Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gilded Age Inspiration

When I read historical romances (or purchase them for the library), my choices lean heavily toward the Regency. The clothes, the parties, the social customs -- and a bit of drawing room comedy is nice as well. Many of our patrons join me in the typical American fascination with dukes and duchesses, so it's easy to end up with a collection of historicals that is all British Regency, all the time. Fortunately, I was saved from my rut by the recent release of not one but two novels set in the United States during the Gilded Age. All the manners and mores you could want(both upstairs and below stairs) with enough parties, clothes, and grand houses to keep things interesting. Both titles fall into the Inspirational category, so expect elements of the characters' faith to be woven into the story. Due to the terrifying height of my TBR pile, I only had time to skim these, but both seem to be well plotted with strong characterization, good historical detail, and the all important atmosphere.

Love on a Dime
by Cara Lynn James

At the age of nineteen, Lilly Westbrook fell in love with Jackson Grail, a hardworking young man educated (on scholarship) at the finest schools. Endowed with brains and ambition but no money, Jack is considered suitable as a friend to Lilly's brother George but not as a suitor for Lilly. He proposes anyway, but his courage fails him when it comes time to ask the Westbrooks for Lilly's hand, and he breaks off with her so that she can continue to lead her privileged life while he goes off to make his fortune. Six years later, when he appears at her family's home in Newport for a visit with George, he has not only struck it rich in the Klondike, but has purchased a couple of companies and has his eye on a third. Here the plot truly thickens, since Lilly has not been sitting idly by attending parties and updating her wardrobe. Though she nursed her heartbreak for a few years, she also found a new purpose in helping the residents of a settlement house in the city. In order to fund her charitable endeavors, she has taken to secretly penning dime novels under the name Fannie Cole. Her work has become quite popular, making it more and more difficult for her to hide her alter ego from her family. It would be social disaster to be revealed, especially as she now has a new and wealthy suitor. When it turns out that the next company Jackson wants to buy is her publisher, Lilly fears that the gig will be well and truly up! The rest of the novel follows Lilly's attempts to reconcile the various elements of her life -- her love for Jackson, her enjoyment of her work and the good she does with it, and her desire to not disappoint her family.

Maid to Match
by Deeanne Gist

Though most historical romances focus on the titled or the wealthy, life and love did go on below stairs. It was at best less glamorous and at worst actively discouraged and grounds for dismissal. Therefore the last thing that Tillie Reese wants to do is fall in love with a footman. Having worked her way up the ladder of domestic staff to become head parlormaid at 18, Tillie has a shot at being promoted to lady's maid to Edith Vanderbilt. However, she has competition, and even a minor slip could cost her the job. When she's given the task of whipping a new employee into shape, it looks like a chance to score some points toward the new job, but when sparks start to fly between Tillie and Mack Danvers, future footman, things get complicated. They get more complicated still when Tillie and Mack may have to expose a scandal involving the local orphanage. Tillie has to choose whether to follow her heart and her conscience or let her ambition rule her decisions. Featuring the servants and making the Vanderbilts secondary characters is a nice twist on the usual historical formula, and the marvelous Biltmore Estate is a wonderful setting.

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