The Complete Reading List by Author

The current year’s reading list and author commentary: The (Shameful) Tally 2014.

Recommended books are in bold below, but here is a ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list: So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance…

Alexander, Victoria Love with the Proper Husband (Marcus/Gwen)
Alexander, Victoria Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover novella (Robert/Amelia)
Alexander, Victoria The Prince’s Bride (Rand/Jocelyn)
Alexander, Victoria The Importance of Being Wicked (Winfield/Miranda)
Alexander, Victoria Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements novella (Winfield/Felicia&Lucy&Caroline)
Ashe, Katharine In the Arms of a Marquess (Ben)
Ashley, Jennifer The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Ian, not surprisingly/Beth)
Ashley, Jennifer Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage (Mac/Isabella)
Ashley, Jennifer Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Cameron/Ainsley)
Ashley, Jennifer The Duke’s Perfect Wife (Hart/Eleanor)
Ashley, Jennifer Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift (Ian, Mac, Cam, Hart)
Ashley, Jennifer The Seduction of Elliott McBride (Elliott/Juliana)
Ashley, Jennifer The Untamed Mackenzie novella (Lloyd/Louisa)
Ashley, Jennifer The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Daniel/Violet)
Ashley, Jennifer Bodyguard (Shifters Unbound) novella (Ronan/Elizabeth)
Baker, Jo Longbourn (James/Sarah)
Balogh, Mary A Handful of Gold (Julian/Verity) – ROMANCE REVIEW TEMPLATE
Balogh, Mary Slightly Scandalous (Joshua/Freya)
Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous (Wulfric, no, seriously, WULFRIC/Christine) CLASSIC
Balogh, Mary Simply Perfect (Joseph/Claudia)
Balogh, Mary Simply Love (Sydnam/Anne)
Barrett, Jo Nothing to Commend Her (Magnus/Agatha)
Blair, Annette Jacob’s Return (Jacob/Rachel)
Boyce, Elizabeth Once a Duchess (Marshall/Isabelle)
Boyce, Elizabeth Along Came a Duke (Preston/Tabitha)
Boyle, Elizabeth And the Miss Ran Away with the Rake (Henry/Daphne)
Boyle, Elizabeth When She Said I Do (Lawrence, called Ren/Calliope)
Brockway, Connie The Other Guy’s Bride (Jim/Ginesse)
Brogan, Tracy Highland Surrender  (Myles/Fiona)
Burke, Darcy To Love a Thief (Daniel/Jocelyn)
Burrowes, Grace The Soldier (Devlin) (Michael/Cecilia)
Burrowes, Grace Lady Sophia’s Christmas Wish (Vim/Wilhelm)
Callen, Gayle Return of the Viscount  (Michael/Cecilia)
Chase, Loretta Captives of the Night (Ismal/Leila)
Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrels  (Sebastian, Marquess of Dain/Jessica) CLASSIC
Chase, Loretta The Last Hellion (Vere/Lydia)
Chase, Loretta Miss Wonderful (Alister/Mirabel)
Chase, Loretta Mr. Impossible (Rupert/Daphne)
Chase, Loretta Lord Perfect (Benedict/Bathsheba)
Chase, Loretta Not Quite a Lady – (Darius/Charlotte)
Chase, Loretta Last Night’s Scandal (Lord Lisle/Olivia)
Chase, Loretta Silk Is for Seduction  (Gervase, Lord Clevedon/)
Chase, Loretta Scandal Wears Satin (Harry, Lord Longmore/Sophy)
Chase, Loretta Vixen in Velvet (Simon, Lord Lisburne/Leonie)
Cole, Eden Not My Wolf novella (Corey/Devin)
Cole, Kresley The Warlord Wants Forever (Nikolai/Myst the Coveted) THUNDER SEX™!
Cole, Kresley A Hunger Like No Other  (Lachlain/Emma) VILE
Cole, Kresley No Rest for the Wicked  (Sebastian/Kaderin the Coldhearted) THUNDER SEX™!
Cole, Kresley Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night  (Bowen/Mariketa the Awaited) THUNDER SEX™!
Cole, Kresley Dark Need’s at Night’s Edge  (Conrad/Neomi) THUNDER SEX™!
Cole, Kresley Dark Desires After Dusk (Cadeon/Holly) THUNDER SEX™!
Cole, Kresley Kiss of a Demon King  (Rydstrom/Sabine)
Cole, Kresley Deep Kiss of Winter (Murdoch/Daniela the Ice Maiden) THUNDER SEX™!
Cole, Kresley Lothaire (Lothaire/Ellie)
Cole, Kresley Shadow’s Claim (Trehan/Bettina)
Cole, Kresley Macrieve  (Uilliam/Chloe) VILER
Crusie, Jennifer Welcome to Temptation (Phin/Sophie)
Crusie, Jennifer Bet Me (Calvin/Minerva)
Dare, Tessa One Dance with a Duke (Spencer/Amelia)
Dare, Tessa Twice Tempted by a Rogue (Rhys/Merry)
Dare, Tessa Three Nights with a Scoundrel (Julian/Lily)
Dare, Tessa The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright novella (Harry/Eliza)
Dare, Tessa A Night to Surrender (Bram/Susanna)
Dare, Tessa Once Upon a Winter’s Eve novella (Christian/Violet)
Dare, Tessa A Week to Be Wicked (Colin/Minerva)
Dare, Tessa A Lady by Midnight (Thorne/Kate)
Dare, Tessa Beauty and the Blacksmith (Aaron/Diana)
Dare, Tessa Any Duchess Will Do (Griffin/Pauline)
Dare, Tessa Romancing the Duke (Ransom/Izzy)
Davis, Miranda The Duke’s Tattoo (Ainsworth)
Deveraux, Jude The Duchess (Trevelyan)
DiPasqua, Lila Undone (Simon/Angelica) *Worst of 2013*
Domning, Denise Almost Perfect (Lucien)
Duran, Meredith A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal (Simon/Nell)
Duran, Meredith Wicked Becomes You (Alex/Gwen)
Duran, Meredith Bound by Your Touch(James/Lydia)
Duran, Meredith Written on Your Skin (Phin/Mina)
Duran, Meredith Your Wicked Heart novella (Ripton/Amanda)
Duran, Meredith That Scandalous Summer (Michael/Elizabeth)
Duran, Meredith Fool Me Twice (Alaistair/Olivia)
Enoch, Suzanne Reforming a Rake (Lucien/Alexandra)
Enoch, Suzanne Meet Me at Midnight  (Sinclair “Sin”/Victoria “Vixen”)
Enoch, Suzanne A Matter of Scandal (Grey/Emma)
Enoch, Suzanne The Rake (Tristan/Georgiana)
Enoch, Suzanne England’s Perfect Hero (Robert/Lucinda)
Enoch, Suzanne Always a Scoundrel (Bram/Rosamund)
