Posts By: Mary Kingswood

Review: I Close My Eyes by Regina Puckett

December 10, 2018 Review 2

I picked up this book because it has a beautiful cover, it was in Kindle Unlimited (so no cost to try it out) and the opening intrigued me. The heroine is first seen hiding in a corner of a ballroom with her eyes closed to escape from the world. The hero finds her there and is captivated. So far, so good.

But from there things spiral downhill rather quickly. The heroine is hiding because some spiteful rival has tipped a punchbowl over her, for unspecified reasons. So instead of laughing it off or going home to change or plotting her revenge or anything sensible, she hides in a corner. Nobody offers to help her (not even the hero). Instead he stays talking to her behind the potted palm, and when her evil parents accuse him of kissing her and insist that he marries her he… well, he says: oh, all right then. Um, what?

So they marry but it has to be unconsummated because reasons. Oh, and did I mention that he’s a duke? And she’s a duke’s daughter? Although it’s hard to tell from the way the author mangles the titles. Then they go off and frolic on a beach in slo-mo and everything is wonderful but then he has to go away because reasons. And somehow, even though they both know where the other one is, they never, ever write to each other. Then a lot of bad stuff happens, because everyone around them is an evil person because… well, they just are, all right? Then I got to the point where he’s going to relinquish his title to his cousin (he’s a duke, the title is his until the day he dies, and that’s all there is to it), and I just gave up and skimmed to the end. Apparently this book was a finalist in the 2017 Readers’ Favorite Historical Romance Awards, but it would seem that knowing something about the historical period in which the book is set is not a prerequisite.

OK, so this book didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t imagine any real people behaving the way these characters do, and especially not in the Regency era or the Victorian era (the book is categorised as belonging to both, another impossibility). However, it’s well-written, the romance is nicely drawn and if you’re not too bothered by historical liberties, it’s a nice read and a little bit different. Be warned though that there are some heart-rending moments for the hero and heroine on their way to their happy ever after. Three stars for an interesting and unusual story, and a great cover.

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Review: The Missing Duke by Heather King

December 3, 2018 Review 0

This book and I just didn’t hit it off. Even though I’d loved the author’s A Carpet of Snowdrops, this very different work failed for me on every level. Nothing wrong with it at all, just a mismatch of my requirements with what the book was offering.

I chose it because the premise intrigued me. Twin boys, the two sons of a duke, are playing in the park attended by their flirtatious nursemaid and a footman, when the older boy simply disappears. No amount of searching uncovers what has happened to him. He’s believed to be dead, but his brother refuses to accept it. Even when he grows to adulthood and no trace is ever found of his brother, he never stops searching for him, and never accepts that he’s dead. So far so good.

Then we hit the first stumbling block. The female main character is masquerading as a man and acting as secretary to the surviving brother. Well now. There are, of course, some very famous cases where women of the era pretended to be men and had unexceptional careers as a doctor, or in the navy, so I know perfectly well that it could be done. In real life. But in fiction, I want to know how it was possible. How did she cope with periods? Not being able to pee standing up? Did she cut her hair? None of this is addressed. Apart from mentioning that she binds her breasts to flatten them, and occasionally lowering the timbre of her voice, there is no acknowledgement of these problems. When she later transforms back into a woman, there is her hair long enough to be twisted into a knot on top of her head, with curls cascading down. How did she hide all that hair when she was supposedly a man? Enquiring minds want to know.

Then there is her secretaryship of the son of a duke, a man managing the ducal estates for his missing brother, since their father is now dead. Typically a secretary would be someone on the fringes of the nobility himself – a younger son, perhaps, or a cousin, but someone loosely connected to the employer. It is such a responsible position that one would hardly give it to the first likely lad who applies. However, I can probably go along with that more than the woman-dressed-as-a-man thing.

