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Archive for the ‘Historical Romance’ Category

 

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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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Today’s post is from Youth Services Director Noreen Bernstein.

            In this time of werewolves, vampires, zombies, and dystopian worlds, it is refreshing to find a teen novel about real people and a real time. Allie’s story starts in 1939 when she is living with her mother in Tennessee. Her mother is suffering from brain cancer and Allie is coping as best she can. Her neighbor Sam tries to help but Allie is not sure that she wants his assistance. Sam has a crush on Allie but she is too wrapped up in caring for her mother to care. And on one of the days she does spend time with Sam, her mother dies, leaving Allie alone and thinking that if she had been there she could have saved her mother.

            Allie is adopted by Miss Beatrice in Maine. After a brief transition period, the book moves to 1943. While Allie has adapted somewhat to her new life, she still holds onto her mother, her mother’s fervent belief in atheism, and her need to keep her emotions carefully hidden. She does find friends at school, and becomes somewhat close to Miss Beatrice’s older daughter. And who returns to her life? Sam, who is visiting a relative living next door to Miss Beatrice. A new relationship begins between Allie and Sam.

            The book is set against the background of World War II and includes all the emotions of teens growing up and finding their place in the world. The developing relationship between Allie and Sam, while a little predictable, rings true as does Allie’s search for the meaning of life and for a way to hold on to her late mother while  learning to accept the love of Miss Beatrice and her new friends.

            Interrupted is a first novel by Rachel Coker who is 16 years old and a longtime user of Williamsburg Regional Library. As a children’s librarian at WRL for many years, it is amazing to read a book written by a young lady we’ve known as a child. Seeing a library user grow up and produce a book that has been well reviewed and is well worth reading is the perfect gift for those of us at Williamsburg Regional Library.

            Interrupted is a good read for younger teens as well as adults.  The characters, setting, and emotions are real and many teens will identify with Allie, Sam, and the other characters.

Check the WRL catalog for Interrupted: Life Beyond Words.

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Lord Benjamin Archer has wanted to possess Miranda Ellis from their first encounter in the dark streets of Victorian London. But her youth, innocence, and father force Lord Archer to bide his time before claiming his heart’s desire. With all the time in the world, Archer patiently waits, and three years after their first meeting he arranges to make Miranda his bride. Reminiscent of many historical romance novel plots where a powerful older man of title seeks to make a nubile, young woman his possession, in Firelight not everything is as it seems.

Miranda Ellis is a beautiful, intelligent, and strong-willed woman, but she is also born with a curse that sparks her family’s ruin and destroys any chance she has to make a good life for herself. Lord Benjamin Archer is a rich and powerful man but is cursed with a disfigurement that relegates him to living in the shadows and hiding behind masks. The two feel a powerful attraction for each other, and their courtship is filled with seductive tension and verbal jousting, but the secrets they keep threaten their one chance at happiness.

Callihan has written an engrossing story that crosses all boundaries, weaving together romance, mystery, historical, and paranormal. The tension comes not only from two captivating characters but also from the magic and murder that surround them. As you fall under the spell of Miranda and Archer, Callihan slowly lets clues to their secrets creep from the shadows. Callihan gives you just enough to keep you coming back for more. Nothing is what you expect. You will come to the point where you think the suspense will kill you and want to skip to the end, but don’t—keep reading, because there’s not another paranormal on the market like this and you should savor the anticipation to the end.

Check the WRL catalog for Firelight.

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Martha Russell has just been widowed, and has learned that she will have to give up her husband’s estate to her brother-in-law unless she gives birth to a male heir.  Given that her husband is dead and she’s not pregnant, Martha has a big problem on her hands. Unwilling to let go of her servants and estate without a fight to a man with a dishonorable reputation, Martha is determined to get pregnant as soon as possible.

Theophilus Mirkwood has been banished to the country to learn responsibility. Theo has frustrated his father one too many times with his carefree life of wine, women, and careless disregard for money.  So Theo is determined to do what he can to get back into his father’s good graces and back to London as soon as possible.  It makes no sense for Theo to become involved with Martha’s scheme, but what is a man to do when a willing widow throws herself on his mercy?