Enoch, Suzanne A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes (Oliver/Diane)
Enoch, Suzanne Taming an Impossible Rogue (Keating/Camille)
Enoch, Suzanne Rules of an Engagement (Shaw/Zephyr, I’m not making that up)
Enoch, Suzanne A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behaviour (Tolly, Bartholomew/Tess)
Enoch, Suzanne Rules to Catch a Devilish Duke (Adam/Sophia)
Enoch, Suzanne The Devil Wears Kilts  (Ranulf/Charlotte)
Essex, Elizabeth A Breath of Scandal (Will/Antigone)
Evans, Bronwen To Challenge the Earl of Cravenswood novella (Henry) *Worst of 2012*
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Thief (Sylvain/Cade)
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Kiss (Philippe/Magalie)
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Rose (Gabriel/Jolie)
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch (Dominique/Jaime)
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Heart  (Luc/Summer)
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Temptation (Patrick/Sarah)
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  (Jamie/Claire) CLASSIC, but more of a historical epic
Galen, Shana When You Give a Duke a Diamond (Will/Juliette)
Garwood, Julie The Lion’s Lady (Lyon/Christina)
Garwood, Julie Saving Grace (Gabriel/Joanna, I think)
Garwood, Julie The Gift (Nathan/Sara)
Garwood, Julie Ransom (Brodick/Gillian)
Garwood, Julie Honour’s Splendour (Duncan/Madelyne)
Garwood, Julie Prince Charming (Lucas)
Garwood, Julie The Bride (Alec/Jamie)
Grace, Aria More Than Friends (Ryan/Zach)
Grant, Cecilia A Gentleman Undone – (Will/Lydia)
Grant, Cecilia A Woman Entangled (Nick/Kate) COMMENTARY ON SEX IN ROMANCE
Gray, Juliana A Lady Never Lies (Finn/Alexandra)
Gray, Juliana A Gentleman Never Tells (Roland/Lilibet)
Gray, Juliana A Duke Never Yields (Wallingford/Abigail)
Gray, Juliana How to Tame Your Duke (Ashland/Emilie)
Gray, Juliana How to Master Your Marquis (Hatherfield/Stefanie)
Gray, Juliana How to School Your Scoundrel (Somerton/Luisa)
Guhrke, Linda Lee Scandal of the Year (Aidan/Julia)
Guhrke, Linda Lee When the Marquess Met His Match (Nicholas/Belinda)
Harmon, Danelle The Wild One (Gareth)
Harmon, Danelle The Wicked One (Lucien)
Heath, Lorraine A Duke of Her Own (“Hawk”, Duke of Hawkhurst/Louisa)
Heath, Lorraine As an Earl Desires (Archie/Camilla)
Heath, Lorraine In Bed with the Devil (Luke/Catherine)
Heath, Lorraine Between the Devil and Desire (Jack/Olivia)
Heath, Lorraine Surrender to the Devil (Sterling/Frannie)
Heath, Lorraine Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel (James/Eleanor)
Heath, Lorraine The Last Wicked Scoundrel novella (William and Winnie)
Heath, Lorraine Passions of a Wicked Earl (Westcliffe/Claire)
Heath, Lorraine Pleasures with a Notorious Gentleman (Stephen/Mercy)
Heath, Lorraine Waking Up with the Duke (Ainsley/Jayne)
Heath, Lorraine Deck the Halls with Love novella (Chetwyn/Meredith)
Heath, Lorraine She Tempts the Duke (Sebastian/Mary)
Heath, Lorraine Lord of Temptation (Tristan/Anne)
Heath, Lorraine Lord of Wicked Intentions (Rafe/Evelyn)
Holt, Cheryl Sweet Surrender (Jackson/Grace)
Hoyt, Elizabeth The Raven Prince (Edward)
Hoyt, Elizabeth The Ice Princess novella (Isaac/Coral)
Hoyt, Elizabeth Scandalous Desires (Michael/Silence)
Ivory, Judith The Proposition (Mick/Winnie)
James, Eloise Winning the Wallflower novella (Cyrus/Lucy)
James, Eloise With This Kiss novella (Colin/Grace)
James, Julie Something About You (Jack/Cameron)
James, Julie About That Night (Kyle/Rylann)
James, Julie Love Irresistibly (Cade/Brooke)
Jefferson, Jessica Compromising Miss Tisdale (Duncan/Ambrosia[!])
Jeffries, Sabrina How to Woo a Reluctant Lady (Giles)
Jenkins, Beverly Indigo (Galen/Hester) CLASSIC
Jenkins, Beverly Always and Forever (Jackson/Grace)
Jenkins, Beverly Night Hawk (Ian/Maggie)
Jewel, Carolyn One Starlit Night novella (Crispin)
Kell, Amber Attracting Anthony (Silver/Anthony)
Kelly, Carla Miss Whittier Makes a List (Daniel/Hannah)
Kelly, Carla Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand  (Fletcher/Roxanna)
Kelly, Carla Reforming Lord Ragsdale (John/Emma)
Kelly, Carla The Lady’s Companion (David/Emma)
Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm (Christian/Maddy) CLASSIC
Klein, K-Lee Lazy Sundays (Devon/Scott)
Kleypas, Lisa Surrender – novella (Jason)
Kleypas, Lisa Stranger in My Arms (Hunter)
Kleypas, Lisa Suddenly You (Jack/Amanda)
Kleypas, Lisa Then Came You (Alex/Lily)
Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of You (Derek/Sarah) CLASSIC
Kleypas, Lisa Where’s My Hero novella (Jake/Lydia, but actually read for Derek)
Kleypas, Lisa Somewhere I’ll Find You (Damon, Lord Savage [!]/Julia)
Kleypas, Lisa Because You’re Mine (Logan/Madeline)
Kleypas, Lisa Where Dreams Begin (Zachary/Holland Taylor [!]) FAVE
Kleypas, Lisa Someone to Watch Over Me (Grant/Victoria)
Kleypas, Lisa Lady Sophia’s Lover (Ross/Sophia)
Kleypas, Lisa Worth Any Price (Nick/Charlotte) – more of a skim, really
Kleypas, Lisa Again the Magic (McKenna/Aline plus the spectacular Gideon/Livia)
Kleypas, Lisa Secrets of a Summer Night Wallflowers Book 1 (Simon/Annabelle) FAVE
Kleypas, Lisa It Happened One Autumn Wallflowers Book 2 (Marcus/Lillian)
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter   Wallflowers Book 3 (Sebastian/Evie) CLASSIC
Kleypas, Lisa Scandal in the Spring  Wallflowers Book 4 (Matthew/Daisy)
Kleypas, Lisa A Wallflower Christmas (Rafe/Hannah, but really Sebastian & Simon)
Kleypas, Lisa Mine till Midnight Hathaways Book 1 (Cam/Amelia)
