Wednesday, August 31, 2016

ARC Review and Author Interview: My Fair Princess by Vanessa Kelly

Series:     Improper Princesses #1
Pub. Date:August 30, 2016
Publisher:Zebra / Kensington
Length:352 pages

This is my first read from Vanessa Kelly, and I am looking forward to trying more of her books. I am particularly interested in the Royal Renegades series, which I think may feature Griffin Steele, who fascinated me in this book. The Improper Princesses series promises to be entertaining, with unconventional heroines who must overcome of the stain of illegitimacy during a time when the circumstances of one's birth were blamed as much on the child as the parent.

Charles Valentine Penley, Sixth Duke of Leverton, is a paragon of society. He is so proper and correct that he has been deemed Peerless Penley, Perfect Penley, and Impeccable Penley. When a relation asks him to bring a troubled young lady into society and teach her how to behave, he doesn't quite know what he is getting into. Leverton's perfect world goes cattywampus and he soon finds himself the subject of scandal and gossip, which is anathema to him.

Gillian Dryden is one of the royal by-blows of the Duke of Cumberland, brother of the Prince Regent. The circumstances of Gillian's birth and her hoydenish behavior have earned her several monikers - Pugilistic Princess, Savage Sicilian, Doxy Duchess. Gillian is smart as a whip but stubborn as a mule, and the ton definitely has not experienced her ilk before. She has the tendency to go off half-cocked into dangerous situations and won't listen to loved ones who try to reason with her. I enjoyed Gillian's blunt and forthright manner, and I loved seeing her act the spitfire among the catty and snide beau monde. I also liked that Gillian was not afraid to point out the hypocrisy of the ton, how men and women are not painted with the same brush when it comes to reputations, and she was reviled for the circumstances of her birth which she had no control over. I think Gillian was too reckless at times when it came to running off after bandits, and I was a bit surprised that she encouraged Leverton to chase after the outlaws given the fate of her father. This immature behavior made Gillian seem rash and self-absorbed, as she often took others into the fray with her with naive thoughts that she could keep them safe.

The romance between Leverton and Gillian was a slow burn. While Charles attempts to teach society manners to the uninterested Gillian, his attraction to her slowly bubbles to the surface. Despite Charles' tutoring, Gillian finds herself in a pickle quite often. Charles finally seems to give up on the teaching and accept his feelings toward his charge. I liked seeing Charles loosen up and lose his perfect demeanor from time to to time. I wish there would have been a little more chemistry between the couple with a grand passion, rather than the continuous sniping and disagreements. The intimacy between our couple was not abundant, but when it arose, it was well-written and realistic. For all of Gillian's brazen ways, I expected her to be a more active participant, but it seems that she was more reserved and innocent when it came to adult situations.

The secondary characters in this installment were quite good. Lady Marbury was indomitable while her daughter, the Contessa, was meek and grief-stricken. Leverton's sister, Lady Filby, added a bit of light humor to the story, and her poking at Leverton was entertaining. However the character who fascinated me the most was Gillian's half-brother, Griffin Steele, another by-blow of the royal duke. He seems to the dangerous and captivating hero that I usually go for - so I need to do some research to see if he has a book in that Royal Renegades series.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

Vanessa Kelly is an award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Her current series, The Renegade Royals is a national bestseller. Vanessa also writes USA Today bestselling contemporary romance with her husband, under the pen name of VK Sykes. 

Author Links: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Author Interview

1.      Tell us how you decided to entertain the masses with your writing. What made you select historical romance over one of the other romantic subgenres?

Actually, I never made a conscious decision to entertain anyone but myself. I started writing during a difficult period of my life, when I need a creative and productive escape. Once I joined my local romance writers group, and met published authors, I decided to try to write to publication. I’ve been so fortunate to find readers who enjoy my books!

I picked historical romance for the simple reason that it’s my favorite genre and the one I feel most comfortable in. I spent my time in grad school studying the history and literature of the Regency period, so it’s the natural fit.

2.      Are you a historical guru or do you research the time periods of your stories? If you research each story... tell us a little about it. How long does it take and what types of information are you looking for?

I wouldn’t call myself a guru, but I did spend several years in an English doctoral program studying the Regency period. So I’m comfortable doing research and I have some good grounding in that era. As for book-related research, that’s driven by the story. In my latest manuscript, for instance, a number of scenes take place in the theatrical world. So I had to do research on acting and theatre in the Regency period. I do try to keep a laser focus, however, since it’s too easy to go down a rabbit hole and spend hours, if not days, investigating a historical point that never even ends up in the book. It’s a balancing act—you want the background for the story to be as authentic as possible, but story must always come first. I’m not writing historical fiction or history, after all, but historical romance. Different emphasis.

3.      Do your characters spring out of your head fully formed, or do you base your characters on real people (famous or otherwise)?

My characters are more likely to be influenced by movies or TV shows. For instance, I got the idea for the heroine of MY FAIR PRINCESS from the TV show, Strike Back. There was a female character on that show that I just loved, and she was the spark for Gillian. But I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters, and even do full biographies and backgrounders on their personal motivations and personalities. Nothing, sadly, springs fully formed from my head!

4.      Your newest series features 3 improper princesses, which sounds like so much fun! Are there any aspects of these unconventional royals that you have found challenging, interesting or enjoyable to develop?

For me as a writer and for my heroines as characters the challenge was overcoming the stain of illegitimacy. They are all unconventional simply because they’re born out of wedlock, which was a substantial barrier for women in the Regency Era. So I needed to create situations that wouldn’t minimize that challenge; but I also wanted to give my readers fun stories that featured believable and romantic happy endings. It wasn’t always easy, but I enjoyed developing scenarios that worked for me—and them!

5.      What kind of hero is needed to match, tame or manage these unusual ladies?

My heroes needed to be kind, patient, and very, very determined. And, really, there’s no managing when it comes to my ladies! My characters all have to learn to bend a bit—acceptance is the name of the game. I think my heroes would also tell you that a sense of humor is very useful when it comes to dealing with my heroines.

6.      Do you have any interesting, funny or just plain weird writing quirks?

Honestly, I wish I did. I’m pretty boring in that respect. I really like routine, and I like peace and quiet. Maybe that’s my quirk? I can’t stand any noise when I’m writing. Plus, I really need my tea.

7.      Tell us 3 fun facts about Vanessa Kelly!

I drove across the U.S. in an old Mercedes Benz that kept overheating and breaking down. It got so bad that we had to turn the heat on to help draw excess heat from the engine. Utah, in August, with the heat on!

I have a degree in theatre arts. My acting teacher was Avery Brooks, who played Captain Sisko on the TV show, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

When I was in high school, I went on a school trip to Germany. We were in Berlin, and my friends and I slipped out past our curfew one night and took the train into East Berlin—behind the Iron Curtain. It was an incredibly dumb thing to do, and we were lucky we didn’t get caught. But I have to admit it was pretty exciting.