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Book Review: Whistle for the Crows by Dorothy Eden

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Review Time!

Whistle for the Crows by Dorothy Eden

One of the very best things about e-books is the reissue of out-of-print and hard-to-find paperbacks.  Whistle For the Crows, Dorothy Eden’s 1962 contemporary Gothic, is a recent e-book reissue from Open Road Media, an e-book publisher that has brought many genre paperbacks back from obscurity.

Here’s the blurb:

From one of the world’s classic authors of romantic suspense comes the thrilling tale of a young woman caught between the desires of two very different brothers while researching a family’s secret history in an eerie Irish castle

For Cathleen Lamb, traveling to Dublin to record the history of the mystery-shrouded O’Riordan family is the answer to a prayer. Still grieving over the accident that killed her husband and baby daughter, she hopes to lose herself in other people’s lives. 

But something sinister is going on at the ancient castle at the edge of the moors … something beyond the scandalous skeletons rattling around the O’Riordans’ closets. The former heir was killed three years earlier in a suspicious fall. The same night, the family matriarch suffered a stroke that left her mute. 

Despite the malice that surrounds her, Cathleen is drawn to the brooding, darkly passionate man who is plotting to control the family. But even he may not be able to protect her when the crimes of the past reach into the present to terrorize the living.

Whistle For the Crows will please readers who love this particular style of 1960s-era Gothic featuring a vague, slightly dense heroine, a number of brooding/menacing/disenchanted potential heroes, and mysteries that are not so much mysteries as big misunderstandings. A few of the other boilerplate Gothic elements appear as well, including the dreadfully scary house and the huge family with even bigger secrets. Throw in old stand-bys like mysterious cries in the night, suspicious goings-on in the village and certifiably insane family members, and you’ve got a recipe for a classic mid-century Gothic.

Although Eden’s writing is not as imaginative or evocative as contemporary Gothic grand dame Mary Stewart’s, the modern reader will find it goes down much easier than the stilted, dense prose that plagued so many mid-century Gothics. Eden has a charming voice, and if Whistle For the Crows’  plot is a little overcooked, it did keep me reading — and guessing.

All in all, I give Whistle For the Crows four out of five mysterious cries in the night, and just for fun, threw in three vintage covers in addition to the new one!

Whistle For the Crows

Dorothy Eden

Ace, 1962/ Open Road Media 2013

Available in E-Book 

Book Review: Impulsive Gamble by Lynn Turner

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Impulsive Gamble by Lynn Turner

Abbie knew that she was taking a risk, but it seemed to be a gamble that might pay off. Malachi Garrett, brilliant engineer-inventor, was so reclusive that hardly anything was known about him. Now here he was, in a bar in Oklahoma, looking for someone to drive his Shelby Cobra car in a race to Washington DC. As a freelance journalist, Abbie couldn’t pass up the chance.

Pretending to be a medical secretary urgently needing to read Washington, Abbie talked her way into being the driver. She found out too late that living a lie made her feel very uncomfortable and that she and Malachi Garrett made an explosive combination…

Rarely do we ever open a book with absolutely no preconceptions. We know a little about the story from a blurb, or have read a review, or picked the book up upon recommendation from someone whose taste we trust. It’s wonderful when the book aligns with those preconceptions, even better when it exceeds them. When neither happens, then you know how I felt after reading Impulsive Gamble.

Every review I’ve seen for this book is positively gushing. On Goodreads, the book gets slightly over four stars, which, though the book has few reviews, is still remarkable.

It’s possible that all this high-heavens praise created impossible-to-meet expectations, but although I enjoyed Impulsive Gamble, I was underwhelmed.

I loved Mal and enjoyed Abbie, and the cross-country endurance race plot is one I’d never seen in a romance. But there are holes in the plot big enough to throw a cat through, and problems with the characterizations that made even the book’s much-lauded sparkling dialogue between the two leads hard to swallow.

To wit:

  • Mal is an engineer and ex-racing driver who employs multiple mechanics, yet he can’t find anyone to drive the car? Please. The guy spends years and a chunk of change on this car, and trusts it to a complete stranger? Not in this lifetime — my baby is a lowly-but-sweet 1985 Chevy truck, and I can count on one hand the number of people I know who’ve been allowed to move it.
  • also — you don’t go out on cross-country endurance race without a mechanical crew behind you. It just wouldn’t happen, and there was no logical reason for it to happen here.
  • we’re told over and over by Abbie that Mal is such a male chauvinist, and yes, he often acts like one, yet he cooks, he cleans, he lets a woman drive his masterwork car and readily admits to being a reckless driver and terrible navigator. Never once does Abbie notice that he’s saying one thing and doing another completely, but we’re supposed to believe she’s a brilliant newspaper reporter. Right.
  • the back-and-forth arguing between the two was supposed to seem like foreplay, but sometimes it just seemed like instant replay.
  • the book’s ending (I won’t spoil it) is supposed to tie everything up in a neat bow, but leaves as many questions as it provides answers.

If it sounds like I’m being a little rough on the book, maybe so. But I actually enjoyed reading it just for Mal — he’s one of the best-written male leads I’ve ever come across in a vintage Harlequin/Mills & Boon.

Oddly enough, I think part of my problem with Impulsive Gamble was that Emma Richmond’s Heart In Hiding was so fresh in my mind. Heart In Hiding is a similar story, but with a much more believable trajectory and, in my opinion at least, a more enjoyable capable-female-meets-curmudgeonly-male story line.

I give Impulsive Gamble 3 out of 5 intact fan belts, one for the quirky plot, one for the high points the dialogue hits, and another for Mal.  I give Mal 5 out of 5 bags of pretzels.

Impulsive Gamble

Lynn Turner

Harlequin, 1989


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Book Review: Heart in Hiding by Emma Richmond

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The arrangement seemed ideal

It would keep Verity in France until her next teaching course — it would involve traveling to the pretty but remote village of Auray. 

Of course, her boss hadn’t outlined the drawbacks of working for his friend to whom he’d offered Verity’s services. Those he’d let Verity find out for herself.

An ex-racing-car driver, the wealthy and well known Corbin McCaid was an irascible man, encased in his own private world. Not that it mattered. Verity could cope with him, even if he did dislike her — she always coped.

First, a thousand pardons for that cover picture — it’s awful, and yet it’s the best (or most viewable) example of a cover for this book that I can find on ye olde interwebs.

