Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Weekend Reading Round Up Part II

Having devoted some time to more traditional historical romance, I next turned to Madame Bliss The Erotic Adventures of a Lady by Charlotte Lovejoy. This is billed as a novel in the tradition of Tom Jones and Fanny Hill. Not a bad place to start, in my opinion, but then I was an English major in college. Anyway, the story traces the steps of the foundling Mary Wren. Abandoned as an infant, Mary is rescued by one Lady Worthy, who brings her home and raises her. Mary becomes a housemaid, and remains a virtuous and hardworking girl until the age of 16, when she is seduced (with very little effort) by John Lyon, a young and handsome gentleman visiting the manor. The two begin a passionate and joyful love affair, which is unfortunately discovered. Both are turned out by their respective patrons, with Johnny being sent off to India and Mary opting to head for London. En route, she encounters a young woman who will take her under her wing and teach her to survive on her beauty and her wits. Miss Calliope Wiles, once an innocent country girl herself, is now the comfortably maintained mistress of the Earl of Rogersme, and knows that an equally comfortable future is available to Mary if she plays her cards right. With Calliope’s help, the newly rechristened Marianna does indeed take London by storm. She is pursued by wicked and fabulously wealthy Lord Blackwood, rescued and kept by the staunch Colonel Goodleigh, and becomes the toast of the town after modeling for Signor Amoroso, whose scandalous paintings are in high demand among gentlemen of means. But through it all, Marianna remains true in her heart, if not her body, to Johnny Lyon, and is rewarded with her very own happily ever after. This is delightful contemporary take on the bawdy novel of past centuries, with a timeless heroine, subtle humor, and a wonderful cast of characters. There are plenty of erotic novels that are little more than a series of sex scenes strung together with a very thin plot; Madame Bliss rises above that and is a very clever and well told story with plenty of steamy scenes that manage to be hot without seeming crass.

The lone contemporary in the line-up is Kristin Higgin’s Too Good to be True. It’s the story of Grace Emerson, a high school history teacher. Grace was dumped by her fiancĂ© four weeks before their wedding. Which is bad. What’s worse is that he eventually started dating her younger sister Natalie. Which is fine, really, since Grace gave them permission to date. After all, there is nothing she wouldn’t do for her baby sister, and she knew in her heart that when Andrew and Natalie met they were both hit with what Grace calls “the big kablammy.” The problem is that over a year since the big break-up, Grace is attending her cousin Kitty’s (third) wedding solo, while Natalie and Andrew are attending together, and everyone is saying “How are you?” to her in tones usually reserved for someone with a terminal illness. So Grace has no choice but to make up a boyfriend. Yep, an imaginary boyfriend, one designed to salvage her pride and make her little sister feel better about dating Andrew. By the time she gets home, the faux boyfriend is fully formed in her mind. While drifting around her house, still a little tipsy, Grace spots a strange man trying to get into the empty house next door. She calls the cops and by they arrive has whacked the supposed intruder in the head with her old field hockey stick. Can true love be far behind? Well, perhaps it’s inevitable, but the road is bumpy and long. There’s the fake boyfriend for one thing, and the ex-boyfriend for another, and of course the neighbor, Callahan O’Shea, has a few skeletons in his closet as well. Grace cannot get past the fact that in many ways he’s just wrong, wrong, wrong, but still entirely hot, hot, hot. What’s a girl to do? Watching Grace and Callahan stumble toward their happy ending is very entertaining. Hannah provides a funny, exasperating and endearing group of secondary characters – most of them related to Grace. She also works in good subplots – Grace’s adventures in online dating are hysterical, and the school politics and her sister’s marital woes ring true. This is not a steamy, chick lit kind of romance, but it is a nice love story with a fair amount of heat that is well paced and has some emotional depth to it.


Charlotte Lovejoy said...

Your review of MADAME BLISS made my day! Thank you so much for your kind words, and I'm delighted that you enjoyed my book so much. Hurray for bawdy historical romance!

Ms. Lovelace said...

Just finished the Ravishing of Lady May...........did not stop till I was finished. I am on the hunt for Madame Bliss.......definitely pleasing to all the senses, instead of feeling like a fly on the proverbial wall felt like one of the characters in the book. Are there anymore books in sight. Always your servant..........Ms.Lovejoy.

Ms. Lovelace.