In no way should this storyline work as a romance. After all, given the times, Martha had everything to lose if her deception were ever discovered.  So why would she even embark on such a risky venture? On top of that, men of the time were not inclined to have illegitimate heirs running about the countryside, laying claim to a false inheritance.  Finally, Martha takes no enjoyment from Theo’s attentions so how can the two possibly fall in love?

It is because of these problems that the romance does work. Theo is baffled at Martha’s lack of enjoyment and strives to find ways to get her interested in their intimacy.  Martha is fascinated by the intricacies of estate management that Theo is learning and finds ways to help him along his path. All this effort to help the other out leads to conversations not typically found in historical romance. Theo and Martha have to take time to get to know each other, and therefore spend a lot of time trying to find what makes the other one tick.

If you want a historical romance that’s different, this is the one to try. Cecilia Grant is a talented writer who has created a book with wonderful characters, wonderful writing, and a story that you’ll continue to wonder about as you try to guess how she’ll bring it all together.  Slowly you’ll find yourself falling for these two disparate souls, and learn some things about the harsh realities of country life during the Regency era that you may not have considered before.

Check the WRL catalog for A Lady Awakened

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of wits and good sense must be in want of a Darcy (or to be more accurate, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice). But there are only so many Darcys (and library copies of Pride & Prejudice) to go round. So, if you’ve watched this BBC miniseries so often you can recite it line for line and are looking for something new, I recommend North & South.

North & South can best be described as a Victorian Pride & Prejudice, but the central romance is laced with powerful and interesting social commentary. Based on the 1855 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, it tells the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a middle-class vicar, who, used to a privileged, slower pace of life in rural southern England, is suddenly uprooted when her father suffers a crisis of faith and gives up his livelihood. He moves his family to a dreary, smoky northern mill town trying to find its feet as the industrial revolution marches onward, but Margaret cannot see beyond the noise, the smell, the dirt, and the conflict between “masters and men.” When she meets the handsome, charismatic mill-owner, John Thornton, North and South collide.

Margaret struggles to come to terms with her new home and feels nothing but contempt for the greedy, ambitious mill-owners, including Thornton, who is one of her father’s new students. Thornton is instantly attracted to the strong-willed and outspoken Margaret, but she is unable to hide her repulsion and disdain for his work and the way she mistakenly believes he treats his employees. Gradually, Margaret’s attitude towards the town and its inhabitants changes, as she becomes friends with the mill-workers, including a local union leader and his daughter. But as Margaret becomes more invested in their lives, the strife between the mill-owners and their workers culminates in a crippling strike, the consequences of which affect every member of the town. Even as Margaret’s opinion of the town and her new life changes, she remains stubbornly prejudiced against mill-owners, and one in particular. Like Lizzy Bennett, it is only later, when the strike and the events that follow threaten to keep the two apart, that Margaret finally begins to recognize the integrity, strength of character, and value of the man she has rejected.

North & South stars Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale and Richard Armitage as the brooding hero, John Thornton. It also stars Brendan Coyle (currently onscreen as the self-sacrificing Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey) as the union leader, Nicholas Higgins. The screenplay was written by Sandy Welch, who also wrote the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre (with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens) and the 2009 version of Emma (with Romola Garai).

Anglophiles and fans of high-quality BBC period drama, such as Downton Abbey, will fall in love with North & South. Like any good costume drama, it is full of simmering passion and smoldering sexual tension, where one glance, one touch, can carry the weight of a thousand words.

Check the WRL catalog for North & South.

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Love is in the air…

Yes, folks, it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and this week Blogging for a Good Book features five romance-filled reviews:

Charlotte wants a divorce. Not the most promising of starts for a romance novel, admittedly, but I have always found the books that tell the story of what happens after the “I do” the most intriguing.

