Historical Romance: Nefarious Relative

The Plot(s):

Gretchen’s Pick: Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens

This book, like any good Shakespearean play starts with a murder, and ends in a marriage. Honoria, our feisty heroine is riding along a road and find a young man who has been shot. She stops the first rider she sees, who happens to be our hero, Sylvester “Devil” Cynster, Duke of St. Ives. Unbeknownst to Honoria the dying boy is Devil’s younger cousin, Tolly. There is a storm (because fate is involved here people!) and Devil and Honoria spend a night in a cottage. He decides that they have to marry (he believes in fate), she is not so inclined (she wants to “ride a camel in the shadow of the pyramids”). However because this is Regency England she goes along with meeting his moma (The Dowager is one the best characters in this book), and eventually, after some sexy times, they wed. As it turns out, someone is after Devil’s title (his heir is not in fact his younger brother, who is actually called Scandal), and the villain shot Tolly to cover up his plans. With the addition of all the Cynster cousins (6 in total — can you tell that it’s gonna be a series?), Devil and Honoria work together to find out who threatens them and killed Devil’s cousin.

Tara’s Pick: The Naked Duke by Sally MacKenzie

Set in Regency England, Miss Sarah Hamilton travels from Philadelphia to England to live with her relatives at the wish of her dead father. On her first night in the neighborhood inn, she unknowlingly ends up in the room of James, the Duke of Alvord. She falls asleep alone, and wakes in the morning to a naked duke and a hall full of witnesses. James knows they need to marry to save her reputation, but Sarah is not so sure she’s willing to marry the notorious Duke. She’s heard nothing but scandalizing gossip when it comes to his outrageous and rakish nighttime activities. James knows his crazy cousin will stop at nothing to gain the dukedom for himself, so he must woo Sarah before anything happens to him… or her!

Dynamic Between Characters:

Gretchen(Devil’s Bride): The way these two characters interact is amazeballs! Without the other character they would be way to extreme for my taste, but together they manage to balance out their extreme natures. Devil is the pinnacle of an alpha male, and Honoria is basically the most stubborn version of Elizabeth Bennet out there. However as they learn to trust each other (or he grudgingly tries, and she forces him by doing her own investigations into Tolly’s death) and work together, both turn into characters you are happy to have known. Honoria becomes the type of strong female that you would want to hang out with in a crisis, and Devil is the take-charge type of guy that will bend to his partner that can be so damn appealing. Oh and the sexy times in this book! Honestly, sit in front of a fan when you read this one.

Tara(The Naked Duke): I loved how these two characters fit together! Sara is an extremely naive woman with the plebeian desire to love the man she marries, and James refuses to sleep around with women just because he’s a duke and therefore could. James hands down immediately knows Sarah is the woman for him, and spends the book convincing and proving that Sarah would be happy with him. The dynamic of Sarah pulling away and then drawing close to James again and again really captures how someone as sheltered as she is would struggle with trying to understand her own feelings and trusting his. Unfortunately, I did struggle with the believability of a virginal man knowing how to immediately give a woman mind-blowing pleasure.


Nefarious Relative:

Gretchen(Devil’s Bride): I will freely admit that this is my favorite Romance trope, and I’m about to give away the ending a bit, so read on at your own risk! So having a relative that is jealous of the Duke (it’s always seems to be a duke) was great. In this case it turns out to be the one cousin that doesn’t get along with the rest of the group (because it’s not hard to figure out here people!), and unsurprisingly is the heir to the Dukedom. He isn’t so happy about Honoria and Devil getting married and losing that spot and his time table gets moved up, which adds a great dimension to the story. I think that Charles is a great villain. He is almost totally crazy-pants with his jealousy, but he is comes off as a sane, intelligent and concerned. I appreciate that he is a strong secondary character in the book, and he isn’t just flat out given away as the villain. You get enough hints to figure it out on your own, but it is still good reading.

Tara(The Naked Duke): So, cousin is certifiably crazypants. But there’s no proof that he’s been trying to kill James for the Alvord dukedom, even though it’s common knowledge among friends and family that his crazypants cousin is trying to kill him. James has managed to escape a few murder attempts and the whole romantic situation between James and Sarah is solidified because his aunt barges into his room to make sure he’s not dead and finds them naked (it’s not a spoiler when it happens in the first chapter, right?). So crazypants cousin is 100% determined to kill James to gain the dukedom, and goes so far as to threaten Sarah, as well as blackmail a shady character into kidnapping and raping her. From first to last, there is absolutely no question that he is batshit crazy. I wish he had had a bit more dimension – blatant in his motives is an understatement. Also, apparently it’s a common trope that the villain is also in a gay relationship with his valet? I’ve never come across that before, but Gretchen tells me it’s fairly common. With the amount of historical romance novels I’ve read, I’m honestly shocked I haven’t come across this before.