Then there is the writing style. I like an author who’s done her research, but here we get every last drop of it. This is the book for you if you want to know where to change horses on the Calais to Paris route, or what the posting inns looked like, or the scenery, what every character ate, or the name of every village they passed through… Well, OK, maybe I exaggerated the last part, but sometimes it felt more like a travel guide than an author telling a story. Here’s a sample:

‘It was approaching five of the clock when Adam drew the curricle into the spacious yard of the Red Lion at Egham, one of the foremost coaching inns on the Exeter road. The large, red-brick buildings contained stabling for upwards of two hundred horses in addition to the most elegant amenities for the traveller. Leaving the chestnuts in the diligent care of Carrots and the ostlers, he strode into the inn along a fine, wood-panelled hallway. A handsome staircase rose to the upper floors and the sounds of an orchestra tuning their instruments echoed from beyond the double doors into the ballroom. The aromas of roasting meats, baking bread, coffee and tobacco filled the air, creating an ambience of warmth and pleasure.

‘He entered the coffee room, which was already half full and where a small fire burned in the grate despite the clemency of the weather. This part of the inn dated from the seventeenth century or thereabouts and was low-beamed, cool and dark within. The landlord greeted him with polite deference.

‘“My lord, what a pleasure it is to see you. Are you wishful to dine? We have a nice piece of lamb roasting on the jack; very tender and served with minted green peas. There is a steak and kidney pie in the oven and one of my good lady’s rhubarb tarts as well. What might be your fancy, sir?”

‘“I will take some of the lamb, thank you, Brooks. You have a private parlour to spare? I am expecting a guest for dinner.”’

And so on. I know some readers love this amount of detail but to me it slowed the pace to a crawl, and made what was at bottom an exciting story into something that I found a real effort to get through. I abandoned the struggle at the 50% point, skimming the rest to find out just what had happened to the missing brother and man-girl Lucy’s father.

I’m giving this three stars because it’s a well-written tale that a lot of readers will love. Just not me, sadly.

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Even more birthday Regencies!

November 19, 2018 Birthday Regencies 0

A couple of years ago, I had fun spending my birthday money on a whole array of Regencies. You can read what I bought and what I thought about them here. This year, I had £70 to spend, so I picked up the top 3 bestsellers (excluding box sets); some favourite authors; and a few new-to-me authors. It’s really hard to get hold of older books on Kindle, so most of these are more recent works. I’ll link to the reviews when I read them.
Top 3 bestsellers:
Anabelle Bryant: London’s Wicked Affair £3.32 2018
Tara Kingston: When a Lady Desires a Wicked Lord £0.99 2018
Susanna Craig: The Companion’s Secret £2.28 2018
Others:
Julie Tetel Andresen: Lord Blackwell’s Rude Awakening £3.12 2018
Mary Balogh: Someone to Love £3.99 2016
Grace Burrowes: My One and Only Duke £6.99 2018
Christi Caldwell: Forever Betrothed, Never The Bride £3.01 2013
Tessa Dare: The Duchess Deal £2.99 2018
Anne Gracie: Marry in Scandal £6.99 2018
Joyce Harmon 1: Regency Road Trip #2 £1.99 2015
Joyce Harmon 2: Katherine When She Smiled #3 £2.63 2015
Joyce Harmon 3: The World’s a Stage #5 £2.71 2018
Candice Hern: The Best Intentions £2.39 2011
Julie Klassen: The Girl In The Gatehouse £4.74 2011
Lisa Kleypas 1: Again The Magic £4.49 2012
Lisa Kleypas 2: Secrets of a Summer Night £3.99 2010
Lisa Kleypas 3: It Happened One Autumn £4.99 2010
Stephanie Laurens: Devil’s Bride £2.49 2009
Mary Jo Putney: The Wild Child £3.99 2017
Joan Smith: Escapade £2.53 2010

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Review: Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas

November 19, 2018 Review 0

I’m very torn on this one. The early parts I loved, despite the whole plot veering way into the red zone on the plausibility meter. But the later parts – meh. And most of the good/meh dichotomy springs directly from the hero’s behaviour. When he’s gentle and tender with the heroine, he’s lovely. When he turns into the Hulk – not so much.

