By Lynette Rice
Updated February 23, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Judging from the modern perspective we get in Diane Haeger’s historical novel The Perfect Royal Mistress, it wasn’t all that hot to be one of the (many) girlfriends of England’s King Charles II. No one could actually replace the Queen, and then there was that issue of waiting in line for some rare royal nooky. But Haeger convincingly relates the fortunate life of Nell Gwynne, the real commoner who became the king’s favored lover before his 1685 death. Once an orange peddler, illiterate Gwynne rose to fame as an entertaining, acid-tongued actress before Charles swept her away — but on her own terms: She maintained her theatrical career while enjoying palace privileges. B+