Alright, ladies and gents, I've finished the Bridgertons, a Julia Quinn series recommended by Janice (actually, she recommended pretty much any JQ except the Wyndham books). Hold onto your hats because there are EIGHT siblings, therefore EIGHT books, and I did actually read them in order.
The Bridgerton siblings are named in alphabetical order (A to H) and the series opens not with Anthony (the eldest) but with Daphne in The Duke and I. And not even truly on Daphne - the Prologue begins with the birth of Simon Basset, Earl Clyvedon, the long-awaited son and heir to the Duke of Hastings. Poor little Simon lost his mother at his birth and when it was found the child had a stutter, he was reviled by his father. He was raised by his loving nurse, overcame his stutter (in most situations), and developed a deep-seated loathing for his father. He is determined that the Basset line will die with him, just to spite his father.
So he enters into a faux-engagement with his best friend's sister, Daphne Bridgerton. I instantly liked Daphne - she's the nice girl who is everyone's friend and understands young men's foibles quite well (having three older brothers and one younger) but is never thought of as a romantic prospect. If Simon shows an interest in her, then other, appropriate (i.e. not old, not mean, and not ridiculous) men might also; for Simon, Daphne will keep the matchmaking mamas at bay. This being a romance novel, the whole plot goes sideways, the fake betrothal turns into a very real marriage, and the semantic difference between "can't" and "won't" is angrily debated. I did like Simon throughout the book, except when he was being pig-headed (and I'm totally with Daphne that it was pretty shady to use her inexperience regarding sex and fathering children against her - "can't" versus "won't" is a pretty big difference when there's nothing wrong with the equipment) but it turned out alright in the end.
With that first introduction to the Bridgertons (a very loveable bunch), I proceed to plow my way through the other seven. Anthony comes up next in The Viscount Who Loved Me. Anthony inherited the Bridgerton title when his father inexplicably died of a bee sting at the age of thirty-nine leaving Violet Bridgerton devastated and pregnant with the eighth child, Hyacinth. Anthony is now convinced he will never live up to his father's memory (either in goodness or length of life) and is determined to make a marriage of convenience so that, whoever his wife may be, she will not grieve with a broken heart like his mother did. His chosen intended is Miss Edwina Sheffield - lovely, good-natured, has a respectable dowry. Her elder half-sister Kate, on the other hand, is absolutely determined that Edwina not marry the cold, rakish Viscount who will surely break Edina's heart.
And the plot goes "ha-ha-ha." While Anthony and Kate debate the whole you-are/are-not-courting-my-sister point in the garden (alone) Kate gets stung by a bee during a house party and Anthony flips out and begins sucking out the bee venom so Kate won't die...and they are seen by Lady Bridgerton (who can keep a secret), Mrs. Sheffield (who can also keep a secret), and Mrs. Featherington (who couldn't keep a secret if her life and the fate of the world depended on it). Because it appeared Anthony was ministering to Kate's breasts. And this means they are getting hitched. Immediately, because Mrs. Featherington saw it. Kate is now in possession of a viscount with absolute certainty he will die before his thirty-ninth birthday - how Kate and Anthony come together by the end of the book is a very satisfying read. (Also, it is nice to see a step-mother who is actually a good person and loves her step-daughter, a rare thing in novels sometimes).
It certainly doesn't occur in the next book, An Offer From a Gentleman. Miss Sophie Barnes slaves away for her nasty bitch of a step-mother, Araminta (even her name sounds nasty). Only Araminta never admits Sophie is her step-daughter in any way because Sophie was never recognized as her father's child. One night, Sophie sneaks out to attend Violet Bridgerton's masked birthday ball and meets Benedict Bridgerton. Love at first sight. This is Cinderella at its finest, but Benedict can't find her the next day. Or the next week, or month, or year. Araminta, though, suspects Sophie did something and tosses her out on her ear. When Benedict rescues a housemaid from an awful situation, there is something about her - but he doesn't recognize Sophie. She becomes a maid in his mother's house putting her near him constantly, if he can only see what's below the surface.
