These clean historical romance novels range from the Regency (think Jane Austen) to the Edwardian (think “Downton Abbey”) eras and cover both sides of the Atlantic. They each include headstrong women, many of whom felt they needed to take a situation in hand themselves, and blossoming love — sometimes suddenly, sometimes quietly over time — without detailed lovemaking trysts or descriptive sexual innuendo.
And there’s more than just love at stake for these women. Things of the heart can be messy and are never clear-cut to those involved. In these books, there are mysteries to solve, secrets to protect, intentions to decipher, stolen kisses and a ghost or two, all while the women safely navigate social situations, uphold reputations and stay true to who they are.
Each of these books has crossed my desk recently, and they include titles from local authors and national publishers. Each has an entertaining yet sweet love story just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Lady Marion Linwood disguises herself as Miss Mary Wood, forges her own reference letter and finds employment as a governess at Farland Meadows. The alternative wasn’t really an option since the 19-year-old was left penniless after the unexpected deaths of both her widower father, the Marquess of Grenton, and her solider brother, who were all buried the same day. The estate passed to a distant, unknown cousin who lives across the Atlantic, and squabbling attorneys only complicated matters.
At Farland Meadows, she finds a dreary house and that her charge is the 4-year-old Miss Caroline Jonquil, who has seen many nurses come and go in her short life in the gloomy house.
Layton Jonquil is master of Farland Meadows and is the second oldest of the Jonquil brothers we met in Sarah M. Eden’s previous novel, “Friends and Foes,” and the younger brother of Phillip Jonquil. Layton still feels the burden of the lies he told surrounding the death of his wife, Bridget, nearly five years earlier and several months after Caroline's birth — and his possible failure as a husband. He also surprisingly finds himself attracted to the new redheaded and, at times, saucy governess, but realizes the impropriety of his growing feelings for a servant and tries to keep them in check.
Mary tries to keep her identity a secret while trying not to get too hopeful about the growing attraction she feels for Layton, as that will likely only lead to heartbreak. While Layton entrusted her with the secret of Bridget’s death, she enlists the help of Phillip (whom Caroline has re-christened “Flip”) to hopefully find a way to help Layton find peace while not breaking confidences.
This is a love story that is caught in the social entanglements and complexities of the early 1800s, along with sticky legal and church issues around certain types of death (conveniently, the Jonquil family includes a lawyer and a soon-to-be vicar).
With familiar characters from “Kiss of a Stranger” and “Friends and Foes,” Utah author Eden has once again created a clean Regency-era love story in "Drops of Gold" (Covenant Communications, $19.99) that’s enjoyable to read and difficult to put down. And fall leaves may have a different meaning, too.
When Roxanna Drew’s vicar husband dies, she and her two young daughters move into a dowager home on an absentee landlord’s estate to escape an inappropriate offer from her brother-in-law Lord Marshall Whitcomb. The landlord, Fletcher Rand, Marquess of Winn, has returned from war and was scandalously divorced from his wandering wife. He shows up unexpectedly late one evening as he is traveling to check on the affairs of each property.
Both Roxanna and Lord Winn nurture a mutual admiration for each other as she helps remodel and update the large home on the estate and he finds excuses to stay. However, Roxie finds herself in a nearly impossible situation when Lord Whitcomb tries to take her daughters and Lord Winn’s help is reassuring, but leaves Roxanna’s emotions in an upheaval as she tries to do her best with difficult circumstances.
"Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand” (Sweetwater Press, $8.99) by Utah author Carla Kelly was originally published in 1994 and has been recently been republished by Sweetwater Press, an imprint of Cedar Fort. It was named as one of the five books on Publishers Weekly's "Best Romance Books of 2012."
In “Heart of the Ocean” (Mirror Press, $3.99), after spurning an offer of marriage from Thomas Beesley III, her father’s middle-aged business partner, 19-year-old Eliza Robinson leaves the high society life of 1839 New York City to live with her widow Aunt Maeve in the Puritan coastal community of Maybrook.
