Month: April 2020

Review: Three Lords For Lady Anne by Charlotte Louise Dolan

Posted April 28, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

[First published 1991] My second Dolan on the trot, and another oddly original work that ought to have irritated me but actually surprised me at every turn, and very much in a good way. Every time I thought the story was descending into cliche, the author took a sharp turn into new territory.

Here’s the plot: Anne Hemsworth is a governess – yes, it’s that plot. She finds herself dispatched to Devon to take on twin boys who’ve driven away all previous governesses. Yep, still in the time-honoured plot. There’s a rakish ne’er-do-well, who instantly tries to get into Anne’s bed, and there’s the absentee guardian, tall, stern and brooding, who descends unexpectedly… I must have read a dozen or more variations on this one. And then there’s one misunderstanding after another between the two protagonists, so you begin to wonder if they will ever get themselves sorted out, although the instant sizzling attraction between them suggests they will.

Now, if all that sounds yawn-inducingly boring, it’s not at all. For one thing, the misunderstandings are actually very clever and our couple work out what’s actually going on very quickly, simply by logical deduction, so no coincidences or deus ex machina, just the little grey cells. For another thing, the twins are actually very, very ingenious (as they tell Anne themselves!). And for a third thing, she, too, is very clever and is the teacher we all wish we’d had. And for a fourth thing (last one, I promise!), that instant sizzling attraction leads to some deliciously romantic moments. And if I hadn’t promised to stop at four, I would also mention the author’s glorious sense of humour.

The villain of the piece is delightfully inept, even with the aid of his long-suffering valet, and the twins are more than a match for him. The book is light on backstory. We know Anne’s from the start, but hero Bronson’s is only slowly revealed. It makes him rather a sad and lonely figure, but the author handles it with a very light hand.

This reminds me of my major bugbear with the book – the names. I refuse to believe that any man, much less a baron, would be called Bronson, and then there’s Creighton, Gloriana, Collier, Demetrius… Poor Collier, named after a coal miner! I shuddered every time I encountered the poor fellow. But otherwise, the book is a delightful read, and maybe it’s the fact that it was published 30 years ago that makes it so refreshingly different now. Five stars.

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Review: Fallen Angel by Charlotte Louise Dolan

Posted April 28, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

[Note: first published 1994] I should have hated this. The heroine is a downtrodden and meek young woman who is taken advantage of by all her selfish relations. She falls desperately in love with the hero right from the start and would do anything for him, even become his mistress. The hero is that staple of Regencies, the overbearing, domineering male who does precisely what he wants. The plot revolves around the fact that the two of them never talk openly to each other. So… a doormat, a tyrant and the Great Misunderstanding. And yet… it works. It really works. Amazing.

Here’s the premise: Gabriel, the Earl of Sherington, is the little-regarded younger son who was sent away to sea at the age of 10, and proceeded to make his own fortune. Now he’s unexpectedly inherited the title and is busy fending off his obnoxious relations who want him to do everything the way things have always been done. Even his servants gang up on him with a campaign of passive resistance when he fails to fall into line. To prove he’s his own man, and also to spite them all, he sets off for a far-flung estate for some peace and quiet.

On the way to said far-flung estate, he encounters Verity Jolliffe, the doormat, stranded a few miles from home on a journey from one set of obnoxious relations to another (there is an overabundance of obnoxious relations in this book). In possibly the only moment of spirit she shows in the entire story, Verity cadges a lift from the glowering earl. He introduces himself as Sherington, so when he meets her relations, she calls him Mr Sherington, and they’re a bit sniffy about him, not realising he’s an earl. This is an old trick, and it falls a bit flat here because when she later discovers he’s Lord Sherington, she knows all about him and his bad reputation, so why would she not suspect that Mr Sherington might be connected?

Gabriel offers to return Verity to the stage coach stop when she leaves her family to return to London, and somewhere on these two brief encounters he decides that she’s not like the flirtatious and avaricious young women he’s met before, and is docile enough to make an undemanding wife who won’t kick up a fuss over his mistresses and absences from home, or try to change him. But in order to ensure that she stays in line, he decides to make her fall in love with him.

And so the central conceit of the story is born: he devotes almost the entire book to making her fall for him, when in fact she’s been in love with him right from the start. Things are complicated by Verity’s sister and family, with whom she lives in London, who appropriate the earl for themselves and never at any time consider that he might be dropping by so frequently to see Verity. This makes them pretty stupid, of course, but then Gabriel is pretty stupid not to realise that Verity’s panting for him, and she’s pretty stupid not to make it clear. She doesn’t know what he wants from her, but she’s absolutely certain that, whatever it is, she’ll give it to him.

