Archive for the ‘Historical Romance’ Category

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.


Read Full Post »

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.

Check the WRL catalog for Dreaming of You


Read Full Post »

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.

Check the WRL catalog for The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott


Read Full Post »

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.

Check the WRL catalog for Outlander


Read Full Post »

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.

Check the WRL catalog for Kushiel’s Dart


Read Full Post »

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.

Check the WRL catalog for A Matter of Class


Read Full Post »

A historical romance needs an intriguing but credible plot and fascinating characters in order to draw me into its pages. In the case of the Lessons from a Scarlet Lady I was immediately pulled into a story built around a young couple in the Regency era who, though reasonably happy, are missing that special spark. Brianna loves her new husband but he only returns a kind affection. Though Brianna knows her husband’s feelings are genuine she soon sets her sights on turning Colton’s fondness to love by employing the advice of one Lady Rothburg, courtesan. Using the observations and suggestion’s found in Lady Rothburg’s book Brianna soon has her very proper and controlled husband out of sorts. Colt has no choice but to pay complete attention to his wife as he wonders where a very decorous young lady has learned such scandalous things.

As Colt and Brianna’s story unfolds the reader also follows the blooming romance between Brianna’s best friend Rebecca and brother-in-law Robert. Rebecca’s parents have demanded that Rebecca choose a husband; unfortunately, Rebecca happens to be in love with a notorious rake whom her father hates. Taking some of Lady Rothburg’s advice, Rebecca too sets out to win the heart of the man she loves and convince her father she’s making the right choice.

The plot is fascinating, original, passionate and refreshing. The characters are so well drawn and interesting that I kept turning the pages to see how Brianna and Rebecca’s campaigns would unfold. In the end I was sad to see the characters go but I can’t wait for Emma Wildes’s next book.

Check the WRL catalog for Lessons from a Scarlet Lady


Read Full Post »

Boston, 1765: Makepeace Burke is a tavern keeper whose political sympathies lie with the Sons of Liberty, at least until her Tory younger brother ends up on the tar-and-feather side of their latest riot. When Makepeace fishes a wealthy English gentleman out of the Charles River, local opinion turns against her: sheltering Sir Philip Dapifer in her upstairs room is neither patriotic nor respectable. Even if she only saved him in hopes of a cash reward.

Sir Philip is in the colonies only long enough to arrange a divorce from his adulterous wife, which is convenient when Makepeace has to flee Boston in his company, with her brother, the cook, the cook’s son, and a Huron Indian. By the time their ship crosses the Atlantic, Makepeace is the new Lady Dapifer, a Massachusetts Yankee in King George’s court. Unfortunately, the first Lady Dapifer is waiting to discredit her, with all the hauteur of London society on her aristocratic side.

Makepeace is a pragmatic, plainspoken heroine with a keen eye for business opportunities and a long memory for a grudge. Her first view of London:

All around loomed a bespired, cupolaed, multi-roofed skyline of such history, complexity and loftiness that it demanded obeisance from those looking on it for the first time.

‘Shakespeare,’ Aaron said, ‘Dryden.’

‘Gloriana,’ Susan breathed.

‘They ought to do something about these docks,’ said Makepeace.

Diana Norman writes historical mysteries under the name Ariana Franklin, and if you’ve enjoyed her Adelia Aguilar series, it’s easy to see the similarities in her grouchy, outspoken heroines. This series continues into the American Revolution with Taking Liberties, and crosses the Channel for the French Revolution in The Sparks Fly Upward.

Check the WRL catalog for A Catch of Consequence.

Read Full Post »

Today, the Circulation Division’s Sarah Smethurst brings us a tale of intrigue, adventure, and romance.

willigAs a child, I remember sleeping over at my grandparents’ house and watching the old black and white version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, a daring tale of intrigue, spies, and elaborate costuming. Baroness Orczy’s story of a British spy who, with the help of his league, rescues French aristocrats from the guillotines of the French Revolution, laid the precedent for years of daydreams of romantic escapades with dashing spies, complete with glamorous dresses, of course. With all that in my brain, I was elated to discover Lauren Willig’s superbly entertaining book The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

Willig’s present-day heroine, Eloise Kelly, is in England writing her dissertation on a trio of floral-monikered spies:  The Scarlet Pimpernel, his co-conspirator the Purple Gentian, and the most mysterious of them all, The Pink Carnation, whose identity has never been revealed. After years of tedious library-haunting and fruitless archive-diving, Eloise finally gets a break when a descendent of the Purple Gentian invites her to read the family papers, a collection of letters long kept secret.

Reading old letters seems less than thrilling, I know, but most of the narrative takes place in 1803, with Eloise’s story more of a sub-plot. The real story involves the adventures of Amy Balcourt who, along with her cousin Jane Wooliston, travel to France to seek out the Purple Gentian and aid him in all things espionage. To tell any more would spoil the surprise and reveal the Pink Carnation’s identity, but I will say that there’s a lot of jumping to the wrong conclusions—in both the storylines, as well as on this side of the pages.

To spice it up, there’s an intriguing love interest for Eloise, a dashing Brit of her own… sort of. This subplot is paced very slowly, and stretches through all the books. Now would be the right time to mention that Pink Carnation is the first of a series—five books so far, with a sixth on the way in January—so you’ll be occupied for the rest of the summer, if you wish. Each book concerns different characters from the previous book, so one story never gets tedious, but you get to keep an eye on all your favorites. Resplendent with clever dialogue and picturesque descriptions (gotta get those dresses in there!) Willig delivers a smashing read with plenty to entertain.

Check the WRL catalog for The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Read Full Post »

spymasterWe are first introduced to the infamous Annique Villiers during her interrogation in a dank prison in France. Where some women would have broken down and given up their secrets under the questioning, Annique holds her own, for she is the “Fox Cub,” a notorious spy who is wanted throughout Europe. Little does Annique know that she shares a cell with Robert Grey, the head of British Intelligence, who has his own questions for the Fox Cub. For Annique holds the answers not only to a British operation gone horribly wrong but also quite possibly to Napoleon’s plans to invade England. As they escape their prison and make their way across France, Annique and Grey play a cat and mouse game that brings danger, adventure, deception, and eventually love.

As a romance novel, this book has the requisite happy ever after, but it is also a historical romance at its best. There is plenty of historical detail to create a wonderful sense of France during the time of Napoleon. Bourne also provides a wonderful look at the craft of espionage during a very turbulent period in history. I love spy novels and was completely engrossed in the myriad of ways to deceive, disguise, and escape various traps. Annique’s resourcefulness and wit, the clever and captivating Robert, the banter, and the attraction between heroine and hero kept me entertained for hours.

Check the WRL catalog for The Spymaster’s Lady

Read Full Post »

sophy.jpgI do not doubt that Jane Austen would have disapproved excessively of Sophia Stanton-Lacy, who keeps a pet monkey, carries a pistol, and dares to drive a phaeton carriage down St. James Street.

Manners have changed, and modern admirers of Jane Austen’s novels will be amused by the escapades of Sophy, the heroine of this frothy Regency romance. The fun begins when Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy arranges for his “poor little daughter” to stay with her London cousins while he travels out of the country. When she comes to stay, the cousins discover that little Sophy is six feet tall, elegant, and rich. For her part, Sophy discovers that everyone in the family is unhappy. Alternately charming and outrageous, Sophy gives snobs their comeuppance, settles debts, and tries to knock some sense into her tyrannical cousin, Charles. Heyer is credited with inventing the Regency romance, and this is one of her best.

Check the WRL catalog for The Grand Sophy

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: