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.

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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 #77 & #78 – The Ice Princess & Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt

Elizabeth Hoyt is one of the big names in historical romance and her novel The Raven Prince is considered a classic of the genre. She tends to be a little earthy for my tastes, but I have read portions of several of her novels and I did indeed read all of The Ice Princess and Scandalous Desires.  I really liked the former, the latter was nothing special.

A novella, The Ice Princess features Coral, the madame of a brothel called The Grotto which is featured in other Hoyt works, and Isaac Wargate, a naval captain who spends time in the brothel not being serviced, but looking out for his men and watching out for Coral. In a common romance trope, Isaac wins exclusive access  to Coral for a period of seven nights in a card game. (My inner feminist cringes while typing such things, then I read another romance because being a feminist is about the right to make choices.) Coral has not been with clients in a long time, although she was not spared years as a prostitute, and Isaac wants desperately to get to the woman he glimpses underneath her literal and figurative mask. He is a patient man. Coral uses her experience and acumen to put him off, but he wins her over with kindness and patience, she rescues herself, and they sail off into the sunset together. It’s a lovely little novella not about the redemptive power of love exactly, but more the power of seeing one’s own freedom through another’s eyes.

Scandalous Desires is a standard up-from-the-gutter romance featuring a Pirate King because, yes, this is a genre in which a “Pirate King” is standard fare. Mickey O’Connor works ships on the Thames for his living and he has amassed a considerable fortune and a formidable reputation. Romance heroes who clawed their way up from nothing always do. About a year ago, Silence Hollingbrook (I don’t care what you say, that name is AWESOME) spent one night with Mickey because of something, something, her husband, something, widow. Mickey has a bastard daughter he wants Silence to take care of, first at the foundling home she helps run and then living at his Pirate King pad. Hijinks and romance ensue. Hijinks that weren’t very compelling to me, didn’t rise above what is common in the genre, and, this is important part, their relationship was uninteresting. It always comes back to that one detail. If the emotional lives and connection of the characters are sincere and well-portrayed, the book becomes engaging. Mickey and Silence’s weren’t and the book wasn’t.

The (Shameful) Tally 2013

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.

Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #70: The Proposition by Judith Ivory

Christ, I don’t know. It’s another historical romance novel. The Proposition by Judith Ivory is Pygmalion with a male Pyg. He has a moustache, so that’s a refreshing change. I read a book recently, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, in which the hero smoked which a. is cool and we all know it and b. seemed a wonderfully historically accurate detail, kind of like the moustache, but more attractive. Now, if the Pyg also had a beard, the writer might have been on to something. I’ve never read a romance in which the hero had a beard, or in which the heroine had one for that matter. A beard would be awesome. I love beards.

I read The Proposition because Ivory is a very successful writer and this book was highly rated on Amazon, dubious distinction though that may be. Academic Winnie is Henry Higgins and Mick is her Eliza Doolittle. He’s a charmer, that Mick. A charmer in a purely old school romance novel way: sly, funny, and bumptious. Anywho, Winnie trains him to be classy, well-spoken, and clean-shaven, and Mick helps her get her freak on. The book was fine, but didn’t engender any interest in reading more Ivory as some of the elements were a bit dated, as in “1990s”, not as in “Victorian” which they are totally meant to be, and while entertaining, it didn’t pique my interest in the writer’s back catalogue.

The (Shameful) Tally 2013

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.

Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #58: The Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly

I use the word “lovely” a lot too much in everyday conversation. I try to be more creative and thesaurusy in these reviews, but lovely really is the best word for this novel. Carla Kelly writes sweet, gentle, sincere Regency romances and The Lady’s Companion is no exception. Kelly does not reinvent the wheel. She follows her romance tropes and brings everything to a happy, satisfying ending. I have read four of her books in rapid succession, thank you Rochelle, and I have another one waiting on my Kindle. Unlike Kelly’s novels that I reviewed previously, this book goes beyond “just kisses”, while maintaining its oblique decorum in the love scenes.

Originally published in 1996, The Lady’s Companion is the story of Susan Hampton, a genteelly impoverished lady whose marital and future hopes have been dashed on the rocks of her wastrel father’s gambling addiction. Where, oh where, would romance novels be without shiftless male relatives casually ruining women’s lives? After moving in with her aunt, Susan recognises that unless she does something, and right quick, she will disappear into the role of servile relative for the rest of her days. She finds an employment agency and gets hired as a companion to Lady Bushnell in the Cotswolds.

Lady Bushnell is not happy to have yet another unnecessary companion and Susan must find a way to make herself useful. The farm is being managed by Lady Bushnell’s bailiff, David Wiggins. David served as a sergeant under Lord Bushnell in the Napoleonic Wars and has a debt of honour to the family. He is what The Dowager Julien would describe as a “nice-nice man”, gentle, kind, and loyal. Susan is out of his reach socially, but since David doesn’t care about such nonsense and Susan has no use for the so-called social superiority that ruined her, they have a chance to carve out a life for themselves on their own terms and defy the conventions that would seek to limit them. Everything proceeds towards the happy ending at a calm and reasonable pace, free of melodrama, but not of challenges. Kelly’s writing is not only strong when showing Susan and David’s growing relationship, but also wonderfully evocative in terms of the setting and time period.

 

The (Shameful) Tally 2013

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.

Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #12: When You Give a Duke a Diamond by Shana Galen

I would love to start a proofreading/editing service for historical romance novelists. I’d hold the author’s hand and say things like, “It’s not really appropriate for the hero and heroine to get randy in the home of his recently deceased fiancée, especially as they are searching said home for clues as to her violent demise. It may come across as insensitive.”

When You Give a Duke a Diamond was like the movie The Return of the King: It had several endings starting about 70% of the way through, and then somehow managed to keep going via deus ex machinations™ and unnecessary complications. Also, that title is truly appalling.

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