Tag Archive | Regency Romance Reviews

RRR: Books That Should Not Be

After struggling through The Cassandra Knot by Rebecca Baldwin, I am so, so thankful for those romances that actually, well, romantic. Ouch. Published in 1979, this book is adequately Regency, the author clearly knows her time period, and the potential of the plot isn’t half bad, but like so many things in life, it is the execution of things that makes all the difference, and the timing. And it’s hard to get right, but one knows when they’ve struck gold and this story is merely a knot barely worth picking at. In essence, it is a book that should not be. At some point it should have been rewritten or even discarded entirely.

Arranged marriages can often be a good catalyst for romance, and, here, things are promising. The Duke of Woodland, Edward Talbot, is happy with his mistress, and content in life, although generally he is out of funds and really only has a title and maybe some good looks to offer a lady. He is reintroduced to a childhood friend, Cassandra Russell, or Cassie. Cassie is in dire straights, living with an oppressive family that torments her and will force her into a marriage with a horrible man. She flings herself upon Edward, begging him to marry her instead. She is rich, having a great inheritance, and she will leave him be and let him live his life the way he wants. He can even keep his mistress. Edward has compassion on her and agrees to rescue her in this manner. Little does he know, however, that Cassie has actually been in love with him for a few years now.

What follows after that is continual miscommunication and conflict between the couple that is not entertaining whatsoever. Too make matters worse, the pair rarely have “screen time” together, if you will, and little of what time they had is anything leading towards romance. A good editor should have caught this long before publication. Neither main character is very likable, and neither try to win each other’s affection except in the most superficial of ways. The two have no chemistry; indeed, Edward has more chemistry with his scheming mistress than with his wife. Not really the makings of a romantic hero.

In addition to that, a strange robbery intrigue is inserted in the latter half. And the villain ends up being the only consistent and interesting character in the story–except him being the villain is not consistent at all. I was, in fact, hoping that he would steal Cassie away from Edward at many points.

How do writers and storytellers get romance so wrong? Cookie cutter plots are perhaps to blame, but it is a lack of thinking about the relationships between men and women and especially–readers of romance being primarily women–what makes women’s hearts flutter. Edward has little character. At no point in the story does he begin to rally and use the enormous funds he now has from his wife to bring his dukedom back to greatness. He aspires to nothing. As a woman, I can’t think of anything less attractive than a man with no interests, no adventures, and no ambition. Women are built to support their men. Indeed, we often lose ourselves in supporting our men. That’s not to say women have no interests of their own–Cassie clearly has fun partying apart from her husband in the story–But she’s clearly not happy, and has no foothold on which to build a relationship with her husband. Yes, he rescued her from an awful situation, but it’s one and done. It reality, Cassie would have likely been swept off her feet by another man with ambition eventually. Her girlish love for Edward would not have withstood a driven man who knows what he wants.

The Cassandra Knot is a good lesson: A marriage in which either or both parties do not love the other is a raw deal for both of them. Convenience never makes up for the lack of love and affection. Amazingly, by the end of the story, the two are in love and now have a promising happy marriage to look forward too, but how they fell in love or why. I’m not sure. The couple has no spark. With a reworked plot and some actual character and relationship development, this would have been a much better story. If it was told first person from Cassandra’s perspective, I think it could be riveting, especially since she’s in love with her husband and he doesn’t know it. All those feelings, all that angst at being thrown into physical contact with one’s heart’s desire. That would have been something. For a far, far better story involving a husband and wife who pretend not to love each other, but desperately do, try out the French Revolution and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Now that hero is a man with drive.

RRR: The Duchess and the Devil

As you can tell by the title, this Regency Romance was ta-cky! By Sydney Ann Clary and published by Zebra Books. This was a second printing in 1991, copyrighted 1988. Surprisingly, this is the first of this box that has actually been a smutty romance novel. I half-expected most of the them to be smutty and was happily surprised when they weren’t. Eh, it would only have been a loss of $5, anyway. Because written porn is just as bad as the visual kind, I did not finish the book, but I do have some comments, so enjoy.

Clary is a great writer and storyteller. A lot of romance novelists are, but romance is given such a bad rap, not many maybe know this. It’s the smut that does them in, I’m pretty sure. Also, the majority of the stories follow the exact same formula: Man and woman meet, hate each other, then like each other, then fall in love. Why this is exciting over and over again, I can’t really explain, but there’s just something satisfying about either winning the other person or both winning each other together.

Our hero in The Duchess and the Devil is Deveril St. John, the Duke of Castleton. He’s tall, dark, and handsome, and has a temper and mommy issues. Groan. His mom’s a totally harlot. Double groan. Our heroine is Bryony Balmaine, also tempestuous, and used to doing as she pleases. Both are connected to her uncle, Lord Ravensly, who somehow gets each to promise to marry the other.

I’m sure that farther into the book the two do actually fall in love, but the fighting, fighting, fighting was just so irritating here. In everyday life this would be exhausting. Bryony is very annoying. Refusal of common sense just to refuse. Blah. Worse, Deveril forces himself on Bryony and later, though at least they are married, he thinks it’s ok to bed her while she totally out of it. I mean, he didn’t actually have a bottle of the date rape drug, but he might as well have. And this is our hero?

