Regency Gossip: When a Bluestocking Is Like a Blogger

A final installment from the Lords Trilogy, In Which We Meet a Viscount in Love with Lord X, Gossip Swirls, and a Marriage is Forced

Badass: Ian Lennard, Viscount St. Clair – on the surface he’s a libertine with a wandering eye, but underneath lies a painful past, strong convictions, and a distinguished record of service to his country that it will take a VERY “tart-tongued, self-righteous spinster” to unmask.

Falls For: Lord X – no, it’s not m/m.  Gossip columnist Lord X is really Felicity Taylor, society architect’s daughter and penniless wielder of London’s most notorious pen. She may be more of a badass than Ian.  Pen mightier than sword, etc.

Brought To You By:  Sabrina Jeffries, in The Dangerous Lord (2000) (re-issued 2009)books

Hangs Out In: 1820’s London, where he has returned after a decade or so as an expat and (of course!) brilliant spy for His Majesty’s government.

Likes:  Keeping secrets secret; covering up his distinguished service record; triplets; Spanish endearments — querida — inexplicably slip out during intimate encounters.

Dislikes: Being forced to find a wife in order to gain his inheritance (but he’ll suck it up and make it happen once he encounters feisty Felicity.)

Badass Annoying Moment: Forcing Felicity to the altar.

Badass Hero Moment: Forcing Felicity to the altar. She’s actually kind of annoying in staunchly and ridiculously insisting that marriage to Ian would be The Most Awful Thing. Ever.

(too) Frequently Described As: Brooding.

Tom-Brady-s-Hottest-Pics-male-models-28291631-500-680Casting? I dunno, but don’t you think the 2009 cover picture looks almost exactly like Tom Brady?  That’s just weird.

Is it a Badass Read?   This is the final book in a trilogy of Lords, and I was distracted by the appearance of the other two heroes, whose stories I had not yet read. My bad, for reading out of order. That aside, it was an enjoyable, quick read, buoyed by SJ’s characteristic deft and funny dialogue.  Although these are not characters that will linger everlastingly with me once I close the book, Felicity is slightly more memorable due to her bullheadedness. Both are variations of the Regency rake and bluestocking.  Honestly, I had a hard time remembering details about what Ian likes/dislikes to do with his time, other than the usual gentleman’s pursuits.  The most memorable characters in the book are the housekeeper Mrs. Box (and isn’t that the perfect name for a housekeeper?!) and Felicity’s younger brothers (think slightly older versions of the manic triplets from Brave!).

I quite like the rake/bluestocking trope, and I liked the attention devoted to conveying something about Felicity’s writerly craft.  She was the equivalent of an influential blogger with 1000’s of followers, and/or a power Twitter user. As a new book blogger and super newbie Tweet-er, I found myself quite sympathetic to her near-constant worry about finding sources (access) and material for her next post, er… column. While at the same time it’s clear she really loves her work and her writing.

What do you think? Are you up to here with rakes and bluestockings? Do you think this match-up is eternally popular with readers for transparent yet genuine reasons having to do with growing up bookish in a culture that celebrates beauty…?

  JeffriesADangerousLord_2000

Never Say Die: Speaking Up for Badass Regencies

I have to say I am loving all this talk about historical romance over the past couple of weeks. Last week I tossed around my own musings on the provocative yet substantive discussion launched by the influential All About Romance and Dear Author blogs. This week finds historical romance “troubles” cropping up again at Risky Regencies, which I think is great.  Sick of the Regency? Well maybe, but….

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As many have pointed out, readers have had a decades-long love affair with Regency-set historical romance for good reason, and if there is a real or perceived Regency Fatigue among readers, the candid discussion we’ve all been having stems mainly from deeply rooted affection for this Heyer- and Austen-inspired world. In re-examining my own sentiments this week, I realized I’m probably slightly ambivalent.  I’ve confessed to suffering a mild disenchantment with Regencies that feel too wall-paperish or insubstantial.  I do actively hunt out historicals with settings based on American history, and the erstwhile art historian in me still wishes there were more badass romances set in southern Europe during the Renaissance (and not yet another Tudor- or Borgia-inspired historical novel with romantic elements).

