Title: To Swoon and To Spar Series: The Regency Vows, #4 Author: Martha Waters Publisher: Atria Publication date: April 11, 2023 Length: 336 pages Genre: Historical fiction/romance Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley Rating:
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Regency Vows series returns with this story about a viscount and his irascible new wife who hopes to chase her husband from their shared home so that she can finally get some peace and quiet—only to find that his company is not as onerous as she thought.
Viscount Penvale has been working for years to buy back his ancestral home, Trethwick Abbey, from his estranged uncle. And so he’s thrilled when his uncle announces that he is ready to sell but with one major caveat—Penvale must marry his uncle’s ward, Jane Spencer.
When the two meet in London, neither is terribly impressed. Penvale finds Jane headstrong and sharp-tongued. Jane finds him cold and aloof. Nevertheless, they agree to a marriage in name only and return to the estate. There, Jane enlists her housekeeper for a scheme: to stage a haunting so that Penvale will return to London, leaving her to do as she pleases at Trethwick Abbey. But Penvale is not as easily scared as his uncle and as their time together increases, Jane realizes that she might not mind her husband’s company all that much.
The Regency Vows series is a fun, upbeat set of stories centered around a circle of friends who have decidedly non-traditional love stories in a time when social rules are everything. Four books in, the series continues in its lively approach, this time focusing on a marriage of convenience that (surprise, surprise) turns into a true romantic match.
The first three books focused on three close friends — Violet, Diana, and Emily — each getting their own story of love, bickering, bargains, sexytimes, and total devotion, plus healthy doses of their friendship, which really makes the books stand out. Yes, they’re romances, but the women’s relationships with one another are just as important as the love stories.
Here in book #4, To Swoon and To Spar, the story shifts to Diana’s brother, Lord Penvale — close to his sister, very good friends with all of his sister’s friends’ husbands, but not particularly looking for love or marriage. Since childhood, his one goal (or should we say, obsession?) has been to buy back his family’s estate from his greedy uncle.
At long last, the uncle is ready to sell, but there’s a catch: He wants to be rid not only of the Cornwall estate, but also his ward, a serious young woman named Jane whose late father served with him in the Navy. If Penvale wants Trethwick, he’ll have to marry Jane. Penvale wants the estate, and Jane wants to be rid of her guardian. The match seems to offer both what they want, and after a very sensible discussion, they agree to move forward.
Penvale does not know that Jane is secretly plotting to drive him away from Trethwick. She doesn’t hate Penvale and has no malicious motivation — she’s simply very shy and introverted, and would rather be left alone at the beloved mansion in Cornwall to enjoy the huge library and the gorgeous views, without a pesky husband to contend with.
Needless to say, all does not go according to plan, and Penvale is not nearly as gullible as Jane had hoped. And as is true with all of the pairings in this series, sparks fly, and before long, the dry, sensible all-business marriage threatens to turn into a true meeting of hearts and minds.
While the ghost story aspect is very silly (maybe even ridiculous), it’s still cute to read, and I liked both Penvale and Jane as characters. Early on, I missed the rest of the friend circle and their banter and antics, but eventually they do show up, and dial up the fun to eleven.
Jane is quite prickly, and at first I thought she was one of these typical strong-willed heroines that we’ve seen so many times, where unpleasantness is meant to be a sign of her independence and proto-feminism. But in actuality, so much of Jane’s unfriendliness can be attributed to her social awkwardness and intense shyness, and it makes her so relatable and lovable.
The writing is jaunty and witty, and made me giggle throughout the book, such as…
Jane meant to make an elegant, stately departure at this juncture, but at that moment, she came to learn a truth — perhaps not universally acknowledged but undeniable all the same: It is impossible for a lady to extract herself from straddling a gentleman’s lap with anything approaching grace.
