Continuing my theme of accidental paired reads, I recently read two Regency romances with strong comic elements, both by women, both of which I absolutely loved and would recommend whether you normally like romance or not.

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer, is now one of my two favorite books by her. The other is Cotillion, with The Unknown Ajax, Sprig Muslin, and Frederica close behind.

I had heard that Venetia is "the one with the rake;" this is true, but what's most notable about it to me is that, like Cotillion, it's about a romance that begins as a friendship, and is about how that meeting of true minds is the basis of the relationship, rather than the more common pattern of sexual chemistry first, compatibility later. Which is not to say that Venetia lacks sexual chemistry, as it's one of the few Heyers where the romantic leads do really seem to be sexual beings.

Venetia is older than most Regency heroines; her no-good father never let her come out, then dropped dead, leaving Venetia, at the age of 25, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no company but her brilliant and handicapped younger brother, two equally appalling suitors, and a whole bunch of books. But then the rake Damerel, who has been leading a dissipated life after running away with and then leaving a married woman, returns to his ancestral house. Which is next door.

I don't want to say too much about the story, since it has some nice surprises, but this is one of the most well-written, psychologically penetrating, touching, and funny Heyer novels I've read, and that's saying a lot. Unlike a lot of hers, this one is gripping from the very first page, even though there's little overt conflict. The obstacles keeping Venetia and Damerel apart are subtle, mostly psychological, and provide tension while allowing their relationship to slowly blossom. I am convinced that they will be very happy together, which is not true of all romantic couples. Damerel is smart, sexy, and kind, with believable angst for seasoning; Venetia is outspoken, witty, and goes her own way, but is not a modern woman in period dress. I really can't recommend this book highly enough.

Your Wicked Ways, by Eloisa James, is not up to that standard, but that's a very high standard and I did enjoy it a great deal on its own merits. It's a page-turner-- I read it in one sitting-- and interestingly revisionist of some typical romance tropes.

Helene and her husband Rees, both composers, have been living separately for the last nine years, ever since their impulsive and youthful Gretna Green elopement ended in bad sex, recriminations, and general disaster. Rees has become a rake and is living with an opera singer; Helene is living with her mother. But Helene is desperate to have a baby, and Rees is desperate to finish an opera that's going very badly. After a slightly contrived series of events, Helene ends up striking a bargain with Rees: she'll secretly move into his house for a month and help him with the opera, if he'll do his best to impregnate her. The house, by that time is not only hosting the opera singer (once a mistress, now just there as a singer), but Rees' vicar brother and the apple-selling waif he rescued from the streets. Neither Helene nor Rees is looking forward to the impregnation part, as their terrible early sexual experiences convinced them both that Helene is frigid. But they've both matured a lot in the intervening years...

If you can get over Rees' initial and utterly caddish behavior, and he does change a lot over the course of the book, this is a really sweet, funny, and sexy story. It has a lot of elements that I particularly like: learning how to have sex rather than instinctively knowing (on both people's parts-- nine years later, Rees still has no idea how to please a woman), a romance based on a meeting of minds (a great deal of the courtship of Rees and Helene takes place around the piano), and likable supporting characters. No one is perfect in this book, but no one's a villain either-- not Rees, not his mistress, not Rees' upright brother, not even the French rake whom Helene briefly dallies with.

This is the last book in a sequence of four, but stands just fine on its own. One of Helene's suitors shows up again the first book of a different sequence, Much Ado About You.
Continuing my theme of accidental paired reads, I recently read two Regency romances with strong comic elements, both by women, both of which I absolutely loved and would recommend whether you normally like romance or not.

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer, is now one of my two favorite books by her. The other is Cotillion, with The Unknown Ajax, Sprig Muslin, and Frederica close behind.

I had heard that Venetia is "the one with the rake;" this is true, but what's most notable about it to me is that, like Cotillion, it's about a romance that begins as a friendship, and is about how that meeting of true minds is the basis of the relationship, rather than the more common pattern of sexual chemistry first, compatibility later. Which is not to say that Venetia lacks sexual chemistry, as it's one of the few Heyers where the romantic leads do really seem to be sexual beings.

Venetia is older than most Regency heroines; her no-good father never let her come out, then dropped dead, leaving Venetia, at the age of 25, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no company but her brilliant and handicapped younger brother, two equally appalling suitors, and a whole bunch of books. But then the rake Damerel, who has been leading a dissipated life after running away with and then leaving a married woman, returns to his ancestral house. Which is next door.

I don't want to say too much about the story, since it has some nice surprises, but this is one of the most well-written, psychologically penetrating, touching, and funny Heyer novels I've read, and that's saying a lot. Unlike a lot of hers, this one is gripping from the very first page, even though there's little overt conflict. The obstacles keeping Venetia and Damerel apart are subtle, mostly psychological, and provide tension while allowing their relationship to slowly blossom. I am convinced that they will be very happy together, which is not true of all romantic couples. Damerel is smart, sexy, and kind, with believable angst for seasoning; Venetia is outspoken, witty, and goes her own way, but is not a modern woman in period dress. I really can't recommend this book highly enough.

Your Wicked Ways, by Eloisa James, is not up to that standard, but that's a very high standard and I did enjoy it a great deal on its own merits. It's a page-turner-- I read it in one sitting-- and interestingly revisionist of some typical romance tropes.

Helene and her husband Rees, both composers, have been living separately for the last nine years, ever since their impulsive and youthful Gretna Green elopement ended in bad sex, recriminations, and general disaster. Rees has become a rake and is living with an opera singer; Helene is living with her mother. But Helene is desperate to have a baby, and Rees is desperate to finish an opera that's going very badly. After a slightly contrived series of events, Helene ends up striking a bargain with Rees: she'll secretly move into his house for a month and help him with the opera, if he'll do his best to impregnate her. The house, by that time is not only hosting the opera singer (once a mistress, now just there as a singer), but Rees' vicar brother and the apple-selling waif he rescued from the streets. Neither Helene nor Rees is looking forward to the impregnation part, as their terrible early sexual experiences convinced them both that Helene is frigid. But they've both matured a lot in the intervening years...

If you can get over Rees' initial and utterly caddish behavior, and he does change a lot over the course of the book, this is a really sweet, funny, and sexy story. It has a lot of elements that I particularly like: learning how to have sex rather than instinctively knowing (on both people's parts-- nine years later, Rees still has no idea how to please a woman), a romance based on a meeting of minds (a great deal of the courtship of Rees and Helene takes place around the piano), and likable supporting characters. No one is perfect in this book, but no one's a villain either-- not Rees, not his mistress, not Rees' upright brother, not even the French rake whom Helene briefly dallies with.

This is the last book in a sequence of four, but stands just fine on its own. One of Helene's suitors shows up again the first book of a different sequence, Much Ado About You.
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