Recently read regencies

I’ve learned that when it comes to regency romances, the negative reviews on Amazon are always right.  Now, sometimes the negative review is something you can live with: “Predictable. It feels like you’ve read this story a million times already,” because often when you’re reading a regency you’re not reading it because you want something original, but because you want something comforting.  Or sometimes, “Occasional use of anachronistic language!” or “Plucky heroine acts nothing like a regency miss would.”  Pah, it must be taking place in an alternate universe then, fine by me.  But sometimes the negative review says something like, “Hero won’t take no for an answer, which is creepy,” and it indeed, turns out to be creepy even if the 64 positive ratings didn’t think so.  Or occasionally, “Hero and heroine are just unlikeable, and the story was boring.”  That also turns out to be true, even if the remaining 23 five-star ratings don’t seem to find that to be a problem.

We’ve read a lot of regencies recently.  Some of them have been real duds, but some of them have been pretty good.  And the occasional find is better than a few (of the worse) Georgette Heyers.  (Heyer’s better novels are like a fully stuffed Italian Wedding Cake– full and deep and exciting… a few of these make it to a decent chocolate cake status.  Good and tasty, but without quite so many layers.)  You know, if Heyer had sex scenes.

Candice Hern [who seems to be on kindle sale] was a first foray into non-Heyer territory.  Her work is highly mixed– some clean sweet Heyer-like novels, some deeply sexy and entertaining novels, and some stuff that’s just not that good (often with heroes who won’t take No for an answer– for shame!).  A Proper Companion is as good as some of the reasonably good Heyers, so is The Best IntentionsAn Affair of Honor isn’t too shabby, nor is Miss Lacey’s Last Fling (though unlike Heyer, this one has an actual fling in it) though it gets a bit silly.  Her short stories/novellas aren’t bad.  Sexier winners include The Merry Widows quartet, four books about a group of wealthy widows who swear to take lovers, but, of course, end up losing their hearts in the process.  Bonus:  In some of the books she discusses 19th century birth control methods (because don’t you wonder?).  Duds (generally in Hern’s case because the hero does not allow the women full agency) include A Garden Folly and The Bride Sale.  The series about women running a magazine is ok for library checkouts but not worth owning.  We haven’t read her entire oeuvre yet.

Most regency writers seem to have only one sex scene (sometimes repeated multiple times in the same novel), and one that’s totally female wish-fulfillment (and not necessarily the kind the virgin in question would be looking for).  It’s formulaic.  Mary Balogh doesn’t.  Her sex scenes both are more realistic and actually add to the plot and character development.  She goes into detail when the details matter.  It’s a refreshing change from the other books with their same generic hero-introduces-virginal-woman-to-the-joys-of-sensuality (which Sarah MacLean does well, see below).  It feels a bit less like boring porn added just to titillate, and a bit more like art and commentary on life.  More than a Mistress, by Mary Balogh, is an excellent example of the use of sex as character development.  Unfortunately its companion book, No Man’s Mistress, was a dud.  The third book (or maybe the first– time-wise it is set before the other two), The Secret Mistress, was delightful, especially if you’ve ever wondered what was going on in the minds of the seemingly silly chatterbox characters who appear in some of these novels.  Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh, is the fourth of a set of four (but the only one the university library had; we haven’t read the first three). It was wonderful (except for a 2-3 page scene ripped from the pages of Arabella, which would have been fine if I hadn’t been thinking, “Hey, I read this already”).

Shameless by Karen Robarts was another book from the library.  Unfortunately it sounded promising, but had lots of repetition with long boring passages, and… the main character doesn’t enjoy sex with the hero.  I skipped large chunks of the book and then was irritated– who writes a fun romance novel in which the heroine’s thought after her first time with the hero is, “Glad that’s over with, hope we never have to do that again.”???

Of course, not all regencies have sex (Heyer, of course, has none).  Kathleen Baldwin is fun, rated PG.  We both enjoyed Mistaken Kiss and are looking forward to the third book coming out on kindle.  One of these days one of us will get the first book and tell the other if it’s worth the kindle price despite its lower reviews.

The Gentlemen Next door series by Cecilia Gray was also fun.  She has four $0.99 short stories that are each a smaller delight with lovely unconventional heroes and heroines.  I wish she had some longer stuff that wasn’t retreads re-imaginings of Jane Austen.

