Book Review: On the Way to the Wedding (Bridgertons, #8) by Julia Quinn

Title: On the Way to the Wedding (Bridgertons, #8)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2006
Length: 371 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A funny thing happened …

Unlike most men of his acquaintance, Gregory Bridgerton believes in true love. And he is convinced that when he finds the woman of his dreams, he will know in an instant that she is the one. And that is exactly what happened. Except …

She wasn’t the one. In fact, the ravishing Miss Hermione Watson is in love with another. But her best friend, the ever-practical Lady Lucinda Abernathy, wants to save Hermione from a disastrous alliance, so she offers to help Gregory win her over. But in the process, Lucy falls in love. With Gregory! Except …

Lucy is engaged. And her uncle is not inclined to let her back out of the betrothal, even once Gregory comes to his senses and realizes that it is Lucy, with her sharp wit and sunny smile, who makes his heart sing. And now, on the way to the wedding, Gregory must risk everything to ensure that when it comes time to kiss the bride, he is the only man standing at the altar …

Another plane trip, another Bridgertons book… and this time, I’m done! I’ve now read all 8 books in the series, each one devoted to one of the Bridgerton siblings. This time around, it’s Gregory’s turn. Gregory is the 2nd youngest, and the youngest of the male Bridgerton’s. It’s about time for him to get his happily ever after, even though, once again, it’s disconcerting to read a romance about a character who looks like this per the TV series:

Never fear; In On the Way to the Wedding, Gregory is all grown up at age 26, but lacks a firm direction in his life. What he does know for sure is that he believes in love, even though he has yet to experience it himself. His own parents married for love, and he’s seen each of his seven siblings blissfully married off to the person they love as well. With that kind of family history, how could he settle for anything else?

Unfortunately, Gregory doesn’t really understand the difference between love and infatuation, so when he catches a sight of the gorgeous Hermione Watson at his sister-in-law’s house party, he’s instantly smitten and feel certain that Hermione is his destiny. Hermione, though, is absolutely bored to tears by the nonstop parade of men falling all over her. Her best friend, Lady Lucinda Abernathy, is used to running interference, and she steps in to divert Gregory from making a complete arse of himself.

All sorts of hijinks ensue, and before long, Gregory comes to his senses and realizes that the pragmatic, smart, funny Lucy is really the woman of his dreams. But there are complications, of course, leading eventually to a mad dash across London to try to stop her from marrying another man.

I don’t feel that I got a really good grasp of Gregory and Lucy as individuals, but maybe I just have Bridgerton fatigue and they’re all starting to blur together in my mind. I enjoyed the story, especially the dramatics that explode with an interrupted wedding, a case of blackmail, and a daring rescue… but I don’t think this book will stick with me the way some of the earlier Bridgerton stories will.

Once again, the plot is brightened by appearances of other Bridgertons, but those are few and far between (although author Julia Quinn really is superb at making the most of their brief cameos).

And finally, I’ve finished all the Bridgerton books! Eight siblings, all happily married! It’s a satisfying ending for an engaging romance series. And now I need season 2 on Netflix!

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Book Review: It’s In His Kiss (Bridgertons, #7) by Julia Quinn

Title: It’s In His Kiss (Bridgertons, #7)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2005
Length: 407 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

IF IT’S IN HIS HEART… IT’S IN HIS KISS

MEET OUR HERO…

Gareth St. Clair is in a bind. His father, who detests him, is determined to beggar the St. Clair estates and ruin his inheritance. Gareth’s sole bequest is an old family diary, which may or may not contain the secrets of his past… and the key to his future. The problem is—it’s written in Italian, of which Gareth speaks not a word.

MEET OUR HEROINE…

All the ton agreed: there was no one quite like Hyacinth Bridgerton. She’s fiendishly smart, devilishly outspoken, and according to Gareth, probably best in small doses. But there’s something about her—something charming and vexing—that grabs him and won’t quite let go…

MEET POOR MR. MOZART…

Or don’t. But rest assured, he’s spinning in his grave when Gareth and Hyacinth cross paths at the annual—and annually discordant—Smythe-Smith musicale. To Hyacinth, Gareth’s every word seems a dare, and she offers to translate his diary, even though her Italian is slightly less than perfect. But as they delve into the mysterious text, they discover that the answers they seek lie not in the diary, but in each other… and that there is nothing as simple—or as complicated—as a single, perfect kiss.

I had yet another airplane flight this week, and so I turned to yet another Bridgerton book for company. Book #7, It’s In His Kiss, jumps ahead to the 8th and youngest of the Bridgerton offspring, Hyacinth, who is 22 years old when the story opens. It’s her 4th season out in society, she’s had six unsuitable proposals in her previous three season, and while she’s not on the shelf yet, that moment isn’t quite as far away as it once was. Is is because Hyacinth is too picky, or is it because she’s too opinionated and outspoken, not willing to play the shy maiden? Whatever the reason, Hyacinth both really wants to find a husband and doesn’t want to relinquish her ability to think and make her own decisions — not a combination that typically leads to romantic bliss.

(Of course, it’s a little challenging for me to picture Hyacinth as old enough to be married, since we saw her on the Netflix series looking like this:)

Hyancinth – the early years

Hyacinth is devoted to Lady Danbury, the elderly woman who rules society with her imperiousness and the stomping of her cane, and the two have a weekly visit during which Hyacinth reads aloud from the latest melodramatic pulp novel.

Lady Danbury’s grandson is Gareth St. Clair, a notorious rake known for his irresponsible ways and a string of opera singer mistresses, as well as for never, ever courting a young lady from the ton. Gareth has been estranged from his harsh, domineering father for ten years, and his father seems determined to run the family wealth into the ground, especially now that Gareth’s older brother, the presumed heir, has died at a young age, leaving Gareth to inherit the family title and holdings.

