Grace Burrowes has a quite a following as a historical romance writer and rightly so. Her attention to historical detail, highlight warm families and caring friendships, combined with a profound sensuality in her writing win over readers in all her books, but none more so than the stories of the Windhams series. Perhaps a rarity in the world of Regency romance, the Windhams series actually has as its focus an extremely happy Duke and Duchess who married for love, not convenience, and who wish to see their enormous brood of sons and daughters sharing the same type of marital bliss.
In Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait, the eighth book of this successful series, some challenges to this endgame become apparent. Genevieve (Jenny) is the final unmarried Windham and it’s obvious everyone is frustrated by the arrangement. Jenny is tired of being the maiden aunt passed off from one relative to another since propriety forbids her to simply stay at home in the ducal mansion surrounded by dozens of servants lest her virtue come into question. This is a shame considering that Jenny is an extremely talented artist mouldering after seven seasons and suffering the demands of a well-meaning but troublesome family. When famous portrait painter Elijah Harrison literally appears on her sibling’s doorstep in inclement weather Jenny’s elated to see him. Again.
You see, Jenny actually wanted instruction so badly that she posed as a young man and snuck into one of London’s premier art classes where Elijah was posing in the nude, so Jenny has seen him in the altogether…and Elijah knows it. Elijah is also more than a portrait painter on the rise. He’s also Lord Brentwood, the heir to a Marquisate who left his loving family over a decade ago after an argument with his father, swearing he wasn’t going to return until he was elected into the Royal Academy. He didn’t realize that the road to critical acclaim would be this long, nor necessitate so much time away from his boisterous siblings and loving parents, but pride will not let him accept less. With the commission to paint Jenny’s two nephews, Elijah can finally add the final piece in his portfolio, a portrait of children in order to showcase his range and hopefully gain admittance to this illustrious insitution.
But there are a few problems. The first is that Jenny is the most beautiful creature Elijah has ever seen and he adores the way she casts propriety to the wind in order to seek information about their shared craft. Her desire to escape her life and go to Paris where they have far more liberal ideas of educating female artists is admirable even as Elijah worries for both her safety as well as feels a wrench at the thought of her leaving the country. The second, slightly more ominous obstacle, is that Elijah isn’t the slightest bit comfortable with painting children. Yikes.
There is a solution. Jenny for all her talent is one of those aunts everyone dreams of having, her love of her nieces and nephews apparent at a glance. In exchange for Elijah sitting at night for her and giving her critiques of her work, Jenny agrees to help him during the day with his two toddler subjects. What grows between them is a shared passion encompassing both art and one another, yet Elijah’s self-imposed exile from his family combined with Jenny’s ambitions and emotional reticence toward anything resembling marriage will provide a barrier their new feelings may very well not be able to surmount.
Okay. My mother (who I trust implicitly when it comes to romance recommendations) has told me for quite some time that I was going to enjoy Grace Burrowes and she was, as usual, completely right, a condition that must grow tiresome for her since she experiences it so often. I was most impressed by Burrowes absolutely correct voice – never does she have a character say or phrase something in tones or language that wouldn’t be appropriate for the Regency period. The frequent lack of attention to this area is something that annoys me tremendously with most historical romance writers (etymology is enough of an interest that I cringe when I see a character use a word that literally did not exist yet) but I usually let it go because to use the more formal language of the period can place a barrier between the modern reader in their enjoyment of the story. Not so with Grace Burrowes – her language choice not only placed me right in the period but also lent a glamour to the characters’ feeling for each other, since their burgeoning love and sexual fascination was rendered in such careful, period tones. I loved that juxtaposition!
I also appreciated that the main focus was on the issue that Jenny deserved a career as much as anyone else with talent, and that it took a little while for she and Elijah to iron out his manner toward her so that it didn’t smack of condescension (this felt period appropriate to me as well). For fans of the series, the frequent appearance of the numerous couples from the preceding seven books in the series is a delight but anyone who would like to begin with Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait (as I did) should have no difficulty keeping everyone straight. If anything, you’ll find yourself ordering copies of the preceding books (ahem) since you’ll want to know more about the well-drawn characters from this particular novel. When even the dogs and cats are well-written, you grab that author with both hands and don’t let go!
Needless to say, I got the best holiday present, namely a great Regency romance but also a wonderful new author to explore. Did I mention the paperback is a perfect size for a Christmas stocking? Think about asking Saint Nicholas for this wonderful novel for your Yule season this year.