Once there, Eliza is plagued with the ghostly voice of a woman. Eliza's Aunt Maeve assumes Eliza is being haunted by Helena Talbot, a woman who died 20 years ago, presumably from a broken heart after she fell in love with a businessman from England, later had his baby out of wedlock and was spurned by her Puritan community.
On a particularly stormy night, Eliza wakes up to find her Aunt Maeve murdered and is suspected of it along with Jonathan Porter, who stopped to help her after she ran out seeking help. Porter, who was the son of Helena Talbot, was only in town to find proof of his parentage to claim his inheritance from his English father. Then he plans to get back to New York to claim his inheritance, practice law and propose to the woman he his courting.
Both are cleared, but Eliza and Jon’s paths continually and unexpectedly cross and the mystery of Helena and her journal, the voices, Aunt Maeve’s death, rumors in Maybrook, and even Beesley all become tangled in this intriguing mystery and love story with twists and deeply kept secrets on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Heart of the Ocean” by local author Heather B. Moore is available as an e-book. Moore is also one of the six authors in the collection of clean historical stories in the e-book "A Timeless Romance Anthology: Winter Collection."
It’s 1812 when Emma Smallwood’s widowed father’s boarding school is without students and she goes with him to the clifftop estate of a baronet with four sons. The two older sons, Henry and Phillip, were previously at the boarding school — and both remember the studious Emma — and the Smallwoods’ pupils this time are their younger half-brothers who are teenage twins.
Emma notices odd things about the estate — nighttime howling, her missing journal and mysterious piano playing and vandalism to the clifftop warning bell — and everyone has secrets of their own they are trying to protect, making it difficult to know whom to trust. The lady of the estate wants a woman with a large dowry to marry one of the older brothers, but they have interests elsewhere, including one who now finds himself drawn to Emma. But he’s not sure she will return his affections.
Julie Klassen, the author of several period novels including “The Girl in the Gatehouse” and “The Maid of Fairbourne Hall,” has created a tale in “The Tutor's Daughter" (Bethany House, $14.99) with mystery, love and a wealth- and status-seeking matron who may have met her match.
Nickolas Pritchard, an impoverished young English gentleman, inherits an estate in Wales called Ty Mynydd from a distant cousin and finally feels he can pursue Miss Castleton, the belle of the London Season, without the label of fortune hunter.
What he didn’t count on is witty and once red-headed Gwen, who mysteriously died on the eve of battle some nearly 400 years earlier and has been, um, walking the halls of her ancestral home. Gwen, whose full name is Gwenllian ferch Cadoc ap Richard of Y Castell, which Nickolas can’t pronounce properly, didn’t count on Nickolas’ Englishness or his charm, respect or good humor that she hasn’t seen in the house for at least several decades.
Gwen and Nickolas find themselves attracted to each other, but there is little hope for a continued relationship as Nickolas wants the family he didn’t have growing up.
Nickolas, with help from the vicar Dafydd Evans, learns what is known about the twisted circumstances that led to Gwen’s death until a mysterious fog rolls in the night of the ball Nickolas plans to announce his engagement to Miss Castleton and sets into motion strange events.
“An Unlikely Match” (Covenant Communications, $14.99) is independent of local author Sarah M. Eden’s other Regency-era novels and is part mystery, part ghost story and part love story that spans centuries.
Hannah Forester is intent on finding how her father died and why and so she goes to where he was last seen at Thornton Manor under the pretense of Jonathan Thornton. Jonathan’s brother, Morgan, was the last one to see her father alive.
However, she is told Morgan died in a house fire the previous year (his family insists his ghost haunts the East Wing) and there seem to be secrets in the house, rumors of treasure nearby and unusual occurrences, including how many young women have vanished from the house and a hooded late-night visitor who warns her to leave.
She is convinced the hooded man is Morgan, and as she discovers more about him and his hiding places, she begins to fall for him.
However, as Hannah tries to get to the truth behind her father’s murder, she learns more about the disappearances of the young women. In turn, she realizes that she might become one of them if she’s not careful.
In “Secrets After Dark” (Walnut Springs Press, $17.99), Marie Higgins has spun a tale about love, secrets, magic and more than one spell.
Miss Caroline “Caro” Braithwaite was deemed an “incomparable” during her first London Season and leaves in the middle of the season without explanation to the ton, her parents or friends.