JQ puts Sophie through various real-world situations - illegitimate-not-recognized-as-her-father's-child, dismissed without a reference, having to sell her hair (offstage), (nearly) being assaulted by drunken partygoers (not sure how often that happened, but it probably defenitely did happen) - before giving us the happy ending. She also has Benedict do something douche-y (offering to make Sophie his mistress) before doing the heroic thing for the HEA ending.
(Just an aside - Violet Bridgerton is THE nicest book character ever. Not only does she not bat an eye that her second son (who is Anthony's heir until a male child is born) is enamored of a mysterious housemaid, and even promotes the match, she also takes care of the Araminta problem. I guess she's just good ton.)
Book four, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, is my favorite of all eight books. It is funny, warm, gleeful, and contains my favorite of all tropes - the good-hearted, slightly Plain-Jane woman who holds out for the man she always loved and succeeds. This book is worth reading for Miss Penelope Featherington alone. She ranks right up there with Letty from Lauren Willig's The Deception of the Emerald Ring. Self-sufficient, self-deprecating, and suffering from unrequited love (that got stomped all over in Benedict's book when Colin had to open his big trap). You have to like her. Colin, on the other hand, has become a bit of a world-traveller after becoming tired of his reputation as an empty-headed charmer. When he returns to London, and fate throws them together, their dreams just might come true.
It's really hard to discuss Penelope and Colin without blowing the major secret in the book, so it's hard to continue talking about it. So instead I will talk about the Smythe-Smith musicale that features in a chapter - the pivotal Smythe-Smith concert from the denouement of Just Like Heaven. How do I know this is the right Smythe-Smith concert? Because Lady Whistledown mentions the very specific act of Lady Danbury destroying Honoria's violin and insisting on replacing it with a Ruggieri. And the dates match. In JLH, the piece they play is a Mozart piano quartet - two violins, a cello, and a pianoforte. BUT, in this book the piece they play is Eine Kleine Nachtmusik which is very specifically rejected in JLH because it is a string quartet - two violins, a viola, and a cello. No piano. Additionally, no one notes the oddity of a non-Smythe-Smith cousin in the quartet and the supposed illness of Lady Sarah.
Eloise disappears during the ball at the end of Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. As it turns out, all the correspondence she's been doing has been with Sir Phillip Crane, a widowed baronet and botanist. When her best friend - and fellow spinster - Penelope marries, Eloise feels just a little bit behind. So she slips away to visit Sir Phillip and see if they might suit (he is a good correspondent and he did invite her to visit). When Eloise arrives on his doorstep without warning, Sir Phillip is a bit taken back. He doesn't have a chaperone for her and he sort-of forgot to tell her he has two children who have just driven off their last governess (they glued her hair to the sheets). Soon the Bridgerton males have tracked down their errant sister - Eloise and Phillip find themselves married by the middle of To Sir Phillip, With Love. It's like the Regency version of Sarah, Plain and Tall.
If book four is my favorite, book five runs a close second. Phillip and Eloise are well-matched - Phillip's emotional baggage aside. The best scene, though, is the one where Anthony takes his sister to task for scaring them all half to death and not even thinking first. It's the first time any of the Bridgertons get legitimately angry with each other and JQ renders it very well.
From here, we come back to the character that seems to have got lost - Francesca. After An Offer From a Gentleman she just disappears into the ether, just mentioned a few times but never appears. Apparently, she married an Earl and went to live in Scotland, and then was widowed. In When He Was Wicked, Michael Stirling has loved Francesca since he met her at his cousin's wedding - she was the bride. They were good friends, the three of them, then the husband died, Francesca lost the baby, and Michael found himself the new earl. So he does the sensible thing and decamps to India because he feels guilty and Francesca needs to grieve. Blah, blah, blah. (This part happens between An Offer From a Gentleman and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton). Then Francesca decides she wants to remarry, Michael comes back from India, and this book is rife with issues and it is boring. Boring, boring, boring. Particularly since Part Two of the book takes place while Eloise is off gallivanting around after Sir Phllip. Least favorite of the eight. Moving on.