Due to his woman issues, Deveril also assumes that Bryony is basically a prostitute or has slept with many men. He concludes this simply because she had an poor and unconventional life in France. Deveril is a jerk. Any man who assumes this about a women is a jerk. Any woman who assumes the same about a man is a jerk. Thus, Deveril thinks Bryony is experienced enough that he doesn’t need to be gentle! Seriously, I can’t even.

He even says, and I quote: “Only a woman would risk further injury to herself to protect her virtue.” Doubtful that only women are concerned with virtue, but casting that aside, Deveril, dear, sometimes virtue is the only thing we woman have! And it should be considered as gold. It used to be considered as gold.

I’m sure as the story goes on, both behave better, but I didn’t really care to find out and had to retreat to an Agatha Christie mystery to recover. Christie’s great, because although her romances happen rather quickly in her stories, they are actually romantic.

Anyway, tacky, tacky, tacky! Did not finish.

RRR: The Grand Passion

And so, we come to another Regency Romance Review! This one is The Grand Passion by Elizabeth Mansfield. Although I didn’t like this one nearly as much as the wonderful The Fifth Kiss by Mansfield, I read the whole thing and enjoyed it. If I get any more Regency Romances from thrift stores, she is now an author I will look for. This book was published by Jove in 1986.

The plot has a good hook right at the beginning: We are introduced to the newly engaged Matthew John Lotherwood, Marquis (above a count and below a duke) of Bradbourne. He’s a party his aunt is having, and for entertainment she’s hired a fortune teller. Although he doesn’t believe in that stuff, Matt ends up getting a reading anyway, and the fortune teller says he will soon be married, but not to the woman he is engaged to. Instead, she points out a different young woman to him, tall, with short, dark hair, and blue, mesmerizing eyes. With that as his first introduction to the heroine of our story, there was no way Matt was walking away from this without falling in love with her. No way. As an aside, I didn’t like the name Lotherwood and wished all throughout to change it. It just didn’t seem fitting.

Next we are introduce to Tess Brownlow, the heroine, and a lady who lives in the country. She, too, gets engaged, though with misgivings, as she doesn’t feel as much love as she should for Jeremy Beringer. Her mother has pumped her with stories of what love and romance are all about, that a woman must have at least one “grand passion.” Tess isn’t sure what her mother means by this, but she’s sure she hasn’t experienced it yet. Sadly, she never gets to find out if what she feels for Jeremy will ever turn into a grand passion, for the night before their wedding, he is killed in an awful stagecoach accident. Months later, Tess is still stewing over this and tries to find out who the driver of the coach was. The man wasn’t a real stagecoach driver, but a member of the gentry, drunk with drink, and also part of the four-in-hand club, or FHC. Basically, the members of that club are expert drivers of horse-drawn everything. The gentlemen insisted on driving the coach that night. Tess eventually learns this man’s name was Lotherwood and she is determined to make him pay for what he did.

Tess’s idea is ridiculous, although it is very much punishment fitting the crime: Get the man to fall in love with her and then fake her death the night before their wedding. She engages the help of her friend in London to help carry out her plan, and hires the fortune teller to give a very special reading to Matt Lotherwood. Matt’s rich aunt, Lady Wetherfield is also in on the scheme, as she doesn’t like who’s he’s picked for a bride, so, yeah, no chance for the poor guy. Tess is introduced to him as Sidoney Ashburton.

Everything goes according to plan, except that it doesn’t. That is to say, Matt instantly becomes smitten by her, leaving his bride-to-be, who’s really nothing more than a placeholder to him. He’s happy that Viola Lovell is pretty and accomplished, but not a woman he can “lose his head over.” He’s proud to be a Corinthian, a man young, rich, handsome, and interested primarily in sport and gaming. Even so, because Matt is the one who proposed to Viola, society says he can’t go back on his offer: Only the girl has the choice to end the engagement. I’m trying to imagine any modern man submitting to such a rule…oh dear. But men truly are about honor, so my bet is few of them would really propose to a woman without planning to follow through. Yes, the plan works, Matt falls in love, but so does Tess! This, she doesn’t expect, and she falls in love even though she knows he must be a drunkard and murderer.

Yes, you guessed it, Matt is her grand passion. And yet she seems to not be able to put two and two together. Matt never gets drunk around her or behaves drunkenly. In fact, he saves her from a drunken lout, and mentions with some embarrassment that he himself has been drunk before. But everything about him indicates that that is something that must have happened far in the past, long before the stagecoach accident. Despite now being in love with her quarry, Tess stubbornly insists on carrying out her plan, thinking this drunken lout and murderer must be punished. Her friends relay to Matt her sudden death under the wheels of a stagecoach and she retires back to the country despondent and depressed because she doesn’t have her man. And Matt, reeling in shock and grief-stricken, becomes depressed as well. Why do people do this to themselves? Ah, but then we wouldn’t have a story.

