Monthly Archives:: November 2018

Review: Love Letters To A Lady by Fanny Finch

November 16, 2018 Review 0

This has such an intriguing premise: a man is too shy to court the woman he loves openly, so he writes to her to declare himself, but forgets to sign his name. Thus begins a correspondence where both parties can explore their real natures free of the constraints of public society. So much potential, but the execution was sadly lacking.

Let’s get the logistics out of the way first. The lady is able to reply to her anonymous lover because he uses an anonymous post office box to receive his mail. This is set in a time two hundred years ago, when a decent mail service was only just getting going properly. Mail coaches had been operating for a mere twenty years. There was no regular doorstep delivery for most people, you collected your mail yourself (or sent your footman to collect it) from the nearest post office, which might be just a back room in a shop. Same for sending letters – no post boxes to pop them into yet. Most houses didn’t have numbers or even names, street names were very ad hoc, and very often the only information available for addressing letters was the recipient’s name and a town or village. You could direct a letter to John Smith of Anytown, and it would reach him because so few people were literate that the local post office would know every John Smith personally. Where do anonymous letters sent to post office boxes fit in? They don’t. I can’t find a definitive answer, but I’d be prepared to bet that post office boxes were a twentieth century invention, or late Victorian at the earliest.

OK, so moving on. The characters are nicely done. The heroine, Julia, is feisty and smart and witty. The hero, James, is a thoroughly nice man. They have been friends for years, get along well and… really, the only obstacle is his reluctance to declare himself. So the letters strategy is a neat device, and leaving off his name makes an ingenious puzzle for her and allows both of them to talk freely. So freely, in fact, that she falls in love with her mysterious suitor and is disappointed to find out that it’s really boring old James.

And that’s basically the whole plot. There’s a rival suitor and some pressure from her parents, but nothing that really affects the straightforward flow of the story towards a HEA. So why did it take so long to get there? Because both characters angsted about every last little nuance to the umpteenth degree. Every word in every letter was analysed over and over, and it got very tedious. With some decent editing, this story could have been told in half the time, and would have been much better for it.

Apart from the post office box (and I freely admit I have nothing but gut feel to suggest that it’s an anachronism), there were only a couple of glaring errors. James is heir to a ‘count’ who owns a ‘county’, which made me laugh out loud. No counts in the British peerage, and nobody owns a whole county (well, maybe the Duke of Rutland owns the tiny county of Rutland, who knows, but generally nobles don’t actually own the whole of the place they’re named after). And the rival suitor, a Mr Carson, was the heir to a marquis (he’d have had a courtesy title of earl, and his sister would be Lady Something Carson, not Miss Carson). It is insulting when authors profess to write about a specific time and place, and then don’t make the least effort even to get the basics right.

This could have been a great story. The premise is terrific — original and with lots of potential. The characters were solid, too, and thank goodness for no cardboard-cutout villain. But the annoying errors and the endless tedious angsting keep it to three stars.

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Review: The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen

November 7, 2018 Review 0

This was a disappointment. I’d heard such good things about Julie Klassen, and her covers are awesome, so when I had some birthday money and chose to buy a whole array of Regencies, she was very much on my list. She’s a Christian writer, so I knew I’d be getting a more traditional read, and I’d hoped for strong character development and good historical accuracy. In the event, only one of those came up to scratch.

Here’s the premise: Olivia Keene comes home from her work teaching at a local girls’ school to find a man strangling her mother. She immediately bops him over the head with the poker, thereby saving her mother’s life. Now what? Run for help from the neighbours, maybe? Send for the local constable? No, her mother pushes something into her hand and tells her to run away at once, leaving her alone in the house with the unconscious would-be murderer. And Olivia actually does this? Why? Already we have a logical disconnect.

Then we get a succession of scenes worthy of a cheap Hollywood B-movie, involving running through woods at night, wild dogs, a near-rape, an unlikely rescue from same, more dogs and a close encounter with the local aristocracy out hunting. Then we veer into a Disney movie, with a good Samaritan or two, before plunging back into melodrama with eavesdropping, capture, the local clink, near-rape (again) and an even more unlikely rescue from same (again).

And then things get really silly. Lord Bradley (one of the huntsmen) discovers that a dark family secret has been overheard by Olivia, who is now rendered mute. Instead of paying her to disappear, preferably a long way away, he takes her into his home and makes her a nursery maid. It is hard to imagine any situation more likely to have the dark secret revealed to the whole world. Even if she never recovers the power of speech, she can read and write, for heaven’s sake. This makes zero sense, except that this is a romance and the protagonists have to get together somehow. But my eyes were rolling pretty hard, I can tell you.

This sort of thing is a problem right the way through the book. None of the characters behave like sensible, rational people, and they keep doing things that defy credibility, without any real reason. Olivia follows Lord Bradley around, poking into this and that, wandering around the house, and nothing bad happens as a result. In fact, nothing bad ever does seem to happen to her. She does stupid things and gets away with it every time. Every man around is seemingly drawn to her for some mystical reason, from the groom through the ne’er-do-well cousin, the hero and even the elderly earl, whose feelings at least are paternal and he’s not just getting the hots for her. Oh, I forgot the clergyman. He had the hots for her, too.

As for the hero, constantly agonising over whether he’s really going to inherit or not, I never warmed to him, never quite got what he saw in the heroine or what she saw in him, and never found his transformation from brooding aristocrat to contented lover believable.

The last third or so of the book has mystery piled upon mystery in such a convoluted and contrived way, with information deliberately withheld to ramp up the suspense (don’t you just hate that? I do), that, frankly, I lost interest in who was a villain and who was a good guy masquerading as a villain and who was a red herring. And what exactly was the point of the stable fire, except to show the hero being heroic, and then give the heroine an opportunity to see him in the bath?

So was there anything good about it? Actually, yes. The historical research and writing was excellent, and many things were much truer to the Regency era than is usual these days. The author got the titles and legal aspects right (hooray!), and didn’t shy away from the ramifications of the situation the hero found himself in. I liked that very much. It would have been all too easy to airbrush it out of the way, but she faced up to it very well. I felt she was a little pedantic in areas that were mere customs rather than strict rules. For instance, not all governesses were kept isolated from both family and servants. Jane Austen’s Emma, for instance, has the example of Miss Taylor, who was companion, friend and confidante to both Emma and her father, and far more than just a governess. It seemed unlikely to me that the servants, having made a friend of Olivia when she was a nursery maid, would turn their backs on her when she was promoted to governess. I also disliked the explaining of the position of heir presumptive to Cousin Felix, and pointing out that he wouldn’t get the title. Felix would have grown up knowing exactly what he would be entitled to, and it would certainly not reduce his marriage prospects.

Overall, this was a long-drawn-out piece of melodrama, rather implausible, with characters who behaved without an ounce of common sense and never really resonated with me. There was some Christian preachiness from the clergyman, but probably less than I expected. The writing was excellent, though, and the historical detail is solid, so if you don’t mind all the drama, this is a good read. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, though. Three stars.

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