Posts Tagged ” English historical romance
Previously, I reviewed Julia London’s THE REVENGE OF LORD EBERLIN. As that novel interested me a great deal — and because I knew it was book two of a trilogy called “The Secrets of Hadley Green” – I decided to hunt up both the prequel, THE YEAR OF LIVING SCANDALOUSLY, and the sequel, THE SEDUCTION OF LADY X. This review will cover the latter two books.
THE YEAR OF LIVING SCANDALOUSLY starts in 1808 Ireland. The heroine, fun-loving and frivolous Keira Hannigan, well-born but not part of the nobility, is asked by her friend and cousin, Lily Boudine (the heroine of book two, THE REVENGE OF LORD EBERLIN), to please go to England and take care of the Ashwood estate. The reason Lily asks this is because she was about to take a trip to Italy, something she’d always wanted to do, yet Lily had just become the Countess of Ashwood in her own right. This may not sound plausible, but there’s a reason why Lily doesn’t want to go back to Hadley Green (where Ashwood is located, roughly); it seems that when she was younger, she mistakenly sent a good man to his death. Lily has always felt terrible about this, even though she was only eight years old when this happened, and just isn’t up to returning to the Ashwood estate because of this.
Keira leaves Ireland, but doesn’t tell her parents where she’s actually going (as she, too, was supposed to be going to Italy along with Lily). Instead, Keira goes to Ashwood, pretends to be the Countess because she looks like Lily and many things need to get done that require the Countess’s signature, and runs into two people who know full well that she, Keira, isn’t the Countess at all — Declan O’Connor, the Irish Earl of Donnelly, and Tobin Scott, the Danish Lord Eberlin. But neither of them unmask her for reasons of their own, though Declan urges Keira to admit who she is – a caretaker. But Keira won’t do it, of course, which is fortunate or we’d have no story.
Keira takes part in several cultural events, including a horse race for charity and a charity ball for the local orphanage, which shows that she’s not a lightweight. And as she adds depth to her fun-loving exterior, Declan falls inextricably in love with her, which is good because Keira always carried a torch for him. Yet Declan isn’t the marrying kind, to say the least . . . whatever will Keira do about this? (Much less about the fact that she’s not the Countess?) And what will happen once she realizes that she’s pregnant?
All of this is for you to read, but if you enjoy English historical romance, you will enjoy THE YEAR OF LIVING SCANDALOUSLY despite its quirks.
Now onto the third book of the “Secrets of Hadley Green” trilogy, THE SEDUCTION OF LADY X. This novel is about steward Harrison Tolly, the latest heir to the Ashwood estate as he’s the illegitimate son of the late Earl of Ashwood. (Lily Beaudine, who married Count Eberlin at the end of book two of the trilogy, has abdicated.) Yet Harrison is in big trouble, as he’s in love with Lady Olivia Carey — the wife of his employer, the nasty Marquis of Carey — and he refuses to leave Everdon Court, the seat of the Carey family.
Yet that’s not all that’s going on in THE SEDUCTION OF LADY X, as Olivia’s sister, Alexa, is pregnant and won’t say by whom. Harrison, being a decent sort at heart, has offered to marry Alexa even though he’s in love with Olivia (a well-guarded secret), which for the moment has kept the Marquis from sending Alexa to a convent. This sets up many complications, some of them seeming insurmountable, until circumstances allow for Harrison to accept the Ashwood domain as his own. Better yet — spoiler alert! — the Marquis of Carey meets his demise, which allows Harrison to finally court Olivia. (Or does it?)
THE SEDUCTION OF LADY X is a diverting read about a cruel man, how awfully he treats his wife Olivia, Harrison the loyal steward who loves Olivia and does his best to protect her, and of course the added complication of Alexa and her unborn child. As it’s a romance, a happy ending is all but assured, yet the trials and tribulations of Olivia, Alexa, and Harrison nearly eclipse that knowledge until about twenty-five pages from the end.
That being said, both books are good ones that held my interest until the very end, and had believable romances despite the unusual set-ups. I enjoyed all three books of the “Secrets of Hadley Green” trilogy, and will look forward to whatever Julia London publishes next.
THE YEAR OF LIVING SCANDALOUSLY — A-minus.
THE SEDUCTION OF LADY X — B-plus
“Hadley Green” series — B-plus.