Of course, I knew for sure that Jane was a woman after my own heart when she (irritably) explains to a visitor:
“I like to reread books from time to time,” Jane added. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
Since this is a romance, I suppose it’s a requirement that there’s a major falling out between Penvale and Jane that drives them apart prior to the inevitable happy ending. The misunderstanding and separation felt like the weakest links in the story to me, as both seemingly smart characters jumped to miserably unfounded conclusions — but fortunately, this unhappy phase wasn’t dragged out for too long.
To Swoon and To Spar is an entertaining, silly, joyful addition to a sweet series, and I look forward to seeing which couple will take center stage next time around. I have my guesses… but we’ll have to wait and see!
Title: To Marry and To Meddle (The Regency Vows, #3) Author: Martha Waters Publisher: Atria Publication date: April 5, 2022 Length: 336 pages Genre: Historical fiction/romance Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley Rating:
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
The “sweet, sexy, and utterly fun” (Emily Henry, author of The People We Meet on Vacation) Regency Vows series continues with a witty, charming, and joyful novel following a seasoned debutante and a rakish theater owner as they navigate a complicated marriage of convenience.
Lady Emily Turner has been a debutante for six seasons now and should have long settled into a suitable marriage. However, due to her father’s large debts, her only suitor is the persistent and odious owner of her father’s favorite gambling house. Meanwhile, Lord Julian Belfry, the second son of a marquess, has scandalized society as an actor and owner of a theater—the kind of establishment where men take their mistresses, but not their wives. When their lives intersect at a house party, Lord Julian hatches a plan to benefit them both.
With a marriage of convenience, Emily will use her society connections to promote the theater to a more respectable clientele and Julian will take her out from under the shadows of her father’s unsavory associates. But they soon realize they have very different plans for their marriage—Julian wants Emily to remain a society wife, while Emily discovers an interest in the theater. But when a fleeing actress, murderous kitten, and meddlesome friends enter the fray, Emily and Julian will have to confront the fact that their marriage of convenience comes with rather inconvenient feelings.
The Regency Vows series is a fun, fresh look at love and friendship in (obviously) the Regency era. The books focus on a trio of friends, Violet (lead character of the first book, To Have and To Hoax), Diana (starring in To Love and To Loathe), and Emily, the main character of this 3rd book, To Marry and To Meddle.
Lady Emily Turner is the perfectly mannered daughter of a respectable society family. At age 23, she is unmarried, largely because her parents have promised her to an awful man to whom the family is ruinously in debt. She’s desperately unhappy, but would never dream of disobeying her parents… until Julian comes along.
Lord Julian Belfry is the younger son of a titled family. No one expects much of a younger son, but they certainly don’t expect and can’t tolerate his ownership of a (gasp!) theater — especially a theater that has the reputation of being a place for gentleman to spend a night out with their mistresses.
In Emily, Julian sees a way to attain respectability for his theater. In Julian, Emily sees a path to freedom. At a country party (the setting of much of the previous book), Julian comes up with a plan that might solve both of their problems: He proposed marriage. With Emily’s good social standing, he hopes to repair the theater’s reputation and draw in the right crowd. And with Julian’s money, Emily’s family can be freed from their debts, saving Emily from being forced into a terrible marriage.
The arrangement would clearly be a win-win situation, and the fact that they enjoy one another’s company is an added bonus. Emily accepts, and the two are married right away. Emily soon learns that there’s one more unexpected benefit to the marriage — she and Julian are very compatible, and they enjoy a steamy start to their married life (interrupted only by the appearance of a homeless kitten, whom Julian christens Cecil Lucifer Beelzebub).
While quite enjoyable, I found TM&TM a little… flat. There just isn’t much dramatic conflict in the plot. The key tension is around whether Emily spends her time wooing society ladies by paying calls, when what she really wants is to spend more time with Julian and participate in running the theater. Julian’s conflict has to do with running the theater in a way that will prove it’s respectable, when what he really and truly wants is his own father’s approval. And, as expected, they each must reluctantly face the fact that they’ve fallen in love — how to admit to one’s spouse that a mutually beneficial arrangement now involves one’s feelings?
