt, learning the truth, formulates a plan to profit from the situation by marrying Heather to Brandon, which he does in fear of legal repercussions. Unfortunately, Brandon believes Heather had a full hand in forcing him and decides to punish her by withholding his love and keeping her out of his bed – yet providing her with the necessities to live the life of a wealthy merchant’s wife. Having been traumatized by her sexual initiation, Heather finds this verdict more than welcome at first though eventually realizes the punishment for what it is – rejection. As the story progresses, the newly married couple sail back to South Carolina and settle into Brandon’s family mansion and plantation. The already timid Heather navigates her marriage like a flightless bird while Brandon suffers an irrepressible lust for her, all as their affection and dependency for each other grows.

Experience: I picked up the book when I came upon the title in an article on the history of “sexual revolution” in romance novels. As a romance reader, naturally, I was curious about the book that set the ball in motion to what lines the “Romance” sections in libraries and bookstores today. As an author, I felt it my duty to read up on works by the pioneer who paved the way for paperback romances. And so, it was with somewhat of an awe that I began reading.

I have to admit it took me a while to get into the mood to continue, though, once I got through the first few scenes. Living with the freedoms I enjoy in 2017, it is pretty difficult to relate to Heather Simmons, a meek woman-child who allows herself to be told she only has the weak mind of a woman and shuffles around from one life to another doing others’ biddings – who accidentally falls into a bed and then accidentally impales herself as she struggles to get away from the hero’s raging manhood. Moreover, her relationship with the hero begins with a full-on struggle to stop him from having sex with her but which he takes as foreplay only to later conclude his “mistake” easily redeemable (what we call rape today regardless of which angle you look at it) and moves along to where she admires his attractiveness, prowess and virility while lamenting that he took her virginity by force (as though rape is not rape if the rapist is handsome). Not the stuff of romantic heroes and heroines I am accustomed to – the moral compass gone haywire. But I trudged on, telling myself that I was reading a novel written by a woman who lived in the 70’s about a female character who lived in 1799. Perhaps The Flame and the Flower was the level of cognitive liberty and ethical progress achieved at the time Woodiwiss wrote the novel. She was a brazen feminist instigating a cultural revolution, a quality quite admirable and which I can live by. I am glad I reconciled myself to continue reading.

The book redeems itself to me as I realized the consistency with which Woodiwiss kept both Brandon and Heather’s individual streams of consciousness in chaos throughout the book. Heather keeps oscillating between being pleasantly surprised by the little acts of kindness Brandon displays and terror-stricken when his foul temper bursts forth (which by the way reflects back on her experience under her aunt’s reign); while Brandon’s struggle to keep his lust in check to salve his ego or relenting to a woman he thinks has forced him into marriage is also real. The consistency in the driving traits of each protagonist is what made the book a good read. Though Woodiwiss’s very descriptive narration and passages a bit on the longish side made the reading slow at first, a troupe of varied characters included later in the book pushes the plot along at a quicker pace, making the development of the romance between the hero and heroine enjoyable for Woodiwiss’s audience. Apart from the relatively steamy scenes, of course, which must have been quite refreshing for the women of the 70’s.

Recommendation: If you are well-versed in romance novels, this would be an excellent read to gain some perspective on what life must have been like back then (197o’s/1790’s). And once you adapt yourself to the culture shock, it is actually a pretty well-written novel with an entertaining plot. If you are newly venturing into the world of romance novels and a very impressionable young woman, please put it down and pick it up again a few years later – the material and characters within do not send the liberating messages we, romance authors, want representing us today.

P.S: I’m sorry to be posting my WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS on very early Thursday morning – which is a sad beginning for my first ever blog for the column. But I had picked up The Flame and the Flower as my initiation blog given its historic significance and well, you now know the rest.

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