Month: March 2020

Review: Mary Bennet and the Shades of Pemberley by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 12, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’m ashamed to admit that I was slightly disappointed by this. Not by the plot or the characters or the writing, which were well up to scratch. No, I’d got myself invested in the possibility of a romance for Mary with a certain handsome young lord, and he wasn’t even in this book. Instead, we got a dashing military man as potential love interest. Which of course may be shaping up to be a love triangle, but…

Well, never mind about the romantic angle, or lack of it. That’s just me. Here’s the premise: Mary Bennet, the over-educated but under-talented middle sister from Pride And Prejudice has here been re-imagined as a young lady with a very special talent indeed: Mary, it transpires, is a magician. This she discovered in book 1 of the series, and in books 2 and 3, as her ability is undergoing training by the secret Order of St George, she tripped over various dastardly plots which her skills, with a bit of help from other magicians and a few familiar faces from P&P, were able to resolve. Now she’s heading off to see Darcy and Lizzie at Pemberley and blow me down if there isn’t something odd going on there, too. As one character put it, why can’t you just go on holiday like everyone else?

Like any self-respecting ancestral pile, Pemberley has a couple of resident ghosts, but the problem here is that there seem to be random extra ghosts popping up all over the place. A couple of cavaliers are duking it out on the lawn, there’s a well-bred Norman lady spinning in the drawing room, and (rather delightfully) an opera dancer is in the ballroom. Elizabeth can see these ‘shades’ (hence the book’s title; geddit?), even though no one else can, and it’s driving her almost to the point of a nervous breakdown.

Happily, our newly-fledged magician can see them too, and sets about, in her sensible, systematic way, to find out more about them, discover how they got there, and maybe even get them back to where they came from. This is a lot of fun, and the very different characters of the ghosts definitely add to it. It has to be said that the challenges are not very great and Mary seems to succeed with some of her self-appointed tasks almost too easily. There is a villain, but this too is easily spotted. So this is perhaps the gentlest story yet of this series.

But drama and out-of-nowhere plot twists aren’t at all what this series is about, since it’s three parts P&P, two parts cozy mystery and one part Harry Potter. Neither the language nor the characters are strictly true to the books, but they’re terrific fun and I recommend them to anyone who would like a little added magic in their Jane Austen. A good four stars, and here’s hoping that a certain handsome lord turns up in a future book.

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Review: Mary Bennet and the Beast of Rosings Park by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 12, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I love this series so, so much! After the Bingley Codex and the Wickham Artifact, now we have the Beast of Rosings Park, and although it doesn’t quite have the punch-the-air awesomeness of the previous book, it’s still a terrific outing for our Pride and Prejudice bluestocking with surprising hidden talents. The premise is that bookish Mary Bennet has discovered that she has magical abilities, and has been whisked off to London and the basement of the British Museum to be trained to use her new abilities. Anyone who always suspected there was more to Mary than met the eye or who likes a little magic in their Regency, this is the series you’ve been waiting for.

After her efforts at the end of book 2 (Jupiter Bennet!!! That made me laugh so hard), Mary is recovering at home from her overdose-of-magic induced infirmity, because magic always has a cost. The story is that she caught Amazonian Fever from an artifact at the British Museum, and there’s a delightful moment when the local doctor is fascinated by her previously unknown illness and wants to research her and write the details up for his fellow medics. It’s a challenge for Mary and her magician minder, Mrs Courtland, to put him off. I love these little touches of realism.

After a stay with the Bingleys in book 1, and then with the Gardiners and Wickhams in book 2, here we are at Hunsford parsonage with Mr and Mrs Collins, and the irrepressible Lady Catherine de Burgh. The author keeps these characters fairly close to their P&P characters, but, as with Mary herself, there are some characters that are not quite as per the book, including Anne de Burgh and her governess/chaperon, Mrs Jenkins. I loved the way they were developed, but I won’t spoil the surprise by giving anything away. There’s an array of minor characters, too, and now that Mary has a sizable dowry (courtesy of the Prince Regent after the book 2 incident), she’s surprisingly popular. Her illness prevents her from dancing, but luckily her health improves enough to see her scampering about the countryside well before the end of the book, so that she can participate in monster-hunting expeditions. I’m also not going to say anything about the monster. This unravels in a slightly more predictable way than in previous books, but it was still fun, and gave Mary the opportunity for some creative magic.

