Author: Mary Kingswood

Review: A Regrettable Proposal by Jenny Goutet

Posted June 14, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was the first book I’ve read by this author, and there’s a lot to like about it. For those looking for the traditional elements of a Regency – the season, balls, Almack’s, rides in the park – this ticks all the boxes. There’s an unexpected inheritance, an ineptly inarticulate hero, a sensible heroine and a bit of spying in the background – what’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: Eleanor Daventry has a fairly rocky family history, what with a mother who eloped to the continent and a dodgy episode helping a friend at school. However, the 4th Earl of Worthing made her his ward, and when he dies, he bequeathes her a valuable piece of land – with the proviso that she won’t get it until she marries. Sometimes it seems as if the Regency era was chock full of eccentric gentlemen dreaming up ever more inventive constraints to impose on the beneficiaries of their wills, but still, this is a relatively mild example.

Our hero is Stratford Tunstall, the newly ennobled 5th Earl, who’s just returned from the war to his unexpected inheritance, still smarting from being jilted three years ago, and he’s not happy to find that an uninteresting spinster has been left a sizable portion of his estate. The only way to get his hands on it is to marry the woman and this is so unappealing a prospect that he gets roaring drunk. A chance meeting while he is still drunk leads to the regrettable proposal of the title, which Eleanor deals with as any self-respecting heroine would. Not a propitious start.

However, both hero and heroine move on to London for the season where they inevitably cross paths very frequently. He discovers that she’s not at all the uninteresting spinster he’d first thought and she discovers that although he’s still pretty inept at polite conversation and puts his foot in it more often than not, he makes a nice apology. Also, the drunkenness was a one-off.

Of course, while they’re lurching towards their happy-ever-after with two steps forward and one back, there’s a lot going on in the background. Eleanor finds herself very sought-after now that she has an inheritance and has to make some difficult decisions of the type that must have afflicted real Regency women – whether to accept today’s OK-ish offer and settle for comfort and not much affection, or whether to hold out for the possibly better offer that might come tomorrow from the man you love. Stratford’s role is to get jealous and come to the conclusion (rather belatedly, for he’s a bit slow on the uptake where women are concerned) that he really does want to marry Eleanor and not just for her inheritance.

Besides all that, there’s Stratford’s former squeeze stirring things up, plus a vindictive old school friend of Eleanor’s, and a really rather superfluous spy subplot that intersects with our romantic pair hardly at all. I could have done without much of this but it does make for some dramatic moments towards the end. For those who like to have the hero chasing to the heroine’s rescue, you’ll really love the last few chapters – pretty exciting stuff!

My over-sensitive pedantometer was barely troubled. There were a lot of dance cards deployed, which (according to my understanding, which might well be wrong) were not used until the Victorian era when dances got shorter and there were too many to remember to whom a lady was promised. In the Regency, dances were in pairs and much longer, so you only got a few partners per evening. Then there was mention of a coronet ball, which is not an expression I or Google’s Ngrams have ever come across. One other oddity – the heroine’s piece of land is said to be worth three thousand pounds a year. At the time, the average rent for an acre of agricultural land was a little above a pound, so that’s a hefty chunk of land, or else it’s got a coal mine or two on it. But these are absolutely trivial quibbles, which didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book in the slightest. This is a very well-written book, and had some moments of subtle humour. I loved this line in particular: ‘Mr Amesbury, who had decided [the heroine] lacked looks, address and a portion, did not put himself out to please, but performed his part punctiliously. When all other subjects had been exhausted, he forged ahead with the battle-weary pluck of a hardened conversationalist.’ I would have liked a lot more in this style!

This is a well-written Regency, well grounded in the era, and traditional enough to please Heyer fans. I loved the hero and heroine, and the believably slow development of the romance. I was less enamoured of the spying subplot, but this was still a very good four stars for me.

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Review: Marianne by Jenny Hambly

Posted June 14, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I love a book that ends with such a rousing happy ever after that it puts a silly grin on my face, and this was just such a book. A wonderfully Heyer-esque read with a multitude of entertaining minor characters, a charming romance and plenty of humour, too. What’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: Marianne Montagu and her two friends are leaving Miss Wolfraston’s Seminary for Young Ladies not quite as improved as might be desired. Marianne is a bit too lively for a girl of seventeen soon to make her come-out, Charlotte is a shy soul and Georgianna, an earl’s daughter, is being pushed into marriage with an unappealing man before she’s even enjoyed a season in London. But Marianne’s aunt, Lady Brancaster, wants to take her to the spa town of Cheltenham to take the waters, and as she may bring a friend, Georgianna goes too. Naturally enough, it’s no time at all before Marianne is getting into scrapes, and I loved this line: ‘When Marianne returned to the pump room with a ruined parasol, grass stains on her dress and a cat in her arms, Lady Brancaster began to realise that she might have taken on more than she had bargained for.’