The whole thing is pretty implausible, and yet it’s so beautifully written and so funny that it just rolls along. Naturally, while Gabriel is busy trying to make Verity love him, and getting totally mad when he thinks he’s failing, he’s actually falling in love himself. He’s exactly the sort of arrogant, self-centred character I’d normally hate, yet somehow his fits of rage at his own failures are rather endearing. And the ending, when he finally gets Verity to the church, is a total shock. I should have been outraged, yet somehow the author makes it a triumphant punch-the-air moment.

Apart from the excessive quantity of obnoxious relations, the book captures the Regency feel perfectly, and even my over-sensitive pedant-o-meter only registered a tiny sprinkle of Americanisms. I did laugh at the earl’s stately home being called Sherington Close, though – in Britain a close is a short dead-end street or a narrow back alley, not a suitable name for some vast ancestral home.

An unusual but very effective play on the domineering male meets meek female theme, with some very funny moments and a totally satisfying ending. There’s a bit of lusting, but nothing at all graphic. Five stars.

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Review: The Wicked Rebel by Mary Lancaster

Posted April 16, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Mary Lancaster has rapidly become one of my favourite authors, with her witty and jolly romps in the emerging spa town of Blackhaven. This is the third in the series, and continues the trend of likable heroines, sexy and slightly bad-boy heroes, and a nicely crafted plot.

Here’s the premise: Lady Arabella Niven is the last remaining unmarried daughter of a duke, a gentle soul who would love to retreat to an isolated cottage somewhere and write books, but is being pushed into marriage to a portly old gentleman very much against her will. Her health is uncertain so she’s been sent to Blackhaven to take the waters, along with two aunts who fuss and fret her half to death. In a bid to find just an hour or two’s freedom from harassment, she takes a small rowing boat out into the bay where she spots a man apparently drowning. Rowing fearlessly to the rescue, the man emerges, totally naked, from the water and climbs into her boat. And so begins a most unlikely romance between a duke’s daughter and a smuggler. Or free trader, as Alban likes to call himself.

The author is not one to leave a romance to build slowly, so there’s an instant attraction between the two, and a dilemma for both of them. Can she walk away from the pressure of her family’s expectations? Can he, as an outlaw, risk an entanglement with such a high-ranking lady? And there’s a certain amount of family history lurking in the background. It’s problematic. And as they gradually try to determine what they want from the future, the past catches up with them and puts various people in jeopardy.

This is another fun read, with no real surprises along the way, and a certain amount of stupidity on the part of both hero and heroine (him in leaving two defenceless children in the care of people who have already proved they can’t be trusted, and her in allowing herself to be manipulated, even when she knows very clearly what she wants). But (surprise!) it all works out happily in the end, the bad guys get their comeuppance, our romantic pair get together and everybody else gets put in their place.

Terrific fun, lots of humour, a great romance. Lady Arabella in particular is beautifully drawn, a woman who is too timid to stand up to her domineering family openly, but smart enough to thwart their will in a thousand quietly subversive ways. She knows very well what she doesn’t want (an enforced marriage to an uncongenial man) but it isn’t until she meets Alban that she discovers what she actually wants, and the backbone to reach out and take it. I liked her very much. She totally deserves a hot bloke like Alban. There’s a fair amount of lusting and passionate kissing, and one sex scene. Five stars.

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Review: The Wicked Lady by Mary Lancaster

Posted April 16, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

This was such a lot of fun. There’s nothing more entertaining than watching the most unlikely couple imaginable fight against their inevitable destiny, and these two are incredibly unlikely. She’s a widow with a scandalous reputation and he’s a curate – how can it possibly work? Yet as is the way of these things, naturally they’re instantly drawn to each other.

Here’s the premise: Kate Crowmore has just escaped from a horrible marriage, which sounds like good news, right? But the scandal surrounding the circumstances of her husband’s death has destroyed her reputation. Head high, she’s decamped from gossipy London to quieter Blackhaven, where she hopes she won’t be quite so ostracised. A small town in the north is also a good place to evade whoever’s trying to kill her. The last thing she needs is a romantic interest, but Tristram Grant is charming and irresistible. There’s only one problem – he’s a clergyman, and a curate at that – the lowest of the low.

So the stage is set for the Odd Couple, and their early interchanges are delicious, the spark between them obvious, and the banter scintillating. But this is not just a romance, because of the aforementioned person trying to kill Kate, and while Tristram’s more than willing to do what he can to help out, things are complicated by the arrival of assorted relations, some friendly, some not so much. So, as in the previous book in the series, there’s a lot of running, hiding, fighting off villains and trying to work out who’s on who’s side. And all the time, Kate and Tristram are lusting after each other, and Kate’s refusing to consider the possibility of a second marriage.

The way the romance unfolds isn’t in the least original, but it’s beautifully done, a mixture of funny and dramatic and sad, with two well-drawn characters that the reader is rooting for right from the start. The author has a very solid grip on Regency mores, so even my over-sensitive pedant-o-meter was only triggered once, by a rather cavalier treatment of a special licence (I’m quite sure that’s not legal!), but it didn’t matter a bit. It would be helpful to have read the first book, since a number of characters pop up here, but it’s not essential. For those looking for a sex-free read, this is one to avoid, since there’s lots of lusting and some graphic details towards the end. But for anyone who doesn’t mind that, this is great fun and highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Hazelhurst by Martha Keyes

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

I read this straight after book 3 of the series, Cecilia, and here we have another book with a fascinating premise: three months after marrying for love, Lady Anne Vincent discovers that her supposed husband was a bigamist. She isn’t married at all, and her future options are limited. She daren’t risk her heart in another love match, so when her father proposes a marriage of convenience for her, she accepts without demur. Tobias Cosgrove (brother of Cecilia and her sisters) knows he must marry, as the son and heir, but a marriage of convenience may be just the ticket, allowing him to continue his free-wheeling ways without interference.

Naturally, what starts out as a marriage of cool self-sufficiency, both leading their own independent lives and hardly meeting except by accident, gradually becomes something more. I liked the way they inched oh-so-gradually towards a deeper relationship, as she begins to feel the loneliness of her life, and he begins to appreciate the value of a friend at home. Along the way, there are outbreaks of slightly over-the-top high spirits, which serve to break down the reserve between them, and times when they talked as adults. I particularly enjoyed the scene where they sat together in the bedroom – very powerful and memorable. It helps that they’re both sensible, likable characters that the reader can totally root for.

But of course it can’t all be plain sailing, as Anne’s past returns to haunt her and the fragile rapport between Anne and Tobias is in danger of splintering. I wasn’t entirely convinced by these later episodes, with all the melodramas and misunderstandings, but by that time I was too invested to worry about it, and the ending was just perfect.

A lovely traditional Regency with two very sympathetic characters, and the author’s assured grasp of the Regency era. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Cecilia by Martha Keyes

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

This was always going to be that tricky third book of the series, the one where the heroine had been thoroughly unlikable throughout the first two. Is it possible to redeem her? This is one of an author’s greatest challenges, but Keyes is an accomplished storyteller and weaves Cecelia’s redemption effortlessly. She also has a great talent for an unusual premise. Our hero, Jacques Levesque, assumed the role of a French nobleman as a young boy after chance gave him and his father the opportunity. Now grown up, he struggles to live with the deception, as society accepts him without question. This is an intriguing starting point, and although the reader can guess that Jacques will be unmasked at some point, the how and why and what happens then are all to be revealed.

Cecilia is a difficult character to root for. She has been so thoroughly self-centred and unpleasant in the previous books, one almost wants to see her get her comeuppance. But because we are (at last) seeing Cecilia’s selfish behaviour from within her own head, we can begin to understand the pressure she is under to please her parents and make a stunning marriage. She is, after all, the beauty of the family, who draws men to her without even trying, so she’s been able to play games with them, imagining that she has only to smile to have them running back. But the loss of a suitor she believed constant in the previous book has dented her confidence, and when she meets Jacques and he tells her she is affected and superficial, she starts to rethink her attitudes. As for Jacques, he thinks her nothing but a shallow socialite until he overhears her in a completely different mood, and realises there is a completely different girl beneath the artificial exterior. Both of them begin to see behind the masks they’ve chosen to hide behind in society.

But it isn’t entirely Jacques who is the catalyst for Cecilia to change. Here the author takes a huge risk by introducing a real Regency character, Lady Caroline Lamb, who takes Cecilia under her wing and encourages her to break out of her docile little life. I must admit that my heart sank when she first appeared, because usually these real-world characters are introduced as cameos, scoring points for the author: hey, look at all the research I’ve done! Not so here. Lady Caroline is not only an integral part of the plot, she also feels totally believable, outrageous actions and all. Yes, she seems bonkers, but then she really was!

There was only one point where I felt a plot contrivance was stretched a bit thin, in that the one person who is in a position to reveal Jacques’ deception as a boy is coincidentally someone who is closely connected with him as an adult. I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers, but it did seem a bit implausible. On the other hand, the twist that brought about the happy ending might seem a bit deus ex machina, but the groundwork was laid right through the book. Besides, at that point, I was so invested in our hero and heroine that I’d have accepted a far less likely scenario.

I was nervous about starting this book because I didn’t expect to like Cecilia very much, but I quickly got swept up in it, and deeply invested in and terrified for both hero and heroine: Jacques because he would inevitably be unmasked at some stage, and Cecilia because she would have to discover that the man she loved was an imposter. As always with Martha Keyes, the writing and historical accuracy are impeccable. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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