Posts Tagged British historical romance

Maya Rodale’s “A Groom of One’s Own” — Smart, Sensual Romantic Comedy

Maya Rodale’s A GROOM OF ONE’S OWN is the first in Rodale’s “Writing Girls” series.  Set in 1823, four women write for a London newspaper.  (Book two of this series, A TALE OF TWO LOVERS, was previously reviewed here.)  Sophie Harlow, the dark-eyed, dark-haired daughter of landed gentry, came to London after being jilted at the altar; she started writing about weddings because her good friend, Lady Juliana Somerset, had a job writing a gossip column at the London Weekly, and knew that her publisher, Derek Knightly, wanted more women writers as he believed they were a big draw for his paper (as it was considered quite scandalous at that time for women to write for a public newspaper, thus he’d sell more papers).

The hero of this tale is the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, commonly addressed as “Lord Brandon.”  (This is an error; Dukes should be called “Your Grace,” except among family members.  It would be unusual for anyone who wasn’t a long-time retainer of Brandon’s family to call him “Lord Brandon.”)  He’s a dutiful person with just a hint of a wicked side; unfortunately for Brandon, his more playful nature has been covered up for years due to becoming the Duke at age eighteen.  Now in his early thirties, he’s about to marry because he knows he wants his family name to continue, and he’s picked a completely unexceptionable girl, Lady Clarissa Richmond, to become his future Duchess.  Clarissa is a beautiful blonde, the daughter of a Duke, and would fit nicely on his arm — but as Brandon’s just met Sophie Harlow, he doesn’t know how he’s going to marry Clarissa, whom he doesn’t love, and live with himself afterward.

Of course Clarissa, for all her charms, would never do for Brandon; she was just too mealy-mouthed, mostly because her imposing mother (the Duchess of Richmond) did all the talking.  But how was Brandon going to get rid of her, much less keep Sophie around in the process, and still be an honorable man?

Well, remember Sophie’s job?  That comes to the rescue, as the Duchess of Richmond wants the London Weekly to publicize the “wedding of the year” as it’s very rare when a Duke marries a Duke’s heir (Clarissa is the Duke’s only child, so she is, indeed the heir).  And as you might expect, the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon all of a sudden wants to take part in every single aspect of the wedding planning — because that’s his honorable way of seeing Sophie without angering his fiancée’s family.

But this still didn’t solve the problem, so enter an unexpected character — Prince Frederick von Vennigan, of Bavaria — to the rescue.  Prince Frederick is impetuous, charming, and sweeps Clarissa off her feet.  So the road should be clear for Brandon and Sophie’s happiness, right?

Wrong.

Instead, Clarissa’s parents put up a great fuss, mostly because they’re English members of the peerage, and they aren’t interested in their daughter becoming a Princess because Bavaria, dagnabbit, is just too far away.   No, the wedding had to take part as planned; anything else would be unthinkable!

But this being a romantic comedy, you know that’s not going to be it.  And indeed, it isn’t . . . it wouldn’t be much of a romance, though, if the heroes and heroines didn’t have to slay a few (figurative) dragons along the way (the Duchess of Richmond comes to mind).  Because the road to romance is often filled with good intentions, kind words, and a whole lot of anticipation regarding the wedding night (including a few “freebies” along the way) — just as it tends to be in contemporary times.

A GROOM OF ONE’S OWN is a smart romantic comedy, one with a great deal of sensuality to it.  It’s obvious from the start that Sophie and the Duke have a strong physical connection; it’s equally obvious that Clarissa and the Prince have the same thing.   But what’s great about it is the witty banter and playfulness Ms. Rodale brings to the story; you can believe these two particular couples would fall in love, and quickly (this all happens inside a month), because for whatever reason, Sophie and the Duke can talk with one another.  And likewise with Clarissa and the Prince.  (Which might be why the love scenes between these pairings are scorching hot, but I digress.)

This was a fun read with some depth to it.  It was, for the most part, plausible; the plot conception, with the exception of the proper form of how to address a Duke, was quite good.  And best of all, it’s often laugh-out-loud funny.