Cheltenham is a refreshing change from Bath, although it has all the usual attractions in a pump room, noxious waters and an assembly room where young ladies might happen to bump into eligible gentlemen. And lo, here comes Lord Cranbourne, also escaping being pushed into marriage and, much to his annoyance, immediately finding himself drawn into one of Marianne’s scrapes. And so the romance begins, with neither of them looking for love, but finding it all the same.

I liked both the main characters. Heyer aficianados will recognise echoes of many of her heroes in Lord Cranbourne, who conforms very much to the jaded, world-weary and selfish man of experience, the dominant type who turns out to be just the right person to have around in a crisis. Marianne is the ingenue, sweet, innocent and very straightforward, who gets into unthinking trouble with the kindest of intentions and is thoroughly mortified afterwards – until the next time! So nothing unusual about them, but nicely drawn, and Marianne at least was never silly as so many very young heroines (especially in Heyer) often are.

There’s a huge cast of supporting characters and a myriad minor sub-plots, which I found rather a lot to keep track of, especially as so many of the characters were titled and I got them muddled up — Lady Brancaster and Lady Bamber, for instance, and Lady Strickland and Lady Silchester. So be prepared to take notes, or else (as I did) spend time paging back and forth to work out who was who. But the little side stories were delightful and added a great deal to the charm of the book, so it’s worth making the effort.

In the end, though, it’s the main romance that steals the show, and the proposal scene is totally awesome, and completely in character. I loved it. Highly recommended reading, and a treat for Heyer fans, who’ll love the writing style and language, the sparkling dialogue and the array of lively minor characters. Five stars.

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Review: The Unlikely Chaperone by Dorothy Mack

Posted June 11, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 8 Comments

This book was first published in 1991, according to Goodreads, one of a whole swathe of the author’s books now being re-released in Kindle versions. Not surprisingly, it’s a very traditional style of story, focusing on the London season, Almack’s, drives through Hyde Park, morning calls and so forth. For anyone looking longingly for a Georgette Heyer substitute, this is a very good alternative, featuring many of the same types of characters, setpiece scenes and witty dialogue. In fact, there are echoes of Frederica, Black Sheep, Venetia and Arabella along the way.

Here’s the premise: Alexandra Farrish has been forced to take on the responsibility of raising her young siblings after the death of their mother. Now they’ve all come to London for the season to find husbands for three of the girls, incomparable beauty Didi, and identical twins Cassie and Arie. And amongst the hordes of admirers drawn to Didi, comes one of London’s most eligible bachelors, the Marquess of Malvern. Can Didi bring him to a proposal, or will he decide he’s looking for more than mere beauty?The story has a somewhat rocky start for an otherwise frivolous Regency, for the opening is Lord Malvern rushing to the bedside of his dying sister, who tells him just who has brought her to this pass — unrequited love for one Lee Farrish. Malvern then spends some time tracking down Farrish, and storming into his first encounter with the Farrish family, and Alexandra’s robust style of dialogue. He comes to realise that it’s not Lee’s fault, and is then drawn into Didi’s orbit.

Now, at first sight this is a peculiar response to the death of his sister, but the author makes a good case for a man who is emotionally unbalanced and makes an irrational decision on the spot to marry and settle down to home and family. I won’t spoil the surprise by spelling out how this odd courtship progresses, but suffice it to say that there is an ample sufficiency of marriages and betrothals by the end of the book, and each one of them very appropriate for the couple concerned.

There are some plot oddities, like the girl rescued from likely prostitution by the heroine and never mentioned again, and the brother, Lee, whose only purpose seemed to be to draw Lord Malvern into the Farrish’s circle, since he was largely forgotten thereafter. This won’t suit anyone looking for a modern style of story, with an independent heroine and a respectful-of-women hero. This is the old-fashioned kind, where the women are all aiming to make good marriages and the men are strong and borderline domineering, while remaining terribly gentlemanlike, but it’s an excellent example of the type, very Heyer-esque, and well written with only a light sprinkle of Americanisms. Five stars.

