Here at STACKED, we mostly stick to YA. But as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I enjoy reading adult romances, though I hadn’t done so in quite some time. After finding all of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books for sale at my local library, I impulse-bought them (not hard to do when they’re only 25 cents each) and then spent the next several days reading almost every single one.
Then, naturally, I did some reading online and picked up a few other romances by authors I hadn’t read before (all historical Regency-era). Reading these books has broken me out of a reading rut like magic; the three below are some of those I’ve enjoyed most.
When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
You guys. This book. This may be the perfect romance novel. It features Francesca Bridgerton, the sixth Bridgerton sibling, and she’s actually already married at the beginning of the book. Her husband is John Stirling, the Earl of Kilmartin, and they love each other very much. And then he dies, after a mere two years of marriage. John’s cousin, Michael, is now the Earl, and he’s wracked with all sorts of uncomfortable emotions. He’s loved Francesca all along, you see, but he also loved his cousin, whom he regarded as more of a brother.
You know what’s going to eventually happen, but seeing the two leads work their way through their grief for a man they both loved very much is gratifying and incredibly moving. Francesca’s attraction and eventual love for Michael develops gradually and believably. I loved reading a book where the hero loved the heroine from afar for years, rather than the opposite, which seems to happen much more frequently. All of Julia Quinn’s trademarks are here: funny repartee between the two leads, crackling wit from ancillary characters, families who love and support each other and embrace their differences.
Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
I don’t think there’s any author I like as much as Julia Quinn when it comes to romances, but Sarah MacLean is a good alternative. Lady Calpurnia Hartwell is 28 and has given up on finding a husband. Her younger sister (by 10 years) has just become engaged, and while listening in on her sister’s conversation with her new fiance, Callie learns that she’s perceived as passive by most of society. She’s always made sure to keep her reputation spotless, but now that she’s sure she won’t ever marry, she doesn’t see much point. So she makes herself a list. Nine things – nine non-passive things – she’ll do to have a little fun and start living, the way she’s been afraid to for a decade. Things like smoking a cheroot, and gambling at a men’s club, and drinking whiskey at a bar. And, of course, being kissed. That tops her list, and she knows just who she wants to help her cross that particular item off.
Gabriel St. John is the Marquess of Ralston, and Callie has loved him afar for ten years, ever since her first season when he spoke to her briefly and made her feel better about her horrid dress, which made her look ridiculous. He had forgotten the conversation long ago, but Callie never did. And when Callie shows up at his home, daring to make him the person who bestows upon her that first kiss…well, you know where this is heading.
Honestly, I was hoping that Callie would be a bit more proactive when it came to her list. She resolves to do something rather extraordinary, and then when it comes down to it, she holds back. It’s understandable, but I wanted to see her fully commit to at least one item without prodding from Ralston. Ralston remains a bit of an enigma throughout the book, as well, and there’s a bit at the end (that’s a bit of spoiler) that was quite off-putting and dropped this to a 3-star read for me (plus some questionable remarks about Ralston’s absent, now-deceased, mother). All that aside, this was a thoroughly engaging story with an interesting subplot featuring Ralston’s half-sister. I liked seeing Callie come into her own, and her pursuit of the items on her list created wonderful comedic moments.
Borrowed from the library
What the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries
Lisette Bonnaud is the illegitimate daughter of a viscount and his French mistress. When her father died without ever marrying her mother, her half-brother, the legitimate son, cut her and her brother Tristan off completely. Luckily for Lisette and Tristan, their other half-brother, the younger legitimate son named Dom, took them in so they could survive, to his detriment; as a result, his older brother cut him off too. They make money to survive by running a private investigation agency, and Lisette longs to take a more active role in it.
Maximilian Cale is the Duke of Lyons, and he inherited the title after his older brother Peter was kidnapped and eventually declared dead. But then he receives a note from Tristan Bonnaud, claiming he has proof that Peter is still alive. Tristan misses the arranged meeting with Max, and Max is so put out by it that he tracks down the Bonnaud residence in England, where he meets Lisette. Long story short, they team up as a faux married couple and travel to France to investigate Tristan’s disappearance. Lisette hopes to prove to Max that Tristan is not a con man, and Max hopes to figure out what happened to Peter once and for all – or make Tristan pay for the lie.
I rather like romances that include a mystery, and this is a fun one. It gets a bit convoluted at the end, but it’s never uninteresting. What’s really important is the chemistry between the two leads, which is great. I love good repartee, and they have it. Lisette is the most assertive of the three heroines I discuss in this post. She has almost no qualms about haring off to France with Max in tow, and her actions are motivated by love of family. She knows what she wants and she knows she’s smart enough to get it. Max is…not my favorite hero. Alas. Nothing beats a Bridgerton book.
Review copy received from publisher