Tag Archives: historical

Infamous by Minerva Spencer

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Infamous by Minerva Spencer

Spencer. Minerva. Infamous (Rebels of the Ton, #3). Kensington, 2021. 352 pp. ISBN 9781496732873 $15.95

***

A prank gone wrong results in a marriage of convenience, banishment, and hurt feelings; can the perpetrator be redeemed? Celia Trent, a nasty backstabbing debutante trying desperately win a rich husband to raise her station in life, meant to trap her intended’s annoying and odious twin Richard with the dull wallflower Phyllida Singleton as a joke at a ball, but instead it’s Lucien (Lord Davenport) who is comprised overnight in a locked room with Phyl. They make the best of it, marry, and even have two children, but something is off.

It takes sister Toni’s engagement to the unsavory bully Sebastian, Lord Dowden–the mastermind behind the mean behavior so many years ago–to uncover and set right the wrongs of ten years ago. Celia, now a widowed working girl playing maid to an ornery, elderly member of the ton, has been invited to the wedding festivities, to take place over the Christmas holiday. If she can just make it to the year’s end a bonus is hers. Once back in society’s orbit, Celia is shocked to feel a pull not towards Luce, but to Richard, now an naturalist whose risque paper on the breeding imperative makes him still weird, but not as odious as in his gawky young adulthood. She slowly realizations her fascination with him may have been chemistry, not aversion, all those years ago. One by one, Celia makes her apologies to each wronged party and is wonderfully accountable.She is reluctant to disclose the existence of her daughter (results of an unplanned pregnancy via Dowden), her history as a mistress, and her growing feelings for Richard, resulting in an air of mysteries unravelled throughout the novel. Will she–or someone else?–spill the beans about Dowden’s true nature, or will young, naive Toni marry in haste?

The story takes part in winter on an estate in regency England and captures the long weekend feeling with its’ food, fun and games; rivalries and romances. Period details feel authentic, as does the unsavory behavior. For the most part, the characters are quirky and interesting. I haven’t read the others in the series, but did not find it a hindrance to enjoying this novel.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #Infamous from #NetGalley.

Not The Kind of Earl You Marry by Kate Pembrooke

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Not The Kind of Earl You Marry by Kate Pembrooke

Pembrooke, Kate. Not The Kind of Earl You Marry (The Unconventional Ladies of Mayfair #1). Forever/Grand Central Publishing, 2021. pp. ISBN 9781538703755 $8.99

****

When any romance opens with a declaration that a gentleman in question is the last person a lady would ever marry—no beneath that, because she would NEVER marry him—you know they’re going to end up together. Not The Kind of Earl You Marry doesn’t disappoint. Someone is framing the Earl of Norwood, William Atherton, to create a scandal to knock him down a peg or two politically, and has posted his engagement notice to bluestocking Charlotte Hurst, and then planted seeds of gossip indicating they are marrying in haste because she is pregnant. Norwood’s sisters and Charlotte’s brother are in the know but are happily going through the motions as if it were a real engagement, while Charlotte and Norwood’s respect and attraction for one another are growing as she shops for a trousseau, comes out of her shell to attend the theatre and balls, learns to drive his curricle and team of bays, and more.

Humor, respect, banter, and blossoming passion make this a thoroughly enjoyable story, but strong feminist roots add depth: Norwood is progressive and believes in setting up government infrastructure to support women having more autonomy and control over their own finances, even through marriage. He introduces Charlotte to his close friend Lady Serena, who has taken on war widows as her charity of choice and brings Charlotte on a tour of a housing facility in progress, where Charlotte realizes a lady doesn’t need to wait meekly for opportunity to come along, but can set her mind to making her own opportunities. Thus is she drawn into the circle of the Unconventional Ladies of Mayfair. This is a terrific start to a promising new series.

Attentive to period detail down to fashions, customs, turn of phrase and even publications of the era, the novel also boasts a prodigious vocabulary–I had to look up a fair number of words that I mostly could discern from context but wanted to be sure I was not misreading–and delicious formal writing. Readers familiar with the times will nod at references to Almacks social club, Grosvenor Square, the locked garden shared by Berkeley Square’s residents, and Gunther’s Tea Shop. In the regency world, a fake betrothal is akin to fake dating, and and being left alone without a chaperone is a sort of forced proximity; fans of these tropes will be richly rewarded.

I received a free advance review copy of NottheKindofEarlYouMarry from #NetGalley.