That gives you one indication of what a hidden gem we have in Heart In Hiding. Like 98% of Harlequin/Mills & Boon category romances from back in the day, it has been relegated to the dustbin of history, all but forgotten.

But the dustbin of history is not a bad resting place for many 1980s-era Harlequin/Mills & Boon category romances. So many of them are populated by ridiculous heroines and borderline-abusive uber-alpha heroes and hinge on plots that seem so far removed from reality that it can be hard to take them seriously.

Reading the blurb for Heart In Hiding, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this book is an excellent example of the stereotypical 1980s-vintage Mills & Boon/Harlequin. We’re presented with the classic schoolmarm-y type thrown together with the ice-cold hero with the irrevocably wounded heart. Cue the angst.

Verity, however, is no schoolmarm, but a smart, no-nonsense corporate trainer, and if Corbin comes off as just another standard-issue Harlequin alpha jackass at first, then he quickly reveals himself as a socially awkward curmudgeon. No wonder, then, that Heart In Hiding reads so much like those wonderful romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, like Palm Beach Story and His Girl Friday.

Richmond throws these two into funny but utterly believable scenarios that let them play off each other beautifully. It’s a case not so much of opposites attracting, but of two very-much-set-in-their-ways types learning to live with each other.

Sensible Verity has no idea who the “wealthy and well-known” Corbin is, and is nonplussed when it turns out she’s been hired to help him write a book based upon his experiences as a racing driver on location in France.

Everything that can go wrong does. Right out of the gate, they get lost — and quite naturally squabble — looking for the small French town where they will be staying. They arrive long after dark and inadvertently spend an amusing night in the wrong house. When they finally make it to the right house, Corbin (in a wonderful and wonderfully surprising anti-alpha way) turns out to be all thumbs on anything household or electronic, and basically tears up everything he touches. It’s Verity who takes the wheel, both figuratively and literally; one of the book’s best scenes comes when Corbin, as research for his book, ropes Verity into recreating a rally race with him. He says it’s to see what a completely clueless woman would do in such a situation, and does Verity ever show him.

This being a Harlequin, of course Verity is expected to pretend to be Corbin’s lady friend at least once. It’s to get his meddlesome mother off his back, yet another well-worn Harlequin trope. Wonder of wonders, but in this book, the trope actually makes sense. How Verity thinks she’s accomplished this is one of the book’s cutest passages, though we as readers know that by now, she and Corbin are so clearly made for each other that his mother needed no convincing. And surprisingly enough, Corbin’s mother is neither a dragon nor a snob, but an earthy, endearing character who does a lot to explain Corbin’s prickly personality.

The progression these two take from sparring partners to lovers is sweetly funny and perfectly paced. The only two sour notes the book strikes concern another Harlequin stand-by, the obligatory other woman, and the reason for Corbin’s retirement from racing. Of course Corbin’s vapid, beautiful and utterly heartless ex-wife has to turn up to create trouble and make Verity feel plain and boring. This adds little or nothing to the story. The wretched ex-wife also figures into Corbin’s retirement from racing, which could have been a richer plot point had the wife had nothing to do with it.

I thoroughly enjoyed Heart In Hiding.  I give it 4 out of 5 hairdo-destroying race helmets!

Heart In Hiding

Emma Richmond

Harlequin, 1990

Book Review/Blurb’s the Word Twofer: Beyond All Reason by Judith Duncan

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With two young sons to look out for and her vengeful ex on their trail, Kate Quinn thought the Circle S looked like the perfect place to hide out. They could build a new life, a safe life. And if love never came her way, so what? But she hadn’t counted on Tanner McCall, the intimidating half-breed who ran the ranch with an iron fist—and a closed heart. Something about Tanner got to her, making her dream of love under the stars and becoming a family at last.

Yes, you read that right — the hero of this book was just referred to as a half-breed right there in the cover blurb. Sort of surprising, considering that Beyond All Reason was published in 1993.

If you can look past that bizarrely un-p.c. blurb, Beyond All Reason is actually a pretty good category romance. Judith Duncan can almost always be relied on for a category read that’s above average, and Beyond All Reason is a good example of what makes Duncan so good: believable characters in believable stories.

That established, today’s reader may find the book dated, for two distinct-but-not-quite-separate reasons.

First, that half-breed business might seem a little over the top to modern readers, making the book less believable. Reframe the story as an historical rather than a contemporary romance, and it is a sobering picture of the prevalence of discrimination against Native Americans during the book’s time frame, especially Tanner’s 1960s-1970s childhood.

The second problem with the book is the P.O.V., or lack thereof — the whole story is told from Kate’s perspective. This heroine-only story was a throwback even by 1993 standards, and Duncan’s choice not to write anything from Tanner’s perspective is both jarring and confusing. This decision is Beyond All Reason’s biggest weakness, considering that so much is made of Tanner’s harrowing childhood.

That understood, the book is a wrenching tale of two very wounded people finding each other when they need each other most, and is worth a read.

I give Beyond All Reason 4 out of 5 ten gallon hats. I give that cover, with a decidedly Caucasian Tanner who looks nothing like Tanner is described in the book, 5 out of 5 cow patties.

Beyond All Reason

Judith Duncan

Silhouette, 1993

 


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On Regency Tropes (Plus a Review of Gentleman’s Folly by Cynthia Bailey-Pratt)

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This book’s so obscure, this is the best image I could find of the original cover.

One of the top ten lines people use when dismissing romance novels is inevitably if you’ve read one you’ve read them all. Well guess what? The same can be said of sitcoms, Sci-Fi books/movies/TV shows and even reality TV shows. Hell, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood made careers of making the same Westerns over and over.

And yet…

I do most of my romance reading in the Traditional Regency and Regency historical genres, and there are times when I just want to read something… different. No rakes, no Almack’s, no obligatory meeting in the library in the dead of night. But Carla Kelly and Elisabeth Fairchild can only write so many books, bless their hearts, which means I spend a lot of time reading synopses and gnashing my teeth, because they all sound so much the same.

Take for instance Gentleman’s Folly by Cynthia Bailey-Pratt.