Kleypas, Lisa Seduce Me at Sunrise  Hathaways Book 2 (Kev/Win)
Kleypas, Lisa Tempt Me at Twilight  Hathaways Book 3 (Harry/Poppy) – FAVETWO REVIEWS
Kleypas, Lisa Married by Morning Hathaways Book 4 (Leo/Catherine)
Kleypas, Lisa Love in the Afternoon Hathaways Book 5 (Christopher/Beatrix)
Kleypas, Lisa Smooth Talking Stranger (Jack/Ella)
Kleypas, Lisa Sugar Daddy (Gage/Liberty)
Kleypas, Lisa Blue-Eyed Devil (Hardy/Haven)
Laurens, Stephanie Temptation and Surrender (Jonas)
Laurens, Stephanie An Ideal Bride (Michael)
Lee, Jade Wedded in Scandal (Robert/Helaine)
Linden, Caroline One Night in London (Edward/Francesca)
Linden, Caroline Blame It on Bath (Gerard/Kate)
Linden, Caroline The Way to a Duke’s Heart (Charlie/Tessa)
Linden, Caroline The Truth About Love short story (Damien/Miranda)
Linden, Caroline Love and Other Scandals (Tristan/Joan)
Linden, Caroline It Takes a Scandal (Sebastian/Abigail)
Lindsey, Johanna The Heir (Duncan)
London, Julia The Revenge of Lord Eberlin (Tobin/Lily)
Long, Julie Anne The Runaway Duke (Connor/Rebecca)
Long, Julie Anne To Love a Thief (Gideon/Lily)
Long, Julie Anne The Perils of Pleasure (Colin/Madeline)
Long, Julie Anne Like No Other Lover(Miles/Cynthia)
Long, Julie Anne Since the Surrender (Chase/Rosalind)
Long, Julie Anne I Kissed an Earl (Asher/Violet)
Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke (Alex/Genevieve) CLASSIC
Long, Julie Anne How the Marquess Was Won (Julian/Phoebe)
Long, Julie Anne A Notorious Countess Confesses  (Adam/Evie, I know)
Long, Julie Anne It Happened One Midnight(Jonathon/”Tommy” Thomasina)
Long, Julie Anne Between the Devil and Ian Eversea (Ian/Tansy)
MacLean, Julianne Married by Midnight novella (Garrett/Anne)
MacLean, Sarah Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Gabriel/Calpurnia)
MacLean, Sarah Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart (Simon/Isabella)
MacLean, Sarah A Rogue by Any Other Name (Michael, Bourne/Penelope)
MacLean, Sarah One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (Cross/Pippa)
MacLean, Sarah No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (Temple/Mara)
McNaught, Judith Almost Heaven (Ian/Elizabeth) OLD SCHOOL
McNaught, Judith Once and Always (Jason/Victoria)
Michaels, Jess An Introduction to Pleasure: Mistress Matchmaker (Andrew/Lysandra!)
Milan, Courtney This Wicked Gift (William/Lavinia)
Milan, Courtney Proof by Seduction (Gareth/Jenny)
Milan, Courtney Trial By Desire (Ned)
Milan, Courtney The Lady Always Wins novella (Simon/Virginia)
Milan, Courtney Unveiled (Ash/Margaret)
Milan, Courtney Unclaimed (Mark/Jessica)
Milan, Courtney Unraveled (Smite/Miranda) FAVE
Milan, Courtney Unlocked novella (Evan/Elaine)
Milan, Courtney What Happened at Midnight novella (John/Mary)
Milan, Courtney The Governess Affair novella (Hugo/Serena)
Milan, Courtney The Duchess War (Robert/Minerva)
Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter novella (Jonas/Lydia) CLASSIC
Milan, Courtney The Heiress Effect  (Oliver/Jane, bonus Anjan/Emily)
Milan, Courtney The Countess Conspiracy (Sebastian/Violet)
Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal (Edward/Free) CLASSIC, MAGNIFICENT
Noble, Kate If I Fall (Jackson/Sarah)
Nolan, Amelia Passion and Pride (Evan/Marian)
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth It Had to Be You (Dan/Phoebe)
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Nobody’s Baby but Mine (Cal/Jane)
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth This Heart of Mine (Kevin/Molly) WORST HEROINE OF 2014
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Match Me If You Can (Heath/Annabelle)
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Natural Born Charmer (Dean/Blue)
Pryce, Evelyn A Man Above Reproach (Elias/Josephine)
Putney, Mary Jo The Rake (Reggie)
Quinn, Julia How to Marry a Marquis (James/Elizabeth)
Quinn, Julia Everything and the Moon (Robert/Victoria)
Quinn, Julia Brighter Than the Sun (Charles/Ellie)
Quinn, Julia The Duke and I  Bridgerton Book 1 (Simon/Daphne)
Quinn, Julia The Viscount Who Loved  Bridgerton Book 2 (Anthony/Kate)
Quinn, Julia An Offer from a Gentleman Bridgerton Book 3 (Benedict/Sophy)
Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. BridgertonBridgerton Book 4 (Colin/Penelope)
Quinn, Julia To Sir Phillip, With Love Bridgerton Book 5 (Phillip/Eloise)
Quinn, Julia When He Was Wicked Bridgerton Book 6 (Michael/Francesca)
Quinn, Julia It’s In His Kiss Bridgerton Book 7 (Gareth/Hyacinth)
Quinn, Julia On the Way to the Wedding (Gregory/Lucy)
Quinn, Julia The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After (Everyone, even Violet)
Quinn, Julia What Happens In London (Harry/Olivia)
Quinn, Julia Ten Things I Love About You (Sebastian/Annabel)
Quinn, Julia Just Like Heaven (Marcus/Honoria)
Quinn, Julia A Night Like This (Daniel/Anne)
Quinn, Julia The Sum of All Kisses (Hugh/Sarah)
Rodale, Maya The Wicked Wallflower  (Blake/Emma)
Rose, Ranae Whisky Dreams novella (Brom/John)
Rothwell, Kate Seducing Miss Dunaway novella (Fell, Lord Fellington/Mary)
Schone, Robin The Lady’s Tutor (Ramiel, The Bastard Sheikh/Elizabeth)
Spencer, LaVyrle Vows (Tom/Emily)
Thomas, Sherry The Luckiest Lady in London (Felix/Louisa)
Willig, Lauren The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (Richard/Amy)
Willig, Lauren The Seduction of the Crimson Rose (Vaughn/Mary)
Woodiwiss, Kathleen A Rose in Winter
Wylde, Anya Penelope (Charles/Penelope) *Most Inept of 2013*
Who Cares The Wallflower *Also Worst of 2012*

