10 Irrational but Nonetheless Persistent Fears I’ve Picked Up from Reading Adult Historical Romances

  1. Apparently, I either have to be so beautiful everyone chases after me, or so unique no one knows what to do with me, in order to get anyone’s romantic attention.
  2. Because I’m fairly certain I’m neither of the above, I shall be forever alone.
  3. I will never be able to breathe properly around my love interest, either because of my unmentionables (damn corset) or because he looks so delicious I hyperventilate into a faint.
  4. When I fall in love it will be with someone who probably doesn’t deserve it.
  5. My romantic interest will have a rake’s past, and therefore, the sexual infections that come along with all those bed adventures.
  6. One or both of my parents will die before I meet my romantic interest, meaning I will doubt his interest in me over my inheritance (which, let’s be honest, will probably not be very much).
  7. When I catch my romantic interest’s gaze across the room, our gaze will burn so hot we might cause people to spontaneously combust.
  8. I will want to have sexy time with him every time I see him. This will prove to be inconvenient should I see him in church.
  9. My romantic interest will have a brooding past, which the books tell me is supposed to make him irresistible. I now fear for my sanity.
  10. The first time I have sexy time with my romantic interest, it will either be mind-blowingly good, or so bad I’m crippled.

What about you?

Best, Belinda

Book Review Extravaganza

Dear Reader,

I read five books last week. Rather than splitting up my reviews so each book gets a dedicated post, I instead posted my reviews on Goodreads and am linking to them from here. They’re all some form of historical romance; three are Regencies and two are Victorian. I’m always surprised there aren’t more Victorian romances… it makes sense, I suppose, because society totally freaked at how loosey-goosey the regency was in terms of morals… but the fun thing about the Victorians is that they actually continued those loose morals… they just stopped talking about it as frequently.

As a quick ROW80 update… I wrote another chapter to The Rebel’s Hero, but I don’t like how it ended. So that needs a rewrite. I’m also keeping to my goal of writing 750 words a week… pretty much blasting that out of the water. So that’s cheering.

Enough of that. Onto the reviews!

His Sinful Secret (Notorious Bachelors, #3)His Sinful Secret by Emma Wildes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Julianne and Michael are brought together by an arranged marriage, and they start their familial duty of producing an heir for the duchy as soon as possible. Through their entanglements in bed and the pillow talk after, they realize that it just might be possible to have that long-sought-but-rarely-found sort of marriage within the aristocracy: a happy one.

ImpulseImpulse by Candace Camp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As always, I love Candace Camp’s stories because she allows the hero/heroine to get to know one another, to feel confident that they have found a healthy match/complement in each other, before hopping into bed.

It’s just refreshing.

The BargainThe Bargain by Mary Jo Putney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think it’s Putney’s heroes that make me love her writing. Here we have David, who is very good at what he does, killing people efficiently to save his own skin. But the hardships of war didn’t dull his sensitivities toward a Jocelyn, beautiful woman who shies away from marriage the way a horse shies from a snake. He might have been a major, but David is a wonderful beta hero who kept me smiling and wishing he were real so I could take him home to meet my mother.

The Education of Mrs. BrimleyThe Education of Mrs. Brimley by Donna MacMeans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think what I loved most about this book was that even though Nicholas could have completely taken advantage of Emma, he always gave her a choice. Now, he could have been a true gentleman and not required Emma to pose for him, but then the story wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. Talk about foreplay… the slow undressing of the heroine for months built up the tension between them like crazy.

The Fire Rose (Elemental Masters, #1)The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wanted to like this book more than I did. The story began slowly, and the description sometimes got in the way of the plot, I felt. At its heart, this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. We have the beast, Jason Cameron, a elemental wizard who got too big for his britches and tried a spell he didn’t know how to uncast. We have the beauty, an heiress who was working on her PhD when her father died and left her penniless.

A decent retelling of a familiar and well-loved fairy tale, I wish there had been a little less world-building and a little more relationship-building.

View all my reviews

Book: The Honorable Marksley

Title: The Honorable Marksley
Author: Sherry Lynn Ferguson
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 230 pgs.