Charlotte, Duchess of Rutherford, will try anything—gambling, drinking, flirting—to cause a scandal big enough to force her husband, Philip, the stern, stodgy Duke of Rutherford, to divorce her and finally end their painful sham of a marriage. Three years before, a heartbreaking betrayal led to their estrangement. Philip set his wife aside in favor of his mistress, and Charlotte cannot forgive the pain and humiliation. So Charlotte leads a separate life in London, hoping to cause enough scandal to force Philip to petition for a divorce—but he kidnaps her instead.

Philip has realized the enormity of his mistake three years before, and he is desperate to convince his wife that he has changed for the better. He spirits her away to his country estate, far from the distractions of London, and puts his plan into motion. To win his wife back, Philip promises her the divorce she so desperately desires, but only if she teaches him how to be a better husband for another woman (in particular his former fiancée, Lady Joanna Grey). Quite rightly, Charlotte cannot help but be suspicious of his motives—especially since it comes with such an unusual caveat.  But as Charlotte and Philip spend time together, she begins to wonder if she really wants to lose him, even as she pretends to help him court another woman.

Seducing the Duchess is a remarkable debut novel, and what I found particularly enjoyable was the author’s decision to tell the story, as it develops, from both Charlotte’s and Philip’s perspectives. She will interrupt a scene halfway through to switch to the other’s perspective, and the results are hilarious. The “spirited debates” pit husband against wife as each struggles to gain the upper hand. Just when they think one of them is ahead, the other manages to unexpectedly turn the tables.

Seducing the Duchess is a compelling read, populated with richly nuanced characters. Philip is saved from being an antihero by his desire for forgiveness and redemption, and Charlotte’s stubbornness is tempered by an inner vulnerability. Readers will enjoy the witty banter and the ruse each is perpetuating against the other. The characters are engaging, the writing is clever and fun, and the opening chapter is one of the most entertaining I’ve read in a long time. Philip and Charlotte’s antics as they each try to outwit the other may have you laughing out loud more than a few times.

Check the WRL catalog for Seducing the Duchess.

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I don’t usually do this, but I jumped into the middle of a historical romance series when I picked up the audiobook of Julia Quinn’s What Happens in London.  I wanted something different to listen to during a trip, and the title’s play on “What happens in Vegas” caught my eye.  This is part two of the Bevelstoke series, but I didn’t feel that I missed out on key background information by starting here.

The novel begins with the teaser “They say he killed his first wife.”

Olivia Bevelstoke’s friends are sharing gossip about her new neighbor.  Gossip that Olivia’s rational mind tells her is ridiculous.  But she can’t seem to help herself from spying on him—after all his study window is almost directly across from the window in her bedroom.  And she does notice odd behavior.  She’s almost certain he’s a spy…

Sir Harry Valentine notices his neighbor’s odd habit of watching him, but assumes she’s nothing more than a nosy debutante, an impression he feels is accurate after running into her at the Smythe-Smith musicale (a memorable event that Quinn mentions in several novels).  He dismisses her, until his job with the War Department puts her back at the center of his attention.  The War Department is concerned that one of Olivia’s suitors, a Russian prince, may be a spy for Napoleon Bonaparte.  They ask Harry to keep an eye on her, which of course means he falls in love with her.

I enjoyed the banter between the two main characters.  Olivia is smart and sassy.  Harry gives as good as he takes. And the relationship builds as they spend time together, instead of just appearing fully formed as soon as their eyes meet.

Quinn skillfully gives background on the characters without slowing the flow of the main story.  What was most memorable for me was a drawing room scene where the suitors are reading aloud from a dreadful gothic novel, Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron.  I laughed out loud at the absurdity.

This was a great book to listen to— and reader Rosalyn Landor did a fine job in the audiobook.

What Happens in London is a 2010 RITA winner for Best Regency Historical Romance.  Based on my enjoyment of the romance and how quickly it made the time pass, I’d say that’s a title well-deserved.

