Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Review #59: The Runaway Duke by Julie Anne Long

Julie Anne Long has written a classic historical romance, What I Did for a Duke; two excellent ones, A Notorious Countess Confesses and It Happened One Midnight; a rather delightful novella, To Love a Thief; and an assortment of very enjoyable books in her Pennyroyal Green series. The Runaway Duke is one of her earliest novels and I read it for back catalogue completion purposes only.

Through a convenient and maguffiny series of Napoleonic War events, Conor Riordan, fifth Duke of Dunbrooke, has shucked off his title and is living incognito as an Irish groom at the home of the novel’s rather young heroine Rebecca Tremaine. In The Runaway Duke, the two take it on the lam when the  villain mistakenly compromises the wrong Tremaine sister, Rebecca, and she is going to be forced into a reputation saving marriage. Hijinks ensue.

I mentioned in a review of another author that I often find a writer and think that she shows promise only to discover that she has already published a lot of books. That is not the case here. I knew going in that this would not be of the current quality I expect of Julie Anne Long. The Runaway Duke has issues including heavy plotting, an unbelievable false identity (no one would volunteer to be Irish at that time in British history), and the story does goes on a bit; however, all of the elements that would develop into Long’s signature style are present: wonderful humour, clever writing, charming central characters, and, yes, the fact that maybe, sometimes, I don’t know, I’m just saying, she can be a skooch twee.

One of the things that people suggest when trying to save me from the ignominy of reading so much romance is that I should write one. It’s as though all of the shame they think I should feel for my reading choices, and that they feel on my behalf, would be washed away under the cleansing justification of “research”. There is nothing like reading an early effort by a talented author to intimidate any writing impulse right out of me. I am far too lazy to write a book in the first place and far too impatient to be willing to write several before I have the chance to be even remotely as good a novelist as Julie Anne Long now is.

The (Shameful) Tally 2013

This review is also posted on my tiny little blog.

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Mrs. Julien’s #CBR5 Reviews #55 – 57: Miss Whittier Makes a List, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, and Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly

Miss Whittier Makes a List was loaned to me by Rochelle at the same time as she sent over The Other Guy’s Bride by Connie Brockway. I was grateful for the loan and even more grateful that Carla Kelly’s writing was good. Miss Whittier Makes a List was the best of these three historical romances and it inspired me to buy two more. They were the most enjoyable read from a new-to-me author I have had in quite some time.  The books were a change for me in terms of the sensuality, or lack thereof. There are variations of sexual activity for every taste in the romance genre and I have read everything from vanilla sex to thisclosetoerotica to vanilla kink, but not novels limited to one or two kisses. Carla Kelly falls into this last category, referred to as  “just kisses” by the romancerati, but even these were not explicit. Anything beyond kissing that takes place in these novels is either fade-to-black or gleaned by straining through oblique references; nonetheless, she manages to politely convey impolite desires.

Miss Whittier Makes a List 1994

Hannah Whittier sets out on a trip from Boston to Charleston to visit family and, her parents hope, meet a nice Quaker man to marry. Waylaid by a British naval ship and then shipwrecked by French privateers, she is found and taken on board by that same British crew and their intriguing captain, Daniel Sparks. Unfortunately, the ship is not bound for Charleston and Hannah must go along for the ride in the hopes of eventually being able to make her way home. Before her sundry nautical catastrophes, Hannah made a list of desirable qualities in a husband. Word gets out.

I’m not big on grand adventure romance novels, but this one was just fantastic and I have added it to my recommendations list. Daniel and Hannah are an interesting pair who seem to be opposites but are, of course, an excellent match each for the other. I must warn prospective readers though that Miss Whittier Makes a List’s main characters have an age difference that while historically realistic may be discomfiting to readers.

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Mrs. Julien’s #CRB5 Review #54: The Other Guy’s Bride by Connie Brockway

This review is putting me in the unusual position of recommending The Other Guy’s Bride by Connie Brockway, even though it wasn’t really my cup of tea. My historical romance obsession still has me in its talons, no movement there, but the novel wasn’t a one in a style I enjoy which, I must emphatically note, comes with the addendum “…because I am boring.” I don’t like a lot of subplot in my romances and while this book’s subplots do not runneth over, they didn’t exactly runneth under either. It’s a romantic adventure, as opposed to the romantic romance I generally prefer. If you are looking for a cleverly written historical romance that doubles as a fun romp, this could very well be the book for you.

The Other Guy’s Bride is set in the golden age of unmitigated gall, theft, pillaging, cultural appropriation Egyptology and this features heavily in the sub-plotting.  Seven years before the story proper started, a jilted Jim Owen ran off to join the Foreign Legion and ended up a dead man in Egypt. Just months from making his grandmother happy by being officially declared dead, a young woman comes into his life to turn everything upside down. Owing a debt of honour to her fiancé, Jim agrees to escort Mildred Whimpelhall across the desert to said fiance at a remote outpost. Hijinks ensue, not the least of which is the fact that Mildred is actually Jinesse Braxton, the accident-prone daughter of a family of renowned archeologists.