In the last book, there were teeny tiny hints of a romantic future for Mary with a certain handsome young lord, and I was thrilled to see him turn up again here, even though the romance really isn’t progressing very fast. No, let’s be honest, it’s not progressing at all. Sigh. Still, I’m optimistic. Book 4, the Shades of Pemberley, may possibly be the final book of the series, so fingers crossed for a happy ending for Mary. I can’t wait.

For anyone expecting Austen-esque writing or a strict adherence to canon, this book probably isn’t for you, but for anyone else, it’s delightful and I highly recommend the whole series (which should probably be read in order). Five stars.

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Review: The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

Posted March 11, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 5 Comments

This is my first time reading this early Heyer, set in the Georgian (pre-Regency) era of hooped skirts, wigs and face patches. I hate the costumes, so that part of it fell flat for me, but otherwise the customs and manners are very much the same as the Regency.

Here’s the premise: the very eligible Earl of Rule is about to offer for the eldest Winwood sister, a pragmatic match based on suitability which will also rescue the Winwoods from the doom of heavy gambling debts and impoverishment. But Miss Winwood is in love with a soldier, and the middle sister is determined not to sacrifice herself on the altar of matrimony, so the youngest Winwood sister, Horatia (Horry) puts herself forward as the wife for Rule. She’s seventeen, he’s thirty-five, so it will be a marriage of convenience – won’t it?

For anyone who’s read Heyer’s later work, April Lady, this is essentially the same plot, except that Horry and Rule aren’t nearly as silly as Nell and Cardross. Rule, being older and wiser, understands that his young wife has to find her place in society before she can engage with him as his equal, and Horry is resourceful and (moderately) sensible. This is still one of those stories that would be a great deal shorter if the protagonists simply sat down and talked things over, but at least the final catastrophe is not one of Horry’s making. And it has to be said that her brother and his friends are very, very funny in their efforts to rescue her from said catastrophe and keep her from being cast off in disgrace by Rule.

The tone is a little strange. There’s a duel which feels very, very serious, and I did wonder whether the villain was actually going to be allowed to die at one point. There’s also the whole question of ravishment, or rape, as we would call it these days, which fortunately Horry evades (I believe I mentioned before that she’s a resourceful lady). And there’s the strange matter of Horry not knowing that her husband is actually besotted with her, and wouldn’t dream of divorcing her, or believing trumped-up stories about her (he’s far wiser than Cardross in April Lady, who actually believes the worst of his wife; Rule is a much, much more likable character). Horry even seems at one point to be afraid of him, although that’s not uncommon for a Heyer heroine. It also felt very odd to me that husband and wife could lead such wildly separate lives, although that was very much true to the era.

But most of the book is light-hearted, not to say frivolous, and while I’d have preferred a bit more of the romance, that’s my standard complaint with Heyer so it’s hardly worth mentioning. Enjoyable, on the whole, even if hero and heroine aren’t an obviously made-for-each-other pairing. Four stars.

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Review: Someone to Love by Mary Balogh

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

A Mary Balogh book is always worth reading, but this is the first of her recent books that I’ve tried and I’m pleased to see that the standard hasn’t slipped at all.

This has one of the most riveting premises I’ve come across: the Earl of Riverdale has just died, and to everyone’s shock, it’s discovered that he has been married twice. His first marriage produced a previously unknown daughter, Anna Snow, raised in an orphanage in Bath, while his second marriage, with a son and two daughters, was contracted bigamously. Anna Snow, now the Lady Anastasia Westcott, has inherited a huge fortune, a cousin has taken the title and entailed estates, and the expected heirs are bastards and get nothing.

