Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Alphabet Regency Classics by Kasey Michaels

I was in the mood for Classics this summer and I indulged fully.  Part of my indulgence was some of the Alphabet Regency Classics by Kasey Michaels.  No, they aren't written in alphabetical order, but the titles are alliteratively amusing.  Originally published in the 80's and early 90's these books would more properly belong on Back in the Day Reviews if they had not been re-issued by the author beginning in 2011.

These books are not only fun, the omniscient narrator is completely charming.  If asked what I miss most about the good ole days, this must be up there in the top ten: a narrator that was a character whispering Great Secrets only the reader was privileged to know.  It was such a brief period (to my aging hindsight) between the inscrutable hero that had no thoughts except those the heroine misinterpreted and the years of romance being all about the lust at first sight that neither hero nor heroine really bothered to control since of course, romance without sex isn't *real*.  Best of all, these books have secondary characters that amuse, annoy and enchant.  I adore heroines and heros that don't exist surrounded by cut outs barely shading their glittering days.

I've listed the title/ pub date/ synopsis of each behind the cut with my comments on the ones I enjoyed the most.  Keep in mind, these are classic/ traditional romances.   The plots are all tweaked with humor, the writing allusion without over-dramatics and the angst so low key you'll need to have a squint to find it.  I have only read one of Ms. Michaels newer books and it wasn't to my taste but when a friend mentioned these I took a chance on Ms. Michaels once again.  I'm so glad I did!

List of Alphabet Regency Classics by Kasey Michaels:
[Note: Titles reviewed are underlined-I'll be back to paste in my comments as I find time]
The Belligerent Miss Boynton — originally published 1982
Amanda Boynton is set on escaping her marriage-minded stepfather, refusing to be “sold” on the open market. She plans a grand exit from Society, first making a spectacle of herself at Almacks in order to humiliate the man, and then leaving London for — well, she hasn’t quite figured out that part of her plan yet.  Jared Delaney, Lord Storm, is both intrigued and appalled when he hears of Amanda’s plan (or should we say her lack of a plan), and decides she needs a companion, a protector, as she flees Mayfair in the dead of night.  But once on the road with the belligerent Miss Boynton, his plan begins to change. A small seduction is one thing, but Jared’s thoughts quickly turn to a more permanent arrangement …

The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane — originally published 1982
Tansy, left penniless by her late father, has been putting herself out as a governess to other people’s brats for two years when she is somehow caught up in playing chaperone to a distant cousin, the sister of a duke, no less. Ashley Benedict, Duke of Avonall, is a man beleaguered. His grandmother is a terror, his sister a lovely but none-too-bright chit, his valet a superstitious twit, and his aunt Lucinda is ... well, odd. Now, Ashley has a new problem ... how to keep himself from falling for Tansy Tamerlane.

Any book with the word Tenacious in the title demands my attention.  It's how my friend hooked me in to trying this series. In the case of Miss Tamerlane, I found a Darling Book.  Overall, with my tentative wading in to an author I did not previously enjoy fully confessed, I give this book a B++. Think Regency Sitcom along the lines of As Time Goes By; subtle, classic and with enough humor to keep you turning the pages.

There is an abused by his own Duke; a what has she got to lose but her virginity and a life of working her fingers to the bones for a pittance, Heroine.  Eccentric Relatives that are hilarious in books [not in our daily lives] with unappreciated Servants that keep everyone and everything in order, except when they're ripping off anyone they can or trying to make a pound to run off with their twu lurv.  We reach 42% of the book before the first kiss.  Meaning they actually knew something of each other before launching toward heated stoopidity.  Alas, there was barely more than 35 seconds of pleasant interlude before the sound of the gong sent hero and heroine back to their corners for round three - both of them still trembling and bewildered.  How did anyone make time during all those tumultuous episodes to nourish and build the Empire?  It is a mystery, isn't it!

Tansy nudge the credibility of a regency woman [even motherless since 10, there were always do-gooders ready to impart wisdom upon the willing and rebellious, it was all the same to them].  The explanations and reasoning for this were plausible enough to keep me from sighing or gritting my teeth and when the Omniscient Narrator carried on a bit, well, I admit I was giggling over Tansy's deficiencies and travails, poor dear.

I thoroughly enjoyed her ability to multitask and manage what no one else really wanted to.  She really would've made an excellent governess of many children, if only she wasn't so beautiful and forthright of speech [some might say ill-mannered since an employee only speaks to an employer in that manner if they prefer unemployment but hey, it's a romance with a feisty heroine so get over it].  Of course, if people actually appreciated those that tend their children and compensated them both financially and respect wise maybe Tansy could've bit her tongue a bit more often in one of those four jobs in less than two years, or maybe not.  In 2014, we still haven't managed to find the value of the child tender - mother or other - so poor Tansy was pretty much in the yeah, right, tell me another fairy tale era.  Managing a Duke, his relatives and households was probably almost enough of a challenge to keep her from seeking the brandy decanter.