Barbara Metzger is another big author in this genre.  Unfortunately the uni library has none of them and the local library doesn’t have her highest rated stuff.  So far I’ve read The Duel and A Perfect Gentleman.  Both were ok.  Oddly they had very similar plots, complete with serial killer.  They both concurrently dragged and went too fast.  Lots of boring stuff and suddenly they’re in love and it doesn’t really make sense.  But some entertaining bits.  I’m sure her higher rated stuff is better, but I’m not yet willing to spend $5.99 or even $3.99 to find out via kindle.  I may get to the other library branch at some point, which has a few more of her titles.

Lost in Temptation by Lauren Royal:  I enjoyed it so much!  Thanks to #1 for giving me this book; I’m going to get the second one post-haste.

Sarah MacLean’s fantastic series: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake; Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord.  We both enjoyed these, though Ten is nowhere near as good as Nine.  Eleven is supposed to be better than Ten, but neither of us has read it yet. #2 was introduced to this author via several podcasters who love her, and then spread the love to #1.

MacLean’s other series is the Rules of Scoundrels, which is about 4 scoundrels who run London’s most notorious gaming hell, The Fallen Angel:  A Rogue by Any Other Name (excellent!), One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (great!), No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (not as good as the first two, but introduces what will happen in number 4, which I’m exited about).  #1 is a bit more luke-warm on these.  She thought the first was pretty good, but not great.  Nine Rules, OTOH, was truly fantastic.

Among the best non-Heyer there is!

Has anyone kept reading this far?  You certainly have got some summer reading to do! Got suggestions for us?  Where do you stand on sex scenes?  Yay, nay or it depends? 


41 Responses to “Recently read regencies”

  1. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Hey, #2, do you think we lost a lot of readers with that pizza post? Or just that we wore out our readership with two provocative posts in a row?

  2. Sandyl FirstgenAmerican Says:

    The pizza post should have been labelled deliberately comtroversial.

    I can’t stand reading graphic sex scenes in novels. Imagine if pride and prejudice had sex scenes?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ah, but it isn’t (deliberately controversial). Anyone who disagrees with us is just wrong! No controversy involved.

      I used to hate graphic sex scenes in novels, but now I generally just find them boring (as long as they’re consensual– non-consensual is still hella disturbing), unless they actually add to plot or character development, which is a rare thing. Very occasionally I wonder though, as in the Heyer novel, “A Civil Contract” where a man is forced to marry for money and then… sex in that kind of a marriage is a big deal and non-obvious, but it’s never mentioned. One hopes that they gave each other time, and it wasn’t just a duty, but we never know.

  3. Linda Says:

    It looks like there are lots of good books to add to my reading list from this post. Thanks!

    On a (somewhat) related note, my wait on the list for Philomena ended just before vacation started (how fortuitous!) and I’m getting ready to return it now. You asked for an opinion of it. Well, it wasn’t what I expected. I’ve switched over from the camp of reading the book first before seeing the movie since that approach invariably led to disappointment. I was hoping that the book would provide more details and insights than the movie, and indeed it did. However, while the movie focused on Philomena and her struggle to find her child, the book seemed almost opposite.

    The majority of the book was about her child Michael (Anthony). The book is divided into four Parts and only Part One, the very last chapter in Part Four, and the Epilogue have any bearing on Philomena directly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as we learn so much more about her child and his life in America with his adoptive family. But I was ultimately disappointed in the book because I wanted to read more about Philomena and the detective work involved in finding Michael.

    The narrative is third person omniscient, and I usually associate that with a fictional novel, not a biography. The author says he used diaries and interviews to reconstruct the story, so I’m assuming it is fairly accurate. However when I was reading about Michael’s thoughts and feelings about himself I just couldn’t help but to wonder if they truly were the feelings of this very real person. Michael could not tell the story himself, after all.

    So, if you’re looking for a story about a young man discovering himself, then this is a pretty good story. If you’re looking for a story about a woman who was forced to give up her child, it is fairly thin.

  4. Rosa Says:

    Thank you for the recommendations! I love Balogh and more and more I think the problems I have with various romance writers is their fundamental ideas about gender – lack of feminism eventually shines through (I’m looking at you, Lisa Kleypas!) and bothers me even with excellent writing, in stories that are so much about gender. So I think i will probably like books you liked.

    Have you read A Matter of Class? I think it’s my favorite Balogh.

    Also, have you read Mary Robinette Kowal? She has some fantasy books that are basically regencies with magic, and they’re very good. Possibly I read it because someone recommended it here, so you may have already.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Mary Robinette Kowal is TEH AWESOME!. We both have first line bookplates from the printing error.

      Though she is not a good person to read if you are experiencing (or have experienced) infertility problems (particularly if you are currently pregnant, which was a mistake I made…), so a content potential trigger warning there. (DITTO The Hourglass by Barbara Metzger. Metzger needs a better editor is what she needs.)