PDVD_415But I’ve read hundreds, probably thousands, of Regencies, and there are so many on my DIK shelf that it’s overflowing. Also, there really are badass Regency heroes /heroines who aren’t dukes, earls, or even the slightest bit aristocratic — through they’re frequently noble, in the best sense of the word. There’s an element of truth in the suggestion that some Regencies offer a fairytale version of England which is devoid of politics, or gritty social and economic realities.  sharpeBut it’s equally true that some Regencies offer well-researched military and/or social history, plots that center on wartime or post-war conflict, and even themes of class conflict, industrialization, domestic violence, and addiction — though I don’t claim to know how Regencies that touch on these darker themes stack up to their frothier siblings in terms of sales figures.

I thought it would be fun to take a few manic Monday minutes to list a few of my all-time favorite Badass Regencies.  If there’s a thread running through this list, it’s my love for intricately connected books, especially a series structured around a plausible group of badass heroes. I am probably repeating something I’ve said elsewhere, but I am drawn to fiction that explores themes like loyalty, honor, kinship, friendship, bravery, and family. Romances against such a backdrop are especially powerful, and it’s a big part of my devotion to historicals.

kinopoisk.ruI’m also a sucker for the band of brothers trope, if it’s done well, with careful and well-researched world-building. Hell, even if it’s a barely plausible Saving England From the Forces of Evil Secret Spy Ring, if it has compelling characters, a strong story and finely honed dialogue, I’m willing to suspend disbelief.

What are your favorite Really Good Regencies??  Today’s list is heavily weighted towards uber alphas, with a lot of war heroes and spies.  I haven’t even mentioned Loretta Chase once yet (!). I’ll return at some point to come up with my list of top badass Regencies where the heroes fight their battles in ballrooms, drawing rooms, and gaming hells, and there are plenty I still haven’t yet read, so please help me out and let me know who you’d add!

Badass Regencies That Won’t. Back. Down

Joanna Bourne, the Spymaster series / Darkly exquisite; French and English spies from all rungs of the social ladder. Words fail me.  If anything, these books just keep getting better and better.  The heroines are as badass as the heroes. Adrian’s story (The Black Hawk) was one of the best books I read in 2012.

Stephanie Laurens, the early Cynster books / Lush and nostalgic; curiously addictive. This family operates like a clan of badass white knights, reminding me both of Scottish medievals and, oddly, of “fixers” like Olivia Pope and her band of gladiators in suits.

Jo Beverley, the Company of Rogues series / Richly satisfying; wonderful secondary characters and friendships; some middle class protagonists. This series is wonderful and only suffers the tiniest bit from probably being constantly compared to the (Georgian-set) Malloren series.

Laurel McKee, Daughters of Erin series / Fiery and pretty political; there are riots and revolutionaries. Broadly speaking, these qualify as Regency-era historicals, but set in Ireland during and following the 1798 rebellion. I loved the theme of SISTERhood in this series, and the history is woven in seamlessly.

Gaelen Foley, Knight Miscellany/ A duke, twin heroes of the Peninsular Wars and their other siblings; these books explore sibling rivalry quite intensely, and the war-damaged brothers are heart-stoppingly enigmatic and tormented.

Eileen Dreyer, Drake’s Rakes series / A genuine band of brothers series; they fought and barely survived Waterloo together. The journey home is fraught with perils like amnesia, mistaken identity, deception, treason, abandonment and a disgraced wife.  The depiction of military life, especially the officer’s wives/daughters who traveled with the army made Never a Gentleman my favorite.  This series also reminded me so strongly of Bernard Cornwell’s legendary hero Richard Sharpe, that some of the glory of Sharpe’s Rifles may have rubbed off on Drake’s Rakes.

seanbean

Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, a particular favorite Regency badass who fought his way to being an officer but never a gentleman, before he got involved with Lords or Rings or playing the Game of Thrones.

