Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Regency romance

Savory Saturday Goodness: A New Review at SBR…Plus a Book Giveaway for E. Ayers!

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Folks, this past week I was consumed with editing. (My book may be in, but the editing goes on. Which is probably just as well…don’t want to be out of a job, methinks.) So I didn’t get a chance to blog.

Now, though, I have two reasons to blog.

First, there’s a new review up over at Shiny Book Review for Mary Robinette Kowal’s VALOUR AND VANITY. This is the fourth book in Ms. Kowal’s Glamourist Histories, and I enjoyed it immensely. But please, read my review, and let me know what you think.

Blank bookcover with clipping path

Blank bookcover with clipping path

Second, for the first time ever here at the Elfyverse blog, I’m going to give away a book for a friend, E. Ayers. Her newest novel is called A RANCHER’S DREAM, and it’s a Western set in the U.S. during the Victorian Era. (Say that five times fast. I dare you.)

Ms. Ayers and I know each other through the Exquisite Quills writing group. She’s a fine writer with a keen mind and an excellent eye for detail, and I’ve enjoyed all the novels she’s written to date. (I intend to review a couple more of ’em next week for Romance Saturday at SBR, if all goes well, one being A RANCHER’S DREAM.)

All you have to do to win an advance e-book copy of A RANCHER’S DREAM is to tell me why you love romance novels. It doesn’t have to be fancy…just tell me why you love romance novels, and the first person who comments, either here on my blog or at Twitter (by time-stamp) will win a copy of Ms. Ayers’ newest novel. (You’ll have your pick of formats, too, in case you’re interested.)


Widowed and raising a young daughter by himself,
Tiago has only one goal – to work a ranch of his own and build a
future for his small family. When fate deposits a young woman in
his path, he believes he has found the help he needs to care for his child
as they journey to their new home in Creed’s Crossing.

On the run for her life, Ingrid needs to get as far
away from Texas as she can. Her brother and father have
been murdered, and those responsible would see her dead, too.
Desperate, she accepts an offer to help Tiago with his daughter,
but Ingrid’s past can destroy everything Tiago is working for.
Worse – her very presence places him and his daughter in peril.

Amid secrets and danger, a single father
and an orphaned woman on the run must fight all odds to fulfill
A Rancher’s Dream

Coming June 16, 2015

Now available for pre-order at Amazon US:

…and Amazon International:

So there you have it — a new review at Shiny Book Review, and a brand-new book by E. Ayers that you can win if you tell me why you love romance novels.

How’s that for some savory Saturday goodness?

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 6, 2015 at 11:15 pm

Just Reviewed Four Romances at SBR

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Folks, it had been a while since I did a Romance Saturday review over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always), I thought I’d do more than one.

This time, I reviewed four.

And, because I was feeling a little puckish, I decided to call it a Romance Saturday “Four-Play.” (Pardon the pun. Or don’t. I’m not going to change it, so there. Nyah.)

The best of the lot beyond a shadow of a doubt is Rosemary Edghill’s excellent time-travel romance MET BY MOONLIGHT, recently re-released as an independent e-book. It is outstanding in just about every way there is, but if you are of the pagan persuasion, you probably will like it even better.  (Even if you aren’t, though, you should adore this book. Truly.)

I also reviewed a nice debut Regency by Giselle Marks, THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER. I agonized over this one, as there are some glaring weaknesses mixed in with some strong strengths, but ultimately decided that the couple of big laughs and the excellent historicity was enough to give it a B.

As THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER would be much better if Ms. Marks had somehow won access to a top-notch editor, I had to say that. (I also said whoever edited for her did a competent job. He or she presented the romance nicely, and it was grammatical and with few typos. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not as much work as most of the really good editors I’ve been around would do if they’d seen a manuscript like this one land on their desks.)

Then I was presented with two romances by Sherry Thomas, one a YA fantasy romance called THE BURNING SKY and the other a 19th Century English historical romance, THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON. I really like Ms. Thomas’s writing style, and think she’s one of the best younger romance novelists around (by “younger” in this context, I mean “under forty”).

I liked THE BURNING SKY, but did not love it. I thought it had some nice touches, believed in the romance between the two principals, and the magical system was acceptable to better. I didn’t find it ground-breaking, though, as some reviews have called it, mostly because Mercedes Lackey has been doing books about Elemental Magic for years — also set in England, many of them set in late 19th Century England at that — and while Lackey’s Elemental mages aren’t exactly like Thomas’s, they’re close enough for government work.

As for THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON . . . how can I say that I was completely underwhelmed without being a complete and utter boor? (Oops, I just said it anyway.)

Look. Ms. Thomas writes well, so even a C-level romance (which is exactly what I adjudged THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON to be) is probably worth your time, especially if you’ve read nothing else by her before.

