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Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Classic Wager!

by Anna Campbell

As many of you know, I'm a diehard Loretta Chase fan. I think she conveys the wit and the elegance of the Regency better than nearly any other writer around at the moment. And she's one of the few modern writers who makes me think of the greatness of Georgette Heyer.  There's a similar lightness of touch and sureness with the emotions, even if contained beneath properly Regency decorum.

I've already reviewed three of Loretta's wonderful books here, raves every one. LAST NIGHT'S SCANDAL, the classic LORD OF SCOUNDRELS and one of my favorite romances ever MR. IMPOSSIBLE featuring the gorgeous Rupert Carsington.

Before she began writing full-length Regency historicals brimming with sensuality and passion, Loretta had a career writing trad Regencies. Books in this genre are usually described as comedies of manners, but I don't think that nearly does justice to the half dozen lovely trad Regencies that Loretta wrote.

I have two particular favorites from among these early LCs. One is THE SANDALWOOD PRINCESS, a RITA winner from 1991, and the book I'm going to talk about today, the sublime KNAVES' WAGER from 1990.  Later this year, I'll swing by and share my thoughts about THE SANDALWOOD PRINCESS which is a humdinger (suppose that basically encompasses my review!).

One of the things prompting this review is that Loretta's early books have just been re-released at a very competitive price of $2.99 as e-books. Here's the link for KNAVES' WAGER: http://www.amazon.com/Knaves-Wager-ebook/dp/B00A5OH1JY/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

By the way, for a bit of fun, here's the original cover for KNAVES' WAGER, the edition that just kept me up well into the small hours, no matter how often I've read it (and I must have read it at least 20 times). A very different feel to the new cover!

One of the astonishing things about KNAVES' WAGER is quite how much story Loretta manages to pack into a short book. It's only 234 pages all up which is shorter than your average SuperRomance, although having said that, the print in my edition is quite small as are the margins. Still, it's a far cry from the 400 pages of the normal historical romance!

We get the stormy, passionate romance between the ton's Ice Queen, Mrs. Lilith Davenant, and notorious rake Julian Wyndhurst, the Marquess of Brandon. We also get a really sweet secondary romance between Lilith's niece Cecily Glenwood and Lord Robin Downs, Brandon's wayward nephew. In fact, it was because of this secondary romance that I turned to this book at this particular time. The third book in the Sons of Sin series has a secondary romance and I wanted to see how Loretta wove the two stories together here. Of course, I became utterly engrossed in the story and ended up paying no attention to anything technical at all! We also get a vivid crowd of secondary characters including Beau Brummell.

Against her better instincts, widow Lilith Davenant becomes engaged to rising political star (and prosy bore) Sir Thomas Bexley. Lilith is a woman of unsullied reputation who is considered something of a dragon when she launches her nieces upon society. Much to her astonishment, she attracts the notice of the dashing and dissolute Lord Brandon. Even more to her astonishment, Lilith who found no joy in her short marriage, finds herself attracted to the marquess. Not only is she engaged, she can't bring herself to trust this attractive, infamous man.

And she's right not to trust him. Little does she know that Julian has ulterior motives for his seduction of the virtuous widow. Julian's nephew is threatening to marry his mistress, the courtesan Elise, and Brandon and Elise have set up a wager where she will abandon Robin if Lilith comes to Brandon's bed.

So we have the classic Regency set-up of virtuous woman and bad boy who fall in love much against their will and their better judgement. Meanwhile, Cecily, who is far from the pretty airhead that people consider her, schemes both to get her aunt and Brandon together and to find her own happiness with Robin. Cecily was the inspiration for Cassie in MIDNIGHT'S WILD PASSION, if any of you have read that book. I love the twist that the sweet little debutante is actually the smartest player in the game.

Because this is a trad, there are no explicit love scenes but believe me, sexual tension bristles when Lilith and Brandon are together and there are some absolutely lovely kissing scenes. And you'll love the witty dialogue between these two clever, wary people who are falling in love in spite of themselves. 