Widow and Orphan: What Jane Eyre and Julia Grey Have In Common

I am a latecomer to the novels of Deanna Raybourn.  She has a new release set in colonial Africa out just last week, but just last night I finished Silent in the Grave (2007), which is the first Lady Julia Grey book, a Victorian-set mystery. 6933131

Being compulsive about sequels, I’ve already begun Silent in the Sanctuary (2008), which is the second book in which Julia will — it appears — solve a tangled mystery in the smoldering and rather mysterious company of investigator Nicholas Brisbane.

Charlotte Bronte, on the other hand, has been in my life since my early teens. I’ve posted recently about the enormous influence of Jane Eyre on my tastes and preferences as a reader, as part of explaining (for myself, mainly, and also for anyone else who’ll listen) why the hell I decided to start this blog.  🙂  Jane is a key figure in my literary back story – why I love reading, why I love romance and history and moody gothic tales, why in spite of knowing the absolute opposite is true, I still sort of think being a governess sounds romantic….

I didn’t expect Jane to keep cropping up all over the place this week, but it’s been a week of Big Thoughts about romance and history, and my bedtime reading has put me in a shadowy Jane Eyre mood.  Silent in the Grave is a Harlequin MIRA romantic mystery, so not a traditional HEA romance, but it’s honestly the most achingly romantic book I’ve read in a while.

At the center is an attraction compulsion that provokes me like Jane and Rochester with its subtle complexity and oblique intensity.  Julia and Nicholas positively spark and flare, generating heat without sex scenes, just by being in a room, circling each other, worrying about each other, vaguely threatening each other.

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I realize I am not the first to see Bronte resonances here.  There’s the incredibly tangible atmosphere of a gaslit Victorian England, from the overstuffed privilege of a fashionable family home to the grim surroundings of the expendable classes (prostitutes, orphans). Yes, I know it’s 1886, and Jane Eyre was published in 1847, but I’m talking about a mood here, people.  I can’t wait to get to the third book, where they’ll head north to the moors and I can picture them, windswept and wild, stalking each other until they finally succumb to the lust!

Jane Eyre 2007Because of course the most resonant thing about this book is the relationship itself, and the way Julia and Nicholas interact.  This above all is what puts me in mind of Jane and Rochester.  It’s something about the way they inadvertently both madden and seduce one another, with intellect and conversation and a hands-off but incredibly latent and irresistible sensual appreciation for each other’s physical presence and appearance.

Of course what’s totally different for Julia is that she is in fact a widow, and not an orphan.  Her very involved and encouraging family are another delightful aspect of this book, though even without them, this heroine enjoys a much less precarious position in Victorian society than poor long-suffering Jane.  As MacPudel so astutely pointed out in a Comment on the Historical Romance brouhaha this week, heroines who are believably in a position — economically and socially — to make their own relationship choices — in a historically accurate historical novel — are hard to find.

jane_2006_4_465x310I always thought of Jane as unrelentingly strong-willed, and from the start I loved how she made herself Rochester’s equal in intellect and conversation, but when push comes to shove, her existence as a single woman of no family is dangerously marginal and fraught with peril.  When she does make her own choices, her independence comes at a huge price. But Julia has the means to be independent, or at least as independent as was possible for a young widow with a fond father to be.  Not only does she not serve Nicholas as member of his domestic staff, but she has actually sought his services as an investigator and has a higher social status.

So it would seem Julia and Jane really don’t have very much in common at all.

tobystephens

Except for the romance.  The intense fixation on a charismatic, brooding and tormented hero who himself is unable to tear himself away from watching and waiting for the woman who challenges and fascinates him.

Bottom line — if there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t already read the Lady Julia Grey series, I’m going out on a limb to highly recommend after only one book.  And I just can’t stop thinking about the ways this book is getting under my skin because of its smoky Jane Eyre echoes. Reader, find. A. Copy.

Fellow Jane fans will likely notice I’ve only used pics from the 2007 BBC production with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson.  I know claiming a “best” adaptation is controversial, but in my mind this is absolutely it.  Love love love the sizzling chemistry between these two – it was the first film adaptation where I actually felt the heat, and where Rochester was both unappealingly beastly and astonishingly gorgeous in a way that made sense to me.  