When Gareth comes into possession of his paternal grandmother’s diary, written in her native Italian, he needs a translator, and fortunately, Hyacinth is proficient in the language. They agree that she’ll work on a translation, and as they check in on the progress, the two become increasingly attracted to one another. Through the translation, Hyacinth learns that the grandmother was very unhappy in her marriage and that she had a secret — a trove of jewels that she brought with her from Italy and hid somewhere in Clair House. As far as Gareth knows, no one else is even aware that the jewels exist, but they could be the answer to the debt Gareth seems destined to inherit.

As in the other Bridgerton books, there’s some delicious flirtation and chemistry between the two main characters, as they’re thrust together repeatedly. There are shenanigans and near-disasters, as Hyacinth refuses to sit home demurely when there’s adventure afoot, and she repeatedly drives Gareth to distraction by taking risks with her safety and her reputation in order to help him on his quest.

Between the more light-hearted escapades, there are also weightier moments, told through Gareth’s perspective, as he struggles with his social status, his father’s animosity, and a secret that could deprive him of everything he hopes for, including Hyacinth’s regard.

It’s In His Kiss is a fun outing in the world of the Bridgerton clan, although I do with we’d had more glimpses of the rest of the family. Daphne, Anthony, and Penelope make brief appearances, Lady Violet is a more active and present character, and the rest, while mentioned, are all offstage.

I did really enjoy this book, as I have the other books in the series, but of course, there are some elements that feel a bit cringe-inducing.

She might not have said yes, but she didn’t say no.

Granted, explicit verbal consent wasn’t a thing in the 19th century, but reading this through today’s lens make me uncomfortable.

Additionally, Gareth is so afraid that Hyacinth will call off their engagement if she hears certain things about him that he realizes his best option is to seduce her. She’s clearly interested and responsive to him physically, but again, the idea that he’s going to deliberately set out to “ruin” her so she’ll have no choice about marriage makes me very unhappy — even though the sex is definitely consensual when it finally happens.

Still, Gareth and Hyacinth share a knack for banter and humor that keeps this book on the lighter side:

Gareth thought his head might explode. “Good God, woman, have you been listening to anything I’ve said?”

“Of course I have. I have four older brothers. I can recognize a supercilious, pontificating male when I see one.”

Surprisingly, there seems to be more time spent on Gareth and his POV than Hyacinth, but still, the book works, and is a fun addition to the overarching Bridgerton storyline. And as I’ve learned, I can always count on a Bridgerton book for some good, engaging, but not too heavy travel reading.

Will I continue with the Bridgertons? Well, of course!

That’s seven Bridgerton children happily married, one more to go!

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Book Review: When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons, #6) by Julia Quinn

Title: When He Was Wicked (Bridgertons, #6)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2004
Length: 426 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In every life there is a turning point . . .

A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one’s life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, London’s most infamous rake, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton.

After a lifetime of chasing women, of smiling slyly as they chased him, of allowing himself to be caught but never permitting his heart to become engaged, he took one look at Francesca Bridgerton and fell so fast and hard into love it was a wonder he managed to remain standing. Unfortunately for Michael, however, Francesca’s surname was to remain Bridgerton for only a mere thirty-six hours longer—the occasion of their meeting was, lamentably, a supper celebrating her imminent wedding to his cousin.

But that was then . . . Now Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, but still she thinks of him as nothing other than her dear friend and confidant. Michael dares not speak to her of his love . . . until one dangerous night, when she steps innocently into his arms and passion proves stronger than even the most wicked of secrets . . . 

Another flight, another Bridgerton book! Book #6, When He Was Wicked, tells the story of the 6th Bridgerton child, Francesca — who spends much of the book series (as well as practically all of season 1 of the Netflix series) off-screen.

A rare glimpse of Francesca

We’ve heard about Francesca from afar during the previous couple of books. A year younger than her sister Eloise, Francesca is largely absent from the goings-on in the earlier books, at first being too young to be out in society, and later, already away from London.

We learn in book #4 (I believe) that Francesca is already a young widow at age 24. We hear of her through other family members, and know that she was married to an earl and lives at their estate in Scotland. That’s pretty much all we know, other than that she seems to never be around for family gatherings.

“It’s as if I don’t exist,” she said…

Finally, in When He Was Wicked, Frannie’s story takes center stage.

We start the book, however, not with Francesca, but with her husband’s cousin. Michael Stirling is first cousin to John Stirling, Earl of Kilmartin. Michael has a reputation as a terribly wicked rake (of course! don’t all the attractive men?), but he’s also loyal and devoted to John, who is more brother to him than cousin. Michael also has the bad luck and bad timing to fall head over heels in love with Francesca at first sight — which happens to be only a day and a half before John marries her.

Michael hides his feelings, and becomes a true friend to Francesca. The three — Michael, John, and Francesca — are inseparable, and best of friends. But two years later, when the unthinkable happens and John dies suddenly, Michael and Francesca are torn apart as well. Michael, as John’s heir, will step into his role as Earl. He feels horrible guilt over living what should have been John’s life, and cannot bear the idea of being close to Frannie and being her main support while knowing the guilty truth of his secret love for her. Michael flees to India as soon after John’s death as he can, and Francesca is left widowed, in mourning, suffering, and feeling abandoned by the person she most counted on.

Years pass, and Francesca realizes that she wants a baby. And of course, the only way to get a baby is to marry — so she leaves the estate in Scotland to spend the season in London and look for a suitable husband. Michael shows up as well, ready to fully assume his duties as Earl, which also means finding a wife.

As the widowed Countess of Kilmartin, Francesca takes up residence in the Kilmartin home in London, and so does Michael, where the two soon find themselves too close for comfort. After a series of misunderstandings and confrontations, there’s finally a kiss, and Francesca is shocked and embarrassed to realize that she feels attracted to Michael. And, as such things go in romance novels, she assumes it’s one-sided and flees back to the Scottish estate, only to be pursued by Michael, where things quickly become hot and heavy… and as the title lets us know, very, very wicked.

I enjoyed the storytelling very much in this book, and felt quite sorry for poor Frannie, widowed too young, facing a lifetime on her own, and longing so much for a family that she’s even willing to consider marriage without love if it’ll allow her to have babies. There are some very sweet moments between her and her mother Violet, in which they share thoughts on widowhood, losing the love of one’s life, and how to move on. Violet is open to Francesca in a way which we haven’t seen with her daughters in other books, probably because none have been as vulnerable as Francesca, and it’s lovely.

Michael is given equal time with Francesca as a point-of-view character, and I found his outlook refreshing and insightful. As is typical in romances set in this period, his sexual conquests aren’t seen as shameful (only women can be ruined by inappropriate conduct, not men), but at least we get to hear his perspective on all the women he’s been with and how they were all really just stand-ins for Francesca. Michael’s sorrow and guilt regarding his cousin seem genuine and heartfelt, so that as he and Francesca start to explore their attraction and growing feelings, it makes sense that Michael would be held back by his inner doubts even while yearning to be with the woman of his dreams.

I’m not sure that I loved Michael’s ultimate gambit for tying Francesca to him. He can’t make progress by words or wooing, so he sets out to seduce her, figuring he’ll make her want him even if she doesn’t love him. (Spoiler alert — she does love him!) The sexual advances and hot-and-heavy scenes are all entirely consensual — he asks her every step of the way — but I still felt a little uncomfortable with the idea of his using her arousal to push her into a relationship she might not otherwise be ready for.

He’d awakened the wanton within her, and she wanted her revenge.

It’s not a surprise that true love and a wedding and babies are the end game here — in that sense, When He Was Wicked is no different from the other books in the series. Still, the plot here is quite good, and I liked getting to know Francesca, and seeing a very different view of the social pressures of Regency society. Francesca is no virginal debutante — she’s a widow of means who has the social and economic power to remain unmarried and independent for the rest of her life, if she so chooses. In When He Was Wicked, we see marriage and courtship through a practical lens — if a young widow wants a baby, then how else is she to get what she wants but to find a suitable husband and make it happen?

I also found the chronology of When He Was Wicked interesting, as it overlaps with events from the previous two books, and I thought author Julia Quinn pulled off the interwoven events and details very well! Overall, this is another delightful addition to a series that becomes more and more addictive as it goes along. This many books into the series, it’s hard to stop.

That’s six Bridgerton children happily married, two more to go!

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Book Review: To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons, #5) by Julia Quinn

Title: To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons, #5)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2003
Length: 383 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Sir Phillip knew from his correspondence with his dead wife’s distant cousin that Eloise Bridgerton was a spinster, and so he’d proposed, figuring that she’d be homely and unassuming, and more than a little desperate for an offer of marriage. Except . . . she wasn’t. The beautiful woman on his doorstep was anything but quiet, and when she stopped talking long enough to close her mouth, all he wanted to do was kiss her…

Eloise Bridgerton couldn’t marry a man she had never met! But then she started thinking… and wondering… and before she knew it, she was in a hired carriage in the middle of the night, on her way to meet the man she hoped might be her perfect match. Except… he wasn’t. Her perfect husband wouldn’t be so moody and ill-mannered. And he certainly should have mentioned that he had two young – and decidedly unruly – children, as much in need of a mother as Phillip is in need of a wife.

Bridgerton books have become my go-to comfort reads, and an absolute must for long plane trips. They’re sweet, light, and easy, but never fail to entertain. Let’s dive in.

Since watching Bridgerton on Netflix, I’ve had a soft spot for Eloise — that’s the letter E, which makes Eloise the 5th Bridgerton child and the 2nd girl in this large family. TV Eloise is awesome — independent, outspoken, intelligent, and not too wound up in societal niceties.

In book #5, many years have passed since we first met Eloise. Here, she’s 28 years old and a spinster. She hadn’t minded her spinster status so long as she had her best friend Penelope to keep her company, but now that Penelope has gotten married, Eloise suddenly isn’t so content any more.

As the story opens, we learn that Eloise has been in correspondence for a year with a man named Sir Phillip Crane, the widower of her deceased 4th cousin Marina. After sending Sir Phillip a note of condolence after Marina’s death, the two have continued to write and to get to know one another via letters. Finally, Phillip suggests that she come to his country estate for a visit to see if they might suit one another for marriage.

Eloise being Eloise, rather than accepting the invitation and traveling with her mother’s permission and a suitable chaperone, decides to just go, and sneaks off while her family is busy at a soiree so she won’t be missed right away. She shows up unexpected on Phillip’s doorstep, and the two do not suit at all at first glance. He’s gruff and unwelcoming and taken aback by her arrival, and she’s tired, talkative, and unimpressed by his lack of hospitality. She’s even less impressed to learn that he has 8-year-old twins who are out-of-control hellions — whom he completely failed to mention in his letters.

He’s clearly looking for someone to take control of his children, and assumed a spinster would be grateful for marriage to a man with wealth and an estate. Eloise, meanwhile, having turned down six previous offers of marriage, has always hoped for a love match (after seeing her parents’ loving marriage, as well as the romances of her four older siblings). She’s not willing to settle, and is already contemplating her escape back to London — but as she and Phillip slowly start to become acquainted, there’s something holding her there, making her want to at least give him a chance.

Clearly, we all know where this is going to end up, and that Eloise and Phillip will end up falling madly in love after all. The fun is in getting there.

Eloise speaks her mind and thinks for herself, and makes it clear that Phillip needs to step up and be a better father as well as a better companion if he’s going to be worthy of her. She’s a delight.

The best scene in the book, in my humble opinion, is when Eloise’s brothers descend en masse to make sure that this oaf hasn’t ruined their sister. Seeing four big Bridgerton brothers ganging up on Sir Phillip is awesome. But hey, at least they don’t actually strangle him, so he comes out of it okay. They’re there to make sure a marriage takes place, no two ways about it, and really, the couple is left with no choice.

I did really enjoy To Sir Phillip, With Love, but didn’t find it quite as entertaining as some of the other books in the series. For as much as I love TV Eloise, I felt that her book personality here was a little more generic than I’d expected, making her just a little bit less quirky and unusual. Still, she’s a lot of fun, and I enjoyed seeing the growing connection between her and Phillip, as well as her developing relationship with his children — who, it turns out, are less awful and more suffering from lack of attention than Phillip realizes. (And of course, Eloise is the guardian angel who heals the rift between father and children.)

Will I keep going with the Bridgertons? Of course!

That’s five Bridgerton children happily married, three more to go!

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Book Review: Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (Bridgertons, #4) by Julia Quinn

Title: Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (Bridgertons, #3)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2002
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Everyone knows that Colin Bridgerton is the most charming man in London. Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend’s brother for…well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret…and fears she doesn’t know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone’s preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can’t seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same – especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide…is she his biggest threat – or his promise of a happy ending? 

Bridgerton books have become my go-to for those times (like long flights) when I want to be entertained, without having to make too much effort. Romancing Mister Bridgerton, the 4th in the series, was a perfect choice for a travel companion for me this week.

This time around, it’s Penelope’s turn to find romance!

While the Bridgertons series revolves around the eight children of the Bridgerton family, each getting a book in which to find true love and marriage, the love interests in each book are just as important as the Bridgerton family member at the center of the action.

In the 4th book, it’s 3rd son Colin Bridgerton who takes center stage. At age 33, everyone agrees that it’s about time for Colin to settle down with a wife and start a family. He’s restless and unfulfilled, though, lacking a greater purpose beyond being a member of the ton and attending social functions. When his restlessness hits, he takes off, and has traveled extensively around the world, returning to England for brief periods before he’s driven to set out again.

Meanwhile, Penelope Featherington, at age 28, is now considered firmly “on the shelf”, having navigated many social seasons without a single proposal to show for it. Best friends with Colin’s younger sister Eloise, Penelope has been a fixture in the Bridgerton household for years. Unbeknownst to Colin, Penelope has also been secretly in love with him for over a decade, but being an overlooked wallflower, she has no hope that Colin will never notice her in any but a brotherly fashion.

Anyone who’s watched the Bridgerton TV series on Netflix will already know what Penelope’s huge secret is… but for those who don’t already know, I’m not spilling the beans! Trust me — it’s huge, and could have a permanent impact on Penelope’s social standing if it ever got out. In book #4, the truth is about to be revealed, and Penelope may not be able to stop it.

Meanwhile, she and Colin are thrown together more frequently, and each begins to learn more about the other and see their previously unnoticed depths, as well as the chemistry that begins to spark between them. Naturally, they fall in love, but (as is the case in all of these books) complications pop up and threaten to derail their blossoming romance.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton is such fun! It’s especially rewarding to get to see Penelope taking center stage — the overlooked girl growing into a confident woman who just needs to learn to use her voice. She’s a terrific romantic heroine, not the classic beauty, but a vibrant, intelligent woman who doesn’t need to be a cookie-cutter replicant of society’s ideal.

Colin has always been a favorite for me, and his sense of humor and playfulness make him funny and relatable to read about. Colin and Penelope make a charming couple, and it made me so happy to see them together!

This book sets up the events of #5 with a sort-of cliffhanger about Bridgerton sister Eloise, so I have a feeling I won’t be waiting too long to continue with the series.

My usual random thoughts:

  • Years have gone by, and all of a sudden, Hyacinth is out in society! And Gregory is in university! Kids grow up so fast these days.
  • We learn that Francesca (that’s Bridgerton child #6, for those keeping score) has not only married off-screen but is already widowed. I don’t believe we’ve really seen her much in the books so far, so she feels like a non-entity to me, but I guess she’ll get her turn in a couple more books.
  • The Bridgerton family dynamics make these books so much fun. It’s delightful to see all the sibling bickering and Violet (Mama Bridgerton) rolling her eyes at her children’s outrageous behavior.
  • I love that Julia Quinn has created a whole little world among the ton. Even though some people are only mentioned in passing, I feel like a lot of these characters are well enough known by now that I’m exclaiming over who’s gotten married, as if they were actually part of my social circle.

This wouldn’t be a Bridgertons review if I didn’t include at least a few juicy and/or fun selections:

Sex…

When he felt her relax slightly beneath him, he pushed forward a bit more, until he reached the undeniable proof of her innocence.

… and true love…

He smiled, and suddenly she knew that his words were true. Everything would be all right. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but soon. Tragedy couldn’t coexist in a world with one of Colin’s smiles.

… and some family silliness…

Penelope tried to signal discreetly at her husband, but all her attempts at circumspection were drowned out by Hyacinth’s vigorous wave and holler of, “Colin!”

Violet groaned.

“I know, I know,” Hyacinth said unrepentantly, “I must be more ladylike.”

“If you know it,” Violet said, sounding every inch the mother she was, “then why don’t you do it?”

“What would be the fun in that?”

