Sunday, 19 November 2017

Christmas Regency Romance



Reviewed by Francine:

This is a charming sweet romance with a Seasonal Christmas feel to it in every sense of the word, seasonal, in which the heroine Holly Gray, and hero Will Berry, share in the delights and preparations for the decorating of a castle and near by church. The snow-laden landscape adds to the thrill and chill as guests engage with gathering all manner of greenery and thereby establish friendships. Thus, amidst glittering candelabras and sumptuous fare laid to dining tables, surreptitious glances are exchanged. As with most house parties; tales of old are spun and ghost stories imparted, but does a ghost really exist within the castle or did Holly imagine a close encounter? If she did, she ponders whether any one of the guests even those who display interest in her innocent charms can ever match the man of an ethereal moment in time. If it was one of the guests who dared in a moonlit conservatory: which one? Perhaps a mistletoe ball will satisfy her curiosity or leave her with a wondrous mystery. And of course, her mama is a dreadful social climber, so only the best suitor will do!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

General Historical Romance



Reviewed by Francine:

Life in a Harem and the practices defined as part of life within a Sultan’s palace is unacceptable and sexist for 21st century thinking. Thus the era in which Joanna Thomson’s novel is set, it is nonetheless a safer place than most for those sold into slavery, and a strict hierarchy exists and woe betide anyone who breaks the rules. Strange as it may seem, women within Harems of the Ottoman Empire stretching to the Barbary Coast, had more rights and power than most European women had within marriages, so sayeth the renowned English aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley-Montague, who stated in one of her 18th century letters: “The Turks govern their country and their wives govern them. In no other country do women enjoy themselves as much.

Be assured the author has researched her subject matter in depth, right down to names for individual items of clothing worn by women of the Harem, and of a south sea island maiden, though the true heritage of Sarah and the colour of her hair sets her apart from other women, just it had for another who arrived at the Harem and is thus presented to Naa’il Dhar. Throughout the beginning of the novel two stories of two women run parallel and finally merge as one, and yet neither woman meets the other. Whilst Naa’il is the central pin in their respective stories aside from the swashbuckling hero Hassan, Naa’il is a man of his time and his religion, wealthy and powerful, and yet his faith is tested, just as the hero’s faith and belief he can rescue the woman he loves is tested. 

Hassan Aziz’s existence as a Barbary pirate is key to knowledge in how to achieve his aims, but the fact he is not what he seems is also reliant on betrayal of those closest to Naa’il. This is a fascinating novel of south sea island innocence, treachery, lust, and love, the kind of love that comes once in a lifetime if a man is lucky, and both Naa’il and Hassan are driven to acts that astound both in their own way because of two women. So alike is Sarah to Cora, an American captive; Naa’il’s conscience plagues him for his unjust treatment of both women who refuse to submit and embrace his religious dictate. Although I mention love and lust, this is a historical novel combined with romance, and the novel is not a steamy read in the vein of eroticism. The characters are well-rounded, their faults exposed, and the punishment of slaves and concubines, or favoured wives who deceive, can be realistically harsh. All told this is an enlightening read with hints at how one person’s religion can give cause for another to doubt their own. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

2nd Review - Proof of Virtue.



Sometimes second reviews give balance to a book  - after all, one reader's delicacy, another's poison. 

So here is my Review of Proof of Virtue.

Reviewed by Francine:

The last part of the Georgian period drifting to the Victorian era was a very harsh period in history, and all despite the great Industrial Revolution in which steam trains gradually brought about the end of long journeys by mail coach (other) as a means of travel, and factory mill industrialists began crushing incomes of small country weavers. It was also a period of change as the poorer people deserted the countryside to find work in townships. Sadly, the heroine of this novel has lived a comfortable life but is suddenly cast into a hell pit due to unforeseen circumstance of death and loss of her home. Thus, with her younger siblings to care for she is duty bound to provide for them as best she can. But tide of bad fortune affords no hope of a kindly person to care what happens to them and she has no alternative but to look to the Workhouse for a roof over their heads and food to belly.


