Backlist Binge: Sophia James

This took me longer than I thought, because I wound up doing a full re-read of one, and I had to buy and read the newest because it finished off a series.

So… Here are the highs and lows of Harlequin Historical author Sophia James, presented in chronological order (minus the anthologies). Cover images link to Goodreads.

In summary: James is on the dark and angsty edge of Harlequin Historicals — her characters are complex and conflicted, and when she stays away from rakes and pirates, her storytelling skills are memorable. But it’s hit or miss whether all the pieces and parts coalesce enough to suck me into a full-on book trance.

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Fallen Angel by Sophia JamesFallen Angel (2005)

“He’s the problem, don’t you see? I can’t love him and I can’t not love him, and he won’t let me stand up any place in between.”

The happy couple….

Nicholas Pencarrow is the Duke of Westbourne. Brenna Stanhope is the mysterious young woman who saves his life and then disappears.

The set-up….

The duke relentlessly tracks down his rescuer, and when he finds her managing a London orphanage, he refuses to take no for an answer.

The conflicts….

Brenna has a Tragic Past. The duke won’t take no for an answer.

The romance….

During the first two-thirds of the book, Nicholas is a typical infatuated rake, and Brenna falls for his charms. But then for some unknown reason, he crosses the line into stalking and obsession.

The recommendation….

The hero veering off into alphahole territory derailed what could have been a really good debut.

Grade: C-

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Masquerading Mistress by Sophia JamesMasquerading Mistress (2007)

One night. All night. The clouds and the moon and the darkness rolled into one and the clenching want made her shake, made her sweat, made her say his name in the wildness of passion.

The happy couple….

Thornton Lindsay is a scarred, reclusive war hero – and also a Reluctant Duke. Caroline Anstretton is a desperate runaway who tells a London ballroom that the duke is her lover.

The set-up….

When the duke hears of Caroline’s outrageous claim, he propositions her, and naturally she accepts, gets pregnant and runs away again.

The conflicts….

Caroline has a Tragic Past, and she’s also trying to keep her younger brother away from the gaming hells. The duke is a grumpy loner who’s mistrustful of everyone.

The romance….

There’s chemistry, but unfortunately our happy couple is separated for much of the book – and when they’re finally reunited, some rather strange war-related intrigue gets the duke all mistrustful again. Fortunately, the Revealing of the Tragic Past works its usual wonders and all is forgiven.

The recommendation….

Better pacing and characterization than Fallen Angel, but the unnecessary suspense stuff relies on more than a few Very Convenient Coincidences.

Grade: C+

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Ashblane's Lady by Sophia JamesAshblane’s Lady (2007)

He was not gentle and she was glad. His lips met hers in a searing, blistering explosion of lust, weeks of wanting sandwiched between this very moment and a future stretching only into difficulty.

The happy couple….

Alexander Ullyot is a Scottish warlord. Lady Madeleine, aka The Black Widow, is his enemy’s sister.

The set-up….

He takes her hostage. She’s tall and has fiery red hair. You do the math.

The conflicts….

See “set-up” above.

The romance….

It’s all about the fiery red hair. And the witchcraft thing.

The recommendation….

Despite the snarkage, this isn’t bad — just an enjoyable Highland romance with a bit of light magic thrown in.

Grade: B-

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High Seas to High Society by Sophia JamesHigh Seas to High Society (2007)

The Wellinghams, Book 1

She was cold and he warmed her. She was hot and he cooled her. He was of her and she was of him and there seemed no place that they were separate or solitary in the heady secrets of the flesh.

The happy couple….

Asher Wellingham is the Duke of Carisbrook. Emma Seaton is a lady — or is she???

The set-up….

He sees her swimming naked in a cove. You do the math.

The conflicts….

Pirates.

The romance….

In between all the piratical plot shenanigans, there’s some pretty good chemistry.

The recommendation….

Kind of all over the place story-wise, but I re-read it solely for the backstory of the duke’s younger brother Taris (see below).

Grade: B-

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Mistletoe Magic by Sophia JamesMistletoe Magic (2009)

A maid came in with a large unruly bunch of orange flowers and her breath was caught. ‘Is there a card?’

‘Indeed, miss, there is.’ The maid broke the envelope away from a string that kept it joined to the bouquet, speculation unhidden in the lines of her face.

‘That will be all, thank you,’ Lillian said, waiting until the door was shut before she slit open the card.

I FELT SOMETHING.

The words were in bold capitals with no name attached.

The happy couple….

Lucas Clairmont is a brawny and brawly American in London. Lillian Davenport is a near-spinster revered by the ton as “a paragon of good sense, good taste and good comportment.”

The set-up….

Lillian has a Christmas deadline to bring a man up to scratch, or she will be forced to marry the “eminently sensible, infinitely suitable,” suitor her father has chosen. Just as she’s losing hope, she overhears Lucas threaten to kill her cousin — but before she can sneak away, he makes eye contact and gives her a “licentious and untrammelled” wink.

The conflicts….

Lucas is in England to settle the affairs of his adulterous late wife, and he learns that two nieces he’s never met are now his wards. Lillian’s father is pushing her towards a “safe” husband because his own marriage was volatile and unhappy.

The romance….

The orange flowers. Ohhhhhhh, the orange flowers.

The recommendation….

Yeah, I FELT SOMETHING too. *ahem*

Grade: B+

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The Border Lord by Sophia JamesThe Border Lord (2009)

They did not speak afterwards, each locked in a silence that was their own, a thin and tenuous bond against the secrets that would divide them.

The happy couple….

