Posts By: Mary Kingswood

Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Daphne’ by Susan Speers

March 17, 2018 Review 0

This series is a real mixed bag. Abigail was delightful, Belinda a little less successful, Cecily a powerful and absorbing read. But this one is just dull. The focus is a children’s Nativity play, there are a couple of nasty characters with no redeeming qualities, and a hero who’s just a very nice man. The heroine doesn’t show much character, either, and absolutely nothing of interest happens. The slowness isn’t helped by dialogue that covers every word spoken between the characters.

Here’s the plot, such as it is: Daphne (who’s supposed to be a chatterbox but we never really hear this) lives in genteel poverty with her elderly aunts. She’s courted by retired sea-dog Captain Palfrey and a cousin, clergyman Gideon Spicer. The clergyman is resolutely dogmatic in insisting that she marry him, and I longed to box his ears every time he refused to take no for an answer. Daphne was far more restrained in her refusals than I would have been. There are some struggles with money issues and a problem for Captain Palfrey which Daphne gets involved with and that’s about it, really.

There are fewer editing issues in this book than in books 2 and 3 in the series, but there are still far too many punctuation errors and one or two sentences that just made no sense. There are some implausibilities in the plot, too. Even so, I still enjoyed the romance, and especially the ending which was very satisfactory. Three stars. I’ve already downloaded Edwina and Felicity, so I’ll probably read on and hope for better fortune.

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Review: ‘A Marchioness Below Stairs’ by Alissa Baxter

March 5, 2018 Review 0

This book picks up the story of a couple of minor characters in the previous book, Lord Fenmore’s Wager. Isabel was once betrothed to a man she loved passionately, but instead she married a waelthy, elderly man to restore her family’s fortunes. Now widowed, she discovers that her former love is about to marry another, and fate conspires to trap them all together in a country house beset by snow and influenza. Isabel is not too proud to help out in the kitchens, along with another guest, the disreputable Marcus Bateman.

The author writes her romances skillfully, and there’s never any question about who Isabel will end up with. The difficulty is his reputation, and her desire not to surrender her new-found independence and wealth to a man. I liked her spirit, but she does take some foolish risks in pursuit of her objectives, and needs to be rescued rather frequently. As for Marcus, I liked him very much, but I found him to be oddly volatile. He seems to veer from determinedly pursuing Isabel to staying coolly aloof, and I couldn’t always understand his motives.

The biggest issue with the book for me is the amount of background detail taking up page space that could be used to advance the romance. I realise this is personal preference, so if you’ve always wanted to know more about the workings of a Regency kitchen, the slave trade or how to make an authentic curry in the Regency era, this is absolutely the book for you. Sadly, I am not such a person.

However, Baxter’s writing is excellent, as always, and her dialogue, manners and settings are true to the era. There’s also no sex, for those who enjoy a traditional Regency. The romance is sparkling, and only the excess of culinary and political detail keeps it to four stars.

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Review: ‘Lord Fenmore’s Wager’ by Alissa Baxter

March 5, 2018 Review 0

Another terrific read from Alissa Baxter. This one has less action than The Dashing Debutante (no highwaymen!), it was pure drawing room drama, but it felt like a smoother read.

The premise is a tad implausible: Anthony Hamilton gambles away his estate which he finds a burden. As part of the deal, he also includes his unmarried sister Diana. She’s won by the Earl of Fenmore, who insists that she move to his estate to act as temporary governess to his nephews and companion to his mother.

And already the hero is seen to be… well, heroic, because he’s the one who reminds Hamilton about his sister during the gambling session, and he also steps in to take the bet on himself when he sees that Diana might be won by a notorious rake. And of course he treats Diana as one of the family, in the most gentlemanlike manner. When she attempts several ruses to get him to release her, he sees through them at once and is amused and intrigued by her.

