Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #88: The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

A historical romance featuring two people who are desperately in love and desperately terrified by it, The Luckiest Lady in London is by turns enjoyable and discomfiting, but always entertaining.

Felix, Marquess of Wrenworth, is ironically named. He is not happy, although he is in control of his world and has fastidiously created a public persona for himself that both he and Society refer to as the “Ideal Gentleman”. Felix is objectively perfect: smart, rich as Croesus, handsome, polite, athletic, and debonair. It is a beautifully crafted shell hiding a wounded heart.

Given a hero named Felix, I chose to look into the meaning the heroine’s name and I learned that Louisa means “renowned warrior”.  It’s appropriate. She needs her battle skills and instincts for self-protection. Too old to be a debutante, Louisa nonetheless has one Season to land a husband who can provide financial security for her family, including an invalid sister. Like Felix, she has meticulously fashioned the image she presents to the world: bright, relaxed, and winning. She has a realistic view of her charms and prospects, and she conducts herself accordingly. Louisa is not necessarily conniving, just extremely pragmatic. Felix is not even on her list of suitable husbands; she has set her sights on two appropriate men and while she does not expect to marry for love, she will not martyr herself for her family either.

Louisa and Felix first meet at a soiree and instantly recognize the truth, and its danger, in each other:  they are kindred spirits with carefully maintained facades. When their acquaintance expands and Louisa’s best prospects are found to be wanting, she and Felix begin their dance. They spar and tease even as something much more potent lingers beneath the surface. Felix and Louisa are intellectually fascinated, sexually volcanic, and emotionally fearful of each other.

My previous forays with Sherry Thomas have resulted in “I just can’t” as I usually find her books too heavy and serious. The usual sobriety is still present in The Luckiest Lady in London, but it was couched in such delightful writing and sincere characters that it did not get in the way for me this time. My only carp is that the angst did indeed make me writhe (and not the good kind of writhing I look to these books for) and that when the denouement proceeded, I felt it moved a little too close to cutesy given the tone established by the rest of the book.  But never mind that, I would still recommend The Luckiest Lady in London to readers looking for entertaining, slightly intense, and well-written escapism.

This review and The (Shameful) Tally 2013 can also be found on my tiny little blog.

Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #87 – How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn

(This was written using the romance review template I created for my post on Mary Balogh’s A Handful of Gold)

How to Marry a Marquis is a romance of the “you are everything I never knew I always wanted variety”: Boy meets girl. He is the wealthy nephew of a marriage-minded aunt. She is the impoverished companion of said aunt and also responsible for her younger siblings. Boy and girl move forward together secure in their love and commitment.

 A historical romance set in rural Regency England and written by Julia Quinn, How to Marry a Marquis is my 15th or 16th book by this author.  I generally find her work fun. Quinn is a deft and witty writer who excels at spinning light-hearted romance. I have covered all of the novels in her justly famous Bridgerton series in previous reviews. I found How to Marry a Marquis enjoyable and romantic. I will continue to seek out Quinn’s other novels because this one was really good, and I would recommend this particular effort.

The main plot of How to Marry a Marquis  focuses on the reformation of a rake. James Sidwell,  Marquis of Riverdale is that rake. He is urbane, charming, and sincere. He handles challenging situations with humour and aplomb. The heroine, Elizabeth Hotchkiss, is a victim of circumstance. She is also charming, resolute, and hardworking. Elizabeth’s parents have both passed away and she is responsible for the financial well-being of the family. She works for local harridan (and Quinn fan favourite) Lady Danbury to help get by, but her financial situation is worsening. Elizabeth finds an instructional book called How to Marry a Marquis in Lady Danbury’s library and decides to “practice” on the new estate manager, James. What Elizabeth does not know is that James is a family member or his true purpose in the house. They are instantly attracted to each other. Over time, they come to discover that despite any challenges they face, they make an excellent team.

How to Marry a Marquis is one of Julia Quinn’s earlier efforts and it is delightful. I have read just about everything in her oeuvre and as her recent efforts are experiencing a, relatively speaking, fall in quality, it was nice to read something written when Quinn was coming into the phase in which she would produce her best work.  I recommend Quinn highly as a gateway author for those looking to give historical romance a try. She is the genre’s best at crafting deceptively simple, sincere, and funny romance.

This review and The (Shameful) Tally 2013 can also be found on my tiny little blog.

Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #86 – A Handful of Gold by Mary Balogh

I decided to fashion a fill-in-the-blank romance novel review to make these posts easier to write:

Part A. The Summary: (Title) is a romance of the (“you are everything I never knew I always wanted”/opposites attract/love story balanced with a strong subplot/teach me how to love/I know I am unworthy, but I love you so) variety: Boy meets girl. (Specify relationship obstruction). (Oblique hint at resolution). Boy and girl move forward together secure in their love and commitment.

