June 27, 2014
Whatever happened to...
Many many years ago there was a group of delightful books by an author named Deborah Simmons. This was in the days when a "series" wasn't as pre-ordained as it is now. Anyway, she had/has a regency series (without a name) and a medieval series (with a name). The first few books in the medieval series were a delight, but even more wonderful were her
regency books. She was/is a joy to read.
Then something happened over at Harlequin and she disappeared for a while, then she came back. However, her last book was published in the early part of 2013. Her website doesn't show any recent activity and I am nervous. Even though her last few books were a disappointment for me, I have continued to keep an eye out, but nothing seems to be happening. If you have never read any of her books, the three I'm going to talk about are gems and you should try to find them somewhere. Two of them have been released in electronic format, but The Vicar's Daughter is still out-of-print and hard to find.
Let's start with the first one - sort of - The Vicar's Daughter, 1995. I say sort of because I'm only talking about three of Ms. Simmons early regencies. There are earlier regencies with characters that are mentioned in these three books; however, I've always considered The Vicar's Daughter, Tempting Kate, and The Last Rogue the best of Ms. Simmons' regencies.
Back to The Vicar's Daughter, which I reviewed years ago and have not changed my mind. I love when I can go back to a much-beloved book and find that it still brings me pleasure. The Vicar's Daughter has one of my favorite type of heroes, an uptight stuffed-shirt who turns into an out of control befuddled male. In fact all three stories featured befuddled males. Max has mapped his life out completely, down to the last hair on his head. He has scheduled everything, he's orderly, everything is timed. He has time pieces that keep him on his schedule, he looks at them constantly. He doesn't have too much of a sense of humor, he's neat, precise, only drinks two glasses of wine and even has visits to his mistress penciled into his schedule. His secretary knows that Max has broken off with his mistress because he has scratched her name out of his time-table.
As luck would have it, he has purchased an estate in the country and is visiting it, adding it into his well-ordered life. It is while he is at this estate that he decides to pay a visit to the local vicar and there he meets his doom in the form of the vicar's second eldest daughter, Charlotte. From the moment he enters the ramshackle home of the vicar, his life is never the same. The vicar, you see, Mr. Trowbridge, has eight children and only one of those eight children is married and not living at home. Max's entrance into the home is very amusing. This house is full of exuberant children and nothing in it is anything Max has ever experienced. His first encounter with Charlotte is funny and sets the course for the rest of his encounters with her. Usually those encounters include food being spilled on him and her trying to wipe it up.
This is not a deep dark story, nor does it cause frown lines. Max and Charlotte are a great couple, and though they are complete opposites they bring into the relationship just what the other person needs to be a better person. It's filled with wit, charm and fun. I had a great time watching Max stutter, deny and flounder his way toward his HEA.
Time/Place: Regency England
On to Tempting Kate, 1997. Our hero in this story is Gray, the Duke of Worth. Gray happens to have been a suitor to Charlotte from The Vicar's Daughter. Tempting Kate is not has funny or light as The Vicar's Daughter; in fact, there is some of the story that comes close to dark territory, but it was still a pleasure to read. The heroine in this story is Kate and Kate is under the mistaken belief that Gray impregnated her younger sister and left her to face the consequences. For some reason Kate decides to kidnap Gray and force him to help with her sister. In so doing this, she accidentally shoots him, panics, and then she and her
man-servant stuff him in a carriage and take him to her dilapidated home to help him recover. Even though it doesn't sound like it, this part of the books is rather light-hearted. Once Gray regains consciousness he tells Kate she is mistaken in her conclusion regarding her sister, but now he knows there is someone impersonating him and he decides to stay and find out who the villain is. It is during this time of recovery that he and Kate become friends. Even though she is the one who shot him, he finds that he has a growing respect for her. Kate has managed to support herself, her sister, and a loyal man-servant on the funds that were left to her by her father.
As the two of them get to know each other, the story starts to change. It does a subtle change from a fun story to a darker, intense offering. Where this story is different from The Vicar's Story is in the hero. Gray may turn into a bubbling, denier-of-love hero, but he also reveals a rather scary obsessive side. Gray seems to have a bit of a control problem, at least with himself. The most important thing for him seems to be never losing control, well we all know that heroes have no control over themselves when their heroine is around. And, that's what happens here. He becomes obsessed with Kate. He feels that if he uses her enough in bed, he will have control over himself. So, at night the bedroom is a giant cauldron of hot sweaty sex, but after it's all over, he closes himself off to her. He almost becomes crazed with his obsession to be in his control of himself. Of course, his rebuffing of Kate after all the hot whankee-loo is a tad bit wearing on her self-confidence.
Eventually, he accepts his loss of control and we have our HEA, but it is a teeny bit wearing on the reader to get to it. There were times that Gray was a bit too over the top for my taste, but in the end two dissimilar people complimented each other. Tempting Kate was almost too dark, but I still found it a refreshing to reread this very well-written novel.
Time/Place: Regency England
Now we come to the last in the trio of novels, The Last Rogue, 1998. This tale sheds the darkness and returns to a delightful romp. In this one we have Deverell Fairfax, Viscount Raleigh, a peacock, coxcomb, dandy if ever there was one. I was excited to see the return of the quizzing glass in this one - that wonderful foppish prop isn't used as much in more current historical novels. This quizzing glass is also cause for a wonderfully poignant scene, or should I say the absence of the glass is cause for a poignant, charming scene.
Raleigh actually was a pretty strong secondary character in both The Vicar's Daughter and Tempting Kate. He's one of those overdressed, silly men who hands out advice to his love-lorn friends and in the process manages to get some funny jabs in at their expense. So, now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak.
This tale starts with Raleigh waking up to a scream. Dear oh dear, he has managed to show up drunk at his friend Max's house, be shown to his regular room and fall asleep. Unbeknownst to Max and Raleigh, Max's wife Charlotte has put her sister Jane in that room. Well, of course there is nothing for it but for these two to marry after being found in such a compromising situation. Once again we have a couple who are completely different, both in appearances and their outlook on life. Jane refers to herself as Plain Jane and she was a very young secondary character from The Vicar's Daughter and a sister to the heroine of that book. Well, she's grown up now and she's grown up with quite a complex.
Plain Jane has always felt she was compared to her beautiful sister Charlotte and found lacking, so she dresses the part. She pulls her hair back in a tight 'do, she wears glasses, she dresses in browns and grays, and she is somber, humorless and condemning of any one with a frivolous nature. Well, of course Raleigh is about as silly as they come. He dresses in bright colors with high collars, he jokes, he laughs, he smiles, and quips just fall off of his lips. However all that nonsensical business hides some insecurities...he can never seem to please his parents. Because he can never seem to make them happy, he has taken on the facade of not caring.
The Last Rogue is a story about two people with facades and how they slowly chip away at those facades to the people underneath. This was bright story about two delightful people. I smiled a lot at Jane's loud sniffs when Raleigh did something that disgusted her. What made this couple even better was that they fell in love with each others foibles and they didn't change too much over the course of the book. Also mixed into the romance is a light-hearted Gothic story that is pretty humorous.
Time/Place: Regency England
Overall, all three of these books are something everyone should read. I prefer The Vicar's Daughter and The Last Rogue over Tempting Kate, but they are all three wonderful, charming stories and they have aged really well through the years. I wish The Vicar's Daughter would be released to electronic format, because my copy of the book is getting mighty yellow.
And Deborah, please write some more!