So the stage is set for love, but despite the fact that there are no insuperable obstacles on either side, it still takes the whole book and a great many misunderstandings before these two come together. Unlike many such books, however, the misunderstandings really do have some substance because they’re grounded in Regency manners. He is a gentleman and her employer, so naturally he has to keep his distance. And when she moves to Bath and has another suitor, naturally he can’t interfere. And she, being a lady, can’t tell him how she feels.

The whole business underscores just how awkward courtship was in those days, the difficulty of trying to get to know the person well enough to make a sensible decision on whether to spend the rest of your life with them, and the delicate balance between showing an interest and raising expectations. If a man takes a step too far, he may be required as a matter of honour to marry her whether he wants to or not. If he doesn’t go far enough, she may go off with someone else. And on her side, there’s the problem of distinguishing between serious courtship and flirtation, and trying to avoid a reputation as a flirt or a jilt. You can see why they often ended up marrying whoever their parents chose, or sticking to the familiarity of cousins – it was a lot easier!

Fortunately, these two do finally get together. But they’re a fairly cerebral couple, who do a lot of internal agonising about the difficulties of their situation and rationalising their actions. If you’re looking for a grand passion, this probably isn’t the book for you but the ending is nicely romantic. Recommended for anyone who likes a completely clean traditional Regency, with strongly authentic writing and historical accuracy and a satisfying romance. Five stars. And now on to A Marchioness Below Stairs.

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Review: ‘The Dashing Debutante’ by Alissa Baxter

March 5, 2018 Review 0

This is a lovely read, a truly traditional Regency romance very reminiscent of Georgette Heyer. It features a feisty, I’ll-do-it-myself heroine, a rakish but charming hero, lots of witty banter and a whole array of amusing and/or villainous side characters.

The premise is that Miss Alexandra Grantham likes to play at being Robin Hood, taking on the role of highwayman to steal from the rich to bring a little comfort to the poor. This all comes to a crashing halt when a mysterious gentleman takes over the neighbouring estate and unmasks Alex. But she amuses him and when she goes to London for her coming-out season, he decides to make her fashionable, which he can do because, in a shocking twist (not), he’s a leader of society and a duke. Of course he is.

In a book like this, the plot isn’t really important except as a backdrop to the setpiece scenes – the balls and routs, the visit to Vauxhall Gardens, the clandestine meetings on curiously empty balconies at crowded parties and so on. Every scene with the two principals in it sparkled gloriously. I loved their banter and battles of wit, which sometimes he won and sometimes she did. And both of them were nicely real and sensible. He never arrogantly assumed she would marry him just because he was rich, titled and wanted her. She didn’t defy him just to demonstrate her independence. The rest of it, especially the fairly unbelievable dastardly plot at the end, was less interesting, but all of it was beautifully written, and for those who like a book with no sex at all, this one is perfectly safe.

Some very minor quibbles… Alex was oddly unobservant about the duke’s intentions. He goes riding and driving with her every day, he takes every opportunity to dance the rather scandalous waltz with her, everyone in London is in hourly anticipation of their betrothal and she is entirely oblivious until she’s told. He even kisses her at a very early stage, but this doesn’t give her a hint. Unusually for a modern Regency, this book is pretty accurate on language and Regency manners, although I thought the duke was overstepping the mark in saying that Alex was under his protection. And two duels were fought by gentlemen who had no right to defend the honour of the ladies in question, which was a bit much. Sometimes the author liked to squeeze in more of her extensive research than was really necessary for the advancement of the story. And finally, I felt the proposal scene fell a little bit flat after all the drama of the previous chapter or two, not to mention that everyone knew it was coming. I would have liked the duke to show a bit more passion.

But these are very minor grumbles, and I enjoyed the book so much that it’s a definite five star, and I’m going straight on to Lord Fenmore’s Wager.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of A Regency Spinster: Cecily’ by Susan Speers

March 2, 2018 Review 0

The enjoyable aspect of a series like this is that every book is different. It’s like a box of chocolates where you don’t know until you try it whether you’ve got the strawberry cream or the caramel or the nutty one. I loved Abigail, was ho-hum about Belinda and now Cecily is perhaps the strongest story yet. But be warned – for sensitive souls, it’s a bit of a weepy.