Aunt Lucinda is a joy that flitters through several the books. [yes, ok, I went looking specifically for the books she was in, so what?]  She won not only my admiration but my sympathy. The Dowager Duchess to be is just enough of a stickler to make her believable, especially when she knows exactly which rules she can get away with bending.  Sister dearest is delightful on the page [please god, not in real life].  And the description of our hero is worth sharing here:

Sad to say, but true, Avanoll— a man judged quite unflappable in Parliament, termed intrepid in the hunt, and hailed as a noted wit in the company of his fellows—was at a loss when it came to dealing with women and servants. Indeed, he had ignored his staff and avoided feminine entanglements all his life. He was neither prepared nor anxious for a showdown now, so in the end he took the line of least resistance. He absented himself from his own home as frequently as he could, and for as long as he dared. He was, when he thought deeply about it, ashamed of his cowardice. But he did not alter his course.

Don't be misled, he's no whimpering boy or petty-minded bully trying to hide his deficiencies.  He has limits to his perfection and Tansy will actually BE his "other half," able to be strength where he is weaker and though it is glossed over in romance fashion, his strengths are a uniquely good fit to her weaknesses.  The two of them reminded me of parts of a large jig saw.  Seen on the table mixed up with all the others, not to be impressed by, but as part of the big picture, they stand out as vital to the image and support of the whole.

The Rambunctious Lady Royston — originally published 1983
Zachary St. John, Earl of Royston, didn’t know he was looking for a wife when he encountered Miss Samantha Ardsley. He didn’t even know he had encountered Miss Ardsley, for the cheeky thing was dressed in her brother’s clothes at the time, and calling herself Samuel Smythe-Wright.  She didn’t care about Zachary’s title or consequence, or even his devilish good looks — and she certainly didn’t wish to be married to him. But married to him she was, because she amused him, he said, and because he needed an heir.  What neither of them expected was to tumble into love.
The Lurid Lady Lockport — originally published 1984
Kevin Rawling (first encountered in The Belligerent Miss Boynton), is finally the Earl of Lockport, now that his eccentric and reclusive uncle has at last stuck his spoon in the wall. But when Kevin goes to inspect his country estate, he finds that he has inherited more than a huge, ramshackle old mansion.  Gilly Fortune grew up as a servant on the estate, the bastard child of the late earl, and she’s none too thrilled to see Kevin come riding up to the door.  Neither of them are happy to learn the conditions of the late earl’s will, that has a lot to do with the two near combatants marrying in order to release estate funds badly needed by Kevin…and then there’s this business about a hidden fortune.  But all of this pales when Kevin and Gilly begin to realize that there’s more between them than either could have supposed …
The Savage Miss Saxon — originally published 1985
Alexandra Saxon had journeyed all the way from America to introduce herself to her grandfather, Lord Saxon, and had no intention of being turned away, despite her unannounced arrival in the middle of the night. It was only in the morning that she made the shocking discovery that she had forced herself into the wrong place, and spent the night, not at her ancestral home, but at the estate of Nicholas Mannering, Earl of Linton...a handsome bachelor!  The dashing young earl was only too happy to save the lady's reputation -- and avoid a duel with her grandfather -- by announcing his engagement to the lovely stranger. But Alexandra was not about to carry their little farce all the way to the altar. And spurning his amorous advances, she led the earl on a spirited chase, with more than a few surprises.

The Mischievous Miss Murphy — originally published 1987
Candice Murphy and her uncle Max con their way through the world impersonating Italian counts and African princes, duping the greedy into parting with their money in hopes of fattening their fortunes.  Mark Antony Betancourt, Marquess of Coniston, stumbles onto the pair in the local guardhouse, and is immediately captivated by Candie’s beauty, not to mention her avowal that the turbaned man next to her is the Maharajah of Budge-Budge. The Marquess is sure he knows their game, but it takes him longer to realize that Candie is as virtuous as she appears, and not open to casual seduction.

A Rake that does not apologize or reform, what a nice change. I've never known a carouser that actually gave it up, even once he found The One, either she joined him or she remained at home, fretting [and in one case, relieved to be left alone]. I totally wondered right along with his sister if he was aware of the "folly of associating with females from which he could conceivably 'catch something'." But, hey, it's a romance and of course those society matrons weren't spreading STDs around like yesterday's lobster patties.

[the] Marquess was, like his circle of cronies, dedicated to the belief that it was his solemn duty as an English peer to bed as many women as he could during his sojourn upon this Earth. And to wed none of them. Lord Coniston—or Tony, as he was affectionately called by his friends—had, since attaining his majority eight years earlier, shown such diligence and dedication to what he saw as quite the most pleasant of the obligations attached to his rank that he had gained himself a second, slightly less endearing nickname. Within two years of his advent into London society, he was known throughout the ton as Mister Overnite, an appellation that was as descriptive of his nocturnal pursuits as it was self-explanatory. Tony Betancourt not only held the distinction of bedding more lightskirts than many other young bucks had eaten hot dinners, but he was also said to hold the modern-day British record for dallying the whole night long in more society matrons’ beds than half the husbands in the Upper Ten Thousand.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed Lord Coniston on the page [almost as much as Kleypass' Devil in Winter].  Candie having walked in the world and appreciating her wild Irish Rover of an uncle was certainly up to the challenge of "join me or wait for me but don't try and change me" personality.

Lord Coniston quotes a poem by Thomas Gaspey.  I encourage you to go an read the entry Lord Uxbridge's Leg @ the Wiki but put your beverage down first.

The Questioning Miss Quinton — published 1987
Patrick Sherbourne, eleventh Earl of Wickford, had been unwittingly charmed by the feisty Miss Victoria Quinton. Her bespectacled appearance belied her femme fatale persona—one he almost dared to covet, until the vixen accused him of her father's murder! Not one to allow his good name to be sullied, Patrick found his only recourse was to aid Victoria in uncovering the real criminal. But the earl had to act fast. For not just his family honor was at stake...spending a prolonged period in Victoria's company might mean the end to his beloved bachelorhood.

The Playful Lady Penelope — published 1988
Lady Penelope is a rather singular miss in that she wants nothing to do with a London Season, and nothing to do with marriage. Lucien Kenrick, Earl of Leighton, shares those same sentiments, so when the two are thrown together, there should be no problems, with neither of them in the least marriage-minded.  Then again, there’s always that thing about best-laid plans... especially once both, through design and accident, end up residing under the roof of one Lucinda Benedict.

"Playful" is a kindness .. brat would suit her better but it wouldn't fit the alliteration, would it?  Sadly, brat is a label most suitable for our hero as well.  Though our hero may be heroic in many areas, to tease his stallion with the possibility of a romp with a gelding ... well, I just thought that was a bit mean. [of course, what do I know, it was the 80s after all].  By the third chapter I was pretty well sick of both of them carping and snarking at everyone, certain of their superior intelligence and only holding out for Aunt Lucinda and the deranged by superstitions butler.

I confess, I started skimming before Chapter Six, disappointed by the late 80's / early 90's version of feisty heroine.  The glimmer of what was to come and remain with us in Regency and Historical Romances was depressing.  It was the beginning of the New Woman in Romance where to be a trial to others, to do as you want and have it all Your Way and ignore conventions was The Thing.  We've seen almost thirty years of this now, one after another heroine that could effortlessly move from the Battle of Waterloo to the Twenty-First Century with no difficulty aside from fashion and electricity.  I appreciate that most readers *want* this ... alas, I read historical based fiction enjoying the *difference* in perspective.  Anyway, this isn't a heroine I much admired, though I laughed at her often:  "I think I deserve a little praise for my absolutely exemplary behavior of the past few days. You cannot know what a sad trial being good is for me. You may not believe this, Aunt Lucinda, having never witnessed it, but I can really be quite awful when I put my mind to it."

Of course there is the irresistible passion that flares between them - and the obligatory denial by both to what it could and will undoubtedly lead to.  But he hadn’t expected to be shaken down to his toes with his own sanity-stripping response to her innocently passionate reaction. After all, he’d held many a warm, willing woman in his arms. You just didn’t think this thing through before you acted, Leighton, that’s all. All right, he concluded, better late than never. Start thinking.

Our hero's solution to this attraction is to lie to our heroine and tell her he is married, with three children.  She is devastated because in one night, based on one passionate kiss, she had:   begun to spin daydreams about her handsome, anonymous patient ... begun entertaining the idea that this man was somehow different. Difficult, yes. Demanding in the extreme. But still different— perhaps even equal to her in the strength of his personality.  He feels guilty: Lucien looked over at the top of Lady Penelope’s downcast head, longing to reach out and gather her into his arms and tell her it was all a lie— a crazy, impetuous, self-serving lie . But no, it was better this way.  If she were to tumble into love with him, it would be the worst disaster in the world, for he could not find it in himself to hurt her. He had to put her at a distance and then keep her there.

I gagged and wondered why I was still reading this one.  Oh yeah, for the Aunt, the Butler, and omniscient narrator - they are SO worth it!  Aunt Lucinda got her 2 cents worth in, I loved every quote!  Farley, the superstitious butler, continued to torment and dose the hero with poppy petals in rare snootful of drugged rabbit stew.  I enjoyed that a great deal.

