Julia Frant is plain, prim and poor. Born in the colonies, she moves to London to live with her aunt and cousin after her parents die. At 27, she's on...moreJulia Frant is plain, prim and poor. Born in the colonies, she moves to London to live with her aunt and cousin after her parents die. At 27, she's on the shelf and with no prospects, dividing her time between chaperoning her flighty, beautiful cousin Therese and working for a charitable society working with destitute women. When she steps into what she thinks is a hack, one night, only to find herself swept off on an elopement with the man she's been in love with for the last four years, Alec "Devil" Hunterston, her whole world changes.
Thinking he's got Therese in the carriage, Alec is confounded to find that he's got the wrong woman, and with only two hours left before he must marry or lose the impressive fortune he's due to inherit. If he doesn't marry by midnight and live without scandal for a year, his cousin Nick will get the money, but he must marry the daughter of the Earl of Covington, and Therese had agreed to it only to betray him. Until he learns that Julia's father was the Earl for two days before he died, and he's ready to make any promises to "the Frant Dragon" in order to keep his promise to his grandfather: not to let Nick have the money.
What he doesn't bargain for is his attraction to plain, spectacled Julia, or how more unbearable it becomes to live with her as she blossoms into a woman of style, grace and elegance. Their marriage of convenience becomes a marriage of torture for Alec, who promised to give up his mistresses. Meanwhile Nick and Therese are plotting to create scandal for the Hunterstons, and Julia must content with her own desires for Alec.
This book was a lot of fun, often funny, with great pacing and truckloads of chemistry. While pretty much the entire book is one steaming pile of sexual tension, there's plenty of action, scheming, misunderstandings along the way to keep the reader from getting impatient. I've read a few of these kinds of historical romances and generally find the writing to be awkward and constrained - not so here, it was very well written actually. Her grasp of the time period (Regency London) was good, with just a few minor liberties taken, none of which bothered me.(less)
I've had this on my shelf since 2009, and the reason why it took me so long to read it is because the first time I started it, the prologue put me off...moreI've had this on my shelf since 2009, and the reason why it took me so long to read it is because the first time I started it, the prologue put me off and I shelved it and forgot about it. Then enough time went by that I had forgotten I'd tried to start it at all, and was in the mood for something a bit saucy. Always a good idea to give a book a second go, and when you're in the right mood, because despite some little things that made my eye twitch I have to say, I loved this book.
Anais Darnby and Lindsay Markham have been neighbours and friends all their lives, and since they were young teens have desired each other but never revealed it or acted on it. Now a mature man, Lindsay cannot hold off on making a move any longer, and is thrilled beyond words that Anais is so receptive. He'd determined to marry her, and plans to propose properly, but Lindsay has a secret far bigger than his lifelong desire for Anais: he's an opium addict. So sure he can kick it in exchange for Anais, he continues to indulge and is seduced by Anais' friend Rebecca under the influence of hashish - and under Anais' dumbfounded gaze. All her confidence in Lindsay's love for her is shattered, and she lets him know she's left the country for the continent.
Lindsay follows but when no trace of Anais is found in France, he ends up in Istanbul with his friend, the unashamed rake Lord Wallingford, where he spends months with his opium mistress before a dream of Anais finally sends him home just in time to see Anais' home go up in flames.
Such circumstances allows Lindsay to take Anais and her family into his family home, where his addiction for Anais struggles against his addiction for opium. But why, when Anais so clearly wants him and loves him, does she persist in refusing him? When it becomes clear that Anais has a secret and is contemplating a marriage proposal from his old friend, Lord Broughton, Lindsay is driven to wild and impulsive action. But can his love for Anais conquer his growing addiction to opium, or will is destroy any chance he has of winning Anais back?
Set in 1850, this is at times a dark and deeply seductive story, not a light romance nor the erotica it's marketed to be - the scenes of sexual tension between Anais and Lindsay are by far the hottest parts of the book, where they're barely even touching. This is the main reason why this book is a winner for me - it reminds me of those taut scenes between Jane and Mr Rochester, or Lizzie and Mr Darcy, where so much is unsaid but thrums in the air, electrifying. Being a contemporary novel, Addicted is obviously a lot less restrained, but there's something about a strong man practically begging a woman not to leave him that turns your knees to jelly, and Lindsay excels at that.
Yes his passion never feels like grovelling, his begging never makes you feel contempt for him - rather, you feel his pain and his sense of loss and despair, and want nothing more than for things to be well for him. And for him to beat his opium addiction, of course. Lindsay falls to the very bottom of his addiction and every time he breathes it in or injects it, it makes you want to smack him. Yet, it's an addiction, and his description of his "mistress" enables you to understand the lure, the pleasure, the escape and in doing so, it becomes hard to outright condemn him. People are more complex than that, after all, and he fell into opium in the most mundane of ways. While he struggles to admit he's addicted, he at least doesn't make all that many excuses for it.