Lynsay Sands’ THE COUNTESS is an English historical romance starring Christiana, Countess of Radnor, and two men who both go by the name of Richard Fairgrove, Earl of Radnor. This screwball comedy is set up by the man Christiana married, “Dicky,” dropping dead one morning despite seeming to be in the peak of health. As Christiana’s marriage to Dicky was awful, she doesn’t exactly lament his death; instead, she does what she can to cover it up as her sisters, Suzette and Lisa, both need to make their debuts quickly due to her father’s gambling debts.
However, “Dicky” was actually George, the younger of two identical twins. George took his brother Richard’s place after doing his best to kill Richard in a fire, but Richard didn’t die; instead, the criminals who set the fire sent him off to America. (This romance is set in what seems to be the early 18th century, which was the American colonial period, but it’s never explicitly stated.) The mistaken-identity plot is aided by the fact that George put it about that it was George who died instead, which is why Christiana never suspects a substitution has taken place, especially considering she never met the real Richard; she only met George (“Dicky”).
The evening after Dicky — er, George — has died, Christiana goes to a ball in order to get her sisters launched properly in society. But to her complete surprise, “Dicky” shows up in the guise of the true Earl, Richard, who is back from America and extremely surprised that “he” is married. Richard, of course, knows nothing about Christiana except that she’s beautiful and after one dance, he’s smitten with her, while Christiana believes that Richard is Dicky, who’s risen from the dead.
Obviously, plot alone is not why anyone would read THE COUNTESS. Instead, it’s the humor behind it, the clarity of place and setting, and how well the true Richard and Christiana get along in and out of the bedroom. That humor is often excellent, based as it is by the initial mistaken identity of Richard as “Dicky” and the fact that Christiana hates Dicky with a passion, but falls head over heels for Richard.
There’s also a nifty secondary plot between Suzette, the elder of the remaining sisters, and Daniel, Earl of Woodrow. Suzette believes Daniel is penniless, and proposes to him on that basis; she, of course, is flat wrong, which adds to the comedic aspects. (Suzette’s story is more properly told in book two of this trilogy, THE HEIRESS.) Christiana and the real Richard obviously know this, but as both see the sparks between the couple — and because Daniel is Richard’s best friend — neither of them tell Suzette the truth.
So, how does Richard manage to convince Christiana to trust him, especially as she wasn’t sexually experienced prior to marriage and “Dicky” never truly bedded her despite a year of marriage? How does Richard learn to trust his instincts, which tell him that Christiana truly is the Countess of his dreams? And how will these two sanctify a proper marriage, especially considering the world believes they’re already married, while getting George decently buried when the world already thinks George has been laid to rest? (And for that matter, who really killed George, and why?) All of these questions will be answered in the way screwball comedies typically do things — in short, by a cursory wave of the hand followed by a detailed explanation at the end — but the explanations were enough to help satisfactorily end this novel.
Overall, THE COUNTESS, while not high art, is extremely funny in spots, especially when it’s being irreverent. That’s why despite the flimsy nature of the mistaken-identity and substitution plots, I enjoyed this novel thoroughly. And if you love English historical romance, the funnier, the better, you will, too.
– reviewed by Barb
Julia London’s THE REVENGE OF COUNT EBERLIN is an English historical romance set in 1808, and is the second novel set in the “Secrets of Hadley Green” series. The protagonists are the Danish Count Eberlin, born Tobin Scott of Hadley Green (his title was purchased), and Lily Beaudine of Hadley Green, now the Countess of Ashwood in her own right. Years ago, Lily saw Tobin’s father leaving Ashwood Manor at a very late hour and didn’t understand the context; unfortunately for Tobin (and his father, Joseph Scott), that was the night the Ashwood jewelry went missing. The elder Scott was quickly accused of theft and hanged even though he was innocent of that crime. Even though Lily was only eight and Tobin thirteen when this happened, Tobin blames Lily for his father’s untimely death and is bent on revenge.
Lily’s feelings for Tobin are more complicated. She remembers him as a childhood friend and companion, as Lily’s beloved Aunt Althea used to ask Tobin to watch over Lily due to her close companionship with Tobin’s father. But since Tobin’s now bent on the complete ruination of the Ashwood estate — and because Tobin has a great deal of money due to being a self-made man (he made his money the old-fashioned way, as a privateer and gun-runner) — Lily feels she has no choice but to make some sort of deal with Tobin.