Because of course she loved him — how could she not? But, more importantly, how could she ensure that he did not know, did not ever discover her secret? Because, after all, in a marriage of convenience, love would the most inconvenient surprise of all.
It’s all very pleasant and often quite funny, but there just isn’t much there there when it comes to the plot. The stakes are fairly low, after all, when it comes to the plotlines related to the theater. The book is at its best when it focuses on relationships, and it was touching to see how both Emily and Julian stand up to their families and repair their damaged connections.
To Marry and To Meddle has the fun, light tone of the previous books, and as Emily continues her close friendship with Violet and Diana, we get to spend more time with these entertaining characters, which is lovely. One of the things I really appreciate about these books is how the women’s friendship is so central to the stories. Even though each book focuses on a different romantic relationship, the time spent with the trio of women is what connects them all, and their support and affection for one another feels very special.
The dialogue and overall writing can be a real hoot:
Predictably, she blushed. Perversely, he was delighted.
Julian clearly know the way to a woman’s heart:
[…] After Julian had rung for tea and crossed to the sideboard to busy himself with the decanter stored there, he said, almost casually, “You must buy any books you wish to add to our collection.”
Something within Emily warmed at these words. She’d always been faintly envious of Violet’s library at the house she shared with Lord James, and felt a small thrill run through her at the thought that she, too, could have a room full of books to call her own.
Amidst the funnier moments…
“You’re not…” Violet trailed off, a look of dawning horror on her face. “Sick of tea?” She uttered the words in a hushed whisper, as though afraid to speak them into truth.
… there are also scenes of coming into one’s own power and strength:
Here, a woman could take up space, speak loudly, draw the eyes of a crowd — or, alternatively, could slip into a role behind the scenes, quietly doing her work just as well as the men who surrounded her — and Emily found both prospects not shocking but… exhilarating.
I do recommend this book, but suggest starting at the beginning of the series, or you’ll miss the backstories of the characters and their social circle. I don’t know if there will be a 4th book, but I can guess which side character might get her own book next, and I hope my prediction comes true!
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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Sometimes you need serious reading material. And sometimes, fluffy reads rule! I’ve been leaning into light, not-too-serious reading lately, especially when it comes to audiobooks, and these sweet romances with an Alaska setting have been just right for my mood.
When Graham Barnett named his diner The Tourist Trap, he meant it as a joke. Now he’s stuck slinging reindeer dogs to an endless parade of resort visitors who couldn’t interest him less. Not even the sweet, enthusiastic tourist in the corner who blushes every time he looks her way…
Two weeks in Alaska isn’t just the top item on Zoey Caldwell’s bucket list. It’s the whole bucket. One look at the mountain town of Moose Springs and she’s smitten. But when an act of kindness brings Zoey into Graham’s world, she may just find there’s more to the grumpy local than meets the eye…and more to love in Moose Springs than just the Alaskan wilderness.
The Tourist Attraction introduces us to the split-personality town of Moose Springs, Alaska — a quirky little town set amidst magnificent mountains, which both relies on its high-end luxury resort for economic survival and detests all outsiders.
Graham is rude and gruff, but you just know there’s a heart of gold underneath it all, and he falls head over heels for Zoey, despite his no-tourists rule. After an awkward incident in which Zoey thinks she’s about to get murdered by a chainsaw wielding maniac (don’t ask), Zoey and Graham find themselves repeatedly thrown together, and of course, sparks fly.
The setting is charming and sounds beautiful. While Moose Springs is fictional, from the description, I can’t help picturing it as based on Girdwood, a small-ish town that’s home to the beautiful Alyeska Resort.
The romance is cute and somewhat predictable, but chapters that delve into the corporate machinations of The Montgomery Group (which owns most of the town’s property) left me cold. (Cold! ‘Cuz it’s Alaska!) Zoey’s best friend Lana Montgomery is her host during her Alaska getaway, and Lana is one of the Montgomery family’s chief businesswomen and heir apparent — and while Lana seems like a good person, there’s perhaps too much focus on the business dealings for my taste.
