Category Archives: Historical Romance

Historical Romance are books with romantic plots which are not sent in current times.

Rose Daughter

McKinley, Robin. Rose Daughter (1998). 287 Pages. Ace. $6.99

Robin McKinley is known for her fairytale retellings; Beauty and Rose Daughter both retell Beauty & the Beast, while Spindle’s End retells Sleeping Beauty, and Deerskin retells Donkey Skin, which is a lesser known tale, I believe. All of her books exist in worlds steeped in magic, full of amazing things, which is part of why they (and the characters who inhabit them) are so very interesting.

It’s always hard to know what to say about fairytale retellings; everyone knows the basic story, the beginning, and the end. Beauty is taken from her family, and eventually she falls in love with the Beast. It’s that middle part, the part that can vary, the way they get from A to B that really makes the story unique.

Rose Daughter is about Beauty, Jeweltongue, and Lionheart, three sisters who were not very close while they lived in the city– there were too many other things to do. Each girl comes into her own when they move out to Longchance– and Rose Cottage. Jeweltongue learns to sew, and make beautiful clothing, Lionheart disguises herself as a boy and tends to horses, and Beauty gardens. When their father gets a message saying that one of his long lost ships has arrived, he departs, and it is upon his return that he encounters the Beast.

Beauty’s time at the castle is special, and a bit unique. Every day when she wakes up, there are more animals, moving back in thanks to her. There is a mystery– revolving around cheese, though it is not a silly mystery as that statement makes it sound– and some danger. The Beast has hidden depths, and ultimately, Beauty must make a very important choice which changes the course of their life together.

First Lines:

Her earliest memory was of waking up from the dram. It was also her only clear memory of her mother. Her mother was beautiful, dashing, the toast of the town. Her youngest daughter remembered the blur of activity, friends and hangers-on, soothsayers, and staff, the bad-tempered pet dragon on a leash– bad tempered on account of the ocarunda leaves in his food … — the constant glamour and motion which was her mother and her mother’s world.

Thoughts

Rose Daughter may be another Beauty & the Beast retelling, but it is very different from Beauty, this story’s predecessor.

Beauty is, in fact, a beautiful girl, whose talents are mostly of the quiet variety; she is good with plants, roses will grow for her, and she seems to radiate calm and peace, helping her entire family stay together through the worst of it all. Her sisters are flashier, and more vibrant; Jeweltongue is known for her wit and cleverness, Lionheart for her temper and bravery (though each discover more traits which lead to greater happiness), but without Beauty, they would have been lost. Even Beauty’s father discovers a quieter sort of happiness, and his own talent.

The time Beauty spends at the castle is interesting; she is overwhelmed by the silence of the place, and tries to understand (at least a little) the magic which keeps the place running. Her relationship with the Beast is complicated from the start, which somehow makes it easier to accept her feelings for him; she sees early on that there is some humanity in him. Even more interesting is the idea that the Beast is not a Beast because of an enchantress’s curse, but rather because of something else.

Most of the book is very good; we get a lot about Beauty and her family, which makes them feel real. We get less about the Beast, but we still get a fair amount of his story. We lack a lot about the residents of Longchance, which is mostly ok, because the story isn’t about them, but they do play a major role in plot development. There is a difference in chronology between the Beast’s castle and the mundane world, and it is never questioned or explained, just allowed to be. There are a few more things which could have strengthened the story, but it is not bad because they are lacking.

Despite its flaws, it is a good book with a solid story, and is well worth reading. (It also stands up to multiple reads, which is important, as I am known to re-read favorites.) It gets a 4/5.

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Filed under Book Review, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Historical Romance, Romance, Young Adult Fiction

The Outlaws of Sherwood

McKinley, Robin. The Outlaws of Sherwood (2003 ed.). 342 Pages. Firebird. $6.99

From the Back Cover

He never meant to be an outlaw. But a split second changed everything.

In the days of King Richard the Lionheart, a young forester named Robin sets out one morning for the Nottingham Fair, but he never arrives. By the end of the day a man lies dead in the King’s Forest, and Robin is an outlaw with a price on his head.

From then on, Robin is on the run, hiding deep in Sherwood Forest– but he is not alone. First joined by his friends Much and Marian, then by more and more people who despise the Norman lords who tax them blind, Robin builds a community of outlaws in a forest who risk the gallows and the sword for the sake of justice. As he does, he gains a new name: Robin Hood.

