Tag Archives: historical romance

Sophia James – “One Unashamed Night”

21 Aug

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Harlequin Historical, 2010

WHY THIS NOVEL: I wanted to see how the hero’s poor eyesight was handled.

“Living in a gray world of silhouette, Lord Taris Wellingham conceals his fading eyesight from society. He has long protected himself from any intimate relationships.

Plain twenty-eight-year-old Beatrice-Maude Bassingstoke does not expect to attract any man, especially not one as good-looking as her remote traveling companion.

Forced by a snowstorm to spend the night together, these two lonely people seek solace in each other’s arms. The passion they unleash surprises them both. Then a new day dawns….”

One Unashamed Night begins with a carriage ride. It’s a public coach, it’s winter, it’s night, and one carriage wheel creaks more and more. Taris, the hero in this story, is the only one who notices because his fading eyesight has sharpened his hearing. Before he’s made up his mind if the creaks mean the wheel will break, it’s too late: the wheel breaks; one man is dead and the driver is badly injured. Taris and one of the two women in the carriage (of course that’s the heroine, Beatrice-Maude) go for help because at night, with the bad weather, it’s unlikely that help will come to them.

But on their way to the next village, Taris and Bea actually meet a rescue party. They tell Taris and Bea that there’s a barn nearby and they should seek shelter there while they go on to look after the other passengers. And so it comes to the night that gives this story its title.

Bea is a recently widowed woman of twenty-eight years. She was married with her husband for twelve years and is now on her way to London to start a new life. Her marriage was bad. Her husband drank, was a righteous prick and if Bea made so much as the wrong (in his opinion of course) squeak, he beat her. The last few years of his life he was seriously ill and Bea had to care for him. So now all Bea wants is to enjoy her freedom and finally live the life she dreamed of. After reaching the barn, she is mightily tempted to do more with Taris than just try to get warm again after being out in the freezing cold. He’s the most handsome man she’s ever seen while she considers herself plain, and who would know? Maybe there is more to love-making than she experienced in her marriage (which is nil).

Taris lives in a world of shadows. He knows that soon he will see not even them anymore. His poor eyesight is a secret only very few people know and he intends to keep it that way. He also likes to push himself, doing things like riding a public coach just to prove to himself that he’s not useless yet. The carriage accident is a disaster, of course, but because it’s night his handicap doesn’t show (too much) and he’s able to be useful for once. When later there’s the opportunity to spend the night with a woman who knows nothing about him and won’t see him again and realize his damage, he doesn’t say no.

Or course, fate (and Taris relatives) have other plans and Taris and Bea meet again. It’s a few months later and Bea established herself well in London. Her salon, rife with discussions about controversy subjects, is talked about in all of London and well received. She meets Taris again and although she thinks he sees herself beneath his notice (added along by his near blindness and the way he acted after their night in the barn), she’s still attracted to him. Taris couldn’t forget Bea either. The romantic conflict in large parts revolves around the idea that each thinks him/herself not good enough for the other.

Taris fears to be a burden to other people and even more so to Bea who nursed her sick husband for years and now yearns to live her life like she wants. Bea thinks there can’t be a future for them because of their different positions in society. Or course, it takes Taris some time to find out the truth about Bea’s marriage as it does Bea to find out what’s behind Taris’s lack of eye contact, for example, and the general air of arrogance that surrounds him. The romance itself seemed a bit bland to me.

There’s at least one situation when I didn’t quite get the motivation of the characters and there’s a mystery subplot that feels a bit unconnected and seems just to be there to get Taris to act at the end. Also, there are a few “fluffy” and tired romance elements like Bea dressing in colors and suddenly not looking so plain anymore (at least, it’s not as bas as every man who catches sight of her falls for her) or her becoming such a success so fast after living for more than ten years as a country bumpkin and beaten wife. So I half-expected the miraculous cure for Taris problem to show up at the end, too, but no.

On the plus side, these romance elements are tempered by darker tones when the story touches upon the rights (or non-rights) of women at that time or when Taris struggles to find a new sense of his identity in a life without sight. I also really enjoyed the way Taris fading eyesight was shown in the text, like here:

When he neither reached for it nor shook his head, she left it on her lap, the cap screwed back on with as much force as she could manage so that not a drop would be wasted. He had much on his mind, which explained his indifference, she decided, the flask and its whereabouts the least of all his worries. (17)

and what Bea made of his behavior.

Overall, I thought One unashamed Night a nice enough read although I wasn’t really captured by the story and the characters. So it’s very likely that I won’t read this one again but I can certainly see myself reading another novel by Sophia James.

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Recent Reads (2)

17 Mar

Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole

In exchange for her life, Lucia the Huntress has made a promise to the Goddess Skathi, a promise she is determined to keep. Like her saviour, Lucia is now an Archer, but her immeasurable skills as a hunter are on loan, and conditional upon her word.

If she is to defeat the evil Cruach once and for all, and save her world from apocalypse, she cannot risk her talents as a hunter. But when she meets Garreth MacRieve, prince of the Lykkae, her extraordinary strength of will is truly tested.

MacRieve is determined to win the Valkyrie, as mysterious as she is beautiful. He aches to mark her as his own, and keep her safe from harm, but despite the surprising force of her attraction to him Lucia will not give in, she cannot. It is not safe for her to be with MacRieve, but whenever she sees the fierce werewolf with his smouldering eyes, Lucia’s resolve weakens.

The secrets she harbours could destroy her – and those she loves – and every day brings more danger. MacRieve could help her, but will she trust him with the truth?

I was astonished to see that this is the 9th book in the series. But then, I only read the single titles so that maybe explains it. Pleasure of a Dark Prince was an okay read to me. Nothing special, nothing surprising. In general, I had the impression that it was a repeat of other books in this series in terms of character and how the story develops. I also thought it less humorous than some of the others. In particular, I was disappointed with the romance. I actually was looking forward to this couple because of the glimpses I had of them in the previous novels but alas, I thought they lacked chemistry. The romantic conflict and tension relied too much on the heroine keeping the reasons why they couldn’t be together to herself. It didn’t help that I thought her reasons for not telling him were explored too flimsy to make me take them seriously. So an okay read but nothing more.

A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore

What happens when a lady desires not one man, but two?

Sophie, the Duchess of Calton, has finally moved on. After seven years mourning the loss of her husband, Garrett, at Waterloo, she has married his cousin and heir, Tristan. Sophie gives herself to him body and soul. . . until the day Garrett returns from the Continent, demanding his title, his lands-and his wife.

Now Sophie must choose between her first love and her new love, knowing that no matter what, her choice will destroy one of the men she adores. Will it be Garrett, her childhood sweetheart, whose loss nearly destroyed her once already? Or will it be Tristan, beloved friend turned lover, who supported her through the last, dark years and introduced her to a passion she had never known? As her two husbands battle for her heart, Sophie finds herself immersed in a dangerous game-where the stakes are not only love . . . but life and death.

Reading A Hint of Wicked, I realized once again that I read romance novels above all for the falling-in-love part. While I was really intrigued by the premise of this novel – one woman between two men – and looking forward to reading it, I felt cheated reading it. The characters were already in love, it was the question who the heroine would choose (as far as she could choose, that is).

I don’t know what I expected – I knew what the story was about – but reading A Hint of Wicked I couldn’t lose the feeling that I wanted to read how Sophie fell in love with her first husband or how she fell in love with her second husband much more than reading about Sophie caught between the two. It didn’t help that I was fairly sure who Sophie would end up with (although there were some intriguing twists to keep it from being too obvious). And even more than that, I thought the mystery took away much from the internal conflict of the three. Sure, it helped to make the final solution more palatable, but in a way, that was an easy way out and in general, I thought it too much drama and slightly over-the-top.

So, interesting premise, some surprising twists I liked a lot concerning the love triangle, but overall, A Hint of Wicked didn’t really grab me.

Also read:

Liked them all.

Re-Read Challenge: “Tiger’s Eye” By Karen Robards

31 Dec

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009

This month:Re-Read Challenge: December!

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon, 1989

Lady Isabella St. Just is shocked to learn the identity of the daring champion who comes to her aid–for the man who rescues her from desperate felons is none other than Alec Tyron, the notorious king of London’s underworld. Now she is beholden to an outlaw who is repected and feared throughout the city and stunned by her own intense desire for this dark man of mystery. Fate has united these strangers from opposite lives–the beautiful aristocrate and the brazen criminal outlaw. And now that the flame has been lit, no power on Earth will quench the fire of their passion…or destroy a love that society cannot allow.