The (Shameful) Tally 2014

This is the yearly reading list I maintain.

Recommended books are in bold, but here is a ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list:
So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance, this is an
ALPHABETICAL LIST OF ROMANCES BY AUTHOR, and these are
Things That Occur to Me While Reading Historical Romance Novels.

The Autobuy List
Tessa Dare
Lisa Kleypas (except Crystal Cove)
Julie Anne Long
Sarah MacLean
Courtney MilanThe. Very. Best.

The Auto-Library/Cheap on Kindle List
Jennifer Ashley -  I love/hate her. I don’t recommend her.
Mary Balogh - predictable, but safe, well-written
Loretta Chase -  reliable, sometimes great
Meredith Duran – great character studies
Suzanne Enoch - B+ list
Elizabeth Essex – potential
Laura Florand – steamy and romantic contemporaries
Juliana Gray – B+ list, really strong, almost an autobuy
Cecilia Grant – interesting, massive potential
Lorraine Heath - B- list, so if there’s absolutely nothing else, maybe
Carla Kelly – sweet Regency romances, large back catalogue, newer work has Mormon themes
Caroline Linden - off to a good start, great potential
Julia Quinn - An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons

Malin has excellent reviews on her site, and a broader range of books.

Final name tally December 13, 2013: Simon (7); Michael (7); Sebastian (6); Robert/William (5) Alec/Alex, Colin, Gabriel, Harry, James (4); Benedict, Charles, Edward, Gareth, Henry, Jackson, Julian, Lucien, Marcus, Tristan (3); and only one David.