Summary: When the prodigal heir to the family, Reggie, compromises a young woman under his cousin Richard’s name, the family puts pressure on Richard to follow through with what ought to have been Reggie’s responsiblity in marrying the girl. And, being the only responsible one in the family, Richard agrees, not realizing there is more to this girl than meets the eye…

Excerpts:

pg 83 – “I believe the two are inseparable, Mr Cavendish. Certainly I believe that we love, or hate, as much with the mind as with the heart.”

You are in company with the finest intellects in saying so, Miss Ashton!”

Hallie was less aware of Archie’s ardor than or Richard Marksley’s quiet regard. She met his gaze, intending to do so only briefly, but found her attention fixed.

“Presumably,” he said, “you would never believe in love at first sight.”

Hallie’s chin lifted. “I do not.” She was conscious of all eyes upon her, and felt uncomfortably warm. “Though there may be a certain susceptibility–an inclination. One might wish to love for the mind’s reasons, and one’s heart then accproves the first acceptable candidate.”

Why should you read this book?
Remember that post my friend Graham wrote about sometimes reading books that show how have you have improved as a writer? This is one of those books. I have to be fair to Ferguson, though. This is an Avon Historical Romance, meaning the book probably isn’t more than 50-60k words, limiting a well-rounded story with fascinating characters and lush descriptions of setting and society. Backstory is almost always missing, and in this book, the backstory about the heroine’s brother seemed more interesting to me than the heroine, I’m sad to say. After all, when the conflict can be resolved in one honest conversation, you know there are problems. Though I will argue that, with more plot twists, this heroine could have been as great as most romance heroines I’ve read.

That being said, I used to read Avon books because I could tell myself, “I think I can write this.” Now, I read these books to remind me how I have improved. Due to the length requirements placed on Avon authors, almost everything must be scrimped. Setting and location is spare, character descriptions tend to be arechetypal, plots are a collection of historical fiction cliches and misunderstandings. In other words, these books introduce you to the bare bones minimum of historical romance. Always good for a light read, I’m afraid to say Avon romances just have something integral missing for me nowadays.

Book: The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Title: The Deception of the Emerald Ring
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction, Chick Lit
Length: 387 pgs

Summary: Modern day – Eloise Kelly, like any good graduate student, is neck-deep in research for her dissertation about the Pink Carnation, attempting to prove the English spy existed. 1803 England – Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, an English operative in league with the Pink Carnation, is ordered to Ireland to prevent an Irish rebellion and catch the Black Tulip the same night he means to elope with the beautiful Mary Alsworthy. When the carriage door opens, however, it’s not Mary that steps out but her sensible sister Letty determined to stop the happy couple. The ensuing scandal forces Letty to marry Geoffrey, and when he leaves her on their wedding night for Ireland, she’s decided enough is enough and follows him, unaware she is about to stumble into the world of espionage, and even romance.

Excerpts:
pg 2 – One day. It had only been one day by the calendar, two years in terms of agonized phone staring, and about half an hour in boy time. It is a truth universally acknowledged that time moves differently for men. There was, I reminded myself, no reason why Englishmen should differ from their American counterparts in this regard.

pg 100 – There’s nothing so attractive as a blank slate. Take one attractive man, slap on a thick coat of daydream, and, voila, the perfect man. With absolutely no resemblance to reality.

pg 310 – He looked down into her flushed face, framed with its tangle of hair that alternated between copper and gold in the candlelight, and knew that no number of compliments would convince her. With her sturdy common sense, she would write them off as pure flummery. To a certain extent, she would be right. She would never be a beauty by the accepted standards. Pretty, yes. Even lovely. But she lacked the stateliness and symmetry society demanded of its chosen goddesses. …One might admire a well-carved statue, but it would be deuced uncomfortable to cuddle up with at night.

Why should you read this book?
This is my favorite book out of the Pink Carnation series, perhaps because the historical heroine, Letty, isn’t a madcap adventurer like Amy, or a self-indulgent younger sister of a great English operative… she’s a nobody, a younger sister that no one thinks of despite the fact that she makes sure everything is good for everyone else. Finally, we get to see a little about what other people think of this Pink Carnation character, who have no connection with the operative. This romance, despite its hasty beginning, is more organic to me, much more believable, because it seems the characters are actually meant for one another. There are obvious clues that let you think this, whereas the other books…well, the first one was “lust first, love after,” and the second was “childhood friends turned lovers.”

