Monday, June 13, 2016

The Earl's Wife by Amy Lake

Back in the Day Review

Published:  2001
Reading Mood:  Classic Coze with Humor & a Dash of Gothic-ky Goodness
Synopsis:   Claire de Lancie is in desperate need of a husband when she meets Edward Tremayne, the Earl of Ketrick. Their marriage of convenience is followed by a surprisingly idyllic few weeks at the Earl's country estate. But the Earl soon seems driven to push his young wife away. In London they go their separate ways, until Claire's carriage is waylaid.

First, the secondary characters for this novel are groovy!  I have a thing about secondary characters, knowing that is what I would have been in life back in the day.  Without apology, I confess I have a soft spot for the housekeeper, scullery maid, valet and poor relation that are treated with the characterization respect they deserve.  In this book, it is the brother Jody, fifteen, and the mistress, Lady Pamela that *makes* this book for me.  Well, yes, I enjoyed Claire and Edward too.

This is a Classic Regency; the marital intimacy is tastefully implied not described.  There is a pleasant omniscient narrator in places that I enjoyed, points of view from many characters handled with a deft hand that never leaves you confused or flipping back and forth.  The situations are plausible; the historical details accurate, reactions consistent with the era and the characters believable.   You will not find a twentieth century woman or a new-age sensitive guy in costume in The Earl’s Wife.  Huzzah!

Be advised Back in the Day Reviews contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Kindred Spirits by Allison Lane

Back in the Day Review

Published: 2002
Reading Mood:  Shadowed Characters w/ Familiar Formula 
Synopsis:  Colonel Jack Caldwell has worshiped honor since the day he was old enough to understand his family's legacy of cowardice, brutality, and cheating. As a result, his reputation for honesty, bravery, and compassion surpasses that of his peers. But thirty-two years of exemplary living disappear in the chaos of Waterloo, breaking him in body and spirit. Only a chance encounter with Marianne Barnett offers him the possibility of redemption. He saved her once before, but now she's in even greater peril as her guardian seeks to strip her of everything she holds dear. Can they defeat their demons and claim the love they deserve?

Be advised Back in the Day Reviews contain spoilers.  
Read at your own risk.

Calvary Life in Tent and Field by Mrs. Orsemus Bronson Boyd

Published:  1894
My Experience:  Fascinated and Amused and Impressed
Synopsis:  The first person account of life as an officer’s wife in the years 1868 to 1885.  From New York to California,  Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and back again, her view is domestic, with special attention to the lot of the wife and family of a soldier on the frontier.

The Preface begins oddly, a defense of her husband as a young man that struck me as a bit, well, unusual.  Don’t we generally tell the best of our lifetime then briefly shrug off the troubles of youth with a footnote or addendum?  However, I read it through since the tone was so very earnest and the adjectives used moderately.  By the end of the Preface, my sympathies were not only engaged, so was my interest.

I was captured by her brevity of descriptions detailing her journey from New York to California by ship, then overland by stagecoach and army ambulance (not because she was injured but because it was the only way for a “lady” that didn’t ride to travel) to her bridal home.  Her prose is clipped with tight wording, broad allusions and sprinkled with her opinions - always labeled as such and most generally backed up by some incident or anecdote that shows her in a less than favorable light.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Heiress and the Spy by Julia Donner

My Experience:  B-
Synopsis:  Rich widow, Elizabeth Shelton, secretly yearns to break free from the confinements of her placid life. Her late husband died a hero in the Peninsular Wars, leaving her childless and badgered by his greedy parents. Leaping into love and a dangerous scheme to serve king and country had never entered her mind, but she’s unable to resist the impoverished and dashing Lord Asterly when he asks her to become his wife and aid him in intrigue.

A lively, character driven story, with a plausible plot and more than a few surprises along the way. The writing is smooth, there are a few typos or conversion errors, and the transitions were nicely handled.  The pacing in the first 2/3 of the book was perfect; the last 1/3 was rushed and suffered for this. There was just enough character background as the story progressed to feel like I was genuinely getting to know them instead of having their history repetitiously rammed down my throat.

Secondary characters were intriguing, dialog both enjoyable and propelling, sense of time and place well done.  The romance, despite an instant attraction, was given time to develop from interest to friendship then moved along in a way that didn't feel rushed.  The intimate moments were tastefully handled and, considering circumstances, portrayed pretty accurately.  Do not expect a detailed adventure of spy vs spy or mystery to solve; this is, as I said, all about the characters.  Enjoyable enough to prompt me to purchase 3 more of the stories in the series.
 I skipped the first because 'brat stories' just make me want to vomit.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly

My Experience:  B++
Synopsis:  On the frontier of a new life… Tired and hungry after two days of traveling, Susanna Hopkins is just about at the end of her tether when her train finally arrives in Cheyenne. She’s bound for a new life in a Western garrison town. Then she discovers she doesn’t even have enough money to pay for the stagecoach! Luckily for her, the compassionate Major Joseph Randolph is heading in the same direction. As a military surgeon, Joe is used to keeping his professional distance. But, despite Susanna’s understated beauty, he’s drawn to this woman who carries loss and pain equal to his own and has a heart that is just as hesitant and wary....