Ah, these books go down like candy! They’re sweet and fluffy, and I’m enjoying every moment. Even while chuckling over some ridiculous societal affectation or silly romance wording, I’m still having a great time. At this point, I’m all in, and won’t stop reading until every one of those eight Bridgertons is happily married.

Four down, four to go!

Book Review: An Offer From A Gentleman (Bridgertons, #3) by Julia Quinn

Title: An Offer From A Gentleman (Bridgertons, #3)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2001
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Will she accept his offer before the clock strikes midnight?

Sophie Beckett never dreamed she’d be able to sneak into Lady Bridgerton’s famed masquerade ball—or that “Prince Charming” would be waiting there for her! Though the daughter of an earl, Sophie has been relegated to the role of servant by her disdainful stepmother. But now, spinning in the strong arms of the debonair and devastatingly handsome Benedict Bridgerton, she feels like royalty. Alas, she knows all enchantments must end when the clock strikes midnight.

Who was that extraordinary woman? Ever since that magical night, a radiant vision in silver has blinded Benedict to the attractions of any other—except, perhaps this alluring and oddly familiar beauty dressed in housemaid’s garb whom he feels compelled to rescue from a most disagreeable situation. He has sworn to find and wed his mystery miss, but this breathtaking maid makes him weak with wanting her. Yet, if he offers his heart, will Benedict sacrifice his only chance for a fairy tale love?

In a world filled with serious books, it’s nice to have fluffy fun like the Bridgertons books to turn to for a bit of escapism every now and then.

In the 3rd book in the series, it’s Benedict Bridgerton’s turn to find love. The Bridgerton family is famous for its eight astonishingly attractive children, conveniently named in alphabetical order. And while the book series started out of order by focusing on Daphne, oldest daughter yet fourth child, the rest of the series remains true to the alphabet. Which brings us to Benedict.

Benedict is the second son — no title, but from an esteemed family and with a very agreeable fortune nonetheless, so now that his elder brother the Viscount is happily married, Benedict is considered prime pickings for the society season.

Meanwhile, we meet poor Sophie Beckett, the unacknowledged illegitimate daughter of an earl. Taken in and raised by her natural father, she’s introduced to the world as his ward, but when the earl remarries, his new wife is shrewd enough to know the truth. Once Sophie’s father dies when she is fourteen, her stepmother Araminta is persuaded to provide a home for Sophie thanks to a strings-attached bequest, but rather than treating her with kindness, Araminta forces Sophie into the role of an overworked servant. Araminta’s daughters aren’t any better, although the younger of the two shows hints of friendliness, despite being too frightened of her mother to actually be nice to Sophie or defend her in any way.

Sophie’s luck finally changes when she gets the opportunity to attend the most anticipated party of the season, a masquerade chez Bridgerton. With help of the family servants, Sophie is dressed up in borrowed finery, dons a mask, and swoops into the ball, immediately catching Benedict’s eye. The two feel an instant spark and spend glorious hours together, only to be separated when Sophie must rush off at midnight, her only chance of making sure that she’ll be home and back in her servant’s clothing before Araminta and the girls arrive home.

Yes, it’s a Cinderella story! I had no idea when I picked up the book, but it became obvious right from the start. And while I might have moaned a bit, it actually became a really fun theme for the book. Author Julia Quinn is skillful enough to play with the underlying fairy tale and keep it fresh while weaving its traditional patterns into the story.

In fact, once we move past the ball and the couple’s inevitable separation, the story becomes even more interesting. The Cinderella-like aspects become quieter background elements, and instead we get to focus on Sophie’s struggles, as she’s treated horribly by Araminta and then thrown out, penniless, to fend for herself. Although she’s the daughter of a noble, she’s forced to seek work as a servant in order to survive, and she shows great strength and courage in dealing with her unfair lot in life.

Naturally, Sophie and Benedict do reconnect, as he rescues her from a threatened rape (what the synopsis above refers to, maddeningly, as “a most disagreeable situation” — argh!). There’s a lot of will-they, won’t-they shenanigans, flirtation, chemistry, desire… but also, an interesting dilemma for both characters due to their very different social stations. Sophie is a housemaid, so the most she could realistically hope for from Benedict would be to be established as his mistress. It’s expected that Benedict marry and produce children, and someone of his status could never marry a servant.

Despite her longing for Benedict, Sophie can’t allow herself to even consider becoming his mistress. She knows the pain of being an unwanted bastard child, and swears that she’ll never have a child under those circumstances. So is there any hope for these two crazy lovebirds? Well, of course there is! This is a romance, after all! Naturally, they’re going to find a way to make it all work out… and have some steamy, decidedly not-society-approved sexytimes too.

An Offer From A Gentleman is a fast, fun read, but doesn’t skimp on sentiment along the way. Beyond the core love story, we get to spend more time with Bridgerton family members, especially the big brood’s mother, Violet, who is wonderful in so many ways. She’s fabulous in how she treats Sophie and stands up for injustice, and I just loved her to pieces in this book.

Sure, I have quibbles… like wouldn’t it have been nice for love to be enough to get Benedict and Sophie to choose each other, without needing the big reveal about being an earl’s daughter to help smooth the way? Granted, not everyone is willing to accept a Bridgerton marrying an illegitimate daughter, but for most, Sophie’s blood connection to nobility raises her high enough to be tolerable — whereas if she were “just” a servant, they could never be admitted into society as a couple.

A few random thoughts on things that stuck out to me while reading this book:

  • It’s funny seeing the previous books’ main characters (Daphne and Anthony) show up as background characters in this book. They’re married, they’re happy, they have oodles of children — and there’s just nothing else to say about them. So, according to these romances, you stop being interesting once you get married?
  • The younger Bridgertons are growing up! Gregory and Hyacinth aren’t little children any more, but it will still be weird to see them as romantic leads in books 7 and 8.
  • It’s really hard not to be mad at how badly poor Sophie was treated all her life, especially by her father. He made sure she had a home once her mother died, but never showed her any affection.
  • Lady Whistledown continues to be funny and sharp. Here, her updates include news on the “maid wars’, in which Araminta and Lady Featherington steal each others’ servants back and forth.
  • By including Sophie, we get more of a view into the life of a servant at the time. I was glad to break away from only focusing on the upper class, with servants only appearing when needed to serve.
  • Is it realistic that Violet and her daughters would invite Sophie to join them for tea every day? Why Sophie and not other servants? Sure, Violet is discerning enough to realize that there’s something going on between Benedict and Sophie, but would a society mama really tacitly encourage this connection?

As always, as a visitor to the world of romance reading, I got all sorts of amusement from the romance-y writing:

There was a fire burning within her that had been simmering quietly for years. The sight of him had ignited it anew, and his touch was like kerosene, sending her into a conflagration.

Spoiler! Sophie ends up arrested (until the Bridgertons ride to the rescue). And in one shocking moment:

Sophie just managed to snap her mouth closed, but even so, she had to clutch tightly on to the bars of her cell, because her legs had turned to instant water.

What’s “instant water”? Is that like instant coffee?

When Sophie just happens to stumble across a pond where Benedict is skinny-dipping:

He heard a gasp, followed by a huge flurry of activity.

“Sophie Beckett,” he yelled, “if you run from me right now, I swear I will follow you, and I will not take the time to don my clothing.”

The noises coming form the shore slowed.

“I will catch up with you,” he continued, “because I’m stronger and faster. And I might very well feel compelled to tackle you to the ground, just to be certain you do not escape.”

The sounds of her movement ceased.

All in all, An Offer From A Gentleman is a light, engaging read, and just so much fun. And even though poor Sophie suffers, we know it’s all going to work out perfectly for her — because these books always have happy endings!

Will I continue with the Bridgertons series? Absolutely! After all, the score is now three Bridgerton siblings happily married — five more to go!

Book Review: The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgertons, #2) by Julia Quinn

Title: The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgertons, #2)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2000
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, This Author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London’s most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry. And in all truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better…

–Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1814

But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn’t just decided to marry–he’s even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended’s older sister, Kate Sheffield–the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate’s the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams…

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands–and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate’s determined to protect her sister–but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself…

Reading the Bridgertons series is such a fluffy, escapist treat, despite the fact that I’m not much of a romance reader, and some sections made me roll my eyes so hard that they hurt. But after watching the Netflix series, it’s hard not to want to keep going and read more, more, more.

The setting is Regency-era London. The Bridgertons are a large family, with eight children (named in alphabetical order, which the high society ton find amusing). Lady Bridgerton is a widow, and she’s determined to see all of her children settled into happy marriages. In the first book in the series, The Duke & I, daughter Daphne ends up quite blissfully married (to a Duke, obviously). Now it’s time for the the rest of her children to get paired off as well.

In The Viscount Who Loved Me, the focus shifts to Anthony Bridgerton, the oldest of the Bridgerton children and the head of the family since their father’s death eleven years earlier. Anthony has never truly gotten over losing his father, and through his grief and his devotion to his father, has somehow managed to convince himself that he won’t live longer than his father did. Now at age 29, he’s sure — even while acknowledging to himself that he’s not really being rational — that he’ll be dead within 10 years. Constantly aware of his impending date with death, Anthony has played the rake up to now, but wanting to leave behind his own legacy, has decided that it’s finally time to marry and have children.

One firm rule he’s sworn to keep to is not to marry for love. After all, despite his parents’ love match, love isn’t really a requirement for marriage at that time. He seeks a wife who’s pretty, pleasant, from a good family, and who’ll make a good mother. But love will not be a factor: His deep-seated fear is that if he loves his wife, the knowledge of his premature death will make his life too painful to bear. Again, not rational, but it’s what he believes.

Anthony decides that he’ll marry Edwina Sheffield, considered to be the diamond of the season. Edwina and her older half-sister Kate are both having their first season. They live with Mary, Kate’s stepmother and Edwina’s mother, but have little in the way of financial means since the death of their father. Not being able to afford the expense of two full London seasons, Kate has postponed her own debut until the practically spinster-ish age of 21, when Edwina would also be old enough to be out.

Kate is a wonderful character, devoted to Mary and Edwina, smart, and outspoken. She’s fiercely protective of Edwina, and Edwina has stated that she won’t marry without Kate’s approval of her potential husband. Kate doesn’t play games and doesn’t expect many suitors, especially since her own looks can’t (in her opinion) hold a candle to Edwina’s delicate, classically beautiful appearance. She knows that one of them must come out of the season married, and married well, in order to support the rest of their family, and assumes Edwina has a much better chance.

Because of Anthony’s reputation as a rake, Kate immediately rules him out as a husband for Edwina, especially after hearing him state that it’s okay for a man to maintain a mistress after marriage, so long as he doesn’t love his wife. She thinks badly of him and informs him that she won’t allow him to wed Edwina. The two engage in lots of bickering and heated exchanges, but over the course of their encounters, they both become aware of a spark between them.

I’m sure you can guess where this is headed! Sparks fly, and a potential scandal forces them into marriage, even while neither is wiling to admit their desire and unwanted feelings for one another.

