Monthly Archives:: August 2017

Review: ‘One Night For Love’/’A Summer To Remember’ by Mary Balogh

August 29, 2017 Review 0

One Night For Love:

This book is perfect. The end.

Hmm… I suppose I should write a bit more than that. Let’s start with the premise. Neville Wyatt, the Earl of Kilbourne, is awaiting his bride at the altar. She’s Lauren Edgeworth, friend and neighbour, educated and accomplished, a perfect English lady, exactly suited to becoming a countess. Neville is happy about it, his bride is thrilled, since she’s been in love with him for years and waited while he went off to the war in Portugal, and all their friends and relations gathered in the church are thrilled for them both. And then the unthinkable happens – a simply-dressed poverty-stricken woman rushes into the church and Neville recognises her. She’s his wife, his sergeant’s daughter that he married on the battlefield and thought had died.

Now this is all sorts of delicious, right from the start. What an appalling situation! Lily, the wife, is uneducated and illiterate, a child of nature who loves to run about barefoot and hasn’t the least idea how to be a countess and move in the high level of society that Neville occupies. What’s more, she’s been a prisoner of war for many months, and has been repeatedly raped. So even were there no other issues, the marriage is fraught with difficulties for everyone – Neville and Lily, poor abandoned Lauren, and all the horrified friends and relations, who don’t know what to make of Lily and her scandalously unconventional ways.

But it soon becomes clear that there is a ray of hope, for this was a love match. Neville didn’t just marry Lily out of obligation to his dying sergeant, he truly loves her and all her innocent, free-spirit ways, and she loves him. But even as they inch towards a new understanding, everything falls apart (which I won’t spoilerise but it’s nicely done).

Of course, all comes right in the end, and Lily learns to fit herself into Neville’s world without losing her essential nature, and if I found her transformation a little glib and unconvincing, it hardly matters. One word of warning: this is NOT a romance in the conventional sense, because the protagonists are already in love (and married, even!) before the book starts. But it is a love story, and a beautiful piece of writing which I shall remember for a long time. Five stars.

A Summer To Remember:

This is a follow-on to One Night For Love, which told the story of Neville’s reunion with Lily, his child-like bride from his army days, who reappears at the church door just as Neville is about to marry society lady Lauren. That was a five star read for me, a beautifully resonant piece of writing. This book is about Lauren, and it’s a very different type of story in every way, yet Balogh’s writing lifts it to the heights of another memorable five stars.

The premise is an intriguing one: Lauren, the perfect English lady, perfectly composed and proper, no matter the occasion, is dealing with an unprecedented disaster – jilted on her wedding day by the man she’s loved and waited for for years. She deals with it with her usual unruffled manner, no matter what heartbreak may be going on below the surface, but she’s determined never to think of marriage again.

Meanwhile, Kit Butler is one of London’s most infamous bachelors, living life to the full and by no means ready to settle down. But his family is pushing him to marry and he’s determined to make his own choice. But a bet with his friends leads him to court the least likely person – icy Lauren. This is a very common plot device, but here it’s not in the least contrived, and it’s very entertaining watching Kit woo the unyielding Lauren. But when he finally proposes, Lauren has a proposition of her own: she will agree to a fake betrothal to keep his relatives at bay, and in return, he will give her a memorable summer of adventure. At the end of it, she will jilt him and set him free, while rendering herself, she hopes, unmarriageable. And so the stage is set…

This book is an exact counterpart to its predecessor in one way: whereas One Night For Love centred on free spirit Lily learning the ways of society, this one is about buttoned-up Lauren learning to relax and become something of a free spirit. In neither case is the transformation entirely convincing, but I like to think that fiction simply speeds a process that would, in the real world, take many years.

This is a delightful tale, both for Kit’s wonderful schemes to push Lauren out of her comfort zone, but also Lauren’s elegant and oh-so-ladylike put-downs of Kit’s very ill-mannered family. And needless to say, our two protagonists find themselves very much in love before the end of the book.

For those intrigued by the eccentric Bedwyn family, neighbours of the main family in this book, they have their own series so you can read your fill of them. Personally, nothing about them caught my fancy, so I won’t be reading on, but I highly recommend this book and its predecessor, for the two are best read together, I think. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Toll-Gate’ by Georgette Heyer

August 26, 2017 Review 0

I started this book twice. The first time, I was put off by the vast number of names and intertwined relationships. The second time, determined to learn them all, I still got befuddled. And you know what? After the first chapter, none of them are ever seen again! That is so irritating.

