Month: March 2019

Review: Sauce for the Gander by Jayne Davis

Posted March 31, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 15 Comments

Jayne Davis’s first book, The Mrs MacKinnons, was a blast of fresh air in the stuffy and overdone trope-forest of Regency romance. Brilliantly-drawn characters, an unusual situation and a hefty dollop of humour in unexpected places made it a delight to read, even though there were darker undertones. This book is a much more conventional outing, a marriage of convenience that turns into a bit of a boy’s own adventure, but still a wonderful, classy read.

Here’s the premise: Will is the son of an earl obsessed with rank and heritage. He’s the second son, but now the heir and responsible for perpetuating the line. But he’s been gallivanting about town, bedding willing married women and gambling excessively, in the time-honoured tradition of Regency heroes. But then he’s caught out by an irate husband and challenged to a duel. He survives by the skin of his teeth, but his father’s had enough, and orders him to marry his choice of bride.

She turns out to be Connie, the little-regarded younger daughter of a lower-ranked local man, whose meek and obedient demeanour masks a spirited intelligence. The two meet at the altar, and make their way immediately to Will’s grace-and-favour estate in Devonshire, where the servants and locals are strangely unwelcoming.

The romance is the usual one for a marriage of convenience – a slow build through respect to physical attraction to trust and, eventually, love. I liked both Will and Connie very much, although there really wasn’t very much to dislike about them. Will’s bad-boy reputation drops away pretty fast, to turn him into a thoughtful, caring man, and Connie is a bit of a paragon from day one. I would have preferred a little more friction between the two – perhaps resentment at their enforced marriage, or some hints of bad behaviour from Will, but his previous wildness is all set down to boredom and the two get along together pretty well right from the start. There are one or two moments where Will has to consciously broaden his horizons to encompass his new responsibilities, which was neatly done, and the way Connie struggled to find the right moment to raise the issue of sex was very believable. Still, their relationship felt very modern to me, and I’m not sure that any Regency man, especially one with Will’s past, would be quite so considerate of his wife’s feelings.

The boy’s own adventure was great fun, but I won’t spoil things by saying any more about that. At least it went some way towards alleviating Will’s boredom and need for activity. I wasn’t totally convinced by the resolution to the various difficulties, which seemed fraught with potential problems to me, but the romance ended charmingly.

This is another wonderful read from the author. It lacks the originality of the previous book, and I missed the humour, too, but the writing is superb, with some glorious descriptions of the house and surroundings, and a strong sense of both time and place. Thoroughly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: The Waiting Bride by Rose Pearson

Posted March 27, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Rose Pearson is a new author to me, although I’ve seen her books gracing the best-seller lists for some time. This one tempted me with its premise: our hero and heroine are nudged into an arranged betrothal by their respective parents. They agree to it, although she insists that he has to propose first. He fails to do so, and is so terrified at the prospect of marrying her that he scoots off to India. But when he eventually returns, he knows he’s expected to do his duty and he’s still terrified. She, for her part, worries about marriage without any sort of affection. It’s all a bit of a muddle. And into the middle of it comes another candidate for the lady’s hand…

Right from the start, it’s obvious that this is going to be heavy on the angst and misunderstandings. If the couple could just sit themselves down with a nice cup of tea and talk it all out, there would be no story. However, the author makes the two of them credibly unable to do this. In the first place, after a very brief courtship and more than a year apart, neither of them is at all sure what they feel about the other. Also, Philip is endearingly socially inept (for a viscount), and manages to mess up every conversation with the lady, when he manages to speak at all. Marianne is a good Regency girl who isn’t supposed to express strong emotion, even when she feels it. So although there is a whole heap of angst, it feels quite believable, and I was rooting for poor, tongue-tied Philip to get his act together and tell her how he feels.

So let’s get the negative stuff out of the way, and these are just minor points that probably won’t bother anyone but me. I’m a demon for spotting title errors in Regencies, and this one has a couple. Lord Henry Redmond, the other potential husband for Marianne, is the heir to an Earl. That would give him a courtesy title, most likely a viscountcy, so he’d be Lord Something, not Lord Henry (which is a courtesy title reserved for the younger sons of dukes and marquesses). Also, Marianne’s maid calls her ‘my lady’, which she isn’t, at least she doesn’t have the title Lady Marianne, being only the daughter of viscount. Don’t you just love the British peerage? The maid would call her ‘miss’, or ‘Miss Marianne’, or perhaps ‘madam’. One other mistake – Marianne’s sister should be addressed as Miss Harriet. She’d only be Miss Weston if her sister wasn’t there. On the other hand, everyone correctly calls Philip by his title, Galsworthy, even his mother. Kudos to the author for getting that right.