A few random thoughts on things that stuck out to me while reading this book:

  • As in The Duke & I, the male love interest is flawed and carries emotional baggage. Like Simon, Anthony is damaged by the trauma he experienced earlier in his life, and this influences his attitude and emotions regarding love and marriage.
  • We can’t really be mad when the norms of a historical period don’t match our own, but certain things make me bonkers anyway. Like how Anthony at age 18 becomes the Viscount and head of the family, meaning (among other things) that all the Bridgerton properties — their London house and their country estate — belong to him and him alone. I get it, that’s how things worked then, but it makes me mad on Violet’s behalf (the mother of the Bridgertons) that she owns nothing and technically is dependent on Anthony.
  • Also, there’s the tired old sentiment that men who are rakes are daring and dashing and make desirable husbands. Their bad reputations (so long as they have money and social standing) seem to only make them more desirable. Whereas young women must be pure and virginal, and can be ruined by being alone with a man or exchanging a kiss. Stupid double standards.
  • When we first meet Edwina, I expected her to be the standard romance character of the beautiful but shallow girl who everyone falls in love with — so I was happy to discover that there’s a lot more to her. She’s a supportive sister and daughter, she loves to read and study philosophy, and her true desire in a husband is to marry a scholar with whom she can study and learn. How refreshing!
  • I had to laugh at the scene of Anthony and Kate’s scandalous encounter that drives them into marriage. Kate is stung by a bee, and Anthony becomes so frantic about it (an allergic reaction to a bee sting is what killed his father), that he decides to suck the venom from the site of the sting — just above her breast. Okay, I have never heard of someone sucking out a bee’s venom, and it just seemed ridiculous. Of course, the women who stumbled upon them in the midst of this ridiculousness didn’t know what had happened and of course it was highly scandalous behavior… but still, so silly.
  • In the first book, main character Daphne went into marriage with zero knowledge of sex, after a pre-wedding talk with her mother that conveyed absolutely no actual information. Here, Mary does better with “the talk” on the night before Kate’s wedding, but manages to leave Kate with certain impressions that are detrimental to her marriage.

As I mentioned, romance is not a typical genre for me, and so some of the language just makes me laugh. I don’t know how much of this also has to do with the book being written 20 years ago, but I’m guessing that a lot of it is just typical romance language, and the statements made by certain characters are true to the general portrayal of Regency-era gender roles. Some choice bits:

A taste of attitude:

Anthony leaned forward, his chin jutting out in a most menacing manner. “Women should not keep pets if they cannot control them.” “And men should not take women with pets for a walk in the park if they cannot control either,” she shot back.

Bridgerton chuckled. “The only reason to give up one’s mistress is if one happens to love one’s wife. And as I do not intend to choose a wife with whom I might fall in love, I see no reason to deny myself the pleasures of a lovely woman like you.”

“The talk””

“Men and women are very different,” Mary continued, as if that weren’t completely obvious, “and a man—even one who is faithful to his wife, which I’m sure the viscount will be to you—can find his pleasure with almost any woman.”

Which leads directly to Kate’s fears and insecurities:

But she’d been consoling herself with the memory of the desire she had felt—and she thought Anthony had felt—when she was in his arms. Now it seemed that this desire wasn’t even necessarily for her, but rather some primitive urge that every man felt for every woman. And Kate would never know if, when Anthony snuffed the candles and took her to bed, he closed his eyes . . . And pictured another woman’s face.

And then there’s the sexy-times, which I generally find hilarious:

She wouldn’t recognize the first prickles of desire, nor would she understand that slow, swirling heat in the core of her being. And that slow, swirling heat was there. He could see it in her face.

Kate gasped as his hands stole around to her backside and pressed her harshly against his arousal.

“You’ve never seen a naked man before, have you?” he murmured. She shook her head. “Good.” He leaned forward and plucked one of her slippers from her foot. “You’ll never see another.”

His hands slid to the top button of his trousers and unfastened it, but stopped there. She was still fully clothed, and still fully an innocent. She wasn’t yet ready to see the proof of his desire.

Kate’s eyes widened as he left the bed and stripped off the rest of his clothing. His body was perfection, his chest finely muscled, his arms and legs powerful, and his— “Oh, my God,” she gasped. He grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

I’m not really mocking the book, just noting that romance language never fails to entertain me and make me giggle over scenes that aren’t meant to be funny. I’ve become very fond of the characters in the series (having watched the Netflix series definitely helps), and for sure I’ll be reading more.

That’s two Bridgerton siblings happily married — six more to go!

Book Review: The Duke & I (Bridgertons, #1) by Julia Quinn

Title: The Duke & I (Bridgertons, #1)
Author: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: 2000
Length: 433 pages
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

From New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn comes the first novel in the beloved Regency-set world of her charming, powerful Bridgerton family, now a series created by Shonda Rhimes for Netflix.

In the ballrooms and drawing rooms of Regency London, rules abound. From their earliest days, children of aristocrats learn how to address an earl and curtsey before a prince—while other dictates of the ton are unspoken yet universally understood. A proper duke should be imperious and aloof. A young, marriageable lady should be amiable…but not too amiable.

Daphne Bridgerton has always failed at the latter. The fourth of eight siblings in her close-knit family, she has formed friendships with the most eligible young men in London. Everyone likes Daphne for her kindness and wit. But no one truly desires her. She is simply too deuced honest for that, too unwilling to play the romantic games that captivate gentlemen.

Amiability is not a characteristic shared by Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings. Recently returned to England from abroad, he intends to shun both marriage and society—just as his callous father shunned Simon throughout his painful childhood. Yet an encounter with his best friend’s sister offers another option. If Daphne agrees to a fake courtship, Simon can deter the mamas who parade their daughters before him. Daphne, meanwhile, will see her prospects and her reputation soar.

The plan works like a charm—at first. But amid the glittering, gossipy, cut-throat world of London’s elite, there is only one certainty: love ignores every rule…

After binge-watching Bridgerton on Netflix, how could I resist reading the book that inspired the series? I’m not a big romance reader, and when I do read romance, it tends to be contemporary. But giving into my Bridgerton obsession, I dove into The Duke & I, and finished it in one day!