Here’s the book’s synopsis, courtesy of Goodreads:

THE STUNNING STRANGER
Jocelyn Burnwell lived in the everyday world of housekeeping and looking after her rather mischievous cousins. But one day she helped save a dashing, mysterious gentleman’s life. And her world changed forever.
Who was this elusive Mr. Hammond, this master of disguise and man of a thousand unanswered questions? Jocelyn knew only that he carried with him a letter from Napoleon; she didn’t know that the fate of England depended upon Hammond–or that she was about to embark on a grand and treacherous adventure! As she left her docile life behind and set forth with this intriguing hero, she also felt a stirring in her heart–of a love without rhyme or reason….

That is the synopsis for the original 1991 Jove edition of Gentleman’s Folly. When the book was reprinted in e-book form by Regency Reads, it got a slightly different synopsis:

Jocelyn Burnwell was caring for her mischievous cousins in her domestic world when she saved a stranger’s life. Mr. Hammond turned out to be a master of disguise who had a letter from Napoleon—which could determine England’s fate. So Jocelyn set out on an adventure with this dashing, mysterious gentleman—an adventure that would change their lives.

These are the kinds of synposes that make me want to cry, composed of strings of the pernicious cliches that bedevil Traditional Regencies and Regency-set historical romances. These two examples are particularly egregious, so much so that one could be excused for assuming that Bailey-Pratt is funning us. That she’s written the ultimate farce on the Regency genre. After all, almost every Regency trope is present and accounted for, including:

Mischievous Cousins — when I see “mischievous cousin,” my mind reads irritating plot moppet. Plot moppets are the locusts of the Regency, and usually appear either  to serve as a plot device to draw H/h together or to make “kids say the darnedest things” remarks revealing wisdom beyond their years. The good news is, plot moppets most often conveniently disappear altogether for pages and pages at a time, then pop up when the plot needs them. Hate ’em.

Master of Disguise — all I despise more than a mischievous cousin is a master of disguise. Unfortunately, they’re thick on the ground in Regency romances. Cue the: A. heiress posing as a governess; B. the gently-bred lady passing as a boy for nothing more than a pair of nankeens and a bit of binding; or C. the spy posing as a fop, complete with thirty watch fobs and quizzing glass. Heiresses posing as governesses and spies as fops are one thing, but the woman-dressed-as-a-man trope takes the prize for my least favorite disguise, simply because it’s so rarely done well or believably. 

Letter From Napoleon (indicative of spy status) — if there had been as many spies at work during the Napoleonic Wars as show up in Regencies, there would be a lot fewer Regency romances, because the war would have been dispatched with posthaste.

Unless, of course, they were Regency romance spies, who are often fooled by women dressed as boys and all too willing to drop whatever intrigue they’re pursuing when they meet the heroine. Suddenly there is absolutely no urgency about their errands, and they almost always trust the heroine (almost always a stranger) implicitly from first glance. Somehow, however, they’ll manage to remember the intrigue in time to wrap it up in the last quarter of the book.

Fate of England Depends Upon (Insert Hero’s Name Here) — as common as the spy in Regency romance is the military hero or the duke-who-simply-cannot-abandon-his-responsibilities-at-home-but-contributes-to-the-war-effort-by-doling-out-Very-Important-Advice who manages to have the fate of the nation upon his broad, manly shoulders.

If he’s a military hero, you can bet that he’s Wellington’s right-hand man, or that Wellington would be nothing without him. If he’s a spy, he’s the best in the business and has the one bit of intelligence that will change the course of the whole war. If he’s a peer, then Lord Castlereagh doesn’t make a move without consulting him first.

As if having the fate of the nation on those manly shoulders were not impressive enough, these heroes are almost always to the manor born, so to speak. We’re inevitably told that military heroes bought commissions just to join in the war effort, which of course means they had no training or practical experience prior to the war. They’re just natural born leaders, understand. Likewise spies often need no more than a good French accent to glean all the information they need to save the nation — everything else is managed by sheer force of will and personality.

The Lords SuchandSuch are clearly savants one and all.  Little else can explain how they gain all this wisdom they impart to Castlereagh, considering their relative youth (they’re rarely more than a shade over 30, if that) and all that time spent dodging matchmaking mamas at Almack’s or Vauxhall Gardens. It’s a good thing they are always so humble about everything, and never but ever want anyone to know just how much Castlereagh relies on them. Otherwise they’d just be insufferable.

A Grand and Treacherous Adventure! — otherwise known as a semi-valid workaround for the constricting mores of the day.  There were few legitimate opportunities for unmarried females to be in the company of men of no familial relation during the Regency period. Young, unmarried ladies required constant supervision, you know, or else they’d forever be haring off on some Grand and Treacherous Adventure! just to have an excuse to be alone with a suitable hero.

Said Grand and Treacherous Adventure! will usually involve some combination of these elements:

1. some dire family emergency/attempt to thwart a Gretna Green marriage/on-the-lam run from an evil guardian;

2. a road trip in an overstuffed mail coach with fellow riders who assume the H/h are married and coo appropriately;

3. only one room at the inn, which means automatic compromise to the heroine’s reputation (as though disappearing off the face of the earth with a real or would-be rake wasn’t the outside of enough);

4. the inevitable shotgun wedding when the heroine’s family, oddly absent/generally uncaring during this whole Grand and Treacherous Adventure!, finds out she’s been compromised and demands she be wedded.

Points are awarded if the heroine (or a plot moppet) also does something(s) adorable but stupid which blows their cover, endangers their lives and results in them losing every last sou.

So far, it’s not looking good for Gentleman’s Folly, but something compelled me, and I pressed on.

Little in the first chapter impressed me. Before we’re five pages in, Jocelyn, our heroine, has dressed as a boy to divert the authorities from catching that mischievous cousin of hers, Arnold, who is the world’s most precocious poacher, hit a constable over the head with a gourd and generally behaved like featherbrained girl. Hammond, despite being injured in the line of spy duty, has to rescue her from a soldier who claims she pickpocketed him. Although she must needs divest herself of her cousin’s coat to rinse Hammond’s blood out before it stains (yes, you read that right) and to bandage him up (though she neglects this duty until he all but begs her to), he still never notices she’s a girl. Granted, he is busy stuffing that all-important letter from Napoleon into the lining of her coat, for reasons I’ve still yet to understand.