Here’s the plot: Cecily has endured some heartbreaking years, but at last she’s found a sanctuary of sorts in the small seaside village of Daggers Bay, acting as companion to the invalid daughter of a neighbouring family. But then into this quiet life comes a man from her past – Lord Hawley, heir to an earldom.

I’m not going to spoil the read by revealing too much of what follows, but suffice it to say that both characters have to learn to live with and accept the past, and change enough to have a future together. These are two strong-minded people who share an unbreakable bond of love, and I wept buckets as they gradually came to their happy ever after. A great love story. There is a sex scene, but it’s nicely done and felt in character.

There are some fine minor characters, too, especially Laurel, the invalid, and I think we’ve met the Daphne of the next book. There are a few caricatures, too, especially amongst the villainous characters, and I do think Carlton was way too easy on his mother – I’d have been spitting fire about it. The historical accuracy level is high, although Viscount Hawley would always be addressed as Lord Hawley, and never as Viscount. Dukes are the only nobles ever addressed by their rank.

So why only four stars? It’s because the editing is terrible. Speech marks are left out here, there and everywhere, there are extra or missing words, there’s confusion over lie and lay, and Laurel becomes Lauren at one point. And if the author could have brought herself to use the past perfect tense (using ‘had’) many passages would have been greatly improved. It’s such a shame, because the book is well-written and emotionally very powerful, but such sloppiness lets it down badly. Four stars and on to Daphne.

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Review: ‘Once Upon A Christmas’ by Diane Farr

March 2, 2018 Review 0

Another lovely story from Diane Farr. Why have I only just discovered this author? She writes exactly the sort of tale I like to read – two people thrown together almost against their will, who oh-so-slowly fall in love. Now, the obstacle to their happiness in this case is one of those misunderstandings that would be cleared up in five minutes if they just sat down and discussed things, and normally I hate that, but in this case the obstacle is so outrageous and funny that I didn’t mind it at all.

Here’s the premise: when Celia Delacourt suffers the tragic loss of her entire family, she is relieved and grateful to be offered a home by her distant relative the Duchess of Arnsford, even though she suspects the Duchess has devious plans afoot. And when Celia learns what the plot is, she’s determined not to cooperate. But when she meets the Duchess’s son, Jack, she finds that he’s not at all what she’d expected.

I loved the way these two inched their way to an understanding. Jack is a delightful hero, for once not a rake or a scoundrel or a ne’er-do-well. He’s just a young man enjoying a certain freedom, and his wildness is harmless stuff. He’s generous to a fault, and befriends people that his mother definitely wouldn’t approve of (since they’re of lower rank and some are even, quite shockingly, commoners!). And although he starts his acquaintance with Celia with some subterfuge, he finds himself quite unable to maintain the facade in the face of her sweet nature and compassion. And Celia herself is a gentle soul who is also perfectly well able to stand up for herself, when necessary. So these two are definitely made for each other.

There’s a very nice little side romance going on, too, involving the stuffy fiancee from The Nobody. I approved of the author’s delicate touch here, not making Elizabeth fall violently in love, which would have been out of character, and inappropriate for the gentleman.

If I have a grumble at all, it’s that the book finished at 92% on my Kindle, the rest being filled with samples from other books. I was also a bit shocked that the author swept away Celia’s entire family in one fell swoop, although I suspect it was necessary to give her the happy family background in contrast to the much stiffer upbringing Jack had endured. A terrific read, with a lovely romantic ending. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Nobody’ by Diane Farr

February 14, 2018 Review 0

An utterly delightful book, that I loved from start to weepy finish. Caitlin is the older sister who goes along for the ride on her prettier younger sister’s debut season in London. Nothing much is expected of Caitlin, and she isn’t even presented at court (the family couldn’t afford two court dresses, which made me very sad for her), and when her sister is off curtsying to the Queen, Caitlin is at a musical evening with her new friend, overhearing herself described by a snobbish lady of the ton as a nobody.