Part B. The Introduction: A (historical/contemporary/paranormal) romance set in (location and time period) and written by (author’s first and last name), (title) is my (first/second, etc.) book by this author. (If this is an author you have read before, please complete the following:) I generally find her work (pleasant/a good time filler/spectacular/reliable/fun/vile, but the book was free). (Comment on previous work and link to other reviews where possible). I found (title) (suggested descriptors that can be supplemented as needed: enjoyable/lacklustre/misogynistic/soporific/,and/or romantic). I (will continue to/will not) seek out (author’s last name)’s other novels because this one (was nothing special/showed promise/was really good/passed the time pleasantly enough), (and/but/although) I (would/would not) recommend this particular effort.

Part C. The Plot: The main plot of (title) focuses on (the reformation of a rake/the awakening of a wallflower/a revenge plot/a road trip/an intrigue or mystery/their marriage of convenience/and/or the healing of a tortured hero and/or heroine). (Hero’s name and title, as appropriate) is (that rake/a protector). He is (insert three adjectives). (Comment on his general appeal or lack thereof, specify traits leading to this conclusion.) The heroine, (name and title, as appropriate), is a (wallflower/victim of circumstance). She is (choose three adjectives with special focus on her relatability). (Insert MacGuffin.) (Hero and heroine’s names) (are/are not) instantly attracted to each other. Over time, they come to discover that despite any challenges they face, they make an excellent team.

Part D. The Subplot: (Continue to Section E, if there is no significant subplot, or if it is uninteresting.)

The subplot in (title) revolves around (the reformation of a rake/the awakening of a wallflower/a revenge plot/a road trip/an intrigue or mystery/their marriage of convenience/and/or the healing of a tortured hero and/or heroine) It was (an excellent addition well-executed/cumbersome and got in the way of the main story).

Part E. Conclusion: (Reword opinions stated in Part B. The Introduction.) (Make general comments on the quality of the writing either positive or taking pleasure in being cleverly derisive). (If the book is not recommended, provide a suggestion for a romance with a similar theme more successfully presented.)

Part F. Closing: (Insert link to annotated list of available reviews for readers’ edification.)

© 2013 Mrs. Julien Presents

Let’s give the format a go with the Christmas novella A Handful of Gold by Mary Balogh …

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Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #85: Where Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas

I mentioned in an earlier review, that I had once said, “If these two don’t kiss soon, my head may explode,” out loud while reading a particular romance. Where Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas is that particular romance. I love this book. While not a classic, it is one of the ones I will keep if/when I am released from my historical romance obsession. I have read it several times and did so again recently.

Lady Holland Taylor…

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation Presents "Hot In Hollywood"No, not this one, although I assume it’s a loving homage on the part of Ms. Kleypas.

Lady Holland Taylor has just attended her first public event after three years of public and private mourning for her husband, George. They were happily married and very much in love. Holly lives with his family and her daughter, Rose, her dearest tie to George. Despite the fact that she is out in society again, Holly dresses in the colours of “half mourning” and has no interest in another marriage. She is every inch, and in all the best ways, a lady. When Holly finds herself looking for a moment alone and instead winds up kissing a stranger in the dark at a party, she is devastated and runs away.

Zachary Bronson expected one woman in the dark and swooped in to discover he was kissing another. He has recently arrived in Society and his position there is the result of his ambition and unassailable new  wealth. He is too rough for his new world and the upper echelons do so revile an upstart. To give himself access to the circles he wants to do business in, make his mother and sister comfortable in that world, but mostly to try to get his hands on that woman he kissed, Zachary offers Holly a position as a kind of guide to teach his family the social graces. He pretends not to remember her when they meet again, as does Holly. For an obscene amount of money, including a generous dowry for Rose, Holly will work for Zachary for one year. His only condition is that Holly and her daughter must move in with his family.

There is no external conflict in this story, the tension revolves around the vast difference in the leads’ backgrounds. Holly and Zach are each kind, lovely people. He is brash and ambitious, she is refined and quiet. They slowly find a balance with each other and move forward as a couple. Holly was trained so well to be a certain kind of woman, so very moderate in all things, and constrained for so long that she feels bowled over by this louder new life, even as she finds Zachary incredibly attractive. (As well she should. He is as delicious as I have come to expect of all Lisa Kleypas heroes. She writes big, beautiful, sardonic men, and I say, “Brava!”.)

Where Dreams Begin has some elements that are a bit dated, it is mentioned that Zach frequents brothels, and there is magic realism/dreamy stuff that I could have done without. Romance novels are  sufficiently fuzzy with regards to reality that adding another layer of narrative distance impinges on the illusion for me. Any quibbles I have are minor about an otherwise sincere, entertaining and delightful story. Lisa Kleypas is a master craftsman. She excels at every aspect of writing for the genre. Every night, I say a little prayer hoping she will re-enter the historical romance fray.

Where Dreams Begin appears in the 2012 section of The (Shameful) Tally 2013 and on my recommendations list.

Mrs. Julien’s Book Exchange Post – HUZZAH!

Mswas GiftThank you, Mswas for the lovely presents and the homemade card. (Can you read it? “You’re no verra sensible, Sassenach, but I like ye fine.”) I should probably reread the Outlander books now that I’ll know the correct pronunciation of the Gaelic words. Then I can make charts and graphs for comparison purposes when the show comes out and I hear how they pronounce things.

