Monthly Archives:: September 2018

Review: Fortunate Wager by Jan Jones

September 22, 2018 Review 0

Book 3 of the Newmarket series, and this is the first that really does depend on the horse racing town for both setting and plot. It’s a corker of a story, and after some slight wobbles in book 2, this one is right back on form – a believable hero and heroine, a plot that doesn’t stretch credulity to snapping point and a delightful romance.

The plot is basically Pride and Prejudice – a snooty rich guy who insults the heroine early on and then spends the rest of the book becoming worthy of her. That’s OK, because probably 50% of Regencies are Pride and Prejudice thinly disguised and most of the rest are Persuasion. The snooty rich guy is Lord Alexander Rothwell, the second son of a duke, who has conveniently inherited an estate of his own, which neatly sidesteps the usual dilemma of younger sons, that of having no money besides what Papa dishes out. Usually they have to find some kind of employment, but not here.

Lord Alexander – yes, let’s deal with his name upfront, because it’s the only error I came across in the whole book. His name is Lord Alexander Rothwell, and he would be addressed as Lord Alexander by most people, or my lord/your lordship by servants and the like. Close friend might call him Rothwell. Very close friends from childhood might call him Alexander or Alex. But nobody familiar with the aristocracy would ever call him Lord Rothwell. Ever. The author missed a trick there: she could have had the social-climbing goldsmith get it wrong, while everyone else gets it right.

Lord Alexander is a grumpy old sod, and rude into the bargain, and to be honest, I didn’t much like him at first. Even when his miserable history began to be revealed, which was supposed to make him a sympathetic character, I still didn’t like him. And it takes him a long, long time to see what’s right under his nose and begin to do the right thing.

The heroine, Caroline Fortune, on the other hand, is an utter delight. She’s that awkward middle daughter, plain and gawky and bookish, and more interested in horses than people. She’s also refreshingly straightforward, and eschews polite white lies in favour of the unvarnished truth. Needless to say, she likes riding horses astride and dressed as a boy, behaviour that would get her instantly ostracised if discovered. But she’s also kind and sensible and willing to be polite in society if she has to. I liked her a lot.

The plot is fairly thin – a drunken bet between Lord Alexander and Caroline’s brother Harry, which involves them training a mean-tempered horse of Lord A’s and winning a race with him. It turns out the horse gets spooked by loud male voices, so guess who has to tame it and then ride it in the race? Never saw that one coming…

There’s also some shady business going on which sees Lord A getting bopped on the head by a mysterious assailant, and Caroline has to nurse him back to health, thus leading neatly to some close encounters between hero and heroine of the kissing and groping variety. There’s no actual sex in the book, but the temperature rises to dangerous levels from time to time.

There’s a lot about this book that would normally irritate me to death – the obnoxious hero, for instance, and the feisty, independent heroine dressing up in breeches to ride astride, but the writing is just so good, I was carried along with it. I loved the minor characters, too (especially the duchess!), and there is so much wit in it that I was chortling all the way through. I even got used to the hero being called Lord Rothwell after a while. Nothing terribly unexpected happens, and the villain was obvious from ten miles away, but this was a delightful read and I enjoyed almost every moment of it. Five stars.

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Review: Fair Deception by Jan Jones

September 22, 2018 Review 0

Another great read in the series. This works well as a stand-alone but the early chapters would be an easier read coming straight after book 1, The Kydd Inheritance, or maybe it’s just me that forgets who’s who in no time flat. It doesn’t quite have the glorious humour of that book, and I found the hero just a tad too volatile for my taste, but the way the author weaves multiple strands of plot together into an entertaining braid is masterful.

Here’s the premise: Susanna Fair is scraping a living as a stage entertainer, barely even qualifying as a legitimate actress, in London. That’s bad enough, but she has a problem in Mr Rafe Warwick, who has laid a bet that he will bed her before too long, a bet he’s determined to win by any means necessary. To the rescue comes Christopher (Kit) Kydd, owner of the impoverished Kydd Court and he also has a problem. He needs money to restore his home, but he doesn’t want to marry an heiress and condemn himself to a loveless marriage. He has a wealthy aunt who has money to spare – but only if he can convince her he’s not in the least ramshackle. Maybe if he had a fake fiancee, he could convince her?

So the actress who needs to get out of town fast and the man in need of someone to play the role of his betrothed form an unlikely alliance. As with all fake betrothal tropes, it’s obvious how everything will end up, but along the way there’s a number of people to be convinced by the deception, a travelling theatre group, the reappearance by the villain and a great many misunderstandings between hero and heroine before matters are resolved.

Much of the misunderstanding arises because the heroine neglects to tell the hero some small but highly significant details about herself, and every time the hero discovers he’s been misled (again) he blows a fuse and throws a tantrum. I would have liked him a lot better if he’d shown a bit more restraint, but I suppose it wouldn’t have been so dramatic. There are no sex scenes but there’s a great deal of barely repressed sexual tension and passionate kissing, and both hero and heroine get weak-kneed at the mere sight of each other very early in the book. It’s not exactly insta-lust, but it’s certainly insta-desire and it seems about as realistic as these things usually are (ie not very).

One technical issue: a very minor plot point involves a marriage between minors which was declared invalid because they didn’t have the permission of parents/guardians. But it’s my understanding that this only applies with marriage by licence (special or common). In this case, since the banns were read in the usual way, the marriage would almost certainly have been perfectly legal.

The multiple plot threads get very entangled by the end, but naturally all is resolved in a suitable way and everybody gets what he or she wants (except the villain, naturally). I didn’t find this quite as gloriously entertaining as the first book, but it was still terrific fun and a good four stars.

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Review: The Mrs MacKinnons by Jayne Davis

September 8, 2018 Review 0

I loved this book. I didn’t think I was going to like it, because the prologue is a grim war scene, but this is merely a brief backdrop to the main story. Yes, it’s important, but the author never dwells on the details, and so it becomes, as it should, the underlying thread of explanation for many of the characters, and not the central focus.

Here’s the premise: Major Matthew Southam returns from India after unexpectedly inheriting a title and a small estate. His surviving family, his stepmother and half-brother and half-sister, rather wish he had died in India, and have been quietly helping themselves to his fortune for years. Meanwhile, the inherited estate is neglected and empty of servants and furniture. Matthew is too traumatised by his war experiences to do more than drink, and then drink some more.

Meanwhile, Mrs Charlotte MacKinnon, a widow with a young son living in the nearest village to the estate, is hard-pressed to make ends meet. She writes cute children’s stories and a nature column for a London publisher, helps local businessmen manage their finances and generally uses her education and brains to earn what coins she can. She shares her home with another soldier’s widow, also called MacKinnon, so the two are rather charmingly known to the locals as Mrs Captain and Mrs Sergeant.

And if that were all, this would be a standard Regency romance between a strong man damaged by war, brought back to reality and happiness by the love of a good, if impoverished, woman. But this is not quite that story, and part of the reason is, perhaps, the most fascinating character I’ve come across for some time, Sergeant Webb, who’s returned from India with Matthew and attached himself to him. Matthew is so wrapped up in his own misery that he more or less hands over responsibility for getting things straight to Webb. He hasn’t a clue about fixing up houses, but he’s a man who’s happy to go out and find people with more knowledge than him, which includes Charlotte. And so she and Matthew are thrown together, and gradually, very, very gradually, aided by Charlotte’s young son, Charlotte’s common sense, Webb’s organisational abilities and the house itself, the two reach an accord.

There’s some drama in the later stages caused by their pesky relatives, but at bottom this is a beautiful slow-build romance, with the underlying theme that even grievous war injuries needn’t define the rest of your life. I loved the main characters, I loved their first kiss and I loved seeing the house gradually brought back to a healthy and functioning state alongside Matthew’s own recovery. I never would have thought that details about furniture and linens and paintwork would be so interesting, but they were. And if Sergeant Webb became implausibly clever at organising everyone, he was so much fun that I quite forgave him. The humour isn’t the conventional Regency romp style, but the sort that jumps up and slaps you on the head when you least expect it, and lightens a book that might otherwise be quite dark at times.

A great read, and highly recommended for anyone looking for something a little more meaty than the average frothy Regency. Five stars.

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Review: Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

September 8, 2018 Review 0

When I read Georgette Heyer’s works for the first time, many moons ago, this was very much my favourite. It’s always nerve-wracking returning to a much-loved book after a long time, but almost from the first page, I knew my memory had not let me down. This is surely the most scintillating dialogue Heyer ever wrote. Every meeting between hero Miles Calverleigh and heroine Abigail Wendover is delightful, and it’s hard to think of a single change which would improve the book. It’s quite perfect.

The premise: Abby returns to her Bath home aware that her niece, Fanny, has fallen violently in love with a plausible fortune-hunter, Stacy Calverleigh, under the auspices of Abby’s rather dippy older sister, Selina. Also returning home after twenty years in India is Stacy’s uncle, Miles, the black sheep of the title. Naturally this leads to the most delicious exchange of misunderstanding between Abby and Miles (’Are you Mr Calverleigh?’ ‘I’ve never been given any reason to suppose that I’m not!’), but eventually she works out which Mr C he is, and then begins the most glorious courtship of any of Heyer’s books. I’ve complained many times that the romance tends to be forgotten in the excitement of the adventures, but here the growing love between Miles and Abby is very much centre stage. And there is no prevarication: he makes his attraction clear right from the start, and she is almost as open.

In the background is the difficulty with the fortune-hunter, but luckily the object of his attentions, although fulfilling the standard Heyer role of beautiful but silly ingenue, is far less silly than usual, and there are no mad chases to recover an eloping couple or anything of that nature. I loved the means by which the obnoxious Stacy is dealt with, and I also loved Miles’ method of detaching Abby from her clinging relations, and finally getting her to the altar, as she herself wishes. Neatly done, and far more plausible than is often the case. I’m not a fan of the heroine who doesn’t know her own mind until the hero wraps her in his manly arms and kisses her thoroughly, and here Abby is perfectly well aware of what she wants. Five perfect stars.

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