Then

This was the second novel I read by Karen Robards (the first being One Summer). I think the main attraction was the huge difference in the main characters’ position in society (think “the lady and the gutter rat”). I really liked it, the first half better than the last, and thought it interesting that it featured a married woman who commits adultery.

Now

Isabella is the (much) younger and unwanted-except-for-her-money wife of an earl. She spends her life on the country estate of her husband who’s in London most of the time and pretty much neglects her, something she’s used to from her family. Isabella herself has never been to London so the summons from her husband to come to London immediately is very surprising but something Isabella doesn’t hesitate to comply with. Her marriage is no love match but she knows her duties as a wife. She thinks of herself as sensible, possessing a good deal of common sense, and no real beauty.

Alec is the “king of the London underworld” which means that nothing goes on without him knowing about it. If someone dares to cut him out of a deal…Alec’s punishment is swift and merciless. He’s a gutter rat who pulled himself up in the only way and to the only position he could. But he strives to improve and educate himself, working on his language, speech, and manners. So it’s not much of a wonder that he’s fascinated with Isabella when they meet, who’s the image of a real and proper lady.

This unlikely pair meet because Isabella is kidnapped on her way to London and held for ransom in a cottage. The kidnappers acted without Alec’s knowing so Alec shows up one night. It’s the night Isabella flees because she has reason to suspect her kidnappers mean to kill her after they have the ransom. In all the confusion that night, both Isabella and Alec are shot and wounded. They are taken to a brothel Alec owns and which is run by his mistress, Pearl, and there they are confined to two connected rooms to recuperate. It’s there that their fascination with the complete difference of the other person gets the better of them and they start to fall for each other. And it’s there that Isabella learns the fact that her kidnapping wasn’t by chance, that it was planned and that she indeed should have been killed by her kidnappers. She has to accept the fact that someone she knows wants her dead, the someone presumably being her husband.

Tiger’s Eye is a story that spans more than a year and moves from London to the country to France, clearly dividing the story in distinct parts. The first part, set in London, shows how Isabella and Alec meet and how they slowly fall in love with each other. Then the story moves to Alec’s country house where Isabella and Alec truly get to know each other. Their time there is even more of an escape from the reality of their different lives than the first part so of course this idyll gets interrupted and the story moves to France. Isabella and Alec can’t hide from reality forever.

I still love the first part, the part in London, best. But then there’s a lull. Alec and Isabella need around 70 pages to get from London to the country house. On their way, there is a lot of action like more shooting, but I’m afraid that despite that and advancing the story and Isabella and Alec’s relationship in general, I thought it a bit boring. Probably mostly because I thought Isabella lost some of her common sense. At the country house, my interest in the romance writing conventions at play increased – Alec turning Isabella in a real beauty (dresses and educating her about sex) and Isabella taming Alec (teaching him to be a gentleman) – while my interest in the story decreased even more. The pace did pick up again for the last few chapters, dealing with reality, positions in society and Isabella’s husband, it also cranked up the drama a bit again but I’m afraid, reading Tiger’s Eye this time, it wasn’t enough to draw me in completely again after having lost me in the middle.

I didn’t have a problem with it but there are real-life concerns that could spoil the reading enjoyment, mainly the fact that the heroine is an adulteress (addressed as an issue only near the end of the story) and Alec’s background. Alec isn’t a benevolent Robin-Hood type of criminal, he’s the real deal (or so the reader is told). Yet apart from Alec telling Isabella

“I would have let Parren kill you if he hadn’t taken the job under the table. The fact that your life was saved in the process of protecting my turf was just bloody coincidence.” (227)

this reality of his life – that he accept(ed) harming innocents – is blanked out completely in the story. Isabella never asks herself the legitimate question if she could live with someone like that. Alec is kind to her, he’s the only one who really cares about her, he’s so beautiful, and he showed her how it can be between a man and a woman in bed – “she had no idea!” – so all is well.

Alec as the hero has to be all. He has to have all the power, trappings and dark allure the position as leader of the underworld gives him but to be a romance hero, the implications of what this actually means has to be played down into near non-existence. Because if you let yourself think about the reality of Alec’s background, the things that are not addressed in the story, he’s a rather unsavory character and not exactly hero material. The way it is, he’s a fantasy character.