This is part of my reread of all Heyer’s Regency romances, in chronological order. Oddly enough, this is the first one not to ring any bells with me, so I think I must have missed it before. The premise – John Staple, former captain of the Dragoons, takes a wrong turn while going to visit a friend. Finding himself at a toll-gate, manned only by a boy whose father has disappeared under odd circumstances, he stays to uncover the mystery. And for another, more personal, reason.

One of my biggest complaints about Heyer is that the romance tends to get buried by the twists and turns of the plot, only to suddenly reappear in the last chapter. Not so here, for it forms the centre of the unlikely chain of events that unfolds, and for once is the least implausible part of the story. I liked both the main characters, and if their love is more bolt-from-the-blue than slow-burn, it felt realistic for two people old enough to know their own minds.

My other big complaint about Heyer is the amount of Regency cant she likes to use. When it’s just a couple of characters, it’s not too bad, but here almost everybody uses it liberally and it drove me nuts. It’s a dreadful distraction, and (frankly) the worst kind of well-researched showing off.

The ending is pretty silly, but also unsettling in some ways. But then it was written in 1954 so I suppose sensibilities were different then. Four stars.

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Review: ‘Edenbrooke’ by Julianne Donaldson

August 23, 2017 Review 0

This is a wonderful book – exquisitely written, with well-drawn characters and a beautifully developed relationship. Too often there’s an instant attraction and then they’re head over heels in love, as if that’s all it takes to set a couple on the path to a lifetime of happiness. I far prefer a slow-blooming love. The book also has an astonishing sense of time and place. I wanted to be at Edenbrooke too, and sink into its welcoming arms, and feel as if I were coming home, just like the heroine.

Marianne Daventry has lived with her grandmother in Bath since her mother’s death a year earlier. Her twin Cecily lives with another relative in London, and their father has taken himself off to France. Marianne is bored to tears, missing the countryside and its natural beauty, and is delighted to receive an invitation to stay at Edenbrooke, where the man her sister hopes to marry lives. Edenbrooke offers her the open country her spirit so desperately needs – and a man who delights and infuriates her in equal measure.

If this book were nothing but Marianne’s return to the freedom of nature and her encounters with the infuriating Philip it would be perfect. Unfortunately, it depends on coincidence, a villain and an ignorance of her host’s family that beggars belief. I also have a lot of quibbles about Philip’s behaviour, which is far too forward for a man supposedly watching the proprieties.

The book also fails one of my primary tests – would the plot fall apart if the characters sat down and talked to each other? In this case, the whole plot hinges on Marianne not knowing precisely who Philip is until a long way into the book. Despite my quibbles, I enjoyed this enormously, because the writing is just so good, worthy of five stars. As it is, the reliance on coincidence and non-communication keep it to four stars.

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Review: ‘The Weaver Takes A Wife’ by Sheri Cobb South

August 16, 2017 Review 0

This book was a complete delight – right up until the point where it descended into stupidity and farce. The premise: Mr Ethan Brundy is a Lancashire mill-owner, formerly in the work-house, now fabulously wealthy but still showing a strong accent and appalling dress sense. Lady Helen Radley is the sharp-tongued daughter of the impoverished Duke of Reddington that Brundy falls in love with across a crowded theatre. Arranged marriage ensues.

Brundy is a glorious character, impossible to dislike, quite impervious to the snubs of the ton. Helen is less admirable but she gradually comes to appreciate his good qualities. When he visits his mill in Manchester, she misses him and accompanies him on his next visit, finding herself impressed with his methods and the way his workers love him. There’s a degree of idealisation in the portrayal of so many well-scrubbed and happy workers, and Lady Helen’s transformation from shrew to loving wife is a little too rapid for plausibility, but the charm of the characters and the amusing ways they deal with their peculiar situation overcome any deficiencies at this point.

The main characters’ gradually growing rapport would make enough of a story, but then the author spoils it by throwing in some melodramatic business with a villain, a debt, a necklace and a great deal of implausible creeping about at night, ending with Brundy acting entirely out of character. I’d hoped he could come up with some clever way to deal with the villain but no. Great characters, beautifully written, but the ridiculous farce keeps it to three stars.

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Review: Loving The Marquess: Suzanna Medeiros

August 13, 2017 Review 0

This one has an unusual premise: the hero has a potentially fatal and inheritable illness. He’s being pressured to marry and provide himself with an heir, but he doesn’t want to father a child himself. His solution is to marry an impoverished local woman who won’t be in a position to refuse his solution to this dilemma: to ask his best friend to do the fathering.