Eventually, the truth comes out. Tess’s mother takes her abroad, hoping to cheer her spirits and who should she happen upon, but a drunken lout going by the name of Lotherwood, although it’s not Matthew. Yes, yes, Matt has a younger brother named Guy, and although he clearly hasn’t kicked his alcoholism, he is truly sorry for what he did, causing the death of Tess’s fiancee, Jeremy. Tess’s reaction to all this is revulsion. Revulsion at herself for planning out a punishment that she now realizes is worse than the crime.

It’s only through a similar chance encounter that Matt finds out the truth–and when he’s does he’s boiling mad, and I don’t blame him. His eventual confrontation with Tess is accusatory. What right had she to act as judge, jury, and sentencer without him even knowing he was accused? Without even hearing what he would have had to say? He’s right, and Tess is doubtful of ever getting him back, as she really does love him. He rightly tells her that he would never do something like that to someone he loves. True, men have honor; women often don’t. Oh, we have other good attributes, but honor isn’t really one of them. It’s a good thing Tess doesn’t have honor, for otherwise she wouldn’t get him back. And of course she gets him back, because that’s how these stories go.

This time she takes up the name Annie and becomes a servant in his large estate house, helping Matt in any way she can to be more comfortable and successful in his house and efforts to improve and protect the estate. Good thing all her suggestions are the right ones and she has a knack for knowing how to assist in what he needs, or she’d really be up a creek. When he finally realizes that “Annie” is actually Tess, Matt is boiling mad again, but not for long. He really does love Tess, too, and I think all her crazy schemes kind of excite him, despite him lecturing her to stop taking on assumed names and roles. Really, their “grand passion” is physical chemistry, which is so often what it really boils down to, isn’t it? But, the two went through a lot together, and sometimes a journey like that will cement things in a way nothing else can.

As for Viola, Matt’s former betrothed, she’s at least smart enough to know that he doesn’t really want her and that it’s better to be “married to a viscount who truly desires you than a marquis who feels trapped.” Thus, she moves on to Matt’s friend, the viscount, who admires only her and truly cares for her, too. She can also be herself around him without being belittled–Matt has always seen her as beneath him, a placeholder who is pretty and just someone to get married to because he has to get married to someone as some point. The viscount is also very rich, handsome in his way, and “more easily controlled.” Ha. If only Matt knew the controlling side of Viola, it may have actually increased his impression of her. She has calculated exactly what she wants in a man and in marriage. I do agree with her that it’s better to be with a man who wants you, who truly wants you and loves you. Like her, I don’t think it necessarily has to be a “grand passion,” but everything probably works a lot better if both parties in the couple have passion for each other.

A good read, and I look forward to reading more of Mansfield’s stories. Also, Tess is oh, so tacky. I mean, with her imagination, she could almost be a writer or something…

Up next time: A review of Dr. Mütter’s Marvels.

In Search of Romance

With the dearth of romance in my own life, I often rely on stories to make up the difference. Sad to say, but as of late, whether dramas or tacky Regency Romances, nothing is really engaging me. Real life is actually more interesting for once, though no particular romance to be found, but…let’s just say God has an interesting sense of humor.

Here’s what hasn’t worked: Kdramas Doom at Your Service and Touch Your Heart. Not bad stories, good acting, just really slow. Touch Your Heart will probably heat up a bit as I’m not very far into it, but Doom…sometimes chemistry can’t make for a lack of action. The couple(s) are together constantly, but it’s just not exciting. And the second lead love triangle is a lot more interesting than the main romance. Even that, though, falls flat. It’s like dating someone for a long time, but you never really progress or go to the next level or whatever. The relationship is just…there. Which is fine in real life, but to watch, is so boring it’s almost painful.

As for the tacky Regencies: Tried Julianna by Judith Nelson. It was boring, boring, boring. I really did like her short story Christmas at Wickly, though, so might give her another shot if I come across one of her other books at the thrift store. Next, I tried two Candlelight Regency Specials published by Dell and authored by Lucy Phillips Stewart. Bride of a Stranger jumped around a lot and stopped making sense after awhile. The dialogue was supposed to witty, but was ridiculous, which was unfortunate, because that’s really the only place any chemistry with the leads shone through. Her Bride of Chance, again, the dialogue just was not good. It’s hard enough to write really good modern day dialogue, much less Regency talk, but whatever the author was going for, was not working. It would be amusing to finish both stories, as they are pretty tacky, but I’m not in the mood. I need some good romance, so am turning to Elizabeth Mansfield.

In the Regency surprise box I bought last summer, there is another book by Mansfield called The Grand Passion. Doubt it will be as good as The Fifth Kiss, but I’m hopeful. I’m always hopeful when it comes to romance, both in stories and real life.

As for other stories: So far The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong is trippy, very trippy.