There’s an appealing cast of supporting characters, a beautiful setting, a few moose wandering through, and some small-town hijinks. Also, a perfect border collie who is blind, has an extensive wardrobe, and is the most beloved dog in the entire town. The book as a whole is absurdly cute, and is a nice mix of romantic fluff and emotional connection.
Title:Mistletoe & Mr. Right Published: 2020 Length: 400 pages Rating:
Rating: 3 out of 5.
How the moose (almost) stole Christmas.
Lana Montgomery is everything the quirky small town of Moose Springs, Alaska can’t stand: a rich socialite with dreams of changing things for the better. But Lana’s determined to prove that she belongs…even if it means trading her stilettos for snow boots and tracking one of the town’s hairiest Christmas mysteries: the Santa Moose, an antlered Grinch hell-bent on destroying every bit of holiday cheer (and tinsel) it can sink its teeth into.
And really…how hard could it be?
The last few years have been tough on Rick Harding, and it’s not getting any easier now that his dream girl’s back in town. When Lana accidentally tranquilizes him instead of the Santa Moose, it’s clear she needs help, fast…and this could be his chance to finally catch her eye. It’s an all-out Christmas war, but if they can nab that darn moose before it destroys the town, Rick and Lana might finally find a place where they both belong…together.
In the 2nd Moose Springs book, it’s about six months later, Zoey and Graham are bonkers in love, and Lana Montgomery takes center stage. Lana has been visiting Moose Springs since childhood and has been mostly tolerated by the locals, but her plans to build luxury condominiums and revitalize the local economy are being met with hostility by the townsfolk, who resent her intrusion and the likelihood of even more tourists messing up their lives.
Lana ends up falling for Rick, the owner of the local pool hall, who is equally smitten. There’s a silly subplot about a moose who hates Christmas decorations, but mainly it’s about Lana and Rick deciding to have a holiday fling, then realizing that their feelings go much deeper.
I hate that the synopsis and the book itself keep referring to Lana as a “socialite”. What does that even mean? Yes, she’s a gazillionaire, but she’s a businesswoman heading up her family’s corporate investments in Alaska, not just some flighty rich person attending lavish parties.
This is an opposites-attract plot for sure, since Rick is not rich, polished, interested in “society”, or used to luxuries. But, he falls for Lana, the feeling is mutual, and they have great chemistry and some pretty goofy adventures.
I did feel extremely angry at this book when, toward the end, it feel into a romance trope I hate — the “I’m breaking up with you despite being in love with you because I’ll only hold you back” plot device, which is just, ugh, so emotionally unfair and manipulative. So you know better than the other person what they really need? Yuck.
Of course, there’s an HEA, because hey, this is a romance, not real life. And I enjoyed it enough to want to keep going!
Title:Enjoy the View Published: 2021 Length: 352 pages Rating:
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
A grouchy mountaineer, a Hollywood starlet And miles of untamed wilderness… What could possibly go wrong?
Former Hollywood darling River Lane’s acting career is tanking fast. Determined to start fresh behind the camera, she agrees to film a documentary about the picturesque small town of Moose Springs, Alaska. The assignment should have been easy, but the quirky locals want nothing to do with River. Well, too bad: River’s going to make this film and prove herself, no matter what it takes.
Or what (literal) mountain she has to climb.
Easton Lockett may be a gentle giant, but he knows a thing or two about survival. If he can keep everyone in line, he should be able to get River and her crew up and down Mount Veil in one piece. Turns out that’s a big if. The wildlife’s wilder than usual, the camera crew’s determined to wander off a cliff, and the gorgeous actress is fearless. Falling for River only makes Easton’s job tougher, but there’s only so long he can hold out against her brilliant smile. When bad weather strikes, putting everyone at risk, it’ll take all of Easton’s skill to get them back home safely…and convince River she should stay in his arms for good.