As Bailey-Pratt is a veritable encyclopedia of Regency cliches, throughout the course of the book, we are treated to, in no certain order:

  •  a huge cast of family members and neighbors that are sometimes hard to keep straight;
  • the snobbish, interfering local Grand Lady who is just waiting for Jocelyn to prove unseemly;
  • kindly, wonderful servants who aid and abet most of the schemes, including the housekeeper who shapes up everyone on the place;
  • a village of less than 4000 people (yes, it’s enumerated) full of spies and ne’er-do-wells;
  • a secondary romance between a beautiful but slightly dense friend and a devoted swain;
  • rank strangers who are more than glad to help this odd lot as they go about their Grand and Treacherous Adventure!;
  • more coincidences than Prinny has mistresses.

But despite all this, it works.

Yes, it works. It works beautifully. Bailey-Pratt manages to employ almost every stock element known to exist in Traditional Regency romance, and in doing so proves how some of these familiar Regency tropes became popular.

The unworldly country-bred heroine is one of the Traditional Regency’s most frequent flyers, right up there with the poor downtrodden heroine forced to live off the charity of her relations, and at first blush, Jocelyn seems no different than a hundred other similar heroines.

Then she surprised me by refusing to fall head over heels for Hammond within the first three chapters. More surprising still, when she does begin to feel a distinct stirring of feelings for the rogue, she shrugs it off as nothing more than an exciting change from the usual humdrum. Her feelings for him develop in intriguing fits and starts as he reveals himself as kind, funny and honorable.

Jocelyn is so refreshingly normal. Sometimes she’s stubborn and silly, but mostly she’s just a harried young woman left in charge of her relatives’ ramshackle household. Not only is she not Mary Poppins-esque in her complete mastery of all domestic tasks, she’s often the opposite — she lets her cousins’ rooms go to dust and moths and allows the youngest to accumulate a nice coating of dirt that she cheerfully tells him needs drowning to remove. The only fault I found with Jocelyn is that she’s often no more than a linchpin, the still point of the action that’s going on around her.

Then there’s Hammond. I almost cringed when he quickly identified himself to Jocelyn as a spy, and not only because I thought of course he trusts her implicitly, despite barely knowing her. I waited for him to prove out to be a sorry excuse for a spy, but wonder of nine days’ wonders, Hammond is indeed an actual working spy. With results both comic and exciting, he spends (or wastes, depending upon his mood) days trying to flush out the villains at work in Jocelyn’s village and get back the famous coat and the letter inside.

It soon becomes obvious that he revealed himself to Jocelyn just to play upon her youth and trusting nature, something he’s not above doing several times in the book. He’s also not above letting someone else come to her rescue if he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s got a job to do, and if he just so happens to encounter Jocelyn as he does it, great. If not, she’ll just have to wait. And he really is a master of disguise — Bailey-Pratt’s descriptions of the subtle ways he changes his appearance are delightful.

If it sounds like Hammond’s a first-rate cur, trust me, he’s not. He never gets anywhere near compromising Jocelyn, but neither does he always try to exclude her from the action Because She’s a Female and Must Be Kept Safe. By the end of the book, even I was believing him as the Spy That All Other Spies Admire and Wish to Be.

Which brings us to the plot moppet, Arnold. He’s the most wonderful awful boy, sort of a cross between Opie Taylor and Dennis the Menace, always up to no good. But it’s no wonder — poor kid’s being raised by wolves who routinely leave him with Jocelyn and a rotating cast of housekeepers who leave within hours or days. He lies, he carouses, he wants candy. Jocelyn no longer dreams of having children of her own for fear they will be like Arnold, and Hammond sums him up best by saying that while he can appreciate Arnold, he’d rather not have one just like him, since he likes sleeping at night.

Even the lesser cliches are employed with the utmost care. The Grand Lady really isn’t that bad — she’s nursing a surprising tendre is all. Not all the coincidences are quite so coincidental, after all, when it’s all wrapped up at the end. And if everyone this ragtag bunch meets on their Grand and Treacherous Adventure! is shockingly helpful, then it’s likely because they, like us as readers, just seem to be enjoying these characters so much.

So why does a book, built as it is like a house of Regency pattern cards, work so well? Bailey-Pratt uses these tropes as touchstones, rather than let them do the work of creating characters and plot.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the cliches that Bailey-Pratt and so many others use in Regency romance. They are no more cliched, in fact, than any other romance novel cliches. If we automatically roll our eyes when we see these stock elements in a Regency novel, then it’s because we’ve so often seen them abused.

Well-worn tropes are the lazy author’s best friend, the writing equivalent of a paint-by-numbers kit. By using stock characters like the rake, the country-bred ingenue, the foppish dandy and the matchmaking mama, the author bypasses the difficult job of character development. We all recognize these characters, and have a mental picture of them ready to slot in to the author’s space. Framing the story around familiar plot points and situations achieves the same goal. 

Trust that I am not damning Cynthia Bailey-Pratt and Gentleman’s Folly with faint praise, because this is a book I have returned to time and again, though I still don’t know why. I give Gentleman’s Folly 5 stolen kisses, Hammond 5 hats to employ in various guises, and Arnold 5 pieces of lint-and-dust-free candy. 

One last thing about Gentleman’s Folly:

I have absolutely no idea how I came to have this book on my old Aluratek e-reader, but it’s been there three years or more. It wasn’t recommended to me. I didn’t find out about it from a review, because the only review I could find when I wrote this was one I posted at Amazon.  I didn’t buy it from Amazon, either, or it would be on my Kindle. It’s a mystery to me.

Also — no apparent reason for this book to be titled Gentleman’s Folly, and can someone please help me understand why so many books I love have awful covers? The only element in the original cover for this book that has anything at all to do with the story is the cane the erstwhile Hammond is holding.

Gentleman’s Folly

Cynthia Bailey-Pratt

199 pages

Jove (1991); Belgrave House/Regency Reads (October 12, 2010)

Like Traditional Regencies, sweeting? Try these:

Marriage of Mercy by Carla Kelly

The Country Gentleman by Fiona Hill


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Shadow Lover by Anne Stuart

A new Anne Stuart book, even a re-issue, is always cause for celebration for me. Anne Stuart is one of the authors who inducted me into romance, so to speak, and years later, she’s still one of my favorite authors. 

So when I got a chance to review the ebook re-issue of Shadow Lover courtesy of NetGalley, I couldn’t wait to dig in. Here’s the synopsis, courtesy of Amazon:

Victim. Lover. Both? His dark game is seducing her– just as it was when they were young.

How can he still have that power over her? Eighteen years ago, she saw him die.

Wealthy, selfish, and greedy, the McDowell family raised Carolyn McDowell–a foster child–like a modern Cinderella. Neglected and ignored, good-hearted Carolyn adored scion Alexander despite it all, though even he tormented her.