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Malin’s #CBR5 Review #122: Scoundrel’s Kiss by Carrie Lofty

Set in 13th Century Spain during the Reconquista (the re-conquering of Spain from the Muslims), Scoundrel’s Kiss has a vastly different setting from most romances out there on the market. Instead of Regency ballrooms during the Season, this book takes place mostly in the countryside and small towns of  Medieaval Spain. The heroine has a genuine and debilitating addiction which she’s willing to do almost anything to feed, not caring whether it affects her work, her reputation or what it does to her friends.

Why did I not rate this book higher? Read my blog to find out.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #115: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

This is considered one of the great examples of romance literature, and it’s been in the top 10 of the top 100 romance novels polls on All About Romance since 2000 (in 1998, it was rated 15th). When romance reviewers are asked to name their favourite books, it keeps being mentioned, and raved about, and I just never seemed to find the time to read it. Written in 1992, it’s considered one of the works that really changed the genre (away from the frequently No means Yes rapey/forced consent romances into closer to what it is today). It’s also a wonderful book to give to someone who claims romance is just trashy escapism for frustrated, sex-starved housewives. This is about as far from 50 Shades of Grey as you can get.

So what is it about then, you ask? Christian Langland, the Duke of Jervaulx is a dissolute rake if ever there was one, but he’s also a mathematical genius, which is why Quaker spinster Archemedea Timms comes into contact with him. Her father, another mathematician, is blind, and Maddy (a necessary nickname if ever I heard one) writes out all his notes and takes them to the duke, and in turn reads all the duke’s notes to her father. Then they hear that the duke’s been killed in a duel, after an aggrieved husband called Jervaulx out. Maddy discovers this isn’t true when she arrives at her cousin’s posh mental asylum in the countryside, and finds Jervaulx locked up, senseless and in chains. She quickly realises what no one else has been willing to consider, that he’s not mad but maddened, and that he’s clearly in his right mind, just furious at being unable to communicate with those around him. A modern reader can see that Jervaulx has suffered a stroke, but it’s not at all surprising that the duke’s relatives would want him locked up and declared insane, so they could take over the running of his estates.

Maddy, despite being deeply uncomfortable with the Jervaulx’s position and his dissolute lifestyle, believes herself to have received a calling from God, to help him. She stubbornly convinces her cousin (who for all the horrors of the asylum really is quite progressive, for the time) to let her tend him, and surprisingly rapidly, the duke is calm and compliant and even able to leave his cell on occasion. They grow increasingly closer the more time they spend together, with Jervaulx coming to depend on Maddy entirely. He has no way of communicating the amount of abuse he suffers from the other minders at the asylum, and realises that he can’t risk them feeling threatened. He finally recovers enough that they deem him ready for his competency hearing, and take him to London, where most of his family still believe him completely addled. Only his battleaxe of an aunt believes him to be on the way to recovery, but she’s worried about the reputation of the family, and wants Jervaulx to marry to secure the title. If he won’t agree to matrimony, she’ll have him shipped back to the asylum. Jervaulx has no intention of marrying anyone save Maddy, his rescuing angel, but her religious beliefs make such a union completely impossible. Full review on my blog.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #50: Beauty and the Spy by Julie Anne Long

Beauty and the SpyAnother day, another romance novel. I don’t recall how Beauty and the Spy (2006) by Julie Anne Long ended up on my wait list at the library. I think a Cannonballer must have recommended it at some point and then I forgot about it until it became available, but I enjoyed reading it.

It’s amazing how quickly these plots disappear from memory, but a quick trip to Amazon has refreshed my recollection. Susannah Makepiece is beautiful, rich, and about to marry the heir to a viscount. Until her father dies, she loses everything, and she is lucky to end up at her aunt’s cottage in Barnstable. Christopher (Kit) Whitelaw is a viscount and a top spy in London. At the beginning of the novel, he is immersed in little besides women and drinking. Kit’s father sends him off to the country to get his head about him. In addition to the inevitable love story between Susannah and Kit, there is some murder, intrigue, and adventure as Susannah and Kit try to figure out what happened to her father.

I like this book and I was impressed by the characterization. Instead of making Susannah an implausibly gutsy, feminist, caring and perfect young woman, she begins the book by being selfish, manipulative and rather shallow. But she is exactly a product of her upbringing and simply knows nothing else. As she is able to explore her talents and desires in the book, her character grows and she becomes a better, more interesting person. Kit grows as well, although not as dramatically. The book was also easy to read and the romance between the characters grows slowly as they get to know each other, which I appreciated. I also liked the fact that they were rarely opponents, but more often worked together to accomplish their goals.

The one complaint I have is that the extraordinary number of typos (at least in the Kindle version) was distracting and unprofessional. It felt like at least once per page (probably a slight exaggeration), there would be a major mistake such as: incorrect pronouns, doubled words, or incorrect words. Sometimes the paragraphs were out of line. These weren’t tricky or questionable grammar traps, these were basic failure to proofread gaffes that required me to re-read sentences in order to figure out what the author was trying to say.

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