Enjoy the View feels pretty different from the previous two books, since most of the action happens outside of Moose Springs, on the (very scary) nearby mountain Mount Veil.
Easton is a familiar character, good friend to Graham and Rick, a huge mountaineer who doesn’t say much, but — as we see here — has a heart of gold and untapped emotional depths. When Easton encounters River, he doesn’t recognize her from her movie career — he just sees a strange tourist walking down the side of the road with a suitcase. He doesn’t realize that by stopping to offer assistance, he’s interrupting a shot for her movie. Oops!
River’s Hollywood career seems to have stalled. At the ripe old age of 29 (!!), she’s not being offered great roles any longer, and she’s turned her attention to producing and directing. She and her trusty crew have been hired by the Alaska tourism board to make a movie about Moose Springs, but unfortunately, the tourist-hating town wants nothing to do with them and impedes their filming at every turn. With no other options, they turn to the big attraction outside of town — Mt. Veil, the intimidating mountain that only the most skilled climbers can successfully summit.
Of course, River needs a guide, and of course, Easton is the man assigned to her climb. As they work together, their attraction deepens into an emotional connection. River is feisty and argumentative, Easton is quiet and strict when it comes to his safety rules, and they clash incessantly — but we just know that beneath it all, they’re falling in love.
I enjoyed reading about the climb and how scary it is, but I pretty frequently wanted to give River a good shake. She repeatedly ignores Easton’s rules and ends up endangering herself and others because of it. Somehow Easton keeps forgiving her, and I assume we’re supposed to find River’s rebelliousness charming and a sign of her independence, but her actions seem downright foolhardy at some points. I would not be nearly as forgiving as Easton, never mind falling in love!
As is typical of this series, there’s cute banter, some adorable wildlife (including a memorable marmot), and lots of breathtaking scenery. I wish the familiar characters from the town had bigger roles in Enjoy the View, but even in their brief appearances, it’s fun to see Graham, Zoey, and Easton’s sister Ash.
Enjoy the View is a fun way to end a three-audiobook binge!
Wrapping it all up…
This is clearly not a series that’s meant to be taken too seriously. It maintains a casually funny tone throughout, even when there are more emotional moments taking place. The town of Moose Springs is full of small-town quirky personalities, and the setting makes it really fun.
My two main complaints are:
1 – The male leads are cookie-cutter outdoorsy-loner types with a soft, gushy intererior. There’s really not much to distinguish them apart from their different occupations and physical builds (although they’re all versions of gorgeous, muscular hunks who look great in flannel). Really, I found Graham, Rick, and Easton to be fairly easily interchangeable (although, I admit Graham’s humor does set him apart to some extent). Not to say that I don’t like them, just that there’s not much distinctive about them.
2 – A more serious complaint is that there is just no Native representation, and that bothers me. Yes, these are fluffy romances, but the books seem to present Alaska as being populated strictly by the above-mentioned flannel-wearing white outdoorsmen. This omission is pretty glaring and is an irritant throughout the books.
Complaints aside, I have to admit that these books are addictively fun, with lots of silly misadventures and cute scenarios. And who can resist big, gruff men becoming marshmallow soft as soon as they fall in love?
I see on Goodreads that book #4 (no details or title provided) is due out sometime in 2022. Hmmm, who will the romantic focus be for whatever tourist wanders into town next? Easton’s sister Ash? Resort owner Jax? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out.
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:)
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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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.
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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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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Title: To Love and To Loathe (The Regency Vows, #2) Author: Martha Waters Publisher: Atria Publication date: April 6, 2021 Length: 384 pages Genre: Historical fiction/romance Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley Rating:
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.
After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.
Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.
To Love and To Loathe is author Martha Waters’s follow up to last year’s To Have and To Hoax, and I’m happy to report that the fun is back!
In TH&TH (sorry, I just can’t handle typing the titles over and over again), the story focused on a married couple Violet and James, and their love-match-turned-hate-match… and what came next. As part of the story, we also met the closest friends of the estranged couple, and here in TL&TL, two of their friends take center stage.
