Holiday Pleasures Series by Theresa Romain

Holiday Pleasure series, Book #1 Season of Temptation (2011) and Book #2 Season of Surrender (2012)

Last week, at just the time that I was growing a bit weary of my blood, guts, and murder-heavy stories that I read so many of each October, I stumbled upon an old podcast on my phone that reviewed and discussed romance novels. After listening to the podcast, I came away with a renewed interest in picking up a romance novel or two to balance out my thrillers, as well as a list of new romance author’s to read.

Here is the link to the podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2015/06/05/411989347/pop-culture-happy-hour-the-romance-novel-special

Like most girls, some of the first adult books that I read were historical romance novels, which were filled with young innocent women and decidedly less innocent Dukes and Counts who set out of ravish the women but fall in love with them instead. In my adulthood, I read very few romance novels and almost all of them are modern (my favorites include Jojo Moyes, Elin Hilderbrand, and Liane Moriarty) but after listening to the podcast I decided to rediscover my roots. I downloaded the first two books in Theresa Romain’s Holiday Pleasures series and read them both in two days.

Both Season of Temptation and Season of Surrender are classic British, Regency-era romance novels, following all of the recognizable troupes I loved as a teen. Young marriageable women who need to make a good match are sent to London to find suitable (rich) husbands in order to help their families stay financially afloat. Enter a rakish, handsome wealthy Count (or Duke or Earl) who sets out to make his own marriage match. Along the way, the young lady and the charming Count find themselves falling in love.

Although her books are not covering new ground or shaking up the genre, they are sweet, simple stories about romance, passion, and love: enjoyable to read but not especially ground-breaking in their content. As I was reading, however, it occurred to me that the ongoing popularity of historical romance novels — in light of the fact that almost everything that can be said has been said — might in large part be due to the fact that they are rather proper and chaste. Cloaked as they are in complex gender expectations and even more complex — and largely unspoken — social norms, these romances must unfold very slowly, with very little physical contact between the lovers, and often with the constant presence of family members and chaperones to ensure the couple is following the rules. This stands in stark contrast to modern depictions of love, romance, and sex, which — in our post-Fifty Shades of Grey world — are increasingly explicit and becoming more and more a part of everyday, popular culture. What a relief it can be to read a story in which hand-holding and innuendo-laden conversations can once again be titillating…no whips or costumes required.

Season of Temptation (Book One)

Young step-sisters Julia Herrington and Louisa Oliver are the oldest two daughters of an important but not exceedingly wealthy family, both of whom are expected by their parents to have season in London and return engaged to a wealthy nobleman. When Louisa returns from her year in London engaged to the gorgeous Viscount James Matheson, her sister Julia is not only shocked at their rapid engagement but dismayed to find herself deeply attracted to him.

James also feels great pressure to marry a suitable woman in order to distract his wealthy London peers of a scandal involving his older sister. However, during his stay with Louisa and her family, James also feels drawn to Julia.  James is an honorable man and is determined to follow rules of etiquette and proceed with his plans to marry Louisa…even though it means he must keep his growing feelings for her sister at bay.

Both Julia and James want to do the right thing and neither wants to hurt Louisa or embarrass their families, but they also realize that they must try to find a way to marry one another…even if decorum must be disregarded for the sake of love.

Season for Surrender (Book Two)

Of the two novels, this book is decidedly better written and more enjoyable of the pair. The author has gone a bit further to round out the characters and introduce more believable conflict and tension into the story.

Once again it is Christmas, and this year finds our engaged but then set-aside sister, Louisa Oliver, growing weary of living the spinster’s life alongside her blissfully happy sister Julia and Julia’s new husband, James. When she is issued an invitation to attend a two-week holiday party at the home of a Earl known for his debauchery and wild parties, she convinces an elderly aunt to chaperone her for the duration. As a gift to herself, Louisa desperately wants to thrown off her reputation as being a bookish wallflower and to take part in something slightly more wild…but still within the bounds of propriety.

On her first night at the country estate of Lord Xavier, she learns that her invitation to the party was issued as a wager between Xavier and his unsavory cousin, who wanted to bring the most plain and dowdy spinster they knew to the party and to see if they could convince her to take part in the some of the more improper fun on offer. Rather than being chased off by this news, Louisa decides it is just what she needs to learn to loosen up and have some thrilling experiences before she is sent back home to live out her days as an old maid.

As expected, Lord Xavier and Louisa feel an instant attraction to one another and find that each is more complex and more interesting than the other believed. Under his posturing as a rich party-boy, the Earl is a thoughtful, sensitive man. And under her cloak of prim, disapproving spinster, Louisa is a woman eager for adventure and passion.

As they explore their budding feelings for one another, they must still remain within the bounds of propriety (such as they are at a party taking place far in the country to allow the guests to shed some of their rigid social rules) in order to protect Louisa from a scandal that would make her completely ineligible for marriage.

NOTE: The covers of these books are decidedly “bodice-ripper,” so I downloaded them all on the IPad.

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