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Review: Belgravia (TV series, 2020; also a book, 2016)

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

Every writeup of this mentions that it’s by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, so there you are, we’ve got that out of the way. This is nothing like that, however. It’s a fairly pleasant period drama but that’s about it. The book came out first, and the TV adaptation follows the book pretty closely, in fact I’d go so far as to suggest that the book was written with TV in mind. There are chunks of dialogue which correspond to the TV show’s scenes, and then pages of description of settings, explanations and simple research info-dump. If I’d read the book before watching the show, I’d probably have ploughed through it, but as it was I gave up after only a few chapters. It was just too dry for words.

So this review is essentially of the TV show. The story opens in 1815 on the eve of the battle of Waterloo, at the famous ball by the Duchess of Richmond, which ended with the departure by many of the attendees direct to the battlefield. Invited to this prestigious event are three unlikely people, who are not aristocratic or even gentry. James Trenchard is the man who supplies Wellington’s army, a working class man who’s scratched his way up the ladder of wealth and position until he’s bumping his head against the invisible ceiling that divides those who inherited their money from those who earn it. Trade and privilege must never meet, but for this one night they do, as Trenchard’s pretty daughter Sophia has caught the eye of Lord Bellasis. Watching with disquiet is Trenchard’s wife Anne, born into the lower gentry herself and understanding all the disadvantages that might result from her ambitious husband’s efforts to rise in the world. And so is set in train the events of the book, as Lord Bellasis is killed on the battlefield.

The story then jumps to 1842, when Trenchard is helping to build posh houses in Belgravia and pushing his wife into the circle of the noble families who buy them. Inevitably, the secrets of the past start to emerge, leading to a whole series of increasingly implausible events. The Trenchard’s rather useless son, Oliver, and his discontented wife, Susan, form a good part of the side story, as well as the Earl of Brockenhurst (father of the deceased Lord Bellasis) and his ne’er-do-well family. But the consequences of 1815 and Lord Bellasis’ love affair with Sophia Trenchard form the backbone of the story as events unfold in a fairly pedestrian and predictable way.

As a TV show, the sets and costumes alone make it worth watching, and I loved the way that the wide skirts enforced slow and graceful movements from the ladies. It really wasn’t possible to move quickly without an unseemly amount of swaying. The acting is uniformly excellent. My only reservations were with Philip Glenister and Tamsin Greig, who play the major roles of James and Anne Trenchard. They’re both magnificent actors, but I felt they were somewhat miscast here. Glenister is always himself, no matter the role, and Grieg was just a little too placid. I would have liked more drama from her, considering some of the things that happened to her, but that was a directorial decision, I imagine. As for the rest, they all came from British central casting, so they can play these aristocratic roles with one hand tied behind their backs. Worthy of special mention, Tara Fitzgerald was a creepily believable controlling mama, Jack Bardoe was suitably bewildered as the hapless Charles Pope, and Adam James had the plum role as devious schemer John Bellassis.

If I were assigning a star rating to the production, I’d probably give it a three, and most of that was for the visuals. The script was lifted straight from the rather uninspired book, and added no fireworks to it. The only drama happens in the final episode and is entirely predictable. When the big revelation happens, again in the final episode, the characters sit around drinking tea, saying to each other, “Well, that was a surprise. Never saw that coming.” Paraphrasing only slightly here. It all felt very anticlimactic. There are also glaring problems with the plot. At one point the Trenchards say to each other, “We should have looked into that.” Well, yes, you should, you really should.

Worth watching if you’re a fan of costume dramas, just don’t expect Downton Abbey.

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Review: Gentleman Jack (TV series, 2019)

Posted May 14, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well, that was awesome. I’ve had the DVD of this for a while, but put off watching it because I wasn’t quite sure what I would find. TV producers do like to spice things up. Happily, they resisted the temptation here, so although there’s a great deal of kissing between our two heroines, there’s nothing here to frighten the horses. But yes, two heroines, so if that’s not your thing, avoid.

