Regency Romance…with a bit of Magic

So I recently went on a months-long Regency Romance kick.  It’s been a wonderful escape from everything going on in my life and in the world.

The “Regency” period refers to a time in the early 1800s when Britain was ruled by the Prince Regent (later King George IV), because his father George III was deemed unfit. (This era also includes the Napoleonic Wars.)

Not actual Austen books

Jane Austen is of course one of the most famous authors of the Regency period, and I have read all six of her completed novels many times (my favorites being Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice).  So it’s no surprise that in the twentieth century a whole genre developed around writing similar novels, now as historical fiction.

Georgette Heyer essentially created the Regency romance genre, doing meticulous research to provide readers with accurate information about the period, using the same phrases people of the time would have used, and with the same worldview.  This has spun out into a large, varied genre whose books have varying degrees of historical detail, humor, intrigue, sex, and even sometimes a little magic.

Georgette Heyer

As I said above, for Regency Romance, there is no better place to start than the works of Georgette Heyer.  I am currently working my way through her thirty-some historical romance novels, and there are so many things to love.  She comes very close to Jane Austen in her dry wit and love of the ridiculous in her characters.  I am constantly laughing as I read them.  I love that she writes with 8367225such historical detail; I’ve learned so much about the culture of that time.

I also love that she has many varied plots and characters: she has some Gothic novels, some mysteries, settings in London and in the country, main characters that are young and silly, or older and more sensible, couples that have known each other forever or have just met.  Her romance is very clean, usually with some kisses at the end.

Here are a few of my favorites so far:

The Grand Sophy: The second of her novels that I read, and the one that got me hooked.  Sophy is a tour-de-force main character, the kind of person that can manipulate everyone around her into doing what’s best for them.  The ending gets a little ridiculous, 11727810but it’s so funny you won’t care.

The Quiet Gentleman: I liked that this one has some mystery in it as well as romance; the main character suffers several attempts on his life after returning home to claim his inheritance.  It was pretty easy to figure out who the culprit was, but I still enjoyed it.  I also liked that the heroine is very unromantic and sensible—a girl after my own heart.

Bath Tangle:  This novel features several couples, all with varying (but entertaining) 11689134personalities, and it is set mostly in Bath as the title implies.  I really enjoyed the interplay between as the characters as they all struggle to figure out what they really want.

The Alastair-Audley series: The three main books in the series (These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and Regency Buck) are absolute classics.  The heroes are not always particularly likeable, but the heroines are always capable of handling them.  These books probably have the most history in them, too, dealing with many important figures and events of the day.  The first two are actually set in the Georgian period just before the Regency which gives the series even great scope.

Lester Family series by Stephanie Laurens

The Reasons for Marriage • A Lady of Expectations • An Unwilling Conquest • A Comfortable Wife

24406970This is a series of “reformed rake” stories all centering around one family.  It’s not really necessary to read them in order, but I liked that they were all connected, and many of the same characters appear throughout.

The first book, The Reasons for Marriage, was probably my favorite.  It features an apparent marriage of convenience that turns into something more.  I particularly liked that the heroine Lenore was intelligent, independent, and even a little introverted; her eventual pregnancy is also part of the plot, which resonated with me currently.

These are actually the first Harlequin romance novels I have ever read, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed them.  Though more racy than Heyer’s novels, they are fairly tame in terms of adult content.

I also started reading Laurens’ Cynster family series, and those are much more explicit in a bodice-ripper style.  As I told my husband, I was 7% of the way into the first book and there was already a hot shirtless guy running around.  For reasons.  Anyways, the Cynster books are not as much my cup of tea, but also feature some entertaining characters.

Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstey

25320766I loved the intrigue and adventure in this recent, lighthearted YA romance.  It was just wonderfully fluffy and charming.  I also loved that the heroine Juliana is a scientist trying to get her work published!

The book was nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it was entertaining from the very first chapter.  The main couple was very cute.  There was quite a lot of stuff like Miss Telford had very nice eyes and a nice smile but Spencer wasn’t going to think about that right now.

The author also published another YA Regency title this year, Duels and Deceptions, which I have on hold at the library and hope to read soon.

Now…onto the magic!

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

24737347On my quest to read more of the authors from the twisted fairy tale anthology I enjoyed last year, I uncovered this gem (pun slightly intended).

This one has all of the charm of a Regency romance, plus dangerous magic, adventure on the high seas, and assumed identities thrown in, too.  It was a wonderful mix of genres; I think it leans a little YA also.

The first chapter, in which Lady Newtington’s (Newt’s) emerald is stolen, read a bit like a short story, and then the rest of the book kind of goes off in a different direction in searching for the emerald, with a bit of shift in tone.  It was a little weird, but the book was so entertaining it didn’t bother me much.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is the first in a series about a family of sisters that have some talent for glamour, aka8697507 magic, which is kind of considered a womanly art.  I really, really liked how the concept of illusionary magic was done here; it was interesting and could easily be explored further in the series.  Although the tone is more adult, I don’t recall anything more than a bit of kissing.

