Joanna Bourne’s latest historical romantic suspense novel, The Black Hawk, is a must-read as far as I am concerned – it is that good – I couldn’t put it down and can’t wait for Ms. Bourne’s next book! The story spans 24 years – from the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror to after Napoleon’s exile to Saint Helena. The protagonists are spies – Justine DeCabrillac for France and Adrian Hawker for England – who meet early in their careers and are reunited every few years as fate allows. They have a strong mutual attraction that never lessens despite their long separations and the impossibility of a steady relationship with an enemy spy. I love the epic quality to the romance – their love survives years of hardship and separation. And I love the characters – both hardened veterans who share a deep understanding of who the other one is and what s/he has been through. I dare not say anything more lest I spoil the book for you, so just read it! You can thank me for the recommendation later!
Judith Ivory’s The Proposition begins in the same way George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion does: a philologist, a person with an appalling accent, and a bet (the musical My Fair Lady is based on the play). I tend to dislike remakes of any kind and I was irritated by the idea when I picked up this book, but I am happy to report this is one heck of a great read. And it isn’t a remake anyway – the beginning is very similar to Mr. Shaw’s play, but it quickly becomes a totally different story. The first major difference is that the roles in Ms. Ivory’s novel are given to the opposite sexes from those in Mr. Shaw’s play: The Proposition features Lady Edwina Bollash as the teacher, endeavoring to transform rat-catcher Mick Tremore into a ‘gentleman’ who can pass among high society for one evening as a Viscount. Switching the gender roles in this experiment evens the playing field, changes the power dynamic in a very interesting way, and works better for a romance. The power is so heavily on Professor Higgins’ side in Pygmalion that a romance there might have been pretty nauseating – at a time when women had no real power in the first place, Henry Higgins has all the education and wealth too. Edwina’s upbringing and education place her in a position of relative strength even if she has suffered for being at the mercy of her male relatives, while Mick is uneducated and of a lower social class, but not utterly helpless – he, for example, has his own business. The Proposition is totally engrossing – I was immediately, thoroughly sucked in and read it straight through. I found it especially touching and I really cared about these characters. I can’t recommend this book more, but you don’t have to take my word for it – it’s one of All About Romance’s Readers’ Choice Top 100.
Elizabeth Hoyt has a fairytale-like story woven through all of her novels. She opens each new chapter with a paragraph from the fairytale creating a once-upon-a-time ambiance I adore. I think this faraway quality is why I had no problem accepting a pirate as a romantic hero in Scandalous Desires. Questions of why I would want a happy ending for a sociopath are easily handled by my willing suspension of disbelief within the context of this novel. Silence Hollingbrook found a baby abandoned on her doorstep and has been mother to the child ever since. After receiving a series of mysterious clue-like gifts, Silence begins to suspect the baby’s father is none other than the infamous river pirate Mickey O’Connor. It turns out she’s right – the baby and Silence are now in danger because of their connection to him. Mickey has been obsessed with Silence for years and while he really does need to keep her close to keep her safe, he’s happy to take advantage of the situation. The ruthless pirate soon reveals his vulnerable, generous and loving side and while I would never want to actually be romantically involved with a crime lord, I have to say I was quite the smitten kitten while reading this novel – there is just something so heart-melting about a bad boy being conquered by love.
Caroline Linden’s novella I Love the Earl is a short, sweet love story. Margaret de Lacey, an ugly duckling who never did grow into a swan, is resigned to her life as a spinster. But when her brother unexpectedly inherits a fortune and gives her an enormous dowry, she suddenly finds herself to be the most sought-after woman on the marriage-mart. And while she would love to get married, she won’t marry a man only interested in her fortune – and she knows no man wants her for anything else. I love a romance novel in which the conflict is emotional – between the two main characters, and not an external problem like thwarting some third party villain. The main conflict in this novella stems from Margaret’s lack of faith that a man will love her instead of her fortune. Rhys Corwen, the impoverished Earl of Dowling, really has his work cut out for him, because while he does need to marry for money, when he meets Margaret he knows no other woman will do.