So here’s the (highly implausible) premise: Grant Morgan has risen from the gutter to become one of the most feared and respected Bow Street Runners, specialising in jobs for banks which pay rather well. He’s become rich enough to live like a gentleman and get himself invited to at least the fringes of good society. That’s where he encounters drop-dead-gorgeous courtesan Vivian Duvall, but when he turns down her proposition, she spreads the rumour that she had turned him down, making him a laughing stock. So when Vivian washes up in the Thames almost dead, Grant takes her home and decides that he’s going to make sure she lives so that he can have his revenge on her. Only trouble is, she’s lost her memory, and she doesn’t behave at all like the Vivian he knows…

So far, so wildly unlikely, but never mind. In the early chapters, Grant’s forceful personality is all focused on getting Vivian well again, and not alarming her, so that she will stay around long enough for him to have his wicked way with her. This makes him delightfully gentle and thoughtful, and I really liked the way such a big, powerful man was portrayed, treating her as delicately as a child. But of course he has an end in view, so it isn’t long before he’s getting inappropriately close to her, holding her on his lap and even getting into bed with her (purely to keep her warm, you understand).

This is where the story veers off the rails somewhat, because Vivian is, at this point, behaving with uncharacteristic innocence, considering she’s a renowned and shameless courtesan, while also finding herself inexplicably drawn to her supposed protector (who’s actually planning to ravish her). Grant’s motives are pretty clear at this point, but hers are far murkier, and I didn’t find them particularly convincing.

But when she starts to recover, the plan to solve the mystery of her attempted murder gets pretty silly. Having spent the first half of the book keeping Vivian’s survival a secret, and hiding her safely away where she can be protected, Grant parades her in front of half the ton at a fancy evening do, having deliberately invited every likely murderer along. And then he lets her wander off into the gardens alone. This is where the plot lost its last tenuous grip on plausibility.

After that, it all gets too silly for words, and falls down the rabbit-hole of Cliche-Land, and Grant turns into the Hulk. Frankly, I skimmed most of this nonsense. On the plus side, the author can write, and she’s done her research, and if there was a little too much detail on clothing and furnishings for my taste, that’s a personal preference, not a criticism. I liked the premise here, of two characters who are mingling with the fringes of society while being from a much lower class, and I liked some aspects of Grant’s personality. Vivian suffered from being too contradictory to be believable, but then I’ve always had trouble believing in heroines who are supposed to be oh-so-virginal, but turn into drooling puddles of lust as soon as the hero smiles rakishly at them. The sex scenes were pretty much the usual for the genre, after a long, slow build-up with a ton of sexual tension. This was an interesting read, if not wholly successful for me, so I’m going with three stars, but there was enough potential that I’ll certainly try another Kleypas in future.

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Review: Love Letters To A Lady by Fanny Finch

November 16, 2018 Review 0

This has such an intriguing premise: a man is too shy to court the woman he loves openly, so he writes to her to declare himself, but forgets to sign his name. Thus begins a correspondence where both parties can explore their real natures free of the constraints of public society. So much potential, but the execution was sadly lacking.

Let’s get the logistics out of the way first. The lady is able to reply to her anonymous lover because he uses an anonymous post office box to receive his mail. This is set in a time two hundred years ago, when a decent mail service was only just getting going properly. Mail coaches had been operating for a mere twenty years. There was no regular doorstep delivery for most people, you collected your mail yourself (or sent your footman to collect it) from the nearest post office, which might be just a back room in a shop. Same for sending letters – no post boxes to pop them into yet. Most houses didn’t have numbers or even names, street names were very ad hoc, and very often the only information available for addressing letters was the recipient’s name and a town or village. You could direct a letter to John Smith of Anytown, and it would reach him because so few people were literate that the local post office would know every John Smith personally. Where do anonymous letters sent to post office boxes fit in? They don’t. I can’t find a definitive answer, but I’d be prepared to bet that post office boxes were a twentieth century invention, or late Victorian at the earliest.

OK, so moving on. The characters are nicely done. The heroine, Julia, is feisty and smart and witty. The hero, James, is a thoroughly nice man. They have been friends for years, get along well and… really, the only obstacle is his reluctance to declare himself. So the letters strategy is a neat device, and leaving off his name makes an ingenious puzzle for her and allows both of them to talk freely. So freely, in fact, that she falls in love with her mysterious suitor and is disappointed to find out that it’s really boring old James.

And that’s basically the whole plot. There’s a rival suitor and some pressure from her parents, but nothing that really affects the straightforward flow of the story towards a HEA. So why did it take so long to get there? Because both characters angsted about every last little nuance to the umpteenth degree. Every word in every letter was analysed over and over, and it got very tedious. With some decent editing, this story could have been told in half the time, and would have been much better for it.