      Have not read A Matter of Class! I think it’s on the amazon list though. The library offerings are so scattershot around here.

      • Rosa Says:

        oh man, when i was on bed rest my mom (who won’t read romance because it’s too “trashy”) gave me a stack of weepy women’s fiction that included one where the mom died of what i was on bed rest for, the dad died in a car wreck, the aunt & uncle who took the baby died of …cancer and suicide? and then new adoptive parents are wonderful. Because it had a happy ending!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        well gee…

        Give me trashy romance any day! So long as it’s a consensual relationship, the heroine and hero *enjoy* physical relations with each other (if applicable), and there’s no unnecessary pathos. Bonus points for making me laugh.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    My personal favorite Regency author is Carla Kelly. She handles sex, in and out of marriage, in a way I consider both historically accurate and psychologically acute. It is non-graphic but frank.
    Favorite from Barbara Metzger: “A Loyal Companion
    Favorite from Mary Balogh (of whose books I have read many): “The Ideal Wife
    All-time top five: “The Duke’s Wager” by Edith Layton
    Recently read and thumbs-up: “The Duke’s Tattoo” by Miranda Davis [GRUMPY ED: This is currently $2.99 for kindle]
    A substantial Regency author who is now out of print is Patricia Veryan. She wrote a series of connected stories having to do with French-English spies and dastardly plots called The Sanguinet Saga.
    I am also a longtime fan of Mary Jo Putney.

    As to sex scenes, I find an acknowledgement of the sexual underpinnings of real-life romance to be an essential to believability in romance fiction. I don’t like erotica much (it needs to be witty or it gets boring very fast, and I haven’t come across many authors who can be sexy *and* witty), or very graphic stuff where it replaces character development, or (needless to say) rapey stuff.

  6. Sarabeth Says:

    Thanks for the recs! I had to stop reading Stephanie Laurens after the fourth novel because every sex scene was exactly the same (and was repeated many times per book). Despite the fun plotting, I just couldn’t deal anymore. I do love Courtney Milan, whose work is historical but not Regency.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Without going into detail, this one wonders *why* they’re all the same… is it some platonic ideal of the sex scene that they’re channeling?

      (Of course, I’m getting a bit tired of Metzger’s repetitive, “they’re almost about to do the deed and get interrupted”… after the second one of those, I’m pretty sure it’s never going to happen in *any* of her books. Also she’s really into nipples and all her heroes seem to have hair fetishes. N = 3.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      NOTE: Courtney Milan has a free kindle short story right now and several $.99 novellas.

  7. J Liedl Says:

    Oh, regencies! I so love regency romances. Always have, always will.

    I second your recommendations of Balogh, Maclean, Hern and Metzger. I’m taking down some other notes from your long and detailed post. Who else to recommend? Loretta Chase, Tessa Dare, Caroline Linden, Ashlyn Macnamara, Kate Noble, Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James. . . .

    Her books aren’t precisely regencies – they’re set in the Victorian period – but I adore the romances of Courtney Milan. My ereader is filled with romances by all of these authors and now I’m going to load up some more thanks to the rest of these lovely, lovely recommendations.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I grabbed one of Courtney Milan’s free Kindle books recently, I think.

      Taking author notes!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I didn’t love the Eloisa James I read, though it was ok, and many people recommend her.

      • Rosa Says:

        They ones set in an earlier era (what are they, Georgian’s? The Duchess ones) have a way different feel than Regencies. Whole different kind of society. Her newer fairy tale ones are kind of dull, I think.

        Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels is really wonderful. Very sexy, not explicit, emotionally intense.

  8. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I thoroughly detest romance novels and sex scenes. I have only read one romance through and did not know it was a romance when I started. What I did like was sex scenes in Jean Auel’s series. I believe there was only one sex scene in Clan of the Cave Bear. Her other books usually have only two or three in the whole book. The first was such a good three page scene that it took my breath away. I usually prefer knowing they did it but not exactly how, like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. We know they had sex, but we did not have to sit in the room while it happened. I am no prude at all. As an aspiring writer of books, I have written some less than chaste work because someone asked me if I could. I tried; I did; it was good.. But, I would have to publish under a pseudonym because I have children and grandchildren! Or, maybe I can keep it, and they can find it when I am dead and talk about me.

  9. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Wouldn’t you rather read porno stories about professors and shit, than about British f*ckes from centuries ago?

