Thursday, April 30, 2020

My April Reading

One of the fallouts of the pandemic for me is that this month, my review reading went out the window, and I turned resolutely to comfort reading, which for me meant traditional Regencies. Thanks to Sunita, I now have a large collection of original Signets by Mary Balogh and original Fawcetts by Marion Chesney in mint or near mint condition. I also have nearly all of Joan Wolf's trads (not the new ones; I tried two of those, but they don't quite have the charm of the originals). I ended up reading seven Baloghs, one Wolf, one Diane Farr, and one Chesney.

I coded in a LIKE button from to add to the bottom of my blog posts but realized today that the free version allows only one such button on the page, which is useless, and the 10 button option is $8 a year. Whoa! So I coded in a Facebook LIKE button. However, when you 'like' a post, it asks you to confirm by popping up a Facebook box. I wonder if that means that you have to be logged in to Facebook in order to use the button. And what happens if you don't have a Facebook account? I have one and am always logged in so cannot confirm if this is true.

If you aren't always logged in to Facebook or don't have a Facebook account, are you able to 'like' this post? Please let me know. If not, I'll have to go back to the drawing board and code in a new type of button.

[Edited: As Vassiliki reported, the Facebook Like button requires a Facebook login. So I have removed it, and put the LikeBtn button back in while I investigate other options.]

The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: This week, I was feeling out of sorts and in no mood to delve into my review books. I knew a trad Balogh would be just the thing to cure temporary boredom. Thanks to Sunita, I have a huge stack of Baloghs. The Temporary Wife is a book I have read before, so it was a tried and true comfort read.

He has been estranged from his domineering, cold, and ruthless father for eight years, since the death of his mother. He has deliberately cultivated an independent life doing what he knew was repugnant to his father, while also amassing a fortune. His ailing father has now demanded that he return home to a dynastic marriage. But he is determined to not bow down to the edict. So he advertises for a governess and marries the one who is the most scared-looking, dowdy, plain, and of barely the genteel classes. He wants to thumb his nose in his father's face. She acquiesces to the plan for the money he will settle on her for her impoverished family.

Initially, he looks upon her in disdain; she in equanimity. Her generosity of spirit and love of family means that she seeks reconciliation between him and his siblings and father, and in so doing, he changes completely and cleaves to her.

Modern authors think they have invented consent in Romance. Here is Balogh's scene written in 1997. Their marriage of convenience is only days old. He is asking to make love to her.

"It is time I went to bed. Good night, my lord," she said.
"Let me come there with you," he said. "You may feel free to say no. I will not force you or even try to persuade you." His voice came from just behind her. "Allow me to open the door for you, my lady. It was no part of our agreement. You must not feel coerced. I will not trouble you by asking again."
"I would like to lie with you," she said.
One of his hands touched her shoulder. "I will take you to my bed, then, if you have no objection," he said.
"No," she said. "I have none."

The Obedient Bride by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: There is no external conflict in this book—the conflict is all internal, all within the bounds of marriage. This story is a true marriage of convenience plot, because the entire book is about an exploration of what marriage means to the two people caught up in it.

He is newly ascended to his title. She is the plain daughter of the previous holder of the title and is a distant cousin of the new viscount. She has been buried in the country her whole life, and at eighteen, behaves like she is much younger. He is a handsome, highly polished, very independent gentleman of Town, who attends glittering ton parties, hobnobs with peers at clubs, games and drinks his nights away, and keeps sophisticated mistresses under his protection. These two have nothing in common, not even conversation...or liking of each other. And yet, he has offered her marriage, on a whim, and she has accepted.

The protagonists are polar opposites in personality and their views on marriage have no commonalities, and yet, they are bound together. They each want something different from their relationship. He thinks he can retain his independence and his activities and his mistress. She thinks she will be content being obedient to him, doing her duty by him, and trying to make him comfortable. They try hard to implement their ideas, but as the days go by, both realize that their earlier suppositions don't hold up. He starts to have feelings for her; she starts to become more independent and assertive.

