Tag: historical romance

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for January (and Harlequin TBR #513): The Taming of Mei Lin

I decided to join Wendy the SuperLibrarian’s TBR Challenge this year, since reading from the TBR is my main 2019 reading goal. And I do have my towering TBR of Harlequins to get through. January is always short reads, to ease us into the year. I knew I had books in Harlequin’s various short-story and novella lines, and I found a Jeannie Lin short from the Historical Undone line. It is the prequel to her debut novel for Harlequin, Butterfly Swords. I finally read that last year, so The Taming of Mei Lin sounded like a perfect follow-up.

This story is about 40 pages, more of an amuse-bouche than anything, but it packs a nice romance into its brief wordcount, complete with some sexy romantic scenes as well. Mei Lin is the grandmother of Ai Li, the heroine of Butterfly Swords, and her romance with the stranger who comes to town, Shen Leung, provides the ancestral backstory for the novel.

Mei Lin is an orphan who lives with her uncle, aunt, and cousin. She has resisted being married off as the third wife to the local magistrate, Zhou, which displeases both her uncle and Zhou. Mei Lin is adept in the use of butterfly swords and has decreed that she will only marry someone who can best her in a swordfight. Zhou can’t, and the emissaries he sends can’t either. But then Shen arrives. They are a well-matched pair in every way, and Mei Lin thinks this is a best deal she can probably get, but Shen doesn’t seem to want to claim his prize.

Their battle of swords turns into a battle of something more, as Mei Lin continues to fight Zhou’s thugs and Shen tries to stick to his plan to continue his solitary life. The attraction between them is convincing and well depicted, and the sex is integral to the story (as is always the case with Lin’s fiction, in my opinion).

As I said, this is a very quick read but a rewarding one. The cultural milieu is established well despite the word count constraints. If you haven’t read Butterfly Swords, start with this prequel, and if you have, read this for the backstory.

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Harlequin TBR #515: A Convenient Gentleman by Victoria Aldridge

I apparently bought this book in 2012. It’s a backlist historical by Harlequin/M&B, originally published in 2004. Victoria Aldridge published half a dozen category romances, all historicals set in New Zealand. This book has a Marriage of Convenience (MOC) trope, an unbelievably naïve heroine, and a hero with some unusual qualities. If you’ve been looking for non-wallpaper historicals, this is one for you. 

A Convenient Gentleman cover

Caroline Morgan wants nothing more than to run the family farm and other holdings when her father steps aside, but Ben Morgan refuses to consider a woman for the job. The eligible son of the property adjoining theirs in New South Wales is smitten with Caroline and Ben is pushing for a personal and business union. Caroline, who is naïve and feisty in equal parts (not my favorite combination in a heroine) refuses and runs away to New Zealand, where she hopes to find her mother’s sister, Charlotte. 

She does indeed find Charlotte in Dunedin, a bustling city that serves the New Zealand gold rush of the 1860s. Charlotte is the owner of the large and luxurious Castledene Hotel, which she inherited from her recently deceased husband. But the hotel is in disrepair, the staff aren’t being paid, the debts are mounting, and Charlotte, who cares nothing about the hotel, is in thrall to the oily and lecherous Mr. Thwaites. Thwaites runs the adjoining bar and makes a healthy profit on it but pays no rent to Charlotte. Caroline knows she can turn the hotel around, but she needs money, and the banker holding Charlotte’s notes won’t lend to a woman. 

Enter our hero. Caroline needs a husband and fast, so she pays Leander Gray, a drunk she finds in Thwaites’ bar, to marry her. Of course Leander turns out to be More Than He Seems, and together they start putting the hotel to rights. Plot developments send Charlotte and Thwaites off-page (separately), and the first half of the story has our MOC’d couple working together and getting to know each other. They’re getting fond of each other and Leander has cleaned up nicely, but we still have half a book to go. 

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Devices and Desires and my problem with AU

I’ve read four more books this month. It hasn’t felt like that many, but one was in process, another was an audiobook, and a third was a reread from way back. So only one book really felt like a slog, and unfortunately it was the one I was looking forward to. I read and enjoyed Pamela Sherwood’s novella, The Advent of Lady Madeline, and Janine and SonomaLass both really liked the full-length novel that follows it, Devices and Desires, so I decided to try it even though I had mixed feelings about the sample. The novel was written before the novella and is modelled on the film A Lion in Winter (the author’s notes in both the novella and the novel are explict about that, calling it a “retelling”). The film, of course, is the film version of a play which fictionalizes the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their relationships with their children at a specific point in time. So you have a three-steps removed retelling of a famous historical relationship about which our information is decent but far from definitive, given that they lived in the 12thC. Moreover, the characters in the film are embodied by famous actors, who become fused with the characters themselves in our understanding of the latter.

