Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Reviews #64 & #65:The Untamed Mackenzie and The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

I’m not sure there is any historical romance author who believes in the redemptive power of love as deeply as Jennifer Ashley. It’s the only reason I can think of for her persistence in creating exquisite examples of Victorian Douchelordery and making them her romantic leads.

First up is the novella The Untamed Mackenzie. Unless you are the magnificence that is Courtney Milan, or perhaps Tessa Dare, novellas are generally just a way to tide over fans and earn some extra money between major releases. They build a love story around previous secondary or even tertiary characters and, this is the important part, allow readers to revisit old favourites.  Jennifer Ashley is not Courtney Milan, or perhaps Tessa Dare, so this is a rickety love story stopping over with each of the  Mackenzies from the first four books in the series. Lloyd is the illegitimate son of the same fu*king monster that raised those tortured heroes. Louisa is the younger sister of Mac Mackenzie’s wife, Isabella.

If pater familias Hart Mackenzie is Douchelord in Chief, Lloyd is the Bastard Douchelord and/or Douchelord Bastard. An obsessive police detective, he was one of the villains in The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie and he acquitted his role in a thorough and reprehensible manner. I hated him and had well-founded concerns for his emotional stability. Admittedly, this is true of 78.3% of Ashley’s heroes. Lloyd and Louisa have flirted in previous encounters and when she is accused of murder, they feel the need to interview each of the Mackenzie characters to solve the crime. Whatever. The other characters are more interesting than Lloyd and Isabella anyway.

The review below of The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie discusses sexual assault. Continue reading

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Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #63: A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

It’s time to talk about sex in romance novels. Not in a prurient way, but in terms of how it works for the story and how it can enhance, or diminish, the portrayal of the relationship.  The candor begins after the jump, if you want to head straight there.

A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant is the third novel in her Blackshear trilogy.  I have read books one, A Lady Awakened, but don’t really remember it, and two, A Gentleman Undone. The second novel ended with a scandal and book three, A Woman Entangled, addresses the aftermath that occurs when your brother marries a courtesan and your own reputation is scathed by association.

The entangled woman of the title, Kate, thinks Elizabeth Bennet was an idiot to turn down Mr. Darcy when he first proposed as Pemberley would have been more than enough to make up for an unhappy marriage. Kate is beautiful and practices being fetching in the mirror in hopes of leveraging her loveliness to make an advantageous marriage. She thinks this will redeem her family from the isolation it endures because her father had the audacity to marry against his parent’s wishes. Family friend and her father’s protegé, Nick Blackshear, has been in love with Kate for three years. He hasn’t the pedigree to please her, and his family has its own recent scandal to contend with, so he has told himself he is over Kate, even as he watches her to see the kind and thoughtful woman she hides beneath her carefully presented surface.

Kate and Nick move towards their happy ending by dealing with their own individual issues. The story is believable, their motivations logical, and I was glad they reached the happy ending. Cecilia Grant is an excellent writer in terms of both style and structure. Unlike the narrative distance run of the mill historical romances often create, a kind of demi-camp reality somewhere between the 19th century and now, Grant anchored her story in appropriate mores and conduct, until…

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Mrs. Julien’s #CRB5 Review #62: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

If such a thing exists, Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm is part of the historical romance canon. It’s a classic of the genre that still appeared at #6 on All About Romance’s 2010 Top 100 List 18 years after publication. I voted on their list for 2013 and included it myself. An intense and sometimes painful read, Flowers from the Storm’s status as one of the best romances novels ever written is understandable and unassailable.

Christian, Duke of Jervaulx is a mathematician and a rake. We meet him acting on both inclinations early in the book: the latter leads to a duel, the former to working with a Quaker academic and his daughter Archimedea, called Maddy. When Christian has an “apoplexy” (stroke) shortly after presenting a mathematical paper, he disappears from their lives until Maddy and her father come to live at a rest home/psychiatric hospital run by her cousin. Christian is a patient and a troublesome one at that. When Maddy meets Christian again, he has been brought very low and is presumed mad. She realises he is “not mad, but maddened” and approaches her cousin saying she has “An Opening”, a spiritual calling, to help Christian. The apoplexy left his language processing centers damaged, but Christian finds he is able to communicate first through mathematics and later with language as Maddy works with him. He recognizes in her a chance to escape the hospital and seeks to do so by any means necessary.