However, the characters and plot were rather average.  I read this several months ago and can’t even remember all that much about it.  The heroine Jane was interesting enough, but I did not take to the hero at all, finding him at turns boring and confusing.

So, in short, I don’t plan on reading any more of the series.

Do you guys have any favorite Regency stories (of any genre!) to recommend?

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My Top 5 Versions of Beauty and the Beast

As I’m looking forward to the new Disney live action version of Beauty and the Beast (early reviews are vaguely positive), I recall the first time I read a Beauty and the Beast story: in elementary school, one of our Reading textbooks had among its folk tales a telling of the traditional French story, complete with illustrations and a pretty page border.

Since then, I’ve developed a great love of fairy tales and have seen and read many version of Beauty and the Beast.  Here are some of my favorites.

OUAT

Once Upon a Time (S1 Ep12 “Skin Deep”)

It’s been a few years since I watched Once Upon a Time, but the first season is particularly enjoyable, and BatB is one of the key fairy tales introduced.  Emilie de Ravin is a charming Belle, and they added some nice twists to the tale (Rumplestilksin is the Beast, and Belle becomes the town librarian) while keeping some nods to the Disney animated movie (Belle’s dresses, the chipped teacup).

Beastly by Alex Flinn

T544891his YA novel updates the BatB story to modern times and also follows the Beast’s perspective.  Kyle Kingsbury is cute, popular, and rich…until he manages to insult a real, live witch at his high school, who turns him into a beast.  His famous father stashes him in a NYC townhouse with only a housekeeper and a blind tutor (plus a chat room for other magically transformed teenagers) for company. Our Belle here is the bookish Lindy, which is short for Linda, the Spanish word for “pretty.”

I gave this book a 4/5 when I first reviewed it.  It’s not my favorite YA fantasy by a long shot, but Kyle is a compelling narrator and it’s a nice urban update on the tale.

Masque by W.R. Gingell

I just re-read this book again recently; it was one of my great 29481285finds of 2016.  The BatB story is nestled inside a murder mystery filled with magic and intrigue.  Lady Isabella “Belle” Farrah is one of my favorite protagonists of all time.  She has such quick wit and emotional control, yet still manages to grow over the course of the book.

This book will appeal to fans of historical romance, fantasy, mystery, or even steampunk genres.  There’s so much to love!  Check out my original review here, or you can pick it up for cheap on Kindle on Amazon.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

8084This is a classic fairy tale novelization and was key in my (and I’m sure many other’s) love of the genre.  It’s a very traditional, novel-length telling, and pretty much a YA book before YA was a genre.  There’s no surprises here, just a great story with lovely writing.

Beauty is currently available as part of a $15 Humble Bundle of  “Women Of Science Fiction and Fantasy.” 

McKinley decided to revisited BatB twenty years later with Rose Daughter, which is a more daring, quirky take.  I like it a lot, too, but it’s not quite the classic that Beauty is.

 

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

This movie came out when I was about five years old; consequently it was one of the first Disney movies I saw, and it has remained a favorite throughout the years.  The opening sequence contains some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen.  And the songs!  I can still sing them all.  It stands tall as part of the Disney Renaissance, and was even the first animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Image result for beauty and the beast 1991
I picked this movie poster for an image because we used to have a giant puzzle of it.

 

What’s your favorite version of Beauty and the Beast?

Book Review: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

104089Last year, while I was waiting for my library copy of Guy Gavriel Kay’s new book, I decided to get myself in the mood by reading his most famous work: Tigana.

Well, I still haven’t gotten around to reading his newest book, but I think it was worth it for Tigana.  It’s widely considered his masterpiece, and while it wasn’t my favorite of his works, there were scenes in this book that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I think that’s about the highest praise I can give a book.

The story begins with a young bard, Devin, who’s been employed to sing for the funeral of a local Duke.  He quickly stumbles into a conspiracy involving the overthrow of not one but two invading sorcerer kings, and a mysterious conquered province whose name has been erased from memory…Tigana.

Most of Kay’s works are what I would call historical fantasy; they are based on historical places, people, and events, but transported into a purely fantasy setting.  Tigana takes place in an fantasy version of medieval or Renaissance Italy.  If you look at the lovely maps included between the section breaks, you’ll see that the peninsula of the Palm looks very similar to Italy flipped upside-down.  The world building is amazing, and the setting gives it a “classic” fantasy feel.