The premise here is that Anne Lister, a forty-something and openly woman-loving lady, is the mistress of a run-down estate near Halifax in the north of England in 1832. Her father, aunt and sister all live there, but Anne herself loves to travel to London and the continent, living it up and generally having a wild old time. And affairs. Of the lesbian variety. When her latest squeeze decides to accept a proposal of marriage – to a man! The horror! – Anne returns to her estate, Shibden, to straighten it out while she recovers from her broken heart. And while there she decides to pass the time by making up to the very pretty heiress who lives nearby, Ann Walker.

The major part of the plot follows the burgeoning romance between Anne and Ann, but there are significant subplots involving a coal mining venture and some argy-bargy with villainous local businessmen, some tenants of Anne’s with a drunken father and a sad little romance for Anne’s sister, Marion, but mainly the story is about Anne. Everything revolves around Anne. And this is exactly as it should be, because Anne Lister is one of those towering characters who seems too melodramatic by half, and far too outrageous for the real world, but that’s the glory of this whole tale, because Anne Lister was a real person, and everything shown actually happened to her, as described in her very detailed diary, written in code and only recently decoded.

Suranne Jones is superb in the role of Anne, striding manfully about the place in her almost mannish costume, taking no nonsense from the local bigwigs and being adored by almost everyone else. Except her own sister, the very ordinary, very down-to-earth Marion, who’d really like to get married and have her own life except that she’s constantly overshadowed by big sister. Poor Marion starts off as a bit of a crosspatch, but after her failed attempt to marry the frankly appalling Mr Abbott, one can’t help but pity her. Sophie Rundle is brilliant, too, as the poor-little-rich-girl Ann Walker, hounded by her relations who all want her to get married and stop being a bother. She’s a terrible ditherer and borderline bonkers, but Anne is very good for her and it’s possible to see them having a happy, or at least not too tempestuous, relationship long term.

Pretty much everyone else is from British Central Casting, which means perfect character acting at every level of the cast. Although I confess it was a bit disconcerting to see Peter Davison (Doctor Who!) in a costume drama of this type.

A word of admiration for the set and costume designers, who got everything brilliantly right. Of course it helped that they could film at the actual Shibden Hall where Anne and her family lived, but the other houses were just as fitting and the costumes were terrific, especially Suranne Jones’ iconic man-dress with top hat. An honourable mention for the feather-trimmed hat of Anne’s French maid, which took a battering on its various journeys, becoming more and more bedraggled. A lovely touch!

This is a wonderful, vibrant production, with the over-the-top personality of Anne Lister dominating every single scene. A magnificent performance by Suranne Jones. Highly recommended.

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Review: Cranford (TV series, 2008)

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

This has possibly the most stellar cast ever assembled for a BBC costume drama. With Mrs Gaskell writing (most of) the words and the likes of Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Francesca Annis, Barbara Flynn, Lesley Manville, Julia Sawalha, Philip Glenister… (the list goes on and on and on) speaking them, what could possibly go wrong? Happily, nothing at all. The only difficulty is stopping oneself being totally gobsmacked by the awesomeness of it all. And naturally, the sets and costumes are all wonderful, too.

The plot… well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? I’ve never read the book, but that doesn’t matter either, and even with a cast of thousands, all with their own little sub-plots, it was never hard to work out what was going on. Cranford is a small town on the cusp of being dragged into the forward-thinking Victorian era by the arrival of the railway, in the teeth of the residents’ opposition. The ladies of the town (and there seem to be surprisingly few gentlemen) are keeping up with their mannered round of small and inconsequential happenings as if they were still back in the Georgian era, but gradually life and death bring them a little nearer the future. It may have been just my imagination, but the costumes seemed to change from the somewhat high-waisted and narrower-skirted late Georgian styles straight into the natural waists and full skirts of the early Victorian, even though only a single year is supposed to have elapsed. If this is so, it was a clever and subtle allusion to the progress of industrialisation.

The only problem with it, for me , anyway, was the high level of tragedy that seemingly hit this one small town. Every episode seemed to have at least one death, and sometimes more, and the poor Rector’s family were under constant assault from life-threatening illnesses. That gave it a very Dickensian air of doom and gloom, but there were also light-hearted moments, too, and the poor new doctor, a very naive young man, gets caught up in both, mostly inadvertently.

Of the actresses, Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench and Francesca Annis are incomparable, bringing out out all the pathos and underlying tragedies of their constrained lives. Honourable mentions, too, for two of my favourite actresses, who rarely get top billing but are always wonderful, Lesley Manville and Barbara Flynn. But really, there wasn’t a sub-par performance in the whole cast. Terrific stuff.

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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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