Month: November 2019

Review: The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Harriet by Susan Speers

Posted November 25, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Susan Speers is one of my must-read authors, and although her books vary from the electrifying to the rather dull, they are always different. I just never know what’s going to turn up next, and that’s a large part of what makes this series so fascinating. This one veers slightly to the dull end of the spectrum, but it’s still a fine read, a cut above most Regencies and well worth the more than a year’s wait since Georgette.

For those who enjoyed Felicity, this is a direct follow-on to that book, showing what happened after the death of Laurence (Laurie) Dashiell. Felicity herself has only a minor role, since the focus here is on plain Harriet Welles, the vicar’s spinster sister, and Peregrine Dashiell, the new heir to Lavender Hill, Laurie’s home. Perry is an American, raised to poverty but taking to life as a country gentleman with surprising aplomb. In fact, the major problem with this book is that the main characters are just too good – there are no flaws to be worked out, no conflict between them and, to be honest, no real obstacle to their romance. This is the dull part of the story, and although it’s pleasing to watch them realise their feelings and the resolution was lovely, I would have liked a lot more ups and downs before they reached that point.

Fortunately, there is an array of more interesting characters to liven things up. Harriet’s sister, Jewel (Julia), for instance, Peregrine’s African friend and the Romany child all added some welcome spice to the otherwise bland plot. And I very much approved of the author’s resolution for the villain of Felicity, Dart, which was both creative and showed a deep understanding of human nature, as well as being very satisfying. The subplot with the brother was a little too predictable, however, although I enjoyed it.

A couple of historical hiccups that I noticed. The vicar’s financial difficulties were a recurring theme, but in England, once a living is given to a clergyman, it’s his for life and the income comes from fixed tithes from the parish. The local landowner has the gift of the living (ie the right to bestow it on a man) but he doesn’t actually pay the incumbent. The other point concerns the maid who’s a slave. Slavery had been abolished in England by the Regency and technically a slave is free the moment he or she sets foot on English soil. However, that would have to be settled in the courts, and I actually preferred the solution the author arrived at. Both these points are very trivial and didn’t spoil the story for me in the slightest.

The real downfall for this book is the terrible punctuation, and this is a recurring problem in the series. There are a few editing errors and Americanisms, although these were not major issues, but the wayward punctuation was a constant irritant. If the author could bring herself to let a proofreader loose on the final draft, these books would be enormously improved. Without this, I’d have given the book five stars, but as it is, I can’t really give it more than four. Now on to I (Imogen? Isobel? Irene?) and let’s hope it’s less than a year to wait for it.

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Review: Mary Bennet and the Wickham Artifact by Joyce Harmon

Posted November 21, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

So. Much. Fun. I absolutely loved this book, almost from beginning to end. Almost? Well, there were a few moments early on when I feared that it was going to get bogged down in a lot of Harry Potter-esque magic school descriptions, with all the action pushed to the last few chapters, which is probably perfect for some readers but not me. Happily, things warmed up pretty quickly and there were some tremendous goings-on that had me cheering wildly. And the ending was twelve shades of awesome.

Here’s the premise: Mary Bennet (yes, that Mary Bennet) discovered that she has magical capabilities in the first book of the series (Mary Bennet and the Bingley Codex). Now she’s been whisked off to London to the Order of St George, tucked away in secret parts of the British Museum, to be instructed properly in magical abilities of various sorts. Because her ability wasn’t discovered until she was an adult, she hasn’t grown up knowing the correct way of doing things, so her efforts are sometimes rather unorthodox, and – oh joy! – her mentors actually encourage her free thinking and creativity. This is very much an improvement on the conventional person-with-new-abilities trope, where the mentors try to shoehorn her into the proper ways, with the result that uncontrolled magic breaks out at inopportune moments. Of course, there’s still much to learn, so she does some herbology (here we are in Harry Potter mode again – I half expected care of magical creatures to turn up next), and – even more joy! – battle magic! I do love me some battle magic.

Out in the muggle – sorry, non-magical world, we have some familiar characters. Mary is staying with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, and who should also be staying but Lydia and Wickham, the latter recovering from an injury received at Waterloo. Wickham’s survival seems to be due to a mysterious Egyptian amulet, which he thinks merely deflected a bullet, but which Mary recognises as a magical artifact. And shortly thereafter, mayhem breaks out as an ancient form of evil is let loose and the race is on to save the world and so forth.

There was so much to enjoy in this book. I loved some of the curiosities in the museum basement, such as Mr Philpott, and the oh-so-useful Doors. I loved the little vignettes of Lydia and Wickham. I loved the small but significant role for Prinny (the Prince Regent). I loved the teaching of basic self-defence as well as battle magic (how sensible). And – oh joy of joys! – is that a love interest for Mary hoving into view? I appreciate that, if so, it will develop over the course of multiple books, but I shall be sadly disappointed if she doesn’t walk off with her charming young lord in the end.

I won’t say anything about the defeat-the-bad-guy ending except that it was a true punch-the-air moment, leaving me with a huge grin on my face. This is a wonderful read, highly recommended for anyone who thought the one thing lacking in Jane Austen’s work was a little magic, or anyone who suspected there was more to Mary Bennet than the whiny, priggish bluestocking she appeared to be in Pride and Prejudice. Five stars, and there are at least two more books in the series to look forward to: Mary Bennet and the Beast of Rosings Park, and Mary Bennet and the Shades of Pemberley. I can’t wait.

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