Apart from the post office box (and I freely admit I have nothing but gut feel to suggest that it’s an anachronism), there were only a couple of glaring errors. James is heir to a ‘count’ who owns a ‘county’, which made me laugh out loud. No counts in the British peerage, and nobody owns a whole county (well, maybe the Duke of Rutland owns the tiny county of Rutland, who knows, but generally nobles don’t actually own the whole of the place they’re named after). And the rival suitor, a Mr Carson, was the heir to a marquis (he’d have had a courtesy title of earl, and his sister would be Lady Something Carson, not Miss Carson). It is insulting when authors profess to write about a specific time and place, and then don’t make the least effort even to get the basics right.

This could have been a great story. The premise is terrific — original and with lots of potential. The characters were solid, too, and thank goodness for no cardboard-cutout villain. But the annoying errors and the endless tedious angsting keep it to three stars.

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Review: The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen

November 7, 2018 Review 0

This was a disappointment. I’d heard such good things about Julie Klassen, and her covers are awesome, so when I had some birthday money and chose to buy a whole array of Regencies, she was very much on my list. She’s a Christian writer, so I knew I’d be getting a more traditional read, and I’d hoped for strong character development and good historical accuracy. In the event, only one of those came up to scratch.

Here’s the premise: Olivia Keene comes home from her work teaching at a local girls’ school to find a man strangling her mother. She immediately bops him over the head with the poker, thereby saving her mother’s life. Now what? Run for help from the neighbours, maybe? Send for the local constable? No, her mother pushes something into her hand and tells her to run away at once, leaving her alone in the house with the unconscious would-be murderer. And Olivia actually does this? Why? Already we have a logical disconnect.

Then we get a succession of scenes worthy of a cheap Hollywood B-movie, involving running through woods at night, wild dogs, a near-rape, an unlikely rescue from same, more dogs and a close encounter with the local aristocracy out hunting. Then we veer into a Disney movie, with a good Samaritan or two, before plunging back into melodrama with eavesdropping, capture, the local clink, near-rape (again) and an even more unlikely rescue from same (again).

And then things get really silly. Lord Bradley (one of the huntsmen) discovers that a dark family secret has been overheard by Olivia, who is now rendered mute. Instead of paying her to disappear, preferably a long way away, he takes her into his home and makes her a nursery maid. It is hard to imagine any situation more likely to have the dark secret revealed to the whole world. Even if she never recovers the power of speech, she can read and write, for heaven’s sake. This makes zero sense, except that this is a romance and the protagonists have to get together somehow. But my eyes were rolling pretty hard, I can tell you.

This sort of thing is a problem right the way through the book. None of the characters behave like sensible, rational people, and they keep doing things that defy credibility, without any real reason. Olivia follows Lord Bradley around, poking into this and that, wandering around the house, and nothing bad happens as a result. In fact, nothing bad ever does seem to happen to her. She does stupid things and gets away with it every time. Every man around is seemingly drawn to her for some mystical reason, from the groom through the ne’er-do-well cousin, the hero and even the elderly earl, whose feelings at least are paternal and he’s not just getting the hots for her. Oh, I forgot the clergyman. He had the hots for her, too.

As for the hero, constantly agonising over whether he’s really going to inherit or not, I never warmed to him, never quite got what he saw in the heroine or what she saw in him, and never found his transformation from brooding aristocrat to contented lover believable.

The last third or so of the book has mystery piled upon mystery in such a convoluted and contrived way, with information deliberately withheld to ramp up the suspense (don’t you just hate that? I do), that, frankly, I lost interest in who was a villain and who was a good guy masquerading as a villain and who was a red herring. And what exactly was the point of the stable fire, except to show the hero being heroic, and then give the heroine an opportunity to see him in the bath?

So was there anything good about it? Actually, yes. The historical research and writing was excellent, and many things were much truer to the Regency era than is usual these days. The author got the titles and legal aspects right (hooray!), and didn’t shy away from the ramifications of the situation the hero found himself in. I liked that very much. It would have been all too easy to airbrush it out of the way, but she faced up to it very well. I felt she was a little pedantic in areas that were mere customs rather than strict rules. For instance, not all governesses were kept isolated from both family and servants. Jane Austen’s Emma, for instance, has the example of Miss Taylor, who was companion, friend and confidante to both Emma and her father, and far more than just a governess. It seemed unlikely to me that the servants, having made a friend of Olivia when she was a nursery maid, would turn their backs on her when she was promoted to governess. I also disliked the explaining of the position of heir presumptive to Cousin Felix, and pointing out that he wouldn’t get the title. Felix would have grown up knowing exactly what he would be entitled to, and it would certainly not reduce his marriage prospects.