Eileen Dreyer writes action-packed historical romances. Always a Temptress, the third book in her Drake’s Rakes series, is about Kate Seaton and Harry Lidge: two tortured souls with a history of perceived betrayal who work out their problems while battling a plot against the throne. I have been eagerly anticipating Kate’s story. She captured my interest in the first two books of the series, Barely a Lady and Never a Gentleman, with her compelling, tough, funny personality. “It seemed to Grace an upending of the natural order that Kate should need help,” observes Kate’s friend at one point in the novel – and that is exactly what I thought while reading the first part of the book. But need help she does and Kate has a very hard time accepting it, fearful she will learn to rely on someone when life has taught her she can rely only on herself. You don’t need to read the first two books in the Drake’s Rakes series to enjoy Always a Temptress but I recommend all three!
Miranda Neville’s The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton is great fun. The third book in Ms. Neville’s Burgundy Club Series features Tarquin Compton, naughty book collector and fashion-leader of the ton. Tarquin isn’t particularly interested in marriage, and he certainly isn’t interested in marrying Celia Seaton, a woman with no fortune, style, or connections. But at the beginning of the story he doesn’t know he’s not interested because he has amnesia. I laughed again and again while reading this novel. Ms. Neville uses language from a real 1796 novel called The Genuine and Remarkable Amours of the Celebrated Author Peter Aretin many times and it is wildly funny. I really enjoyed the first two books in the Burgundy Club Series and this novel fully lived up to my high expectations.
Mary Jo Putney’s Carousel of Hearts is the story of a love square. A love square? You guessed it! A love square is a love-triangle-type scenario, but involving four people instead of three. What I love about this novel is that the conflicts are heart-wrenching yet realistic. There is no ‘bad guy’ to provide drama – all the drama is generated by four very nice people with good intentions. The story is much more involved than good guys thwarting a villain. The characters have issues that are more complicated than that: discovering that strong infatuation can be fleeting, and not necessarily indicative of a meaningful connection, or that a meaningful connection can sometimes be lacking the spark that would have made a true romance – the novel’s plot revolves around these kinds of real love-life issues, and this makes it interesting and engrossing.
Nicola Cornick’s One Wicked Sin was a finalist for the 2011 RITA for best Historical Romance. It is a fast-paced page turner and I really enjoyed it. Lottie Cummings, a scandalous and destitute divorcée, has been reduced to prostitution in order to avoid starvation. When Ethan Ryder asks her to become his mistress she sees him as the lesser of two evils, though she senses his reasons for starting the relationship are not as simple as they seem. It is difficult to explain what I liked about the book without spoiling it for you, but I’ll say this: between bad luck and poor choices, Lottie’s life is a shambles. She faces her problems with a self-serving, and often funny, saltiness that really appealed to me.
Mary Balogh is so good at what she does. I just finished her latest novel, The Secret Mistress, with a totally satisfied sigh of contentment. Ms. Balogh writes ROMANCE, and I know I’ve made this point before, but it isn’t as easy to do as one might think and it can be difficult to find a romance novel that is actually romantic. But The Secret Mistress is just that and I loved it. Angeline Dudley falls head over heels in love with Edward Ailsbury when he saves her from the unwelcome advances of a rake. Edward – responsible, serious, honorable and kind – is seen by many to be a very dull fellow. But to Angeline he is a rock of strength and she finds the qualities others find dull to be extremely attractive.
Kasey Michaels’ The Butler Did It is madcap fun and I highly recommend it even though the romance itself is only a small part of the story. Morgan Drummond, the Marquis of Westham, returns to his London home after a five-year absence to find his staff has been making money on the sly by turning his home into a hotel. The guests renting rooms for the London Season include Miss Emma Clifford, an impoverished beauty, who must marry well in order to save her family from poverty. The romance between these two takes place amidst a very funny story full of zany sub-plots: each member of the staff and the many hotel guests have their own wild agendas which all come to a head (and are neatly resolved) at the end of the novel.