When Alex ran away one night, Carolyn followed and witnessed his murder, though she never told anyone. Her beloved Alex died when he was seventeen. There was no doubt.

Eighteen years later, Carolyn returns to the decadent milieu of the McDowell clan to care for her dying foster mother, Sally. As greedy relatives gather to claim their inheritances, a stunning stranger arrives, claiming to be Alexander. To Carolyn’s utter shock, Sally greets her “son” without question, and no one but Carolyn believes he’s a fraud.

As she delves into the mysteries of both the past and present, Carolyn quickly realizes that the resurrected Alex is a dangerous combination of seduction and power. Is this stranger after the McDowell fortune, or is he really, somehow, the Alex of old, come back to claim her? How can he be an imposter and yet know family secrets only the real Alex would remember? Was someone helping him?

What would you do if the boy you loved returned almost twenty years later, and you fell in love with him all over again–even if you were sure it couldn’t be him?

What a premise. Very similar to Mary Stewart’s classic, The Ivy Treeand ripe with possibilities. 

Caution: Spoilers Ahead

Maybe recognizing the premise of this book as so similar to The Ivy Tree set the bar impossibly high, but somehow Shadow Lover just fell flat for me.

As with The Ivy Tree, I figured out the secret to Alex’s identity fairly early on, but that in no way detracted from the mystery of the book. The bigger mystery, you see, is just who Alex and Carolyn are, anyway, because neither are exactly what or who they seem. 

That mystery should have been the crux of the book, but Stuart instead dispenses with those mysteries about two-thirds through the book. The mystery of Alex and Carolyn’s identities should have formed the basis for both their motivations and the motivation of the villains, but instead, we have a muddle of unclear or confused motives and a denouement that is unsatisfying at best.

Stuart can usually redeem even a hackneyed plot with her characters, but that doesn’t happen with Shadow Lover. She’s known more for her heroes than for her heroines, but Carolyn was unmemorable to the point of being a non-entity — I just couldn’t get a grasp on her at all. She comes off as either dumb as a box of rocks or just bland at best, and the bombshell that’s dropped about her identity seemed less important to her than lusting after Alex and hating herself for it.

Speaking of Alex, in Stuart’s rogues gallery of mad, bad and dangerous to know anti-heroes, Alex is near the bottom. He’s not as dull as Carolyn, but his actions make little to no sense half the time. When he’s told about a major secret in his own past, he shrugs it off or conveniently uses it to move the plot along, depending upon his mood.

There was still time to save this book, however. I kept thinking of Now You See Him, another of Stuart’s books, and how that book, featuring a similarly bland heroine and another (much, much better) mysterious hero was redeemed by the interactions between the two. Francy was a bit of a bore, and Michael was, by virtue of the book’s plot, hard to get a handle on, but sparks flew in their love scenes or even when they spoke on the phone. I kept waiting for that to happen with Alex and Carolyn, to no avail. They had zero chemistry together.

And finally, the book’s biggest problem is the villain, or, more succinctly, lack thereof. The villain’s actions are never explained well enough for you to believe why he/she would go to such lengths. He/she simply didn’t have enough to lose to take the risks, and didn’t gain enough, either. Puzzling that Stuart chose this particular villain, because creating a believable villain within the framework of this story would have been so, so easy. 

Shadow Lover gets 2 strange phone calls out of five. Truthfully, it only gets two because it’s ANNE STUART, and I cannot bear to knock it down to one.

I find it hard to believe that I have just written a bad review of an Anne Stuart book. Here’s hoping I never, ever have to do that again.

Shadow Lover

Anne Stuart

Onyx, 1999 / Belle Bridge Books 2013 (ebook)

Sound like something you’d be interested in, sweet thing? Try these:

The Ivy Tree/Mary Stewart

Ritual Sins/Anne Stuart


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Review: The Bath Eccentric’s Son by Amanda Scott

Book Synopsis:

Beautiful Nell Bradbourne lost her family estate to her distant cousin Jarvis. Now that pernicious and persistent gentleman sought to possess her as well, and to escape this unwanted wedlock, Nell fled to Bath.

But instead of safety Nell found herself in the embrace of scandal, as the handsome and rakish Brandon Manningford decided that only she could save him from ruin by giving him her hand and everything else she owned.

Nell was caught between a ruthless scoundrel and a shameless libertine–one who had stolen her birthright, while the other was shockingly stealing her heart…

A Traditional Regency in the Georgette Heyer vein, The Bath Eccentric’s Son never slows down — it’s one thing right after the other, from attempted kidnapping to a visit from Prinny to a daring showdown at a gentleman’s club.

It’s fascinating just to see how perfectly Scott hews to the Heyer pattern card — from the spot-on use of Regency-era slang to the historical detail about the city of Bath, if Scott’s name wasn’t on the cover, you’d think you were reading one of Heyer’s lesser novels.

Nothing’s as it seems in Bath, from the titular Bath Eccentric to the authorship of popular gothic romances to the city itself.  The Bath Eccentric’s Son is as much about the city of Bath as about the characters, and Scott explodes long-forgotten details about the city in a way that underscores the book’s action, using the feathers and sticks used to paint walls to mimic marble, the false-fronted buildings backing up filthy alleys, and the streets hardly wide enough for the carriages as a mirror for her characters’ deceptions and desperation.

Readers expecting red-hot romance should be forewarned — The Bath Eccentric’s Son is a true Traditional Regency, which means the love scenes between leads Nell and Brandon are more slow-burn than fireworks. But if the book’s more interesting for its descriptions of Bath and Gothic romances of the Regency era than for the romance, it’s still a fun read.

I give The Bath Eccentric’s Son 4 out of 5 poke bonnets. Give it a try!

The Bath Eccentric’s Son

Amanda Scott

Paperback, 224 pages

Published February 1st 1992 by Signet/2013 Ebook


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Book Review: With This Curse by Amanda DeWees

There’s a curse at work here, all right. The kind that makes a book impossible to put down.

It’s no secret that I love a true Gothic romance better than almost any other romance genre, but the problem is finding new ones to read — discovering a well-written Gothic published since Gerald Ford was in office is almost impossible.

And then there was Amanda DeWees, who has, in the course of just two years, managed to publish not one but two wonderful Gothics. I considered the first, Sea of Secretsa revelation. Her latest, With This Curse, is even better.