And then two of our heroine's brothers show up and yes, I was not only enjoying every minute, I was no longer skimming.  Quite how Ms. Michaels pulled that off, I can't say without giving it all away, but she did and despite despising the couple in question - I thoroughly enjoyed this book too.  Totally worth the strange start and as I went back and re-read the parts I skimmed, I could see the sneaky set up Ms. Michaels worked on this unsuspecting reader.  Don't read this one while drinking a hot beverage you might spew all over your lap!

The Anonymous Miss Addams — published 1989
He was London's most eligible—and outrageous—bachelor. But though Pierre Standish didn't give a whit for polite society, he could not deny his father's latest request. To prove himself a true gentleman, Pierre had to perform a random good deed. The task proved unimaginatively easy when, en route to London, Pierre came upon a damsel lying in the road. Her clothes bespoke her an urchin, but although his anonymous Miss Addams had lost her memory, Pierre was certain she was a well-bred lady. A lady whose innocence and plight might just ensnare the ton's most unattainable rogue.
The Dubious Miss Dalrymple — published 1990
Forced to assume a false identity, "John Bates" journeyed to the new Earl of Hythe's home to uncover a murderous plot. There he found Elinor Dalrymple, sister to the newly ensconced earl and mistress of his seaside estate. At first glance, John dismissed her as merely a staid spinster. Yet once she let down her hair, sweet Elinor transformed into a beautiful butterfly—and a feisty damsel who was dubious of his devilish rogue persona. Suddenly John's carefully orchestrated masquerade was crumbling...under his own desire to reveal his true self to Miss Dalrymple!
The Chaotic Miss Crispino — published 1991
Valerian Fitzhugh had been entrusted to accompany a wayward, headstrong heiress from her disreputable Italian pensione to her family's English estate. He had expected a young girl, not a beautiful, full-grown woman employed as an opera singer. Ever mindful of his obligation, Valerian escorted Miss Allegra Crispino across the ocean in a most gentlemanly fashion. Yet once they touched shore, the Englishman could no longer deny himself a kiss from the maddening minx. With that one embrace, their fates appeared to be sealed...until chaos was unleashed.
The Haunted Miss Hampshire — published 1992
Miss Cassandra Hampshire is yet another poverty-stricken young lady of quality, but her luck is about to turn, for her distant relative, Lucinda Benedict, has willed her a small estate rather incongruously known as Wormhill. But the gift comes with a catch. Cassandra only inherits the estate if she and Philip Rayburn, Earl of Hawkedon, can share the residence for the space of two months without killing each other.  You see, Lucinda Benedict was a romantic, and she believed that putting these two fine people in each other’s company would prove to be a fine bit of matchmaking. The only problem (other than these two very matchable people killing each other) is that Lucinda didn’t realize that she would be an earthbound ghost until the marriage took place.
The Wagered Miss Winslow — published 1992
Beaumont Remington -- known only as “Fish” in The Haunted Miss Hampshire, is a man searching for revenge ... but what he finds with Rosalind Winslow, the sister of his enemy, is something much more satisfying.  She was a pretty enough little thing, he granted to himself, and she would have brought out more of his protective tendencies if he didn't believe she could probably hold off an army on her own, if not with weapons then with her sharp tongue and even sharper intellect.  And it wasn't as if he had ever held out any great hopes for a love match. He was too raw, too uneducated, and too set in his ways to ever believe he was the sort females of Rosalind Winslow's birth and breeding might flock to with visions of happily-ever-after gleaming in their eyes.  But she was a Winslow, and her family and his were sworn enemies, not that he had so far been able to summon up any real animosity toward her. Did this house, this property, mean enough to him that he would even consider marrying a Winslow?  He could. He would.  But he would have to be careful how he went about it ...
Moonlight Masquerade — published 1989
A beautiful young miss and her aunt are stranded in a snowstorm and left to the mercies of a nearby landowner who refuses to show himself to his uninvited guests.  But, really, that just makes him more interesting…
A Difficult Disguise — published 1990
Everyone has read the plot involving a beautiful young runaway debutante masquerading as boy. But in A Difficult Disguise, Rosalie Darley, taking the name Billy, does her hiding in plain sight, working in the stables at the estate of her unknowing guardian, Fletcher Belden.  Ah, but is Fletcher really that blind, or is he playing a game of his own?

1 comment:

  1. What remarkable timing! Just yesterday I finished reading a Kasey Michael time travel romance from 1992 and thought it was pretty awful. I had a vague memory of really enjoying her Regencies, so I appreciate the reminder why.