So what about you? Which is your favorite Eyre?  And for those who are ahead of me on this, and have read the Silent series, what do you think?  Are Julia and Nicholas as epic as Jane and Rochester?  

Please Do Not Touch

FORBIDDEN….. About Touching Things You’re Not Supposed To, and When Heroes are Better in Someone Else’s Story

Elgin Marbles

Name:  Jordan Willis, auburn-haired Earl of Blackmore; by day he crusades for social reforms in Parliament, by night he’s busy winning the affections of the bored wives and widows of the ton.

Falls For: Prim yet proper rector’s daughter Miss Emily Fairchild, blackmailed into posing as wild Scottish debutante Lady Emma Campbell.

forbidden lordStory Recounted By:  Sabrina Jeffries, in The Forbidden Lord (1999)

Hangs Out In: Parliament, the British Museum, clubs, the opera (London 1819)

Likes: merry “uncomplicated” widows, social reform, his militant sister Sara.

Dislikes: falling in love (but he does fall in the end, and there’s quite a lot of heat along the way!)

Badass Hero Moment: Arranges sizzling hands-on private encounter with the Elgin Marbles, newly displayed at the British Museum.  “I’m a trustee of the museum…”

Badass Annoying Moment: Insists throughout that he doesn’t believe in love, that his heart remains untouchable and his desire for our heroine is purely physical, yet proves his emotions are deeply involved — and confused — when he’s all too willing to believe the worst of her.

(too) Frequently Described As: Controlled.

Might Look Like:  Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth in the 2007 PBS Persuasion.. ?

capt wentworth

To Read Or Not To Read?  This is the middle book in the Lord trilogy, and, like the other two, it’s a bit of a romp, with occasional interludes of character development revealing painful histories and inner emotions.  A fun read largely because SJ does such a good job building the ever-intensifying sexual attraction between Jordan and Em(ma)ily. There are evil, scheming relatives and unsuitable suitors all over the place getting in the way of the HEA, but there is connection and chemistry to get them past these obstacles. Usually false identity “uncanny double” storylines are irritating because you can’t believe the hero/ine doesn’t realize the deception sooner, but in this case we get that out of the way quickly, which is a relief.  Blackmore is nothing if not keenly observant when it comes to women.

The odd thing is that I think I found Jordan more compelling, and even more sexy, as Sara’s ruthless brother in Book 1 of the Trilogy than in his own book, where his edge seems blunted by the plot device that drives the central conflict — his insistence that he doesn’t “believe in love” just comes off as annoying and repetitive.forbidden

This trilogy from a decade or so ago was reissued by Avon and I think if Steamy Regency is your thing, this fits the bill quite nicely. Lord’s sake, I could not stop reading in spite of it being neither the steamiest, nor the funniest, of its ilk!  (And I’m not sure why, but I think in this case I actually like the old cover better…)

elgin_marblesTangentially Related … and Possibly Diverting:

Arrival, Exhibition and Early Reception of the Elgin Marbles in London, from APOLLO.

These iconic fragments of classical Greek sculpture were removed from the Parthenon in Athens in the 1790’s and brought to London. Controversy over this looting/appropriation/rescue (you decide) raged even then, and they were not displayed publicly until after 1816, but they remain in London today and the controversy over where they belong continues.  It could just be the erstwhile art historian in me, but the scene in the Museum where they’re alone together with their hands all over the freaking Elgin Marbles really got my attention. All that forbidden touching!!

Pamela Poll:  Who are your favorite secondary character heroes? Have you ever been disappointed when they seemed less Badass in their own book?

BONUS QUESTION:  Have you ever touched something in a museum that was off-limits?

Pennyroyal Preacher Man

Badass (?):  Reverend Adam Sylvaine, brawny yet contemplative Eversea cousin, discovering his vocation, serving the flock of Pennyroyal Green as their vicar while dodging the lustful and marriage-minded pursuits of the entire female population.

Falls For: Eve Duggan, widowed Countess of Wareham, notorious former Covent Garden actress, courtesan, and all-around Scandalous Woman.