My Favourite Characters

Other Authors

Victoria Alexander – Popular, funny, perfectly serviceable, but not quite.
Elizabeth Boyle – Clever, but I prefer a little more maturity in my protagonists.
Grace Burrowes – Popular, plot moppety, likes into precious bodily fluids.
Gayle Callen – Too serious for my taste, nicely enough written, reasonably romantic.
Kresley Cole – Failed paranormal romance experiment
Lila DiPasqua – Undone (Fiery Tales) - Some words should NEVER be seen in a romance novel.
Gaelen Foley – She used the word “orifice” in a love scene.
Shana Galen – Perfectly pleasant, occasionally quite good, but nothing special
Karen Hawkins – Too slow getting going.
Cheryl Holt – Fantastic banter but wildly, distractingly uneven tone, also sexist.
Elizabeth Hoyt – very popular, not my taste, a little rough for my delicate sensibilities Lorelei James – God, no! Contemporary. Cowboys.
Sophie Jordan – consummation on the floor of a rat infested cellar and they were not locked in
Kieran Kramer – Bland. If You Give a Girl a Viscount.
Stephanie Laurens – Tried in 2012. 30 page love scenes. Don’t do it.
Jade LeeWedded in Scandal Muddled story, uneven tone, vacillating and inconsistent leads.
Julianne MacLean – Nothing special.
Dorothy McFalls – The Nude – Abused widow gets obsessive new husband, how unhealthy!
Suzanna Medeiros – Pedestrian, and I hate it when they’re both insanely beautiful.
Kate Noble – Very good, just not my style: Regency spies, mostly chaste.
Amelia Nolan – Although I applauded the feminist sexuality of the heroine.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2014

Longbourn - Jo Baker
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood – Diana Gabaldon – Outlander Book 8

The (Shameful) Tally 2014 – Almost Exclusively Historical Romances – After the Jump

Continue reading

The Chicago Stars Series (Most of It) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

All of the books in the Chicago Stars contemporary romance series are built around the world of professional athletes and the women who want to climb them like trees. It’s a rarefied wealthy bubble that allows for the same kind of lifestyle fantasy as the aristocratic and wealthy world of historical romance. Almost every story also features a couple getting a second chance at love.

  1. It Had to Be You
  2. Heaven, Texas
  3. Nobody’s Baby But Mine
  4. Dream a Little Dream
  5. This Heart of Mine – only Kresley Cole has ever made me angrier
  6. Match Me If You Can
  7. Natural Born Charmer – very entertaining

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a good writer with a successful formula and a long career. She’s clever and witty, but more than one of these books suffers from tropes that are outdated and/or offensive. Since Natural Born Charmer is the most recent of the series, it is the one I would recommend. I did try Call Me Irresistible andThe Great Escape from her more recent collection. The former never captured my attention and the latter had a love scene involving the literal use of a licorice whip. Ouch.

It Had to Be You – 1994

From Amazon: The Windy City isn’t quite ready for Phoebe Somerville—the outrageous, curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars football team. And Phoebe is definitely not ready for the Stars’ head coach, former gridiron legend Dan Calebow, a sexist jock taskmaster with a one-track mind. Calebow is everything Phoebe abhors. And the sexy new boss is everything Dan despises—a meddling bimbo who doesn’t know a pigskin from a pitcher’s mound.

I might have enjoyed this one more, if I had read it when it originally came out, but a lot has changed in the past 20 years and I found It had to Be You dated. The hero really does refer to the heroine as a bimbo and uses terms like “sissy”. He is otherwise a very kind and caring man, but I was predisposed not to like a book built around professional sports and the dated elements did not help. The ending was ridonkulous. You heard me. RIDONKULOUS!

The heroine, Phoebe, is cramazingly beautiful, smart, kind, and more than a little lost. She has history of sexual assault and some self-esteem issues she endeavored to overcome by using her attractiveness as a finely honed weapon. I had mixed feelings about using her feminine wiles to manipulate business situations at the same time as I couldn’t blame her for turning the tables on men who chose to act like idiots in her presence.

Bonus Points A: Dan drives an obscenely expensive car, but when he bought it, he wrote a cheque to a charity for the same amount to offset the extravagance. I always tell myself I would do things like that if I was suddenly rich as Croesus.

Bonus Points B: A love scene built around the simple power that the word “stop” should have.

Heaven, Texas - 1995

The hero of this book is named Bobby Tom. I didn’t get any further than that.

Nobody’s Baby But Mine – 1997

Cal is a professional football player at the tail end of his career. Noticing he is in a slump, his friends decide to buy him a prostitute as a birthday present. (It gets worse.) Promised a chance to add another notch to her football player bedpost, one of the servers at their favourite watering hole agrees to find a suitably classy hooker to bang Cal back to cheerfulness. Her physicist neighbour, Jane, agrees to the “date” because her biological clock is ticking like a metronome on crack and she thinks Cal will bring balance to her gene pool. With a sabotaged condom and a pink gift bow around her neck, Jane sets out to turn her first trick. They have some uptight sex and she returns the money thus apparently absolving her from prostitution, but not from being scummy. [Tirade waived because I'm saving my strength forThis Heart of Mine. ] After their second encounter, Jane becomes pregnant and Cal finds out. They end up living together in his hometown and encountering his wacky relatives. There’s more, but let me sum up: eccentric grandmother, unhappy parents, life after football.

Despite her manipulations, Jane is not the tiara winner for Worst Heroine in the Chicago Stars series. That peach is up right after I skip this next book.

Dream a Little Dream – 1998

Reluctant faith healer. I’m out.

This Heart of Mine – 2001

Molly is the step-sister of Phoebe from It Had to Be You. Not blessed with her sister’s looks, she is that average-looking and brainy-but-scattered woman so popular in romance. She writes children’s stories about a bunny named Daphne and the reader is treated to snippets as a chapter framing device. I learned to skip them very quickly as Molly’s writing technique is to project her adult life experiences onto children’s picture books. It was hella twee.

Every once in a while, Molly has an “incident”. First, she does something bizarre to her hair and then she acts out in an extraordinary fashion. WhenThis Heart of Mine opens, she has just lopped off most of her locks and dyed the remainder bright red, so her family knows an escapade is imminent. She has a crush on the Chicago Stars quarterback, Kevin, who has just gotten into trouble for participating in extreme sports off the field and, unbeknownst to Molly, been sent to Dan and Phoebe’s lake house to meditate of his sins. Molly has decided she needs to get away and she ends up in the same place. I’d say hijinks ensue, but what follows is a felony.

