Monthly Archives:: December 2016

Review: ‘The Rake’ by Mary Jo Putney

December 31, 2016 Review 0

It’s a testament to the author’s skill that this book managed four stars from me, because there’s a great deal about it that really rubbed me the wrong way. The hero, for instance, the supposed rake of the title, turns out to be a great deal less villainous than advertised. Most of his duels seemed to consist of summary justice when the law refused to intervene, or defending a lady’s honour, or simple self-defence. His conquests of the female variety seemed to hurl themselves at him, rather. Not a single virgin was deflowered by him, so far as I could make out. His worst offence was drinking to excess, which was more or less par for the course in those days, and anyway he spends the whole book trying to keep off the booze. Not so much a villain as a hero in disguise. Grrr.

Then there’s the heroine. If there’s one thing I hate about a Regency-era novel, it’s finding a character who is really just a modern woman in period skirts. Or trousers, in this case. She’s a reformer, so naturally she’s introduced crop rotation to the farms, and set up small businesses to help out the soldiers displaced by the end of the war, and is busily educating all the children. Oh, and let’s not forget the smallpox vaccination program. And she’s good at everything, and has made all the farms and businesses profitable and everybody loves her, especially the three charming orphans she happens to be raising. Grrr.

What about the plot? Well, there isn’t much of one. There’s a villain, who’s suitably villainous in a cartoony, mustache-twirling kind of way, easily spotted and even more easily defeated. There are some minor romances along the way, which the author never really bothers to develop beyond the most rudimentary meet-fall-in-love-let’s-get-married approach. There are some set-piece encounters – the rescue scene, the ballroom scene, the woman seen creeping out of the hero’s room, the heroic battle scene, you know the sort of thing. And then there’s the stupidly noble for-your-own-good action that involves the hero and heroine splitting up without talking to each other. These are two people who’ve displayed a great deal of intelligence and articulacy, not to mention some very intimate moments, and they can’t simply sit down and talk things through? Grrr.

And then there’s the backstory. Now, I have no complaint with the hero, because he’s had a pretty miserable time of it, all things considered, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s fully entitled to be as grumpy as he likes about life. But the heroine – oh, ye gods, what is there to say about a woman who walks away from her life for such a ridiculously idiotic reason? And then stays away? A great deal of the early part of the book is concerned with building sympathy for this woman in her precarious position, constantly poised on the brink of starvation or worse, when in fact she could have fixed everything in five minutes. Grrr.

But…

Something about the main characters got under my skin. Their obvious physical attraction to each other, their verbal sparring, their repeated attempts to understand and help each other, and eventually their complete acceptance of each other, warts and all – it all worked to make them fully rounded people, and the intensity in their interactions was mesmerising. Their personalities towered over the rest of the book and lifted the story into the realm of the extraordinary. If only there had not been so much to dislike… Four stars.

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Review: ‘Brighton Road’ by Susan Carroll

December 27, 2016 Review 0

This book was an absolute delight, from the moment the dreaming heroine falls off the sofa in the first chapter to the slightly bungled romantic scene on the beach at the end. I loved both main characters, I loved the minor characters, I loved the way everything went wrong in the most natural manner possible, and I loved the growing romance between two such unlikely people. I even loved the dog (although honesty compels me to acknowledge that he was as much plot point as comic relief). This one of those books that I really wish I’d written myself. It’s a perfect Regency romp, with a cascade of escalating and very funny disasters that arise purely from the original premise and the characters themselves (well, all right, and the dog, sometimes), combined with a delightfully judged romance.

Here’s the premise: Gwenda Vickers is a young lady who writes romantic fiction, so when she accidentally overhears starchy Lord Ravenel proposing to a lady, she feels compelled to offer him the benefit of her professional advice on how the business should be conducted. He is less than amused by her suggestions. Thrown together by circumstance (and the dog), his gentlemanly attempts to escort her to her family in Brighton lead to any number of entertaining escapades and a growing romance.