To understand Emma’s plight fully, there is the reality that Workhouses were the most dreaded of prospects next to prison. Subsequently, she braces herself for the humiliation of it all, but never in her worst nightmare could she envisage the dark side of workhouses, of those who sponsor them and exploit and abuse the inhabitants, nor of those who manage or own workhouses. Hence her story is harrowing, one in which she battles numerous emotions, suffers the wrath of others, and yet finds friends and allies, and love blossoms in extraordinary circumstances when least expected. I admire this author’s daring to venture to the darker side of life, because in reality for those less fortunate in these times it was a hellish existence. This novel reflects the harshness and the value of human flesh by those who sought only to further their own finances, personal aims, and covert desires. So for that reason this is a true depiction of the dark side of life as young Princess Victoria is schooled to reign by William IV, the last of the Georgian kings.






2nd review - A Marchioness Below Stairs



How differently two reviewers assess books, and why reviews can be awfully confusing for readers to determine whether a book is to their tastes! 

Hence this is my review of A Marchioness Below Stairs, and it is a debut novel by this author. 

Reviewed by Francine:

What an enchanting and unusual love story this is, and made all the more enjoyable because it is atypical! Here we have a marchioness who is willing to contravene the expected social mores of the haut monde, and indeed she takes control at a crisis moment in which fellow females would never soil their hands to see others replenished in a time of need. But Isabel is not altogether as one would imagine, and whilst good fortune has come her way in one instance, in another it has caused her great pain. All too well aware memories of former affairs of the heart can be as painful as when first experienced, hers are far from fully vanquished. And despite another man teases her mercilessly, his interest in her evident, life soon becomes somewhat heated below stairs as Isabel and the hero rally to provide sustenance for her uncle’s guests.

Aside from the romance, which in itself develops in the strangest of circumstances, there are elements of the period many Regency fans are familiar with in general, but few authors will venture to. Thus Ms Baxter touches on the subject of slavery, and Isabel’s discovery of a unique business premises in London brings to light a delicacy that is today a familiar sight in almost every town in the Western world, hence she has created as far as I am aware an original Regency plot-line. Well done Ms Baxter with this debut novel. 



Friday, 3 November 2017

Historical Novel / Regency






The premise:

Escaping from Bath and the news that her former love is about to marry another, Isabel, the young widowed Marchioness of Axbridge, accepts an invitation to her cousin’s house party. Yet, instead of finding respite, she stumbles into a domestic crisis of majestic proportions: The kitchen servants have succumbed to the influenza. If that weren’t bad enough, her former sweetheart arrives with his fiancée, seeking shelter from the increasingly hazardous snow storm.

 

Trapped inside Chernock Hall with a volatile mix of house guests, including abolitionists and slave owners, Isabel wishes she could hide below stairs for the duration. But, alas, she cannot. While helping in the kitchen, Isabel is cornered by her cousin’s disreputable friend, Marcus Bateman, who challenges and provokes her at every turn.

 

At last, the storm subsides. However, the avalanche of repercussions cannot be undone. Caught in the grip of the terrible winter of 1813, will Isabel’s greatest threat come from the weather, her abolitionist views, or from falling in love again?

Reviewed by Charlotte. 
 

My Review:

The premise and the title reveal a great deal about the plot, so that when the marchioness reveals hidden talents and skills enough to step into the shoes of a haute cuisine chef it’s a certainty where the plot is going. Because of that for anyone who thrills to floured hands and deft twirling of wooden spoons this novel will be a romantic culinary delight. In my opinion there was a bit of a problem in two people with the same skills. I could have bought the situation completely with Isobel and a servant who could cook assisting her or the other way about. Two cooks in the gentry was stretching fiction a bit as did Isabel’s ex popping up in a snow storm with his new fiancé. He rears up much like a stage prop with a mute betrothed. Had he remained a memory in Isobel’s thoughts that would have been better I think.

 

I did like the hero Mr Bateman who had a dark side which added a touch of mystery. His past life though was more a James Bond of the Regency era and he was a man of numerous skills and jobs in life. To excuse him in a few things was simple since he is the hero and the rest of the story leaps into the topic on abolition of slavery. A good deal of historical fact as to who is who in the political debate at the time arises, and an evil slave owner who has his eye on Isobel strikes without warning. He does add tension and suspense to the story at the point where it begins to drown under the weight of abolition rhetoric, so the story hots up again with lust and abduction.