First Lines

A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way. It shivered in its flight, and fell, a little off course– just enough that the arrow missed the slender tree it was aimed at, and struck tiredly and low into the bole of another tree, twenty paces beyond the mark.

Robin sighed and dropped his bow. There were some people, he thought, who not only could shoot accurately– if the breeze hadn’t disturbed it, that last arrow would have flown true– but seemed to know when and where to expect small vagrant breezes, and to allow for them. He was not a bad archer, but his father had been a splendid one, and he was his father’s only child.

Thoughts

Robin Hood is a legend who changes with every telling. Every version has its own agenda, its own twists, and its own characterization. Some even throw in their own characters, to spice things up, and make it novel again. McKinley’s Robin Hood is a different sort; an unwilling champion, who becomes infamous simply by surviving, and becomes a legend by accident. He inherits an agenda from the beliefs of his fans, and this is what makes him so different.

Robin and Marian may be one of my earliest ships. It started with Disney’s Robin Hood, when you knew they were destined for each other, because they were both foxes, and continued through every version I’ve read since. Robin loves Marian, though he never says as much to anyone, and wants her to stay safe, even if it means staying away. Marian loves Robin, and persists with her visits because she cannot help herself, because she knows she is needed, and because she longs for the freedom the forest offers.

Perhaps my favorite plot which is unique to this version is that of Cecil– a boy who refuses to be stopped by anything. He becomes Little John’s protégé, dogging his mentor’s footsteps, and learning about survival. Cecil and Little John become very important toward the end of the book, when they are the only members of Robin’s band to attend the fateful tournament for the golden arrow. Every version does this scene differently, and it’s the sort of constant which allows comparisons between interpretations. This particular tournament is done well, and serves as a sort of climax to the novel.

All-in-all, I really like this version. I have not re-read it many times, because I read it very slowly. I am not sure why it takes me so much longer, but it is worth the time it takes. It gets a 4/5.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Historical Romance, Young Adult Fiction

Kiss Me Deadly (Anthology) Part 2

Telep, Trisha (Editor). Kiss Me Deadly (2010). 430 Pages. RunningPress. $9.95

Review: Part 2 (Part 1, Part 3)

Because I have so very much to say about all of the stories in this anthology, I’ve opted to break it into parts. You can find Part 1 here, though, in short, I’ll say that Diana Peterfreund’s “Errant” is excellent. I’ve been slowly enjoying the next few stories, and I figure four is enough for another post. I hadn’t heard of any of these authors before reading this anthology, but I’ll be finding more works by a few of them after this.

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Historical Romance, Horror, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Soulless

Carriger, Gail. Soulless (2009). 357 Pages. Orbit. $7.99

The Parasol Protectorate: Book 1

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations.

First, she has no soul. Second, he’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquitte.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire– and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia is responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart? ( From the Back Cover)

There’s a lot going on in my brain right now, largely because of this book, which I really enjoyed reading. On the one hand, I hate you– those of you who reviewed Soulless and made it sound so very appealing, so I had to start reading it, which then led to me staying up all night reading it because I just could not put it down— and on the other hand, I wonder how you guys felt about some of the issues brought up by The Book Smugglers when they reviewed it.

“It’s an awful lot like Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody.” (among other issues) which could very well be the case, and which I could perhaps agree with, if I’d ever read the series in question. Coincidentally, I have several Elizabeth Peters books sitting here– I was digging through boxes and boxes of books which my grandmother gave me last time I went to visit. The vast majority are mystery/suspense/thriller, which is not my genre of choice, so they’ve sat, largely untouched, since she gave them to me. I was going through them, trying to ascertain exactly what I had in the boxes, so we could deal with them appropriately. ( My mom and I intend to go through them and figure out which ones we each want to read, and which ones neither of us are interested in, so we can donate/sell those that we are not interested in.) So perhaps my next read will be one of those Elizabeth Peters books.