Brought to You By: Julie Anne Long, in A Notorious Countess Confesses (2012) (7th in the Pennyroyal Green series)

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Hangs Out In: The pulpit, the vicarage, and a certain bedchamber at Damask Manor.

Likes: Children and old people, sarcastic and scandalous old women in particular.

Dislikes:  Anyone making snide, insinuating comments about Evie’s past.

Badass Hero Moment: When a man of the cloth throws a punch, or offers up five pounds he doesn’t have, you know it’s meaningful.  Fortunately, he’s also forceful and persuasive from the pulpit.  Definitely a winning combination.

Badass Annoying Moment: Makes snide — beyond insinuating — comments about Evie’s past.  (At that point, though, they were both pretty much acting like idiots.)

(too) Frequently Described As: Golden.

Looks Like….?

the-thorn-birds-richard-chamberlain-1

(Richard Chamberlain, The Thorn Birds, 1983)

Ha ha.  JAL has a clever bit of dialogue around the fact that Rev. Sylvaine doesn’t wear a “dress” (a cassock), and he’s (obviously) not a Catholic priest.  He’s really more like a lanky, broad-shouldered country gentleman who happens to have the care of a church and its flock of parishioners rather in place of an estate. Still, the contrast between his outward control and inner lust, along with the inevitable loss of control and explosive sex reminded me of the infamous Father Ralph. Yes, I know Pennyroyal Green is a million miles from the Australian outback and really there’s nothing else similar about these two.  But it made me smile to think about the Thorn Birds!

To Read Or Not To Read?  So. The whole thing about Adam being a vicar really got me thinking, though, about what had to be different about him — from the other Eversea and Redmond males — in order to make him believable as both an alpha hero and a clergyman.  I think both Adam and Evie were just kind of too… something… maybe it’s that they were both too earnest.  It must have been a challenge to write him in such a way that he’d come across as a red-blooded…well… badass like his cousins Colin and Ian.  These two, who we’ve already met and married off in prior books, make regular appearances here, checking up on Adam. It’s as if Long uses them to give Adam some badass glamour by association. I kept trying to figure out if he needed this kind of bucking up, or if he really is just a kind of beta badass, who keeps a low profile but is a force to be reckoned with when pushed to his limit.

What’s more convincing is Adam as a man exploring his calling as a caretaker of souls, even as a somewhat ambivalent sermon-writer and preacher.  His humility as he discovers his gift and his vocation are nicely conveyed.  But combined with the fact that Evie spends almost the entire book doing good works of one kind or another (she visits the parish poor, she makes huge and almost irrevocable sacrifices in order to provide for her own poor relations) there may have been too much humble pie for me.

That’s always part of the problem with a (former) courtesan heroine; there always have to be dire circumstances that forced her to sell herself,  she has to be stoic and/or unapologetic about being a fallen woman, and she has to refuse to “drag down” the hero, before they can arrive at the HEA.

Bottom line — these two could not have made more incompatible career choices, and it just wasn’t quite as sparkling and fun — or even as funny — as the preceding Pennyroyals. I don’t know if I’m going to start giving letter grades, but if I had to, this would be a solid B. Anything from JAL is just so beautifully written and Pennyroyal Green is a place to which one wants to return again and again.

Tangentially Related … and Possibly Diverting:  The setting in quaint PG, with the requisite assortment of odd and earnest villagers, at one point taking turns in a dramatic recitation of 1st Corinthians that is both sweet and ridiculous, also made me think about funny old Dibley.

Romance arrived for our dear Vicar of Dibley in the HILARIOUS episodes where Dawn French lusted after, and landed, smoldering Richard Armitage.  Found this awesome video of Armitage and French romancing and goofing around together. I firmly believe any excuse to watch Richard Armitage should be taken advantage of, so Enjoy!

Pamela Poll:

Who’s your favorite badass sexy preacher man? Can a clergyman be a convincing alpha hero?

Horn of Plenty

Name: Gideon Horn, the Pirate Lord, terror of sea-going aristocrats, Robin Hood-like wealth re-distributor, Utopian visionary.

Falls For:  Miss Sara Willis, righteous prison reformer and champion of female convicts, stepsister of the Earl of Blackmore.