Of course, Tobin doesn’t want anything from Lily but her body (isn’t this always the way of things?), partly because Lily moves him but mostly because he wants to ruin her for a decent marriage to one of the Ton. This is why Lily decides on a dangerous course; she will attempt to seduce Tobin (without giving up her virtue, or at least without giving it up too easily and to no purpose) while attempting to clear Joseph Scott’s name, as she figures one or the other things should lower Tobin’s defenses.
There’s a great deal of passion here between Tobin and Lily, so Lily’s stratagem quickly falls apart. Yet the regret and guilt Lily feels about Tobin’s father (as now that she’s fully adult, she has a much better idea of what was probably going on between Aunt Althea and Joseph Scott that had nothing to do with the Ashwood jewels), much less the guilt Tobin feels later on (as he realizes Lily was only eight; why should he blame her for reporting what she saw under the circumstances?), can’t help but complicate this romance further.
So, do Lily and Tobin find out who carried off the Ashwood jewelry? Will Tobin succeed in ruining Lily in every possible way? And what will happen to this pair long-term? All of these questions, and more, are answered in a thoroughly satisfying way.
As this is a romance, you can expect sparks to fly and the dialogue to sizzle, as it’s part of the genre. But what’s particularly good about THE REVENGE OF LORD EBERLIN is the strength of the characterization, as both Tobin and Lily could’ve easily become caricatures with less skillful treatment, yet are winningly brought to life by Ms. London.
The only minus here is the fact that Joseph Scott’s fate wasn’t ever in doubt. From the beginning, I knew he was innocent and that Tobin’s anger over his father’s death was real. The only real mystery about that is why Aunt Althea didn’t speak up to save Joseph from the gallows, but even there, Althea was married, albeit to a man who had many mistresses during the course of her marriage. In that day and time, women didn’t admit to taking lovers unless they were independently wealthy widows, so it wasn’t at all surprising why Althea said nothing — and why Joseph, loving Althea, said nothing even though it meant his death.
This one weakness is enough to keep this novel from getting the grade I’d wished to give, a solid A. Still, THE REVENGE OF LORD EBERLIN is a fine way to spend a few hours, and I enjoyed it very much indeed.
–reviewed by Barb
Jennifer Haymore’s CONFESSIONS OF AN IMPROPER BRIDE is an English historical romance set in 1828 of unexpected emotional depth and complexity. In it, we meet the oldest surviving Donovan sister, Serena, once an identical twin. Six years ago, she was first wined, dined, and seduced by Lord Jonathan Dane, then cast off when Dane’s father, the Earl of Stratford, refused to let Jonathan marry Serena after Jonathan had compromised her (and himself) at a social function.
On the way home due to her disgrace, and accompanied by her twin sister, Margaret (called “Meg”), a terrible accident caused Meg to be lost at sea. Because Meg was promised to another man, Captain William (“Will”) Langley, and because Serena’s formidable mother decided to hush up the scandal any way she could, the world was told that Serena had died — not Meg.
The problem was, Jonathan Dane didn’t know that Serena was still alive because he saw the same obituary as everyone else, and he really did have feelings for her — strong ones. Being adjudged a wicked man for how he’d seduced Serena, then cut her in the street because of parental pressure, he went out and promptly did his best to live down to his reputation.
What the world at large, and Serena in particular, didn’t know is that he’d vowed privately to his father, and his elder brother Gervase as well, that he’d marry Serena — or he’d marry no one at all. And since he believed Serena was dead, his new vow after he ascended to the Earldom was that he would die without issue as a way to spite his father and brother for refusing to let him marry Serena when he still could.
So the two principals here are stricken with guilt, remorse, and grief; that Serena has been told by her mother that she must be Meg and must marry Will Langley (a very good man in his narrow way), or her sisters will not be able to marry well due to Serena’s past disgrace, just complicates the issue. Her heart and body still belong to Jonathan, though she wrongly believes he never cared about her; she also believes, wrongly, that Meg was far more innocent than Serena, which is yet another complication that can’t help but cause problems for all concerned.
Serena believes she must take Meg’s place in every respect, and be more of a moral, virtuous woman (as that’s how she’s always viewed Meg) in order to save her family. She also feels that as she was at fault for Meg’s death (as Meg wouldn’t have been on that ship with her if Serena hadn’t been sent home), Serena must marry Will and be as good a wife to him as her sister Meg would’ve been, even though she doesn’t love Will (she merely likes him) and never will.
So how do these two lovers, separated by fate and chance, manage to get together after all? That’s for you to read — but I can assure you, if you love romance, you’ll find a great deal to enjoy.
