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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Buy When He Was Wicked at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

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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Buy To Sir Phillip, With Love at AmazonBook DepositoryBookshop.org

Book Review: To Love and To Loathe by Martha Waters

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!)

Shelf Control #194: The Best Man by Kristan Higgins

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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!

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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!

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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.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!