Check the WRL catalog for What Happens in London

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook for What Happens in London

 

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AnnMarie from Circulation Services provides another review:

  Following the defeat of Napoleon and his exile to the island of Elba, the European nations sent their sovereign or ambassador to the Congress of Vienna in the fall of 1814.  The purpose of the Congress was to settle the many issues resulting from the Napoleonic wars and to redraw the continent’s political boundaries. The arrival of so many crowned heads, ambassadors, and other political officers and ministers created an unparalleled social gaiety in Vienna.  In fact Madame Junot, Duchesse d’Abrantes, wrote in her memoir, “Vienna was at this period a place of enchantment and delicious pleasure; fetes, joy, love, ambition, all were written on the golden and perfumed pages of enchantment.”

It is in this spectacular social whirl that Teresa Grant has set Vienna Waltz. The social scene of early 19th-century Vienna provides a dazzling backdrop to the novel, which combines mystery, history, romance and intrigue in a very satisfying way.

Princess Tatiana is found murdered by four people she had arranged to meet—Tsar Alexander, Prince Metternich, and British attaché Malcolm Rannoch and his wife Suzanne.  A beautiful and powerful woman, the Princess had ties to the French, English and Russian delegations and her death could have serious repercussions for the political negotiations. Malcolm Rannoch is asked by Lord Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary, to solve her murder. Malcolm had been a spy with Tatiana during the Peninsular Wars, but his feelings for her seemed to be much deeper than those of a colleague and friend. Despite the rumors of Malcolm’s supposed affair with the Princess, Malcolm’s new wife, Suzanne, joins him in searching for the killer.

Malcolm and Suzanne uncover several motives for murder—blackmail?  a planned assassination?— as well as a whole host of suspects—the tsar? the prince? or maybe one of the other courtesans?  The search for Tatiana’s killer leads Malcolm and Suzanne through Vienna’s famed coffee houses and Opera, glittering balls, and even a re-created medieval jousting tournament. (Yes, there really was a jousting tournament during the Congress!)  A woman of many talents and one who likes action, Suzanne is a perfect match for Malcolm as they solve the mystery. As the story progresses, the reader learns more about Malcolm and Suzanne’s unusual marriage and sees their relationship grow.

The novel deftly combines real historical figures, like Tsar Alexander and Prince Metternich, with those of the author’s imagination, such as Princess Tatiana and the Rannochs. While there are some political discussions in Vienna Waltz, it is the characters’ personal relationships that really shine as well as the descriptions of early 19th-century Vienna and its large number of social events.  I found the book to be a “delicious pleasure” like Madame Junot’s Vienna.

If you would like to read about the further adventures of the Rannochs, set in Regency England, you can find them in Beneath a Silent Moon and Secrets of a Lady. These books, published under the name Tracy Grant, feature Charles and Melanie Fraser,  whose names were changed to Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch in Vienna Waltz. Whatever their names—Rannoch or Fraser, they are an interesting and intriguing couple to follow!

Check the WRL catalog for Vienna Waltz

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Today’s post is contributed by Ceilidh from Circulation Services.

In the eyes of the ton, Lord and Lady Tremaine have the perfect marriage—they never argue, embarrass each other, or disagree on anything. How? He lives on one continent and she on another, as they have done since the day after their wedding.  But now Gigi, Lady Tremaine, is seeking a divorce in an effort to redeem herself by marrying the very loyal and kind-hearted Lord Freddie. However, Camden, Lord Tremaine, has returned from New York with a demand of his own—he will give Gigi her divorce only after she gives him an heir.

The story begins in 1893, but Thomas agilely flips back and forth between the past and present, gradually revealing the causes for this couple’s decade-long estrangement.  Ten years ago, desire flared between Gigi and Camden, but a dreadful deception by Lady Tremaine drove her new husband away less than a day after the wedding. With Lord Tremaine’s return, their passion is reignited, even as Gigi struggles to hold on to what she believes is a hard-earned redemption in the arms of Lord Freddie.

