Month: January 2020

Review: In Debt To The Earl by Elizabeth Rolls

Posted January 24, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

An odd book, and not my usual cup of tea, since it focuses very much on the seedier side of Regency life, which is not my favourite thing. Fortunately the emphasis is largely on the relationship between the hero and heroine, but the book felt somewhat old-fashioned, with the hero hell-bent on making the heroine his mistress, and the romantic conclusion a long, slow time coming.

The premise is that our hero James, the Earl of Cambourne, is set on retrieving a debt from a card sharp when he discovers that the girl sharing his cheap lodgings is not his mistress but his innocent and surprisingly well-bred daughter, Lucy. Naturally he’s handsome and she’s beautiful (aren’t they always?) so the two have the hots for each other in no time flat. Before long, he’s buying her cake and coal and offering to take her out of poverty and the reach of her flaky father by making her his mistress. Now, on the one hand he never forces the issue and even spends time ‘courting’ her to ensure she’s happy with her choice, but on the other hand, since her father has abandoned her and her options are, essentially, starvation or him, what choice does she have?

The part of the story that focuses on the growing love between the two of them is very much the strongest part of the book. Charles Fox and his supposed mistress, Elizabeth Armistead (in fact, they had been secretly married for some years) are introduced as a way to raise the question of the status of mistresses in Regency society. There’s a telling moment when James and Lucy are at Vauxhall’s and bump into some of his relations. Naturally, he can’t introduce Lucy to the ladies because she’s about to become his mistress, and she begins to realise just what she’s letting herself in for (although considering the alternative is starvation or worse, a little social disapproval seems a small price to pay).

Behind the romance is the nastiness of card sharps and the Regency underworld, where everyone is terrified into loyalty and obedience, and there’s a knife to the throat for anyone who steps out of line. I didn’t enjoy this element of the story but needless to say everything comes right in the end, the bad guys get their comeuppance and James realises at the very, very last minute that he really wants to marry Lucy. Phew. So that’s all right then. Even so, it took him a very long time to get to that point, and I strongly disapproved of his tendency to bed the heroine directly after these moments of high tension, when she was at a low ebb. When a girl’s only just escaped being sold to the highest bidder to be raped, a gentleman should be content to tuck her into bed with a cup of tea and leave her in peace, no matter how much she pleads for something more. And yes, the sex scenes are pretty graphic.

An interesting story, with a spread of believable characters (I particularly liked the pickpocket with the heart of gold, Fitch) and some nicely romantic moments, even if the hero is very slow on the uptake about his own intentions. Four stars.

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Review: His Convenient Marchioness by Elizabeth Rolls

Posted January 24, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is very much a book of two halves. The early chapters, as the hero and heroine inch towards an accommodation, are charming. The later chapters, as we’re inundated with relatives and drama, I found less successful but still enjoyable, and hooray for an older and wiser couple (he’s fifty and she’s thirty two).

Here’s the plot: Our hero, Hunt (the Marquess of Huntercombe), lost his wife and children to smallpox years ago, and now that his remaining heir has died, he urgently needs to marry and start begetting again. His sisters are pushing him towards newly-out candidates, but the prospect of a bride young enough to be his daughter appals him. How about a widow, one with children already as proof of her fertility? And almost at once he meets a most unlikely prospect, the impoverished widow of a duke’s younger son, living outside good society. He’s strongly attracted to Lady Emma Lacy, and her children, Harry and Georgiana, take to him, so what can go wrong? Only that she refuses him, that’s what. But when her son, now heir to the dukedom, is at risk of being taken from her, she realises she has to have a husband who can protect her children.

So the stage is set for a marriage of convenience, and this aspect of the book is beautifully written and very powerful. Both of them have to learn to make accommodations for their new situation, they both have pasts that haunt them and the children create a whole swathe of unexpected tensions between them. I particularly liked the awkwardness of marital sex with a relative stranger (yes, there are some graphic sex scenes, so avoid if that’s not your thing).

And then there’s the difficulty of re-introducing the scandalous Emma into the upper echelons of society again. But this is where the plot starts to go slightly off the rails. Firstly, there’s a deluge of relations, on his side, on hers and from her husband’s family, who are uniformly hostile towards Emma and hellbent on interfering. It would be lovely if these various families could include at least one or two members who were as friendly and downright normal as Hunt and Emma themselves.