  10. Sapience Says:

    I have a short list of romance writers that I can read–I’m picky about prose style as well as touchy about creepy male protagonists and female agency. My favorites are Julia Quinn, Courtney Milan, Jo Beverley, Eloisa James (who is actually a professor of Shakespeare!), and more recently Grace Burrowes–but Burrowes has gotten a bit formulaic in her last few books. I’m fine with sex scenes, but a good romance novel doesn’t need them.

  11. MSWR Says:

    Love me some Sarah MacLean! I like a good sex scene in my regency romances, but I agree that it must be consensual. I also enjoy Eloisa James. I need a good, well-written story with strong but compassionate male protagonists and female agency. I especially like strong female leads, whether or not they are anachronistic.

    They’re not regency (Victorian instead, with just a hint of paranormal), and they don’t have sex scenes, but I have adored the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn. Lady Julia Grey is a wonderfully strong lead, and Raybourn has fantastic descriptions of fashion and clothes in addition to compelling storylines/mysteries.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We really liked the first few in that series (Lady Julia). #1 stopped reading because @#$@#$@# with the why the @#$@#%#@ did she decide to kill off [redacted spoiler] just after [redacted spoiler]. It was bad enough that she [redacted spoiler] even though she was [redacted spoiler]. It felt unnecessary and uncomfortably homophobic.

      #2 stopped reading a book or two before that because it seemed like the perfect ending and then when #1 continued on another book or two from that, #2 felt vindicated.

      • MSWR Says:

        Good points re the direction the Lady Julia series has taken. I liked the first three more than the rest I have read, but I have this thing where I want to finish reading a book series once I’ve started it. (I don’t know why, since I have no problem putting down an individual stand-alone book before finishing if I don’t like it.) This actually reminds me of a pet peeve I have with the romance genre in general, which is that series seem to go on and on and on and on, or with a spinoff series thrown in for good measure, with no end in sight. What’s wrong with leaving well enough alone with a good trilogy?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #1 is often good at figuring out when is a good place to pretend there’s an ending. Especially when she often has #2 as a guinea pig in case she’s wrong.

        There were so many directions that series could have gone that wouldn’t have added unnecessary angst and pathos and continued in the same vein as the first three. Without the implied punishment for unconventional behavior for anyone who isn’t protected by rank.

  12. MSWR Says:

    Though, now that I think about it, the Never-Ending Series is not exclusive to romance, it just so happens that the series I tend to read are in the romance genre. See Hitchhiker’s Guide, etc.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hitchhiker’s Guide worked though! Well, I thought it did…

      Never ending series is more like Kim Harrison. A real Rachel Morgan would have died of a heart attack by now from the piled on stress and inability to take even a week off. (I think I’m 8-10 books behind on that series.) On the other hand, DH enjoys the lengthiness of the Iron Druid and (for the most part) Harry Dresden. Though he says even though the Harry Dresden books are getting better written, they’re getting less enjoyable. OTOH, the Kitty books have gotten better both in terms of writing and interest (with an exception here and there… just finished the one where she was in England and it kind of dragged, but the next one gets better reviews, I think.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I agree on Dresden and Kitty. I really like the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne. The Hitchhiker’s Guide series is good, but do not read the one that’s not by Douglas Adams. Do not.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Why on earth would there be one that’s not by Douglas Adams? That’s just dumb. Especially since the fifth book of the trilogy (cough) ends it pretty well.

  13. Matt Healy Says:

    “I’d been itching to write a Barrayaran Regency Romance ever since I’d realised I’d given Barrayar a regency period.”

    — SF author Lois McMaster Bujold, on her novel A Civil Campaign (which is indeed an SF take on the Regency Romance, subtitled A Comedy of Biology and Manners).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I generally find her so hard to get into, but we can try it. And, of course, there’s Mary Robinette Kowal.

      And To Say Nothing of the Dog (which may be Georgian, but same dealio)– best light fantasy EVER.

  14. Recommendations for soothing novels? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Authors like Barbara Michaels (more than her Elizabeth Peters persona, who is excellent but not so cozy), Jane Austen, the always-beloved Georgette Heyer, and similar imitators. […]

  15. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Update: #2 read One good earl deserves a lover and it was EXCELLENT. (The third book in that series wasn’t quite as good.)

  16. Book Challenge: 15 down, 25 to go Says:

    […] Lost in Temptation (Regency Chase Family Series, Book 1)Thanks to Nicole and Maggie, 2015 will likely be the year of the Regency Romance. These books are like potato chips– you can’t read just one. This was the first book of this kind I’ve read and it was good enough to set me off in search of more like it, which I did largely by perusing this post by Nicole and Maggie. […]

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