What makes this book so charming is the two lead characters. Gwenda has had a wildly eccentric upbringing, so a demure miss she most definitely is not, yet there’s an innocence about her that constantly leads her into trouble. Ravenel is buttoned up tight, but as one near-disaster follows another, he gradually unwinds enough to begin to enjoy himself. The minor characters are great fun, too, especially Gwenda’s oddball family. The final chapters stretch credibility somewhat, but the ending is lovely. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Mysterious Heir’ by Edith Layton

December 23, 2016 Birthday Regencies, Review 0

I got off on completely the wrong foot with this one, a 1984 book which is part of my birthday Regency list. The very first scene introduces the reader to a curmudgeonly gentleman, sitting huddled beside the fire with his very much needed walking stick, massaging his gammy leg (an old war wound) and railing at the rain. Naturally I assumed he was a very elderly gentleman, and took the young man, fair of form and face, who bounds in later, as the hero. Not so. The curmudgeon turns out to be thirty or so, an earl and indisputably the hero.

Then I was tripped up by the Earl having to meet three prospective heirs and choose one from amongst them. Excuse me? On what planet did any titled Regency gent get to choose his heir? He might leave his property where he liked (if it wasn’t entailed), but the title followed very strict rules. So I was struggling in the early chapters with both misdirection and historical blunders.

Neither of the main characters really grabbed me by the throat, so to speak. The Earl continues to act the curmudgeon for most of the book, and in his dealings with Elizabeth, the heroine, there’s an edge almost of violence sometimes, that really made me dislike him. He also treats her with unspeakable cruelty at the end, and no, not telling her what’s going on ‘for her own good’ is not an acceptable excuse. And she’s an idiot sometimes, but she probably had more of an excuse than he did.

However, there’s a lot to like about this book. There’s plenty of humour, there are some delightful minor characters, like Bev, the gay friend of the Earl, Anthony, one of the heirs, who is a huge fan of Napoleon, and another heir, Owen, a podgy foodaholic. The writing is excellent and the plot unfolded at a stately but enjoyable pace. The villains are idiotically obvious, but subtlety isn’t a prerequisite for this kind of book.

What saved everything for me was the development of the romance, which blossoms very, very slowly over the whole course of the book. I’m a sucker for a believable romance, and the author is skillful enough to infuse the whole thing with romantic fairydust which, in the end, outweighed the less likable aspects of their characters. And there was enough tension in some of the hero and heroine’s scenes to keep me avidly turning the pages. Four stars.

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Review: ‘The Nomad Harp’ by Laura Matthews

December 17, 2016 Review 0

This is the first of my birthday Regencies (a selection from 1980 to the present bought with my gift cards), the earliest, written in 1980. The author is new to me, and I found it an enjoyable read, with some humour and a nicely drawn romance.

The premise: a career naval officer finds himself unexpectedly inheriting a viscountcy. He feels obliged to retire from the navy to manage his estates, but there’s a wrinkle: he’s betrothed to a woman he scarcely knows, attracted by her virtuoso playing of the harp. When he goes to visit, he finds her unimpressed by his elevation in rank. She had accepted his offer only because he would be away at sea a great deal, which would allow her to maintain her independent lifestyle. She breaks off the engagement after discovering that he’s falling for a much more suitable young lady.

But naturally, that isn’t the end of things. The story devolves into the usual Regency mix-ups and misunderstandings, albeit more believable than is sometimes the case, with an array of minor characters to liven things up. But it’s the main characters which make or break a story like this, and here I had my doubts. Lord Pontley himself is a fairly straightlaced sort of chap, too dour to be obvious hero material, and I confess to not entirely understanding his motives for dealing with the suitable young lady he finds himself engaged to. Indeed, for a serious sort of chap, he gets engaged for the most frivolous of reasons. Still, I rather liked him.

The heroine, Glenna Forbes, I found less likable. For a supposedly forthright and independent-minded young lady, she was a terrible ditherer. It’s conventional in fiction that when a character proposes a plan that the reader can clearly see is going to happen, there’s still a certain amount of argument round and about before it’s agreed to. Here, Glenna protested against perfectly reasonable proposals for far, far too long. I really wanted to slap her upside the head. And some of the things she does are just plain silly (like the whole companion scheme, for instance). The only purpose that I could see was so that she would find out about Lord Pontley’s feelings for the suitable young lady.

Despite all that, however, I found the book very enjoyable. I love a Regency where the romance builds slowly over the whole book, and this is particularly credible example. The minor characters are terrific, the historical accuracy is good and there’s enough humour to leaven the mixture. Four stars.

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Birthday Regencies

December 4, 2016 Birthday Regencies 0

I recently had a birthday, and my kind relatives treated me to Amazon gift cards. Naturally, I rushed to the Amazon Kindle store to buy as many books as I could with their largesse. Since I’m rereading Georgette Heyer at the moment, I thought it would be an interesting contrast to try something more recent for comparison. My tastes just now running to traditional rather than bodice-ripper, I searched particularly for that style, although it was difficult to find them – they tend to be well-buried amongst all those covers with flowing skirts and off-the-shoulder numbers. But here’s what I came up with, in three categories (prices in £ alongside):

1) Older books (pre-2001):

  • The Nomad Harp: Laura Matthews 2.67 1980
  • The Mysterious Heir: Edith Layton 3.85 1984
  • Brighton Road: Susan Carroll 2.20 1988
  • The Rake: Mary Jo Putney 4.02 1989
  • Cousin Cecilia: Joan Smith 2.99 1990
  • Lord of Scoundrels: Loretta Chase 3.99 1995
  • Reforming Lord Ragsdale: Carla Kelly 2.49 1995
  • One Night For Love: Mary Balogh 4.99 1999
  • A Summer To Remember: Mary Balogh 5.99 2002
  • The Viscount Who Loved Me: Julia Quinn 3.33 2000

2) More recent (2001-2012):

  • The Silent Governess: Julie Klassen 3.69 2010
  • The Kiss Of A Stranger: Sarah M Eden 1.09 2011
  • Edenbrooke: Julianne Donaldson 8.59 2012

3) The latest thing – the three bestsellers in the US on the day I looked:

  • The Duke’s Everburning Passion: Charlotte Stone 0.99
  • You’re The Rogue That I Want: Samantha Holt 3.27
  • Gaining the Gentleman: Eleanor Meyers 0.99

I’ve already made a start on The Nomad Harp, and I’ll review everything as I read them.

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Review: ‘Cotillion’ by Georgette Heyer

December 2, 2016 Review 0

The run of five star reviews is getting longer. Here’s another classic, #11 in my complete reread of the author’s Regency romances, and this is the fifth five star in succession. Yet I can’t give it less, not when I enjoyed it so much. This is absolutely vintage Heyer, with perhaps my favourite hero so far, a spirited and self-assured heroine, a wonderful sub-plot and a very credible romance, for once.

This book, first published in 1953, starts with an outrageous arrangement: wealthy Mr Penicuik decides to leave his considerable fortune to whichever of his nephews marries his adopted daughter Kitty. Two turn up – the rather pompous clergyman and the not-quite-all-there Earl. Kitty composedly turns them down. But when dandy-about-town Freddy Standen arrives, not quite understanding what is happening, and, when he does, immediately ready to turn tail and run away, Kitty persuades him into a fake betrothal so that she can get herself up to town. Because there’s yet another cousin, Jack, the handsome rake…

And so begins this wonderful tale. What I love most about it is that although in some respects it falls into the traditional Heyer mould of an older man-about-town and a young ingenue, Kitty isn’t at all a helpless young thing, and Freddy isn’t the usual world-weary rake. He’s just a very, very nice man who would never, ever do anything improper, and is clearly far better husband material than the arrogant Jack, so sure of Kitty that he makes no attempt to win her until it’s too late. Jack isn’t really a villain, and in a great many Regencies he would be the hero, but Freddy is truly the hero of this one, and every bit the perfect gentleman.

I mentioned the sub-plot, which involves Dolphinton, the dim-witted Earl, who is so terrified of his mother that he hides under the table! He’s meant as the comic relief, but it’s hard not to like him and his most implausible paramour. The real comedy came from Freddy, who gallantly squires Kitty all over town to the many sights she is determined to see. As an aside, quite my favourite character after Freddy himself was his father, Lord Legerton, who is as astute and sardonic as Freddy is slow-on-the-uptake and straightforward. Their conversations were delightful.

I have been grumbling all the way through my rereads about the romance element being forgotten about until the very last moment, but not so here. The relationship develops slowly but surely, and the ending brought everything to a head and resolved matters most satisfactorily. Five stars.

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