 

Isobel’s interest in the first Indian takeaway to grace London will intrigue the curious reader, while the spirit of Isobel’s interest came across a bit like a modern political agenda contrived by the author. To my way of thinking it was superfluous to the story even the fact she had cooked meals out of necessity for her uncle which she had no cause to do afterwards.

 

It’s a bit sad how the romance too becomes secondary to the historical incidentals of the period rather more than is good for a romance novel. But credit must be awarded to the author for excellence in research for the project, and I rate this as a historical novel intertwined with a romance. It’s a good read and historically informative with all the knowhow on the abolition movement in Britain against slavery. And Isobel is a woman who is repulsed by people who own and condone the trading of slaves.

 

Reviewer asides:

I did like Isobel and Mr Bateman, and did like the story for the greater part. But there were episodes that seemed detached from the main story and unnecessary.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Victorian!

 
 
Reviewed by Charlotte.

Book’s Premise:

 

It is the year 1848, and a cholera outbreak has just ravaged Manchester, leaving Emma Belden an orphan, with two young siblings to care for. Left with few options, she is forced to enter the workhouse and suffer the habitual injustices commonplace to that sad institution. Her beauty and naivety a target for the unscrupulous master of the workhouse and Edward Wells, the owner of the local textile mill, Emma will be compelled to make the difficult decision between the safety of her brother and sister, and her own virtue.

 

Gideon, Lord de Monthaut, is instantly smitten the moment he sees Emma, despite the fact that she is on the arm of one of the most notorious blackguards in Manchester society.

Will Emma find it possible to rise above her circumstances and find love? And in the process learn the true Proof of Virtue?

 

My Review:

 

As Victorian novels go and the author has pulled no punches to knock the cruel reality of Victorian England from the pages of her book, therefore this was not a comfortable read but an excellent depiction of the dark side of Victorian life. The heroine is innocent and naïve to the harsh existence she and her siblings are facing with the tragic consequences of death and sudden poverty. As the premise tells us she has no alternative other than to seek shelter in the most dreaded place of the working classes, and for someone of middling comfort and wealth it’s a doubly humiliating experience. The worst aspect is the amount of exploitation that exists within the dark walls of the workhouse and the realisation inmates are traded to the highest bidders for out-working at cloth mills and other work places. If that was not bad enough the heroine Emma is unfortunate in her natural attractiveness to the opposite sex, and the mill owner has a taste for pretty girls. Where one favour deserves another between workhouse inmates, Emma soon learns there are those who go further with favours of a sexual nature elsewhere and that is an act she will never agree to. At least, that is her word on the matter while the mill owner has his eye firmly on Emma. To save from spoiling the book for other readers I will leave the story there and just mention the horror Emma is forced to endure is dire, though her story does have a happy ever after and a gallant knight rides to the rescue. Proof of Virtue is an honest reflection of Victorian life in the vein of Catherine Cookson novels.   

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Regency



Reviewed by Fran.


Set in London 1821, the Unmasking of Lady Helen is a sweet tale of the young lady Helen who fears an incident in her past has lessened her chances of gaining a suitor, and at twenty-four years of age it seems wise to put one’s energies into other more interesting subjects than seeking a husband. Besides, her father is an Egyptologist, his work infinitely pleasing and intriguing, and Lady Helen is quite happy to become a rather studious blue-stocking and forego marriage for a safe spinster existence. Albeit social gatherings and coming -out balls must be attended for the sake of her sister, an unexpected incident closer to home intrigues both her and her sister Diana, and the object of their scrutiny is equally unaware he will be stepping across their threshold on official and private business shortly. Hence, Jason Lord Peyton, a man of covert play within the underworld of military spies soon finds himself caught up within a case of Industrial espionage and new inventions. 

A man with his own inner disquiet in respect of a failed love match, similarly to Lady Helen, he is in no great shakes to beget a wife for the ubiquitous heir to his title and estate. One could say two kindred spirits have entered centre stage and both equally intrigued and a little shocked by turn events, both equally bent on solving the crime, and neither aware danger is closer at hand than envisaged, until it is almost too late. Thus Lord Peyton’s greatest worry Lady Helen will come to harm if she pokes her nose too deep into dark corners, both discover dark corners can prove very intimate and steal attention from matters at hand. And of course, for two people averse to marriage, though most definitely attracted one to the other, decorum precludes any notions of love and romance: or does it? 