The best thing about CONFESSIONS OF AN IMPROPER BRIDE is its unexpected (yet welcome) emotional depth and pathos on the part of both Serena/Meg and Jonathan. They’ve both grown up in six years, are both still extremely attracted to one another, and when Serena lets herself, she can still communicate with Jonathan quite well. The fact that Jonathan very quickly figures out Serena isn’t Meg (and is thus alive), but doesn’t tell anyone about it because he doesn’t want to shame Serena further, is believable in this context; that it’s “played straight” by Haymore helps, as this could’ve been a plot deal-breaker with less skillful treatment.
The secondary romance is that of Serena’s next-oldest sister Phoebe, who’s nineteen, and the twenty-one year old Lord Sebastian Harford, who’s more or less “hedge nobility” — that is, he has a title because his grandfather had one, but has no money nor an ancestral estate with which to back it up. Harford is adjudged his generation’s “great rake” because he gambles and fights (he also seems to know more than his share of loose women, too), while Phoebe is an innocent who scans much as Serena must have six years ago. Yet this romance does not run into the same troubles, partly because Serena had the experiences she did years ago, and partly because Jonathan, too, decides to help the younger couple rather than hinder them.
This secondary romance is sweet, earnest, and not based on carnality (though there does seem to be a strong undercurrent of passion there, it’s not the primary motivation for these two to be together). Phoebe and Sebastian can talk with one another; they have long, in-depth conversations and hide nothing, much as real lovers in any time would do. Phoebe doesn’t care that Sebastian is land-poor and that his prospects aren’t good (though he does have talent as an architect, then, as now, it can be tough to break into that particular field); her family is just as poor as Sebastian’s (might be worse off, in fact, as they’re another of the types that try to hold up appearances to outsiders but live in wretched poverty behind closed doors), and she sees no need for the type of hypocrisy it would take for her to say, “I must marry for money rather than love,” especially as her sister Serena is preparing to do that very thing at the start of this novel.
So the primary plot works, the secondary plot works and is an excellent contrast, the sensuality which Haymore is known for is shown to excellent effect (much better than Haymore’s A SEASON OF SEDUCTION, which I reviewed here) and the true things that drive any good romance to fruition — understanding, mutual respect, friendship, and caring — are also enumerated well.
This is a near-flawless romance, one I enjoyed in all particulars, and I recommend it without reservation.
– reviewed by Barb
Sabrina Jeffries’s newest romance novel is A LADY NEVER SURRENDERS, the fifth and final volume in the “Hellions of Halstead Hall” series. (The fourth story in the “Hellions” series, HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY, was reviewed here.) These novels, while not technically “Regencies,” have many of the same elements — including house parties and high fashion — but a great deal more heart than most.
The plot for all five “Hellions” stories is roughly the same: Grandmother Hetty wants all five of the Sharpe children to marry, otherwise she’ll cut them out of her will. As she’s quite wealthy due to the dint of her own efforts (she and her husband successfully ran a brewery; she’s kept it going since her husband’s passing), this is not an idle threat. But Hetty made this threat for a good reason — she hates seeing all five Sharpe children believe they’re not worth anything merely because their parents died young, and in scandalous circumstances — which means her heart is in the right place. All the Sharpe children know this, but they also deeply resent being forced to marry at Hetty’s whim.
It’s because of the Sharpe’s parents deaths being due to ”scandalous circumstances” that Jackson Pinter, a Bow Street Runner, has come to know the Sharpes. Oliver, the eldest Sharpe, has asked him to investigate the circumstances of the death of his parents; it was said at the time that it was a murder-suicide, but Oliver doesn’t believe it and neither do any of his siblings. The youngest of the lot, Celia, especially doesn’t believe it, and has grown close enough to Jackson to ask his help in evaluating her three most-promising suitors (as she does have the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over her head due to her grandmother’s ultimatum).
But Jackson covets Celia for himself, something Hetty really doesn’t like; she’s afraid that Jackson is a fortune hunter, and almost immediately becomes a strong impediment to Celia and Jackson’s happiness. Hetty doesn’t seem to realize that there is a very strong, very physical connection between Jackson and Celia, mostly because Celia is a chaste, all-but-untouched maiden of twenty-four at the start of this novel, and partly because Celia and Jackson try to conceal it due to Hetty’s past interference with the other four Sharpe siblings.
As Jackson gets closer and closer to solving the murder mystery (something I won’t reveal), he also gets closer to Celia. The two have so much passion that it’s surprising that Hetty doesn’t see it; sparks seem to fly off them whenever they’re present in the same room, which other characters (including Hetty’s love interest, an elderly retired General) keep pointing out to Hetty’s annoyance.
Here’s a snippet from page 128 to give you an idea just how hot things are, even at the beginning of Jackson and Celia’s physical relationship:
“Now see here,” (Jackson) said, grabbing (Celia’s) shoulders. “I didn’t kiss you ‘properly’ today because I was afraid if I did I might not stop.”
That seemed to draw her up short. “Wh-what?”
Sweet God, he shouldn’t have said that, but he couldn’t let her go on thinking that she was some sort of pariah around men. “I knew that if I got this close and put my mouth on yours . . . . “
But now he was this close. And she was staring up at him with that mix of bewilderment and hurt pride, and he couldn’t help himself. Not anymore.
That, my friends, is really good writing. It sets the scene; it explains what’s going on, and it shows more than it tells, which is a really neat trick when it comes to romance writing. (Or any writing at all.)
But good writing wouldn’t be enough, not without good characters to go along with them. And in Jackson Pinter, Bow Street Runner and possible future magistrate (think: policeman and future judge) and Celia Sharpe, we have two winning characters who love each other first in spite of their cultural differences, then learn to delight in their differences — which echoes the way a real relationship tends to go if you’re truly in love. (Not to mention the minor characters, including Jackson’s tart-tongued Aunt Ada — excellently drawn, all.)
From top to bottom, Ms. Jeffries wrote another very good romance; it’s a fun, fast read that’s also realistic and humane. There’s great romance, a good story, a long-unsolved murder mystery to resolve, and excellent characterization. Add charm, wit, and sensuality — really, how can anyone who likes English historical romances dislike A LADY NEVER SURRENDERS? Because this novel has it all, and in spades.
– reviewed by Barb
Sabrina Jeffries’s English historical romance HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY features heroine Lady Miranda Sharpe, who writes Gothic romance novels for fun and profit. Miranda’s novels feature a character that’s based off the one man she’s ever loved, Giles Masters, because Giles kissed her and then made rude and cutting comments afterward when Miranda was only nineteen years old.
Miranda’s now twenty-eight, a successful writer, and an embarrassment to her family because she (gasp! shudders! horrors!) writes under her own name. Her grandmother, Hetty, wants Miranda married ASAP, but Miranda would rather be left alone; considering the only man she’s ever loved doesn’t want her, why should she be bothered? So she hatches what she believes is a clever scheme to get her grandma to back down — Miranda takes out a personal ad in a magazine, and hopes this latest scandal will get her grandma to write her off for good.
Instead, Hetty decides that Giles Masters should be given a chance, and summons him imperiously to talk with Miranda once he, too, shows up at the appointed time and place. Giles tells Hetty the truth, but not all of it — he kissed Miranda years ago, never forgot her, but wasn’t in position to marry her then. But now, he’s a successful barrister with a booming career; he can easily support a wife. So Hetty gives him her blessing, and the engagement commences, with the wedding held in due course.
While all of what Giles said to Hetty was true, it wasn’t the whole truth; this is because Giles has been a secret agent for the British government for many years. Now that he’s become such a high-profile person (about to be named as a “King’s Counsel,” which is an incredibly prestigious thing), his career as a spy has ended — yet Miranda, all unknowingly, has just the right knowledge to unwittingly expose him.
So will Miranda do this to gain her freedom, once she learns the whole truth? Or will Miranda decide that this makes Giles even more fascinating than before, especially considering how Giles loves Miranda’s writing, loves her, and wants to be with her? (Hint, hint: if you picked option #1, you haven’t read too many British historical romance novels.)
While the outcome of this novel was never in doubt, I enjoyed the “spy stuff,” I really liked the authenticity of the historical background, and I appreciated the fully believable plot. The writing here was crisp and clean, the romance was deft and light, and I enjoyed every minute I spent reading HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY. And if you enjoy historical romances as much as I do, you’ll probably enjoy this a great deal, too.
The only thing that annoyed me, and kept me from giving HOW TO WOO A RELUCTANT LADY an A, was some of the nature of Miranda’s personal story; she has some shady relatives, and I just didn’t see the point to them being in this novel at all except to perhaps throw her into a bit of danger and make Giles realize a bit quicker how much he truly loves Miranda. Even there, that whole plot complication smacked of a deus ex machina and was completely unnecessary.
– Reviewed by Barb