She is devastated when she finds out that he is keeping a mistress. Infidelity is at the heart of this story. She struggles with coming to terms with the betrayal she feels and what she considers a lady of breeding is supposed to endure. How can she—should she?—respect him when he has spurned their marriage vows? He, in turn, wrests with his conscience. He knows it is a commonly-accepted practice that men have mistresses and subject them to their full passion while having tepid sex with their wives merely to secure the succession. And yet, he cares about his wife and feels protective about her. He has killed her innocence by his behavior, and he feels vast guilt about it. He has done her—what he gradually comes to realize—a grave wrong when it was not his intention; he was merely doing what he thought was usually done. It is through this infidelity as the catalyst, they both begin to change fundamentally into becoming caring, mature, responsible...different people. As he falls in love with her, so does everything about her become precious. She is an avowedly average-looking person. But to him, she becomes so beautiful. This is true romance! Balogh is a master!

Romance writers would not dare to write a book like this today, because most readers have no tolerance for infidelity by the protagonists once The One has been spotted. And these days, readers are vocal on social media in raking the authors who dare to step off the straight and narrow. Writers wrote riskier books in the past, even if every book did not appeal to every reader. I am sure those authors were aware that readers hotly debated their books, and not always kindly, but they wrote those risky books anyway. Authors these days are very sensitive to what is being said of them in social media, and tailor their books to match the au courant moods.

Dancing with Clara by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: The heroine is under no illusions that the hero is a rake through and through whose women were legion and whose debts were staggering. She is also convinced that her lameness due to severe illness in childhood (sounded like polio to me) and her plainness make her ugly to someone of his beauty. But she is rich, and she knows his pockets are to let. So they enter into a marriage of convenience. She tells herself that she is buying his beauteous face and beauteous body, and she is going to be satisfied with that her whole life. He is horrified, on his wedding night, that she expects him to make love to her, but manages to do the deed.

Their honeymoon is a period of halcyon days where they gradually fall into the habit of enjoying each other's company. She is falling in love with him even as he is providing her every means of living and the joys to be found therein. What I love about Balogh's protagonists is that when they find themselves in a MoC, no matter the circumstances, each is willing to give of themselves to the success of their marriage. This means, trying to see the other in a positive light and work at pleasantness.

I liked him immensely for it. But then, came his latter behavior.

Having said what I did about infidelity in the review above, in this book, I felt Balogh went too far for my comfort. The hero is repeatedly and indiscriminately promiscuous even after he discovers he loves the heroine. Even after his declaration to her, he tells her that he may not be able to control his drinking, gambling, and wenching. It is like a demon in him that surfaces from time to time. And she forgives him for it because he always returns to her and he brings her happiness. He is a true rake who errs and repents again and again. But to her, he is a flawed individual whom she loves. Balogh shows us what it means to truly love—which is not loving perfection, but loving despite the utter lack of perfection. To me, the heroine was all goodness and deserved all goodness. She deserved the hero's fidelity and respect and consideration forever more. And I could not forgive the hero for not giving it to her. What a brave, brave book. And to those readers who love this book, you are such brave readers.

Dark Angel by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: She has been betrothed since she was fifteen to a perfectly perfect being in appearance and address. She believes she is dizzily in love with him, but lacks the self-awareness that she is in love with the idea of him. He is a corrupt individual who debauched the stepmother of the hero, leading the hero to flee to the Continent with his enceinte stepmother, his reputation under a cloud. The ton believes that he had an affair with his stepmother, while his father was alive.

Now his father has been dead a year and the stepmother is settled and happily in love with a man, and so he is back to attempt to repair his relationship. All the meantime, his heart burns with revenge. The story is about how the hero seeks to break his enemy's betrothal and thereby hurt him. However, the villain wants the same thing: break his betrothal. In the midst of their games, our innocent heroine is badly hurt, so the hero marries her to save her reputation.

On their wedding day, he tells her, "I am so very sorry, my dear. I know the words are woefully inadequate, but they are the best I can do. It is damnable mess I have got you into, but there is only one way out. We can only go forward and try to make something workable out of what seems impossible tonight."