Fun Moments:

Gretchen(Devil’s Bride): When we first meet Devil it is Honoria’s perspective, and so we don’t know his name, or title. When she finds out it is a great moment. He just looks at her and thinks ‘Ok, that’s my future wife’ and decides that he should bring her home to his mother and that’s that. Her struggle with that is hilarious, but getting to know the Dowager Duchess of St. Ives is icing on the cake for that section of the book. She wants her son married so badly that even though she seems like she is on Honoria’s side, you know she isn’t. Later when her brother shows up and Devil convinces him to side with him, you get another great moment. Having Honoria realize that basically everyone thinks she should marry Devil is just fun.

Tara(The Naked Duke): Okay, so I stayed up waaaaay too late reading this because I just couldn’t put it down. I like to be asleep by 10 pm because I’m an 80 year old lady at heart, but I stayed up until 1 am reading this book. That’s how great the writing is in this book! It was fast paced, engaging, and the climax(es, lol) made sense. I loved how James was handsy but not too pushy, they both really enjoyed their interludes (wink, wink), and even though there are cheesy moments it was super engaging. I loved that crazypants cousin spread such crazy rumors about James that the entire ton thought he was the most jaded rake who had ever even glanced at a woman (or ten!) and the rumors Sarah hears during parties were just hilarious. I also really liked that they communicate! Problems/worries/fear? Talk about them! Loved it. While this is not my favorite trope, I understand why Gretchen loves it and I would absolutely read anything by Sally MacKenzie again.


Our Winner:

Because of the interesting plot, and strong characters


What is your choice?

Historical Romance: Secret Identity

The Plot(s):

Gretchen’s Choice : Chieftan by Arnette Lamb

Set in Scotland in the early 1300s, the book starts with a woman named Clare, who is dying. Her husband, Drummond was a leader of a Scottish army has been arrested and she sleeps with the Prince of England to free him. It doesn’t go very well (he does not get his freedom), and Drummond finds out (even though he is imprisoned). Clare has an accident and asks her twin sister, Johanna to take over her life as her dying wish. (This means moving to a new place in the Borderlands, raising her son, and assuming Clare’s name). Johanna agrees, and 7 years later Drummond (her not husband) shows up and they have to figure out how to live with each other (she being scared he will realize she is actually Johanna and take away his son and Drummond is pissed about his wife cheating on him).

Tara’s Choice: The Ghost by Monica McCarty

Set in the 1300’s during the first war for Scottish Independence, Joan Comyn acts as a spy for the Scottish king, living with her English relatives and sending any information on the war efforts that she collects. Her means of obtaining that information – leading young knights on in order to get them to spill the beans – are starting to label her as a whore, though. Sir Alexander Seton, a Scottish knight in the service of King Edward II, is determined to uncover the spy to prove to his English superiors that he is not the one leaking information. Sparks fly as these two strong characters dance around each other, testing their boundaries of honor and duty to those they love and the countries they serve.

Dynamic between Characters:

Gretchen (Chieftain): The dynamic between Drummond and Johanna was my favorite part of this book! While it wasn’t perfect, I felt like the conversations and moments they had were what was making me want to continue reading. Generally when I read romance novels I don’t want the plot to be realistic (I mean the plot is about secret twins) but I very much appreciated that there were moments where the characters really seemed to be having actual chemistry (like they were written to be or something), which was refreshing from the crazy parts of the plot. I totally understood that Drummond was pissed that his wife cheated on him, but having him realize that she had done so much to improve the keep and to raise their child was a great way for the character to grow. Johanna was also this amazing person from the start, she was intelligent and capable, and honestly I would dare anyone to read the book and note enjoy how she handles Drummond. She basically sets a 7 year old on him, which is totally fair.


Tara(The Ghost): Character dynamic was excellent! I always get frustrated by books where it’s love at first sight and it’s a headlong fall into forever passionate romantic love in two weeks; luckily the evolution of the main characters in The Ghost made their dynamic realistic. Attraction is always a necessary starting point, but Alex then decides he doesn’t like Joan based on rumors that Joan is “free with her favors” (aka – a skanky hoe-bag. Maybe you shouldn’t be talking with all those knights, Joan). Joan doesn’t appreciate his judgey, nasty looks. You go get it, Joan! She’s looking for more than a good time, she wants the juicy troop gossip and isn’t afraid of leading those young knights on to get the deets. But then they come back together and start realizing there is more to each other than their first impressions. I love when character growth happens!