There were some social oddities. The story opens in September, which is described as the very end of the season, but usually the season ended in July or so, when everyone decamped to the country for the start of the shooting season in mid-August. I don’t know why so many people were still in town so late. Some of the social interactions felt a little odd to me – everyone conversing freely around and across the dinner table, for instance, and although the ladies changed for dinner, the gentlemen appeared not to (Lord Henry is invited to dinner on the spur of the moment). And one inconsistency: after a dinner at Marianne’s house, there’s mention of driving home afterwards. I also wondered why two girls of marriageable age were left to wander around town with only a maid as a chaperon. Where was their mother? Or failing that, an aunt or married cousin to look after them.

One other grumble: the whole premise of the book is the question of the betrothal – are they betrothed or aren’t they? And the question of whether they can break it off. There’s some suggestion that he could break it off, but her reputation would be damaged if she were to do it, which is the opposite of the usual (it’s generally accepted that a gentleman does not break off an engagement). But of course they aren’t really engaged… or are they? They have been corresponding for more than a year, which is generally taken as evidence of a betrothal. I found it all very confusing. A betrothal was a pretty binding agreement in those days, so it was as well to know just whether you were or you weren’t.

So things chug along quite nicely for a while. Yes, there’s a lot of angsting but that’s signalled right from the start so it’s no surprise, and our hero and heroine seem to be getting along quite nicely. Happy ending ahoy. So what can possibly go wrong? The plot, that’s what. The author decided to throw a spanner in the works and… it’s completely over the top. Now, I get that the author wanted to ramp up the tension at the end, but it was just too much for me. Sorry.

For anyone whose powers of suspension of disbelief are greater than mine, you might well enjoy this. It’s very readable, and the story’s an interesting and unusual one. But I didn’t like the fudging of whether they were engaged or not, and the melodramatic ending keeps the rating down. Most of the book is a solid four star, but that ending is just two stars for me, so that averages out to three stars.

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Review: Katherine When She Smiled by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 16, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

Every Joyce Harmon book is a delight and this one is no exception. For anyone looking for a substitute for Georgette Heyer, here’s an author who might just fit the bill. She has a light hand with dialogue, a strong array of characters and plots that effortlessly unfurl. This one eschews the standard Regency settings of society London or Bath, being firmly set in a small village, but that makes it a gentler, more affectionate look at Regency life. And it’s very, very funny. I do love a book which makes me chuckle all the way through.

Heroine Katherine is the oldest of her family, now orphaned by the recent death of her father. But amongst his scholarly papers she finds a half-written Gothic novel, the latest in a long line of them, by which her father had secretly been supporting his family. Katherine realises that, to keep a roof over their heads, she has to continue her father’s novel-writing career.

Our hero is the long-awaited brother of a duke, a soldier returning from the wars to claim his estate and find himself a suitable wife. The ladies of the village have their own ideas on the subject of suitability, and handsome Lord Charles sets many a female heart a-fluttering – except for Katherine, who’s busy fending off the attentions of the worthy young vicar while shouldering all the burdens of her family.

As with Heyer, the subplots, which involve a couple of boys behaving boyishly and much Gothic fun and games, tend to overshadow the romance at times, and although we see Charles’ moment of revelation regarding Katherine, we never see hers towards him (or at least, it is so understated as to be almost invisible), which was a great pity. I do like to see the protagonists inching towards an understanding. But both of them behaved with intelligence and common sense, no one acted stupidly in pique and (hallelujah!) there were no contrived misunderstandings.

Some of the loose ends tidied up and the other pairings resulting seemed a little too convenient to me, but I won’t quibble. There were a very few typos, and a smattering of Americanisms (gotten, fall instead of autumn), but Harmon has such a strong grasp of the Regency era that it never bothered me. This is a lovely traditional Regency, very much in the style of Georgette Heyer, and I highly recommend it, and all Harmon’s books, to all Heyer fans. Five stars.

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Review: Regency Road Trip by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 16, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

 

This is one of those delightful books that is filled with something that’s so rare in modern writing – charm. It manages to be whimsical without being silly, it’s effortlessly funny and the plot rattles along at a nice pace. And three rousing cheers for a romance featuring a decidedly older couple. Yes, there’s a side romance with a younger pair, but that never overshadows the main event.

The plot is a simple one: the Earl of Salford has returned from the wars to find his estate on the verge of ruin at the hands of his cousin and heir. The estate can be rescued, but as soon as the aging earl pops off, the heir will take over again, unless he can produce an heir to transplant the cousin. In most Regencies, this would be the cue for a marriage of convenience plot, but the earl refuses to play that game. Instead, he trawls the family tree and finds a missing branch of the family which meandered off into middle-class-dom a couple of generations ago.

To track down the missing heir, he recruits his good friend Eliza Merryhew, and to make things more fun, they travel incognito, as a baron’s widow and her devoted manservant. Which just makes things even more entertaining, of course. If the search is a little too easily resolved, that just leaves a little more time for those romances to brew up. My only complaint is that the story is too short – I really wanted more about this lovely couple! Five stars.

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