How is she to trust him?

Incredibly, here is what she says, "I think you are right. I think we have to go on and just hope that time will bring some healing. I am so tired of hating." And then we see her struggle with her lack of trust of him and her decision to trust anyway through the early days of her marriage.

He, on the other hand, had been so consumed in using her as a weapon for revenge, he had failed to notice that his feelings were changing even before marriage. This book has wonderful insight into the hero's thoughts as he starts falling in love with the heroine. All throughout the early days of his marriage, he examines his feelings. It is a rare hero in romance, particularly in the early 1990s, who falls in love by degrees, not in one fell swoop followed by a dramatic public declaration. And he is in love long before the heroine decides to trust him thereby allowing her to fall in love with him. When she declares it to him, he starts crying. He had been so afraid for so long that his marriage was untenable.

The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: You just have to get over the scene in Vauxhall Garden where the protagonists, who barely know each other—and only by reputation, which they find intolerable—find themselves in a shelter in a thunderstorm, and he helps her control her terror by making love to her. And he proceeds to fall headlong in love with her and wooes her in rakish, ungenteel, ways. She is repelled and unwillingly attracted by him, yet, for a long time, she repulses his advances.

He wondered yet again why he was pursuing her to relentlessly. She was so much older and plainer than most of the dancers, who were his usual fare. At least he thought she must be. He could no long remember if she was pretty or plain, old or young. She was Mary.

Balogh uses that refrain of his calling her and thinking of her as simply "Mary" to great effect in the story.

In true rakish fashion, for a long time, he convinces himself that he is only pursuing her as a mistress. He repeatedly tells her how he has given up years of rakish ways for abstemious living. He wants to show her that she will not get a drunken womanizer for a lover, but that she will get someone who has more to him than what she knows.

But is there? There follows a deep examination in the story whether there was anything in his life with which to impress her. Here we have a rake who feels he is not fit to live up to her expectations; one who feels inadequate and suffers from a crisis of confidence. And then he falls in love with her. And his self-hatred deepens. Can he make himself over to be worthy of her regard? Probably not. And so, he confesses his love and sets her free. This starts her journey into what he means to her. Balogh is such a master at self-examination by her protagonists, and as they discover hitherto unknown facets of themselves, they like or change what they don't like of themselves.

A Chance Encounter by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: The heroine is a lady fallen on hard times and is now a companion to a young girl who is out of the schoolroom but hasn't yet been launched into society. The heroine has moved as far away from her old home as she can get following a scandal when she was young where she fell deeply in love with a gentleman who she believed loved her back. Imagine her horror when her nemesis from her past, from whom she had fled, shows up in the village where she now lives and proceeds to gallantly court her charge and other ladies in the area. He treats her with contempt, and she reviles him.

This is a Big Misunderstanding story done well even if it has the standard melodrama of the two not being able to have a rational conversation to clear the air. Even if you're not fond of Le Big Mis, I hope you will give this story a try, because this is one of the original misunderstanding stories with all the complexity that later imitations lack. What also adds nuance is the delicious twist in the tale in the second half of the book, which I will not reveal. It has excellent shock value, and the real story into romance begins there.

Red Rose by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: This was a book I simply could not like no matter what because the hero behaves so badly to the heroine through most the book, that I could not buy into his redemption, despite the clichéd grand gesture in the very last three pages. There was no earthly reason why this eminently nice heroine would love him.

The premise is simply enough: He inherits two wards. The older one is determined to stay single because she is lame in one leg. But, oh, how she dreams! She has this made-up hero in her mind who promises her deep abiding love and show her every respect and courtesy there is. The hero is highly eligible: good looking, titled, and rich. And cynical. And reprehensible, to boot. He is her dream lover come to life in looks—only in looks, not in manner.

This is the hero at the beginning of the book: There was that base bodily craving that had to be satisfied—and satisfy it he did with the type of woman he most despised. He always chose his women with care, assuming almost without conscious thought that physical beauty might compensate for the fact that he despised both the woman who gave her favors for money or expensive baubles and himself who bought.