Overall, this was a long-drawn-out piece of melodrama, rather implausible, with characters who behaved without an ounce of common sense and never really resonated with me. There was some Christian preachiness from the clergyman, but probably less than I expected. The writing was excellent, though, and the historical detail is solid, so if you don’t mind all the drama, this is a good read. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, though. Three stars.

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

October 16, 2018 Review 0

After the success of Felicity, I was nervous about this, since the author’s history in this series is wildly variable. But this is another success. It lacks some of the dazzling originality of previous books, returning to the well-trodden Regency style of drawing room manners, but it is so polished a performance that I have few quibbles. The romance is credible, the writing is stylish and there’s a surer hand than before with the plotting. An excellent read.

Here’s the premise: Georgette Sinclair is in the doghouse for jilting a perfectly acceptable suitor just two weeks before the wedding. To allow time for the scandal to die down, she’s sent to Rosborough Hall to provide company for a distant relation, a young wife suffering from depression and migraines. The wife, Allegra, turns out to be a flighty piece, not at all happy with her staid husband, Sir Edmund Rosborough. She neglects her child, Patricia (Pippa), and only comes to life when surrounded by cicisbeos. Her husband, meanwhile, is miserable too. Into this strained household is dropped Georgette, equally troubled and vulnerable.

The difficult relationship between Allegra, Edmund, Georgette and Pippa forms the backbone of the book, and there’s a slow and intricate build to the inevitable crisis which is both beautifully written and compelling. I don’t want to spoil anything by revealing plot details, but there were several twists that caught me by surprise, but in the best way, such that you can see the inevitability of it when it happens and it doesn’t just come out of left field.

A few quibbles. The final few chapters descend almost into farce, where the characters keep bumping into each other in the most improbable way. There are some continuity errors, so that Georgette says at one point that a kiss is her first, yet she clearly describes an earlier kiss with her almost-husband. There are a very few typos and some wayward punctuation.

But none of this was a problem for me. I enjoyed this enormously, the writing was effective and beautifully evocative, and I was thrilled that the protagonists behaved well despite temptation. Hooray for characters with moral backbone. Five stars. I can’t wait to find out what the letter H has in store.

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Review: A Governess For the Brooding Duke by Bridget Barton

October 9, 2018 Review 0

Well, what to say about this? Readers of traditional Regency romances are presumably looking for one of three things: a splendid, emotional romance with a full measure of feels; a good sense of a historical time and place, to take them back into the past; or a story full of the richness of language as it was in the past. Sadly, this book fails on all counts. The romance is bone dry and passionless, the history is a mixture of details looked up on Wikipedia and absolute howlers, and the writing is so stilted and repetitive as to be almost funny. I’d like a pound for every time a character said “In truth”.

The premise isn’t original but it’s a promising one, full of possibilities. Georgette Darrington is left destitute and homeless when her father dies, forced to take a position as a governess. Her father, apparently, is a ‘minor baron’, whatever that is (a baron is a baron, the only distinction is in the date of creation), but there are no other relations (presumably the barony becomes extinct) to call upon for aid, and Georgette, who lives in London and mingles with society, seemingly hasn’t a single friend able to help, either. So she goes to an employment agency to find a job. This all seems highly unlikely. Even supposing she has no suitors willing to marry her at a moment’s notice, she would almost certainly find work as a governess through the grapevine, not through a servants’ registry, which would have specialised in housemaids and the like. I also wondered why her noble father didn’t have a country estate, as was normal for peers and gentry of the day. But never mind.

So the first job offered is with a duke – well, of course it is! And with no references, no letter of recommendation and no attempt by the agency or the duke himself to ascertain whether our heroine is remotely suitable for the job, she starts work. Her pupils are the duke’s twin nieces, four years old, who previously lived in Wales and so speak Welsh, and have a Welsh accent. The duke has given only one instruction for the governess – the girls are to be taught only English, and their Welsh accent eradicated. So our heroine promptly starts learning Welsh and encouraging them to use Welsh at every turn so they won’t lose their culture. Of course she does.