One evening, after her new platonic friend has gone to sleep, Molly finds herself wandering into his private bathroom and then his bedroom. She climbs into bed with him, stimulates him, and when Kevin awakes from what he thought was a dream, he finds himself having sex with Molly.  He is not happy. He asks what she would have called it had he done the same to her. The answer, of course, is rape. He’s right. That’s rape. The heroine is a rapist. It was at this point that my decision to finish readingThis Heart of Mine became an act of spite. Am I supposed to like this woman? Why? Because she gave her fortune to charity? Because she lives in her sister’s shadow? Because she just couldn’t control herself? FUCK YOU, MOLLY.

Owing to an overdeveloped sense of honour, or some bullshit, Kevin marries his rapist because the condom Molly stole from his shaving kit broke and she is pregnant. He does not tell her family the truth and he discourages her from doing so. In an expected trope, Molly miscarries the baby that was the result of Kevin’s victimization and falls into a deep depression. Not about the felony, mind you, about the loss of the pregnancy. Kevin learns of Molly’s depression and takes her to his upscale family campground to help her heal. He is a saint and the felonious Molly does not deserve him.

At the campground, Kevin the Saint and Molly the Felon grow closer. Molly the Felon has a simply adorable habit of creating drama when she thinks her soon-to-be-canonized-pseudo-spouse is bored; for example, going cliff diving or pretending to drown so he has to rescue her. Way to use up that microscopic speck of sympathy the miscarriage garnered you, Molly the Felon. She swims out into the middle of the lake, sees Kevin the Saint looking less than delighted, assumes he is bored, and decides to pretend to be drowning so Kevin the Saint can liven up his day by saving her. That is “bitches be crazy” levels of messed up.

Kevin the Saint eventually figures out that Molly the Felon has a strong imagination the she likes to indulge in drama. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, he overlooks her behavior, forgives her, and they consummate the relationship. It’s a big relief to Molly the Felon when the sex is great. She had some concerns about Kevin the Saint’s performance because the rape had been sexually disappointing for her. Again, FUCK YOU, MOLLY.

Match Me If You Can – 2005

Heath Champion is a relentlessly ambitious sports agent looking for a perfect wife. Annabelle Something has inherited her grandmother’s matchmaking business and is hired to locate Heath’s helpmeet. They fall in love and he grows a soul. Okay, he kind of had a soul before, but his character never worked for me. Even though Annabelle called him on his manipulations, he was too slick and entitled by half.

I never really got into Match Me If You Can, even though it was funny and well written. In real life, men like Heath make my skin crawl and their fictional counterparts, no matter how decent at heart, are of no interest to me. On another front, the plot moppet, Pippi, was a hoot.

Natural Born Charmer – 2007 – It seems I read the best one first.

Other reviews can be found on my list of books by author or The (Shameful) Tally 2014 which includes recommendations and author commentary.

The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan

The Suffragette Scandal is an instant classic and a master work of romantic fiction.

In a genre that wallows in cultural necrophilia, you have to love characters fighting actively against the  aristocracy and existing power structures. Or at least I do. Apparently, so does author Courtney Milan because she is doing it again in a novel that is easily one of the best historical romances ever written and one that simultaneously subverts and embraces the genre. Never afraid to beat romance tropes about the head and shoulders, The Suffragette Scandal, like The Countess Conspiracy before it, takes feminism and themes of identity and wraps a love story around them.

In 1877 Cambridgeshire, Frederica Marshall, Free to her friends, runs a newspaper that is, by, for, and about women and the issues they face, much like the romance genre. A radical who has chosen her battles carefully, she is the target of derision and efforts to silence her. Into Free’s life walks Edward Clark. He approaches her with a warning that someone is trying to sabotage her and an offer to help stop him. He makes it clear that he is not doing so out of altruism, he claims to be incapable of it, but because the enemy of his enemy is his friend. Already aware of the challenge Edward mentions, she decides to trust him even when he says she shouldn’t. Free knows better than Edward. She knows better full stop.

Free’s current problem comes in the form of Lord James Delacey, a man whose overtures she had the temerity to reject. It would seem farcical that a man should react so extremely to rejection, if we didn’t know that it is sometimes so sadly true. A woman standing up when virtually the whole world is telling her to sit down, Free makes a convenient public target for Delacey’s ire:“That’s precisely it. You said no, so that is what I am giving you. No newspaper, no voice, no reputation, no independence.”

Spending her life lighting candles against the darkness, Free is a magnificent character. Sanguine and undaunted, she hides none of her intelligence and knows she should not have to. She is not naive, she knows what she faces, but she has decided who she will be and acts accordingly. Her choices have a price she is willing to pay and she finds strength in small victories and in laying the groundwork for the victories to come, even the ones she knows she will never see. Her swain is one of those alluring rogues one encounters in romance. Edward has a disaffected view of the world and of himself, but he is also heartbreaking, appealing, and understandable. As a younger man, he tried to stand up and was forced down so violently that he tells himself he has withdrawn from considerations of right and wrong. Free makes him see that “maybe pessimism was as much a lie as optimism” and in each other they find a suitable partner to stand against the world with.

I cannot possibly do The Suffragette Scandal justice. It is everything a romance novel can be when giving full rein to the genre’s central tenet of a woman’s right to self-determination and in conjunction with Milan’s undoubtedly masterful skills as a writer. It’s a glorious homage to the brave and quiet warriors of the world insisting on what is right. It’s romantic. It’s funny and moving and entertaining. It’s on sale now and you should buy it.