What a prince! And he does not improve on closer examination.

Fool's Masquerade by Joan Wolf
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: One of the most important facet of Wolf's trads is that her characters are eminently likeable, so the reading is always pleasant for me. You can sink into her books and know that there won't be any nasty surprises. This is not to say that they are insipid. Far from it. They have such complex stories where the characters lead important lives and are shown doing meaningful work and having a purpose to life, well, other than getting married. I love her political books, but this non-political books is one of my favorites as well. It is perhaps the most Heyeresque of her books.

The heroine is left an orphan on the Peninsula during the war, and decides to masquerade as a boy so she can protect herself and also earn money to support herself. The only thing she knows much about is horses and so proceeds to Newmarket to work in one of the stables there. She meets the hero when she agrees to deliver a horse to him in person all the way in Yorkshire. There, he rules as the undisputed king of the north. He is extremely powerful, and Wolf convincingly shows us that. What I liked best about him is that even as he muddles his way into love with her, he never loses that aura of power and capability.

Until he finds her partially unclothed, for weeks on end, he never suspects that she is a girl. In this, Wolf departs from Heyer's These Old Shades, where the hero instantly divines she is a girl. For someone so used to succeeding and being very good at something, the hero does not like feeling stupid over this. The heroine falls in love with the hero early on in the book. Wolf makes the careful distinction between 'falling in love' and 'love choosing you.'

After discovering her gender and that she is the granddaughter of an earl, he feels compelled to propose marriage. But she runs away from him, because hers is a jealous, possessive love, and he thinks of her as a child and does not love her. Wolf's heroines tend to be young but very mature as are her heroes, which is part of their likeability for me. The third fourth of the book is devoted to her growth from a tomboy into a young lady of fashion. The last fourth of the book shows the hero finally recognizing that she is all grown up and falling in love with her.

The Nobody by Diane Farr
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Our country miss is an intrepid independent woman of maturity. But she has no fortune and no looks, in other words, she is a nobody, in the words of a snooty, uppity daughter of a duke at a London ball. Though trying to rally her spirits, the heroine is nevertheless stung by the remark, and flees the ball to walk the darkened streets to her home. I rolled my eyes at this. Luckily, she does not get raped, but is hauled into a dark corner by the hero and thoroughly kissed. The hero is escaping men who want to hurt him.

Yes, there is a mystery in the story—someone wants him dead, which he refuses to believe, attributing all the attempts on his life as coincidences. Our daughter of the duke is the proverbial third person in the love triangle and repels the hero with her unbending, scolding, temper-driven ways, while the heroine attracts the hero with her winsome, witty, caring ways. This is a low-conflict, predictable story that is nevertheless soothing to read, precisely because of its predictability. It is considered one of Farr's popular trads.

Frederica in Fashion by Marion Chesney
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: This was a sigh-worthy read, and not in a good way. The premise was a tad far-fetched and the execution was poor. The premise could've been made into a good book, many a book has started that way and worked its way to a satisfactory conclusion. But this book died aborning, because Chesney manipulated her characters into positions and actions that had nothing to do with the characters and everything to do with the author.

Our heroine is the youngest, and un-prettiest, of six heroines. All her sisters have been brilliant matches into the nobility. Instead of trying to improve her lot, she runs away from her select academy to be a chambermaid in a duke's household without knowing the first thing about being a maid or speaking like one. Within days, she is found out by the duke, but unlike Balogh's story above, our duke never thinks that a lady living unescorted in his mansion is compromised in the eyes of society. He promptly escorts her to London, where her sisters promptly pamper her, doll her up, and server her up to the marriage mart. Once on display, the duke proceeds to fall in love with her toute suite. Simple enough story that can be found in many trads, right? Unfortunately, there was the sort of melodrama that was off-putting and quite sank the novel.

Chesney (AKA M.C. Beaton) is a popular Regency author, but perhaps she is not for me. I am going to give another of her tales a try. After all, I own quite a few of the books.