Now there are enough plotholes in this to drive a postchaise and four through, complete with outriders. Since the first wife died a few months after the second, bigamous, marriage, why on earth didn’t the earl find some way to go through a legal marriage ceremony? And since the solicitor in Bath seemingly had all the documents for the first marriage, not to mention the only surviving will, why on earth did he not contact someone when the earl died? I’m sure there are convoluted reasons for this but still…

But the position is wonderful. For Anna, there’s the transition from the Bath orphanage to London society and unimaginable wealth. For the legal family (her grandmother and cousins) there’s the challenge of preparing her for her new role. And for the disinherited family, there’s the adjustment to a life outside society and loss of wealth. It’s all great stuff.

The whole extended family is introduced almost from the start, and a lot of reviews grumble about this – it’s hard to know who on earth everyone is, and how they’re related, especially as they get called by different names (title, or Aunt So-and-so, or Cousin So-and-so in the proper Regency fashion, with no concessions to modern readers). I rather liked this. We get the same confused sense of who-ARE-all-these-people that Anna herself has, and they do gradually sort themselves out as the book goes on. There’s also a family tree, for those who prefer to have everything laid out upfront. The only real point of confusion (for me) was in knowing exactly who the hero was initially, because there was more than one candidate and it wasn’t at all obvious just at first.

Anna is that stalwart of Regency romance, the sturdily independent miss who knows her own value, thank you very much, and isn’t about to be browbeaten by the hectoring of her new relations, no matter how grand they may be. So she allows her hair to be cut, but only a little. She agrees to new clothes, but they are starkly plain rather than fashionably frilly and flounced. You know the sort of thing. I didn’t dislike her, but she seemed to my mind to be a little too modern in her views.

On the other hand, the hero, Avery (who’s a duke, needless to say), is a gloriously true-to-the-Regency character. Balogh doesn’t actually call him a dandy, but that’s probably the nearest description. He’s certainly effete, smaller than average and slender, dressed with elegance and very, very beautiful. He’s also very masculine, and people fear him, an odd but intriguing combination. He acts as if everything bores him, but when Anna happens into view, he finds her anything but boring. Unlike a great many other reviewers, I didn’t mind the martial arts element. It’s just a McGuffin, like any other premise for a plot or character, and if it’s a bit arbitrary, and not terribly plausible, well, that’s in the nature of McGuffins.

The romance is one of my favourite types, where the protagonists topple sideways into it, as much to their own surprise as everyone else’s. There are unexpected kisses, an unexpected (and very public) proposal and an equally unexpected acceptance. And all before anyone is really sure quite what’s going on. It can’t be (can it) love? I really enjoyed Avery, because although he embodies many of the standard qualities of a modern Regency hero (masculine, leader of society, vastly rich, eccentric, dripping with ennui), he’s also very surprising. He sees straight through Anna’s outward confidence to the terrified girl inside who nevertheless has a steel backbone, so when her newfound relations tell her that she absolutely mustn’t leave the house until they have polished her up, what does he do but whisk her straight out to stroll through the park. And then offers to kiss her. No matter the situation, he was never confounded, and also never conventional. Sometimes I laughed out loud at his outrageous behaviour, but of course he can get away with it (see previous comments about leader of society, duke, rich, etc.).

Once the two are married and we’ve got past the obligatory sex scene, things begin to unravel somewhat. I’d have been quite happy to end the book at that point, but no, we have to trawl once more through all the relatives (setting things up for the rest of the series) and then endure a final hiccup between the lovers. I got the point of it – in fact, I got the point a long time before that, when the hero’s childhood secrets were first revealed, but there’s a lot of repetition in the book (the letters to the friend in Bath are particularly annoying in that respect), so we got to hear it all again.

There are any number of problems with this book, and even the historical accuracy is wobbly at times (would a duke really be able to get married as Mr Archer – I doubt it), but Balogh’s writing is as glorious as ever, Avery is a towering character and I just loved how much he surprised me at every turn. Five stars. Mind you, I can’t work up much interest in the embittered disinherited family or the very stereotypical domineering relations, so I doubt I’ll be reading any more of the series, no matter how much I enjoyed this one.

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