RRRS: The Silent Governess and A Castaway in Cornwall

For contemporary writers of Regency Romance, Julie Klassen is my favorite. Borrowed The Silent Governess from the library. Not too bad of a read, but it ended with me wishing it had been set at the girl’s school her mother runs in the end. As with many of her books, I was more into a lot of the minor characters, like Croome, than the leads, but the leads weren’t bad, either. Olivia Keene is the governess in question, and through a series of coincidences ends up working at Brightwell Manor where Lord Bradley lives. Bradley alternates between being cruel and kind, fighting a constant chip on his shoulder, a fear that people will find out a family secret. Because the story begins with Olivia’s great talent in mathematics, I expected that to be fleshed further, but that wasn’t the case. Only in parts where the plot needed it, was attention called to her skills. Lord Brightwell, Bradley’s father, really impressed me at the end and now I want a whole story about him and Bradley’s cousin Felix and how he’s made into a proper lord. Would be a good tale.

As for A Castaway in Corwall, again my expectations just didn’t match the book. Unfortunately, I have read Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier in the past few years, which deals with Cornwall, wreckers, shipwrecks and the like, and although that story was mostly dreadful, few can beat the atmospheric writing of du Maurier, and so I was constantly comparing the two and thought it could have used more wreckers and smugglers. It was very interesting, though, to have a different perspective on the Nalopeonic wars and having characters be on the side of the new republic rather than on the side of the British or the royalists, per say. As the island of Jersey is brought up right away, I was hoping the tale would take us there, and it did, but then I just had the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in my head, so again, comparing the books. Again, more of the minor characters caught my attention, but there was something a bit reckless about both Laura and Alexander, and they had rather good kissing scenes.

Now I am learning more about Napoleon by reading The Murder of Napoleon by Ben Weider and David Hapgood.

My favorites by Klassen still are: The Innkeepers of Ivy Hill series, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Apothecary’s Daughter.

RRR: The Fifth Kiss

Sometimes everything in stories comes together to make a great “show,” if you will, and The Fifth Kiss did just that. I found it highly entertaining, and alternating between being infuriating and delightful, which is what a good romance should be. Yes, yes, we women like the drama. It’s exciting, it’s where we often find our adventure. This was a standout among what I’ve read from the mystery box last summer so far. I’ve got about fifteen novels left. This one is written by Elizabeth Mansfield, who had a short story in the Christmas compilation with somewhat similar characters. She likes bookish girls, or Bluestockings, as they were called back then.

First and foremost, The Fifth Kiss would be easily adapted to TV, a show or a miniseries. That was the appeal to me, I could see it as a show, a successful one at that. Not only does it start out with our heroine, Olivia, shocked–shocked I tell you!–but throughout the tale we get to be upset and exasperated along with her as she finds out that the hero, Miles Strickland, Earl of Langley, is all too often right. We meet many other interesting characters, and have a really cool second romance later in the book. Several characters are there waiting to be further developed, and there could be several subplots added to the main story. Olivia is at first someone we like, and then don’t like, as we realize that Miles is correct, she interferes when she should not, but then we, along with him, come to love her again, as she’s such a dear with her niece and nephew and is really very good at running a household. Many relationships abound throughout the book, not just romantic ones, but those of father to daughter, brother to sister, father to son, masters to servants, and the like. Social and political commentary is also woven throughout the story and could be expanded upon in a show.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked our hero by the end. So many of these stories seem to think it’s a desirable thing for a man of that time to have a lot of experience sleeping around before he finds “the one” and gets married. In this one, we are shown a different view of infidelity and just what that means. It is sobering to remember that two people are always involved. We so often think a man or wife just goes out to cheat on their own, and sometimes that is the case, but sometimes it is that their spouses have left them or retreated from them in some way. Doesn’t make cheating or infidelity right, of course, but it puts things into perspective: Neither is it right for spouses to cut their partners out of a piece or pieces of their lives. A marriage is two lives wholly shared, much more than any other relationship. Someday I hope to experience that also, but, for now I have the tacky romances.

This one wasn’t so tacky, really, the cringiest part was when Olivia Matthews takes it upon herself to get some kissing experience and it was just hard to believe she’s quite that dumb, but some people are. Mansfield got the descriptions right, the strange experience when someone has more emotion or ardor than you do. It’s sort of a disembodying thing, and of course sad for the other person to be kissing you so ardently with no response, but it happens. Unrequited love, unrequited attraction, such a great disappointment, not evil exactly, but it’s always something that seems like it should not be, a great wrongness in the world. However, a couple of the men in this story press on when they should not, forcing their physical attentions on the hapless Miss Matthews. No matter how sorry I may be for them, it just isn’t right. Olivia bears up well, though really doesn’t seem to understand the danger she sometimes puts herself in.

The part about the story that got to me was Olivia’s moral outrage, which ended up being misplaced, and her interference. Sometimes we–often, but not always, women–see a wrongness and think we have to, we must correct it. Really, we should wait and see first if anyone is asking us to interfere, yes, even if God is asking us to interfere. Most of the time not only is it not our place, but also there’s always more to story that we don’t know, and our interference will only make things worse, especially if it’s not wanted. In this case, the true moral wrongness was a wife cutting a husband out of her life, perhaps with the intention of saving him from pain, but giving him more pain in the process. Olivia is humbled and a bit bewildered. She really doesn’t understand what a marriage relationship is or means. And she really does not understand men, but fortunately, she grows up through out the story and comes to understand how to deal with them and bring out the best in them, well, at least in one of them. That was very great to read.