An Improbable Season by Rosalyn Eves

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An Improbable Season by Rosalyn Eves

Eves, Rosalyn. An Improbable Season. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023. 352 pp. ISBN 978-0374390181. $19.99

***

Marketed as a Bridgerton read-alike because it’s set in the Regency era, An Improbable Season focuses on the London debut of two sisters and their cousin, only one of whom actually seems interested in settling down and marrying. Admirably, one is looking for the intellectual heart of the city, and I had trouble from the beginning keeping the characters–defined as the scientist, the poet and the one who wants a family–or their beaus–straight and had to keep flipping back (even though details were conveyed through diary entries, field notes, and actions) to remind myself who was who. While chapters alternate in focus, the narrative voice and point of view is the same throughout. I would have much rather read a stand-alone novel about the romances of each protagonist in a three-part series, which would have left more time and space for nuanced character development, and more complete world-building.

For the record, Thalia Aubrey is an aspiring poet and has ignored the affections of family friend Mr. Hetherbridge for years, falling for the rakiest rake, Mr. Darby; Kalliope, the sweet one who loves parties second only to family is accidentally caught with Hetherbridge in the gardens with a ripped dress and the two are forced into a betrothal as Kalli navigates and attraction to and attention from a Mr. Salisbury, who seems to love her awkwardness; cousin Charist Elphinstone, a scientist and naturalist who has a fondness for insects and feminism, plans only to observe the Season and then engages in a battle of wits and wills with the Indian-born style maker Mr. Leveson, who becomes her love interest.

As the three young ladies arrive in London, details of the journey or preparations for the Season are omitted, launching right into visiting other women and girls, with nary an eligible bachelor in sight, quickly remedied once the parade of calling cards begins. There is drama, and gossip, etiquette to be learned, and dancing late into the night, but also hurt feelings, soul searching, sneaking around, and finally, solidarity.

Much knowledge is simply assumed, with period details, London locations, and terms are mostly undefined (bluestocking, Gretna Green, Almacks, modiste, nabobs, milliner); careful readers will be able to figure out some references with context, and while I had fun looking up the various punches served, a few more sensory details would have been gracious. The excellent author’s note at the end fills in some of the blanks and addresses British colonization and women of science of the time period. The inclusion of a person of colonized India ancestry educated in Britain and struggling to find his place in the world was a welcome addition.

I will say the courtship scenes are tame but full of sensual details, and the endings/beau that each young lady ended up with was … well, improbable. Which makes me think either I really didn’t read carefully, that some details were just red herrings, or there was a goal by the author, a long time reader of Regency romances, to meet the expectation set by the title.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheImprobableSeason from #NetGalley.

Kit McBride Takes A Wife by Amy Barry

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Kit McBride Takes A Wife by Amy Barry

Barry, Amy. Kit McBride Takes A Wife. Jove/Penguin. 352 pp. ISBN
9780593335574 $17.00

****

This laugh-out-loud mistaken identity tale set in 1886 Montana is a fast-paced romp about a motherless tomboy who can barely cook and clean but is forced into housewifely chores by her four older (well-meaning) brothers. The McBrides thought they’d start their own town up the mountain with their smithy and trading post, but the heart of local civilization is hours away, with it’s depot/post office, mercantile, and cat house. Lonely and loquacious Junebug keeps a complaint book so her brother Kit doesn’t have to listen to her bellyaching.

When a local trapper asks Junebug to help him write an ad for a mail-order bride, Junebug gets it into her head that if Kit had a wife, she wouldn’t have to do so many chores, and posts her own scathingly honest ad… which one buxom gold-digger Willabelle Lascalles responds to. She drags her Irish servant along on her western adventure to snag a wealthy husband, mistakes an old drunkard for the smithy, and bails, leaving lovely Maddy behind with a pampered pooch. She promptly sprains an ankle, resulting in many days of being carried about and fetched cups of tea, making friends with Junebug, and falling for Kit herself. Kit thinks Maddy is the Mrs. Lascalles who wants to marry him, and Junebug convinced Maddy not to set her brother straight just yet. And then a blizzard or two later, Beau and Morgan return from fetching the doctor (remember the sprained ankle) with the real Mrs. Lascalles…

Maddy’s travels by train from sooty St. Louis to the wilds of Montana read like a love letter to the US, even as she compares to her emerald isle homeland. Late 18th century details are convincingly portrayed. The characters are archetypal, rather than stereotypical, and author Amy Barry has a nice note at the end of the book, citing the native people and lands portrayed with dignity. Junebug’s success leads her to pen an ad for Morgan at the end of the book, launching what will be a memorable and enjoyable series for readers who don’t want to take their romance too seriously, swoon over mountain men, and appreciate the tropes of getting snowed in and mistaken identity.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #KitMcBrideTakesAWife from #NetGalley.