This is a lovely sweet romance with likeable characters, an intriguing plot, lots of little asides, and enough background details to make for pleasant escapism to the past.


Thursday, 3 August 2017

Regency



Reviewed by Charlotte alias Charmian (Goodreads).


Book’s Blurb:
Hell will freeze over before Miss Philomena Aubrey willingly marries the insufferable Honorable Luther Whyte. Her mother had angled Mina’s quite hefty dowry in front of the vicar and secured him, but Mina still resisted. When Mrs. Aubrey threatens to force her into the marriage, Mina’s father hides his daughter with a friend of his as he leaves for an extended business trip.

A wounded war hero, burdened by guilt after inadvertently sending his French fiancée to death, Lord James Darling keeps his family as far away from his tormented heart as possible. But as he keeps bumping into his mother’s new lady’s maid, he grows suspicious—is she a spy?—and sets out to expose her, only to find himself mesmerized by her feistiness and her warm heart.

My Review:

Mina, short for Philonena, steps to the stage as the archetypical young heiress of the Nuevo riche in the Regency era. Presumably her father became extremely wealthy from timely investments and good business dealings. It must be said as history tells us, a great many of the Nuevo riche were so wealthy their daughters were sought by aristocrats as a timely means to bolster ailing funds for sons who were wastrels. Many a rich heiress gained a title from brokered deals cut and dealt across tables at Gentlemen’s clubs in real life as they do with regularity in Regency romance novels. 

Funnily Mina’s mother has set her marital scheming eye at humble bait, the local vicar no less, and oh lord, shades of Jane Austen’s Mr Collins leapt to mind straight off. And thank serendipity Mina is an only child and has a father who dotes on her. Mina can do little wrong in his eyes, and her mother sees only a wilful minded daughter who refuses to marry the man of her mother’s choice, ha ha.

While this is a common mother daughter conflict for Regency novels, the story for me becomes a little contrived with a father who looks to the help of a childhood playmate, a duchess (ha) who conveniently has bachelor sons in need of wives. It was all a little twee perfect and unrealistic but it’s a bunny out of the hat magical fairy tale and what’s wrong with that.

And then there’s the tortured James Darling. He’s a secretive man and with Miss Curiosity Mina kitten on his patch in the guise of a lady’s maid he doesn’t stand an earthly in resisting the vivacious young madam who seeks to inveigle her way under his skin. Throughout a theme of will he or won’t he fall in love with Mina makes this romance a fun read with little touches of haunting sadness from James’s past. For all her silly childish antics I liked Mina a lot. James was more a muddle of conflicting caricatures and didn’t materialise as a solid character, not for me at any rate. An Heiress in Disguise is what it is, a well written fun romance with a few raunchy pulse driven scenes.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Regency / Victorian




Reviewed by Charlotte alias Charmian (Goodreads).


The Book’s Blurb:
A missing heirloom. A stolen inheritance. Can love conquer mistrust?

Athena Hawthorne never imagined that she would lose everything she'd ever had. But after the death of her father, his prosperous jewelry store is sold off to pay his supposed debts. Athena, now destitute, embarks on a mission to discover the truth, but circumstances force her to accept an offer from a handsome stranger to work as a governess. She's determined to clear her father's name, but a certain earl is making matters far more difficult than necessary. And she can't be in danger of losing her heart to a member of the aristocracy...

Orion Ashcroft, the Earl of Rockford, is convinced that Athena is a grasping thief who stole a priceless family heirloom, the rare sapphire known as the Couleur Magnifique. When he offers her the position of governess to his sister's children, he only intends to catch her in some nefarious scheme and get back the sapphire—his grandmother's dying wish. But he soon discovers that keeping his distance—and his sanity—around the beautiful Athena isn't as easy as he'd planned. It certainly doesn't help that his sister and his best friend plead her innocence at every frustrating turn. Soon he's struggling between honoring his promise and his growing attraction to Athena.

But there's danger closer than either expect. Even a masquerade can't hide Athena from the curiosity of the ton forever...and there's a threat hiding among the highest members of society...