The Fifth Kiss is one that may stay on my shelves, though it’s no Jane Austen, so time will tell. There are actually six kisses or series of kisses in the novel, and it is the fifth one which makes our hero realize he loves Olivia. He finds it horrid to find her in the arms of another man, even if her feelings for the man are stone cold. So, nothing especially magic with a fifth kiss, just that it was the turning point in the romance of the story.

Reviews: House of Salt and Sorrows/Christmas at Wickly

What fun it is in this modern era when there are so many wonderful retellings of the old fairy tales. These books are a treat to read, though sometimes they miss the mark. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig has so much going for it, and although I really enjoyed it, I’m not sure I recommend it. The story has a maritime setting on a series of islands, the salt, the sea, etc., but it didn’t really become nautical in the sense of being really firmly set in a world of ships and sailing. The twelve girls are all daughters of a wealthy landowner/governer of the island chain and have little to do with actual sailing trips, fishing, and the like. It could have gone much farther in the world of the sea, and also the quasi-Greek mythological religion the world follows. Still, what was there was adequate for the story. Our heroine is one of the 12 sisters. She’s in the middle and her name is Annaleigh.

Twelve main characters plus any additional ones are tough to keep track of, but in this tale, four of the sisters are already dead at the beginning of the story. Wisely the author groups the rest of the sisters, making them easier to remember. The story has a lot of stops and starts and never really flowed well, but the ghostly figures in the beginning didn’t prepare me for the end. Although the story ended happy, the incident in the lighthouse was just…icky, for lack of a better word. Icky, and for no apparent reason. There was just a lot of gore and grossness at the end, which ended up being too much for me. The actual adaptation of the Grimm tale was mostly in the latter half, and it was when their father finally made the wager that whoever figured out the mystery of how his daughters wore out their shoes every night would gain his estate, that I realized how uneven the story was.

Where it went wrong was the world building, something I, too, have trouble with. The stuff on their immediate region was good, but a full description of the world was lacking, or perhaps it was too blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. The ickiness related to one of the deities in another province who was not detailed nearly enough, and that’s why it just doesn’t fit at the end. Also, I expected fairies in the story, that is, I expected them to be the villains, and was disappointed in that.

All in all it’s an adequate retelling, but it could have been so much more. I did enjoy the use of Fisher, but I also didn’t think the character really got his due, either. The romantic hero was very appealing, but we didn’t get to know him that well. Fairy tales are hard to retell in some ways, because they are short and often have very blank characters. Sometime this bleeds into the longer adaptations. Also the dancing was severely lacking. I wanted more time at the balls and there just seemed to be a lot of Annaleigh thinking, which is of course what young women often do, but it doesn’t drive stories along very well.

Craig did a good job of portraying an estate constantly in mourning. The behaviors of many characters can be excused largely due to the tragedies they’ve experienced, so it’s not a wonder in that sense that it takes people a long time to realize something is amiss. The ultimate villain at the end…meh. I suppose the lesson is you never get what you want no matter how clever a deal you make, especially if it’s a deal with a devil. Not a bad story, but I wouldn’t recommend it, and I’ve read a better adaptation of the fairy tale at some point in my life and hopefully one of these days I’ll remember the title.

A Regency Romance Review

Continuing with the A Regency Holiday book of five Regency romances, story four was actually quite good. I wish it was a longer story. Judith Nelson is the writer, and was excited to find that one of her longer novels was in the surprise bag I bought last summer. Christmas at Wickly stars the Earl of Wickham, who is in his thirties, and a twenty-eight year old heroine who believes herself firmly on the shelf. She’s not wrong, in that day and age women often married in their late teens, but Miss Worthington lives fully up to her name and her humor and capableness convince the earl that she’s the one for him. All this is planned in advance by a wily grandma who wants to see their family’s inheritance continue and not go on to lesser family members. In her eyes, it is essential the earl marry and start having children as soon as possible. She’s not wrong, but I’m also glad that she wants him to truly be in love.

The romance is quiet, just two people spending a lot of time together and falling in love while doing it. Somehow the love surprises both sexes and Nelson makes it exciting to both of them, as well as sweet to read. They are both total dorks and also snobs after a fashion. It will be great to see what she does with a longer story. The story outlines four key points for a good match: Humor, companionship, similar perspectives and/or temperament, and time together to make the relationship happen. As Wickham dismisses the other, younger women one by one, I just think of Austen’s Mr. Knightley proclaiming that “men of sense don’t want silly wives.” In this story, that’s true, although our hero quite sillily makes a habit of stealing mistletoe so he’s not forced to kiss anyone under it. It’s hard to imagine societal rules so strict one couldn’t refuse a kiss, but I suppose if a gentleman is faced with having to refuse a lady, he would just rather avoid the situation altogether. And that’s rather gentlemanly of him, even if it also makes him silly.

RRR and musings

The time has come for another Regency Romance Review. Not sure I’ve made much of a dent in the box I bought last summer, but onward I will go. This one I meant to finish and review in December, but Christmastime always gets so busy, and then there was January, and then my Dad passed away, and then, then. There’s always an “and then.”