This is what comes of imposing modern values on historical fiction. In the Regency, ethnic and regional culture just wasn’t a thing. In Britain, regional accents weren’t even tolerated in public life until the Beatles came along in the 1960s. If you had any pretensions to status, you spoke with received pronunciation or you took elocution lessons until you did. Anyone who talked differently from what was expected of their class was ostracised and laughed at. So the duke was absolutely right to want to suppress that Welsh accent, because those girls would have been ridiculed for it. Of course, since they were only four, they would lose it pretty quickly anyway if they were surrounded by English accents, so there was no need to do anything about it. It’s a pity this theme wasn’t developed in a true Regency manner, because it’s an interesting and unusual one. I’d like to see what an author with a better grounding in the era could have done with it.

There are any number of other instances that demonstrate that the author has done some research, but doesn’t have a real feel for the era. She looked up how often the horses needed to be changed when travelling, for instance, but then conflates a post-chaise with a mail coach, so our heroine arrives at the ducal home in a post-chaise that also delivers the mail, with a ‘driver’ (a mail coach has a coachman and a post-chaise has postilions). She’s aware that a governess is neither servant nor family, and might eat meals in her room, but in a household of that size she would have had her own sitting room (as would the housekeeper) and the use of a personal servant to help her dress and bathe. Footmen served tea, not maids. There was no afternoon tea in the Regency era, and luncheon (or nuncheon) was a new-fangled idea that hadn’t quite caught on. Bridge wasn’t invented until 1896. Regency folks played whist, or piquet, or vingt-et-un, or faro, or cribbage.

The servants are pretty horrible to Georgette, for reasons which were never made clear. Why on earth were the butler, housekeeper and head nurse so determined to be unpleasant? Her washing water is stone cold, her food is inedible and she’s left to get lost in the rabbit warren of servants’ quarters. There’s no sensible reason for this. Even a senior servant could lose their position if complaints are lodged against them, so they wouldn’t risk it, and there’s absolutely nothing to gain by antagonising the new governess.

Another illogicality lies with the duke. He doesn’t want the twins around and their accent and use of Welsh upsets him, so why not find another home for them? Maybe a female relative living not too far away, who actually likes the girls? Well, stone me, the duke has an aunt who would love to look after the girls, but no, he has to be a martyr and make everyone miserable.

The duke is the only character who has a bit of depth to him. He blows hot and cold, and one minute he’s ticking Georgette off, and the next he’s sharing intimacies and hugs with her in a fairly inappropriate way, but at least he’s not saccharine-sweet, like Georgette, the aunt and the twins, nor is he outright villainous, like the servants. As for the romance, there’s no insight into the main characters’ feelings so the blossoming into love at the end feels abrupt and not very believable. There’s no passion and no real emotion, either, but it’s perfectly clean, for those who prefer that.

All in all, there are the glimmerings of a good story here, but the execution is flat, without an ounce of sparkle or humour, and very little feel for the Regency era. Two stars for having virtually no typos, getting the titles mostly right (hallelujah!) and an original theme in the children’s language issue, but I can’t really recommend this otherwise.

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Review: A Rational Proposal by Jan Jones

September 26, 2018 Review 0

Another one I have mixed views about. On the one hand, the whole villainous villains and their villainous villainy got a bit trying. I like my Regencies firmly ensconced in the drawing room, not mingling with the low-life of the era. On the other hand – boy, can the author write! Every word is so perfectly chosen that I was in constant admiration, and the dialogue between Verity and Charles is nothing short of brilliant, and laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes.

This is billed as both book 5 of the Newmarket series, and book 1 of the Furze House Irregulars, and while I understand the reasons for that, it’s a bit confusing. The plot starts with a will. Verity Bowman inherits a tidy sum, but only if she can demonstrate that she has spent six months in a rational manner. The lawyer assigned the task of judging the rationality of her behaviour is Charles Congreve. Verity is actually a very smart lady, but unconventional and Charles is resigned to a difficult six months. This is compounded by the fact that he’s in love with Verity, but being merely a salaried attorney, not a gentleman, he feels himself to be beneath her.