The chemistry between Gigi and Cam practically sizzles on the page.  Gigi herself is a far cry from the perfect, helpless females of early historical romance who tend to sit back and let things, including the hero, happen to them.  But Gigi knows what she wants, and she will do whatever she has to in order to obtain it. She is undoubtedly spoilt, self-centered, impulsive, hard-nosed, and cynical, but you cannot help warming to her.  She is a social climber without shame. She sees through the façade of high society and is determined to use it to her own advantage. She refuses to be a victim, even after her own selfishness damages her marriage and chance for happiness.

Sherry Thomas is a Chinese-born author who moved to America at age thirteen, as she mentions in the small bio at the back of the book. Apparently one of the ways she taught herself to read English was by doggedly working her way through the “600-page behemoth historical romances of the day” with a Chinese-English dictionary in hand. Impressive.

One of the book’s greatest strengths is the way in which Ms. Thomas deftly weaves the story of Gigi and Cam’s courtship, marriage, and betrayal together with that of their fiery, tempestuous reunion.  I also especially enjoyed the choice of a late Victorian setting, which makes a refreshing change of pace in the world of historical romances.

Private Arrangements was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2008 and Romantic Times’ 2008 First Historical Romance Award Winner. This is a truly superb debut—cleverly written, beautifully structured, and full of unforgettable characters. This is a love story of unusual depth and a compelling story of betrayal and redemption, and if you enjoy this one, never fear, Ms. Thomas has written three others so far, all of which are in the WRL collection.

Check the WRL catalog for Private Arrangements.

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Dreaming of You is one of the few historical romances that I enjoy revisiting every so often because the characters are unforgettable. It is one of those books that once you pick it up, you can’t put it down. You want to shut off the phone, curl up in your favorite chair, and put a sign on the door that says, “Do not disturb unless the house is burning down.” As summer fast approaches and vacation days call for afternoons of absorbing, uninterrupted reading time, Lisa Kleypas‘s story is one that you should not try to resist.

Sara Fielding is an accomplished author whose novels are popular for their candid portrayal of society’s ills. Meticulously researching her novels, Ms. Fielding visits London to talk to prostitutes and the poor. Her newest novel brings her to the city to research gambling and hopefully provide her the opportunity to speak with Derek Craven, the owner of the most popular and exclusive gaming house in the city. Little did she know that her first encounter with Derek would change her world. Sara and Derek are thrown together when she rescues him from an ambush in the rookery. In repayment Derek begrudgingly offers her a glimpse into his gambling world while trying to maintain as much distance as he can.

Derek Craven was born in London’s sewers to a prostitute who dies soon after his birth. With a strong ambition to gain fortune and a desire to succeed, Derek claws his way out of poverty, using his wits, learning to read and write, and gambling his way to the top. He has everything he’s ever desired but when he meets Sara he realizes that he wants more.

Derek is the perfect balance of tortured, cynical, and heroic. He has accomplished much and yet feels he deserves none of the rewards. He knows he can’t have Sara but soon realizes that he doesn’t want anyone else to have her either. What a time for the streak of nobility to rear its ugly head. Sara is a smart and accomplished woman. Though she writes of life of the marginalized there is a refreshing streak of naiveté mixed with a strong inquisitiveness. Sara and Derek balance each other well and together create a compelling and utterly engaging read that’s not to be missed.

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Here is one of the few works of fiction that I have read recently and thoroughly enjoyed.  I finished the book in less than a week, which is an accomplishment for someone who has several books sitting on a side table half read.  I get bored easily.  What drew me to this work was the title.  I have re-read Little Women multiple times since middle school, and was three quarters of the way through again, when I found this little gem.  Those who have read Little Women will find that The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott feels very familiar.  Both books are based on Louisa’s life experiences.  McNees conducted thorough research of Alcott’s life and studied texts about nineteenth-century New England living to create this realistic and believable work of historical fiction.