If there is one consistent theme in Carla Kelly's books it is this:  Everyone bends and we try not to break.  Bending without breaking is a hard lesson, usually learned over and over and over in life.  I am always grateful when the wind blows the other direction and reminds me, by the grace of God, I am more supple than I thought.  Ms. Kelly's books feel like a rush of affirming wind for me.  I am always glad I read them, always reminded that there is more to life than the hum drum grind of petty annoyances, and always give me characters I feel like I know.

Overall, the writing is excellent, the dialog genuine, and the narrative tenderly handled.  Secondary characters are human, flaws and all, and worth the time spent on them.  The sense of place and historical details are wonderful without info dumps or neglect of little things we forgot we knew.  The friendships and romance was given time to develop and are laced with both humor and determination.  This isn't a book for skimming, reading on a commute, or beginning late in the evening [unless you don't work the next day].  It is a put dinner in the crock pot, turn off the phone, and curl up read, definitely for the Keeper file.

*** NO spoilers here***

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Second Spring by Carola Dunn

My Experience: B
Synopsis:  Four Regency Novellas: Widows and spinsters find love at last.
[Originally published by Zebra in A Mother's Joy, Flowers for the Bride, A June Bride and Wonderful and Wicked]

Carola Dunn is one of my favorite authors.  My keeper file has 20 of her delightful romances.  Her writing is always well-paced and subtly humorous.  Her characters are real people, whether they have titles or not, and though she writes the standard tropes, they feel refreshed under her hand.  That she took time to consider the mature lovers makes my happy place very sunny indeed.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Regency Road Trip, a Novella, by Joyce Harmon

My Experience: B-
Synopsis: After a long absence and a premature declaration of death, Colonel Lord Salford returns from the dead to find his estate in ruins, thanks to his cousin and presumptive heir, a gambler and a scoundrel. In order to protect his estate from future ruin by his corrupt cousin (and avoid a marriage of convenience), the Earl enlists the aid of his friend, retired governess Eliza Merryhew, in a quest to locate a missing heir. 
Miss Merryhew’s former pupil set her up for life, and never has she been more comfortable....or more bored. Years of travel, while often precarious and even dangerous, gave her a taste for adventure, and now she is restless with the sedate gentility of her daily routine. So she is eager to join Lord Salford on his mission. 
To keep their search from public notice, they travel incognito -- Miss Merryhew as a Baron’s widow, and the Earl as her devoted manservant Gervase. 
Together these two will prove you’re never too old for adventure, or for romance.

Part of The Feather to Fly With Series  You don't need to read it first - but you'll want to read it after.

I’m sure I must have mentioned this before, so perhaps it’s slipped your mind that I did not intentionally get shot in the head.” - The Earl of Salford

No spoilers, you're safe to click

A Bachelor Establishment by Isabella Barclay

My Experience: B
Synopsis:  Elinor Bascombe, widowed and tied to an impoverished estate, has learned to ask little of life. With no hope of leaving, the years have passed her by.
Lord Ryde, exiled abroad after a scandal, has returned to strip his estate and make a new start in America.
A chance encounter changes their plans, plunging Elinor and Lord Ryde into adventure and not a little peril until, finally, they are forced to confront the mystery of what happened on That Night, all those years ago.
Are they both so entangled in the riddles of the past that they are about to miss this one last opportunity for future happiness?

Overall the writing was excellent, the attention to details well done, and the dialog amusing. There were obvious errors of either auto-correct or conversion to kindle nature but just a few. Timelines didn't quite match up but I hand waved that since gossip presented events and we all know how reliable that is.  The omniscient narrator was delightful; secondary characters were fun, and the thirdary [is that a word?] were caricatures we know and love.  It was a bit predictable but I don't mind that when it is done well.  The prodigal and the managing widow woven with a bit of mystery kept me engaged.  Antagonism between hero and heroine wasn't overdone, fence mending and apologies were handled with humor, and the romance was believable in historical context, if a bit hurried for my taste.  I laughed out loud frequently.  Sniggered into my lace hanky more than once, and spewed my tea twice. Put aside the beverages as you read this one, you've been warned.

Are you going to brood? I believe that is the accepted form of behaviour for the badly dressed, melancholy hero who broods on dark disappointments, previous crimes, and nameless passions as he stalks his desolate acres. I’ve never seen anyone brood before. Do you mind if I watch?’

Mrs Bascombe, I no longer find myself amazed that you have been shot. My astonishment is now that you have only been shot once!’