Lady Diana, in her mid-twenties, is a wealthy widow who has no need for a husband in order to live well. Six years earlier, in her first social season, she was desperate to marry, having been raised on the charity of an aunt and uncle. Diana was forced to be decidedly mercenary in her approach to the marriage market, much to the amusement of Jeremy, Lord Willingham, who couldn’t see beyond the surface to understand Diana’s true circumstances.
Years later, Jeremy has a confirmed reputation as a rake, seducing a steady stream of willing married women, enjoying sexual flings and remaining completely unavailable emotionally. But now that Jeremy, a second son, has inherited the family title that should have gone to his late brother, the family expects him to settle down and live up to his responsibilities. Jeremy is one of Diana’s brother’s closest friends, and Jeremy and Diana have bantered and bickered their entire lives.
But now, as adults with more at stake, there’s the potential that they could help each other out. Jeremy’s darling masculine ego has been dealt a blow by his most recent mistress, and Diana is thinking of expanding her social engagements to possibly include a lover. They agree to liaise at Jeremy’s upcoming country house party, where there will be time and opportunity for late-night dalliances.
I don’t think it’s at all a spoiler to say that Jeremy and Diana quickly discover that there’s more to their connection than friendship and banter. Their sexual spark is connected to emotions that bubble up as they spend time together, and they each must face the fact that there’s more on the line than just their bedroom connection.
Of course, there are complications, including another single young woman introduced as a possible future bride for Jeremy, but who harbors her own set of surprises. Violet and James are in attendance at the party, as is Emily, the 3rd member of Violet and Diana’s close friendship circle. I’d guess that if there’s a book #3 (and I hope there will be!), we’ll finally focus on Emily’s sad romantic situation and see her find true love too.
To Love and To Loathe is a fun, clever historical romance, and while some of the complications seemed a little more drawn-out than strictly needed, it’s quite an entertaining read. I really enjoyed the characters’ banter, as well as the witty/snarky/innuendo-laden moments.
With Willingham, at the moment, it seemed that little effort would have to be expended in the seduction. He was directing his charm at her so forcefully that she was surprised her legs hadn’t fallen open of their own accord.
“Do remove yourself from my settee, Willingham,” she said briskly, proceeding to rearrange her skirts with such gusto that the man had no choice but to retreat to an armchair to avoid the risk of suffocation by muslin.
And a favorite:
For heaven’s sake, it was breakfast time. She hadn’t known that thoughts this inappropriate were possible this early in the day.
If you’re looking for a light, romantic escape with charming characters, definitely check out To Have and To Hoax AND To Love and To Loathe. (TL&TL works just fine on its own, but might as well read them both!)
Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.
Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.
Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!
Title: The Best Man Author: Kristan Higgins Published: 2013 Length: 426 pages
What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):
Sometimes The Best Man Is The One You Least Expect…
Faith Holland left her hometown after being jilted at the altar. Now a little older and wiser, she’s ready to return to the Blue Heron Winery, her family’s vineyard, to confront the ghosts of her past, and maybe enjoy a glass of red. After all, there’s some great scenery there….
Like Levi Cooper, the local police chief – and best friend of her former fiancé. There’s a lot about Levi that Faith never noticed, and it’s not just those deep green eyes. The only catch is she’s having a hard time forgetting that he helped ruin her wedding all those years ago. If she can find a minute amidst all her family drama to stop and smell the rosé, she just might find a reason to stay at Blue Heron, and finish that walk down the aisle.
How and when I got it:
I bought a used copy online about a year ago.
Why I want to read it:
This is SO not my usual kind of read… but when a favorite author shared a super positive review of this book (and the rest of the series), I figured — why not? After all, it’s good to mix things up a bit, genre-wise… and a feel-good romance seems like a good choice for this time of year.
What do you think? Would you read this book?
Please share your thoughts!
Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:
Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
Add your link in the comments!
If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.