Archive for the ‘Historical Romance’ Category

surprisingly-lurid-thane-coverIf you’ve already read the Williamsburg series, you can have a good laugh at this cover, which has a very noir, “Philip Marlowe in Colonial Williamsburg” feel that is completely unlike the actual novels. (Let me take a moment to picture Humphrey Bogart in a tricorn hat… OK, moving on.)

Elswyth Thane’s old-fashioned family saga begins in our own home town of Williamsburg in 1771. Julian Day, a schoolmaster newly arrived from England, is a staunch defender of King George, but befriends St. John Sprague despite his views on colonial independence. As revolution approaches, Day’s loyalties conflict with his friendships, including one with Tabitha “Tibby” Mawes, a young girl he helps to raise from poverty to gentility. That’s right: they are enemies “even in love!”

May-December romances are a recurring theme of this series, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Tibby and Julian become the matriarch and patriarch of a family which the novels follow for generations. Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, Ken Follett’s Century trilogy, and Jane Smiley’s “Last Hundred Years” trilogy seem to be leading a return of great, multigenerational sagas, those books with family trees on the endpapers to help you remember the cast of characters. Elswyth Thane was there first, and her seven-volume series follows the entangled Day, Sprague, Murray, and Campion families on both sides of the Atlantic, from the American Revolution to the early days of WWII. (At the time Thane was writing, this was recent history.)

Genteel, involving stories, these novels are gentle reads: there is love and war, but not sex or violence. Their age (or mine) shows in places; the Civil War-era episodes have a Margaret Mitchell-like nostalgia for Southern plantation life that is not concerned with the system of slavery on which it was based. My favorite, Ever After, takes place during the Spanish American War and covers every highlight of romance and melodrama that one might wish: War! Journalism! Malaria! A locket hiding a portrait of a forbidden love! When I picked it up after a decades-long gap, I expected to find it less readable, but hours later I was still sitting in the same armchair, caught up all over again in doomed romance and tearful deathbed goodbyes.

Check the WRL catalog for Dawn’s Early Light.

The series continues with Yankee Stranger, Ever After, The Light Heart, Kissing Kin , This Was Tomorrow, and Homing.

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PalaceOfSpiesThis lively young adult historical adventure is set in 1716, at the English court of George I, which is a refreshing change from the Tudors and Elizabethans I am usually reading about.

In the course of one spectacularly bad week, Margaret “Peggy” Fitzroy is forcibly engaged to a man she’s never met, assaulted in a greenhouse by the same young lout, and rescued by an enigmatic figure who claims that her late, lamented mother was not just another pretty face in the English court, but also actively supplying intelligence to he and his associates. When Peggy refuses to marry as told, she’s thrown out on the streets, and therefore throws herself upon the mercy of this man who knew her mother. Peggy agrees to be made over as his ward and placed as a maid of honor to Caroline, Princess of Wales, where she can report back on the doings of the court. To this end, she’s given a new identity and trained in the skills she’ll need as a lady in waiting: flattery, witticisms, cheating at cards, and sizing up someone’s wealth by the quality of the cloth and lace in their outfit.

Peggy has somehow forgotten to ask one important question: Hanover or Stuart?

Are her mysterious employers loyal to King George I and the House of Hanover, or are they among the rebellious supporters of exiled James II, “king over the water”? Between unexpected suitors and unexpected enemies among the royal household, it’s pretty likely that Peggy will be found out, and while being unmasked will certainly mean disgrace, being unmasked as a spy for Jacobite conspirators will get her beheaded for treason.

Peggy Fitzroy is a vivacious narrator, particularly when skewering ladies’ fashion. Being imprisoned in a mantua plus a ton of ribbons and furbelows makes it difficult to break into houses and run for her life! Fortunately Peggy is a great improviser with whatever weapon comes to hand, be it a ladies’ fan or a fireplace poker. Her adventures would be a good bet for readers of Y. S. Lee’s Agency series or Gail Carriger’s Etiquette and Espionage.

Check the WRL catalog for Palace of Spies.

The series continues with Dangerous Deceptions

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Tarnish Spoilers for the 1500s: there’s no happy ending to this romance. But it has drawing power anyway.

This young adult historical romance is set in 1523-24, embroidering on what little is known about young Anne Boleyn, before she ever caught the eye of Henry, King of England. Recently returned to the English court after years abroad, she is an outsider with the wrong looks and clothes, standing out for her French manners and fashion just in time for war with France, oops. Her tyrannical father is pushing her marriage to a boorish Irishman (actually, historically nicknamed James the Lame), and Anne is desperate for another choice.

Thomas Wyatt, playboy poet and professional flirt, offers to take on the project—for a wager—of elevating Anne’s social profile. With his savvy advice and very public attention, he can remake her into a centerpiece of the court. Only young Anne is never quite sure whether they are playacting. And even with her newfound status, nothing is simpler. Everyone who’s enamored is already married, or out of her social league… or the King of England. Who is, of course, sleeping with Anne’s sister.

Longshore writes a determined but vulnerable Anne who doesn’t have many options and hasn’t yet settled on a path of action. Her ambitions, her desire to be heard, her dysfunctional family, and, yes, her schoolgirl crushes are all very relatable, which is probably why her story has been retold so many times.

Tarnish is the middle book of three that are set in the Tudor court, but they don’t have to be read in order. Gilt tells the story of Catherine Howard, number five among Henry’s queens, and Brazen centers around Mary Howard, who married Henry’s illegitimate son.

Check the WRL catalog for Tarnish.

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HuzzahSuffragettes“Suffragette,” she said, “is pronounced with an exclamation point at the end. Like this: ‘Huzzah! Suffragettes!'”

Miss Frederica “Free” Marshall is a suffragette, which, as she points out, is pronounced with an exclamation point. An investigative reporter for her own Women’s Free Press, she campaigns for the vote while fighting accusations of plagiarism, threats of arrest, and attempts to burn her home and business.

Edward Clark doesn’t really do exclamation points. After a harrowing experience abroad during the Franco-Prussian war, he’s a realist with a particularly dark view of reality. While he doesn’t have any problem with Free’s lady-empowering views, he doesn’t understand why she devotes time and passion to a cause so unwinnable, so much like “emptying the Thames with a thimble.”

Also, Clark is secretly Edward Delacey, Viscount Claridge, whom everyone knows to be missing in the Siege of Strasbourg and believes to be dead. (Yes, it’s a “Surprise! A lord!” romance!) Being a viscount is something else Edward doesn’t have any patience with, so he’s reinvented himself as a metalsmith, a forger, and an all-around scoundrel. Sharing a mutual enemy, Edward and Free engage in bouts of flirtation via blackmail and reverse blackmail.

This is a surprisingly lighthearted and joyful book, skating very lightly over the history of struggle and suffering that inspires it—wartime firebombings and the investigative exploits of women like Nellie Bly and Josephine Butler. Milan, in her author’s note, actually calls it “as much an alternate history as it is a historical romance.” Great women characters have been true of every one of Courtney Milan’s books I’ve read, but with a suffragette main character, this is unsurprisingly the most overtly feminist of her romances. The “huzzah” moment in this book isn’t even to do with the romance, it’s Free’s rousing explanation of just what she’s trying to do with her thimble and the Thames.

Check the WRL catalog for the ebook of The Suffragette Scandal

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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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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.

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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.

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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!

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