The truth? Despite all of her suitors, there was one she was interested in more than the others and he suddenly became engaged, and she isn’t nearly as interested in the others.
When a good deed turned into a engagement and then a broken engagement, the last person Edward “Ned” Fitzhugh, the Duke of Beverley, wants to see at a house party is a woman he courted and would have offered for if he wouldn’t have proposed to another woman.
At the house party, despite their misgivings and desires to protect their broken hearts, Caro and Ned learn more about each other. However, Ned’s broken engagement becomes a messy entanglement he wants to clean up finally before committing again and other misunderstandings (and lack of clear communication) thwart his budding of a relationship with Caro. Who knew that deciphering social cues and flowery language was so difficult in the Regency era?
“Miss Braithwaite’s Secret” is the third in Utah author G.G. Vandagriff’s Regency Trilogy and includes characters from the previous two books, "The Duke's Undoing" and "The Taming of Lady Kate."
With the loss of her family, fiancé and fortune, Lady Eliza Sumner heads to New York City and disguises herself as a governess as she tracks the man who stole her family’s fortune. Her very unsuccessful and fairly comical attempts to reclaim her fortune put her in the path of widower and businessman Hamilton Beckett, who is the focus of many matchmaking mothers — including his own mother. But he is unsure of his own heart as his relationship with his wife was shaky before she was found dead.
When Eliza and Hamilton figure out they have a common nemesis and join forces, their plans seem to fall apart every way they turn as complications, including ones of the heart, are everywhere and nothing is as it initially appears.
Fiery Eliza finds herself in several situations that are humorously frustrating as she tries to navigate restoring her fortune, love, faith and the quirky characters in her life in Jen Turano’s delightfully lighthearted debut novel, "A Change of Fortune" (Bethany House, $14.99).
It’s 1913 England — roughly the same time period as “Downton Abbey” is set — and sisters Rowena and Victoria Buxton were raised in an unconventional home that defied most Edwardian traditions. Prudence Tate is their age and although the daughter of the late governess, she was raised like a sister to Rowena and Victoria.
When their sisters’ widower father, Sir Philip, dies, they go to live with their uncle and aunt at their estate at Summerset Abbey, who are very entrenched in the ways of traditional social customs.
Prudence is forced to be a maid to Rowena and Victoria as a condition of her staying with them and has difficulty navigating life as a servant below stairs while not being accepted above stairs. All three work to carve out a place for themselves in the rigid social structure set up by their uncle in the community surrounding Summerset Abbey while mourning the loss of Sir Phillip.
Rowena hates the position that Prudence is in but feels helpless to do anything. However, a downed plane and mysterious pilot capture her attention. Victoria, who is asthmatic but has an idealistic spirit, finds an unused room to secretly practice typing while she investigates a family secret that is entrenched in scandal.
When a young noble takes an interest in Prudence and she finds out more about her past, her late mother’s family and the secrets around her birth father, she is forced to make a decision as she seeks to find a place that feels like home.
The first of a trilogy, T.J. Brown’s “Summerset Abbey” (Gallery Books, $15) is an emotional novel that shares the tests of three young women’s strength, principles and loyalty that fans of “Downton Abbey” would enjoy. The next installment is due in March.
Lydia Pallas’ family came to the United States from Greece and she was excited to attend school. However, her Greek father, Turkish mother and younger brother never came back from a day of fishing on the leaky Ugly Kate, leaving her alone in Boston as a young girl who barely knew English. Fifteen years later, she has carved out a secure and predictable life for herself working as a translator for the U.S. Navy in the Boston Harbor office at the end of the 1800s.
When Alexander Bane comes and offers her translation work, her carefully orchestrated world starts to turn upside down as she finds herself growing attracted to him. Bane is driven to end the opium trade and has to fight the love growing between them.
Bane is forced to turn to Lydia for help, but the mission is one that will test her wits and courage.
Bane was introduced in Elizabeth Camden’s previous novel “The Lady of Bolton Hill."
"Against the Tide" (Bethany House, $14.99) is a novel with suspense, faith and the possibility of love.