Show Me the Romance

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Archive for the tag “England”

Book Review: Wrapped

Wrapped
 By Jennifer Bradbury

Since I’m thinking about making my next project a YA Regency Romance (or YARR) (Mateys!) (Sorry, couldn’t resist), I’ve been trying to read every example of that genre I can get my hands on. The first one I read–The Season by Sarah MacLean–was so frustrating and condescending it made me wonder if the genre was fundamentally flawed, the casualty of tailoring a Regency Romance to fit YA expectations. Next, I whipped through a couple of chick-litty Regency YA novels by Meg Cabot that read well and didn’t reek of pandering to a younger reader (unlike The Season), but the tone wasn’t quite what I had in mind for my own novel.

Then I found Wrapped — a YA mystery regency romance with Egyptian themes. It’s pretty good, and suddenly I don’t think the YARR is so flawed after all. (YARR!)

The Premise

London, 1815. When Agnes Wilkins discovers a strange jackelheaded figurine in the wrappings of a mummy featured at a high society party, her first instinct is to hide the figurine as her own little secret. But then a series of robberies and murders begin to plague everyone who had contact with the mummy, and Agnes decides she isn’t about to wait around and let the so-called “curse” rifle through her wardrobe. She’s going to crack the secret herself . . . with the help of an attractive young Egyptologist who has a few secrets of his own.

The Pain

In addition to some historical inaccuracies and a suspiciously magical performance from an inanimate object (when the book’s world is a non-magical one), the book suffers from a slow start (I’m already seeing a YARR trend here  . . . starting the book with the heroine complaining about being fit for a gown) and doesn’t really get rolling until the first murder happens. But isn’t that par for the course in mysteries? Also, I knew who the villain was from the beginning, and I’m Ms. Oblivious. Whoops. Good thing this blog isn’t called “Show Me The Mystery”.

The Payoff

The hero isn’t a Duke! Or a Marquis, or an Earl, or even a Sir. Shocking, I know. As a museum assistant, aspiring Egyptologist Caedmon is decidedly below Agnes’s rank socially, but even if he’s a bit rough, he’s also capable and clever–and unlike most Regency Romance heroes, he hasn’t been under half the skirts in London. The romance isn’t all that strong, so I couldn’t bump this up to a four arrow. Still, Agnes and Caedmon are cute together, and combined with an ending I enjoyed (even if it was a *mite* improbable), I think I can safely say this one is a three-arrow grinner.
Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

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Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel
 By Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Many modern adventure stories owe a severe debt of gratitude to Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. Blackadder has parodied the character. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels function on the assumption that not only was the old Scarlet P a real person, he eventually retired and his flower-named pupils continued spying for England. I love both Blackadder and the Pink Carnation, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The Premise

To imitate the book’s language…
It’s 1792. The Reign of Terror has Paris in its grip, and the guillotine drinks deep of France’s noble blood. A league of young English gentlemen dash back and forth across the Channel, rescuing French aristocrats from a revolution that has lost its way. Their leader calls himself the Scarlet Pimpernel—he plots every move and slips like a wraith through the French authorities’ fingers.

Now the French government has their best agent on his tail. He intends to blackmail Lady Marguerite Blakeney into helping him unmask the Pimpernel. If she doesn’t, he’ll have her beloved brother killed. Marguerite moves in the highest English circles thanks to her fabulously wealthy, incomparably stupid husband, Sir Percy Blakeney, but even she doesn’t know the secret that makes her part in betraying the Scarlet Pimpernel so awful: she’s married to him.

The Pain

Although I love the fact that Marguerite is a strong, active heroine who tells almost the entire story from her point of view, the overwrought palpitations of her heart will probably be off-putting for anyone with a low threshold for melodrama. That being said, the book is more than a century old and it gives me a happy ending, so I throw it a bone.

The Payoff

Percy, Percy, Percy . . .  you care for nothing, yet you watch your wife with incredible longing. You make the world think you’re an impeccably dressed buffoon—all so you can save innocent people from the barbarism of the guillotine. You laugh like an idiot, plot like a genius, and love like a starving man. You are worthy of Marguerite’s love, and you make the novel. Bravo.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Miniseries Review: The Moth (1997)

The Moth (1997)
BBC Miniseries, 152 minutes (3 fifty minute episodes)

based on the novel by Catherine Cookson

Have Downton Abbey withdrawal? A bunch of BBC miniseries by Catherine Cookson appeared on Netflix recently, and since I’m an absolute sucker for costume drama, I went trawling the web for some tips on which one to try. By all accounts, The Moth (set in 1913, Northumbria, England) got the highest marks, and away I went.