Story Recounted By:  Sabrina Jeffries, in The Pirate Lord (originally published 1998)

pirate lordpirate lord2

Hangs Out In/On: The high seas, aboard the Satyr; an uncharted island in the South Atlantic.

Likes: Flies a horn-y Jolly Roger, yearns for a mother’s love, dreams of a utopian colony, kidnaps a boatload of convict women to get things started.

Dislikes: Anyone with a title.

Badass Hero Moment: Capture of the Defiant.

Badass Annoying Moment: The Atlantis/Utopia concept is so flawed it’s hard to take Gideon’s insistence on the kidnapping and forced marriages seriously.

(too) Frequently Described As: Thunderous. Taut.

Might Look Like:  wallpapers-pirates-caribbean-1024

Not really, but it’s funny to think about.  I’m pretty sure the re-issue cover image is Avon’s attempt at a mash-up of Jack Sparrow-beadazzled style with traditional chiseled chest romance hero.

To Read Or Not To Read?  First and favorite in the Lord trilogy.  Somehow SJ mixes together pirates, convict ships, struggles for survival, and class conflict while keeping the whole thing frothy and fantastical.  Yet in spite of the fact that it lacks grit and substance (even the “mean” convicted prostitute is a pushover for Sara’s good nature, and the pirates are as tame as Disney — think Peter Pan or Pirates of the Caribbean), it works as a setting for Gideon’s and Sara’s character-driven story.  There are very nice secondary romances, and Sara’s determined and ruthless brother the Earl of Blackmore certainly got my attention as the future hero of the next book.

(Possibly) Amusing, Tangentially Related:

Information about St. Helena, the island SJ used as inspiration for the fictional “Atlantis”

Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19), official site

Pamela Poll:

What is your favorite pirate romance and/or  who is your favorite pirate badass?

Hungry Like the Wolf

Name: Aidan of Awe, brawny 15th-century Highlander who’s half deamhan (demon?), half immortal Master (savior of Innocence); haunted by his small dead son, he’s a dark, tormented, and merciless warrior feared as the Wolf of Awe.

dark em

Falls For:  Self-described plain and geeky data-whiz Brianna Rose, who has her own paranormal thing going on; as an empath “Brie” is somehow both enthralled with Aidan and brought low by his intense negative emotions.

Story Recounted By: Brenda Joyce, in Dark Embrace, a Masters of Time novel, book one of the Rose Trilogy

Hangs Out In: Cold Scottish castles, packs of wolves, Brianna’s dreams.

Likes:  Lasses with nicknames of French cheese.

Dislikes: Ghosts.

(too) Frequently Described As:   Hot.  We get it, he’s hot.  He would have benefited from a big dose of Showing Not Telling, perhaps via some better dialogue and some perceptible rapport with Brie.

Might Look Like:  I could not get a good mental image of this guy — at least not his face.  As a reader, I find it frustrating, and very telling, when the hero feels so generic to me that I can’t picture a face.  Like the book cover itself, in my mind Aidan was Faceless Bonny Braw Big Shoulder Hero in Kilt.

To Read Or Not To Read?  Too many big questions loomed annoyingly throughout the read.  Why/how is Aidan a shapeshifter, and why a wolf?  Why is this love story so one-sided? (It’s impossible to tell why or how he has feelings for her, but we’re told every couple of pages that she is in love with him).  Why is time travel, and living in centuries not one’s own, so widely practiced and no one is thought odd for wearing designer jeans in medieval Scotland?  I realize this is part of a series, and I mistook the fact that it’s book one of a trilogy, but there are few answers to be had, and apparently any world-building that might have answered at least some of these questions, has happened in an earlier Masters of Time book.  The action and emotion throughout this tale are fever-pitched, yet the real problem is the lack of connection between Aidan and Brianna.  Constant dread, constant lust-think, constant anguish.

Tangentially Related … and Possibly Diverting:  This song just kept popping into my head as I was reading!

Pamela Poll: Do you ever find yourself associating a song with a book as you’re reading it, almost like a mental soundtrack (with or without the accompanying mental image)?  Leave a comment and tell me about it!