I’m laying all this out because as I was reading I was experiencing the text at a variety of levels:

  • as a genre romance with a central relationship embedded within a family saga;
  • as an AU (Alternate Universe) version of real people as well as of a specific film version of those people;
  • and as a story set within a specific historical context, i.e., a ducal castle in Yorkshire, England in Christmas of 1888.

I had mixed feelings about the sample because the types of anachronisms I had observed in the novella seemed to be cropping up here as well, and on top of that I wondered about a couple of more substantive logic issues in the story. Gervase, our hero, rejects being a barrister and instead decides to become a solicitor because he doesn’t want to be dependent on either his father or other people for his income. But to be a solicitor requires three to five years of being an articled clerk to a solicitor (something the text notes), which the clerk not only has to pay for (to the tune of hundreds of pounds), but during that time he is not remunerated, or at least not enough to live on. So who is supporting Gervase while he qualifies?

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Reading challenge update

I’m still plugging away at my various reading challenges. There’s no way I’ll read 20 books by Labor Day for the #20booksofsummer challenge, but I’ll be curious to see how many I do read. I’ve finished four books since I last posted.

Worth the risk coverWorth the Risk by Sarah Morgan. This is the first book by one of my favorite romance authors, published in the Mills & Boon Medical Romance line. It was somehow NOT in my TBR, but my library had the re-released version and I wanted a comfort read. Morgan’s has a number of early books set in villages in northern England and Scotland, and this is one of a series focusing on characters who do mountain rescue work. It features traditional tropes (sort-of secret baby, unexpected virgin, bad boy hero, etc.), but Morgan was putting interesting spins on these tropes from the very beginning of her writing career.

Ally McGuire is a doctor who enjoys her job and focuses her life around Charlotte, AKA Charlie. Then Sean Nicholson walks into both her medical practice and her life, upending her carefully established equilibrium. Sean and Ally are attracted from the outset (there is a meet-cute involving abseiling and rescue), but Sean has enough baggage to sail across the Pacific. There is medical stuff and romance stuff, all mixed together in a recipe that worked well for me. I haven’t been reading much romance lately, but there are certain styles and stories I always return to, and this is one of them.

Lady Madeline coverThe Advent of Lady Madeline by Pamela Sherwood. I went from an autobuy romance author to a new-to-me romance author who had flown totally under my radar, despite being interviewed years ago at DA. Janine recommended the first full novel in Sherwood’s Lyon’s Pride series, but I wasn’t quite willing to commit that much time and energy so I opted for the prequel novella. Hugh Lowell, Viscount Saxby, goes to a house party at the estate of the Duke of Whitborough in order to keep an eye on his young relative. Hugh is planning to propose to a very appropriate young lady, but he is taken with the somewhat on the shelf, fascinating daughter of the Duke, Lady Madeline.

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Remembering Jo Beverley

I was offline Monday night so it wasn’t until I woke up yesterday morning that I saw the news that Jo Beverley had died. I just sat there for a minute in shock. She was only 68, and her cancer recurrence was swift and terminal.

JoBev was one of those authors with whom I only had a few direct exchanges, but whose books permeated my reading life and set the standard for what I looked for in other historical novels. She’s best known for her Georgian series (the Mallorens) and her Regency Rogues series, and the books I’ve read in those are very good to excellent, but my favorite series was her first, the Regency series featuring the Daffodil Dandy, Kevin Renfrew.

Beverley was known for her historically rich contexts and characterizations, whether she was writing closer to the Regency trad format or longer single-title novels. One of the things I loved about her books was that her aristocrats worked. They attended Parliament, they took care of their estates, and if they were spies they actually spied, with all the unsavory aspects espionage involves.

Apart from brief Twitter conversations and the rare comment on my reviews of her books, I only had one interaction with Beverley, but I’ve always remembered it. Miranda Neville observed on Twitter that one of the best known conventions in Regency romances, that a debutante had to have the permission of Almack’s Patronesses to waltz, was nowhere to be found in the historical record. She even offered a $100 bounty to anyone who found it. Someone suggested we ask JoBev about that, since she was one of the most likely people to know. So I emailed her (with a bit of trepidation). She responded promptly and said she had never found confirmation of that either, and went on to talk a bit about Almack’s and the waltz more generally.

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