Given how much Mswas and everyone else have loved it, I am very much looking forward to The Book Thief and promise to review it for CBR6.

Thank you to Jen K for organizing the exchange.

Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #83 & #84: A Rogue by Any Other Name and No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

There are many reasons that Sarah MacLean is on my autobuy list, but one of them is that she has enormous potential that is coming into full flower. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished has a twist at the end that not only guarantees I will be combing back through this and the other two books in her “Rules of Scoundrels” series, but I will purchase next book, Put Up Your Dukes*, the second it becomes available. These historical romances feature four displaced aristocrats who have joined together to run a wildly successful gambling hell called The Fallen Angel. Each book features one of the exiles, i.e. A Rogue by Any Other Name (Bourne), One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (Cross), No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (Temple), and Put Up Your Dukes** (Chase).

A Rogue by Any Other Name

Theoretically, I read A Rogue by Any Other Name last year, but it was during my frantic romance devouring phase and it didn’t really capture my attention. This is not the first time that has happened and it won’t be the last. I read the novel again properly this year after One Good Earl Deserves a Lover because I loved the latter so.

Michael, Marquess of Bourne, and Lady Penelope were childhood friends. He went away to school and she stayed home as was the curse of women in her era. They wrote letters, but Michael’s responses petered out and then stopped after he gambled away his inheritance and left Society behind. For ten years, he has been bent on reclaiming the property that he considers his birthright. There are a lot of people in romances who gamble away their fortunes, but they are rarely the hero. It’s a great touch. Bourne is cold, driven, and, as I said in reference to him in the One Good Earl review, suffers “from a prolonged case of Head Up Posterior”. When Bourne discovers that “his” land is now tied to Penelope’s dowry, it brings him back into the orbit of his childhood friend. Wallflower Penelope is surprised to see Michael again and not happy with the changes in him. They gradually come together as he both resolves and relinquishes his issues. Overall, I enjoyed A Rogue by Any Other Name, but it was not as good as either of the two that followed it.

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished

When she was young, terrified, and unthinking, Mara Lowe hatched a plan to escape an arranged marriage to a man three times her age. Caught in the aftermath of her not-so-cunning plan, William Harrow, Duke of Lamont was branded “The Killer Duke” and exiled from Society. Twelve years later, again desperate, but mercifully more perspicacious, Mara approaches the Lamont to help provide his  absolution in trade for help with her shiftless brother. Now living as “Temple”, the resident pugilist at the Fallen Angel, William has actually built a good life for himself out of Mara’s wreckage; however, he longs to confirm to himself and others that he is not a murderer. He and Mara enter into an arrangement to reveal that she is alive and shame/humiliate/disgrace her in the process. What with being a romance novel and all, their love story intervenes.

In old school romances, the hero was often, forgive me, a prick. Brooding, arrogant, and high-handed, the heroine would nevertheless be attracted to him and somehow redeem him. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished has an unsympathetic lead, but it is the heroine. Mara made decisions with horrible repercussions as a child, which is forgivable, but by continuing not to come forward for over a decade, she made adult choices that continued the fallout. She was hard to like even when MacLean surrounded her with a gaggle of plot moppets and a pet pig. (Oy vey.) But enough about Mara, what about the old school redemptive heroine Temple? Oh, he’s a big lug. A big, delicious, magnificent, FORGIVING lug. Temple experiences more negative backlash from Mara’s actions than even she does, but, it must be noted, he also gained a kind of freedom he would never have had in the role that was his so-called birthright. Against the advice of literally almost everyone else in the story, they find their way to each other.

Bring on Chase’s book, Put Up Your Dukes***!

This review and The (Shameful) Tally 2013 can also be found on my tiny little blog.

*Not the real title.
**Still not the real title.
*** Even if it was the real title, it would have been better for Temple’s book.

Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Reviews #79 – #82: The Amour et Chocolat Series by Laura Florand

Laura Florand does not go wrong mixing dessert, France, and love stories. She has an excellent conceit and uses it to maximum advantage in this intersecting contemporary romance series. As in life, almost everything comes back to chocolate, except the sex, that’s fairly frequently about oblique vanilla kink, and, truthfully, once or twice about chocolate, too.

Plot Summary (All): American woman meets French food god. Instant attraction. Conflict. Delicious food. Hot sex. Engagement about three weeks later.

  1. The Chocolate Thief – Pretty good, it took me from 99 cents on Kindle to the complete series.
  2. The Chocolate Kiss – A very good fairy tale that made me forgive the metaphor.
  3. The Chocolate Rose – Excellent passion, I’m not sure what happened to the love story.
  4. The Chocolate Touch – My favourite of the group, it was really sweet and intense.
  5. The Chocolate Heart – I’ll let you know when my library gets it in.

Each of the heroes are artists in their chosen medium which, fortunately for the reader, are food related. As professional chefs, they are artists, intelligent, driven, and self-disciplined. The heroes were also a little more insecure than is usual in a romance. They carry themselves with bravado, but Florand lets the reader see their vulnerability. Is it because they’re French that they are allowed to be masculine and sensitive as well? I’m not sure, but I really liked it.

Individual book reviews after the jump or on my tiny little blog.

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