The Premise

When his father dies, carpenter Robert Bradley (Jack Davenport) takes a job offer from his uncle, a furniture maker in rural England. But Robert’s handsome face and charming ways soon land him in hot water with his uncle’s family. Wrongfully accused of getting his cousin pregnant, Robert leaves the family and takes the only job he can get: an odd-job servant position on the local landowner’s estate. There, he strikes up a friendship with ‘The Moth’—the gentry family’s wandering, childlike daughter—and engages in a war of longing looks with the girl’s older sister, Sarah (Juliet Aubray).

The Pain

Multiple subplots get lost in forgotten-ville, and the production values are not the greatest. Don’t go into this expecting Downton-caliber writing, sets, or acting, and you should be pleasantly entertained.

The Payoff

Get ready for a dose of delicious ‘Brits in love’ restraint, complete with stolen glances, and a steamy forbidden kiss that lands this one solidly in three arrow territory.

By the way, once you’ve watched the miniseries, treat yourself to reading this hilarious screen-cap rehashing by someone far more British, and far more witty than I. Bairnsketballs indeed.

3 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: Title Inflation in Regency Romances

What is up with the proliferation of dukes in the Regency romance genre?

This is a terribly unscientific observation, but it seems like the last few novels I’ve read in the genre have all featured dukes as heroes. I’m currently reading The Last Hellion by one of my favorite authors, Loretta Chase (hero: the Duke of Ainswood). I’m also halfway through YA Regency The Season by Sarah MacLean, which features the daughter of a duke. The count for other ducal characters in The Season is up to five, and I may yet find more. I just read another novel by Loretta Chase featuring a ducal hero, and another one of my favorite authors, Eloisa James, seems to make a good 75% of her heroes and heroines dukes, or duchesses, or both.

Okay, I get it. The power is attractive. But it’s horribly unrealistic when the rest of the aforementioned novels boast brilliant characters and bear the hallmarks of painstaking research.

Jane Austen knew that world better than any of us could. Mr. Darcy doesn’t need to be the Duke of Darcy to exude wealth and power. The highest ranking character mentioned in any of her novels is the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple in Persuasion—and in the hierarchy of English ranks, a viscountess is a good three steps lower than a duke.

Dukes are supposed to be rare. That’s part of the reason people fawn all over them. Besides, isn’t a “Mr.” who is powerful and influential without an inflated title far more interesting?

Suburban street naming has gone too far.

I just discovered there’s a cul-de-sac in my area called Tyburn Tree Court.

If that doesn’t sound like a downright awful place to raise kids, how would you like telling people you live on Electric Chair Drive? How about Firing Squad Lane? Guillotine Way?

The “Tyburn Tree” was a gallows erected in London in 1571. The innovative design allowed executioners to hang three people at once. Earls, persecuted Catholics, highwaymen, and even the exhumed body of Oliver Cromwell swung from Tyburn Tree.

So I’d really like to know why some developer thought it was a good name for a suburban cul-de-sac in Northern Virginia, U.S.A. Had he or she heard the phrase somewhere before and thought it had a nice alliterative ring to it? If so, clearly the developer didn’t recall the context and never bothered to look into what the phrase might mean.

Or…someone got sneaky. Maybe the developer was sick of names like “Old Dairy Road,” “Brightfield Lane,” and “Soft Breeze Court” (all streets in the same neighborhood as Tyburn Tree Court). After all, if you don’t know what Tyburn Tree really was, then it sounds no different from the bucolic terms every other developer in America strives to use.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will add that there’s a road in northern Virginia named “Gallows Road,” but that’s because way back in early Virginia history the dirt road actually went out to a gallows. Tyburn Tree was a particular gallows, and it only ever stood in London, England.

Lazy developer? Or sneaky one? What do you think?

P.S. How did I know about Tyburn Tree in the first place? Romance novels 😉

Book Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Novel by Lauren Willig
A contemporary/historical romance and alternate history spy novel

Time to talk about one of my favorite authors. Lauren Willig is who I want to be when I grow up. Of course, the fact that she has a Harvard Law degree and I…do not… might put a bit of a damper on my emulation plans. Eh, well my point remains: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and its sequels are awesome incarnate.

The Premise

In modern day London, American grad student Eloise Kelly desperately needs sources for her thesis on flower-named spies during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). Everyone knows the Scarlet Pimpernel was a real spy, and they also know the identity of the Purple Gentian, his protégé—but Eloise really wants to discover the identity of the Pink Carnation, the most mysterious spy of all.

She becomes the luckiest grad student in history when she meets up with a direct descendant of the Purple Gentian. Even better, the old lady gives her permission to read the family papers—papers no academic has ever seen before. And never will, if her hostile-but-handsome grandson has anything to say about it.