A Regency Holiday, “Delightful and Heartwarming Christmas Stories by Five Acclaimed Regency Authors,” published by Jove Regency Romance in 1991. This is likely the most recent one from the batch. As I don’t particularly care for short stories and read them sporadically, it’s taking awhile for me to get through this. Two stories yet to go, but some quick reviews on the first three:

The Girl with Airs: This one stars a Scottish laird and although he was described as being very handsome, he favors lightskirts or loose women, and talks in dialect. I have been to Scotland. It’s beautiful and the language and accents are all great. However, the way the Scottish dialect looks written down has always looked like baby talk to me, and thus it’s always difficult for me to take the characters talking the dialect seriously. Had the same trouble trying to read Outlander. Fortunately the “girl with airs” was taken in by the accent and the actually very smart laird who ended up wooing her. Written by Elizabeth Mansfield, which is interesting, because the box actually contains one or two of her novels. I plan to read her The Fifth Kiss next. Why does it take the couple five kisses? If you don’t know in the first kiss, maybe it’s not really love. Just kidding.

Proof in the Pudding: Although it’s maybe not the best choice to base a story around the guy who didn’t get the girl, this was amusing. Humans are so, so clueless, and sometimes reading or watching stories about people even more clueless than us can bring us real joy. Really. The ending was funny, but not realistic, and way too contrived. Probably the lovers don’t care, because at least they got together. Poor Virgil Clive lost not only a possible bride, but also a tasty pudding, a valuable coin, and what little what left of his dignity. By Monette Cummings.

A Christmas Spirit: By Sarah Eagle. My favorite part was the title pages which says, “in memory of my grandfather, Edwin John Hawkes, Sr., who was always Father Christmas.” Seriously, that warmed my heart. This story had real potential and would be better as a full length novel. The young Earl of Denham Abbey is plagued with annoying relatives, sudden visitors, and a ghost who likes to play cupid. The beginning where a girl is stuck there in bad weather reminded me a bit of the Princess and the Pea, and I started to wonder if I should write a retelling of that fairy tale, but found that there have been, so, so, so many remakes and rewrites already. Anyway, the sudden kiss was romantic, but really, does this ever happen in real life? Perhaps not in the time of Me Too and COVID, but there still may be some brave men that throw caution to the wind. The earl was a bit of an absent minded professor type who got his girl because she’d been in love with him for oh, so many years. Girls, sometimes waiting for love works, at least in stories.

Christmas at Wickly: I really like the writing so far in this one and it has a spunky grandma who is going to trap her grandson, the Earl of Wickham, into marrying and settling down. By Judith Nelson, who also may have another novel in this stack I have.

The Kissing Bough: The last one is written by Martha Powers and has chapters split up by kisses. Ends in a fifth kiss. Ok, so what is it about fifth kisses? Is this some sort of thing, a milestone in a relationship or romance? Were fifth kisses special in the Regency era for some reason? No idea, but readers, if any of you are in new relationships, pay attention to your fifth kiss. Maybe it opens a door to another dimension where 2020 is a good year.

Some musings. So my dad died about a month ago and I miss him so much. I know I’ll see him again in heaven, but some days the tears just come and there’s nothing I can do about it. Fortunately, God has blessed me and my mom and siblings with wonderful family and friends who have surrounded us with our love. Life has felt a bit surreal this past month, and the best part has been all the wonderful hugs from people, something I’ve missed so, so much lately. Human contact and skinship is key to health. In our own pain, God has also showed us how many others are hurting. So many who have recently or not so recently lost spouses, family friends, loved ones, and dear ones. It makes me pay more attention now, to others who are hurting in the same way.

It is so awesome how God works. How unexpected he is, and how surprising. God is definitely romantic in his ways. Today he answered a prayer that I didn’t even realize I asked. He knew, he just knew that I wanted an opportunity to make an in person apology to someone, and he made that happen! The timing was perfect. God’s perfect timing.

Another one, and this is a little gross, so sorry if you’re squeamish, but I had this tiny cyst on me, this little hole in my skin for over twenty years, and suddenly in January it got infected and and horror show gross. I was so, so sure I would have to have surgery on it or something, but lo and behold after packing and bandaids for a few weeks, it’s almost all healed! And now there will be no hole at all. Why did this happen and heal now? God was showing me his power, and the power of our God-given bodies to heal, even after such a long time. It’s pretty great. That taught me it’s never too late to heal, and we should never give up on it. We don’t have to be stuck in one bad spot all our lives. God can help us and circumstances change for the better.

RRR: Marriage by Decree

Can a man really be forced into marriage? This is a key question posed in Marriage by Decree, the Signet Regency Romance by Ellen Fitzgerald. Published in 1988 and part of Signet’s Romantic Interludes, this is only one of a few that Fitzgerald wrote for Signet. The story wasn’t half bad, but I didn’t find it to be a keeper, as the magic just wasn’t there.