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

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The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

de Gramont, Nina. The Christie Affair. St. Martin’s Press, 2022. ISBN 978-1250274618 320 pp. $27.99

*****

I readily admit to being a bit of a lazy reader: I read to escape, I want to be entertained, and I read nonfiction, not mystery, to exercise my brain. I was attracted by the jazz-age cover (those pearls!) and scintillating title, and it took midway through chapter two to realize the narrator was speaking about THAT Agatha Christie, of mystery novel fame. I almost put the book down several times, and am SO glad I stuck with it.

Nan O’Dea is in love with Archie Christie, who has promised to leave his wife for her. When he breaks the news to his wife Agatha, she goes missing for almost two weeks, amid scandal and intrigue (which is amazing for book sales!), and upon her return, does divorce, and both former spouses remarry. This inventive historical novel imagines why Nan, why now, and what happened during those pivotal eleven days. While the narrative gives insight into multiple characters, including the police inspector, it’s all as imagined by Nan (who may not even be a reliable narrator!) The story moves back and forth in time from Nan’s unsavory experience as an unmarried pregnant girl in a corrupted convent and a seductive mistress. The timeline is usually easy to follow (though there are one or two muddled times that took a little re-reading). In the midst of Christie’s disappearance, there is a murder mystery involving two guests near where the author is holed up.

Without giving away too much plot, I will say the voice and story are compelling, the plot brilliantly woven, and the tone reminiscent of Christie herself. Period details seem to be well-researched and the ending is extremely satisfying. I fully expect this to be an Edgar Award contender if not winner this year.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheChristieAffair from #NetGalley

I’m Only Wicked with You (The Palace of Rogues #3) by Julie Anne Long

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I’m Only Wicked with You (The Palace of Rogues #3) by Julie Anne Long

Long, Julie Anne. I’m Only Wicked with You (The Palace of Rogues #3). Avon, 2021. ISBN 978-0063045088 400 pp. $8.99

*****

Prim and proper Lady Lilias Vaughn is the equivalent of grounded during her family’s stay at a hotel, due to her scandalous recent behaviors. She finds another guest, the uncouth American Hugh Cassidy, to be a fine sparring partner and someone who challenges her intellectually and more. While she waits for scandal to blow over, she falls more and more for the irreverent young man, who seems to bring out the best–and the worst–in her behavior.

I’m Only Wicked with You features great tension, strong character development, and a feisty heroine to cheer on. Period details with a dose of non-period feminism plus fantastic situations and dialogue merit this title five stars.

The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly by Kerri Maher

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The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly by Kerri Maher

Maher, Kerri. The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly. Berkley, 2020. ISBN 978-0451492074 384 pp. $26

****

BioFic about the life and loves of Grace Kelly, b. 1929, American actress who married the Prince of Monaco in 1956–who promptly made her quit her film career. Lots of history, travel, drama and romance in this historical fictionalized biography.

Alone Together: My Life With J. Paul Getty by Theodora Getty Gaston

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Alone Together: My Life With J. Paul Getty by Theodora Getty Gaston

Gaston, Theodora Getty. Alone Together: My Life With J. Paul Getty. Ecco, 2016. ISBN 978-0062219725 320 pp. $

***

This memoir by the fifth! wife of oil baron J. Paul Getty reflects on their fabulous and charming relationship. He was a miser and flirt. She was a trained opera singer. It was attraction at first sight when he saw her singing in a nightclub. The passion was real, but Getty, the nation’s first billionaire, was a tycoon first, and the couple spent almost as much time apart as together.

Told with the long view of nearly 100 years on earth, the breathless stream of consciousness style of the telling propels a dramatic narrative of the glitz and glamour of the gilded age is tempered with the death of their son from a brain tumor. This tale is a glimpse into not only a bygone era, but a woman’s heart.

A Winter’s Love by Madeleine L’Engle

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A Winter’s Love by Madeleine L’Engle

L’Engle, Madeleine. A Winter’s Love. Shaw, 2000. ISBN 978-0877888895 336 pp. $

***

On holiday in Switzerland, Emily struggles with her marriage and gets caught up in a relationship with someone else. Atmospheric, dated, and peopled with unlikeable characters and unfulfilled romance, this depressing is still wonderfully written!

Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

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Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Romano-Lax, Andromeda. Behave. Soho Press, 2016. ISBN 978-1616956530 400 pp. $26.95

*****

This novel about Vassar grad and behavioral scientist Rosemarie Rayner and her work and love affair with John Watson provides cringe-worthy descriptions of experiments on infants amid details of life in the roaring 20s. Fascinating read peppered with unlikeable characters.