Happy Monday everyone! On the first day of Valentines Week, my true love gave to me…
Well, what did you expect from a blog called Three Bluestockings?
I’m going to dive right in here with a recommendation of one of my favorite Romance authors. Everyone needs a little bit of “happily ever after” in their life, and the Romance genre guarantees just that. This may be why $1.36 billion was spent on Romance fiction sales in 2009 and why Romance fiction comprises the largest share of the consumer market in the publishing industry.*
I have stated before that I enjoy the genre, and I have to say that in general, I am a sucker for a love story. I’m always hoping that some kind of relationship will magically appear in, say, and action movie, because in my opinion, love makes any book or movie better.
In life, I tend to be a very practical person. I don’t sugar coat much and take things at face value most of the time. Though I have fantasies of winning the lottery and moving to a castle with servants and designer clothes at my beck and call, I’m very good at balancing my checkbook, coming to terms with the fact that I will never make a six figure salary, and knowing that I will never be a size four. I’ve had some hard knocks in my emotional past, and I’m aware that people will disappoint me, hurt me, and that I just have to get back on the horse if I want to get anywhere in life. I’ve thought a lot about my own personality and my reading habits, what with my passing interest in psychology, and know that my outlook on life has a direct influence on my entertainment ingestion. I gravitate towards stories with a happy ending, improbable romances, fantastical worlds, and true love. When I go to a movie or read a book, I want to indulge in escapism from the drudgery and banality of reality, where we are uncertain of whether or not we will get a happy ending. Romance novels provide all of this and simply make me happy, which is why I absolutely must recommend some historical Romances from one of my favorite authors in this genre, Julia Quinn.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I recommend a particular series from this author that follows the Bridgerton family, a brood of eight children of the late Viscount Bridgerton and his surviving wife Violet, and a truly entertaining bunch. There are eight novels, one for each sibling, and while each one has its own charm, together, the books are fantastic. Set in Regency England, the Bridgertons are an eccentric, affectionate, and quirky family that you just yearn to be a part of. Quinn mixes humor, romance, familial domestic scenes, poignant moments of triumph over emotional scars, and a bit of adventure to create a series of endearing characters and plots that keep you turning the page.
So, here is the series in reading order for your enjoyment:
Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton conspire to create a fake engagement to each other in order to get persistent debutants and a meddling mother off of their backs. Simon and Daphne of course end up falling for each other; add a tryst in a garden and a duel, and they end up in a marriage legitimizing their initial ruse. Simon has some emotional baggage that is not easily dispelled, and threatens to destroy his happiness with Daphne. In the end, they work together to heal childhood wounds and find they are deserving of love after all. By far this is my favorite book in the series, for the complexity of Simon’s character, the growth of the protagonists through the book, and for the way Simon and Daphne’s relationship smolders off the page. Yes, they smolder.
The current Viscount Bridgerton, Anthony, the eldest of the brood, insists on marrying a woman he will not fall in love with in order to prevent complications in his self-predicted short life. Anthony thinks he chooses the perfect candidate from the year’s debutantes until he meets the Incomparable’s half-sister, Kate Sheffield. While trying to court one Sheffield woman, he ends up falling in love with Kate instead, and after finding themselves in a compromising and public position, they marry. Anthony is convinced he will not live past his 38th year, a conviction born from the trauma of losing his own father who was that very age upon his death. Kate helps Anthony overcome the grief of losing a parent and convinces him to live without the fear of a death sentence hanging over his head. Despite the serious themes, this book had two of the most hilarious scenes in the series, giving comic relief when needed.
In the tradition of Cinderella, Quinn tells the tale of Sophie Beckett, the illegitimate child of an Earl, raised alongside her two stepsisters. When the Earl dies, Sophie’s stepmother makes sure Sophie knows her place as a bastard by engaging her as a housemaid and thoroughly castigating her for any real or imagined troubles. Her true friends, the footmen and other maids, plot to send Sophie to a ball where she meets Benedict Bridgerton and where the two fall in love at first sight. After the ball and years of hardship following Sophie’s dismissal by her stepmother upon discovering the jaunt to the masquerade, Benedict meets his pined-for love again but does not recognize her as a maid in the country. Eventually he falls in love with Sophie again and reconciles the dividing pull to two supposedly different women and society’s impediments of class. Sophie is a tragic figure who’s strength and kindness are rewarded in the end. Benedict and Sophie’s story is sweet and tender, but may cause a tear or two to drop (that is, if you are sappy like me).