Lady Grace Stanton is a political prize, but she’s less than a beauty. Lachlan Kerr is the reluctant laird of a neighboring clan.

The set-up….

Arriving a week late for the ceremony, Lachlan takes his late brother’s place as groom within an hour of meeting his plain, stammering bride.

The conflicts….

Lachlan is still bitter and deeply distrustful over the betrayals of his late wife and his late brother, and his pride flares against Grace’s unexpected stubbornness, outspokenness and sense of honor. Meanwhile, he ignores the machinations of his jealous ex-mistress, who turns the clan against the new lady of the manor by blaming Grace for every illness, injury and accident. Also, the dead brother might not be dead.

The romance….

They’re great together in the bedroom, but out in the cold, hard keep, it’s a slow buildup from resentment to grudging respect to fierce loyalty to love.

NOTE: There is a brief bit of infidelity, but nothing comes of it (heh).

The recommendation….

It’s a bit heavy with the political and family intrigue, but it’s satisfying to watch Grace become a strong and vibrant heroine.

Grade: B

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One Unashamed Night by Sophia JamesOne Unashamed Night (2010)

The Wellinghams, Book 2

When he stretched out and groaned she felt the control of a woman with power. Feminine power, the feeling unlike any she had ever experienced.

She did not feel guilty as Frankwell had said that she must, she did not feel sullied or soiled or befouled. Nay, she felt the sheer and utter wonder of it, the bewildering rarity of rightness.

Here. With Taris Wellingham. For this one storm-snowed freezing night.

‘Thank you.’ The words slipped out without recognition as to what she had said. A beholden contentment that broke through all that she had believed of herself or all that a husband steeped in damning religion had believed. In just one touch Frankwell’s hold on the tenure of her moral pureness was gone, replaced simply by comprehension and relief.

She smiled as his fingers began to unlace her bodice and the thin lawn fell away.

The happy couple….

Taris Wellingham, once popular and outgoing, is now a virtual recluse because of his worsening blindness. Newly-widowed Beatrice-Maude Bassingstoke is moving to London to explore her hard-won independence.

The set-up….

When the public coach they’re traveling in crashes into a ditch during a blizzard, Taris and Bea wind up spending the night together (wink, wink) in a barn.

The conflicts….

Beatrice-Maude is not a beauty, and she’s recovering from the horrors of an abusive marriage. Taris is a bit touchy about his blindness – to the point of preferring that people believe he’s a stumbling drunk.

The romance….

Their titular one-night stand in the barn is soooo good, and their relationship evolves to the much-deserved happy ending in a believable and completely swoon-worthy way.

The recommendation….

Oh lordy, I love this book.

Grade: A

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One Illicit Night by Sophia JamesOne Illicit Night (2011)

The Wellinghams, Book 3

Watching a dam break in the circle of flesh, tipping into utter need, his grip tightening in her hair as an anchor, no breath or ease or quiet exploration. Only five years of apartness and ten thousand hours of regret.

The happy couple….

Third son Cristo Wellingham is the black sheep of the family, finally returning to England after a lengthy, mysterious absence. Eleanor Westbury is the young countess of a much older earl.

The set-up….

Five years before the main action, a disguised-as-a-prostitute Eleanor attempts to deliver an all-important letter to a disguised-as-a-degenerate-but-really-a-spy Christo in the Chateau of Ill Repute where he lives, but she wakes up drugged and naked in his bed.

The conflicts….

He fled England because of some youthful wildness, and when he returns, he has to earn the trust of his estranged family. She winds up pregnant from their one-night stand and is desperate to protect their daughter and her dying husband from scandal.

The romance….

The initial not-meet-cute is more than a bit squicky, but when they’re reunited in London five years later, their attraction is palpable and affecting because they’re both too honorable to betray her kindly, protective husband.

The recommendation….

I had to do a full re-read because I couldn’t recall anything beyond the titular encounter, and it wasn’t very satisfying. This story has some serious pacing problems, with a Total Drama Moment happening much too early and resolving much too quickly. Even worse, the all-important letter that Eleanor risks her life to deliver in the proloque — involving the death of her brother at Christo’s hands — is a huge, gaping plot hole that is never addressed again.

Grade: C-

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The Dissolute Duke by Sophia JamesThe Dissolute Duke (2013)

The Wellinghams, Book 4

Lust ignited, an incendiary living torch of need burning bright, like the wick of gunpowder snaking down through his being. Unstoppable.

The happy couple….

Youngest sibling Lady Lucinda Wellingham is a careless flirt who relies on her three older brothers to rescue her from various “scrapes.” Taylen Ellesmere is an Impoverished Duke of Ill Repute with “numerous and shocking depravities” to his name.

The set-up….

Lucinda gets talked into crashing one of Ellesmere’s notorious house parties, and attempts to hide in his bedroom to escape a drunken horde. The duke, wearing nothing but spectacles, decides she’s more fun than reading Machiavelli while his houseguests debauch themselves.

The conflicts….

After a near-fatal carriage accident, amnesiac Lucinda accuses Ellesmere of ruining her. The duke gets the crap beaten out of him by her brothers, takes their bribe to marry her and then flees to America. He returns three years later to claim his bride and sire an heir, and she’s more than a little reluctant to acquiesce.

The romance….

He’s blinded by her sensuous innocence, her lady parts tingle when they touch, blah, blah, blah.

The recommendation….

Again, some serious pacing problems. But even worse, there is nothing new or different about this “ruined by a rake” story. It’s a boring, predictable Regency that only perpetuates the “historicals are dead” genre drama.

Grade: D+

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