Monthly Archives:: March 2018

Review: ‘A Feather To Fly With’ by Joyce Harmon

March 31, 2018 Review 0

It’s always a good sign when a book keeps me up until 2am, and so it is with this captivating tale, which could almost be an undiscovered Georgette Heyer. There’s nothing terribly unexpected about the story, but it’s the characters who make it. The scholarly and unworldly Duke of Winton is adorable, and his efforts to move through the social whirl of the season and find himself a wife are gloriously funny. He approaches it, naturally, as a scientific problem to be solved, but misunderstandings abound, as when his friend suggests sending a book instead of flowers to a young lady after a ball, and the duke sends her ‘Principia Mathematica’, but only the English translation, in case her Latin isn’t up to the original! The friend, Justin Amesbury, is the exact opposite, socially astute, gently guiding the duke through the shoals of ambitious mamas and insipid debutantes, a thoroughly nice man.

The ladies are just as well drawn. Cleo is the unconventional daughter of unconventional parents, newly arrived in England determined to restore the family fortunes to allow her younger brother to be a gentleman, and armed with a cunning plan to achieve her aim. Felicity is the dutiful daughter who knows she’s expected to marry well. And when these four get together, things go a little awry. But the ending is pure Heyer, a mad dash through the countryside with misunderstandings on all sides, followed by a slick and very fast wrap-up of the romance elements.

This one won’t work for you if you expect a romance to involve heavy interaction between the principals, with loads of sexual tension or actual sex. It also won’t suit those looking for lots of action or modern characters in period clothes. This is a classic traditional Regency romance, which is beautifully written and very, very funny, one of those books that makes you sad when you reach the end. I enjoyed every single moment of it. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Town And Country Season’ by Joyce Harmon

March 30, 2018 Review 0

I love the idea of this: identical twin sisters, but with very different personalities, are making their come-out, but there’s only enough money for one of them to do the season in London. The other is to stay in a small country village, but they’ll meet up once a week… and naturally a certain amount of swapping places goes on. Well, the story practically writes itself, doesn’t it?

The biggest problem is that the reader is inevitably tossed from town to country and back again with dizzying frequency. There are different sets of characters in each to remember, and the two sisters swap names too, so the potential for confusion is enormous. And to make things worse, there are no scene breaks provided, so I regularly missed the signs of a new setting. It would have been so helpful to mark each change of location explicitly, whether London or Piddledean (glorious name!), to avoid confusion. However, by about the halfway point, everything began to fall into place, and there was no more than a momentary where-are-we? sort-out at each jump or new chapter.

The characters are lovely. There are no wicked villains, no real nastiness, apart from a couple of cutting remarks from a previously spurned girlfriend, and everybody means well and acts sensibly and thoughtfully. Nothing of a terribly untoward nature happens, and if the romances fall into place rather too easily, the story is so delicious that I can forgive it. I particularly liked Mama, who, unlike most such characters, isn’t merely a plot device, but has her own very interesting story running alongside her daughters’.

This is a Regency romance of the old school, where the backdrop is the season, the objective is marriage, everyone meets everyone in Hyde Park and there’s a major waltz scene at Almack’s (which is wonderful, by the way). Any reader looking for hot sex, a moustache-twirling villain, a heroine who strides about in trousers smoking cheroots or similar should move swiftly on. No Regency conventions are flouted here, and the language is mostly authentic. There are one or two turns of phrase (’visit with’ or ‘fall’, for instance) that sounded too American, but it wasn’t intrusive.

The book reads well enough as a standalone, but there are suggestions of previous books here and there, as various characters and events are alluded to. So if you’re a stickler for reading in order, you might want to check out the author’s other books first.

This is a delightful story that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. Five stars, and I’m going straight off to root out the author’s other Regencies.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Felicity’ by Susan Speers

March 17, 2018 Review 2

Finally! After five books in the series where the author’s talent almost shone through but was drowned out by misfiring plots, a scattergun approach to punctuation and (in one case) sheer dullness, here she gets everything right. Fascinating characters, an engrossing story, a villain unmasked and a heart-warming romance – this one works on all fronts, and the editing is excellent, too.