Seriously this is a treat, even if you think trad Regencies are too staid for you. It's funny and moving and sexy and has one of the loveliest proposal scenes that I've ever read. It's one of those books that makes you laugh and cry and sigh with that lovely romantic satisfaction when you get to the last page. Highly recommended and at $2.99, it's an absolute steal!

So are you a trad Regency fan? I've noticed that they've had a bit of a resurgence in digital publishing. What's your favorite bad boy/good girl historical romance? Is this a theme that appeals to you?

39 comments:

  1. I loved the hero in Heyer's Devils' Cub. A sulky bad boy but so loveable.

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    1. I really need to make the time to read this. Thanks for stopping by, Fiona!

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    2. PJ, haven't you read this one? I think you'd like it - it's really beautifully done.

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  2. Fiona, I loved Devil's Cub too - that actually started me on a Heyer re-read that's still proceeding (if slowly - I'm savoring the books!). I just read a nonfic book called Lives of the English Rakes - in real life, these guys weren't nearly so appealing! Rotters to the left of them, rotters to the right of them!

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  3. I enjoyed many a little Regency book. This cover looks familiar, so it might be tucked away in one of my boxes waiting to be read. They tend to be light and sweet, which at times is just what I want. I'll have to dig around in my TBR mountain to see just how many of her books I do have. There have been so many of these little Regencies that I have enjoyed, it is hard to pick a favorite.

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    1. I delivered all my trad Regencies to the used book store last time I did a major clean out. Hated to let them go but was happy to give them the chance to gain some new fans. ;-)

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    2. PJ, what a lovely idea - spreading the love!

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  4. Pat, I was actually sorry when the trad Regency went the day of the dodo - it's nice to see the genre having a revival as part of the digital publishing revolution. I'm actually currently reading a Jane Austen (Persuasion) because I'm doing a panel on her influence on modern romance writing next week. I think there's definitely an Austenesque spirit in a lot of the best of the trads.

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  5. Hi Anna, I wouldn't mind reading that one. I don't mind sex scenes but you are right, sometimes one needs something for the heart and soul and I find those shorter books are quite a treat after a 600+ novel. I am pretty sure I have read some of Lorettas books before but I did not pay too much attention in the beginning when I started reading love novels. That was before I realized how big the market for this genre is and that not every love/romance story is the same. There are definitively quality differences.

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    1. Hi Fluser! Thanks for dropping by today! Oh, do give Loretta Chase a go. She's (in my opinion) one of the best writers out there!

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    2. Manuela, I think the same as any genre (including literary fiction) there are huge differences between writers - give Loretta a go (and at $2.99 for a digital copy of Knaves' Wager, it won't break the bank!). You're right about these shorter books being nice palate cleansers, like sorbets, between some of the bigger ones.

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    3. PJ, LC really is a lovely writer, isn't she? Some of the lines in Knaves' Wager are classic!

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    4. Hi PJ, I am really pretty sure that I read the odd book of her, honestly, but now I will look for her name more specifically.

      Anna, I have my kindle waiting to get started and I was so close to get a credit on my amazon account to go mental with books, when we had a major issue in our kitchen with a chewed cable (bl...y mice) and water (leaking dishwasher hose) and power failure (blown fuse) and fire fighters standing there checking that there is no smoldering in the wall and underneath the cupboard. We spent over $500 for the A rate electrician to rewire and we haven't received a bill yet for the fire truck coming to us. I freaked, I called 000... :( Anthonys holiday fund was totally wiped out, but I promise as soon as we recover from this I will have a look for all the recommendations I have received from you and other writers about fellow writers novels. :)

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  6. One of my favorites! I'm with you on Loretta Chase. Love her work and had a total fangirl moment both times I've met her!

    I loved the trad regeencies and have so many on my keeper shelf! Thanks for the reminder, Anna!

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    1. Hi Deb! It's hard to meet Loretta Chase and not be a fangirl! :)

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    2. Deb, so glad you're another fan. I was so pleased when I saw the new digital releases of these earlier trads. I hope she's picking up a whole new audience. I've never actually met Loretta. Maybe one day!

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  7. Hi, Anna!