I enjoyed A GROOM OF ONE’S OWN a great deal; were it not for the few errors (especially with regards with the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, who would never be simply “Lord Brandon” to Sophie or anyone else that he’d just met), this would be a solid A. 

But because of the errors — something a writer of the time period should’ve known about and fixed (and where was Ms. Rodale’s editor, hmm?  It’s inconceivable how that error got through editing.), the final grade for A GROOM OF ONE’S OWN is: B-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

, , ,

2 Comments

Maya Rodale’s historical romance “A Tale of Two Lovers” falls flat

Maya Rodale has been called “one of the freshest, most delightful new voices in romantic fiction” by her publisher, Avon Books, and perhaps that’s why her newest historical romance A TALE OF TWO LOVERS tries so hard to be something it’s not.  The premise is original in that a woman writes a gossip column called “Fashionable Intelligence” in 1823 for the London Weekly as “the Lady of Distinction.”  The writer’s name is Lady Julianna Somerset, and she regularly goes to balls, routs, masquerades, etc., because she is a titled widow.  But her late husband didn’t leave her with a lot of money, so she had to do something to support herself — thus, this gossip column.

As the Lady of Distinction, she sees something between Lord Simon Roxbury and another man that looks suspiciously like a romantic clinch, and she writes about it.  (Whether this is something that would really be written about in 1823 is debatable, but this is the premise of the novel.)  Roxbury is known as a womanizer — a passionate womanizer who’s slept with nearly every eligible woman in town, and quite a few who aren’t.  But this news in a major London paper has hurt him at the worst possible time; he’s been given an ultimatum to marry, or else.  Yet no one will have him because of the salacious gossip.

So Lord Roxbury and Lady Somerset enter into a marriage of convenience.  They spar verbally, they spar physically (Roxbury even teaches her how to box, in case she needs to defend herself), and eventually he fully gets behind his wife’s writing.  (Once again, I’m not certain a man of his station in 1823 is likely to do this.  Writing by itself, I can grant — there’s enough historical precedent for it — but considering she writes a notorious gossip column, that really seems like a stretch.  But it is the premise of the novel.)

Here’s the most troublesome piece of writing in this novel, about a rival gossip columnist:

From page 368-9:

The first rule of the Man About Town is that you do not speak of the Man About Town.

Of course, all of London breaks this regularly and the Lady of Distinction shall be no exception because this lady has news about the gentleman — or gentlemen? — that composes that popular column in a small room in High Holborn.  This lady learned the secrets of the Man About Town and might reveal them at any time.

Now, this is just ridiculous, all of it.  First, the reason Lady Somerset (now Lady Roxbury) knows all this is because her husband, Roxbury, helped her figure it out.  Second, to say that she “knows all” and “could reveal it” at any time is also absurd because that’s obvious by the way she’s written this up.  And third, and by far the worst, is that this echoes too nearly the line from the contemporary movie Fight Club — that being, “The first rule of the fight club is never to speak of the fight club.” — and is not something anyone would’ve said in 1823.

This is one of Rodale’s “Writing Girls” novels, and the period detailing of the balls, masquerades, etc., is spot on.  Most of the dialogue works.  The romance is acceptable, though I really had a hard time believing that a notorious rake like Roxbury would settle down with Lady Somerset, even if she had inadvertently “outed” him in a way that wasn’t truthful and felt responsible for his social ostracization.

But here’s the main problem I had with this novel — it tries too hard to do something different, and it just doesn’t work.  Way too much of what drives this novel is not just implausible, but wildly implausible considering that this is supposedly happening in 1823 — not 1923, where much of this exact, same plot would’ve worked far better.

My view is that if you like originality and can gloss over the fact that this plot never could’ve happened in 1823, you’ll enjoy A TALE OF TWO LOVERS because the writing is witty, the dialogue is crisp, the detailing is fine and overall, it’s a fun book to read.  But if you’re like me and demand historical authenticity in your plot construction, you should avoid it because despite all of its pluses, that one, big minus will throw you out of the reading trance over and over again.

Grade: C-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

, , ,

2 Comments