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Reading List: Kelly’s Historical Romance Roundup for June/July 2013

I’m slacking off on writing a full review because I blew through these pretty quickly, and I already used up my snark quota for the month. All but Jeffries and Willingham were new-to-me authors.


What the Duke Desires by Sabrina JeffriesWhat the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries

If I didn’t own Jeffries’ entire backlist, I might have avoided this solely because of the dopey generic title. But she’s earned my trust, and she still has it. The illegitimate heroine is smart and vulnerable, the duke is full of hidden tragedy and repressed passion, and the intrigue revolves around their missing siblings rather than political maneuvering. It’s a typically enjoyable Jeffries book — nothing vibrantly new or different, but she’s such a good storyteller I never get kicked out of my reading trance. Grade: B

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To Sine with a Viking by Michelle WillinghamTo Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham

I’m pretty sure I need to read more by Willingham. This one starts out with the Irish heroine clobbering the Viking hero over the head and taking him captive, and you know how much I love stuff like that. She can’t let him go or kill him because she needs his strength to find food for their starving village, and he can’t escape because he needs her help to find his kidnapped estranged wife. Yes, he’s married, and they angst about it. A lot. But Willingham somehow works around the inherent squickiness, and she writes some really good action scenes. Book trance on this one too. Grade: B

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A Lady Risks All by Bronwyn ScottA Lady Risks All by Bronwyn Scott

The first half of this story had me hooked — the author used the theme of “risk” in different ways to define not only the hero and heroine, but also the heroine’s loving-but-conniving father. The plot revolves around billiards, and the early-Victorian historical world-building was vivid and completely believable. Until…(sigh)…the hero, a younger son of a viscount, suddenly became styled a “Lord” and the heroine a potential “Lady.” I finished the book, but I lost faith in the story and the author. Fantastic cover, though. Grade: C

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Lady Northam's Wicked Surrender by Vivienne WestlakeLady Northam’s Wicked Surrender by Vivienne Westlake

This 55-page erotic romance maxes out the short story format, but there just isn’t enough substance to sustain more. The writing is capable but uninspired, and with the sole exception of Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter, I have yet to read a “Dream Sex or Real Sex???” scene that doesn’t make me laugh. For 99¢, it’s probably worth a try for some readers, but I’m not inclined to seek out anything more by this author. Grade: C-

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The Lady and the Laird by Nicola CornickThe Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

I didn’t make it very far with this one. The meet-cute in the prologue was really good, and I was intrigued by the set-up with the bluestocking heroine writing erotic letters for her brother to woo his beloved away from the crabby hero. I adore bluestocking heroines and crabby heroes. But then…(sigh)…the “jilted at the altar” scene has the idiot brother and his vapid lady love eloping to Gretna Green. From the Highlands. As in, the Highlands in SCOTLAND. I just couldn’t do it. Grade: DNF

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Forbidden Jewel of India by Louise AllenForbidden Jewel of India by Louise Allen

This one sat in my TBR queue for months because I had Significant Book Anxiety. I want to love any and every romance set in India, but the cover and description made me more than a little wary. This book is, unfortunately, a solid example of “exoticizing the ‘other’.” In her author’s note, Allen describes her recent trip to India with enthusiasm, and it’s obvious that she reveres the history and culture, but the authorial (or maybe editorial) choices of which bits to include didn’t work for me at all. There are several gratuitous references to sati ritual suicides, a superfluous scene featuring a Shiva lingam statue, a king cobra attack, and excessive use of Hindi words for fashion and furniture that served no purpose other than to show off the author’s research. In addition, the romance left me cold, the hero was too perfectly perfect, and the heroine (an Anglo-Indian princess, of course) was wildly inconsistent. Grade: D+

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Not Just a Governess by Carole MortimerNot Just a Governess by Carole Mortimer

I think I need to skim a Harlequin Presents title by this author to see how consistent her writing style and voice is across genres and categories, because it’s definitely, well, unique. Mortimer loves ellipses and em-dashes and exclamation points, which should endear me to her. But when every question in the dialogue ends in an ellipsis, and every expository paragraph has an interjection offset with em-dashes, and five paragraphs in a row end with an exclamation point, the punctuation becomes increasingly intrusive. Also disruptive were the repetitive words and phrases; the hero was described as “cold” more than 25 times (that doesn’t include his chilliness, frostiness or iciness), and we’re told he has stormy grey eyes nearly 50 times. I also had major issues with the plot, in which the heroine was grateful for the hero’s light-fingered Magical Orgasm Cure that allowed her to overcome the ickiness of her recent rape at the hands of her evil cousin. But, of course, her real post-rape trauma — the loss of innocence that renders her unfit for proper wifery — lingers until the cold, grey-eyed hero’s grand gesture. Grade: D-

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Kelly

I lost my romance-reading virginity with my older sister’s Danielle Steel collection, and Judith Krantz broadened my teenage horizons in ways I’m still recovering from. My bookshelves are overflowing with history and historical fiction, my Kindle is home to everything from preachy inspirationals to extreme kink, and my wishlist is out of control. Thanks to my old-school, cigar-smoking journalism professors, I have a passion for good storytelling and zero tolerance for lazy writing. I’ll forgive nearly anything for a sappy, happy ending – but I'm not afraid to unleash the snark. [And FYI, I work part-time for a GLBTQ publisher, so I do not review any GLBTQ titles to avoid any conflict of interest.]

8 Comments

  1. Kierney Scott
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 11:54:30

    I am really intrigued by the plot with the hero with a wife. Looks fun, will be reading that tonight!
    The DNF on the Nicola Cornick is disappointing. Her books are usually great and so well researched. Maybe they went to Gretna Green just to put space between them and her family? Though I suppose they could have just as easily done that by heading down to Edinburgh to get hitched. Hmm, I wonder what her reasoning was. Now I am going to have to buy that one too, so I can see ;-)

  2. John
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 12:53:50

    I’ve had the Jeffries in my TBR and it looks really cute – I should take the plunge and just go with it. Historicals just either bore me or enrapture me when they fit into the usual setting/time-period mold. Good to know that this one is worth the time (and that Jeffries is in general.)

    Having read one of Mortimer’s Presents, I recall similar problems (though maybe not with that much frequency?) Her story felt contrived to some degree, a little over-the-top in a way that was beyond the usual level of Presents melodrama, and I was annoyed because key character events seemed to happen offstage when they would have actually made the story better.

  3. Sunita
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 13:42:07

    Great roundup, sorry you didn’t have more winners! I tried the Allen book and gave up early. I’ll accept 20thC Hindi in an 18thC setting, but at least use the proper forms of address (you don’t use formal constructions when you’re talking to a pet, for example). I’m grateful I didn’t get to the later stuff.

  4. Susan
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 18:06:15

    Thanks for the roundup. I own the Jeffries (which I’ll read) and the Cornick (which I probably now won’t). I’d normally describe Cornick as “solid”–maybe not stellar, but certainly not awful. Wonder what happened here? And I think I need to put the Willingham on my wish list, too.

  5. Jayne
    Aug 05, 2013 @ 19:02:59

    I’ve liked about half the Cornick books I’ve read. The further she gets into the 19th and 20th centuries though, the less I’ve liked them.

    Willingham is a Harlequin author I’ve been eyeing for ages now but have never taken the plunge.

    The Scott cover is lovely. Sigh…

  6. Nicola Cornick
    Sep 18, 2013 @ 07:46:13

    Thank you for including The Lady and the Laird in your round up and I’m sorry that you didn’t feel able to finish it because of the elopement. The research around English couples eloping to Gretna Green is pretty well known, less so that the marriage records of the era show a number of Scots couples who also eloped to Gretna including some I found from Kingussie in the Highlands and also from Edinburgh. Under Scottish marriage laws this wasn’t necessary, of course, but it did make sense if a couple were wanting to put some distance between themselves and any pursuers.

  7. Bronwyn Scott
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 09:28:40

    Glad the first part really worked for you in a Lady Risks All. Sorry the second half didn’t fare as well–although Greer never gives into the family stylings of lordship and ultimately rejects that, and Mercedes never seriously contemplates even wanting to become a lady of rank–she knows from the get go that could never be her. In the end, they strike out for themselves and there is purposely no neat tying up of loose ends–his family doesn’t suddenly change their minds and welcome him back and make him rich. And her father doesn’t change and she chooses not to reconcile with him–because happy ever afters can look different–even though in many romance stories they don’t, with all loose ends tied up neatly.

    For readers, I would encourage you to compare the thoughts here with the 4.5 star review this book received from Romantic Times magazine that compared the book to the work of Virginia Henley.

  8. Jane
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 10:05:27

    @Bronwyn Scott: I think Kelly meant that the terms of address were wrong? A son of a viscount is an Honorable and not a Lord anything thus indicating that the basics of the historical details weren’t accurately captured. At least that is what I took from the shorty review.

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