As always, an entertaining series, well-written, a good amount of history and other allusions thrown in, something great if you want a bit of fluff in-between your heavier reading. I look forward to reading the next book, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Writers should read this book for a believable burgeoning romance between previously unknown persons.

Book: The Masque of the Black Tulip

Title: The Masque of the Black Tulip
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 406 pgs

Summary: Eloise Kelly, our favorite history graduate student, continues in her determined quest to unmask the Pink Carnation, an English operative during the Napoleonic Wars that some don’t think existed. This time, she’s accompanying Colin Selwick to his ancestral home to read the archives in his family library for more information on the Pink Carnation, and in her research reads about Henrietta Selwick’s romance, which unmasks the infamous Black Tulip, a French assassin!

Excerpts:
pg 121 – We nodded at each other in complete historical complicity. His hazel eyes caught mine. That look was an entire conversation in itself, one of those odd moments of unspoken communication when you know beyond a doubt that you’re on the exact same page.

pg 214 – A human! Addressing me! I could have hugged her. There’s nothing more demoralizing than standing alone at a party–unless it’s tagging along after someone who palpably doesn’t want you there. I’d be damned if I was going to trail after Joan and Colin to the drinks table. If he wanted to extricate himself, he could bloody well do it himself.
He didn’t seem to be trying all that hard.

pg 257 – It wasn’t that the silence was uncomfortable. Quite the contrary. It was the peaceful sort of silence that attends long acquaintance, the comfort that comes of knowing you don’t need to say anything at all. And that very lack of discomfort made me profoundly uncomfortable.

I pinned down that thought, and followed it, writhing and slippery, to its source. It was the sham of instant coupledom. That was the problem. … It’s something that anyone who’s been single for a time will recognize, the pretense of intimacy that comes of being the only two singles at a couple-y dinner party, or, in this case, sharing a house for a weekend. It’s an intensely seductive illusion–but only an illusion.

Why should you read this book?
So this is the sequel to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and as I found that book a fun, easy, amusing read, I thought I’d give this a chance. At times insightful, and at times a cringe to read (adverbs are a pet-peeve of mine, as are onomatopoeias), I liked the romance of this book better than its prequel, and liked the actual writing of it less. Something about how the modern characters kept quoting things to one another… I know I do that, and a history graduate student would probably do that, but it got a little heavy-handed. Same with the allusions to mythology in order to explain how the characters felt around one another. There were times where I felt we got a little too much of the history student (Willig is currently working on a PhD in history), and not enough of the novelist. The fight around the climax had me rolling my eyes, but the chase scene had me smiling in approval. Still a good read for an afternoon, despite my little complaints. It’s always hard to make the second as good as the first, so writers, read this series to look out for sophomore pitfalls.

Book: The Rules of Gentility

Title: The Rules of Gentility
Author: Janet Mullany
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 268 pgs

Summary: Miss Philomena Wellesly-Clegg is a young woman who knows her mind and operates by lists: she has a list of bonnet supplies and a list of eligible bachelors to start her day, and neither list includes Inigo Linsley, the younger brother of her best-friend’s husband. But Inigo is handsome, scandalous, and for some reason, very willing to help her out of a sudden and unwanted proposal, so perhaps she ought to give him a chance?

Excerpts:
Couldn’t find any that I really liked/that stood out for me.

Why should you read this book?
This book is, as it says on the back cover, a funny combination of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary… which is weird since the latter is merely a modern retelling/spin of the former. Told in first person from Philomena and Inigo’s perspectives, it is amusing and frothy; a great book to read on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It does not take itself seriously in the least. After all, the heroine is proposed to in the water closet. Twice. I’m not sure if writers would want to emulate this book, however, because it is so very frothy with almost nothing to make you want to read it again. From what I understand, however, this is a departure from Mullany’s typical writing style so perhaps I shouldn’t judge too fast. I do know that based on this sample, I’m not terribly inclined to read anything else by her, despite my enjoying it.