Louisa was the second of four daughters born to Bronson and Abba Alcott.  Bronson was a philosopher and friend of the well known Transcendentalist figures Emerson and Thoreau.  He spent much of his time reading and contemplating, rather than working to support his family.  The five women of the household became very resourceful—working and relying on handouts to survive.  During the summer of 1855, when Louisa was 22, the Alcott family moved into a relative’s home in Walpole, New Hampshire, because of their financial difficulties.

McNees notes that very little is known about the events of the family’s summer in Walpole, so she chose that period to create a secret love affair between Louisa and a fictitious male character.  This romance tests Alcott’s desire and determination to become a writer.  In real life, Louisa had no known lovers.  However, it is believed that after she became famous she may have burned many of her letters in order to protect her privacy.  It is plausible that if Louisa was involved with someone she would have destroyed any traces of it.

For those readers who enjoy the fairy tale ending, like myself, you will be disappointed.  Obviously, Louisa doesn’t end up with the love of her life.  On the other hand though, some might say that Louisa’s life as a famous writer was the real happily ever after.

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Hooray! It’s time for a game of Name That Genre! Diana Gabaldon‘s book Outlander is:

  • A fantasy novel
  • A science fiction novel
  • An adventure novel
  • A historical novel
  • A romance novel
  • A romance novel that even men will read

Answer: all of the above!

First published in 1991, this is the debut novel of the Outlander series, now up to seven novels, a spinoff series, some short stories and novellas, and a few companion volumes. The popularity is due in part to the widespread appeal of the stories: there really is a little something for everyone. The fantasy and science fiction elements are just important enough to keep fans of speculative fiction hungering for more, but subtle enough to not overwhelm readers who normally avoid the fantastic. The romance elements are spicy enough to satisfy romance readers, but unconventional enough to be fresh and unexpected.

And if you just don’t like science fiction or fantasy or romance? Give it a try anyway. Just a few chapters, that’s all I’m asking. Gabaldon’s storytelling skills are so good that even skeptics might be snared by her tale of high adventure in eighteenth-century Scotland.*

That’s what happened to me, at any rate. I avoided the Outlander series for a long time, because 1.) Dang, those books are long and 2.) I’d basically rather die than read a romance novel. But Gabaldon has the Stephenie Meyer effect: you try to resist, you swear you’re not going to like it, but then somehow you start reading and suddenly you’ve raced to the bookstore to lay down cash for the next book in the series because you just can’t wait for the library copy to come back.

At the start of the story, our heroine Claire and her husband Frank are celebrating their reunion in Scotland, having just finished serving separately in World War II. But one day, while Frank is busy with his work as a history scholar, Claire decides to look at the flowers at a nearby landmark, an ancient cluster of standing stones, sort of a miniature Stonehenge. Once there, she hears an eerie buzzing noise, experiences a nauseating and unfamiliar full-body sensation, and blacks out…

…to wake up in exactly the same spot, but a few hundred years displaced. It takes a while for Claire to grasp that she’s been transported to the year 1743, but soon she realizes that the group of soldiers who stumble upon her are not super-convincing period re-enactors. They’re the real thing.

One of those soldiers is a young man named Jamie. And Claire, despite her enduring love for her twentieth-century husband Frank, begins to fall for him. Which is not exactly smart: Jamie is not a safe person to love. He is an outlaw, and his worst enemy is a sadistic madman, and anyway he’s probably going to die in a few years at the Battle of Culloden, a bit of knowledge that Claire cannot reveal without betraying her origins. She’s odd enough that people already think she’s a witch.

Jamie and Claire are wonderfully enjoyable protagonists. Their unlikely romance and their dangerous exploits make for a thrilling tale, while Claire’s torn loyalties add layers of emotional depth to the story: will she abandon Frank forever? Is it even possible for her to travel back to her own time? And, ah, what about the baby she’s carrying?

One final word: the violence, including sexual violence, can be graphic. Proceed with caution.

*If you don’t like historical fiction or adventure, I concede that you might not like this book.

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I don’t care to read about sex, in the same way I don’t care to read about baseball stats or pension funds. I’m no prude, but unless we’re talking about it from a sociological or biological perspective, sex is just not one of my reading interests.