Links to my other reviews can be found on The (Shameful) Tally 2014 or my list of books by author.

Reviewer’s Note: As a captious reader (I maintain a list), I want to give kudos to Milan for the little details, too, such as the fact that Free’s long hair is held up by nineteen pins instead of the usual two, and, although Free is “small but mighty”, Edward acknowledges that their height difference makes kissing somewhat awkward.

Also from The Brothers Sinister Series:

The Governess Affair – very good novella
The Duchess War – great
A Kiss for Midwinter – CLASSIC
The Heiress Effect – the secondary plot was lovely
The Countess Conspiracy – superlative
The Suffragette Scandal – BRILLIANT, see above
Talk Sweetly to Me (novella) – August 19, 2014 (bouncing with excitement)

More by Courtney Milan after the jump.

Continue reading

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Natural Born Charmer is a contemporary romance of the “you are everything I never knew I always wanted” variety with subplots of familial healing thrown in. Given the number of people with fractured or messed up families, I’m not surprised to see this element featured in several of the contemporary romances I’ve read. In addition to the main couple, there is a subplot featuring the hero’s parents who are also messed up and trying to find their way to stability. Natural Born Charmer has the slightly heightened reality common to romances, it’s sweet without being treacly and cacklingly funny.

Dean Robillard is gorgeous, rich, incredibly well-dressed, and gorgeous some more; to wit, “You look like an ad for gay porn.” (I’m still laughing.) A professional football player, his golden life looks perfect from the outside, but his broken relationship with his mother, his dissatisfaction, and his current road trip say otherwise. All that changes when he sees a woman in a headless beaver costume stomping down a side road. Blue Bailey (Hush, it’s a totally cool name.) is a feisty mess. A peripatetic artist, she moved from Seattle to Denver just in time to be dumped by the boyfriend she moved there to join. Alone, jobless, and broke, her car has just died and she is stuck. Claiming to be gay to make her feel comfortable, Dean offers to drive Blue first to her apartment, then to Nashville, and eventually to rural Tennessee where he is going to check on the farmhouse he is having renovated. She never leaves.

Blue and Dean are both deliciously sardonic and sarcastic. I found myself throwing my head back and laughing in the way they always describe in these books, but you don’t really believe is true until it happens to you. They also have abandonment issues and not necessarily healthy coping mechanisms, but eventually manage to figure things out. While their personal relationships are improved, they are not perfect, and there is a nice examination of what happens when children are let down by their parents, even if it is for a really good reason.

A great example of the genre, Natural Born Charmer is a very well executed and sweet read. I have already taken out three more Susan Phillips novels from my library to start working  through her back catalogue.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my list of books by author.

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig

crimson rose

Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation floral espionage series continues with book four of eleven, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, and features droll characters bantering their way through espionage and falling in love. It’s a turn of the 19th century The Thin Man with all of the wit and irreverence one would expect of a Georgian Nick and Nora. As with the first novel, The Secret History Pink Carnation, the adventure is framed by a PhD candidate, Eloise, conducting research on aristocratic spies of the period and falling for the owner of the archives that make up the bulk of her source material. Their story moves quietly and slowly through the books while the historical portion resolves itself in each installment. Nefarious plots are thwarted and the assorted Pimpernels are drawn back into the fray when a new ruckus erupts as Eloise’s dissertation work continues.

Mary Alsworthy, great beauty and advantageous marriage seeker, has just been jilted for her own sister. Dusting herself off and masking her mortification, she is still hoping to trade her looks and sophistication for a nice title, inherited privilege and, fingers crossed, shiny baubles. Ruthlessly practical and not wanting to take money from her erstwhile fiance/brother-in-law, she agrees to work for Sebastian, Lord Vaughn, on behalf of The Pink Carnation seeking information about The Black Tulip. Mary’s work will help finance a London Season and her husband hunt. Lest one be put off by her mercenary intent, there is a marvelous fight between Mary and Vaughn about the role that choice plays in their respective lives. Mary is simply trying to find security in her life through the avenues available to her.

Romance novel Sebastians are frequently delightful and this one is no exception. He is older, wiser, and more world-weary than Mary, but capable of genuine feeling somewhere under all that wry, detached elan. Simultaneously resolute and a bit dandified, he is a magnificent urbane bastard that Mary finds irresistible. She lobs back his acerbic remarks in kind and they both give in to their attraction. He enjoys her beauty, but he adores her mind. Hijinks and not insignificant complications ensue, but everything turned out alright in the end. I think. I was reading for the love story, so I didn’t really pay close attention to the other elements.

Writing for those of us who love to recognize a reference, Willig is an extremely clever, well read, and deft author. Written with a wonderfully light touch, the books are mostly chaste with badinage standing in for sensuality. Much as a I love a little licentiousness in my reading, it’s a fair trade for such an entertainingly written story. While I prefer the romance to be more front and center, I would recommend The Seduction of the Crimson Rose to readers looking for intelligent and witty escapism.

Links to my other reviews can be found on The (Shameful) Tally 2014 or my list of books by author.

nick and nora

The Governess Affair and The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

As The Governess Affair and The Duchess War are Victorian romances by Courtney Milan, you can simply assume that, after providing the standard review content, I am going to encourage you to read them and virtually everything else she has published. Thematically, her stories focus on the questions of identity: Who are you? Who does society say you are? Who do you want to be? Romance tropes are flipped or shaken and Milan crafts lovely and heartfelt stories. Moreover, they contain social commentary and an unusually honest view of  the era they depict, as well as of modern mores. Courtney Milan is amazing like that. She is the best romance writer currently publishing and quickly becoming one of the all-time greats in the genre.