Penelope Featherington is the best friend of the fifth Bridgerton sibling, Eloise, who’s brother, Colin, she has been in love with since she was a young girl. Shy, timid, and saddled with an unappreciative and unaffectionate family, Penelope grows into herself while Colin travels the Continent, exploring exotic locales and making a reputation for himself. When he returns, he is surprised to find that his sister’s friend now captures his attention and that the girl that has always been right in front of him is truly something special. Colin and Penelope’s romance is slow and grows out of friendship, but eventually (and I mean eventually, because God it felt like forever when reading it) Colin realizes that he loves Penelope. A secret between them spices up the story and throws in a bit of society scandal, and Penelope is truly a delight; a spunky, opinionated woman hiding under a spinster’s horridly colored gown.
After communicating via letters, Sir Phillip Crane decides to propose marriage to Eloise Bridgerton, who he thinks is a sensible and affable spinster desperate enough to accept his proposal. He suggests a visit to his country home to assess their compatibility, and on a whim, Eloise rides out alone in the dead of night to his estate to see what a life together might be like. As a guest in his home, Eloise finds out that Phillip is nothing in person like his charming letters, but is gruff, brooding, and undemonstrative toward his children. Did the word children surprise you? Well, it surprised Eloise too to find twins bent on thwarting their father’s plans to remarry. Phillip is haunted by the suicide of his wife and taken aback by Eloise’s open and sunny affect and her chatty personality. Although the book has a darker and more serious tone than its predecessor, it does include one of my favorite quotes from all of the books:
Eloise just stared at him. As long as she lived, she’d never understand men. She had four brothers, and quite frankly should have understood them better than most women, and maybe it had taken all of her twenty-eight years to come to this realization, but men were, quite simply, freaks.”
How true, Eloise, how true.
When Francesca Bridgerton married John Stirling, Earl of Kilmartin, she never imagined that she would be widowed so soon. The new Earl of Kilmartin, John’s cousin, Michael, is more than reluctant to take up the title, feeling grief, regret, and guilt for having loved his cousin’s bride from the moment they met. Michael abandons his family and flees to India. When he returns years later, he tries to do justice to the title he never wanted out of honor for his beloved cousin, and rekindles the friendship he once had with Francesca. Francesca eventually reciprocates Michael’s love, but the two must overcome guilt and grief before they can have the happiness they desire. By far, this is the most serious, and emotionally demanding books of the series, is far from lighthearted, but is beautifully and passionately written.
Hyacinth Bridgerton, my favorite of the eight Bridgertons, finally gets her own book! Outspoken, intelligent, and friends with the aged, but incredibly intimidating Lady Danbury, Hyacinth meets her match in Gareth St. Clair. When the two start to unravel a mystery concerning Gareth’s past, translating his Italian grandmother’s diary, Gareth begins to fall for the unconventional Hyacinth. With a return to the lighthearted, Quinn also weaves a bit of adventure and intrigue into the plot, involving jewels and a family secret. The characters are dynamic, and Lady Danbury makes a humorous, meddling sidekick.
This final installment of the Bridgerton series gives us Gregory. Convinced he has found the woman he will marry in Hermione Watson, Gregory sets out on his courtship, with the help of Hermione’s friend Lucy Abernathy. Only, Lucy ends up falling in love with Gregory during their efforts to catch Hermione’s attention, and she fights her feelings for Gregory, since she is already engaged. When Gregory realizes that he is in love with Lucy, it may be too late since Lucy is determined to do the best thing for her family by marrying someone she does not love. It was a bittersweet read, with this being the last Bridgerton book.
* Statistics taken from the 2009 ROMStat Report compiled by RWA.