Now, Anais' secret and the reason why she won't take Lindsay back: you can guess it fairly early on, though the details might be off, and it's enough to break your heart. Or it was for me, anyway. It's not that it was great plotting, and I can understand why other readers would be annoyed by the scenario and why Anais did it in the first place, and yet to me it made perfect sense. It all hinges on the emotional side of the story. Again, something I loved about this book. Their emotions were messy, not always rational, and clouded their ability to think things through clearly. My heart broke for them - I can't say why because it'd give it away, but rest assured certain scenes made me cry - and even though, with hindsight, you want to shake your head at Anais, there's such empathy in the story that even if you don't get why she did what she did, you can at least feel for her. I don't know how else to describe it, but by the time the truth is out, the reasons why don't even seem to matter all that much. What matters is being able to salvage their love for each other from the wreckage.
I loved the tinge of seediness to the story, that early Victorian tawdriness that screams "humanity" in all its dark and depraved ways. This is no pretty love story, and while such things happened in other eras just as easily, it'd be hard to get the same atmosphere as you do here. The seediness isn't overdone to the point of being clichéd; it's much more subtle than that. (After all, think of other books set in this period, including the Brontë novels: opium and sexual decadence is far from the only facet going on in the mid-1800s.)
Even though I've emphasised the opium addiction part of the novel, it's not actually a dominant part of the novel. Rather, it lurks in the background until it rises like Lindsay's ugly demon at the end and must either win or be vanquished. Its effect on Lindsay is never ignored, but it's not played out like some taudry melodrama or tacky soap opera plot device. It's a part of Lindsay's character.
Aside from the typical horse-riding glitch that continues to pop up in genre fiction, I have few complaints with the prose; in fact, it easily caught me up and swept me along, just what you want in any romance. The focus is the main characters and their emotional entanglements, so you don't want pretentious prose or clumsy, awkward grammar. It needs to be smooth so as not to distract from the story, and Featherstone is nothing if not smooth. The pacing is swift, eddying in quieter lees when required before gushing down little waterfalls, all heady and sensual - a perfect complement to the intense sex scenes.
Both the hero and heroine were easily loveable characters, Lindsay with his earnest, unashamed love for Anais, and Anais with her quiet yet protective nature, her less-than-petite body and determination. Both are flawed, both make bad decisions - or decisions that were perhaps ill-advised at the time but unavoidable. Both come across as so incredibly human, and familiar.
Addicted was a joy to read, a novel that lures you in and holds on fast until the heady end. I immediately had to order the next book, which tells the story of Lindsay's promiscuous friend Lord Wallingford; it was like I needed a Featherstone fix, though with the postal strike it could be a while before I get my hands on it. (less)
Sarah Alice Kent - Sally to anyone who knows her - grew up the only daughter in a naval family. Her father is the well-known Captain Kent, and all thr...moreSarah Alice Kent - Sally to anyone who knows her - grew up the only daughter in a naval family. Her father is the well-known Captain Kent, and all three of her older brothers - Matthew, Dominic and Owen - are in the royal navy. Now it's her fifteen-year-old brother Richard's turn to join up as a midshipman, despite the fact that he's never had any interest and wants only to learn sermons. With everyone else at sea (and her mother long ago deceased), Sally goes with Richard to the dock, but when he slips away and disappears, Sally decides to take matters into her own hands in order to preserve the Kent family honour.
It's not the only reason why Sally decides to board the HMS Audacious in disguise: she's always loved the sea, having spent years on board her father's ship growing up, and having tested all her brothers in preparation for their own navigation exams, she knows far more than a midshipman is expected to know. But nothing could prepare her for the discovery that the first lieutenant on board is David Colyear - Col to his friends, which would include the entire Kent family. He never knew Richard well, but all her brothers have written to him to tell him what to expect from their sermonising brother.
Sally isn't discovered, not at first. At nineteen, she's able to pass for a lithe, slender but strong fifteen year old boy. It's when she sings a song on deck that Col recognises her, and remembers the girl he'd spent time with before at her family's home. With England at war with France's Emperor Napoleon, the British navy needs all the men she can get - that's the argument Col makes to himself anyway, though he's at war with himself: his needs to keep Sally close and to keep her from the possibility of injury or death during battle are deeply conflicting.
Sally quickly proves herself to be a quick-witted, observant, knowledgeable sailor and officer, winning over most of the crew - except Gamage, who has been midshipman for too many years to count; he bullies the other boys and steals their things, and Sally is determined to stand up to him. As the Audacious joins the blockade of French and Spanish ships under Captain McAlden in 1805, Sally gets her first taste of real battle - and Col gets his first real taste of what it could mean to lose her.
This was so much more than I was expecting. I was prepared for another generic historical romance, but there is nothing generic about Almost a Scandal. It reads more like historical fiction with a romantic focus, or aim, or just a really lovely blend of the two. Unlike so many romances, Essex doesn't bend the rules of historical accuracy or relegate her setting to a mere place-holder for the romantic action.
No, Sally-the-sailor is front and centre, and so is life at sea on a naval frigate in the middle of a war. The attention to detail is impressive - I'm not familiar with many of the terminology but I feel like I learnt a lot from reading this, and I don't get to say that often about romance! Sally herself is a real classic tomboy, the kind of heroine that always appealed to me - ever since reading The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle by Avi in grade seven; no, before that, in primary school when I read books featuring a spunky girl like Sally or Charlotte, though Charlotte comes to mind because she too became a sailor. Sally is never once annoying, or blindly stupid, or stubborn - none of the traits that typically infect romance heroines and bog a story down. She's brave, practical, intelligent yet also passionate, and her genuine love for the sea and life on board ship comes across strongly.
Col, too, was a strong character, a blend of romantic hero - strong, stalwart, handsome, in command - while also being true to himself, his own personality, and his circumstances. He's fairly rigid, and comes across as very "British" without being a stereotype. He's a figure that everyone on the ship looks up to, Sally too, but she never goes giddy over him. She actually does a better job at showing restraint than he does, but even so, the chemistry and sexual tension between them is present, if kept on the down-low - it simply wouldn't be possible to have a brazen affair on a ship at war, not with about two hundred men on board and zero privacy. They do have moments of quiet reflection, and Sally is not impervious to the struggle between what she wants to do with her life (but which society dictates she is not allowed to do), and what she could have as a lady:
Sally hung the small lantern on the peg beside the mirror and took a good, hard look. And to think she had thought herself cleaned up enough for the captain's cabin when she had run her fingers through her windblown hair and washed the sulfurous stink of gunpowder off her face. But it was still there, the rime of grime, ringing her face like a high tide mark.
But Mr Colyear had not seemed to mind. He had touched her anyway and told her she looked just fine. Clearly it had been a merciful lie.
The bruise around her eye made her look like a bailiff's mongrel dog. What could he have been thinking when he touched her face like that?
Sally laid her own finger across her lip to try and understand, to test if she could make the shivery feeling come back. But it wasn't the same. Nothing was the same. When he touched her everything changed.
She had thought that by coming aboard, by becoming Richard, she had finally slipped the leash of ladylike expectations. But when Col had touched her, she felt suddenly feminine beneath the surface of her skin. Under the obscuring cover of her clothes, she became aware of her physicality in an entirely different way than she had while reveling in the athletic glory of climbing the shrouds. [Location 2310]
What she might give for a proper bath, with a copper tub full of hot water and a bar of lemon soap like Mrs Jenkins made from the fruit grown in the potted trees at home. What might Col think of her if she were really clean, and dressed in something other than a worn-out blue coat? In something fine and pretty?
It was a useless thought. She'd never once in her life looked fine and pretty. She wasn't that kind of girl. Never had been. If Col admired her, at least she was sure he admire her for what she truly was. For understanding oranges and speaking Spanish for the Captain, not for useless accomplishments that meant nothing at all in the real world. [Location 2324]
At times, recreating life on board the ship overshadows the romance and slows the novel down a bit, but in general I didn't mind. It was refreshing, and that side of the story was very interesting. It's kept taut by the constant fear of discovery, Sally's worry and expectation that Col will turn her in to the Captain, and a distinct unpredictability. The story and the subplots never went the way I half-expected them to go. I could predict it at all, though as a romance, I knew Sally and Col would get their happy ending somehow.
And I loved that it didn't have one of those awful, corny scenes so common in American movies, any movie where the protagonist is pretending to be something they're not, or deceiving people in some way: they always have, towards the end, a big reveal, where the main character gives a public confession. I hate those scenes with a passion, and I was half-afraid this book would have one, some hideously public scene where Sally is unmasked and humiliated and has to apologise. Ugh, so tacky and moralising. What actually happened in Almost a Scandal (and see, the title is a clue right there!) was more dignified, more honest, more realistic, and more true to the characters. Big relief.
While this was a slower read than most romances and lighter on the romance side, it is refreshing in its approach and fascinating in its subject matter. I really enjoyed Almost a Scandal, and was so happy that Sally didn't have to sacrifice one dream for another, in the end. Looking forward to more instalments in the Reckless Brides series.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book.(less)
It's the 1890s, London, and Miss Emma Dove is easily the only female secretary in the city. She's had the post for five years and proved to be exceedi...moreIt's the 1890s, London, and Miss Emma Dove is easily the only female secretary in the city. She's had the post for five years and proved to be exceedingly efficient and reliable. Her boss, the Viscount Harry Marlowe, owner of a successful publishing and newspaper business, is divorced (a scandalous outcome that took five years to achieve), dissolute, and a rake, and gets Miss Dove to buy his parting gifts for his mistresses. She takes all this calmly, giving the impression that she is prim, proper and "as dry as dust", because she's hoping he will publish her book on etiquette.
After her fifth rejection, Emma realises Marlowe hasn't read any of her manuscripts because he doesn't know who Mrs. Bartleby, Emma's moniker, is. It's also her birthday, she's turned 30, and is very much "on the shelf". In a fit of temper very unlike her, she suddenly resigns. Marlowe quickly discovers how indispensible she was to the operation of his business, and thinks she'll get over it if he offers her more pay.
But Emma has finally taken matters into her own hands, and approached Marlowe's competitor who, mostly to get one over Marlowe, gives her a Saturday column in his paper. Her newfound success and popularity make Harry see red, and determined to buy the paper. She now works for him again, but she negotiates a much better deal. She's nothing like his type, but now that she's no longer swallowing her tongue in order to keep her job, he discovers she has wit, charm, confidence - and a bit of a temper. She's also an innocent, and he's paid dearly for that in the past.
This book was jolly good fun! It was surprisingly well written - for the genre; romance books are very hit and miss, but anything not Mills & Boon (Harlequin) is generally a safe bet (I had to read three M&B books for a Popular Fiction course at uni, and they were, in a word, atrocious). There's humour, and the historical elements seem accurate (based on my rather weak knowledge gleaned from books written in the period, movies based on them, one history course that covered the period a bit, and my mum's extensive, encyclopedic knowledge), and there's a hint of the modern - which fits, since it's a "turning-point" period, where telephones were in use, and other machinery. And condoms. Very necessary when you're having an affair! Speaking of which, there are graphic scenes in this book (it's a romance, what do you expect?), but they are surprisingly fresh and non-cheesy. There's nothing worse than tacky love scenes.
It pokes a bit of fun at the attitudes of the day through the things Mrs. Bartleby recommends, like that a young lady can only eat the wings of a chicken at a dinner party, because women have no equivalent body part so it's not indecent. The characters too, Emma and Harry, are great. Emma gets to grow and break free of her repressive upbringing, and Harry too matures. Towards the ending it's particularly sweet, and there's a nice feeling of plausibility throughout, if you know what I mean. It's not too far-fetched or anything. There were definitely times where it wasn't predictable, and I like that too.
My only quibble, and this is the copy-editor's fault, is something I keep seeing in books: the incorrect usage of the verb "lay", "lie" and "laid". It is not "she laid down on the bed", it is "she lay down on the bed". You can say "she laid it down on the bed", or "She laid her head down on the bed", but "laid" is always used incorrectly. It always manages to annoy me! (less)
I've been a fan of Heyer's historical romances since I first read my mum's old copy of Beauvallet when I was a teenager. If you've never read one you...moreI've been a fan of Heyer's historical romances since I first read my mum's old copy of Beauvallet when I was a teenager. If you've never read one you don't know what you're missing! My edition is very old, actually it's the First Australian Edition from 1948, it has no dust jacket, and the pages are brown and brittle. I have 39 of her romances (she also wrote about eight detective books with the help of her detective husband, but I've not read any of them); there are about three or four I don't have, though I've read almost all of them.
It is 1586 and Dona Dominica and her father, the late governor of the island of Santiago, are returning to Spain by ship when their vessel is captured by a British pirate - by the infamous Sir Nicholas Beauvallet, no less! Dubbed "Mad Nick", he is a dashing figure, tall and dark with a "neat" head of curly black hair, bright, mocking blue eyes and a pointy beard as was the fashion, friend of Sir Francis Drake and pet of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. He's a bit of a devil and laughs at everything. Finding the beautiful Dominica on board the Spanish galleon is a surprise, but Beauvallet commits himself to taking them safely to a Spanish port despite how incredibly dangerous and reckless it is. He's fallen in love with the spirited Spanish woman, and pledges to come back for her within a year and "make an Englishwoman of her".
Dominica doesn't believe him, but despite everything finds herself wishing it were true. Once Beauvallet decides on a thing, he doesn't waste much time, but getting into Spain isn't an easy matter for any Englishman, let alone an infamous pirate whom the Spanish believe has witchcraft on his side. Circumstances see him and his valet, the finicky, chatty Joshua, enter Spain from France with a Frenchman's papers, and the disguise is a tenuous one. He has to fool the king of Spain, the French Ambassador, and the many Spanish nobles while locating Dominica and planning how to bring her out.
Tense with looming danger, Beauvallet is a rollicking ride of romance, sword fights, mad dashes across country, midnight escapes, scheming aunts, dastardly cousins and one very engaging, lovable hero. Dominica is spirited, fiesty and intelligent, quick-witted and interesting - it is not hard to see why Beauvallet would fall for her so quickly.
One of the most remarkable things about Heyer's work, of which most are set in Regency London, is the historical accuracy with which she writes. You could learn more from reading one of her books than from one written in the time it was set! From the details of the clothing, to the etiquette and social graces, types of equipage, dances, food, liqueur, sentiments, current affairs and manner of speech - Heyer has it all nailed down, and with effortless ease. Her prose is never stiff or self-conscious, but full of wicked humour and confidence. Her skill as a writer is especially manifest in her ability to write dialogue, which I've always wished to emulate, and her great cast of supporting characters. Reading Beauvallet is a bit like watching Blackadder the Second for me, from references to men's plate-sized ruffs to sneaky asides about Raleigh and here and there a "beshrew me!", making it one of the most comforting, familiar books for me to read in a day :)(less)
At the beginning of the year, I set myself the goal of re-reading all my Heyer books. I have all her books except for her eight detective novels, and...moreAt the beginning of the year, I set myself the goal of re-reading all my Heyer books. I have all her books except for her eight detective novels, and I've read all but, I think, two - two of the more serious historical ones: My Lord John and, ah, forget the other. Oh maybe it was just the one then? Well, it's nearly May and so far my progress has been pathetic, to say the least. I read Heyer's books so many times during uni but it's been eight or nine years and I found I couldn't remember the stories anymore - a good time to re-read them! Worked, too.
I re-read Beauvallet, the first Heyer book I ever read, a year or so ago - it's a good one to start with if you've never read any. Most of her books are set in Regency London (during the time of the Prince Regent, George, whose father was mad), but some are set in an earlier period - like The Black Moth. Set sometime mid-1700s, this is also an unusual Heyer novel for the broad cast of characters and lack of a central pair.
The "Black Moth", as described by the heroine, Helen, is the Duke of Andover, Tracy Belmanoir - commonly called the Devil. A pale man always dressed in black, he's unashamedly selfish, sneers at others and has only one real friend. He is a central character, an unlikeable one, who connects everyone else.
Helen is the only child of a country gentleman who, while in Bath with her aunt, meets the Devil in one of his other guises, as Mr Everard. He repulses her, but he doesn't care about that: if he wants her, he'll have her. Kidnapping seems the way to go.
Enter Jack, Lord John Carstares, newly made Earl of Wyncham now that his father is dead - and social outcast, ever since taking the blame when his younger brother Richard cheats at cards. Now back in England, he keeps himself in funds and entertainment by being a highwayman. Masked, he holds up coaches - though, being a man of honour, he doesn't steal from women or old people and gives much of it away to the poor. Encountering a carriage stopped on the road, with three men trying to wrestle a girl from its interior, he doesn't waste time engaging the orchestrator in a duel. He recognises Tracy, a skilled swordsman, but keeps his own incognito and defeats him to boot, suffering an injury in exchange. Helen and her aunt are only too happy for him to recover at their home, and it is during his convalescence that he and Helen fall in love.
Meanwhile, his poor brother Richard is reaping the punishments of letting his brother take the rap for his bad choice six years ago. The lovely Lady Lavinia, the Devil's only sister, is almost as selfish, just as extravagant, and prone to fits of temper and moodiness. Richard still loves her, and it's for her sake that he has kept quiet all these years about who really cheated at cards: he can't bring her down with him. But his guilty conscience is ageing him, and it's only a matter of time before he can't tolerate it at all. His marriage is going downhill just as badly, and it seems like everything's coming to an end.
Ironically, it is the Black Moth that brings these characters together, pulls them apart, then brings them together again - all without intending it, for the most part. It's a much different structure from her usual Regency Romances, and its originality makes it stand out. The characters are still fairly stock - Heyer only has a few character versions that she recycles, as do most genre authors, and it's never really bothered me. Lord John - Jack - is the delightful, amused, finnicky dresser, the real hero of the story - but flawed all the same. Richard suffers, yes he pays for letting his brother be repudiated and scorned by society, and he's sympathetic for not taking advantage of it (except to marry Lavinia, and he pays for that too - literally and figuratively). There's Jack's best friend Sir Miles and his wife, Lady O'Hara, who are adorable, and Helen of course, who's quick tongue and strong spirit make her a strong heroine even though they attract the Devil's attentions. He, in his own way, is a sympathetic figure. He's despicable, and not at all appealing, but you can't help feeling sorry for him. Still wouldn't want to try to befriend him though. It's a nice change, actually, to encounter an anti-hero as distinctive as Tracy in Heyer's work.
A Note on this Edition: There were contemporary editions of Heyer's books available when I started collecting them, but they were hard to find and online ordering was not common "in those days" (yes I know, we're talking 1996-2002, the period in which I collected them all, but it's amazing how recent our dependence on the internet really is). Very few were available in bookshops, and I was a poor student anyway. I found most of them at op-shops, secondhand bookshops, and at Salamanca Market. I don't mind having old, yellowed copies with, often, very ugly covers. Amongst them are gems like this one - an Australian second edition with the original dust jacket (some of my Heyer books don't have dust jackets, which is a shame). So, this is a scan of my cover, tattered corners and all. And just look at it! Isn't it beautiful? It's falling apart, sadly, so I have to remove it when reading the book - ironic, since a dust jacket's purpose is to protect the book! (less)
Here you are: my first review of a book marketed as Christian Fiction. It's all about reading something new, different, outside your comfort zone, rig...moreHere you are: my first review of a book marketed as Christian Fiction. It's all about reading something new, different, outside your comfort zone, right? Well I confess this one wasn't all that much of a stretch - considering how religious the majority of the colonisers in the Americas were, references to religion are more historically accurate than lecturing, and not at all out of place.
Set in the mid-17th century (1643, to be exact), we meet Lady Constance Morrow on board a prison ship bound for Virginia and bearing her beloved uncle and mentor, Uncle Skelly, who publishes a mathematical problem-solving journal for ladies and has long encouraged Constance to develop her intellect. Having slipped her attentive maid to say a last goodbye to her uncle, Constance is too late to get off the ship and is taken by the captain as a tobacco bride - one woman in the female-starved colonies is worth 120 pounds of tobacco - and Constance is imprisoned below deck with the other women desperate for a new life.
When the ship docks in Virginia months later, Constance's fine clothes are reduced to filthy rags and her uncle hasn't survived the harsh voyage, chained to the deck. Her haughty demands to be freed and returned to England go unheeded, and she's bought as a bride by one of the local, prosperous landowners, Drew O'Connor. Drew has been married before, years ago, but lost his wife as so many do to either childbirth or illness or the harsh living conditions and Indian raids. He isn't even looking for a wife: he needs a woman to cook and clean and look after his kid sister now that his older sister has married and moved out. But the only thing Constance has brought with her is her ability to solve mathematical problems, and Drew has no patience with that.
With every woman in high demand in the colony, Constance has no choice but to marry Drew if she wants to be free of the other, far less desirable men who live in the area. And as long as the marriage remains unconsummated, she can annul it and return to England in a year when the ship returns. But as Constance and Drew, already attracted to each other on one level, discover much to admire in each other, keeping apart becomes harder and harder.
I was expecting something rather silly from this book - and to an extent I got that - but what really captured my attention were the descriptions of life in the American colony at Virginia in the 17th century. I realised I hadn't read anything set in America earlier than the 1900s before - at least, not that I can think of, except for one book set prior to invasion and colonisation called Picture Maker by Penina Spinka; certainly, I can't think of a book set in the early white colonies that I've read. I've read several Australian ones, and I'm extremely fascinated by the period and by learning about what it was like and what went down between invaders/colonisers and the native already there. Yet I've never had much interest in reading about the white colony in America, beyond the fantastic book What is America? A Short History of the New World Order.
The life depicted here was, despite being difficult and uncertain, very interesting to me. I loved the details of day-to-day living as well as the developing white culture growing there. There is a bit of interaction with the native inhabitants, and Drew is highly conscious of the fact that many of the conflicts have been the white settlers' fault, either through taking land that wasn't theirs to take or directly causing violence by killing an "Indian" - still, the idea of giving it all back and moving on never occurs to them, unsurprisingly.
As for the main characters themselves, while I do tend to get a bit tired of relationships with obstacles, I did like Constance and Drew, they both learned and matured as the story progressed, though it would be hard to say which of them was the most stubborn. The sexual tension is strong - and that's as close to any actual sex as you're going to get. Unlike pretty much the entire Romance genre, there's no graphic scenes here. Which is part of the fun for me; I like those scenes. So I was disappointed when the narrative skipped right over Drew and Constance's eventual, first, shagging, though not necessarily all that surprised, considering.
The other point worth mentioning - for people like me, anyway - is that there's no preaching in this book. The characters believe, and they pray, and they refer to God a few times, but only in a way that fits with their characters, the setting and the time period. I didn't feel like I was being patronised or anything; it was no different than coming across references to God and religion in the classics. Which left me free to read and enjoy the book as an historical romance.
While the premise - getting Constance to the colony in the first place - was a tad ridiculous, and Constance didn't seem all that bright considering, I quite enjoyed the novel, mostly for the details of life in Virginia in the mid-17th century, which does include some pretty old-fashioned, but historically accurate, ideas of women's place in the home and what their level of education should be (i.e., none). (less)
The sequel to Carriger’s debut, Soulless, Changeless picks up three months into Alexia Tarabotti’s marriage to Lord Conall Maccon. Alexia is “soulles...moreThe sequel to Carriger’s debut, Soulless, Changeless picks up three months into Alexia Tarabotti’s marriage to Lord Conall Maccon. Alexia is “soulless”, otherwise known as a preternatural – in an alternate Victorian England where vampires and werewolves are out in the open and more-or-less accepted into polite society, Alexia can revert a vampire or werewolf back to mortal human with just her touch. Since the cause of vampirism etc. is understood to be due to an excess of soul, the newly minted Lady Maccon is their direct opposite. Still, that didn’t stop her from marrying a werewolf - the Alpha of the London pack, no less.
Armed with her trusty parasol, Alexia is also Mujah to Queen Victoria – completing a triad council of vampire, werewolf and preternatural. When a large area of London is suddenly afflicted with a state of mortality, several eyes look to Alexia as the cause. But the afflicted area is on the move, heading north to Scotland – where her husband is headed to deal with his old pack’s alpha-less state.
Alexia decides to travel – by dirigible – to Scotland herself and discover what’s causing the problem. Intending to travel alone, she is finds herself suddenly burdened with not just her insufferable younger sister Felicity, but her best friend Miss Ivy Hisslepenny as well – not to mention Ivy’s hideous hat collection. Her entourage grows even larger when she finds that a cross-dressing Frenchwoman and inventor, Madame Lefoux, is on the dirigible, where it becomes clear something is going on between her and Alexia’s maid. Mystery abounds.
The Kingair pack in Scotland is hostile to their presence, to say the least, but Alexia is sure they’ve brought something with them back from Africa that is causing the vampires’ and werewolves’ reversion to mortality. But someone is trying to kill her, maybe more than one person, and the vampires are up to something that Alexia is determined to foil. Thank God she has a new, reinforced parasol with some deadly secrets hidden in it!
There’s lots to enjoy with this series – it has a wonderful flippant sense of humour, lively characters and some neatly paced action. It also makes for a nice blend of steampunk and the supernatural, in an alternate-history Victorian England. As a result, it has some very funky inventions! It’s marketed as Fantasy/Horror, but it’s very light on horror. It’s more like … Historical Fantasy.
As fun as the dialogue and narration is, it does tend to belabour the quaint Englishness a bit. Carriger is, as far as I can make out, English by default (one parent being an ex-Pom), but it sometimes reads as trying too hard to sound English, and overdoing the expressions. She also uses “bollix” as alternate spelling for “bollocks” – I hadn’t seen that spelling before so I looked it up, and found that the change was “to make it appear less vulgar”. Spelling it that way also alters the meaning, to refer to something being messed up. In the book, “bollix” was used as “bollocks”, as in, “damn!” I know, I get hung up on these details – mostly I just find it interesting, but I do find that historical romance authors don’t research very well and even though this isn’t technically historical romance, I do find myself looking out for mistakes. (Dialogue is always a toughie, since so many expressions – the way we say things, our word choices and speech patterns – are fairly modern, including, don't get me started, the word “gotten”.)
I did love the ending though. I have to question the intelligence of most of the characters in their reaction to the news, since they all know that Alexia’s touch turns a supernatural being mortal - with that comes hair growth, slow healing and bodily fluids. Sorry, am trying not to spoil the ending for you but I still wanted to say that. It made the titles of books 2 and 3 suddenly make sense – well, 2 should have been obvious from early on except I wasn’t thinking about it, but 3 - Blameless - became clear. I’m quite looking forward to it, even if it is a bit of a cliché!
Ivy Hisslepenny provides quite the foil, being completely blind to what's going on around her, but Felicity was a largely forgotten character altogether - which wasn't a bad thing, as she was drawn to be as snide and selfish as could be. There wasn't much of Conall Maccon in this one, and when he did appear he alternated between single-minded forgot-I-was-married to very sweet and attentive. If you don't mind your characters a bit cardboard from time to time, you shouldn't have any problems here. I guess it goes hand-in-hand with the tone of the novel, which conjures up the word "buffoon". It made it hard to start, but if you can sit down with it for any length of time you can get back into the swing of things. A bit less re-capping would have been fine by me though. And a bit less pointing-out-the-obvious-irony too.