The Governess Affair

Setting up the Brothers Sinister series, The Governess Affair is about the coming together of Serena Barton and Hugo Marshall. She was assaulted by her former, and his current, employer, the Duke of Clermont. Serena is staging a sit in on a bench outside of the Duke’s London residence insisting on reparations in the form of financial support for herself and the Duke’s unborn child. Tasked with removing this inconvenience is the Duke’s man of business, Hugo Marshall. They quickly discover that in any other circumstance, they would be rushing to a vicar. Because of the complications of Hugo’s employment and Serena’s pregnancy, their union faces stumbling blocks before it can begin. Serena has already decided who she wants to be and what she is willing to do to become that person. Hugo takes a little longer, but gets to where he needs to be as well.

Story threads beyond Serena and Hugh’s sweet relationship are created in The Governess Affair. What is a triumph for the protagonists has repercussions for both Oliver, their son, and his brother, Robert, the next Duke of Clermont. He just happens to be the hero of the next book in the series.

The Duchess War

Not only has Minerva Lane been told who she is, she has participated in her own belittlement. A lioness terrified of her yearning to roar, her tightly laced corset is the perfect metaphor for the compression of her spirit. When she encounters Robert Blaisdale, Duke of Clermont, at a social event, he witnesses her frustration and gets a glimpse of the formidable woman she hides. Thrown together repeatedly by their political interests and Robert’s fascination, he and Minnie find their way towards each other as much as they do into themselves. He is a Duke with no use for the peerage, she is a woman fighting for security on her own terms, and neither can resist the challenge the other one represents. The limitations imposed on and accepted by Milan’s characters are front and center for Robert and Minnie. They both want so much and are so afraid, often very reasonably, to reach and fail that they both have to find ways to stand up and together.

Both of The Governess Affair and The Duchess War are fantastic and I encourage you to read them and virtually everything else Courtney Milan has published. Minnie’s best friend, Lydia, is featured in the wonderful novella, A Kiss for Midwinter, that follows immediately on the heels of the latter novel. The Duchess War is a great romance, A Kiss for Midwinter is a classic of the genre and one of my top five romances of all time.

Also from The Brothers Sinister Series
A Kiss for MidwinterCLASSIC
The Heiress Effect – the secondary plot was lovely
The Countess Conspiracy – superlative
The Suffragette Scandal - CLASSIC, MASTER WORK
Talk Sweetly to Me (novella) – August 19, 2014 (an embarrassment of riches)

Links to my other reviews can be found on The (Shameful) Tally 2014 or my list of books by author.

More by Courtney Milan after the jump.

Continue reading

The Secret History Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

carnation

The Secret History Pink Carnation is the first book of eleven (so far) in Lauren Willig’s Georgian historical romance series of the same name. Each novel has a framing device featuring a PhD student combing through nineteenth century documents for her thesis research on aristocratic spies and the relation of what she finds as a romantic adventure story. Willig’s writing is light and clever and The Secret History Pink Carnation had a kind of breezy musical comedy tone. It bounced along as a charmingly written and pleasant romp with just a little peril for the protagonists to keep things interesting.

Amy is a displaced French aristocrat who escaped with her English mother to Shropshire on the eve of the Revolution. Her father lost his head to Mme. Guillotine and her brother, Edouard, claimed his safety by becoming a toady to the new regime. Amy has had schemes and stratagems for restoring the old order to France for years, so when her brother invites her to return to Paris, she feels that she will at last have her chance to make good on all her espionage practice. On her way to France, she meets up with Napoleon’s Egyptologist Richard Selwick. Feigning indifference to politics, he uses his position at Court to glean information and carry out deeds of daring do a la Scarlet Pimpernel and thus thumb his nose at the French government.

Amy and Richard spark and spar instantly in a delightful bits of comedy. He finds himself irresistibly drawn to Amy even as he desperately tries to keep her safe, defuse her impetuous machinations, and get to the business of foiling Napoleon’s plot to invade England. Things move along nicely with enough twists, jeopardy, and romance to keep things interesting.

The framing device sets up a love story as well that is tracked through the other Pink Carnation books as that relationship develops. Even as the spy stories move farther afield geographically and chronologically, the present day heroine’s life moves forward just a few months. Such is my devotion to romantic subplots that I took three Pink Carnation books out of the library and while I didn’t read beyond the first one, I did go ahead and read the present day chapters of the other two books to check on the love story’s progress. I’m reasonably certain those two crazy kids will be able to work things out in the long run.

The Secret History Pink Carnation was very entertaining, well-researched, and a great choice if you like a bit of farce in your romance. It was not, as my romance spirit guide, Malin, warned me, my style as it was both just a bit too devil-may-care on the political elements and insufficient on the romance for my tastes. The key part of that last sentence is “for my tastes”. I like to focus on the love story in any romance I read so subplots are often wasted on me. Spies, in particular, leave me cold. I also have no use for political intrigue. Nor murder mysteries. Supernatural elements annoy me. Road trips are fine. Is someone writing these down? Honestly, there is no pleasing me.

Also by Lauren Willig – The Seduction of the Crimson Rose

Links to my other reviews can be found on The (Shameful) Tally 2014 or my list of books by author.

Augusta Auctions

Artistic Verisimilitude

NOT ORDINARY FASHION

Artistic Verisimilitude

OMG that dress!

Artistic Verisimilitude

Fripperies and Fobs

Artistic Verisimilitude

Cannonball Read 6

A Race to Read and Review 52 Books in a Year

So...THAT happened.

Artistic Verisimilitude

Malin's Blog of Books

Artistic Verisimilitude

Pajiba

Artistic Verisimilitude

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers