Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Review: Miss Lacey's Last Fling

Miss Lacey’s Last Fling
By Candice Hern
Publisher: Signet
Publication Date: February 6, 2001
Newly available as ebook

In late March, I posted the news that Candice Hern’s traditional Regencies were newly available, and since then I have reread most of them. And while I’m happy to add all of them to my growing ebook collection, my favorite among them remains the same. I loved Miss Lacey’s Last Fling when I first read it a decade ago, and I loved it no less with my most recent rereading.

Since Rosalind Lacey’s mother died twelve years ago, Rosalind has been the mainstay of her family, assuming her mother’s role in running the house and in caring for her five younger siblings. Her family takes for granted all that Rosie does for them, and they are all astounded when she announces that she is going to London.  They can’t imagine why shy, plain Rosie, who at 26 is firmly on the shelf, wants to leave Wycombe Hall. Even more surprising is that rather than accepting the staid chaperone who saw her younger sisters through their seasons, Rosie insists on visiting her father’s scandalous sister, Fanny, Lady Parkhurst.
But Rosie knows that Aunt Fanny, a free spirit who has lived her life ignoring the strictures of family and society, is the perfect person to help Rosie experience life to its fullest before it’s too late-too late not for marriage, the usual goal of an unmarried woman, but for life itself. Rosie knows she’s dying, and the knowledge has freed her to become briefly Rosalind, a daring creature eager to do all the things Rosie would have been too prudent to attempt.

With Aunt Fanny’s help, Rosie has an extreme makeover—hair, dress, and demeanor. Rosalind emerges, a new woman. She’s a Success! She goes to balls, exhibitions, and the theater. She dances, flirts, and drinks too much champagne. She wins a curricle race, attends a masquerade, and waltzes at Almacks with being approved by a patroness. And she acquires a circle of admirers who are enchanted by the beautiful, vivacious Rosalind Lacey.
Through most of these dizzying activities, Rosalind’s companion is the wealthy rake Max Davenant, the second son of an earl. The earl was one of Aunt Fanny’s lovers, and Max and Fanny have been close friends since they first met when Max was scarcely more than a boy. Max has a problem too. He has experienced so much of life’s pleasures that he has grown bored with them. Indeed, his ennui is so severe that he is considering following the example of a friend who committed suicide. But the more time he spends in Rosalind’s presence, the more he sees the wonders and the absurdities of London life, and the more joy he finds in living.

I adored Rosie. She could easily have become a silly and pathetic character, but in Candice Hern’s skilled hands, she is an absolute delight--smart, endearing, and filled with elation as she adds items to her bucket list faster than she can check them off.

The list should have been getting smaller as more and more items had been checked off. She had been to Almack's, had danced all night at a grand private ball, had drunk champagne, had received flowers from admirers. That last had not actually been on the list, but it ought to have been. It was most gratifying to find the drawing room filled with bouquets the morning after the Sanbourne ball.
But the list actually grew longer as she added more items to it each day. To attend a masque wearing some sort of daring costume. To take snuff. To look up her uncle Talmadge and tell him exactly what she thought of him. And to defy the Almack's ladies and dance the waltz. With Max, of course. If she was going to tweak the noses of the lady patronesses, she might as well do it with a handsome and notorious rake.

She had spent the last dozen years doing all that was proper, acting the very paragon of responsibility. During these few short months left her, it was exhilarating to do and say exactly what she pleased, to throw propriety and respectability to the winds. Lord, but she was having fun!

Max won me over more slowly. Initially he reminded me of a character from Voltaire’s Candide: the Venetian senator, Pococurante, a wealthy man surrounded by riches and beauty who can find nothing pleasing enough to deliver him from his weariness with life. Max has the same listless attitude and self-absorption, and I didn’t find him at all appealing at first. But knowing Rosie changes him. Seeing the world through her eyes puts back all the color and light that self-pity and overindulgence have leached from life. His love for Rosie makes a man of him. I found him hard to resist as he grew to understand the treasure that Rosie is.
And each time he saw her smile, each time he joined in her laughter, each time he touched her, each time he held her in his arms during a waltz, each time he listened to her bright-eyed, exuberant, joyful account of some new wonder, she stole another little piece of his heart.

For readers who think of Regencies as “sweet,” there’s a surprise in store in Miss Lacey's Last Fling. Some of the most effective use of sexual tension I’ve ever seen can be found in traditional Regencies, and Hern uses it to great effect in this book. But she’s wise enough to challenge the conventions of the subgenre and allow Rosie to know romantic love in all its dimensions. I would have been disappointed had she not done so.

And about Rosie’s dying . . . You know this is a romance, right? The reader gets the guaranteed HEA, and its one that’s perfectly in keeping with Rosie who is also Rosalind.
How do you feel about traditional Regencies? What's your favorite Candice Hern book? Have you read romances that seem to belong more to one of the protagonists than to the other? 

Isn't the cover of the ebook lovely? Just to make it easy for you to find this favorite, here are links to sites selling the ebook:


Susan in AZ said...

I possess two Candice Hern stories, in the anthologies It Happened One Night and It Happened One Season. Both are excellent. Glad to read this suggestion, Thanks Janga!

irisheyes said...

I own this book, Janga, but have not yet read it. It is on my huge TBR pile. I'll have to move it up to the top. What a wonderful review.

I did purchase a few of Candice's other regencies for my Nook at a very reasonable price. I also love the covers. They are all similar but a little different.

I'm loving this advent of old titles being re-released in e-format. I'm definitely building up my ebook library.

Janga said...

Susan, thanks for stopping by. I agree that both the novellas are excellent. I think that adjective characterizes Candice's work generally. Now is a a great time to try her older trads, which have been hard to find, because they are so easily available and so reasonably priced.

Janga said...

Thanks, Irish. I think you'll appreciate Rosie. She's such a wonderful character. And how many romances do you know in which the heroine thinks she's dying. :)

Hannah said...

From reading the summary of the story, it reminds me of The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Have you read that, Janga? It's also about a heroine who lives with her stifling relatives, and after being diagnosed with a fatal disease who decides to live life to the fullest.
Anyhow, lately I'm tired of authors of today's sensual historical romances using mental lusting (such as the hero noticing the heroine's shapely bosom) as at attempt to instantly create sexual tension. That's where I think the well-written trads succeed. I admit that I haven't read many lately though I purchased several of the recent ebook reissues including Candice Hern. After reading your review, Miss Lacey's Last Fling is going on my to-buy list also :)

quantum said...

Janga,you make Rosie sound totally irresistible!

Candice Hern has been on my radar for quite a while and your review has now made her a prime target. I'm afraid Jasper Fforde is going to have to wait a while longer now!

Janga: But she’s wise enough to challenge the conventions of the subgenre and allow Rosie to know romantic love in all its dimensions

From other reviews I had rather thought that Hern was in the mould of Georgette Heyer. Do you include the more explicit stuff as one of the dimensions? ..... Just curious.

Janga said...

Hannah, I have read L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle. I loved it. What a wonderful, totally satisfying ending it has.

I hope you will read Miss Lacey's Last Fling and that you will find it as delightful as I did. Thanks for stopping by Just Janga.

Janga said...

Q, Miss Lacey's Last Fling does not contain the level of heat that we find in many European historicals. The love scenes are not even as steamy as those in Hern's own European historiocals, and hers are mild compared to Elizabeth Hoyt--or most of Lisa Keypas. But the norm in traditional Regencies was kisses only. Certainly some authors pushed that boundary (Mary Balogh and Jo Beverley come to mind), but the "rule" was no consummation scene. I'm glad Hern broke the rule.

But aside from that, I think Hern definitely belongs in the Heyer camp.