But considering the level of her other books — her excellent debut, PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, her excellent war romance, NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, or even the recent TEMPTING THE BRIDE — this just was not up to Ms. Thomas’s standards. At all.

I’ve had to give other writers whose work I generally find to be exceptional C-ratings before, and probably will again. Most of the time, I try not to agonize over this, especially if the novelist in question has put out a number of books (by my count, Ms. Thomas has now put out eight full-length romance novels, one fantasy romance novel, and at least one novella, so she’s put out ten books). I figure that someone with a track record, as Ms. Thomas now has, should have to be held to a higher standard than someone who’s just starting out — because really, don’t you want to top yourself?

That’s why I admire the work of Ms. Edghill so much, and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, too. Those two writers do not settle, ever. They put out top-notch efforts, their books are memorable and lively, and even something that I don’t find to be quite at an A-minus or better is still well worth my time.

More to the point, I never forget what those two write about. Never.

Whereas with THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON, I put the book down for a week and a half. I forgot everything about it. I had to go back and re-read, then I saw a few really good, sparkling passages that reminded me of how good Ms. Thomas can be when she puts her mind to it — and a bunch of passages where the editing was not there (something rare in a mass-market romance, where the editing is usually outstanding), or the focus was not there, or something just was a bit off.

Worse yet, even in THE BURNING SKY, I put the book down for a week and a half and wasn’t really inclined to finish it excepting I’d already said I’d review the thing. I was pleasantly surprised by it, as it picked up considerably after a very slow start, and I think Ms. Thomas shows promise as a fantasy novelist.

That’s the main reason why the latter book got a B from me, while the first one only received a C. A book that’s uneven, poorly edited, and unfocused — no matter how good the writing is at its best — can only garner a C.

But a book that gets significantly better as time goes on, and holds my interest despite putting it down for a week-plus at a lull, can still get a B or maybe even better, depending.

Look, folks. My own novel isn’t yet out. I know people could be coming after me with pitchforks, for all I know, because I’m willing to tell it like it is when it comes to some of my otherwise-favorite novelists.

I also know that sometimes the demands of contemporary publishing schedules means that the quality of books will sometimes be lacking.

My view is simple: Ms. Thomas can ascend to the same level of storytelling as seen by Ms. Kimbriel and Ms. Edghill, but Ms. Thomas needs to demand more. Whether she needs to get her agent to buy her more time to turn something in so she can polish it up, whether she needs to just write fantasy romances for the time being as that seems to be where her heart is, I don’t know — but whatever it is, she needs to do that.

I don’t care how many places, some of which are very well-known, give these last two books high ratings or say that they’re up to the standards of Ms. Thomas’s other books. The plain and simple fact of the matter is, they aren’t.

Anyway, this is why I wrote these particular reviews — my “after-action report,” as it were.  I hope you found it of interest.

Now I’d best get back to editing, as I have an author eagerly awaiting my latest comments . . . and who am I to make him wait?

Books I’ve Read While I’ve Been Ill

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Folks, I’ve spent most of the last three or four weeks sicker than I don’t know what . . . but I have read a number of very good books.  Some are new, some aren’t, but all kept me interested and focused.

And as I really didn’t want to have to blog yet again about how terrible I feel, I figured I’d concentrate on the books instead.

The one author who consistently has entertained me during this time — aside from my old standbys — is Regency romance novelist Judith A. Lansdowne.  Ms. Lansdowne’s last book, JUST IMPOSSIBLE, was published in 2004, and is about the unlikely pairing of William, the Duke of Berinwick, and Lady Julia Delacroix.  Julia has a secret that’s likely to take her life if she’s not careful, and Berinwick decides to mix in mostly because there’s something to the stubborn set of her chin that intrigues him.  (Julia also doesn’t like men very much.  There’s a reason for that.  Which makes this unlikely pairing all the more compelling, as Berinwick is a decidedly strong man in more ways than one.)  How these two meet and eventually end up together is very intriguing . . . one enjoyable read from cover to cover.

Anyway, you want to read Ms. Lansdowne’s work primarily because there’s a lot of humor in it.  But there’s also pathos, genuine emotion, and some rather complex situations . . . really fine writing.  (I hope Ms. Lansdowne will soon put her work up as e-books, providing the rights have reverted to her.  Her writing is way too good to be left in obscurity.)

The other three or four books I’ve read that I’ve really enjoyed during this time were mostly new ones.  First, I read Victoria Roth’s INSURGENT, the sequel to DIVERGENT, both starring Beatrice “Tris” Prior and her love interest and combat instructor, who goes by “Four” but whose real name is Tobias.  These books are about a dystopian society that split into five factions and shut off the city of Chicago, apparently to see what the five factions were likely to do in an enclosed space.  It is unknown whether Chicago is the only place these factions exist, but what is known is that you have one chance to change factions — when you turn sixteen and take part in a “choosing ceremony” after taking a whole battery of assessment tests.