So far, so intriguing. But there’s a lot that grated on me. For instance, the heroine, Louisa Evans and her younger brother and sister live in a small cottage alone. As in, no servants. The brother spends much of his day taking lessons from the local vicar, the sister is tinkering in the garden, and the heroine earns a few bob sewing nice dresses for the daughter of the family who reduced them to penury. Erm… so who carries buckets of coal around the house? Blackleads the grates? Cooks the meals? Feeds the chickens and the pig? Scrubs the pans? Heats all that water for the weekly bath? Carries water in from the well, for that matter? Who sweeps the carpets (on their knees, with a dustpan and brush, and yes, it needed to be done every day because of all that coal dust)? A little light sewing? I don’t think so.

I also get very tired of this trope that a man (a marquess!) can be railroaded into marrying by a determined grandmother – or anyone, really. No, really he can’t, and can we not for once have a hero who stands up to his relations’ manipulations and tells them where they get off. He holds all the cards, after all, and could turf granny out of the house if he so chooses (which was normal practice anyway – that’s what dower houses were invented for).

Anyway, our two protagonists get married amidst a welter of historical inaccuracies which we’ll gloss over, and the marquess introduces his bride to society at the grand ball granny’s organised, thinking he’s going to announce his betrothal. One up to the marquess. But then they spend the wedding night at the bride’s cottage, for reasons which are unclear to me. I’d imagined that this was intended to create privacy so that his friend can deflower the bride, but no. So I don’t really know what the point of that was, except as an plot-driven excuse to throw the newly-weds into greater intimacy and test the marquess’s resolve not to sire an heir himself. Because of course, he has one of his turns and they end up in bed together and – resolve duly tested.

The illness runs through the whole book, popping up at convenient moments and disappearing when it might disrupt the resolve-testing (because, yes, the marquess’s resolve is tested multiple times, in fairly graphic detail), and if there’s a single reader who’s surprised by the revelations surrounding the illness, I’d be astonished. Some of the last chapter drama was telegraphed almost from the start. But the tricky situation between the marquess, his wife and the friend roped in to father the heir is nicely done, although I did think a lot of unnecessary angst could have been avoided if they’d all sat down right away and had a nice chat over a cup of tea. However, it works well enough.

A good read, well-written and without too many disturbing anachronisms (and what I found was minor and forgivable). Four stars.

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Review: ‘A Grand Gesture’ by Holly Newman

August 11, 2017 Review 0

There’s a lot to like about this book. The heroine, Catherine Shreveton, is sensible and independent-minded without falling into stupidity as soon as a man appeared. She’s a talented horse-breeder and rider, who helps her uncle with his stud farm, which she will inherit. She neither wants nor needs a husband, so when her aunt invites her to enjoy a London season and makes it clear she thinks Catherine is both poor and plain, and this is charity on her part, Catherine determines to play the role imagined for her. This is an inversion of Georgette Heyer’s Arabella, where the heroine is poor but the ton thinks her wealthy. Neither lady is plain, of course, for naturally a Regency romance must have a beautiful heroine.

And a handsome hero, and here is the Marquis of Stefton to fill the breach, but however handsome he may be, he almost stumbled at the first hurdle. A hero has to have some heroic qualities, and while he may fall short at the start of the book, and raise himself to full hero status through some kind of redemption, there are certain actions which put him beyond the pale. One is to stand by while the heroine is harmed in some way, and the other is to mess about with other women. Here our hero comes within spitting distance of both of these failures. Almost the first time we see him is at an inn where the generic villain is attempting to molest our heroine. Leaving aside the question of how long an inn would stay in business if it allowed its paying customers to be (possibly) raped on the premises, the hero’s inaction is inexcusable. Even if she seems to be defending herself pretty well, no gentleman would simply stand by and watch. Later, the hero is on the brink of returning to his mistress, and only fails to bed her by chance. So, not much of a hero.

The bulk of the book consists of the two dancing round each other in London, and this follows the usual pattern of suppressed instalust, with both sides pretending they despise the other. It’s pretty well done, though, with some nice set pieces, and I enjoyed Catherine’s emergence from her drab disguise to become a stylishly dressed beauty.

One quibble on historical accuracy. Generally speaking, very little in this book triggered my over-sensitive pedantry alarm. The writing style, dialogue and historical setting were all very convincing, and (my personal pet peeve) the author mostly got the titles right. Only one made me grind my teeth: why is the Countess of Seaverness called Lady Harth rather than Lady Seaverness? That made no sense to me. However, the other titles seemed fine, so I set it down to some obscure quirk of the British Peerage, an institution which has more exceptions to the rules than normal cases.

A good traditional Regency, well-written, with no sex scenes that I can recall. Four stars.

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