polar-vortex

Our books today are three quick bursts of color and gaiety to brighten up a December day as winter, delayed and tentative, at last begins to close its grip on the city of Boston. Temperatures in the 20s (F) are in the immediate forecast for the first time in ten months, the other morning featured a brief flirtation with snow, and worst of all, some New England meteorologists, unafraid of public opprobrium, have predicted a likelihood that this winter might see the return of that least-welcome of visitors from 2014, the Polar Vortex.

Fortunately, it’s always sunny springtime in the England of my beloved Regency Romances! And thanks to the kind folks at Avon, I’ve been able to bask in that springtime with a trio of frothy, wonderful novels:

viscount-vixenThe Viscount and the Vixen by Lorraine Heath – This is the story of handsome, forceful Viscount Locksley, who watched at first hand the ruinous toll that love took on his father, who was badly damaged emotionally by the loss of his wife. When his father contracts to marry a red-haired adventuress named Portia Gadstone, Locksley will do anything to spare his father another ordeal of married madness, so – in a plot-twist of the type Lorraine Heath does so well – he decides to take his father’s place in the contract! He enters the arrangement determined to resists its personal elements, but as his feelings for Portia grow, he begins to think differently about their future:

Damn it all to hell if he didn’t want that lifetime with her. He wanted her in his life until his hair turned silver and his sight faded. He wanted her when his body was stiff and bent. He’d married her expecting to want no more from her than the nights. More the fool was he because now he wanted every second of every day.

Heath throws the usual minor obstacles in the path of that happy lifetime together, but she’s got the happiness of her characters – and her readers – firmly in mind from Page 1.

While the Duke was Sleeping by Sophie Jordan – As cheering as Regency Romances while-duke-sleepingare, there’s something a little extra-cheering when the romance in question is the first in a series; the ground is fresh, and we can follow the unfolding of plots and subplots right from the start. That’s the case with this new book from genre veteran Sophie Jordan: it’s the first installment in The Rogue Files, and at its heart is the annoying tendency of love to surprise its victims. Although in this case the most obvious victim is the Duke of Autenberry, who’s run down by a racing carriage on the street and only saved from death by the quick actions of shop girl Poppy Fairchurch, who’s often daydreamed about the Duke and now finds herself at his bedside while he lays there comatose from his brush with death. Also at the bedside is the Duke’s broodingly sexy half-brother Struan Mackenzie, who strikes a dark note about the Duke’s chances of recovery, sparking his stepback2first disagreement with Poppy:

She sighed. “There’s no sense in being grim. That’s not helpful.”

“I’m being realistic.”

“You’re being harsh,” she countered with a sniff. She recalled his hard, unsmiling face vividly in her mind as well as the savagery of his fight with her brother. Yes, this man was as unrelenting as stone and she would do well to stay clear of him. Whenever she must be in close proximity with him, she would stay on guard.

But readers of Sophie Jordan’s bubbling, delightful novels – or readers of Regencies in general – will be able to guess how well that whole ‘stay on guard’ strategy will work out. The more she comes to know Struan, the more Poppy comes to see how silly her daydreams about the Duke always were – eventually coming to that perfect Sophie Jordan moment of saying, “The reality of you is better than any fantasy I’ve ever had.”

A Date at the Altar by Cathy Maxwell – This is the third volume in Cathy Maxwell’s date-at-altar“Marrying the Duke” series, following The Fairest of Them All and 2015’s utterly wonderful The Match of the Century, and in all three books, the centerpiece of the story is not only the titular duke but also the shattering of dukish illusions on the part of the story’s strong-willed heroine – in this case the smart, hardscrabble actress and playwright Sarah Pettijohn, who’s perfectly aware of the attractions of Gavin Whitridge, the Duke of Baynton:

By anyone’s account, the Duke of Baynton was a very handsome man. Dark-haired, blessed with sharp blue eyes and the sort of lean, square jaw that spoke of character, he would attract any woman’s attention. Furthermore, he exuded masculinity. It was in the air around him, enhanced by the spiciness of his shaving soap and just the being of his person.

… but has a problem with him that will be familiar to any Regency reader: “However, no one, simply no single person in the world could annoy her more than this fellow with his stepback1arms around her waist.”

Sarah isn’t a member of the nobility, and she’s in her early 30s – ancient by the standards of the marriage mart of the day. But this kind of starting-point antipathy is a playground to writer like Cathy Maxwell; she puts her two lovebirds through their paces before she brings them to the altar in the title, and there’s not a page of it all that isn’t enjoyable.

The three books together, read throughout the course of a black day soaked with sooty cold rain, deliver the bright, carefree magic that’s the main reason I keep coming back to Regencies. The characters in these stories have never heard of the Polar Vortex – talk about a halcyon era.

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