My Review:

Well I must say for a debut novel Ms Waite painted the heroine to the canvas with in depth emotional pull and I liked and felt for Athena. Sympathy poured forth (from me that is) while Athena Hawthorne hears of her fate within a solicitor’s office. Could life be more traumatic than the death of a father and to learn there is no legacy of worth from a once thriving business, poor Athena is utterly stunned by it all.

In the event of kindness from a stranger, which gives hope for a workable life one day, a few days later the strange circumstances surrounding the job places Athena into an emotional pit of heaven and hell wrapped up in one man, the Earl of Rockford. Of course Athena falls hopelessly loves struck with burning desire little knowing the earl’s thoughts of tumbling the newly appointed governess (to his niece and nephew) has caused him a good deal of discomfort until the more his eyes glitter with devilry soon Rion and Athena lose themselves in lustful thoughts and eventual actions, while every crime known to the darker side of London streets start striking with menacing force. Here the repetitive abduction theme took some believing, while the rest of the story had me turning the pages to see when Rion would hump Athena again and would he stop being a mindless prat, and would she fall pregnant. So obsessed did I become with the likelihood of pregnancy the criminal proceedings paled alongside my thinking Rion would be forced into marriage with Athena, and I prayed his sister would stand behind him with a pistol held to his head. It doesn’t end that way and I did like the sub characters a great deal. All in all I enjoyed Athena's and Rion's story a a romantic tale with danger and mystery.

I do have a few quibbles. The story setting is Regency England 1819 and there’s reference to a novel by Charles Dickens which set alarm bells ringing. Dickens was born in 1812 and in 1819 Charles Dickens was 7yrs old and had yet to write his first published paper let alone a novel. While this may appear a small criticism it does point to lack of research by the author, it also shames an incompetent editor. Worse it implies the novel started out as a Victorian novel set after 1836 when Dickens published his first novel The Pickwick Papers. A few Americanisms didn’t help matters in recommending this as a Regency set read, while readers who care not a bean about historical accuracy will enjoy this book for what it is - a fun read.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Article by Francine (RMM Reviewer)

What constitutes a Good Romance Read?


Francine's reveal: 

Having asked RRM reviewers to reveal what makes for a good historical romance, it occurred to me that I too must reveal the nitty-gritty, so here goes. All in all I have curious nature and throughout life I’ve always wanted to know what makes other people tick, and authors of historical novels– in general– are an intriguing species as are fans of historical novels.

It’s a given readers will time-slip through pages to wild windswept moors, tread through harsh stone mediaeval castle and manor halls, or step to the more elegant domain of royal courts and ballrooms. In reality each historical period has memorable events such as 1066, 1485, 1812, 1815, so on and so forth, but not all authors include major events as a backdrop to their stories. 

Many of the old romances often afford little more than a dateline sub header per chapter to denote time and place, e.g. Yorkshire 1759, or perhaps London 1814, and nothing else beyond the social standing of the characters and all that arises within their immediate circle is provided to latch onto. After all, a red shawl is a red shawl, and it’s up to the reader to determine knitted, woven, or silk etc, according to the character's social standing. Often within old books there was no in depth description of clothes, but the story was no less thrilling. In this instance the novel “Wuthering Heights” leaps to mind, and there are those within literary circles who will declare WH is not a romance, that it is merely a love story because it doesn’t have a happy ever after. I beg to differ, because two people fall in love, conflict arises, and tragedy ensues, just as it did in Romeo & Juliet, as it does in many of the great love/romance stories where the hero or heroine has to turn from the other and walk away. Some of the most memorable novels of loss leap to mind: Gone with the Wind; Frenchman’s Creek; and Brief Encounter. These novels were no less enthralling throughout, the endings somewhat tragic in the emotional sense, though in GWTW it was an open ending – would Rhett return; unable to live without Scarlet?

So you see I don’t believe romance novels have to have an HEA. Romance and tragedy is memorable; sad yes, and yet fulfilling in so many ways. So whatever romance comes my way for review, I can in all honesty say I have an open mind as to what constitutes a good or great romance read, though I do revel in books where emotions run deep, characters reveal their inner self, or the story lines have darker elements at play. Historical accuracy counts too, but please no antique sales catalogue descriptions of items, whether personal or household. Other than that I am a tart for handsome military heroes.