Disconcerting similarities to already-published works aside, I’m pretty sure I really liked Soulless. I didn’t notice any of the issues which so perturbed the ladies at The Book Smugglers, but perhaps that is because I had no trouble suspending my disbelief, and had no experience with similar characters. Despite the (inappropriate) Fantasy/Horror genre tag which my copy sports, it was definitely supernatural/paranormal period romance. I was expecting that, so it didn’t throw me too badly. I also really enjoyed the characters, their banter, the way it was so clear they did care about each other, even though they didn’t really know it yet.

Lord Akeldama annoyed the hell out of me. (From page 46:)

He minced into the room, teetering about on three-inch heels with ruby and gold buckles. “My darling, darling Alexia.” Lord Akeldama had adopted use of her given name within minutes of their first meeting. He had said that he just knew they would be friends, and there was no point in prevaricating. “Darling!” He also seemed to speak predominantly in italics. “How perfectly, deliciously, delightful of you to invite me to dinner. Darling.”

Gee, wonder what his sexual orientation might be? I mean, he takes more badass out of vampire than sparkling in the sun did. Ugh. I don’t have a problem with gay characters, but I do have a problem with inexplicably flamboyant, annoying characters who are described as speaking in italics. Ugh.

That aside, I think Alexia was an interesting character, to a point. She was a little too inclined to lean on being half-Italian* as an excuse for well, being blunt. What I loved was the whole idea of a preternatural, set in Victorian England. I wish this had gotten a bit more page-time, because it was perhaps the most unique and outstanding thing about the entire book, and it really got glossed over. She’s soulless– enough so that the book is titled Soulless– and per a few early comments, this has a lot to do with her ability to relate to other humans, and her grasp of emotions, but she has absolutely no problems with lust or “love.”

In Conclusion:

I’m pretty sure I liked this book. I mean, I started reading it at about 10pm, and could not put it down until 4am. That is a very good sign in a book, being that involved in it. It gets a 4.5/5 because it wasn’t until well after I was done reading that I began to even think about the flaws (which is a good sign.)

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* No love from me here. I’m basically 50% Irish, 50% Italian. Acting like that’s a handicap? Not cool.

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Kiss Me Deadly (Anthology) Part 1

Telep, Trisha (Editor). Kiss Me Deadly (2010). 430 Pages. RunningPress. $9.95

Review: Part 1 (Part 2, Part 3)

This was a definite impulse grab. I was at Borders, looking for a specific book, though at the moment I can no longer remember which book I sought. I don’t think I remembered what I was looking for then, either. When I walk into a building which contains more than a few books, I tend to get a little sidetracked. So I was staring at the Y.A. Paranormal section, feeling a little concerned for the sheer quantity of Twilight-knockoffs — we all know them, they’re the generic vampire romance that has exploded since sparkly vampires were first published — and my eye fell upon Kiss Me Deadly. I had a moment of oh dear, not another, but I’m such a fan of anthologies as a way to sample new authors that I couldn’t help picking it up.

I know it wasn’t an author’s name that grabbed me, because I have to admit that I do not know a single author from this volume. (Though I did also grab Shiver while I was there, because as a fan of romance, paranormal, and young adult, it seemed like a reasonable combo.)I think it was the Editor’s Note which opened the volume which got my attention;

Love in the time of… Zombies?

Somehow, that just doesn’t have the classic ring of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous novel Love in the Time of Cholera* …  my bet, after titles like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter**, is that this is likely in some publisher’s pipeline somewhere, probably slated for publication next year, or the year after that. (Intro)

Anyway, in a sort of gimmick-y “paranormal = horror” way, there are 13 stories in this volume. Because I do intend to talk at least a little bit about each of them, I’m going to cut this into several posts.

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La Petite Four

Scott, Regina. La Petite Four (2008). 231 Pages. $8.99. Penguin.

Lady Emily Southwell is the daughter of a Duke, and is also a Rebellious Teenager* who refuses to settle for anything less than her dream. Lady Emily and her three best friends– Priscilla Tate, Ariadne Courdebas, and Daphne Courdebas– have built this grand idea of their debut, and they will not let anything get in the way of their plans.

Their plans are set in motion as they graduate from the Barnsley School for Young Ladies, and are about to debut in their first Season. They plan for a ball to outdo all other balls– Priscilla’s family was beset by Scandal and she needs to use her good looks and charm to catch a rich husband, Daphne and Ariadne’s mother has Big Plans for her daughters and expects them to marry well. However, Emily’s fate has already been decided by her high-handed but well-meaning father; she will marry Lord Robert Townsend in eight day’s time, and she will not be attending the ball.

Of course, none of the girls are happy about it, and being Rebellious Teens, they are inclined to do things which are entirely improper and are likely to tarnish their good name in order to free Emily from her obligation. They follow Lord Robert about town and try to uncover some scandal which will make him so unmarriageable that Emily will never be expected to fulfill her engagement to the man.

Enter into this drama the incredibly handsome James Cropper, a mysterious man who crops up** at the strangest moments, confusing Lady Emily. Everything is not as it seems, and Lady Emily is the last one to catch on to the plot, leaving everything to her slightly-more-intelligent friends to figure out. By the end of the story, most readers will be sure of the end and just waiting for the characters to catch up.

Once I got over the fact that “Lady Emily” was what she was going to be called, and the fact that the cover was entirely anachronistic, and pink– a color which the character hates– and all of the other bits and pieces that drove me crazy, I found myself genuinely liking the story. It was terrible when I thought of it as a Regency story– there are so many things in here which other authors did better.

For being a well-bred young lady, the daughter of a Duke, and a recent graduate from finishing school, one might hope that a young lady would be aware that she should not be wandering around in the seedy parts of town without a guard. Sure, it creates the opening for Cropper to crop up the first time (hahahah, really, I’m brilliant, aren’t I?), and it sets the stage for the Romantic Entanglement, but really? Add to that the fact that over the course of eight days she apparently falls in love, and manages to (without actually figuring out a single thing) unveil the villain, and you’ve got something which is asking me to suspend my disbelief a little too high in that tree over there.

The Quick Version:***

It wasn’t terrible, but it was not brilliant. Regina Scott is clearly talented, as her writing itself is enjoyable. It’s her plot, and some of the finer details which made me raise an eyebrow (some times a bit higher than others). I liked the story as a whole, and was enthralled enough that I read it in a single sitting. It gets a 3 out of 5 for being solid, but having some issues.

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* She’s the Clever Princess, the Smart Princess, the girl who has everything in life, but is not happy with it. She’s the noble who’s not happy being noble, and thus does something silly. In short, she’s your typical rebellious teen wrapped up in noble trappings and thrown in a regency setting.

** Hahahaha, get it, cropper crops up!?! I kill myself sometimes.

*** I think I should just start calling this “the verdict” because really, it doesn’t re-state much. It just… declares.

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This book is now part of the Into the Wild Book Challenge. I’m not sure where I’ll release it yet, I’ll be sure to update this post when I’ve made up my mind though. If anyone reading the blog wants it, I’m more than happy to make this a controlled release and mail it to you. Just let me know!

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The Darcy Cousins

Fairview, Monica. The Darcy Cousins (2010). 432 Pages. Sourcebooks Inc. $14.99

As the sequel to a Pride & Prejudice sequel, I have to admit that I was not expecting much. Sure, I enjoyed The Other Mr. Darcy immensely, and I thought that Ms Fairview did an excellent job and had beautiful prose, but I was also expecting that she would be a one-hit-wonder, so imagine my surprise when I found that I loved this book just as much as (if not more than) its prequel, which makes me glad I own it*.

Seventeen year-old Georgiana Darcy** is a proper young lady who– thanks to her incredibly overprotective older brother– has lead a very sheltered life. When Miss Clarissa Darcy– younger sister to Robert– arrives leaving a trail of impropriety in her wake, Georgiana hardly knows what to do. Her lively American cousin drags Georgiana along as she rushes headlong into her first London Season.

Young men flock to Clarissa– she is outgoing and charming, and far less reserved than most British ladies. Georgiana is awed by her cousin, and seeks to take pages from her book, learning to be a strong young woman while still being proper is a fine line to tread, but Georgiana attempts it nonetheless. There are several very handsome, very available young men vying for the attention of both Georgiana and Clarissa, which is just fine until both ladies find themselves to be interested in the very same young man.

The plot is not quite so simple as cousins fighting over one young man,  however. Clarissa has her reasons for her appearance in England, Anne deBourgh discovers her backbone, and Georgiana grows up from innocent child to strong woman. This story is mostly (but not exclusively) about Georgiana; the other female cousins are present, but are not really the focus of the story.

The Quick Version:

Again, the prose is strong, and manages to be Austenesque without imitating Austen outright. Georgiana is a fascinating main character who really grows from an innocent, naive child into a strong young woman through the book. Clarissa, too, grows, as does Anne, though neither of them are truly the center of the plot. It will be interesting to see if either of these characters end up with their own P&P Sequel-Sequel-Sequel. The book gets a 5/5, because as the story retreats further from the original book, it becomes stronger and more original.

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*I searched all of the libraries which I have a card to, as well as Link+, only to find out that not a single library owned a copy. When I went to Borders, I learned that they supposedly had one copy, but nobody could find it. I was nearly ready to give up, when I found out that you can have store employees locate and reserve books for you at Borders. This discovery will likely save me a ton of time and money in the future, as I won’t have to browse the store to find what I want, I can come in, pick it up, and flee before my tab reaches the hundreds as it usually does.

** I find the way that the eldest is “Miss ___” while the others are “Miss ___ ____” as in, Miss Darcy and Miss Clarissa Darcy or “Mr ___” and “Mr ___ ____”, like Mr Darcy and Mr Robert Darcy very interesting. It gets a bit confusing at times because of this, but mostly it’s easy to resolve if you pay attention to the presence or absence of first names.

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The Other Mr. Darcy

Fairview, Monica. The Other Mr. Darcy (2009). 351 Pages. Sourcebooks Inc. $14.99

This was another impulse grab from the library, and I’m actually sort of glad I picked it up. I had really only intended to drop off one book, but as I’d gone to the trouble of riding my bike there, I decided to spend a bit of time enjoying the coolness. The end result was me walking away with a couple new Pride & Prejudice reinterpretations (as well as a couple other books I hope to get through in the next couple days). I am actually glad I opted to pick this one up, because I really did like it a lot. (Once I managed to forgive the rather awkward character insertion which serves as the lynchpin for the main plot.)

Caroline Bingley sank to the floor, her silk crepe dress crumpling up beneath her. Tears spurted from her eyes and poured down her face and, to her absolute dismay, a snorting, choking kind of sound issued from her mouth.

“This is most improper,” she tried to mutter, but the sobs– since that was what they were– the sobs refused to stay down her throat where they were supposed to be .

She had never sobbed in her life, so she could not possibly be sobbing now.

But the horrible sounds kept coming from her throat. And water– tears— persisted in squeezing past her eyes and down her face.

Caroline Bingley was raised to be a Proper Lady, one who would enter the peerage by marrying Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Unfortunately for Caroline’s plans, Darcy met Elizabeth Bennet- in a story I hope we all already know at least in passing- and married her. This book opens with Caroline’s breakdown on Mr. Darcy’s wedding day. She allows herself to privately weep for her lost love and indulge in tears for the first time in her adult life. However, Caroline is not as alone as she thought, and she is even more distraught to find out that she has been observed by a stranger.

Months later, the stranger appears at the Bingley’s door. It turns out that he is Mr. Robert Darcy from Boston– that’s right, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy has a cousin from America– and he has come to summon Jane to Elizabeth’s side. Charles and Jane dash off to Pemberly, leaving Robert to escort Caroline (and Louisa, the recently widowed other Bingley sister) to Pemberly. The two, having not met under the best of circumstances, are not exactly pleased to be spending time together. In an effort to make the situation less awkward, Caroline has invited along another Darcy-Cousin; Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Things happen, the two have to spend more time together, there is romantic entanglement, drama, intrigue, and more drama. I’m sure nobody will be surprised to learn that there is eventually the happily-ever-after; it’s obvious from page 1. What makes this book interesting is the way it delves into Caroline, explaining things about her personality, and showing that she is, in fact, not such a terrible person. Robert, too, develops into an interesting character through the course of the novel.

The Quick Version:

As long as we ignore the fact that the character-insert is an incredibly fan-fiction-esque plot device, and we allow for the fact that Caroline was a first-class manipulative bitch in Pride & Prejudice, this book is actually really, really good. The writing is top-notch, and the book does not try to force itself to sound like Austen. The book is romantic without being overly sexual, and is actually very well executed. I’m going to give it a 4/5 because while it is a very enjoyable book, the fact remains that it uses a terrible plot device as its main premise.
This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

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