 

This is not a quick-paced book, but it has a wonderful style.  Kay’s prose and tone has been an inspiration for my current WIP (and last year’s NaNoWriMo project), so I tried to study his effortless techniques in making the story feel both immediate and personal and yet epic.  He often uses a kind of “two sentence foreshadowing” to give context for some event that is occurring, giving a brief tease as to how it will be viewed later by the characters or by history.

Even when I felt I knew where the story was going, I was still on the edge of my seat.  And there were a couple of twists I didn’t see coming, especially a big one at the very end.

If you are interested in reading Kay, this is a great place to start! (I’d also recommend The Lions of Al-Rassan, set in fantasy Spain.)

5/5 stars

2016 Reading Review

Another great year of books is behind us.  As usual, I read a lot of YA fantasy, but I also read a good mix of other stuff, too (partly thanks to the bimonthly GeekyNerdy Book Club).

This year I read 35 books and graphic novels (not counting re-reads).  Here are some of my favorites:

YA fantasy/sci-fi:

Indie fantasy:

Non-fiction:

There are also a few other genre books that really stood out, but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing them yet, so I’m making some space for them here.

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology

Related imageThis was hands-down my favorite series of 2016.  I wrote previously about the first book, Six of Crows, and I’m now here to tell you that the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is an immensely satisfying conclusion.  The characters are still amazing, and continue to be challenged in new, different ways.  The fantasy aspects also continue to be developed.

It’s not an entirely happy ending, but there was never going to be a perfectly happy ending to this story, and honestly it was happier than I was expecting.  I’m even considering buying the hardcover set, which I never do, because the books themselves have the pages edged in color: black for the first and red for the second.

If you like YA fantasy, grey characters, and complex plots, this one is for you.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

There has been so much buzz around this book since22544764 it was published last year (it was nominated for a Hugo and won the Nebula), and I was not disappointed at all.  The story is a kind of original fairy tale, eastern-European inspired, and walks the line between YA and regular adult fantasy.  The main character Agnieszka is “taken” by the local lord, called the Dragon, and is eventually trained by him as a magical apprentice to help defeat the evil Wood.

There’s plenty of magic, and although the magic system is not well-defined, the book does give us an interesting sense of the different methods of working it (the Dragon is more precise and scientific, while Agnieszka works more based on feel and intuition).  There’s also a great female friendship at the core of the story, and some romance—it wasn’t my favorite ever, but I thought it was done well for the story.

The Wood is a surprisingly good villain, and the story’s resolution seemed very fitting.  Even after everything that’s happened, Agnieska can still empathize with the Wood and tries to work out a solution for everyone’s benefit (it’s very Wonder Woman ^_^).

Also, I pictured the Dragon as looking like Rumpelstiltskin from OUAT, so there’s that.

Rumple

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

25372801I’ve been reading CJA for years, as one of the founders of the website io9.com; her movie reviews are the most entertaining I’ve ever read (some of my favorites are Transformers: ROTF, Gods of EgyptThe Force Awakens, The Martian, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War).

I also loved her short story (and Naomi Novik’s) in our recent GeekyNerdy Book Club selection, The Starlit Wood.  So it’s safe to assume that I love her writing style, and it definitely carried me through this story, which was wonderful and memorable, though perhaps not perfect.

A witch girl and a tech-genius boy grow up together as school outcasts, grow apart, then meet again as adults, which is convenient because one or possibly both of them need to save the world from near-imminent destruction. I loved that there is both fantasy and science fiction mashed up here.  It was fascinating to me that the witches would have destroyed humanity to save the planet, while the scientists were willing to risk destroying the planet to save humans.  It was nice to see scientists wrestling with ethical questions, too.

Overall, this book is a little weird, which is why I loved it.  The narrative is a bit uneven, but you just kinda have to go along for the ride.

Here’s to more great books in the new year.  What books did you enjoy most in 2016?

Ash and Team Excerpt #4

This month I’m sharing excerpts from my WIP from previous NaNoWriMos, working title Ash and Team.  It is inspired by the Mi’kmaq-French Cinderella story called Oochigeaskw.

Dramatis Personae:
  • Ash (our Cinderella character)
  • Azula (her older sister)
  • Team (our “prince,” an invisible spirit)
  • Meg (his older sister, our narrator)

Out of sight of the village, she broke into a skip, reveling in her new found freedom.  Once inside the forest, she greeted the trees as she walked among them.  “Hello, fir,” she said, touching their trunks she passed.  “Hello, hickory.  Hello, birch.”  She grinned as she felt them respond.

She heard footsteps and the occasional splash of water through the trees ahead of her; someone was standing on the bank of the creek at our meeting spot.  Ash picked up her pace so as to not make me wait any longer.

But when she entered the clearing it was not me she saw.  Team was standing with his back to her, tossing stones into the creek.

She just couldn’t seem to stop smiling today.

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