The undisputed king of the romance sub-genres is, for now, the paranormal romance novel. Werewolves, ghosts, and, oh wait – VAMPIRES.
But sometimes you just want your good, old school Regency, where the fangs are all metaphorical. Luckily for me, the last time I was in one of these moods, I found three really excellent titles. Let me tell you about them.
Starting from the beginning, there’s Georgette Heyer. And I mean, literally, the beginning. While most of the Regency romance novels seek to recapture the flavor of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer founded the contemporary form of the genre with her book Regency Buck, published in 1935. And she didn’t stop there. Georgette was a prolific writer for half a century, writing both romances and thrillers. She’s best known for her witty dialogue, strong characters, and solid plotting. Due to the time period she wrote in, her novels aren’t as steamy as more modern titles – kissing is as far as it goes, so these are good books for younger, older, or more conservative readers.
I’m only just catching up on her books, and I’m enjoying most of them. This time, I read April Lady…
April Lady by Georgette Heyer
Nell Cardross is a new bride, who’s pretty sure her husband married her as a matter of convenience, not love. So when she realizes that she’s in debt, the last thing she wants to do is burden her husband with it. Luckily, her brother Dysart has a plan to recoup the money. Actually, he has several plans, each one crazier than the last. The misunderstands pile up hilariously, with healthy contributions by an array of quirky side characters.
The romance is expressed subtly and sweetly, with just a smidgen of sustained, underlying angst. Heyer’s characters are, as expected, quirky and likeable, even though her hero suffers by being a bit too paternal to Nell. This is definitely one of my favorites of her works so far, although if you feel like you’d want a stronger heroine than the somewhat faint-hearted Nell, you might want to read The Grand Sophy instead.
Next, I read a book that focuses on the other side of the Regency era – the Napoleonic war. (This time, with spies, not dragons.)
The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
Just in case you want to judge this book by it’s (lovely) cover, let me assure you – this book is not about a man who wanders the French and English countrysides, ripping his shirt open and flashing passersby. The guy on the cover, Gray, is actually a spy who’s been searching all over France for a particular French spy called the Fox Cub, only to find her in a prison cell after he’s been caught by the bad guys. Angelique (aka Fox Cub) busts them out of jail, ninjas their way to freedom, all while blind. If 007 had a great (great, great) superspy grandma, it would be Angelique.
This book is all conspiracies, secrets, adventure, plot-twists, and double-crosses, just as you’d expect from a spy novel. Of course it’s also a romance novel, so you also get a sweet romance, some steamy scenes that enhance the plot instead of detracting from it, and a nice side portion of character development.
Joanna Bourne is an excellent writer, with unerring dialogue. Gray’s character has certainly been done before by other writers, but Angelique is fresh and interesting throughout.
Finally, I jumped a few years forward in time, for a book that still felt like pure Regency, but was really all about that most timeless passion… FOOD.
Delicious by Sherry Thomas
The way this author writes about food, I thought for a second she was Jhumpa Lahiri. But The Namesake generally kept the food on the table, and out of the bed.
Verity Durant is a famous (and scandalous) chef, renowned for her ability to seduce via the tastebuds. When her employer unexpectedly dies, and her former flame inherits his estate, Verity knows that she’ll probably have to find a new job sooner rather than later, especially since he’s engaged to be married.
I generally hate books about cheating – and there is a lot of cheating in this book – but the plot proceeded so swiftly, and with enough interest, that I was hooked before I could turn away. Honestly, some of the characters are a bit weird (the fiancee), or inconsistent (the fiancee’s gay, then not gay, love interest) or somewhat unlikeable (Verity), but the book manages to pull itself along with lovely descriptions of food, spicy (literally?) love scenes, fascinating revelations, and good pacing.