Secret Identity (was is secret?):

Gretchen (Chieftain): This secret identity was amazing! Secret twins that are Scottish royalty, hidden by the English King. One gets married off, dies, and her twin sister takes her place, that is so ridiculous it was awesome! Just like in Tara’s book the main female character ended up being an unrealistically strong woman in a time period where that would not happen. Let’s all be honest, if a woman were actually allowed to control a property and sit in judgement of a village than medieval times would have turned out way better. I enjoyed every moment where the characters said things to each other that made you wonder if Drummond had finally figured it out. And when he does figure it out the shit he throws into conversation to try and find out who the hell he slept with is beyond entertaining.


Tara(The Ghost): Who doesn’t love a female spy secret identity? Especially in historical eras when women weren’t really “allowed” to do anything and were just expected to do as they were told and save themselves for when their guardian could trade their unsullied body for whatever currency their guardian wanted. Am I bitter? Maybe. Apparently there’s a little bit of feminist hiding under my unhealthy love for historical romance novels. But Joan fucking goes out and get what she wants, using the fact that no one would ever expect the skanky low-level courtier of smuggling troop movement reports to the Scottish. Bad. Ass. Plus only two or three people in the Scottish band she sends her information to even know who she is. Joan is deep undercover, using those preconceived notions to her benefit!


Surprising plot points:

Gretchen (Chieftain): So I may have to give this one to Tara’s book. There wasn’t a whole lot in the book that surprised me. Not to say that it wasn’t interesting or completely expected. But as far as plot twists that make you go “what!?” or ‘oooo’ I never had that moment. I think there was potential for that, but the author never really took advantage. The secret of the twins being Scottish royalty was said on page 4, and the conflict between characters came from Johanna pretending to be Clare, so as an audience you pretty much know the ‘big reveal’ at the end. I guess I was most entertained by the elephant, but even that wasn’t a huge surprise or plot twist.


Tara(The Ghost): I wasn’t expecting to have a secondary secret female spy character show up in the story. That was a fun moment – when the two ladies realized they were actually working towards the same goal. I’m not going to ruin the surprise by telling you, though. Maybe I was just oblivious. I tend to be oblivious when it comes to figuring out plot points before the author reveals it. I also thought it was awesome how Alex switches sides again towards the end, but that isn’t a spoiler because apparently that actually happened in the historical battle The Ghost is based on. Not that I knew that before reading it. Again, oblivious. Also not great at recalling historical events.


Fun Moments:

Gretchen (Chieftain): Two moments really stand out for me in this book. First when the elephant appears, because it’s a freakin’ medieval romance, so why not just throw an elephant in there? Golden. I love how having this elephant gives Drummond purpose throughout the book. It becomes the motivator for him to build things and have something to show his son, etc.(Which he needs because Johanna has things running so smoothly that he really isn’t needed) The second moment that I liked was when Drummond finally figured out that Johanna was not Clare. I mean, she tried to get the guy drunk (and of course in his great manly wisdom he figures she is up to something so he gets all sneaky and drinks half as much as it seems), and sleeps with him. Then wait, he’s like “Oh shit, that’s not my wife — who the hell is this?” Having him dealing with this realization and working against Johanna in a new way brought a great dimension to their interactions.


Tara(The Ghost): The whole fact that the story is loosely based on historical fact! Apparently some people enjoy a history lesson with their written sexy times. It dragged a bit when the author needed to explain historically relevant information in order for the story to make sense, but with the notable exception of skipping the three pages listing what happened to most of the major players during and after the final battle I actually didn’t mind getting a mini-historical lesson. Pretty sure I won’t forget about how “The Bruce” won Scottish independence any time soon. Maybe more history lessons should be wrapped up in romance plots? Also, the sex scenes were pretty hot. AND! Oh  my gosh, Alex totally gets pissed on Joan’s behalf when he finds out she was raped when she was 15. He gives a little monologue about how it wasn’t her fault and he doesn’t blame her at all for what happened; definitely not a historically accurate portrayal of how the issue of rape has been handled, but I appreciated his stance. Even if it was delivered in a cheesy way.


The Winner: The Ghost

  • Good plot
  • Based on real characters
  • Fun romance

Aaaaaaaare you ready to rumble??

In which we learn our purpose.

Very soon, this space will be filled with down and dirty fights (in the best of fun) over which book we thought was the best. There are rules for these fights. The first rule of book fights is no one talks about… Oh wait, wrong book. So our rules:  each month we’ll choose one genre, then three tropes or archetypes common in the genre. We will each read one book per trope/archetype, then come here to defend the honor of our book and why we think it was the best.

Because February is the month of love, our genre will be Historical Romance. Our tropes have been chosen as well: secret identity, jealous relative, and reformed rake/villain. Keep your eyes open for updates next month as we duke it out, discussing why we think our book was the best (or worst!) in our chosen categories.

Two readers, two books, but there can be only one victor.

Who wins? You decide!