Then there are the left-over characters from what is clearly a previous book in the series, which I hadn’t read. This wasn’t a problem, plotwise, but they were wheeled out with the clear expectation that readers would fall on their necks with cries of joyful recognition, which falls a bit flat when one hasn’t actually read that book. I discovered that I already own it, so I will be reading it, but it was a tad disconcerting, all the same.

And then there’s the drama part of the story. I won’t go into the details of this to avoid spoilers, but to my mind it made zero sense. If the villain had set out with a certain aim, then there were far simpler ways of going about it, and it seemed to me that the threat still existed at the end of the book (but maybe I misunderstood that part, who knows).

Nevertheless, even with the somewhat illogical villainy, the relationship between the main characters was always front and centre, and was strong enough to carry the story. The author’s grasp of the Regency era was exceptionally good, and my only quibble was whether Lady Emma Lacy’s title should actually be Lady Peter Lacy. Not totally sure about that. A great read, with a fine mix of the emotional and the dramatic, with a few humorous interludes as well. A good four stars.

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Review: An Embroidered Spoon by Jayne Davis

Posted January 14, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

The third full-length novel from this new author, and it’s another corker. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Regency romance set in Wales before, but Davis skilfully creates the backdrop and the array of characters, both the aristocratic and the not-quite-gentry.

Here’s the premise: Izzy Farrington, the daughter of a baron, is packed off to an impoverished spinster aunt in Wales to reflect upon her wilful refusal of several respectable offers of marriage, in the hope that her miserable surroundings will bring her to her senses. But Aunt Eugenia isn’t quite what she expected, and although she finds life very different in Wales, after some amusing mishaps, she begins to find much to interest her. One particular interest is Rhys Williams, a businessman who draws Izzy into his world of wool and sheep-breeding and all manner of intriguing subjects previously unknown to a gently brought up daughter of the aristocracy.

This part of the book is a delight, evoking a totally convincing corner of the Regency world (Wales is portrayed as a wonderfully romantic place, while also wet, wild and windswept!), and both Izzy’s reaction to her new situation, and the reactions of her new relations and friends are very believable. The story takes a more conventional twist when Izzy’s father, Lord Bedley, discovers that spinster Aunt Eugenia is actually married, and to a solicitor (the horror!), and whisks Izzy back to London to be respectably courted again.

But while this could have been a dull transition to conventional Regency tropes, the author gives the reader an unusual but brilliantly portrayed insight into the utterly stifling life of a young lady. Izzy is provided with every material comfort, and surrounded by friends and family who all (in their various ways) want the best for her, but she has no freedom whatsoever. Cut off from the man she was falling in love with, and not even sure yet of her own heart, she has no way to see him or even convey a message to him. She is chaperoned wherever she goes. The governess will report any untoward conversation with a stranger. The servants will be fired if they help her. Even her correspondence is opened by her father (and yes, this is completely true to the era). And, worst of all, she’s constantly pressured to accept one of the suitors her parents approve of. How she manages, despite all these restrictions, to avoid an unwanted betrothal, communicate with Rhys and decide her future for herself take up the rest of the book, and beautifully done it is too.

The minor characters are all wonderfully drawn, but the star of the show is Izzy herself, an intelligent and resourceful girl who starts off on completely the wrong foot in her new home, but quickly learns to adapt. Another wonderful read from Jayne Davis. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Phoebe by Martha Keyes

Posted January 10, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A short and sweet free story from one of my new favourite authors. Phoebe is awaiting the return of the man she loves from his tour of the continent. Without a formal betrothal, she wasn’t able to write to him, but every day she wrote a line or two in a year-long letter. Now she awaits his arrival at a ball, with the letter heavy in her reticule. But before he appears, she overhears dreadful news – he’s enamoured of a woman he met he France. So when she finally meets him again, to save her pride she makes up an attachment to another man.

And so the stage is set for a story that’s based entirely on that time-honoured plot, the Great Misunderstanding. We know this because we can see inside the head of lover George, and know that he’s stayed faithful to Phoebe and he’s bewildered and hurt by her seeming defection. Fortunately, Phoebe’s sensible enough not to let George leave again without at least showing him her letter, and the story is short enough that matters get resolved speedily.

I have some very minor quibbles. I’d have preferred the letter to play a bigger role in the resolution than it did, purely for the symmetry, and I felt there was too much explanation at the end of things which the reader already knows and don’t need to be spelt out. There would have been more tension, too, if we hadn’t known exactly what George was feeling. But the romance ended beautifully, and the writing is excellent, as always. Four stars.

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