So now Hyacinth is old enough to have a book. And she gets a doozy with It's In His Kiss. Her hero is Gareth St. Clair. Gareth is certain his father is beggaring the family estates simply because he detests his second son. His only son now that Gareth's elder brother is dead, leaving only a wife and daughters. In lieu of the plot detail, I've made a list about how over-plotted this book is (although it's still very readable and enjoyable):
1. Hyacinth seems a bit over-characterized as a youngest child, especially since she's been "the youngest child" in every single book so far (but that seems to be necessary for a romance novel...moving on).
2. Gareth has the Quinn-standard rake-reputation and shitty-father trope (twist: he's not really his father's son but was recognized as such and, unfortunately for Gareth's elder brother who seems like he was nice but died without male children making it fortunate for our plot, is now the heir).
3. Lady Danbury is his grandmother. He's her favorite grandson. Hyacinth is her protegee, of sorts, and comes to read to her on Tuesdays. You see where this is going....
4. Gareth is possessed of his other grandmother's journal. It's written in Itallian. Hyacinth speaks some Italian. You see where this is going....
5. There is a clue-trail for some missing jewelry necessitating improper house-breaking for an unmarried couple. You see where this is going....
6. Gareth has some anxiety that Hyacinth will reject him because he's not legitimate. Lttle does he know that the Bridgertons care more about character. Sophie is evidence of this. Hyacinth sets him straight.
7. There is a Smythe-Smith musicale (fewer specifics on this one, but it fits the descriptions from the epilogue of Just Like Heaven). And a poetry reading/play performance and the Pleinsworth house. Which is delightful like the one that was read/performed in A Night Like This.
8. Everything turns out all right in the end (so NOT a spoiler).
So we come to the last unmarried Bridgerton, Gregory, and his book is completely unlike any of the previous seven. For one thing, it starts at the end, with Gregory bursting into a church to break up a wedding then jumping back to explain what happened On the Way to the Wedding. And this plot is complicated, let me tell you. Gregory falls in love with this girl named Hermione, her friend Lucy tries to help him because the guy Hermione loves is totally unsuitable, then Lucy falls in love with Gregory but she's more-or-less already engaged (has been for years), Hermione gets herself compromised and engaged to someone else (surprise), Gregory gets drunk then realizes he loves Lucy (which his entire family already knows), Gregory proposes, Lucy tries to get out of her engagement and finds out that family is being blackmailed but her marriage to Lord Haselby will prevent massive disgrace (her father is dead but her uncle/guardian is hideous and her brother is seriously a waste of space, the fiancee's father is possibly worse than her uncle - standard Quinn trope), she and Gregory knock-boots the night before her wedding, he tries to get her to come with him but she lies to him and goes off to marry The Wrong Man (Haselby isn't mean, he's just not into women), Gregory shows up to stop the wedding (now we're back to the beginning of the book), and LUCY GOES AHEAD AND MARRIES THE WRONG GUY. Hot damn. And then I had to figure out how JQ was going to get them all out of it. It's completely crazy, and it works in the end, but it wasn't the sweetest romance novel ever. In fact, it made me nervous - which kept me reading. Lucy was such a duitiful daughter - as opposed to someone like Hyacinth, Eloise, or Daphne who would never have got into the position of being blackmailed into marriage because they have spines and so do their brothers - that it was a different book than it would have been if she possessed more spirit from the outset.
So that's it, the Bridgertons. JQ's series bleed into her other series so we might see them again from time to time.
And that's it for a very long blog post.
(One thing I've noticed about Julia Quinn's books - there are lots of mothers but no fathers. All the fathers are dead. Or, if there are fathers in the narrative, the father is perfectly dreadful ala Simon's or Sir Harry Valentine's, even Marcus's father from Just Like Heaven isn't wonderful; the only live, not-crappy father is Olivia Bevelstoke's father, the Earl of Rudland, and we only see him for a few pages in her book (I don't even recall him in Turner and Miranda's book).)