***Spoilers Behind The Cut***
***You Have Been Warned***

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Olde Biddy Quest

About Olde Biddy Quest

Late last year, tired of feeling like I was some kind of pervert reading about romantic heroes young enough to be my sons, I began a quest for historical romances featuring mature couples.  I sought a season of reading that was not centered on the young miss or 'almost' a spinster matched with the [to me] boys and young men.  It is not easy to find historical romance books that admit romance for women existed after 30; after 40 is a midnight desert with no moon, and after 50  I  you might as well be dead as a historical romance heroine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Exceptional Read: Lord Ramsay's Return by Elisabeth Fairchild

I define an Exceptional Read as a well written book that shakes me up, emotionally or mentally. It stops me in my tracks for some reason; challenges me to consider things that really - in my ordinary existence -  make no difference. An Exceptional Read challenges my thoughts, emotions, and spirit. I'm convinced, even if only for the span of the book, it should matter to Every Being in the Universe.  There are qualifiers to exceptional reads.  The label I apply depends on my mental engagement and my emotional response.  Your mileage may vary.

My Experience: A-
Synopsis:  Prudish Prudence Stanhope tests the wisdom of her name seeking to cure headaches with the magical massage of the King’s official “body shampooer.” What she finds in the hands of the notorious Rash Ramsay, just returned from the Orient, is a seductive cure for heartbreak.

As a first experience of Ms. Fairchild's writing I was delightfully intrigued by the sample chapters and totally bowled over by all that followed.  Overall, the story is solid, the pacing excellent, the dialog sumptuously suited to the characters, and atmosphere -- ooh it is luscious.  Secondary characters are well drawn and essential to the tale without stealing the thunder or devolving to cut outs.  Ms. Fairchild's  writing involves all the senses, all of them, wow.  Some readers might find this distracting if they are used to staccato descriptions and rapid fire dialog mingled with introspection all of which seems to have a specific formula based on current marketing trends that I, as a mere reader, have yet to figure out.

[I believe there must be an algebraic equation out there that defines these parameters and many a ragged writer sits at her word processor trying to make the story fit the factors until she decides - screw this, I'm gonna go scrub the toilet]

No spoilers below the cut ...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

True Story by Jayne Fresnia

My Experience: B++
Synopsis: Olivia Monday, an impoverished widow, has taken a position as "secretary" to an eccentric, scandalous rake - a divorced man with a brood of eight children and at least two gun-shot wounds. For one year, against the advice of her remaining family members, she agrees to live in his remote Cornish castle and put pen to paper on his behalf. 
Despite everything she's heard about him, she's unafraid. Olivia welcomes the distraction this unusual post will provide— as well as the large fee— because the alternative of relying on relatives to put a roof over her head is intolerable. 
True Deverell has decided it's time to set the record straight. He means to dictate his memoirs to this little widow who, according to the instructions he sent to his solicitor, should merely be plain and have a neat hand. Those are his only requirements. He doesn't want any distractions, has endured his fill of scandal and intends now to leave the "True Story" on paper so that perhaps, one day, people will forgive his mistakes.
But when Mrs. Olivia Monday arrives on his doorstep in her leaky boots and crumpled bonnet, True realizes that perhaps his story isn't over yet. 

I enjoyed the narrative, the dialog, the setting, secondary characters, and even the children.  I especially like the standard tropes uniquely interwoven and the dangling threads ending.  Life is seldom neatly tied up with ribbons and bows, there is always a bit of raveling needing attention. The fact they do not marry at the end - aside from being a come on for the next book - speaks to more historical accuracy than we have enjoyed in a long time.  I was very impressed by the *truth* of the situation, though I know she'll cave in the end to reader demands and the wedding bells will chime.  I'm even pretty sure True will end up a lapdog by the time the series is done, hovering over a pregnant Olivia as she endures the beautiful natural process ... but that is MY cynicism, not a known fact.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Fellingham Minx: A Regency Novella by Lynn Messina

My Experience: B++++
Synopsis:  Miss Evelyn Fellingham does not need to see the admiration in the Earl of Halsey’s eyes to know she is attractive—most men find her violet eyes and porcelain skin irresistible—but she wants to. Yet every attempt to impress him with her playful wit and lively banter ends in sullen silence, for she is too much in awe of the handsome lord to form a coherent sentence. No doubt he thinks she’s a beautiful ninnyhammer. 
Indeed, that’s exactly what the earl thinks, and he dismisses her as yet another simpering society miss. 
Then an out-of-control hobby-horse in Hyde Park knocks her over in front of everyone, including Halsey. The mortified young lady, her cheek bruised and her dress stained, can barely bring herself to raise her eyes from the ground—which is a shame. For if she did, she might finally see the light of admiration begin to glow in the capricious lord’s eye.

It is difficult to turn the spoiled brat of a previous book into a heroine of another, moreso in a novella.  But Ms. Messina pulls it off.  If I was a better person, I'd applaud this fact but frankly, I wanted more!  Of course, I have said that about all the books she's written and I've read, so maybe I will be forgiven. No, never mind, I don't want to be forgiven, I want to be honest and speak my mind, politely of course.....