Roth’s work is absorbing, and as such I really enjoyed reading INSURGENT even though there’s a great deal of violence and some really awkward situations for the heroine, Tris.  (Tris’s brother, in particular, is a rather ambivalent character.  I still can’t figure him out.)  The romance between Tris and Tobias is quite strong, with some believable tension between them that’s not all sexually related.  And the action scenes are first-rate.

I’ve read K.E. Kimbriel’s FIRES OF NUALA, which I hope to review soon over at Shiny Book Review.  (I must have more concentration than what is currently available to me in order to do so, as it’s a complex plot that deserves to be explained as well as I can without giving away all the plot-points.)  Let’s just say that Ms. Kimbriel’s novel is excellent, and it kept me riveted.  And if you like science fiction novels where there’s great, unexpected romance with believable complications along with intrigue and a subplot about how only corrupt people deserve to be taken (“con only other con artists,” in brief), well, you will love FIRES OF NUALA as much as I did.

I’ve also read Travis Taylor and Stephanie Osborn’s A NEW AMERICAN SPACE PLAN, which is just as it sounds — a rationale for what the United States of America needs to do in order to stay in space and create many new jobs.  This is an absorbing piece of non-fiction written in a compelling and likable style — and is yet another book I hope to review, and soon, over at SBR.  (Why this illness just refuses to leave is beyond me.  But it definitely has cut down on my reviewing.)

I also read Ally Condie’s REACHED, the third book in a dystopian trilogy about yet another failed society and how they try to control everyone.  The characters of Cassia and her two love interests, Xander and Ky, are interesting.  There’s a vicious Society which kills off everyone at age 80, a rebel group called the Rising, which opposes the Society, and a third group made up of Aberrations (people the Society didn’t really plan on having, so they denigrate them, marginalize them and exploit them whenever possible).

REACHED shows what happens when the Society is overthrown.  But it’s not as easy as all that to get rid of old habits overnight, much less the people who were the actual movers and shakers of the Society — which all three teens find out.

Mostly, the story is gripping but incredibly downbeat. There’s a plague to be fought against, which is why the character who does the most and actually grows and changes the most is Xander, a medic (called a “physic” in this universe).  Which is rather odd, because this trilogy started out in Cassia’s point of view.

Anyway, it held my interest, but it was definitely one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in quite some time.

Finally, I’ve been reading a book by Carl Sferrazza Anthony about a forgotten First Lady, Florence Kling Harding, called FLORENCE HARDING: THE FIRST LADY, THE JAZZ AGE, AND THE DEATH OF OUR MOST SCANDALOUS PRESIDENT.  Mrs. Harding was a trailblazer in many respects; she was honest, forthright and opinionated, and believed that women should have the same rights as men — including the rights to vote, play in any sports and work in any job.

However, Mrs. Harding’s husband was the weak-willed and amoral Warren G. Harding, a man who definitely could not “keep (his) legs closed,” as the saying from the MAURY show goes.  (Usually about women.)  In fact, Harding slept with so many women that his own father, according to author Anthony, once told Harding that if he’d been born a woman, Harding would’ve been constantly “in the family way.”  (I laughed out loud at that one.)

President Harding himself is the main reason why Mrs. Harding gets knocked down on the various First Lady rankings, even though as First Lady (for two-plus years, until her husband died in office), she did many good things.

And that’s just not right.

Mrs. Harding’s only real crime — if you can call it that — was to fall in love with Mr. Harding.  She was brilliant, and he definitely wasn’t; in a later age, she would’ve been the politician and probably would’ve divorced Harding many times over due to his rampant infidelity (as she apparently knew about at least three of his affairs, with two of those affairs resulting in illegitimate children that she may or may not have known about).  She had no children with Harding, and only one child overall by a previous, common-law marriage.

Anyway, Mrs. Harding was the first divorced woman to become First Lady.  She more or less created the modern “photo-op.”  She talked with journalists, which before she became First Lady wasn’t a regular occurrence (or even a semi-regular occurrence).  She helped her husband understand legislation and deal with various legislators, as she could keep it all straight — and he definitely couldn’t.

But with all of her good qualities — and I believe she had many — she also had some bad ones.  She was so loyal that she actually burned many documents after her husband died, mostly because she wanted to shield her husband.  (Laudable, but I wish she hadn’t done it.)  She trusted the wrong doctor, a family friend she’d known for many years, when a different (specialist) doctor told her flat-out that Harding would die if he didn’t rest and that even if he did rest, he still might . . . yet because of her trust in the family friend, her husband died sooner than he might have on a grueling coast-to-coast trip.  (They even went to Alaska.)  And she’d been known to use corporal punishment on the newsboys she  supervised as the business manager of her husband’s newspaper, though to be fair many people used corporal punishment at that time and very few people batted an eye at it.

