Once again, I read a series backward.
I can't remember how I wound up reading Confessions of an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville. I think it was an ebook sale. Anywhoo, Miss Minerva Montrose, radical politician and bluestocking, develops a migraine at her come-out ball and slips away to the library for a bit of a rest. The foxed Lord Blakeney, rake, dilettante, and heir to the Duke of Hampton, mistakes her for a lady of his acquaintance who is open for dalliance (Minnie and the lady have on similar dresses, so Blake is an idiot) and proceeds to put his head up her skirt, literally...at which point several prominent guests at the ball enter the library just as Minerva wakes up and shrieks. There's pretty much no way of explaining any of that so Blake and Minnie are compelled to marry. They more or less loathe one another at first - Minnie is pissed her political ambitions are thwarted, while Blake feels like Minnie deliberately makes him look stupid (he's not a stupid man and he has a secret he fears will ruin him if it gets out). They begin to thaw toward one another on their honeymoon in Paris but then Blake's (ex)mistress shows up which rubs Minnie the wrong way then his father suffers a heart attack and dies making Blake and Minnie the powerful members of the aristocracy.
I liked the realism Neville introduced, particularly in the bedroom scenes. Although the genre standard is mad-hot sex straight out of the gate (behold the Magic Hoo Hoo and Mighty Wang in action, terms courtesy of SBTB) Neville chooses to allow Minnie's first time to be awkward and painful. She doesn't like it and Blake also puts his foot in his mouth. The resolution of Blake's secret and the development of the relationship between Minnie and Blake mirrors their progress in the bedroom: in fits and starts, a minor setback, but eventually finding harmony.
The previous book, The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, was a 99 cent ebook special over the weekend and I thought, why not? I liked Confessions from an Arranged Marriage. This volume concerns the courtship of Celia and Tarquin (met briefly at the beginning of Confessions). The set-up is a bit much: Celia is framed as a loose woman, dismissed from her governess position (and one where she might have married her employer because she handled his unruly children so well), kidnapped, robbed, and forced to strip; escaping from her captor's house she comes upon Tarquin, also stripped to his breeches and boots and knocked senseless. Although she knows perfectly well who he is (because he said she looked like a cauliflower during her debut), she pretends that he's her finacee just to mess with him. What a ludicrous backstory but whatever - it all works. The two of them ramble through the English countryside - Celia telling bigger and bigger lies, Tarquin believing her but also feeling that something is "wrong"- until Tarquin's memory comes back. Since they've been a) alone and b) had hot sex therefore Tarquin (even though he's pretty mad at her for the lying) feels compelled to offer for her. I wasn't a huge fan of the should-I/shouldn't-I marry dithering but come to find out Celia does have a very interesting upbringing, to say the least. The two visit Sebastian and Diana - Minerva's sister and brother-in-law - during Diana's lying-in and eventually work things out to satisfaction (the Burgundy Club, come to find out, was founded by Tarquin, Sebastian, and Chase who are all antiquarian book collectors, an activity that Minnie and Blake don't take part in but Diana does, which makes me think this was originally a trilogy with Confessions tacked on as an afterthought). There's also a good sideplot involving a book of erotic fiction by Aretino (him again) that Celia shares with Minerva.
Knowing a bit more about Sebastian and Diana, I hopped back to their book, The Dangerous Viscount. The widowed Lady Diana Fanshawe is determined to make a brilliant match. To that end she is determined to marry Lord Blakeney, a neighbor of her decidedly eccentric parents. Blake (who is in full-on dickhead mode - glad I read his book first because I didn't like him here) makes Diana a bet: if she can get his repressed, nerdy, woman-hating (?) cousin Sebastian to kiss her, she'll win five hundreds pounds. Diana accepts, thereby making her rather unlikeable for several chapters until she starts to like Sebastian's love of antiquarian books (which dovetails nicely with her love of history) and his brusque ways. To top it off he's got that dark, mysterious, hunky look going for him. One thing leads to another meaning Diana initates Sebastian into adulthood. Neville gives us another unique take on a romance genre sex scene by making the hero the virgin. Well, Diana's bet essentially blows up in her face when Sebastian finds out - because he has a history with Blake, and I mean HISTORY: Blake and his sisters were assholes to Sebastian when they were young explaining why Sebastian hates his ass so much in Confessions. Fortunately for Diana and Sebastian (and the reader, otherwise this would be a short book) all it takes is just one sexual encounter to make a baby...and they are Viscount and Viscountess Iverly, trying to find their happy ending.
Thence, I came to the first book in the Burgundy Club series, The Wild Marquis. Our heroine is Juliana Merton, a widowed antiquarian bookseller. Cain, the Marquis of Chase - yes, that Marquis who at sixteen was kicked out of his father's house for doing something "unspeakable" - hires Juliana to represent him at an estate auction of books. It turns out a priceless family heirloom, an illuminated book of hours, that should still be in possession of the marquessate is included in the auction catalogue. Cain wants the book back at any price; Juliana wants the money that commission could bring her. As the two work together to recover the book they grow closer. Juliana is of uncertain parentage, Cain more-or-less considered irredeemable in the eyes of the ton and they enter into a liaison they can't back away from - not because of pregnancy or getting "caught" but because it just feels they should be together. There's even a bit of death-defying suspense related to Juliana's backstory (although we didn't quite need the resolution to make the HEA work).
I liked the very frank take on the first love scene INCLUDING a discussion of birth control, although I believe Cain would be more likely to call condoms 'french letters'. It was a nice change of pace (compared to Celia and Sebastian - and he totally had beginners' luck, plus it seems Diana is just one of those women destined to be constantly pregnant since she's on child #3 in book #4). Also: ANTIQUARIAN BOOK SALE!! BIDDING ON NICE THINGS!!!! THAT HAPPEN TO BE BOOKS!!! (Although, WTF writing in a Shakespeare quarto...offest slightly by a bulldog named Quarto, awwww).
I'm glad I read this series in reverse order because I was most impressed with the first one and would have been far less enamoured of Minerva and Blake by the time I got to their. I also like the rich colors used in the covers, very appealing.