Amazing, then, that I enjoyed Kushiel’s Dart so much.  The sex is not described as explicitly as I have sometimes encountered, but there’s no shortage of sex scenes, and no shortage of details within those scenes. There is heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, sex with consent and sex without, sex with props, and lots and lots and lots of sadomasochistic sex.

Someone familiar with erotica would be able to say something like “Wow! The sex scenes are great!” I am not that person. Best I can offer you is “Wow! The sex scenes are… frequent!”

In Jacqueline Carey‘s alternate past, a new religion formed concurrently with Christianity. For a short time a new pantheon of gods walked the earth, moseying over from the Middle East to settle in France Terre d’Ange. These gods had one commandment, “Love as thou wilt,” and their descendants in the late Middle Ages take their religion very, very seriously. Entire temples of worship are devoted to particular types of sex, be it sex with massage, sex with music and art, or sex with pain.

Sex with pain is what our heroine Phèdre knows best. At birth she was marked with a scarlet mote in her eye, an exceedingly rare occurrence. The religious temple that fostered her can be forgiven for not recognizing the mote’s significance, as it had not been seen for three generations. But a nobleman scholar named Delaunay recognizes the mote as the mark of one of the gods, Kushiel. For Phèdre, the mark accurately predicts what she will discover when she comes of age: she can transmute pain into pleasure. In time, this gift will make her a unique and extremely desirable courtesan.

It will also make her a formidable spy. Under Delaunay’s tutelage, Phèdre studies languages, history, world religions, politics, and literature. To the world she is a beautiful young girl with a penchant for pain, nothing more. When she makes her debut as a courtesan, no one suspects that she is gathering intelligence from the pillow talk of her patrons.

But Phèdre’s charmed lifestyle comes to a crashing halt when she is unwittingly caught up in a conspiracy against the crown. Armed only with her intelligence and her considerable bedroom skills, she faces a series of increasingly dangerous situations, absolutely none of which I will detail here, because the story is too good to be ruined with spoilers—but rest assured, this is an adventure novel of the highest order, replete with court intrigue, war, political maneuverings, enemy warlords, deceits and disguises, and danger on the high seas. And sex. The flurry of action moves the story at a whirlwind clip, but I caution against racing through the book, as there are crucial bits of information strategically hidden among all the adventures.  I lost count of the number of times I flipped backward to hunt for a passage that had seemed trivial at first reading.

Because Carey has created a new universe, this book should be considered a fantasy novel, but the settings of France Terre d’Ange, England Alba, and Germany Skaldia will be familiar, and the magical elements are light. The book could also be considered a romance novel, sort of; Phèdre does find love and a happily-ever-after ending, except now I’m reading the second book in the series, and I’m having serious doubts about the “ever after” bit. And it even flirts with literary fiction, since Carey uses a luscious, artful, and slightly archaic prose style.

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Looking for something light to while away an afternoon? Pick up A Matter of Class. It’s a short book, only 190 pages, but the story is a delightfully satisfying romance set in the Regency period.

Bernard Mason has a fortune to match many in the ton, but he is not accepted by polite society because he had the “misfortune” of having earned his money instead of having inherited it.  He wants more than anything to be accepted in the finest houses, including that of his very proper neighbor, the Earl of Havercroft.

Bernard provides his son, Reggie, with all the benefits of a gentleman’s education.  But when Reggie’s outrageous spending and gambling debts get out of hand, Bernard declares that Reggie must marry as soon as possible.

It just so happens that the Earl of Havercroft’s daughter, Annabelle, is facing social disgrace after running off with a carriage driver in order to escape an arranged marriage.  What an opportunity!  Bernard can force his way into society by having his son marry the Earl’s daughter.

Reggie and Annabelle are merely pawns in their parent’s plans… or are they?

The plot is thicker than it first appears, and the resolution is as sweet as a piece of the finest chocolate.   Balogh delivers a winner.

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