Here’s the premise: Felicity Debenham has been passed from one distant relation to another, and given the most desperate jobs, treated with contempt, cheated of her pay and accused of stealing. Cast out on the streets with no other recourse, she turns to an old friend who now runs an employment agency. But it isn’t the sort of agency that supplies respectable maids, companions and governesses, and Felicity is forced to consider learning a new, and less respectable, trade.

She’s rescued by a most unlikely circumstance. Hervey Godbold is looking for female companionship to bring some cheer to the last Christmas of his dying friend, Laurence Dashiell. Unable to find any respectable woman willing to travel north with him, he’s forced to try less reputable sources. Felicity, of course, is happy to help, and so these two set off on their journey together.

Hervey is a most unusual hero for any romance, for he’s a big, blundering sort of guy, not terribly bright but good hearted, and very gentle with Felicity, treating her with the utmost respect, even though he’s effectively paid for her services as a whore. Laurence, Hervey’s soldier friend who’s dying from his wounds, is another gentle soul. He calls Felicity ‘Happiness’, and Hervey calls her ‘Fliss’, and I loved both names for her, which spoke volumes about the two men. Of course, there’s a villain, Laurence’s cousin Dart, who is only waiting for Laurence to die to take over his estate. And he’s been defrauding Laurence, somehow, but no one can quite work out how.

There’s never any doubt as to how things will turn out, and if I have a complaint at all about these books, it’s that the characters fall too rigidly into the good or bad side. There are no shades of grey here, only black and white. But the story is lovely, the romance is charming and the few sex scenes are appropriate and unusually realistic for the genre (by which I mean that the heroine doesn’t fall into instant ecstasy the moment she gets her kit off).

The whole series is interesting, but this one excels. Highly recommended for anyone looking for something different from the usual unfeasibly handsome dukes behaving badly and improbably beautiful but wilfully independent young ladies. Five stars. And now the wait begins for Miss G. Gladys? Gertrude? Gillian?

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Edwina’ by Susan Speers

March 17, 2018 Review 0

The fifth of this series, and yet again a completely different story. Not for this author the constant reworking of one threadbare plot over and over. Not all the books are totally successful, but they’re all intriguing, and the hope of uncovering another gem keeps me reading on through the alphabet.

The spinster this time is Edwina Howlett, or Garrett as she calls herself for much of the book, for reasons that never made a great deal of sense to me. She’s been the governess/companion to spoilt, wilful Louisa Hart, who was one of the potential brides invited to the house party in Abigail. I really like that these books are loosely connected in this way, without the artificial constructs of an array of brothers or sisters. Now that Edwina’s charge is betrothed and shortly to marry, she’s no longer needed and takes up a position as a school teacher with a family friend, first in Bath and then in London. But it soon becomes clear that a great deal went on behind the scenes during Edwina’s time at Hartfield.

Edwina herself is a very likable character, very sensible and down to earth, yet holding steadily to her one true love. I never got much sense of her appearance, and I couldn’t tell you whether she was plain or pretty, tall or short, or whatever. Maybe it was all in there and I just missed it, I don’t know. Her love interest, however, I can see very clearly.

He doesn’t come out of this too well. Sir Geoffrey Hart is the father of the girl Edwina was governess to, and therefore an older man who ought to know better. He’s thrown Edwina out of his house, in harrowing circumstances, and immediately betrothed himself to an unpleasant woman of his own age, and although his reasons for this gradually become clear, it is still utterly reprehensible behaviour in a gentleman. Inevitably, despite the apparent permanent parting, he ends up bumping into Edwina at every verse end, whereupon he blows hot and cold and is generally thoroughly annoying. At odd moments he becomes seriously heroic, only to abandon Edwina without a word immediately afterwards. Honestly, I just wanted to slap him upside the head. The contrast with the steadfast and devoted Captain Palfrey in Daphne is striking. Not all heroes need to be the same, but they need to have some redeeming qualities besides the heroine being in love with them.

The author provides an attractive alternative suitor in Mr Richard Ravenscroft, who is a totally nice man, independently wealthy, handsome and pleasingly devoted to Edwina. But he never really develops beyond this sketchy outline, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because Edwina is besotted by her flaky older man. There are some subplots going on in the background, but essentially they are just feeding the romance plot.

In the end, Edwina begins to cast off her very convincing impression of a doormat and starts to stand up for herself, and her love interest finally comes good. And about time too.

These books are so frustrating. On the one hand, the stories are fresh and different and very well grounded in the Regency era. On the other hand, the editing is pretty dire, with commas, quote marks and capital letters randomly added or missing, and far too many choppy sentences and clunky dialogue. The plotting is clunky, too. To give but one example, Edwina meets Richard Ravenscroft accidentally at an inn while they are travelling in different directions. They’ve barely got past the awkward introductions (he’s bathing in the river at the time) before he’s spilling his life history and asking her advice, at great length. To describe this as implausible doesn’t begin to do justice to the random let’s-just-throw-them-together nature of it.

And yet, despite all my grumbles, here I am reading steadily through the series. I already have Felicity and I’m pretty sure I’ll go on to G (Geraldine? Georgiana? Grace?) and H (my money’s on Harriet) and right through to Z (Zinnia? Zoe?). I would love to see the author slow down her production schedule and put a bit of polish on these, with decent covers and some solid developmental editing and proofreading. Then they could be something really special. This one is closer to a three star for me, but it tackles some serious issues and is so original in other ways that I’ll round it up to four stars.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Daphne’ by Susan Speers

March 17, 2018 Review 0

This series is a real mixed bag. Abigail was delightful, Belinda a little less successful, Cecily a powerful and absorbing read. But this one is just dull. The focus is a children’s Nativity play, there are a couple of nasty characters with no redeeming qualities, and a hero who’s just a very nice man. The heroine doesn’t show much character, either, and absolutely nothing of interest happens. The slowness isn’t helped by dialogue that covers every word spoken between the characters.

Here’s the plot, such as it is: Daphne (who’s supposed to be a chatterbox but we never really hear this) lives in genteel poverty with her elderly aunts. She’s courted by retired sea-dog Captain Palfrey and a cousin, clergyman Gideon Spicer. The clergyman is resolutely dogmatic in insisting that she marry him, and I longed to box his ears every time he refused to take no for an answer. Daphne was far more restrained in her refusals than I would have been. There are some struggles with money issues and a problem for Captain Palfrey which Daphne gets involved with and that’s about it, really.

There are fewer editing issues in this book than in books 2 and 3 in the series, but there are still far too many punctuation errors and one or two sentences that just made no sense. There are some implausibilities in the plot, too. Even so, I still enjoyed the romance, and especially the ending which was very satisfactory. Three stars. I’ve already downloaded Edwina and Felicity, so I’ll probably read on and hope for better fortune.

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Review: ‘A Marchioness Below Stairs’ by Alissa Baxter

March 5, 2018 Review 0

This book picks up the story of a couple of minor characters in the previous book, Lord Fenmore’s Wager. Isabel was once betrothed to a man she loved passionately, but instead she married a waelthy, elderly man to restore her family’s fortunes. Now widowed, she discovers that her former love is about to marry another, and fate conspires to trap them all together in a country house beset by snow and influenza. Isabel is not too proud to help out in the kitchens, along with another guest, the disreputable Marcus Bateman.

The author writes her romances skillfully, and there’s never any question about who Isabel will end up with. The difficulty is his reputation, and her desire not to surrender her new-found independence and wealth to a man. I liked her spirit, but she does take some foolish risks in pursuit of her objectives, and needs to be rescued rather frequently. As for Marcus, I liked him very much, but I found him to be oddly volatile. He seems to veer from determinedly pursuing Isabel to staying coolly aloof, and I couldn’t always understand his motives.

The biggest issue with the book for me is the amount of background detail taking up page space that could be used to advance the romance. I realise this is personal preference, so if you’ve always wanted to know more about the workings of a Regency kitchen, the slave trade or how to make an authentic curry in the Regency era, this is absolutely the book for you. Sadly, I am not such a person.

However, Baxter’s writing is excellent, as always, and her dialogue, manners and settings are true to the era. There’s also no sex, for those who enjoy a traditional Regency. The romance is sparkling, and only the excess of culinary and political detail keeps it to four stars.

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Review: ‘Lord Fenmore’s Wager’ by Alissa Baxter

March 5, 2018 Review 0

Another terrific read from Alissa Baxter. This one has less action than The Dashing Debutante (no highwaymen!), it was pure drawing room drama, but it felt like a smoother read.

The premise is a tad implausible: Anthony Hamilton gambles away his estate which he finds a burden. As part of the deal, he also includes his unmarried sister Diana. She’s won by the Earl of Fenmore, who insists that she move to his estate to act as temporary governess to his nephews and companion to his mother.

And already the hero is seen to be… well, heroic, because he’s the one who reminds Hamilton about his sister during the gambling session, and he also steps in to take the bet on himself when he sees that Diana might be won by a notorious rake. And of course he treats Diana as one of the family, in the most gentlemanlike manner. When she attempts several ruses to get him to release her, he sees through them at once and is amused and intrigued by her.

So the stage is set for love, but despite the fact that there are no insuperable obstacles on either side, it still takes the whole book and a great many misunderstandings before these two come together. Unlike many such books, however, the misunderstandings really do have some substance because they’re grounded in Regency manners. He is a gentleman and her employer, so naturally he has to keep his distance. And when she moves to Bath and has another suitor, naturally he can’t interfere. And she, being a lady, can’t tell him how she feels.

The whole business underscores just how awkward courtship was in those days, the difficulty of trying to get to know the person well enough to make a sensible decision on whether to spend the rest of your life with them, and the delicate balance between showing an interest and raising expectations. If a man takes a step too far, he may be required as a matter of honour to marry her whether he wants to or not. If he doesn’t go far enough, she may go off with someone else. And on her side, there’s the problem of distinguishing between serious courtship and flirtation, and trying to avoid a reputation as a flirt or a jilt. You can see why they often ended up marrying whoever their parents chose, or sticking to the familiarity of cousins – it was a lot easier!

Fortunately, these two do finally get together. But they’re a fairly cerebral couple, who do a lot of internal agonising about the difficulties of their situation and rationalising their actions. If you’re looking for a grand passion, this probably isn’t the book for you but the ending is nicely romantic. Recommended for anyone who likes a completely clean traditional Regency, with strongly authentic writing and historical accuracy and a satisfying romance. Five stars. And now on to A Marchioness Below Stairs.

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Review: ‘The Dashing Debutante’ by Alissa Baxter

March 5, 2018 Review 0

This is a lovely read, a truly traditional Regency romance very reminiscent of Georgette Heyer. It features a feisty, I’ll-do-it-myself heroine, a rakish but charming hero, lots of witty banter and a whole array of amusing and/or villainous side characters.

The premise is that Miss Alexandra Grantham likes to play at being Robin Hood, taking on the role of highwayman to steal from the rich to bring a little comfort to the poor. This all comes to a crashing halt when a mysterious gentleman takes over the neighbouring estate and unmasks Alex. But she amuses him and when she goes to London for her coming-out season, he decides to make her fashionable, which he can do because, in a shocking twist (not), he’s a leader of society and a duke. Of course he is.

In a book like this, the plot isn’t really important except as a backdrop to the setpiece scenes – the balls and routs, the visit to Vauxhall Gardens, the clandestine meetings on curiously empty balconies at crowded parties and so on. Every scene with the two principals in it sparkled gloriously. I loved their banter and battles of wit, which sometimes he won and sometimes she did. And both of them were nicely real and sensible. He never arrogantly assumed she would marry him just because he was rich, titled and wanted her. She didn’t defy him just to demonstrate her independence. The rest of it, especially the fairly unbelievable dastardly plot at the end, was less interesting, but all of it was beautifully written, and for those who like a book with no sex at all, this one is perfectly safe.

Some very minor quibbles… Alex was oddly unobservant about the duke’s intentions. He goes riding and driving with her every day, he takes every opportunity to dance the rather scandalous waltz with her, everyone in London is in hourly anticipation of their betrothal and she is entirely oblivious until she’s told. He even kisses her at a very early stage, but this doesn’t give her a hint. Unusually for a modern Regency, this book is pretty accurate on language and Regency manners, although I thought the duke was overstepping the mark in saying that Alex was under his protection. And two duels were fought by gentlemen who had no right to defend the honour of the ladies in question, which was a bit much. Sometimes the author liked to squeeze in more of her extensive research than was really necessary for the advancement of the story. And finally, I felt the proposal scene fell a little bit flat after all the drama of the previous chapter or two, not to mention that everyone knew it was coming. I would have liked the duke to show a bit more passion.

But these are very minor grumbles, and I enjoyed the book so much that it’s a definite five star, and I’m going straight on to Lord Fenmore’s Wager.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of A Regency Spinster: Cecily’ by Susan Speers

March 2, 2018 Review 0

The enjoyable aspect of a series like this is that every book is different. It’s like a box of chocolates where you don’t know until you try it whether you’ve got the strawberry cream or the caramel or the nutty one. I loved Abigail, was ho-hum about Belinda and now Cecily is perhaps the strongest story yet. But be warned – for sensitive souls, it’s a bit of a weepy.

Here’s the plot: Cecily has endured some heartbreaking years, but at last she’s found a sanctuary of sorts in the small seaside village of Daggers Bay, acting as companion to the invalid daughter of a neighbouring family. But then into this quiet life comes a man from her past – Lord Hawley, heir to an earldom.

I’m not going to spoil the read by revealing too much of what follows, but suffice it to say that both characters have to learn to live with and accept the past, and change enough to have a future together. These are two strong-minded people who share an unbreakable bond of love, and I wept buckets as they gradually came to their happy ever after. A great love story. There is a sex scene, but it’s nicely done and felt in character.

There are some fine minor characters, too, especially Laurel, the invalid, and I think we’ve met the Daphne of the next book. There are a few caricatures, too, especially amongst the villainous characters, and I do think Carlton was way too easy on his mother – I’d have been spitting fire about it. The historical accuracy level is high, although Viscount Hawley would always be addressed as Lord Hawley, and never as Viscount. Dukes are the only nobles ever addressed by their rank.

So why only four stars? It’s because the editing is terrible. Speech marks are left out here, there and everywhere, there are extra or missing words, there’s confusion over lie and lay, and Laurel becomes Lauren at one point. And if the author could have brought herself to use the past perfect tense (using ‘had’) many passages would have been greatly improved. It’s such a shame, because the book is well-written and emotionally very powerful, but such sloppiness lets it down badly. Four stars and on to Daphne.

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Review: ‘Once Upon A Christmas’ by Diane Farr

March 2, 2018 Review 0

Another lovely story from Diane Farr. Why have I only just discovered this author? She writes exactly the sort of tale I like to read – two people thrown together almost against their will, who oh-so-slowly fall in love. Now, the obstacle to their happiness in this case is one of those misunderstandings that would be cleared up in five minutes if they just sat down and discussed things, and normally I hate that, but in this case the obstacle is so outrageous and funny that I didn’t mind it at all.

Here’s the premise: when Celia Delacourt suffers the tragic loss of her entire family, she is relieved and grateful to be offered a home by her distant relative the Duchess of Arnsford, even though she suspects the Duchess has devious plans afoot. And when Celia learns what the plot is, she’s determined not to cooperate. But when she meets the Duchess’s son, Jack, she finds that he’s not at all what she’d expected.

I loved the way these two inched their way to an understanding. Jack is a delightful hero, for once not a rake or a scoundrel or a ne’er-do-well. He’s just a young man enjoying a certain freedom, and his wildness is harmless stuff. He’s generous to a fault, and befriends people that his mother definitely wouldn’t approve of (since they’re of lower rank and some are even, quite shockingly, commoners!). And although he starts his acquaintance with Celia with some subterfuge, he finds himself quite unable to maintain the facade in the face of her sweet nature and compassion. And Celia herself is a gentle soul who is also perfectly well able to stand up for herself, when necessary. So these two are definitely made for each other.

There’s a very nice little side romance going on, too, involving the stuffy fiancee from The Nobody. I approved of the author’s delicate touch here, not making Elizabeth fall violently in love, which would have been out of character, and inappropriate for the gentleman.

If I have a grumble at all, it’s that the book finished at 92% on my Kindle, the rest being filled with samples from other books. I was also a bit shocked that the author swept away Celia’s entire family in one fell swoop, although I suspect it was necessary to give her the happy family background in contrast to the much stiffer upbringing Jack had endured. A terrific read, with a lovely romantic ending. Five stars.

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