Month: August 2020

Review: The World’s A Stage by Joyce Harmon

Posted August 22, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

I’ve never read a Joyce Harmon book yet that I didn’t love, and here’s another one. Beautifully written, clever and, best of all, funny, this was just a pleasure to read from start to finish.

Here’s the premise: Peter Barton is a humble actor who found himself playing the role of a gentleman. I think this happened in a previous book in the series, although I don’t remember it. Anyway, he discovered he was rather convincing at it, and able to make a living by winning regularly at cards. His memory has been sharpened by learning lines, so he finds it easy to remember cards, too (I’m not totally convinced that skill transfers readily, but never mind). So for several years he’s been living a low-key existence on the fringes of London society, but now he’s being pursued by a marriage-minded young lady, and the smallest investigation into his circumstances will reveal what a fraud he is.

Amy Greenlow, on the other hand, is a lady who’s been forced by dire circumstances to become an actress on the stage, taking the name of Amadora. She’s become a great success but she has many men pursuing her in the hopes of making her their mistress, and one of them, the creepy Marquis of Grissam, is very, very determined. It doesn’t take long for Peter to see a solution to both their difficulties if he pretends to be Amy’s protector, thus deterring both their ardent pursuers.

This is a delicious twist on the fake betrothal trope, and of course it isn’t long before the two are falling into scrapes with the deception, and in between times falling in love. I loved both hero and heroine here. They’re both intelligent, resourceful people who find creative ways out of their difficulties, and even at the end, there’s a neat and unexpected twist, which I didn’t see coming even though it was completely in character. And did I mention that it’s laugh-out-loud funny? Here’s just one exchange that I loved:

“Ma’am!” he breathed, “your most humble… devoted… loyal… ardent…”
“A noun, Chilly,” Peter advised lazily. “We could really use a noun right about now.”

A delightful tale, a lovely slow-build romance and an excellent five stars.

Tags:


Review: His Grace Endures by Emma Jensen

Posted August 2, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a very strange read for me. The plot had so much potential, and yet somehow the author never quite seemed to make things flow smoothly. Or maybe it’s just the odd way the characters behaved, with endless talking but no action, that felt out of kilter. I don’t know.

Here’s the premise: seven years earlier, Deirdre had walked out on her betrothed literally at the altar, and run off to Scotland with his charming friend. Now her soldier husband is dead, and Deirdre has to re-enter society to bring out her husband’s sister. Inevitably she’s going to meet the man she jilted, who is now the powerful Duke of Conovar. Oh yes, and she blames him for her husband’s death. Now, this is all promising stuff, and the early meetings between the two are very tense. He’s surprisingly gracious. She’s surprisingly calm. They try to keep apart and it seems as if that will prevent any explosions of anger or resentment.

But gradually the swirl of rumour and curiosity surrounding them grows, aided by a painting of Deirdre executed by Raeburn (a famous Scottish portraitist), portraying her as the tragic heroine Deirdre of the Sorrows, an Irish tale. Suddenly, Deirdre shifts from being a disgraced jilt to a victim evoking society’s sympathy and Lucas the stiff-necked duke is no longer the dupe but the wicked villain. Things come to a head when they both get drunk and meet at a ball, resulting in a massive outbreak of hostilities. I have to say, this scene is probably the most over-the-top argument I’ve ever read, conducted in full view of half the guests and involving a great many family secrets, holding nothing back.

Naturally for a book of this era (first published 1998), the romantic difficulties are smoothed away only in the last few pages, but before that we get an inordinate amount of back and forth, as Deirdre veers about between overt hostility and something approaching sympathy. I had quite a lot of sympathy for the duke myself, because whenever he manages to inch himself closer to Deirdre she cold-shoulders him again, and starts pouring out her resentment once more. And the poor chap has been in love with her all the time!

But then he’s partly to blame for his own troubles, for no matter how honestly she expresses her dislike to him, he never quite manages to put his own feelings into words, or actions. He simply takes everything she and society throw at him. His Grace endures, indeed. At one point (that monstrous ball scene) she screams at him to show a bit of emotion for once, and I almost punched the air in glee. Yes! Maybe he’ll simply sweep her into his manly arms and kiss her. But no, we weren’t even two thirds of the way through the book so there was no chance.

This is not to suggest that I didn’t enjoy the book. I did, quite a lot, and the little side romance for the sister-in-law, who was unpromisingly immature at the start, was actually rather splendid. The Regency atmosphere was well drawn and there were very few Americanisms, the story intrigued me greatly and I read it pretty much straight through. There’s some lusting and discussion of sex, but nothing on-screen more graphic than a passionate kiss or two. A very readable story, only marred for me by too little actual emotion and too much conversational angsting. Four stars.

Tags: