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Archive for the ‘Historical Romance’ Category

Duke Duke DukeFirst of all, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight is a fantastic name for a romantic heroine, even if it doesn’t lead you to expect a happy ending.

Izzy Goodnight’s father was the author of a beloved series of children’s stories set in a fictional medieval kingdom. But since her father died, leaving nothing but debts, Izzy’s real life is no fairy tale. Her purse is empty when she receives notice of a surprising bequest: her godfather appears to have left her a castle. And when she arrives to take stock of the new real estate, uneasily situated in the middle of nowhere, her ownership of the castle comes as a surprise to the duke who is already living there.

A scarred, snarling misanthrope with his own problems, Ransom William Dacre Vane doesn’t remember selling the castle at any point, and he’s unwilling to move out, as he needs a cold, bat-infested castle for brooding purposes. You can’t properly hate mankind in a rose cottage, can you? Not one to back down, Izzy strikes a deal with the duke: he will pay her to act as his clerk; she will sort through his piles of unopened correspondence in hopes of settling the legal status of the castle. Her duke-infested castle.

This lighthearted romance is roughly based on the story of “Beauty and the Beast.” That’s never been one of my favorite fairy tales, as it requires the hero to waste so much time insisting he’s a monster— so I was actually pretty relieved when the LARPers showed up. Yes, I picked this title out of a stack of historical romances because it contains 19th-century cosplay, a band of fannish role players who are starstruck to meet the Izzy Goodnight of the Goodnight Tales and who spend their spare time re-enacting medieval romances.

Written in a breezy, conversational style, this is a romance for pure escapism. All the gothic elements, the isolated castle, the bats, and the apparently brutish lead— so brooding!— are played for laughs and to surprisingly sweet effect. There’s a sneaky undercurrent of modern references, too (“The threat is coming from inside the castle”), that let you know this story is all in good fun.

Check the WRL catalog for Romancing the Duke.

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Heiress“She imagined the conversation as a prime coach-and-four. She imagined it racing along a road at top speed, the wheels glinting in the sunlight. And then she imagined driving it straight into a hedge.”

Jane Fairfield has the opposite problem of many romantic heroines: she has too much money (a hundred thousand a year!) and too many suitors (who are after her money), and it’s very important to her that she not get married. Marriage would take her away from her sister, who suffers doubly from seizures and from the torturous attempts at a “cure” forced upon her by their uncle.

To further the goal of remaining single at all costs, Jane pretends to look for a husband but presents herself as a tactless nitwit, a social bull in a china shop, and she tops off the performance with the most tasteless, over-the-top gowns she can get away with in a ballroom (“nothing says lace like…. more lace”).

Oliver Marshall, the illegitimate son of a duke, has parliamentary ambitions. Moving between his working-class background and the upper crust set he’s hoping to impress, Marshall is doing his best to blend in with society, while Jane is flying in the face of it. Of course they are meant to be together. Unfortunately, Marshall’s mentor wants a favor in exchange for delivering a bloc of votes in Parliament: publicly humiliate that appalling woman, Jane Fairfield.

Part of a series of loosely-connected novels, this historical romance features not just a duo but an ensemble of strong characters— an aspiring suffragette, an Indian law student, an agoraphobic aunt, lady geneticists!— each with a compelling subplot. Jane, with her tasteless wardrobe and outrageous opinions, is a refreshing and entertaining heroine. The 1860s setting provides all manner of external conflicts in society: class issues, the debate over natural selection, and the vote for women, to name a few. The interpersonal conflicts are handled not just with empathy, but sensibly, with characters having rational conversations with one another and helping one another towards their goals. Nobody gets rescued; instead, with help, everyone rescues themselves. Full of quotable lines, this is a fun, redemptive romance that will have you cheering for, well, everybody.

The Brothers Sinister series can certainly be read out of order, as I’ve been doing, but if you like to take things in order, start with The Duchess War

Check the WRL catalog for The Heiress Effect

WRL also owns the ebook.

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americanheiress

I have to send a thank you to the library user who recommended this book to me.  I don’t know her name, but we had a nice chat about romance books — and she came back to the Reference desk to make sure I had the title correct.  She said she thoroughly enjoyed it.  I did, too!

The story takes place in the late 1800s.  Cora Cash is one of those rich, eligible, young women whose father makes more money than they can spend.  Her mother aspires to have the status of the Vanderbilts or Astors, and has set her sights on a titled husband for her daughter.

While riding in an English fox hunt, Cora breaks away from the pack and falls from her horse.  The handsome man who finds her and brings her to his drafty ancestral home is none other than the Ninth Duke of Wareham. Cora’s mother could not possibly object when the Duke declares his love for Cora and asks for her hand.

The marriage is less of a fairy tale.

Ivo, as the Duke is called by friends, seems to care for Cora.  But his emotions get tied up in knots over how things look.  It is not just the social customs that must be maintained, but he is also struggling to make sure that Cora is nothing like his own mother.

For her part, Cora loves the Duke.  She tries to please him by fixing up his family home, but in doing so she only fuels rumors that the Duke married the rich heiress for her money.  In addition to walking a fine line with his pride, Cora has to adjust to living in a foreign country and learning to cope with her domineering mother-in-law.  Her troubles seem especially poignant at the Duke’s home, where the servants are civil to her face, but unlikely to follow any requests that aren’t deemed “proper” (like removing the many pictures of Ivo’s mother and her former lover, the Prince of Wales, from the bedrooms).

Instead of talking to one another, the couple struggle with misconceptions that might break them apart.

While the story has opportunities to go gothic, it doesn’t.  The old home is certainly drafty, but Goodwin resisted the tired “dark and stormy night” scenarios.  Cora is surprisingly sympathetic as well.  She easily could have turned out to be spoiled and heartless, but she isn’t.  Spoiled, for sure, but she doesn’t turn out to be the shrew.  Snappy dialogue and interesting secondary characters also kept me turning the pages.  I especially liked Bertha, Cora’s maid from South Carolina.  It is through Bertha’s eyes that the book shows the “downstairs” portion of the social classes.

Goodwin’s book provides lots of details of the Gilded Age: the extravagant parties, the fashionable clothing, the social expectations.  She notes in the Acknowledgements that “When it comes to the Gilded Age, the more fantastical the circumstance, the more likely it is to be true.”

I would recommend this as a good read-alike for fans of Downton Abbey or even The Great Gatsby.

Check the WRL catalog for The American Heiress

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imageKate Westbrook is deeply in love… with a house. She can’t stop looking at the broad sweep of its double staircase, or keep her hands off the banisters. Sadly, the elegant home of her Mayfair relatives is not for the likes of her: Kate’s father has been ostracized by his wealthy family ever since he married (shudder) an actress. But Kate is not going to let family disgrace stand between her and her rightful place in “that glittering world of champagne and consequence.” She has ambition, studied manners, and stunningly good looks. Maybe a wealthy suitor will marry her before he notices how embarrassing her family is.

Nicholas Blackshear, longtime friend of the Westbrook family, is carrying a torch for Kate, but he knows it’s hopeless. She’s aiming for earls and above, and he’s just a barrister saddled with his own family secrets. Nick has deliberately reshaped his romantic aspirations into brotherly affection. When Kate has a brief opportunity to make her impression on London society, Nick intends to help her land the suitor of her dreams. But that lingering admiration just makes him the world’s least suitable matchmaker… or chaperone.

Language, for me, is what makes Regency novels such a pleasure to read, and Grant’s style hits just the right notes, never forced or artificial. Her sentences flow easily, whether in sharp dialogue or self-mocking interior monologues. The surrounding characters, especially Kate’s bluestocking sister Viola, add life and color to the story, rounded out with conversations about women’s rights and courtroom tactics and fannish discussions of Miss Austen’s commendable novel, Pride and Prejudice.

Grant’s A Lady Awakened was my first read of the new year; I’d meant to blog about its hilariously incompatible sex scenes, the trapped heroine who just wants to make a difference in her ridiculously circumscribed world, and lovers who warm towards one another not from any of their antics in the bedroom, but when they start discussing land management—but, it turns out Christine beat me to it. What she said!

Check the WRL catalog for A Woman Entangled.

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Let It Be Me.jpgLet it Be Me is the enchanting new romance from author, Kate Noble.  It tells the story of Bridget Forrester, a gifted pianist, who is, unfortunately, plagued by a terrible case of stage fright and insecurity about her abilities, and Oliver Merrick, a man with a gift for discerning people’s talents and nurturing them.

Bridget, frustrated by the roaring success of her sister’s social debut compared with her own lackluster first season, has been declared a shrew and her “character fixed as ‘unpleasant.’  And there seemed little she could do but endure it.”  Until, that is, she receives a letter from the famed Italian composer, Vincenzo Carpenini, inviting her to become his student when he returns to England for an extended stay.  Bridget is elated. Finally, proof of her own worth!  But after finding out that Carpenini has suddenly changed his mind and no longer plans to leave Venice, she is heartbroken and humiliated.

However, not one to simply accept defeat–at least when it comes to her heart’s desire–and assisted by the convenient collapse of a tree on her family’s townhouse, Bridget manages to persuade her mother, together with her younger sister, to decamp for Venice and warmer climes.  When she arrives in Venice for her long-awaited music lessons, she is stunned to discover that the composer does not remember her at all.  But Oliver, Carpenini’s friend and supporter does; and since Carpenini has foolishly risked both his career and Oliver’s with a wager against the Austrian composer Klein–the new favorite of the Marchese–Bridget’s sudden appearance is well-timed.

The blossoming relationship between Bridget and Oliver is lovely to read about. As Bridget’s passion for life and love flourishes, so does her ability on the piano.  Oliver is unlike any other romantic hero I’ve ever encountered. Very much a beta, he supports and encourages Bridget, and believes in her in a way no-one else has.  His character has a good natured temperament and a gentle sense of humor–somewhat refreshing after the big, bad alphas, who seem to get riled up over nothing.

Noble’s writing is lyrical and filled with musical metaphors and similes.  Framing the relationship in terms of music was an enjoyable novelty.  I particularly liked reading a historical romance set somewhere other than Britain or America, and I’ll admit I’m partial to the romantic setting of Venice.  For those seeking a well-written, touching romance with a hero and heroine worth cheering for, I highly recommend Let it Be Me.

Check the WRL catalog for Let it Be Me

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an-affair-with-mr-kennedyFor historical romance with a strong mystery element, pick up this debut novel from Jillian Stone.  The story takes place in London, 1887.  It’s James Bond meets a Victorian Katharine Hepburn!

Zeno Kennedy of Scotland Yard has been investigating bombings by a terrorist group in London.  The terrorist group is trying to force Ireland’s independence from England through revolution.  Zeno gets a break in the case when he rents a townhouse to the widow Cassandra St. Cloud.  An informant has led him to believe Cassandra’s brother-in-law is a member of the  “Bloody Four,” aristocrats responsible for funding the dynamiters.

It is no hardship for Zeno to strike up a conversation with the attractive, and oddly progressive, widow. Cassie smokes cigars in her garden, wears pants while bicycling in the park, and approaches sex with a decidedly un-Victorian attitude.  And Cassie’s plucky spirit comes in handy as they face one dangerous situation after another.  In between they find time to fall in love!

I thought the story was well-balanced between the investigation and the growing romance between the lead characters.  And the historical part wasn’t focused so much on tea parties, balls, and the formal manners as in other historical romances I’ve read.  This may not be a good fit for you if you enjoy your Victorian romances without the intrusion of modern ideas, but I found that intrusion funny and engaging.

An Affair with Mr. Kennedy won the 2010 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart award for Historical Romance and is the first in Jillian Stone’s The Gentlemen of Scotland Yard series.

Next up in the series is A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis, which takes a closer look at Zeno’s colleague, Detective Rafe Lewis.

Check the WRL catalog for An Affair with Mr. Kennedy

Check the WRL catalog for A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis

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With the popularity of British TV series like Downton Abbey, I think it is time to draw attention to a wonderful television series from 1973, Flambards.  It is set in the period from 1910 through World War I, and it includes many of the same issues of the changing relationships between the British ruling class and the people they felt they ruled over.

Christina is a teenage orphan who is passed around from elderly aunt to elderly aunt living in genteel but shabby conditions until Uncle Russell calls for her to be brought to  Flambards, the family’s crumbling ancestral home.  Christina is a child of her times, who obeys unquestioningly and misses all the deeper family currents.  She has been sent to Flambards because she is an heiress who will come into her fortune when she turns 21.  Uncle Russell requires her fortune to save Flambards which is crumbling into disrepair as he has spent all his money, time, and energy on fox-hunting.  In Uncle Russell’s mind the logical solution is for Christina to marry his eldest son, Mark, who is also her first cousin, and they will spend her fortune to save Flambards.

Uncle Russell is obsessed with fox hunting, even though he is confined to a chair and in constant pain after a hunting accident.  He lives through his sons as they hunt, which is fine for Mark who is only interested in hunting, drinking, and girls. His brother, Will, hates hunting.  Will is an intelligent, sensitive boy who wants to learn to fly in the new airplanes that are being developed.  Christina spends time with both her cousins, but Will is easier to get along with and she enjoys talking to him about planes.  The interest of the handsome groom, Dick, adds to the romantic tension, while the increasing drunken brutishness of Uncle Russell raises the drama.

Flambards is based on the series of novels by K.M. Peyton, which started with Flambards published in 1967, then went on to The Edge of the Cloud (1969), Flambards in Summer (1969), although the TV series doesn’t cover Flambards Divided (1981).  Our library doesn’t currently own the books although they are still in print.  As usual in comparisons between the screen version and the book, the books have more depth and background, but they cannot provide the  the gorgeous scenery, the galloping horses, and the wondrous early planes.

As I already said, Flambards is a good choice for fans of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs, but also I recommend it for lovers of romance and horses.  Oddly for a historical romance, I also recommend it for aviation fans.  Early planes like the Bleriot are integral to the plot of the story so the series creators made and flew radio controlled model working replicas of these early planes.  I actually thought that they made full-size planes until I researched it for this blog post, so they did a good job of hiding the planes’ size.  Either way, their flimsy, splindliness and air of imminent disaster is fascinating!

Flambards also has wonderful music, written by David Fanshawe.  As I am typing this I have the whistling refrain from the credits going through my head, and I’m anticipating spending some quality girl-time re-watching some of my favorite episodes.

Check the WRL catalog for Flambards

 

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