Progressive for The Regency, the hospital is every dehumanizing psychiatric care nightmare rolled into chapters: abuse, restraints, ice baths, isolation. Kinsale shows us Christian’s muddled, struggling mind and I found these sections harrowing and must confess to jumping forward to a less upsetting section of the book to console myself before going back to continue reading chronologically. Mercifully, Maddy and Christian get away from the hospital, but a marriage of convenience is required to prevent him from being sent back as it will give the impression of a fuller recovery.

Romance novels can succeed on many levels, but the best ones have the same thing in common: If a writer can honestly portray the emotional lives of her characters, everything else will fall into place. Flowers from the Storm is not a light-hearted romance, it can be a tough read precisely because the characters are so well drawn and the reader feels their struggles. Christian and Maddy are two puzzle pieces that fit together only because of the situation they find themselves in. In either of their previous lives, their relationship would not have worked. Forced by circumstance, they build something together that is more than they ever would have been separately.

Thank you, Malin, for reminding me that I had not read this yet and for promising me Christian and Maddy would leave the hospital soon when I emailed her in a heart-wrenched panic.

The (Shameful) Tally 2013

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.

Mrs. Julien’s CRB5 Review #61 & #61.5: Love and Other Scandals and The Truth About Love by Caroline Linden

Caroline Linden is on my woefully short Fingers Crossed for Potential list. Last year, I stumbled upon her The Truth About the Duke trilogy and would recommend those books as follows: One Night in London is really good; Blame It on Bath worked well and was [fans self]; and The Way to a Duke’s Heart had a charming male lead, but some story issues. Linden’s latest historical romance, Love and Other Scandals got off to a great start, but lost its momentum due to structural choices.

Joan, the heroine of Love and Other Scandals , is a delight. Pert and cheeky, she has a wastrel brother with a very attractive, rascally friend, Tristan. The two are introduced, they banter, I wasn’t quite sure of the reasoning behind Tristan’s actions, but things proceeded apace when there was an abrupt shift in the story about a third of the way through. Have you seen Moonstruck? Do you remember the scene when Cher arrives at Lincoln Center to meet Nicolas Cage and the soundtrack includes a wry “ba-bum” as she steps out of the taxi and the love story proper begins? The transition in Love and Other Scandals is a lot like that, I swear I heard a “ba-bum”, but instead of building on what went before, Linden reorganized the setting and the story lost its way. It’s not that it was horribly transformed, just disjointed, so, in spite of appealing leads, I can’t recommend the book.

On another note, Caroline Linden has a delightful short story, The Truth About Love, in a collection called Once Upon a Ballroom. Not about two people finding love, it’s a vignette in the life of a plain, bookish woman who has married a notorious former rake. Damien, the erstwhile rake and current besotted husband, has been away from Miranda for several weeks and rumours have begun to circulate of an affair. Prurient friends and relatives gather around Miranda, ostensibly to commiserate, but really to revel in saying, “I told you so.”  Using Miranda’s perspective, it is a take on the happily ever after readers rarely see. Romance novels are full of overlooked spinsters discovering connubial bliss with gorgeous, fascinating men, but just how easily does a reputation die and how does a woman who has found herself the subject of unexpected male attention trust that he really is a reformed raking making the best husband? It was really enjoyable, so I did some research to see if The Truth About Love was an epilogue to one of Linden’s novels, but had no luck. If you happen to know of such a book, I’d be grateful for the title so I can review it and bump my Cannonball Read total from 61.5 to 62.

The (Shameful) Tally

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #59: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

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I’m probably going to get struck by lightning for putting this out there on the internet, but I didn’t lose my mind over this book. I’m a bit too old to have grown up with The Princess Bride movie (it was all about Indy, Star Wars and Clash of the Titans for me), but my little brother introduced me to it when I was in my late teens. It’s a great movie, fun, quotable (‘I am Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die’), romantic and exciting; much more than the sum of its parts (although they are excellent parts). Somehow, the book doesn’t hit the spot in quite the same way.