Without further ado, here’s the synopsis, courtesy of DeWees’ website:

In 1854, seventeen-year-old chambermaid Clara Crofton was dismissed from Gravesend Hall for having fallen in love with Richard Blackwood, the younger son of the house. Alone in the world, Clara found a tenuous position as a seamstress, but she always blamed the Gravesend curse for the disaster that had befallen her—and for Richard’s death soon after in the Crimean War.

A proposal…

Now, more than eighteen years later, Richard’s twin, Atticus, seeks out Clara with a strange proposal: if she will marry him and live with him as his wife in name only to ease the mind of his dying father, Atticus will then endow her with a comfortable income for the rest of her life. Clara knows that he is not disclosing his true motives, but when she runs out of options for an independent life, she has no choice but to become Atticus’s wife.

A deception…

For Clara, returning to Gravesend as a bride brings some triumph… but also great unease. Not only must she pretend to be a wellborn lady and devoted wife to a man whose face is a constant reminder of the love she lost, but ominous portents whisper that her masquerade brings grave danger. “This house will take from you what you most treasure,” her mother once warned her. But the curse has already taken the man Clara loved. Will it now demand her life?

As I was reading With This Curse, I thought over and over of how Dean James of Mystery Scene summed up the death of the 1970s Gothic Revival:

A fair number of [1970s-era Gothics] featured dimwitted heroines who went into that proverbial dark room at the head of the stairs with no thought to the danger within, and if they had been murdered, well, it would have been little more than they deserved.

I thought of that observation not because Clara is dimwitted, but because it crystallized the secret to With This Curse’s success — making the danger Clara faces real.

Just as I raved of Oriel from Sea of Secrets, Clara is a rare worthy successor to that grandmother of all Gothic heroines, Jane Eyre. We still talk about and read Jane Eyre today because Charlotte Bronte created a heroine that didn’t blunder into the proverbial dark room with no thought to danger, but because she was pushed into it.  Every time she steps into the dark room — becoming a governess at a house with a bad reputation, marrying Rochester, running away from Rochester — it’s because of the limited choices available to her as an impoverished, unmarried woman. That’s the horror of Jane Eyre. 

That’s also why With This Curse works so well. The book is so well-grounded in the setting — mid-Victorian England — that it’s easy to understand why Clara, too, goes to the dark room by agreeing to marry Atticus and return to a house where she has known little but unhappiness. So few so-called historical romances truly make the reader understand the limitations women faced in less enlightened eras — probably because we wouldn’t read them if they did — that when these limitations are used to create real drama in the plot, it’s surprising and refreshing.

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

It’s not just Clara’s plight that DeWees employs to create the almost stifling sense of doom that pervades the book. DeWees ratchets up the mystery in the book by imbuing the commonplace with portent. DeWees proves that you don’t need mummies rattling chains to make a horror story — Victorian England is scary enough.

Women who stray from the straight and narrow come to terrible ends. Children are mistreated as a matter of course. The hero’s congenital physical imperfection is seen as a mark of a curse, as is an ancestor’s madness. Atticus’ cretin of a father, in keeping with the ghoulish-to-us Victorian obsession with mourning, collects death masks. Neither the mystery that’s at the heart of the story or the other weird happenings that create a spooky atmosphere are supernatural; rather, they are horrible for how natural they are, how easily they could happen during the Victorian era.   

Which is not to say that With This Curse is a joyless slog. As with any DeWees book, you are treated to beautifully written prose, excellent plotting and great characterization.

Clara is prickly, but in the best way possible, and like Jane Eyre, is witty and perfect in her imperfections. She’s a little older and wiser than most Gothic heroines, which makes her even more fun to read. Atticus quickly became one of my favorite Gothic heroes. He’s one of few heroes in the genre who is genuinely funny, kind and delightful, even as he struggles with the ghosts that haunt Gravesend Hall. Not Scooby Doo ghosts, mind you, but the real ghosts that haunt any home — memories and long-standing family dynamics that can stir up more trouble than a whole passel of the bedsheet variety of ghosts.

The romance that develops between Atticus and Clara is believable and touching; they complement each other so well, with Clara’s dryness the perfect foil to Atticus’ sweet vulnerability. They are both misfits, in their own ways, and it’s easy to see how these two are drawn together, and you are really rooting for their HEA.

I should end this review right here, but I can’t without mentioning Clara’s career as a seamstress for a famous stage actress. The brief foray we’re given into the Victorian theater world is fascinating, and for someone who could usually care less about suchlike stuff, the descriptions of the dresses are so engrossing — you owe it to yourself to visit DeWees’ Pinterest page to get an idea of Clara’s work.

I give With This Curse 5 out of 5 creepy death masks. Atticus gets 5 jaunty walking sticks, while Clara gets 5 dresses of her own design, sewn by someone else!

Enough of my yammering. Just read With This Curse already. But make sure you have several hours to kill, or don’t have anything to do tomorrow, because you won’t be able to put it down.

With This Curse

Amanda DeWees

Published 2014

Available at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And when you’re done, read Sea of Secrets if you haven’t already!


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Good Idea Wasted: Secondary Romances That Steal the Spotlight

Ooh-la-la!

I’m a list-keeper by nature, but one list I hate to have to add things to is the one called “Great Ideas, Terrible Execution.”

Nothing frustrates me more than a romance novel with a fascinating premise that just falls flat, unless it’s one with characters that have been sorely wasted on the story they’ve been given.

I’ve recently had reason to add a sub-list to this list: “Secondary Characters Who Deserved Better.” Or, in the case of two back-to-back reads, “Secondary Romances More Interesting Than the Primary Love Interests.”

Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of secondary romances, especially in Traditional Regencies, where page counts are stingy enough without depriving the romantic leads of more time together. But the secondary romance is tricky in any genre — it’s got to somehow further the plot of the book as a whole and be compelling enough that readers are not tempted to skip those pages just to get back to the primary couple.

The secondary romance should not, surely, make you wish you could do away with the two leads altogether, but I’ve just read two Traditional Regencies that featured secondary romances that were the only reasons I finished the books.

In the first, A Change of Heart by Candice Hern, the primary romance is between fortune hunter Jack Raeburn, Marquess of Pemerton, and Lady Mary Haviland, a wealthy heiress who’s decided on a life of spinsterhood after a terrible childhood at the hands of her father. It’s a fine story, but nothing to write home about.

