Stephanie Laurens - The Bastion Club series [The Lady Chosen, A Gentleman's Honour, A Lady of his Own, A Fine Passion, To Distraction, Beyond Seduction, The Edge of Desire]: I said last month that despite Laurens' many flaws I was probably still going to read the Bastion Club books. And I did read most of them. While buying The Edge of Desire (this version) I gained some useful insights about cover art that I considered contributing to this conversation - unfortunately about four paragraphs in I realised I'd begun to argue for SFF covers featuring Fabio and I deleted the whole thing. I found these a bit tedious; romance novels tend to rest on the interestingness of the hero and Laurens for some reason likes to stress that all her heroes (whether because they belong to the same family or because they are in the same profession) are the same. In this lot, ex-spies try to find brides, get involved in solving crimes that affect these brides, and ultimately realise that each crime has to do with this one Last Traitor who is still floating around England and whose identity is revealed in Mastered By Love, the last book in the series. I haven't read that one and I don't really care that much. Still, I will continue to read Laurens when I come across her.
Gaelen Foley – The Knight Miscellany [ The Duke, Lord of Fire, Lord of Ice, Lady of Desire, Devil Takes a Bride, One Night of Sin, His Wicked Kiss]: This series is loosely based on the Duke (and Duchess) of Oxford and their “Harleian Miscellany”. Apparently the Duchess had a number of flings on the side and the Duke gave the resulting children the protection of his name. This series actually sounded really great. The idea of a group of titled aristocrats in Regency England who were all widely known to be illegitimate raises the possibility of all kinds of interesting situations. The Duchess herself is fascinating; she writes treatises on the rights of women and smuggles the French nobility into England (apparently the historical Duchess was also a feminist, and pretty amazing). I'd love a book on her, but Foley has said somewhere (in one of the afterwords I think) that she's never going to write it. It's a pity, with all these awesome ideas, that the books themselves should turn out to be so unimpressive.
The connected series, the Spice Trilogy (involving Knight cousins) is set partly in India, though why it must therefore be called the Spice Trilogy is uncertain. I have only read the first, Her Only Desire, which features a feisty English girl who is opposed to the East India Company (which as far as I could tell was the source of her income) and within the first ten pages of the book had rescued a native woman from Sati. The book then went on to have her bewildered at how the natives refused to take to her liberated ideas and went on obeying their own traditions, however foolish. It could have been an attempt to show idiot Westerners trying to barge in and change everything according to their standards, but it didn't turn out that way for me. The book then went on to encompass two incoherent plots involving a scheming Indian queen and the hero's ex-wife's suspicious death. Not good.
Julia Quinn – The Lost Duke of Wyndham/Mr. Cavendish, I Presume: Thomas Cavendish is the Duke of Wyndham, is engaged to a woman he barely knows, and lives with his horrible grandmother and her companion. Jack Audley is a highwayman who holds up said grandmother and companion and soon finds himself kidnapped because of his striking resemblance to Thomas' uncle. It turns out (whether he likes it or not) that Jack is the real duke and Thomas is merely Mr. Cavendish. The two books run parallel, with the first telling of Jack and Grace's relationship, and the second of Thomas and Amelia's. The comments over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books would suggest that for most people the first book they read of the two is the one they prefer: for me this was simply not true. The Lost Duke of Wyndham bored me – Grace is colourless, and I thought that Jack's dyslexia and guilt over a cousin's death in the army were really not shown to be that serious. Plus, I find myself disapproving of highwaymen in a very conservative manner. Mr Cavendish, I Presume, on the other hand, was really good. I like Thomas and Amelia, they have problems and personalities and Thomas' identity crisis and Amelia's trying to get over the damage Thomas had already done to their relationship both worked for me.
Loretta Chase – Viscount Vagabond and The Devil's Delilah (both rereads): A few weeks ago, Sarah Rees Brennan mentioned The Devil's Delilah on Justine Larbalestier's blog and reminded me that I had not read one of the Greatest Romances Ever in a few months. So I reread it, along with Viscount Vagabond, which features some of the same characters. There are geeks and books and some absolutely delicious quotes that I should put up at some point since they deserve a post of their own. This sort of thing:
“Your upper classes, sir, have but two fears in this world: appearing foolish and being murdered by a revolutionary mob. Naturally they believe it is all one thing. It is very difficult for the British gentleman to develop and retain more than one idea in his lifetime.”
And what Sarah said too.
Jane Feather – The Bachelor List, The Bride Hunt, The Wedding Game: This was quite a strange series. These three Victorian romances feature sisters who run an underground feminist magazine in London. I found myself far more interested in the feminism and publishing than the romances, which weren't all that interesting. My intolerance for chauvinism in romantic heroes is probably unfair in a series like this one, but it did get in the way of my enjoying the things. The feminism was pleasing though, and I liked the Pankhurst cameos.
Victoria Alexander - Love With the Proper Husband and The Pursuit of Marriage: These appear to be part of a series involving devious matchmaking parents conning their kids into love and marriage. Love With the Proper Husband wasn't great. The Pursuit of Marriage involved a huge stuffed camel. Guess which one I preferred?