First, for the TV viewers: No, this is not an integrated society as in the Netflix series. The Duke & I is pretty traditional Regency-era romance, dukes and earls and the gossip of the ton, very solidly white. (Not in my imagination, of course — once you’ve encountered the TV version of Simon Bassett, there’s no way you’ll ever envision him as anyone else!)

Back to the book: The Duke & I has a very traditional romance feel to it, and let’s keep in mind that it was originally published 20 years ago! Daphne Bridgerton is the 4th child of the large Bridgerton family, which very conveniently names its children alphabetically, so it’s easy to keep track of who’s who. The oldest daughter, Daphne is now in her second season out in society, and while she’s received marriage proposals, not a single one has appealed to her. Having grown up with three older brothers, Daphne is perhaps too comfortable with the males of the species, so she’s seen as a great girl and a good friend, but not a romantic prospect. (Men can be stupid.)

Simon, the new Duke of Hastings, is the epitome of eligible bachelors, and “ambitious mamas” are continuously throwing their marriageable daughters at him. Simon is very good friends with Daphne’s oldest brother Anthony, and when he encounters Daphne dealing with an insistent suitor, he’s happy to come to her aid. The two form an agreement: By pretending to be courting, Simon will avoid the mamas, and Daphne will become instantly more alluring to other men, who will now appreciate her more after seeing Simon’s interest. (Again, men can be stupid).

Of course, their fake relationship leads to real feelings, but there’s a catch. Simon has sworn never to marry or have children, as a sort of posthumous revenge on his abusive father who treated Simon horribly and only cared about the continuation of the Basset family line. Simon has sworn to deny his late father’s ultimate goal by letting the family name die with him. Daphne, on the other hand, having grown up in a large, loving family, yearns for a family of her own.

After a compromising encounter, a duel, threats by her brothers, and all sorts of drama, Daphne and Simon do end up marrying. But while their honeymoon is a blissful sexual awakening for Daphne, all is not wine and roses. Simon has told Daphne that he can’t have children, but when she discovers that his “can’t” really means “won’t”, their young marriage in on the brink of collapse.

Okay, so anyone who’s interested in the book or in the TV series knows that there a major controversy about Daphne’s action and the issue of consent. So, I’ll throw up a big spoiler alert before going further.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!

He shifted restlessly, and Daphne felt the strangest, most intoxicating surge of power. He was in her control, she realized. He was asleep, and probably still more than a little bit drunk, and she could do whatever she wanted with him. She could have whatever she wanted.

The most controversial scene in the book is one in which Simon comes home very drunk, after the two have had a major falling out. Daphne gets a very belated lesson on how babies are actually made, and realizes that Simon has been pulling out when they have sex in order to make sure she doesn’t become pregnant. Daphne initiates sex, and Simon, though drunk, is a willing participant, until they get close to climax, at which point Daphne does not let him pull out as usual. He feels betrayed, and leaves her.

The TV version takes away the issue of Simon being drunk, but does still have Daphne take control of the situation so that Simon can’t pull out when he wants to. Again, he feels betrayed.

If you look on Goodreads or elsewhere, there’s a lot of discussion about whether Daphne raped Simon in this scene. I have mixed feelings. The sex act itself is consensual. You could argue that Simon was too drunk to consent, but in the context of their marriage, which has included a lot of very enthusiastic sex up to this point, I think it’s hard to make the case that Simon was not a willing participant.

Was she right to force him to finish inside her? Well, no, she did take away his choice there. But I think it’s a more nuanced situation.

Daphne was utterly and completely ignorant about sex prior to her marriage. She had absolutely no idea about the specifics of having babies, other than knowing that it happens during marriage. Daphne’s mother Violet comes to give her “the talk” the night before the wedding, and completely fails to give her any actual, specific information. No mention of body parts or anatomy, no discussion of how it all works, and nothing about how babies are made.

It’s only a housemaid’s random comment about “seed” and a “womb” that lead Daphne to start piecing things together, and to understand that Simon is choosing to “spill” his seed outside her (ugh, romance euphemisms). She feel betrayed by Simon, who let her believe that he was physically unable to father children, rather than explaining anything to her with honesty. And Simon absolutely knew that Daphne was clueless about how it all worked — he does a very good job of introducing her to sexual pleasure, but deliberately doesn’t explain things to her that would work against his own intentions.

So, yes, Daphne is wrong to do what she did — but Simon is wrong too, and Daphne’s mother essentially created the potential for this conflict by allowing her daughter to enter marriage with no knowledge about “the marital act” whatsoever.

END SPOILERS

Beyond all that, however, I can’t deny that The Duke & I was a compelling and enjoyable read. The characters are lots of fun, especially Daphne’s older brothers, who are fiercely protective and also very funny.

As I mentioned, I’m not much of a romance reader, and some of the descriptions and language are a bit over the top for me:

His face was quite simply perfection. It took only a moment to realize that he put all of Michelangelo’s statues to shame.

Her legs snaked around his, pulling him ever closer to the cradle of her femininity.

LOL. Cradle of femininity? That’s definitely a new one for me!

Still, there’s no denying I enjoyed this book, problematic issues aside. There’s a lot of fault to go around, and also, this book was written 20 years ago. I’d hope that a writer today would make different choices about how to depict Daphne and Simon’s key conflict.

As a fan of the TV version, I missed all of the non-Daphne, non-Simon plot elements concerning Eloise, the brothers, etc. But, as far as I can tell, these plots are all addressed in other books in the Bridgertons series. Eight books, eight siblings… each gets their own story!

Will I continue reading the Bridgertons books? Well… who am I kidding? Of course I will! As much as this isn’t my preferred genre, I do love the characters and want to read more about them. Onward!