I found the secondary romance between Lady Mary’s paid companion, Olivia, and Jack’s uncle Edward, a middle-aged rake, to be far more intriguing than Mary and Jack’s romance. Olivia is a widow who still thinks often — and fondly — about her husband, while Edward is the mold Jack cast himself in when embarking upon a life of whoring, gambling and gallivanting.

Unfortunately Olivia and Edward are given far too little page time for theirs to develop into an unforgettable story, but I found myself thinking about these two when I should have been paying more attention to Mary and Jack. Paid companions and rakes are both thick on the ground in Traditional Regencies, but rarely do we get a paid companion who’s not downtrodden nobility and/or quite new to the profession (i.e., she’s not forced to work long before she’s rescued by the hero). Nor do you often see a rake who hasn’t been reformed before or shortly after the age of thirty.

Now imagine the possibilities: a rake who is past his prime, perhaps tiring of his libertine existence, falling for an attractive lady’s companion of a certain age. This eliminates so many of the tropes we’ve come to associate with the reformed rake — needs to marry to secure the succession, is forced into marriage because he’s compromised some young debutante, or, my favorite (and one that appears with alarming frequency in Traditional Regencies), the Daddy Long-Legs scenario where the rake just this side of thirty ends up as guardian to a girl in her first season, and that somehow ends in marriage. And now we have a much more interesting character and scenario: a rake who chooses to reform to be worthy of someone of lower social status than he.

And what about our paid companion? Think of all the alternate histories she could have, when she no longer has to be either nobility or married off to the hero before she turns 25 or so. Maybe she’s the illegitimate child of a family member of the lady who employs her. Maybe she, like Olivia, is a widow, but followed the drum and lost her husband in the war. Or maybe she’s secretly writing witty observations about the activities of the ton from an outsider’s perspective that are selling like hotcakes — especially the things she writes about our hero, the rake — but has to keep her newfound fortune hidden if she wants to continue as a lady’s companion and therefore maintain access to the ton.

I had hardly recovered from all the adventures I was imagining for Olivia and Edward when I started Polly and the Prince by Carola Dunn. In this book, the primary romance is between the titular Polly, an absent-minded artist of gentle-though-not-noble birth and Kolya, a Russian prince who’s been exiled by the tsar.

All that’s worse than a book that leaves you thinking about “could haves” and “should haves” for two secondary characters is a book that totally destroys whatever goodwill you might have felt toward the two main characters by showing them so poorly next to the secondary characters. Thus is the case with Polly and the Prince. 

Polly and the Prince comes off as a comedy of errors — not for the plot, but for all the chances to make a great book that Dunn let pass her by. This might be the first book I’ve ever read that would mishandle a dozen plot lines that would have made much better stories. Dunn introduces wonderful ideas, like Kolya’s father risking the tsar’s wrath to get money to him, Kolya’s finding a place in the Prince’s household at Brighton and a plot to bomb Prinny’s pavilion in Brighton, but dismisses them in a few sentences or lets them fizzle. Instead we get Kolya bumming around the country speaking broken English and basically mooching off his friends, while Polly is doing well to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Kolya and Polly’s shortcomings only become that much more obvious when Dunn introduces the secondary romance between Polly’s brother, Will, a steward to a duke, and Lady Sylvia, a widow who commissions Polly to paint portraits of her daughters.

Reading Will and Sylvia’s story is almost like reading another book entirely. You expect the primary romance to be all angst and gravitas, while the secondary romance serves as a lighthearted diversion, but not so here — Will establishes himself early on as the long-suffering older brother who’s tasked with providing for his mother, sister and brother, while Sylvia has secluded herself and her two daughters far from her disapproving family. There are also hints that Sylvia’s husband was abusive.

The more you see of Will and Sylvia, the less you want to see of Kolya and Polly, and the worst part is, you begin to suspect that Dunn felt the same way. The scenes between Will and Sylvia — and even Sylvia’s almost plot-moppety daughters — are far more touching and believable than those between Polly and Kolya. Most of their page time comes toward the end of the book, where things should be heading toward a climax for Polly and Kolya. Instead, the action swings back to Will and Sylvia, breaking whatever (little) tension there was for Polly and Kolya.

As though it were not enough that the stakes somehow seem higher for Will and Sylvia already, Dunn lets both Kolya and Will save the day in key scenes, but Will’s scene — and its resolution — totally steals the thunder from Kolya’s, by virtue of being, again, more touching and believable.

But it gets worse! Turns out that Polly and the Prince is one of a series of books, which makes Dunn’s decision to tie up Will and Sylvia’s romance by the end of the book completely mystifying. As it stands, their romance was so rushed that without a few key scenes, it could have picked up seamlessly in the next book.

When I think of the opportunities Dunn missed to expand on all the themes that made Will and Sylvia’s relationship so intriguing, I want to throw my Kindle across the room. Dedicated family man meets woman estranged from family, noble, wealthy lady falls for land steward, Sylvia learning to trust again after her disastrous marriage, Will becoming a stepfather… I could go on and on.

All that considered, my opinion of secondary romances has not changed. If anything I’m more frustrated than before, but at least I have a page full of additions to my “great ideas that need to be addressed” list.

It may be time to write that Traditional Regency already.

A Change of Heart

by: Candice Hern

Traditional Regency

224 pages

Signet 1995/Self-Published Ebook/Paperback 2012

Polly and the Prince

by Carola Dunn

Traditional Regency

331 pages

Thorndike Press 2005/ Belgrave House-Regency Reads 2010

Want to read more Regency, less secondary romance drama? Check out:

Susanna and the Spy by Anna Elliott


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Review: Suspicious Hearts by Julie Tetel Andresen

Sometimes a book is intriguing both for the story it tells and for the story of the book itself.  That’s the case with Julie Tetel Andresen’s Suspicious Hearts, an interesting historical romance with a checkered past. 

First, the synopsis, courtesy of Amazon:

Richard Worth wishes to reclaim his place in Society, and he does so by offering for the hand of the well-born but penniless Caroline Hutton. The eve of their marriage is shadowed by a brutal murder in which both of them are surprisingly implicated.

Hmm. Surely we can do better than that.

Richard Worth wishes to reclaim his place in Society: That’s Colonel Worth to you, a nobleman who has served under Marlborough. So why’s he back in London, now, in 1714?

He was not about to recount how it had been those few months ago, stationed at Antwerp, that he woke up one morning and said, “No more.” That was all. No more. No more would the smell of boiled beans and blood and burnt powder fill his nose. No more would the sound of the drum and enemy fire ring in his ears. No more would he awaken to the chill of his spine on hard earth at raw dawn. He wanted no more recruits, no more bounties, no more victories, no more deaths.

“I was bored,” he said…

I like Colonel Worth already, and it’s only approximately page three. Andresen gets men; her Colonel Worth thinks like a man and behaves like a man, even when doing so is a deviation from the usual romantic hero script, and the result is a book — and a hero — that are a bit different than what we’re used to.

He does so by offering for the hand of the penniless but well-born Caroline Hutton: Guess what? Colonel Worth left for the army in disgrace.  For once, it’s a real humdinger of a disgrace, but I’ll leave you to find that out yourself. Obviously no self-respecting woman will look at him twice, so, as he tells his great good friend the Duke of Desford, he’s looking for:

“a woman of the highest possible birth and the greatest need to be married… although her case does not have to be desperate, she must be poor enough to have reason to entertain an offer from me.” His voice did not falter over the words… “what I want from you is a list of such eligible women…”

He does get a list, and he does consider them all just like he’s buying a horse. Caroline included.

Poor Caroline.  Her father managed to gamble away every farthing before dying, some farmer back home in the country tried to get past second base with her and slandered her name when she refused him, she’s stuck in the city with her awful aunt, and on top of all this, she’s plain.

But she’s also clever and funny and wonderful. At a ball where she has become convinced that a certain young man intends to offer for her, she considers that:

…one need only to be desired by one to become desirable to many… invitations to dance flowed to her unprayed for. She learned how hungry was her unfed heart. She learned to accept a pretty compliment without a blush. She learned to be cruel. She learned, in short, to enjoy the London Assembly.

It is at this Assembly that Caroline and Worth meet, and sparks fly, though neither acknowledges it or recognizes it for attraction.

The eve of their marriage is shadowed by a brutal murder in which both of them are surprisingly implicated: Um, not exactly. The murder of Caroline’s erstwhile swain happens only moments after her dance with Worth at the Assembly, precipitating rather than shadowing the marriage, and taking the book even farther off the ordinary historical romance trajectory than it was to begin with.

From this point, all Suspicious Hearts lacks to make it a Gothic romance is a brooding castle or half-ruined estate. All the other elements are there, from the desperate heroine, vaguely menacing hero, dark secrets to murder. The murder mystery is supremely well-plotted, for a book that’s primarily romance — I love it when I can figure out fairly early on who the guilty parties are, but can’t figure out the motive or how it all comes together. Suspicious Hearts delivers this in spades.

Andresen also does a great job of using the murder to develop the relationship between Caroline and Worth. It’s a special breed of writer who can write characters who are genuinely wary of each other yet possessed of a sparkling chemistry, and that’s the case with these two. Over the course of the book, they both reveal themselves to each other layer by layer, finally recognizing that they are perfect for one another. It makes for a very satisfying HEA.

One of the best scenes in the book takes place just after Caroline has accepted Worth’s truly insulting offer of marriage. Her aunt — a havey-cavey sort, that one — is none too pleased with this development, and the two women are fussing when Worth appears at the aunt’s house. Here’s how it goes:

he crossed to his bride-to-be, and took her in his arms, thereby deploying the strongest weapon of offensive warfare.

Wholly surprised, caught off guard, Caroline had no defenses and so submitted, unresisting, to this possessive and passionate embrace. 

Speaking against her lips, so softly that only Caroline could hear, he commanded, “Return my kiss.”

This scene demonstrates some of what I’d call the history of this book. If the prose above seems just a tad purple, it is. Just like much of the dialogue is almost stiff. Though it’s sometimes distracting, at first, it becomes obvious early on that like the Gothic trappings employed by the author, it’s a stylistic choice — the Gothics Andresen seems to be invoking are the very first ones, written at the end of the Georgian era.

Having read a few more of Andresen’s books set in different time periods (including one set in the 1950s that I do intend to review sometime soon), I suspect that Andresen writes to the time period — i.e. she is writing a Georgian-era book in a style that evokes Georgian-era prose. This can be jarring — or more often, just boring — for the modern reader, but nine times out of ten when you see it, it’s a sure sign that the writer is immersed in the history of the period, and therefore writing with uncommon veracity. You don’t see this very often in modern historical romance, but it was once quite common, especially in Traditional Regencies and historical Gothics. Traditional Regency authors such as Sheila Simonson  and Mary Balogh seem to be following Georgette Heyer’s lead, by doing this, while historical Gothic authors like Barbara Michaels and Victoria Holt seemed to be hearkening back to that classic of the genre, Jane Eyre. Another prime example is R.F. Delderfield’s Swann family saga, which was written very like the Victorian and Edwardian-era novels of the period in which the books are set.

Remember how I said this book had a checkered past? Turns out that Suspicious Hearts is a re-titled reissue of a 1992 Harlequin Historical titled Sweet Suspicions. Andresen was just Julie Tetel back then, too. As if the title Sweet Suspicions were not absurd enough, for a book of this caliber, the blurb Harlequin came up with is even worse than the skeleton blurb I exploded above :

Mystery, Marriage…and Murder

Though tainted with scandal, Colonel Richard Worth radiated a rough-hewn attractiveness that was hard to ignore. He had saved Caroline from ruin, and for that, she owed him her loyalty, but how could she build a life with a man who walked amidst whispers of murder-past and present?

Caroline Hutton was a woman of contradictions: proper yet passionate; forthright yet full of secrets. Once the unlikeliest of debutantes, she was now the most likely of marriage candidates-and Richard’s key to both titled society and untold desire. But what was her connection with the brutal murder that had taken place beneath their very noses?

Hmm.

The best part of this book’s checkered past? The Hideous Romance Novel Cover (TM) it was originally published with:

Is it just me, or does Caroline look a little spacey?

But anyway, a rose by any other name and all that. I give Suspicious Hearts 5 out of 5 passionate embraces. That jackal Worth gets 5 kisses returned with undeniable ardor.

Do make time for Suspicious Hearts. I think you’ll have to get it at Amazon, so here’s how:

 

Suspicious Hearts –Julie Tetel Andresen

Is this what you like, honey-pie? Then try these books:

Susanna and the Spy — Anna Elliott

Lady Elizabeth’s Comet — Sheila Simonson