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Regency England

REVIEW: The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

REVIEW: The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Dear Ms. Gracie,

Despite the recent flail over the “death of the historical,” I’m ever-hopeful that unique and compelling Regencies are still being published. Unfortunately, The Autumn Bride falls short of my vague-yet-demanding criteria by quite a distance, landing squarely in the “wallpaper” and “cookie-cutter” pits of romance despair.
The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Governess Abigail Chantry will do anything to save her sister and two dearest friends from destitution, even if it means breaking into an empty mansion in the hope of finding something to sell. Instead of treasures, though, she finds the owner, Lady Beatrice Davenham, bedridden and neglected. Appalled, Abby rousts Lady Beatrice’s predatory servants and—with Lady Beatrice’s eager cooperation—the four young ladies become her “nieces,” neatly eliminating the threat of disaster for all concerned!

It’s the perfect situation, until Lady Beatrice’s dashing and arrogant nephew, Max, Lord Davenham, returns from the Orient—and discovers an impostor running his household…

A romantic entanglement was never the plan for these stubborn, passionate opponents—but falling in love may be as inevitable as the falling of autumn leaves…  

I think I was subliminally swayed into buying this because of the four — count ‘em, four (4)! — em-dashes in the description. Alas, the fun didn’t last beyond the punctuation.

The annoyances and eye-rolling started in the prologue, in which we learn the newly-titled hero has been financially ruined by his profligate late uncle. We know Max is ruined because the word “ruined” is used approximately 17 times within the first five pages. And poor Max really has lost everything, because none of the barony’s numerous properties were entailed. There’s some mumbling about a broken trust, but that’s the only explanation we get, and it’s enough for the young lord to abandon his beloved widowed aunt and scurry off to make his fortune overseas.

Fast-forward ten years, and we’re introduced to the orphaned governess heroine, Abby, as she’s drawn into rescuing her younger sister from the clutches of an Unseen Evil Villain. Of course, the abductee escapes the iniquitous brothel with her maidenhood intact. The siblings also manage to liberate two other young women, and they all swear allegiance to The Sisterhood.

So, with the heady air of freedom firing their blood like a sweet and potent wine, they vowed to be as sisters to one another, to become a family.

When their plans for husband-hunting are thwarted by poverty and illness, Abby decides to burglarize the neighboring mansion. She must (of course) wear borrowed breeches and crawl over broken glass for this adventure. Instead of piles of silver waiting to be pilfered, she finds the bedridden, nearly suicidal Lady Beatrice. Saint Abby is compelled to return a few days later, at which time the neglected noblewoman offers her home to The Sisterhood.

While this premise could have worked, the character and backstory inconsistencies were too much to overcome. We’re told that Lady Beatrice became ill and was taken advantage of by her Evil Greedy Servants — all of whom had been newly hired (of course). A few of Lady B’s friends attempted social calls, but were turned away by the Slimy Evil Butler. She’s been a virtual prisoner in her own home for months, being fed only gruel and water, never bathed, never even moved from the bed. The tragedy! The pathos!

But then….we’re asked to believe that Lady Beatrice was a leader of the ton, a “magnificent, outrageous” hostess renowned throughout the upper echelons of society. No one of her noble acquaintance had the fortitude to deal with a surly butler? No one raised questions or even gossiped about a baroness disappearing? And when The Sisterhood moves into her home, Lady Beatrice magically transforms from frail and forgotten back into fierce and feisty — all she needs is fortifying soup and some henna to restore her once-glorious red hair. I just could not reconcile the Lady B who throws a hissy fit about wearing castoff clothing and says things like “I never trust the word of people with their hands on my privates” with the pathetic elderly recluse wallowing in her own filth.

When Max the Ruined Viking Pirate (scruffy beard, longer-than-fashionable hair tied back with a leather thong) returns with fortunes restored to find four mysterious young women living in his beloved widowed aunt’s home, it’s the perfect — and predictable — setup for a Big Misunderstanding. He insists Abby is a con artist, she refuses to explain herself, etc., etc.

And, of course, our happy couple’s bickering is interspersed with extensive mental lusting.

It was all going well until Miss Chance reached for the syllabub, one of his favorites, a dish of sweet, tangy whipped cream. It matched the frothy top she was wearing.

She dipped a spoon into the creamy confection and transferred it to her mouth.

Max swallowed. His narrative faltered.

Her eyes half closed in bliss as her lips closed over the spoon and she let the sweet mixture slide over her tongue and down her throat.

Max forced himself to resume his story. There was nothing at all unusual about the way she was eating; it was all perfectly comme il faut. So why could he not take his eyes off her?

She spooned up another mouthful. This time when the spoon was slowly withdrawn a tiny, gleaming morsel of syllabub remained quivering in the corner of her upper lip. Unhurriedly she licked it off.

Max’s words dried up along with his throat.

After a moment Miss Chance stopped spooning up the syllabub. Her brows rose. She was looking at him. The entire table was looking at him, waiting for him to continue his story. Hanged if he knew what it was. He cleared his throat.

“You’re fond of syllabub, Miss Chance?” Sparkling conversation, indeed.

“Very. And you, Lord Davenham?” She took a third leisurely spoonful. His groin tightened.

“Yes.” It came out as a croak.