So Verity and Charles and her mother go up to London, for reasons that escape me, at which point the cast of characters explodes, including quite a few from previous books as well as new ones, and frankly there were some I never quite got straight. Plus there were various sub-plots and subterfuges and I gave up trying to work out what they were really trying to do, as opposed to what they told people they were doing, and let it all wash over me. There was something to do with a Big Meanie who was doing Bad Things, and various Lesser Meanies, and a great deal about lowlifes and prisons and tarts with a heart of gold, and so on and so forth. I just let the author’s delicious wordsmithery swoosh around me, and didn’t worry too much about it.

The ending got quite tense, but naturally it all came out right in the end. And then, just when you think it’s all over, there came a proposal scene of such awesomeness that I’ve had to reread it several times since.

This is obviously a bridging novel between the Newmarket series and the Furze House series, so there are many references to earlier events, as well as a lot of setup for forthcoming books. As such, some elements are a little awkward. But the main characters are delightful, there’s a sweet little romance for Verity’s mother and the prose is mind-blowingly good, so this gets four stars despite the muddly bits. If your brain copes better with muddly bits (aka complex plottery) than mine, you’ll get on fine with it.

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Review: An Unconventional Act by Jan Jones

September 26, 2018 Review 0

I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I enjoyed it enormously and found myself picking up my Kindle to sneak in an extra chapter when I should have been doing other things, always a sign of a book that has its claws in deep. On the other hand, it veered from implausible but let’s go along with it right over the edge into eye-rollingly incredible at times. The villain was too villainous, the danger too ever-present, the hero too heroic, the heroine too resourceful and the dramatic climax too melodramatic for words. And don’t mention the oh-so-convenient key.

The premise: our heroine, Jenny Castle, is running away from her wicked cousin who’s just inherited the estate and is determined to have the full value from it, including Jenny’s share, by fair means or foul. She seeks refuge with the travelling theatre company seen in a previous book, run by Adam Prettyman. Adam’s wife, Mary, has recently died, leaving him with two young children and a heap of financial worries. Jenny has been sent by a mutual friend to help out with both problems, by governessing the children and keeping the company’s accounts. For various unlikely reasons, Jenny, Adam and the children end up sharing sleeping quarters.

So far, so implausible, but whatever. I don’t mind some artistic licence in the initial setup, and it does make it screamingly obvious where the romance is going to come from. Jenny and Adam are cautious of each other, but as time goes by they learn to trust each other. She’s clever with the numbers (of course she is) and brilliant with the kids (of course she is), and he’s brilliant about organising the plays and the logistics of packing up and moving around. I’d guess he’s dyslexic (or the number equivalent) since he’s hopeless with numbers but so good about 3D spatial stuff.

But it wouldn’t be a Regency romance if two people who liked each other a bit just rolled along the road to matrimony. Oh no, there have to be Serious Obstacles. In her case, it’s the whole being-chased-by-the-wicked-cousin thing, which she’s neglected to mention. In his case, it’s a past history of uncontrolled temper and violence, which he’s also neglected to mention. So they have to work through their differences and Reveal All before they can move forward.

Now, none of this is uninteresting, but it also isn’t a particularly original story and the characters aren’t quite strong enough to lift the ordinary story that extra notch upwards to make it extraordinary. Jenny is a perfectly nice, sensible and courageous woman. Adam is a normal sort of bloke. Both of them have talents. Neither of them is interesting enough to be unforgettable.

One opportunity to raise the book a level was wasted, in my view. There’s a significant sub-plot involving slavery, and the book is set at a date when slavery was illegal in Britain and slave trading was illegal in the British Empire. Nevertheless, slavery itself was still widespread in many places and many British families drew their wealth from slave-worked plantations. So although Britain was edging into the complete abolition of slavery, the question was still controversial. It would have been interesting, I think, to have heard something of the views prevailing at the time, that is, some explanation of why slavery was considered so necessary. Even a line or two to suggest that there was more than one opinion would have been good. But instead, the modern view is assumed to be the only right one, any other opinion is shocking, and the reader is left to wonder what real Regency people actually thought, and why they did what they did.

This sounds more negative than I intended, but actually all these points are relatively trivial. The author’s talent shines through, and although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the previous book, it was still a fine read, and a good four stars.

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