    Fancy meeting you here! :-) You are so right in that Loretta Chase is a fabulous author who has written so many lovely and romantic novels. I am sad that the traditional Regency novel seems to be harder to find. There are more spy plots thrown into novels these days. At the risk of alienating some authors, I can say that while many of them are good, some just don't appeal to me. *putting my armor on to protect myself from rocks being thrown at me*

    Trying to choose a favorite bad boy/good girl historical romance wouldn't be easy. I would have to check out my little shelf of books for that because, unfortunately, my memory is not that good anymore. (New friends every day!) :-)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts today!

    Connie

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    1. No need to duck and hide, Connie. We all have our favorite plots and others that just don't do it for us. :)

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    2. Thanks, PJ. The last thing I would ever want to do would be to insult an author because I so admire the hard, hard work that they put into their novels. Whether the story is or isn't a particular favorite of mine, I still admire the work involved!

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    3. Hi Connie! Thanks for swinging by! So glad you're another LC fan. No need to apologise for not liking a particular type of romance novel, I think we all have our favorites! I think one of the things that played against the trad Regency is that the market has got progressively hotter over the years and some of those quieter books have been a little lost in all the heightened sensuality. Of course as a reader, I love a steamier read but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate something without the raunch too! ;-)

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  8. As always, Anna, I enjoyed your post. I like Loretta Chase, but haven't read many of her books. I will check out the ones you mentioned. I also have not read D's CUB, but know it is one of your fave Heyer books.

    I like the bad boy Saint in Suzanne Enoch's book LONDON'S PERFECT SCOUNDREL. I can't even tell you specifics, I just know I like him. Oh, I really didn't like the story or Saint at first, but I started reading the book after getting to about p. 75 or so again from page 1 because I just couldn't figure out why I didn't like him....I know this doesn't make sense, but when I started over, I began to see his real qualities as a hero. :) Help me out, Andrea....You know what I mean! (Yep, we're in the Saint Fan Club).

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    1. Hi Deb! I know Andrea shares your affection for Saint. She's having dental surgery (poor baby) today so she may not be up to posting. Otherwise, I know she'd be here sharing the Saint love.

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    2. Thanks for swinging by, Deb! Hey, here's a nice chance to try one of Loretta's best at a bargain price! One of the things I love about the Bad Boy hero is that he never particularly WANTS to reform so it makes for a great story as his character is dragged kicking and screaming into the light. Interesting it took you a couple of goes to get into Suzy's LPS. There's another book in that series that I love - I think it's London's Greatest/Perfect Hero? He's got PTSD (not a bad boy hero) but it's a really heart-wrenching read.

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    3. Deb, just looked it up - England's Perfect Hero. Great read!

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    4. SAINT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sigh.

      No surgery today, but soon.

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    5. Oh, just saw this (not just the Saint bit!). Hang in there!

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  9. I adore the old Signet/Zebra/Avon regencies and their quaint covers. Indeed, I have an entire bookshelf exclusively for them! Whenever I reread one, I am newly amazed at how much those authors crammed into such a short page count. I think that my favorite bad boy/good girl themed book is Mary Balogh's The Notorious Rake. Edmund is such an interesting character and Balogh takes him and redeems him so beautifully.

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    1. Mary Beth, you're right about the quaint covers! I actually don't know that trad Regencies were particularly popular over here. I certainly don't remember seeing them in bookshops and believe me, I've hung out in lots of bookshops over the years! I discovered Loretta's after I'd read a couple of her longer historicals, particularly CAPTIVES OF THE NIGHT which is a great book (although these days, that title makes it sound like a paranormal!). I ordered them direct from Avon in the mid-90s using the coupon at the back of the book, I don't think I was on the Internet at that stage. As a result, I know there's lot of fantastic authors I've missed although I think a lot of the popular trad authors have moved onto longer books. I haven't read that Mary Balogh although I really like her stuff. I must check it out!

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  10. My very favorite genre is traditional Regency. I have a few thousand in my collection and re-read them often. They make me feel as if the world is right-side-up. My daughter teases me gently that I have no idea what's on TV (we don't own one!) but drop me in 1810 and I'd be right at home.