That passage was the high point of dramatic and sexual tension in the book. From there, the story plods through Max’s realization that he really is an asshole, Abby’s cardboard sassy saintliness, unnecessary scenes with sequel-bait secondary characters, and off-page suspense(less) shenanigans with the Unseen Evil Villain, culminating in a tacked-on and boring deflowering in the last chapter. Not to mention the endless internal monologues rehashing events we just read about.

Further evidence in support of the wallpaper/cookie-cutter classifications include:

  • The generic “~Insert Adjective Here~ Bride” title that has absolutely nothing to do with the story.
  • The generic cover, complete with obligatory and mistorical white wedding dress.
  • The absence of any meaningful Regency-era detail; the entire story could be plopped into any historical period.
  • The “nuh uh, it is SO a Regency” Jane Austen quotes as chapter epigrams.
  • A pair of footmen named Turner and Hatch, which my brain (of course) insisted on processing as Turner and Hooch. This has nothing to do with the blandness, but I felt it important to mention.

My “first impressions” grade was a C-; The Autumn Bride isn’t a painful read (hence my half-hearted snark), but there’s nothing in this story worth recommending. When the main characters’ names slid out of my brain just hours after reading, I had to downgrade, because superficial, forgettable books like this aren’t doing the maligned historical romance genre any favors.  Grade: D+

~ Kelly

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REVIEW:  A Little Folly by Jude Morgan

REVIEW: A Little Folly by Jude Morgan

Dear Mr. Morgan,

I haven’t read many Regency era books lately. Whenever I’ve looked at new releases, I’ve almost immediately been put off of them for some reason, often before I’ve even finished the blurb. Usually it’s some bizarre plot set up or mistorical aspect which promises to make me cringe if I should ignore my initial instincts and wade into it anyway. “A Little Folly,” though, has restored my faith. Not only did it seem almost entirely rational and period in feel, but I finished it so happy with the subgenre that it makes me want to rush right out and read another historical romance rather than cleansing my palate with another subgenre as I usually do.

A-Little-FollyThe plot is simple on first glance but reveals its layers as the book progresses. There is no secret-decoder-ring-wearing club of noblemen with silly names who have sworn off marriage. The story hasn’t any noblemen spies working for the government against Napoleon. Valentine’s and Louisa’s father might make Joan Crawford look like a shoo-in for parent of the year but that’s all. Instead of the usual dreck which sends me screaming there is the story of a brother and sister, brought up by a (recently deceased) overbearing father who now find themselves free to live. They aren’t just free to do what they want but are free to think as they wish without the need to conceal their thoughts and feelings from their father and to finally take part in society – both locally and in London.

Louisa can reject the cold, controlled neighbor whom her father wished her to marry and Valentine can take his place as the master of the snug estate left to him. They can also renew ties with the cousins on their deceased mother’s side whom their father forbade them to know. Soon, the two are headed to London to stay with their cousins and drink deeply from the cup of ton life. But will they discover too late where their love and happiness truly lie?

The arc that I got from Jane has a quote on the front cover that likens the story to Austen and Heyer. “Really,” I thought. “What modern Regency era books don’t try and associate themselves with either or both of those authors down to stealing characters and plots wholesale?” Still, there seemed to be good reviews of your books out there and I’m willing to try a book for a few chapters. After I’d finished said few chapters I thought, “Say, I don’t think those comparisons are too far off. And I’m not cringing yet!” Though I hesitate to tell readers that “If you love Austen/Heyer you’ll love this” I don’t mind saying “give it a shot.” The language doesn’t scream 21st century, the characters don’t fall into bed with anyone at the drop of a hat and the plot twists involved situations that just might have actually have been of concern to Regency people. I could catch little glimpses of things from the aforementioned authors but shifted slightly and given a new (but still period) spin. The nod to ‘The Greats’ exist but it’s not slavish, derivative fawning but rather taking them as inspiration.

The pace of the story is slower which is in tune with a world centered on the social niceties of calling cards, note writing and the attention to manners which marked a well bred person of the day. These people are rarely in a hurry and I felt myself settle down to enjoy the leisurely pace of their lives and interactions. I’ve read countless Regency books and have heard and noted all the facts about Almacks, period dress, slang, the Peninsular Wars and Wellington. A few are scattered around in the book but they feel germane rather than laid on with a trowel. I enjoyed the sly dig at too much slang in the silly character “The Top” whom Louisa and a friend from home secretly find ridiculous. There’s also no mention of watered down lemonade though some of the festivities which celebrated the defeat of Napoleon and those demmed Frenchies are attended by our characters.

There is an elopement in the book but unlike “Pride and Prejudice” it’s actually another period route to social ruin which threatens here and calls for timely intervention on behalf of one who loves from afar. Just as in an Austen novel, there are romantic feints and false starts among the cast and Louisa must wait until nearly the end of the story to get her romance but when it finally arrives and declares itself, I sighed with happiness and chuckled at her hero’s sense of humor and sense of the absurd. The two of them, and indeed all the couples, are well matched though some are perhaps not looking for nor will they probably be rewarded with wedded bliss.

I finished the book with nary an eye roll or groan of disbelief. Valentine and Louisa became real people to me with faults and follies to go with their ultimate growth in character and understanding. I didn’t feel that you were trying to cram modern characters with modern sensibilities into a past era. Readers looking for a lot of action and running around might not care for the story but those seeking a more character driven book which focuses a lot on the manners and observational habits of the day should check it out. B


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