I'm still enjoying these, complaints aside. Alexia is a loud, strong-minded, decisive heroine who doesn't beat about the bush, which is refreshing, and I do find her sympathetic. Especially now. Looking forward to Blameless, perhaps because of the personal angle that's been set up for it. (less)
This book is so bad I got halfway through and then skimmed the rest, merely to find out if the bits at the beginning would ever make sense, and just t...moreThis book is so bad I got halfway through and then skimmed the rest, merely to find out if the bits at the beginning would ever make sense, and just to see if what I'd predicted would happen, happened. Surprise surprise, it did.
The premise is interesting enough but what book am I talking about here: An American woman called Claire goes back in time to the Scottish Highlands and falls in love with a big Scottish warrior? Yes, it does sound awfully like Outlander, doesn't it? Joyce could have at least given her a different name. The Scottish warrior in this case, Malcolm, is a Master, an immortal-ish member of an ancient brotherhood that answers to ancient Gods (older than Christendom, though bizarrely enough Malcolm says he's Catholic) and seeks to protect Innocence from Evil. Alright, fair enough, though I'm really not a fan of black and white labels like Evil.
The biggest problem with this book - apart from the plotholes, inconsistencies, amazing leaps of reasoning, conveniently forgotten details and weak, repetitious characterisation - is Claire herself. I don't think I've ever read a more annoying heroine (and having read as much paranormal romance as I have, that's saying something). She's whiny, clingy, slow, poorly defined, agonises over things even after she's come to a resolution about them, internalises everything, goes on and on in her head over the same tired old points, and I honestly don't get the attraction between her and Malcolm.
The story itself is slow and uneventful, the Evil character is laughable, and the plotholes so deep I tripped numerous times. Just note the early chapter when Claire first encounters Sibyll and Malcolm at her bookshop, and what they say when they meet her. Keep it in mind. It won't make sense later, and that's just one of the many frustrating things about this book.
The sex scenes were awful, icky, emotionally-uninvolved/detached things. I've never been so put off. But really, Claire? Talk about utter drongo. And she's supposed to have a Masters degree in medieval history!
Give this one a BIG MISS - and I'm not going to bother reading anything else by this author either. HQN's paranormal romances are more often duds than successes, it seems.(less)
Miranda Albright is the eldest daughter of five, and ever since their father - the younger son of a peer - died, leaving the family deep in debt, she...moreMiranda Albright is the eldest daughter of five, and ever since their father - the younger son of a peer - died, leaving the family deep in debt, she has managed the finances. Now her sister Penelope is of age to come out, and their mother is determined to have now dresses and balls to increase her chances of marrying well - something Miranda turned down three times during her own Season.
Desperate to keep her mother from bankrupting the family, Miranda puts together riskiest plan yet: she goes to her neighbour, the Earl of Rothschild, to ask him to sponsor her sisters. After three years of secretly watching him pleasure his mistresses and lovers by the lake near their property, and yearning for passion, it is her secret desire to experience it herself - and Ethan, Lord Rothschild, is her ultimate fantasy.
Ethan has always noticed Miranda, but he steers clear of ladies and marriage in particular. Still, when she comes to him with her desperate plea for help and the open offer of a bargain, it's more than he can resist. In exchange for sponsoring three of her sisters, he gets Miranda for a day a week for the next three months.
They are days of sexual awakening for Miranda, and a deepening of her passion into something stronger and more intimate. For Ethan, they are days of near obsession, where he struggles to keep control and remain detached, so sure he would ruin the life of any good woman. And they are days of sneaking behind her family's back and lying - until the worst happens.
Michaels writes emotionally intense, vivid stories, rich in erotic pleasure but always tasteful, and at their hearts they are stories about, well, the heart. Very similar in style and structure as Taboo - and featuring Cassandra, prior to her own story - it presents a stronger male lead but a less vigourous and familiar heroine. Miranda was likeable and sympathetic, and a completely different person from Cassandra - understandable, as they are coming from very different backgrounds and situations and upbringings. Miranda showed fire and strength at rare times, in keeping with her character, but was also so beaten down by circumstance and insecure about Ethan, that she wasn't, well, as fun to read about.
Ethan, though, was quite the erotic male lead. Everything about him fitted perfectly with how he was described, his reputation, his lifestyle, his desires and his own insecurities. He was subtly complex, and worth fighting for. The two had all the chemistry you could need - it practically set the pages on fire.
You do need to overlook a bit of artistic licence with the period setting. Set in the Regency period - 1817, to be exact - there's the same confusion over costume that puzzled me in Taboo. While slim women like Miranda wouldn't have needed to wear a corset under their Empress dresses, they did wear more than just a chemise. Also, their dresses didn't button up at the front, which the dresses on Michaels' women always do. Generally, though, the period is solid and the stories, set in this period, believable. For an fun, intense and satisfying romp you can't go far past Jess Michaels.(less)