So, read this book to know what not to do: don’t make disposable characters, or an entirely goofy cast of characters, or a plot built on the assumption your audience read Pride and Prejudice. Do read this book for an example of comedic writing. For those of you thinking to self-publish your work, this is an excellent example of a well-thought cover, as it is the original reason why I picked up the book in the first place. Always remember, marketing is so important!

Book: Wildford’s Daughter

Title: Wildford’s Daughter
Author: Alexandra Manners
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 257 pgs

Summary: Emma Wildford, seeing how her society-addled mother ruined her parents’ marriage, decided to live with her practical-thinking father when her family split apart. But now that Emma is interested in marriage, she finds her father jealous of the idea. Both the sensible Captain Ringan and the opportunistic Mr Critchley show interest in Emma, confusing her, and so she turns to her friend Mrs Fry. With Mrs Fry’s help, Emma looks past the immediate pleasures the Regency period to visit the miserable female inmates of Newgate Prison, showing her just how lucky she is, and who she really has feelings for.

Excerpts:
pg 92 – Her eyes, accustomed to the gloom, saw the white scar. He spoke so well that he must once have been a gentleman. What was he now?
“I’m a ruffian, as you well know,” Ringan said. “You are so delightfully open, Miss Emma. Your eyes mirror your thoughts.”
“Father says I’m too much so for my own good.”

pg 137 – Emma let herself into the house and fastened the bolt. He had not moved. She leaned against the glossy panel and listened. There was still no sound of footsteps on the gravel. Something touched the door as though he had slid a hand or arm across it. Her pulse quickened. She wished he would go away. It was altogether too disturbing to know that he lingered. But it was Emma who went first.

Why should you read this book?
I actually found this book in my library while looking for Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Marquez’s book was out, for the curious, so I picked up this one). I’ve never read a book by Manners before, but I really enjoyed this. Some characters are flat, but the majority are flush, amusing, and heartening to read. The romance(s) are all interesting, and have a wonderful quality of reality. Manners does little to hide the underside of the Regency, which I love, because it’s different from the typical comedy of manners (no pun intended) we usually see in Regency Romance. A lot of themes are tackled in this book: paternal piety, loyalty, love, murder, prisons, etc; altogether, they make an entertaining and thoughtful read that made me feel better for reading it, which is rare these days.

Book: Bath Tangle

Title: Bath Tangle
Author: Georgette Heyer
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 409 pgs

Summary: The Earl of Spenborough has just died, and his only child, daughter Serena Carlow, is devastated. The reading of Lord Spenborough’s will, however, holds a few surprises for stubborn Serena, namely that her inheritance is to be held by a trustee until she marries. But that’s not the worst of it! The trustee is none other than the Marquis of Rotherham, the man she jilted… days before their marriage!

Excerpts:
pg 28 – His hands were his only beauty, for they combined strength with shapeliness. Any of the dandy set would have used all manner of arts to show them off: my Lord Rotherham, dug them into his pockets.

pg 218 – Lady Theresa prophesied disaster for all concerned, and hoped that when Serena was dying an old maid she would remember these words, and be sorry. Meanwhile she remained her affectionate aunt, etc.

Why should you read this book?
The voice is quick and sparkling, easy to read. Serena and Rotherham are hilariously clever, stubborn, and have cutting wits. They literally argue for pages; rather than seeming a gross wordiness from Heyer, the tension between the characters is tangible. Both Serena and Rotherham are used to getting their way, to being in charge, which is great. The other characters are eccentric, and all have their own mini-romance subplots, which is something that annoys me about Heyer’s books: Everyone, and I mean everyone, ends up with a romance. Except if you’re a servant, I think. I’ve only read two of Heyer’s books, so I really shouldn’t assume the other 50+ are the same.

I have to say, however, that after reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers I cringed through the first half of Bath Tangle, as Heyer breaks just about every rule for contemporary fiction writing. A lot of her backstory is blatantly thrown into pages worth of dialogue about people I’m not sure I care about; I easily jumped more than one entire conversation in the beginning and didn’t feel like I lost a beat of the plot.