Anyway, it’s very easy to see that Mrs. Harding should be classified right up at the top of the list with Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. (Eleanor) Roosevelt, not at the absolute bottom of the list of First Ladies.  Mrs. Harding was a very strong, tough and smart woman who helped her husband quite a bit.  She was an excellent First Lady up until her lone bad choice — that of the family doctor rather than the specialist — spiraled into her husband’s passing while in office, then compounded the problem by burning a whole lot of records needlessly (possibly to help shield her husband’s fallen reputation).  She has been unfairly maligned by history, mostly because her husband was a failed President . . . and I think that unfair treatment deserves to end.

So in that respect, I’d say that the two books that have captivated me the most during this three- to four-week stretch of illness have been JUST IMPOSSIBLE and the book about Mrs. Harding.

And really, when you’re ill, isn’t that the best you can possibly ask for?  Some books that take you away from it all?

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Just Reviewed Enoch’s “A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior” at SBR

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Folks, it’s Romance Saturday at Shiny Book Review (SBR), which is why I reviewed Suzanne Enoch’s Regency romance (with action/adventure and “coming of age” plotlines, all inclusive), A LADY”S GUIDE TO IMPROPER BEHAVIOR.  This is a good romance between Colonel Bartholomew James and Teresa “Tess” Weller — Col. James has been accused of making up an attack on his person by the Thuggee while he served in India and has come home scarred and in great pain, while Tess has denied herself all her life, pretending to be a social butterfly while writing an (anonymous) book on etiquette for Ladies of Quality.  But when Tess meets Col. James, sparks fly and things change for both of them.

I found this a realistic romance and enjoyed it thoroughly.  So if the thought of this book interests you — or if you’re just so bored you feel up to heading over to Shiny Book Review and reading all of my and Jason Cordova’s reviews — please head on over and read my review of Ms. Enoch’s interesting novel.  (Bon appetit — er, good reading!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 8, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Just reviewed Enoch’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes” at SBR

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Folks, A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RAKES by Suzanne Enoch is one of those books that just makes you want to scream if you have any knowledge of history at all.  This book is set during the Regency Era, just after the British defeated Napoleon; it was not a time when women could operate legal gambling dens inside their residences. 

That said, the romance here between Diane Benchley and Oliver Warren — both titled members of the English aristocracy — was actually good.  The dialogue, while somewhat anachronistic, was crisp and sharp.  I believed these two loved each other but really would’ve preferred not to do so, and enjoyed watching the sparks fly.

Basically, this novel didn’t pass the “smell test” — that is, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough in this plotline to get past all the anachronistic elements.  But if it had been alternate history, where a strong-minded woman could’ve indeed opened up a legal casino inside her own residence, I’d have enjoyed it thoroughly.

The only way around such a problem is to discuss it head-on, which I did in my review, which is here:


Written by Barb Caffrey

May 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Just Reviewed “Scandal of the Year” at SBR

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Folks, it’s Saturday, so that means I’ve reviewed a romance.  Tonight’s book was Olivia Drake’s SCANDAL OF THE YEAR, which I found to be a rather pedestrian Regency romance that was only livened up by the vivid descriptive powers of Ms. Drake.

Here’s the link to my review:


Written by Barb Caffrey

November 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Just Reviewed Candace Camp’s “An Affair Without End” at SBR

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Tonight’s SBR review was for Candace Camp’s AN AFFAIR WITHOUT END.  This was one of the most fun Regency romances I’ve read in quite some time, a romance that reminded me in some ways of Rosemary Edghill’s excellent TWO OF A KIND (now lamentably out of print), possibly because the dialogue was outstanding, the detailing was very fine, and the art and craftsmanship of Ms. Camp was fully on display.

So without further ado, here’s the link:



** P.S. I am hoping that Ms. Edghill will be able to put all four of her fine Regencies back out there soon, though I’ve heard nothing about it.  I will keep you posted if I hear anything, however; those novels are so much fun, and are so well done, that they deserve to be widely read as often as possible.  (Aside from this book by Ms. Camp, I’ve read nothing by any contemporary author that comes close to Ms. Edghill’s art, craftsmanship, dialogue, and knowledge of the Regency time period.)  Ms. Edghill also has two collaborations with the late SF grandmaster André Norton, that are best described as “alternate Regency/fantasy.”  The first of these was THE SHADOW OF ALBION with the second being CAROLUS REX; these two, too, are well worth seeking out.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 10, 2011 at 10:53 pm