I realize all this probably sounds worse than it actually is. The reason that I go on about Alec’s character so long when I went for the fantasy of his character is because it points in the same direction than my issues with the middle part of the novel. After promising a more unconventional story with a married heroine, Tiger’s Eye ignores most of the questions connected with that premise and instead turns to romance conventions and the path romances usually follow. If read for the fantasy of an utterly gorgeous man madly in love with a woman who was not really appreciated for much of her life, for the fantasy of a man willing to do all for a woman, Tiger’s Eye is a good and satisfying read.

Verdict: 4/5

Re-Read Challenge: “Where Dreams Begin” By Lisa Kleypas

2 Dec

[edit: formatting]

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009

This month:Re-Read Challenge: November!


GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: , 2000

AVAILABILITY: still available

Zachary Bronson has built an empire of wealth and power–now he needed a wife to help secure his position in society…and warm his bed in private. But not just any woman will do for a man whom all of London knows is not a gentleman. Then he unexpectedly swept Lady Holly Taylor into his arms for an unasked for–but very alluring–kiss, and suddenly he knew he had found a woman whose fierce passions matched his own.

Lady Holly Taylor was beautiful, generous, and, as a widow, destined to spend her life playing by society’s rules, even when they went against her bolder instincts. But Zachary’s kiss had aroused her, and though the shocking offer he made didn’t include marriage, she was compelled to risk everything and follow him to the place where dreams begin.

Then

Where Dreams Begin was the second novel I read by Kleypas. To say that is my favorite historical romance by Kleypas doesn’t tell you much because I only read six of her historicals. To say that it is a historical I like and admire a lot is more meaningful, I think.

(see here my first comment)

Now

I still like Where Dreams Begin a lot. The only thing that mars my enjoyment, now and back then, comes near the end of the novel. I could have done without [Spoiler; highlight to read]Holly meeting her first husband in a near-death scene[/Spoiler]. I guess it just seems too fantastical to all that goes before to me. But other than that, I like Where Dreams Begin a lot.

Where Dreams Begin is a slow-paced story despite that it begins with a kiss between the heroine, Holly, and the hero, Zachery. It takes a few months before that happens again. It’s a slow build-up but the attraction is steadily growing and palpable.

Holly is a widow just out of the three-year period of mourning her husband, George, a man who everybody saw as the epitome of a true gentleman. A man Holly loved very much. She meets Zachary at a ball. Or more precisely: at a ball Holly wants to escape, she gets kissed by a man in a dark room. It’s only later she learns his identity.

Up until then, Holly led a very sheltered life. First her family took care of her and protected her from the harsher things in life, then her husband, and after his death, his husband’s family. The kiss is different from what Holly knows and what she is like and believes about herself. But it’s the first step for what is to come: Holly will slowly turn into a woman who does no longer rely on others to make decisions for her and take care of her. She’ll change:

Her actions of the past four months had proved that she was no longer the sheltered young matron, or the virtuous, circumspect widow that family and friends had approved of. She was becoming another woman entirely. (206)

Zachary is totally different than Holly’s late husband in many (outward) things. He wasn’t born to privileges and riches, he – literally for the first years – fought his way up in society. When he wants something, he tries everything in his power to get it. He isn’t above manipulation and at first, he thinks Holly will be no difference.

But then he slowly falls in love with her. One of the things I liked best in this novel (because it created lots of tension) is that Zach knows that as soon as he gets what he wants – Holly in his bed – she’ll be gone from his life. So he does all he can do to resist. He knows Holly is not for him. Too huge are the differences between them, in their position in society and in their character.

Where Dreams Begin looks at positions in society, on what social standing relies.

The idea that a man like Zachary Bronson might be inherently equal to a man like…well, like one of the Taylors, or even her dear George…it was a provocative notion. The great majority of aristocrat’s would immediately dismiss the idea. Some men were born with blue blood, with generations of noble ancestors behind them and this made them better, finer than ordinary men. This was what Holly had always been taught. But Zachary Bronson had started in life with no advantage whatsoever, and he had made himself into a man to be reckoned with. And he was trying very hard to better himself and his family, and soften the coarseness of his own character. Was he really so inferior to the Taylors? Or to herself? (101/102)

Where Dreams Begin is IMO a carefully constructed battle between traditional notions and modern notions of a person’s worth packed into a romance. And because of that, it’s still my favorite historical romance by Kleypas and still one of my best liked and admired historical romances.

Verdict: 4,5/5