Posts Tagged Historical Romance
Via: Daily Prompt – Pluck
Title Seducing Mr. Knightly
Series The Writing Girls #4
Author Maya Rodale
Genre Historical Romance | Regency | Adult
Publication Date October 30, 2012
Setting London, Great Britain, 1825
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.
Title The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband
Series Rokesbys #02
Author Julia Quinn
Genre Historical Romance | Adult
Publication Date May 29, 2017
Setting Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA, 1779
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.
Title The Flame and the Flower
Series Birmingham #01
Author Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Genre Historical Romance
Publication Date First published in April 1972
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.