Meanwhile in 1803, the Purple Gentian a.k.a. Richard Selwick is happily wreaking havoc in Paris when wannabe spy Amy forces her way into his life. Amy sucks at espionage. Suddenly, Richard has his hands full, carrying out missions for the crown while keeping Amy away from danger—and that includes himself.

The Pain

The book switches back and forth between the modern and historical timelines every few chapters. This would be intolerable if one storyline sucked, but fortunately they’re both good, so as you read it’s like “No! I don’t want to leave Richard and Amy!” and then a few chapters later it’s like “No! I don’t want to leave Eloise and Colin!” and so on.  Mildly annoying, but I can’t imagine the story being told in any other way.

The Payoff

This thing is funny. And hot romantic. And really well written. And she knows her history. And aw heck, why don’t I just squeal like the little fangirl I am.

There, done. Aren’t you glad you couldn’t hear me?

Rating:

5 out of 5 arrows

The other books in the Pink Carnation series are great, too. In order:
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
The Masque of the Black Tulip
The Deception of the Emerald Ring
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

The Mischief of the Mistletoe (coming in October 2010)

Miniseries Review: Emma (2009)

Emma
BBC Miniseries, 240 minutes (4 one-hour episodes)
based on the novel by Jane Austen

Every few years, someone in the movie industry decides it’s time to remake an Austen film. Hollywood did it in 2005 with the Kiera Knightly version of Pride & Prejudice—or, as my friend Katie calls it, “Emily Brontë’s Pride & Prejudice.” Naturally, filmmakers want to try their hand at the biggest women’s franchise ever (try to argue Twilight has eclipsed Austen, I dare you).

Sometimes, I wish they’d do something other than P&P or Emma. There isn’t a decent Northanger Abbey, and though I adore the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds Persuasion, there’s ample room for another entry there, too. But did I say any of this when Katie invited me to a “new Emma” viewing party? Of course not. It’s a new Austen film, yay!

The Premise

For the uninitiated, Emma is about a smart, wealthy young lady in 1810’s England who decides she’s a brilliant matchmaker and proceeds to meddle in the lives of her friends and neighbors—with funny and sometimes disastrous results. Her behavior puts a strain on her friendship with Mr. Knightly, who is her only intellectual equal. Emma may think she’s a great matchmaker, but she knows nothing about her own heart.

The Pain

Most women my age picture Jeremy Northam (from 1996’s Emma) as Mr. Knightley, so Jonny Lee Miller (aka Edmund Bertram in 1999’s Mansfield Park) takes some getting used to in the Mr. Knightley role. The Brontëan darkness shoehorned into parts of the miniseries stand at odds with Austen’s usual social satire. Lastly, Emma’s occasional anachronistic behavior will be jarring to anyone familiar with the mores of the period.

The Payoff

As Emma, actress Romola Garai is an elegant imp who has so much fun with the story that I almost forgave her those anachronisms. As Emma’s father, Michael Gambon is fabulous, and even Jonny Lee Miller comes through on the romance.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Miniseries Review: North and South (2004)

North and South
BBC Miniseries, 235 minutes (4 one-hour episodes)

based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell

From the way people describe this story, you’d think it was called Pride and Prejudice and the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England. To a certain extent, that’s an accurate pigeonhole. The romance is of the “I hate him, I hate him, I hate him, oh crap I love him!” variety—one of my personalfavorites—and instead of satirizing society (Jane Austen’s forte), Elizabeth Gaskell goes after issues of social conscience, contrasting the stark differences between pastoral, agrarian southern England and the bustling, hardscrabble mill towns transforming the north of England in the 1840’s.

The Premise

When spirited middle-class southerner Margaret Hale (played by Daniela Denby-Ashe) has to move with her family to Milton, a sooty, every-man-for-himself northern city that’s nothing like the beautiful village she’s known all her life, she hates everything about it. The city’s dirty air hurts her mother’s health and the people are pushy and hard. To her, attractive mill owner John Thornton (Richard Armitage) epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the North, and when she befriends one of his workers, a girl whose health has been damaged in the mills, Margaret knows exactly who to blame. If you’re wondering how The Man could possibly be a sympathetic hero, all I can say is Gaskell knows her romance.

The Pain

A drab gray palette suffuses nearly every bit of the movie. You keep expecting spring to arrive, and with it some color, or flowers, or something, but it would seem that there are no beautiful days in the North.

The Payoff

Is John Thornton. He’s full of restrained passion and out-smolders Darcy, if you can imagine that. I highly recommend.

5 out of 5 Arrows

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