Back to the question: Can a man, or a woman, for that matter, be forced into marriage? Certainly in some cultures, yes. In the Britain of the Regency Era, though, it was a lot easier for a man to escape an unwanted marriage than a woman. They simply had more resources, especially legal ones, to avoid it. However, this isn’t really what the author refers to in the story. What she’s talking about is the nature of manhood, primarily man’s purposeful pursuance of romance. Basically, it works like this: The man pursues, the women succumb. Don’t believe me as now women are so liberated? Women, try chasing and winning a man who doesn’t want you. Time and time again, you will find it just doesn’t work, but with the tables reversed, women often give in and/or are won over and it all works splendidly. And that is actually very romantic.

In Marriage by Decree, two people are decreed by royalty, aka, the government, to get married. Scandal being the reason. Alice Osborne, our heroine, is an American this time, and not too fond of the British due to the Revolutionary War and its following skirmishes and battles. Alice’s father, Charles, is more optimistic about improving relations between the two countries, and has agreed to be a diplomat to London at the request of the President, who in 1815 would have been James Madison. As they travel by ship to England, Alice is openly scornful of anyone on the ship who looks as if they might be a British soldier.

Deep down, though, Alice is a good soul, and during a storm on the sea, saves one of those soldiers from being washed overboard. This part I thought could have used more description. Help came too quickly, though the way some women can scream, would definitely garner immediate attention. At any rate, despite holding him fast and screaming, Alice doesn’t do much, it’s one of the sailors who gets the solider below deck. Despite that fact, tall, dark, and handsome Robert Saint-Aubyn is overwhelmed with gratitude for the pretty red-headed eighteen-year-old. The lesson, here, ladies is to assist handsome men when they are in dire need as they will be extremely grateful and will perhaps even want to marry you.

Despite what would normally be a turning point for someone, Alice is still scornful of Robert, though attracted. Definitely attracted. Sadly, he already has a fiancee, something Alice’s friend Phoebe bemoans, as she has been instantly smitten. When they arrive in England, Alice and Phoebe part ways, as Phoebe’s going to live in Scotland. The Osbornes settle in London and Alice is able to meet Richard’s fiancee, Janet. At first, Janet seems quite helpful to the women who saved her fiancee’s life, but the “help” soon grates on Alice, who as an American is used to more freedom.

Janet sends a harridan of a woman to be a companion to Alice, but the woman proves to be overly strict, causing Alice to react poorly, leaving the house secretively to meet men she barely knows, much to her father’s horror. Of course he responds by making her prison even tighter around her. It is not without reason that Alice should have a chaperone everywhere she goes, the streets of London aren’t always safe, men do have sinister motives, and young women are very naive. However, Alice is more naive than most, and that grated on me during the story. She is so loathing of Britain in the beginning, yet how quickly a handsome stranger persuades her throw caution to the winds.

Soon Alice finds herself in truly dire straights. The handsome fiend, a womanizer named Lord Winston, helps her escape her house in the dead of night and take her hours away to the whorehouse of a French emigre. Alice’s stupidity doesn’t end there: She allows the Lord to ply her with enough alcohol to make her drunk and lead her upstairs to “rest.”

In comes our hero, Robert, who has not forgotten Alice and keeps talking about her life-saving heroics to Janet, who is obviously quite jealous by this time. Turns out Lord Winston is a friend of Janet’s and they have both plotted together to ruin Alice. Winston will sleep with Alice and leave her, allowing her to fall out of all good society. When Robert hears of this he goes into knight errant mode and immediately takes off to rescue Alice, with barely a thought for Janet in the process. After the rescue, the pair find it slow-going to get back to London and have to stop at an inn at which there is only one room left. When Robert drops her at home, the servants hear him speaking of their adventures and scandal ensues. So much so that the Prince Regent himself, a friend of Robert’s, decrees that Robert and Alice must marry even though they did not sleep together. Janet leaves Robert and he caves, agreeing to marry Alice.

At first it seems as if the two may make the best of things with this unwanted marriage, but after arriving at Robert’s estate called The Towers (Wives and Daughters! So have to read that again), he takes off for days, deserting his new bride. Alice despairs, thinking she will never find happiness with a man who was forced to marry her. But her servant wisely says that no man can truly be forced into marriage. On some level, Robert did in fact want to marry her. Robert himself struggles with this reality. He finds himself needing some time to get over Janet, who has stupidly eloped with Lord Winston, but when he returns is resolute, and also horrified to find that Alice has been riding out with Tim, one of the stable hands–not romantically, of course, but servants will talk. He is at once afraid that all women are like Janet, but soon finds that Alice wants to be true to him, it’s just that she needs some help.

Here’s a lesson for the men: It’s not logical and if they try, women can fight against the mentality, but if a women doesn’t have some kind of connection with her man for a few days, she may become anxious. This is entirely due to the nature of women. We want to please men and we want reassurance we are accepted. If we don’t think we’re accepted, we may determine to find out how to get accepted, to be pleasing, change our clothes, or hair, even behavior. We really are very anxious to please. A women who doesn’t hear from her partner in a few days will be much, much more anxious than a man will. A man will logically think she’s just busy. A woman will illogically think there must be something wrong. Men in relationships, help yourselves out here: Don’t leave your woman hanging for too long. Connect with her as much as you can and reassure her that she is the one you want. Yeah, it’s annoying, but it will save you so much time and energy in the long run.

This illogical anxiety is Alice’s state of mind and she just doesn’t have the maturity to realize it for what it is. Her servant helps her the most by telling her that Robert wouldn’t have married her if he hadn’t wanted to do it. Neither prince or country could make him. Robert comes back and proves that this is true. He soundly beds his wife and makes her incandescently happy.

The last half of the story I didn’t find super interesting. The villainess Janet rises again, being as she’s one of those people who think if they aren’t happy, no one should be happy, and it just gets over the top, what with Alice getting kidnapped by an angry ex-soldier and held hostage. It was just too, too much, although the contemplating of the mood between America and Britain at the time I did find interesting. It’s not something we think a lot about today. Not a bad story, not bad writing, but forgettable. Nothing really stood out about it to me, except the intriguing question from above.

We are in different times today, and in many countries it’s not likely one would be forced into marriage. I think it likely few of either sex today would allow themselves to be forced into a marriage they didn’t want. Men sometimes say that women trap them into marriage by getting pregnant, but I think it’s just something they say to avoid the fact it was their choice to sleep with the woman and also their choice to marry her. It’s takes both a man and a woman to make a baby. It just does, and it’s silly to blame another person for choices one freely makes. So, can a man be forced into marriage? Can a woman? Do babies force marriage? It is a true kindness and goodness to a child if his parents are married, but our current society doesn’t make it mandatory. I think the answer is that no, neither sex is forced, not these days. If they get married, it’s because on some level they want to either be married to that person, or to just be married.

One more thing for women: Women’s anxiety over her man. It’s a thing, we do have this, but if you are married to a good man, or even a bad one, remember that he chose to do it. He chose you instead of all the others out there. There should be some security in that. And often if he’s not in touch or not around much, he truly is busy. He’s dealing with work or projects he has to get done. Men, I would like to say the reverse is true, but it’s not a great sign if your woman is not in touch with you. Working women are in fact forced into single focus man mode while on the job, so that’s an exception there, but otherwise it’s generally not in the nature of a woman to stay disconnected from you. We crave those connections constantly.

Alright, and that’s my Regency Romance advice for today! What do you think? Do you think that’s true about men and women or am I just spinning yarns of worlds here? Too many romances going to my head, perhaps?

Up next week, a review of Missing: The Other Side, a ghostly tale perfect for Halloween.

Monday’s Child: RRR

Another Regency Romance Review this week. Although there was a bit of tackiness in Monday’s Child by Barbara Hazard, it is a book I enjoyed and one that I’m likely to keep to read again. The romance was heartwarming.

A Fawcett Crest Book published by Ballantine Books in 1993, Monday’s Child was definitely a more modern story than the other two I reviewed. Although there was some nonsense of force against women, it didn’t, thankfully, come from the romantic hero. Hazard’s writing style was a bit in the vein of Julie Klassan, so maybe that’s why I liked it so well. The main character, Sarah Lacey, was very likable and that helped also.

This is another story which tries to imply what a curse it is for a woman to be beautiful. I’m sure in real life there are downsides to having a pretty face, but it’s kind of like Brad Pitt or someone like that claiming to have been a nerd in high school. No one really believes it. And maybe that is the real curse to being blessed with good looks: It’s really hard for regular people to believe the good looks truly give a person difficulty.

For Sarah Lacey, her curse isn’t so much her looks as it is her family. They remind me of the father and oldest daughter in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, always grasping for more wealth, class, and titles, and refusing to be content with their own class and station in life. This is not to say that people can’t strive after wealth, they certainly can, but this isn’t the way to go about it: Practically selling off one’s daughter instead of working hard with one’s property, in this case a farm, which is already wealth beyond measure for many around the world. The Lacey family is contrasted nicely by the humble and productive farmer Evan Lancaster. Though in his own humbleness, he doesn’t realize what a catch he actually is.

A young earl in the neighborhood takes a fancy to Sarah’s pretty face and insists that they will be married. He is younger than her and refuses to take no for an answer. Add a bizarre suggestion of kidnapping into the mix by Sarah’s rake of a brother, and events in the novel strain credulity. Young men certainly do have wild ideas, but it’s really, really hard to believe that this young earl would have actually kidnapped Sarah and held her hostage until she agreed to marry him or slept with him, or both. It’s a case of trying to make a character into too much of a villain. His insistence despite Sarah’s wishes and clear disinterest in him is really enough, and I was disappointed in that whole part of the story, even though it was funny how Sarah thwarted the young earl’s efforts.

The best part of this book was the love story between old friends. Sarah and Evan have long been friends and long been in love with each other, and finally they both realize it and understand that no one else will do. Friends falling in love are some of my favorite romances. It’s so sweet to see them slowly realize, wait I love this person! In addition to that, Hazard did well with the minor characters included and also made the village of Sutton Cross come alive. Old biddies gossiping over tea are a must, as are holiday events, balls, and the like. This book was a joy to read compared to the other two and has me excited to read more. Oh, “Monday’s child is fair of face.” That’s where the title comes from, a poem the book says was “quoted by A. E. Bray, Traditions of Devonshire.” The original author must be unknown.