Young couple Buttercup and Westley are parted when he goes off to seek his fortune and earn the right to ask for her hand. Buttercup is the most beautiful woman alive, and comes to the attention of crown prince Humperdinck of Florin. She thinks Westley dead, killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and so reluctantly agrees to marry Humperdinck. Just before the wedding, she is kidnapped by a motley crew made up of a Sicilian genius, a Spanish sword-fighter and a giant. A mysterious man in black defeats them all, and rescues her. And then Humperdinck catches up with them, and things start to get messy.

The story has it all – star-crossed lovers, revenge, poison, torture, resurrection, sword fights – and it is charming and funny. The characters are wonderful (my personal faves were Fezzik the giant and Miracle Max), and Humperdinck and his factotum Count Rugen are loathsome baddies. What makes it different from a standard fairy tale is that Goldman presents it as the abridgement of a much longer book by an S Morgenstern. Framing the book is a fictional story of how he first heard it as a child and how he came to publish the ‘abridged version’, which is interspersed with Goldman’s explanations and commentary. I think it was this that grated, and stopped the book being truly magical.

Right, I’m off to hide in my underground bunker in case lots of crazed Bride-iacs descend on me.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #130: Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden

2.5 stars

Miss Joan Bennet is dangerously close to being on the shelf, and the only thing close to romance she is experiencing is in literary form.  Her mother keeps dressing her in the height of fashion, yet her with her tall, curvy figure, she looks like an idiot. At social gatherings and balls, she’s a constant wallflower. She’d love to be noticed, by anyone at all. Except possibly Lord Tristan Burke, her brother’s best friend and a notorious rake. Lord Burke thinks Joan is a bossy Fury, who’s made it her life’s mission to torment her brother as much as possible. But when Joan’s parents have to go to the seaside for Joan’s mother to convalesce, and Joan’s brother is sent away to see to repairs on the family estate, he asks Lord Burke to make sure Joan stays out of trouble.

Joan’s eccentric and slightly scandalous aunt comes to stay with her, and soon Joan has a new and improved wardrobe which flatters her rather than makes her look like a gaudy umbrella. Lord Burke, who has already discovered that the best way to shut his best friend’s bossy and opinionated sister up is by kissing her senseless, is suddenly starting to consider whether he may not have to change his mind about what a chore it is to have to entertain her while her family are out of town. Full review on my blog.

Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #60: The Lady’s Tutor by Robin Schone

Enough with reviewing sweet and lovely romances. Let’s take a look at something awful and absurd: Robin Schone’s The Lady’s Tutor, a Regency romance of the “sexual tutor” variety. If you want to read a good book featuring this trope, proceed immediately to Sarah MacLean’s One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, consciously ignore the jejeune titling, and have at it.

The Lady’s Tutor fails on many fronts, but there was one aspect of the book, one word actually that sums up everything that is wrong with this fornicaterrific novel. That one word does not encompass the story elements that include

  1. Villainy smeared with sexual deviance and a dollop of you-have-got-to-be-kidding.
  2. Prejudice that the “exotic” man knows the sensual arts by virtue of being foreign.
  3. The fact that The Lady’s Tutor includes concepts like “the sensual arts”.
  4. A hero so well overly-endowed as to be simultaneously laughable and alarming.
  5. The hero’s mother advising the heroine to relax her throat muscles to accommodate her son’s aforementioned equine resemblance
  6. The hero sharing horrific and devastating personal information during coitus.

… but it comes darn close. The one word that sums up all that is wrong with this fornicaterrific novel is “pubes”. The Lady’s Tutor, a Regency romance by Robin Schone, includes the word “pubes” not once, not twice, but three times. PUBES! THREE TIMES!

Why are you still reading? I can’t possibly add to or augment that one salient detail.

The (Shameful) Tally 2013

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.