Book: Miss Wonderful

Title: Miss Wonderful
Author: Loretta Chase
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 342 pgs

Summary: Mirabel Oldridge thought she had everything under control on her Regency property. Her eccentric, distracted father was happily studying his plants. She managed to keep her family home safe from opportunistic managers (at the expense of her one chance at love and marriage). But now, now there is a new problem; one she never thought she would have to face: Alistair Carsington. Carsington is a hero from Waterloo sent to convince Mirabel’s town, to convince Mirabel, that they need a canal that would ruin their picturesque countryside. It certainly doesn’t help that, despite her innate hatred of Carsington and all he threatens to change, Mirabel begins to find herself attracted to the oversensitive, immaculately-dressed, and maddening idiosyncrasies that define him.

Excerpts:
pg 34 – He knew–better than many men, in fact–that a woman’s speech could be fraught with hidden meanings bearing no discernible resemblance to spoken words. He did not always know what a woman meant, but he was usually aware that she meant more than she said, and that the “more” was, more often than not, trouble.

pg 88 – No tear trickled from the too-blue eyes and along the straight nose, and the soft, pink lips didn’t tremble.
Her chin jutted out a bit, but that seemed to be her usual way, looking defiant or stubborn or in general uninterested in trying to please anybody.
All the same, she struck him at this moment as young, far younger than her years…and lost.

pg 93 – “I can walk and talk at the same time,” came Mr Carsington’s deep rumble from behind her.
He was very close behind her, she discovered as she glanced back. “I’m
thinking,” she said.
“But women are much more complicated beings than men,” he said. “I believe you can even hold more than one thought in your head at once. Surely you must be able to walk and talk simultaneously.”

pg 95 – She pretended not to understand, though she could not pretend it dismayed her. It had been a very long time since an attractive man had made improper remarks about her person. She’d forgotten how agreeable it was.

pg 121 – He was not used to women, to anyone, studying him so closely. He was not used, he realized, to anyone taking the trouble. No one else looked deeper, past the elegant appearance and charm. He wondered uneasily if anything of value existed beneath the polished surface.

pg 180 – As the unnatural gloom dissipated, Mirabel’s natural bouyancy returned. Few cases were truly hopeless, she told herself. They only seemed so to people lacking courage and imagination. She was not one of those people.
Why should you read this book?
This is the first romance I’ve read where the heroine was older than the hero. Made for an interesting dynamic. I liked how Carsington and Mirabel, though they obviously came from familiar moulds, had defining characteristics and backstories. When I first began this book, I rolled my eyes at yet another Regency romance. But then Carsington became much more than a dandy with a limp, and Mirabel was something more than just an old maid who dropped everything for her family. Even the distracted father had a reason for his eccentric ways. Read this book for plausible motives to the characters’ actions. I personally would have liked to see a little more character development, but then, maybe it wouldn’t have been a strict romance. A good, quick read for those romance readers looking for a little more depth and heart to the fairy tale.

Book: Animating Maria

Title: Animating Maria
Author: Marion Chesney
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 160 pgs

Summary:This is the fifth book of the School for Manners series in which twin sisters Amy and Effy Tribble advertise that they can make eligible matches for any troublesome yong woman. This time, however, they have a perfect client: Maria Kendall. She is pretty, well-mannered, graceful, and has a rich dowry. Unfortunately, there are two problems in Maria’s way: 1) she tends to daydream a lot because 2) her parents are gaudy, self-important, and like Mr Collins about Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice, know the monetary value of everything they own (and like to reflect upon that). Her parents have chased away every eligible suitor in Bath, and now Maria journeys to London, where she meets the Duke of Berham. Can Maria climb down from her dreams to see the quality in the Duke? Can the Duke get past the common Kendalls?

Excerpts:
pg 87 – The fact was that that glorious present had made Amy feel attractive and fascinating, and when a good-hearted woman feels attractive and fascinating, she quite often is.

Why should you read this book?
This is one of those light reads that I always suggest to my mother. The romance is traditional, which is my specialty, and means that the physical romance never gets past kissing, or, as in this case, a little petting (and that’s usually after the couple has agreed they’re going to marry). Chesney does a good job of making the characters fun to read about, and you do think about them after you’ve finished the book, which I always consider a victory for the author. I will say, however, that I was a little disappointed by the ending, because Chesney uses a quick fix to get her couple together, and then sets us up for the sequel.

Read this for a good example of traditional romantic fiction and an easy read.