    LC's Mr. Impossible has a 10 in my spreadsheet. The Devil's Delilah and Lord Perfect both have 9's. LC is one of those authors (like you) where I just check to see whether I have the book already and then buy it if I don't. I *know* I will read and re-read it!

    Just scanning my spreadsheet quickly, here are some not necessarily bad boy/good girl, but excellent Regencies. The Willful Miss Winthrop by Wilma Counts is an interesting Peninsular War traditional. Emma Jensen's The Irish Rogue deals with some of the cultural issues of that era. Marion Devon's Escapade and Georgiana are a more classic style. Suzanne Enoch's England's Perfect Hero really does have a wonderful hero though it's not properly traditional, if you know what I mean. Jane Feather's Bachelor List, Bride Hunt, and Wedding Game are good though not completely traditional either.

    The Rival Earls by Elisabeth Kidd has the canals in it -- travel was so different!

    As for paranormals, ghost stories are very common -- look for "spirit" in the title. Julia's Spirit by Emily Hendrickson.

    Ah, here's a bad boy/good girl traditional I have read many times: Miss Wilson's Reputation by Martha Kirkland.

    --Sylvia

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  11. Sylvia, firstly, thank you for saying such lovely things about my books! Mwah! Oh, I envy your spreadsheet! I think Mr. I is my fave Loretta, followed by Lord of Scoundrels and this one (with maybe The Sandalwood Princess only a smidgen behind). Love your 'world right side up' comment - that's just how I felt when I got to the end of this one and as I said the proposal scene at the end is just beautiful which helped with my closing book smile. Thanks for all the recommendations - as I said, a lot of the trads passed me by purely because they weren't readily available in bookshops here. I agree with you about England's Perfect Hero - I think that's my fave Suzanne Enoch. As you say, not completely trad, but a beautiful story.

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  12. I read a little bit of everything with more historicals and suspense. I'm not really a digital reader but I definitely have some of her books that I've enjoyed.

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    1. Catslady, I'm yet to get an e-reader but I must say with more and more great stuff coming out as e-book only, I'm seriously thinking of changing my ways! Glad you're another LC fan!

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  13. Love the review, Anna! I started reading quite a few authors--Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Mary Balogh, etc.--very early in their careers when they were writing trad regencies, and some of those older books continue to be favorites. I love that I now have so many of them on my Kindle, including Knave's Wager. I've read all of Loretta Chase's books and loved every one of them. One of my favorite of her trads is The Devil's Delilah. I'm a beta hero lover, and it has one of the best beta heroes ever plus a bookish heroine with a reformed rake father.

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  14. Hi Janga! I wish I'd been more aware of the trad Regencies when they were at their height. I read quite a lot that were published through Harlequin because Harlequin Mills and Boon has always been the most visible romance presence in our bookshops here. But a lot of the American authors passed completely under my radar. Glad you're another fan of LC! Thought you might be! ;-)

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  15. Hi, Anna! I have read Candice Hern's and Sophia Nash's trad Regencies and loved them all. If I had to pick my favorite of each, they would be LORD WILL AND HER GRACE by Nash and A CHANGE OF HEART by Hern. And I simply ADORED Hern's short story "Desperate Measures" in the Mammoth Book of Regency Romance.

    My favorite bad boy/good girl historical romance is LONDON'S PERFECT SCOUNDREL by Suzanne Enoch. Love, love, love Saint. *sigh*

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    1. I have to add that I FINALLY read my first Loretta Chase--LORD OF SCOUNDRELS--and LOVED it!!

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  16. Andrea, hope the teeth are behaving! Love Sophia Nash's longer stuff - must check out her older Regencies. Think she won a RITA for one! Knew you were going to mention Saint! ;-)

    So glad you enjoyed LOS! Yay!!!!

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  17. Thanks, everyone, for a great chat, and thanks as ever to the Dishes for hosting me. Check in on the 24th next month where I talk about a couple of Susan Mallery books - she's a new discovery for me (yeah, I've been under a rock!).

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