Humiliated and upset, Caitlin makes a run for home through the dark streets of London. She witnesses a man running away from a group of thugs, and finds herself unceremoniously pulled into a passionate kiss so that he can evade his pursuers. They part, after a lively discussion of the proprieties pertaining to the unusual situation, without either knowing who the other is. But it isn’t long before they find out, and Caitlin realises she’s been kissed by the brother of her new friend, a man who is betrothed to the snobbish lady who insulted her.

Now all this is fairly implausible, but very entertaining. The banter between the two is lively and witty, especially so on his side, and we can see exactly where this is going. Except that Richard Kilverton is betrothed, and a Regency gentleman does not, under any circumstances, cry off from a betrothal. So the rest of the book is, naturally, focused on him trying to persuade the lady to cry off, instead.

Which leads me to my main, possibly only, grumble about this book. I can let Richard off that snatched kiss at the beginning, which was a desperate measure of self-preservation, and a pretty innovative one, it has to be said. But he then proceeds to pay an inordinate amount of attention to Caitlin, including (but not limited to) dancing the waltz with her (twice! On one night!) and sneaking out onto a terrace to kiss her rather thoroughly. Given that he’s engaged to someone else, this is very ungentlemanly behaviour, and would be unforgivable… except that he really is incredibly charming and delightful, and it’s very hard to be cross with him.

Needless to say, with a bit of sleight of hand, everything comes right, and the subplot turned out to have an unexpected ending, and I enjoyed the whole unlikely story so much that I can’t give it less than five stars.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Belinda’ by Susan Speers

February 2, 2018 Review 0

I loved the first book in this series, Abigail, and immediately plunged into this one, which featured one of the intriguing side characters from the first book. Sadly, it is nothing like as resounding a success as the first one. Large parts of the plot are, not to put too fine a point on it, a hot mess.

Here’s the premise: Belinda is the epitome of a poor relation. She’s passed around from one branch of the family to another, as she might be useful. Eventually, she washes up in London, at the home of elderly Millicent Anstruther, to whom Belinda is to act as companion. Millicent, we are given to understand, is a dragon, who chews up companions and spits them out.

And here is the first of several problems. Millicent is a little brusque, but she’s never less than kind to Belinda. She gives her light secretarial duties, fits her out in stylish clothes and takes her along to every grand society event. The hostile person in the family is Millicent’s niece Fleur, who fits neatly into the spoilt, wilful but beautiful debutante category. She treats Belinda as a servant and is unfailingly rude to her. Millicent, the supposed dragon, ticks her off for these insults, of course, pointing out that Belinda is family.

The central plot revolves around a collection of archaeological artifacts, which Fleur and scholar Edward Fortescue, a friend of Belinda’s from book 1, are cataloguing. This is where everything unravels, because very little of this made much sense to me. I found it impossible to believe that the honour of the family hinged entirely on the collection, and there were so many coincidences and lucky breaks as to defy credibility. I’m still not sure who set the fires, or what became of the visits to His Grace and the Earl, which Millicent’s brothers were to undertake. Nor could I believe for one moment that spoilt, selfish Fleur, surrounded by titled suitors, would run away with a penniless man. Hot mess, the whole lot of it.

And here’s a complaint that I don’t often have to make these days — this book was riddled with typos. Not so much spelling errors, but missing or extraneous words, poor punctuation and even a wrong name (Millicent is called Mildred at one point). This is so disappointing, because the first book was very much cleaner in this respect, and it’s so sad when a fine writer’s work is let down in this way.

But the main romance was lovely. The hero was a delightful character that I was rooting for all the way, Belinda’s growing feelings were perfectly understandable and the misunderstandings between them actually made some sense. All their scenes shimmered with romantic fairy dust, even when Belinda herself wasn’t aware of it, there was no gratuitous sex scene this time (unlike the first book), and the ending was delightful. So, despite the hot mess (which may just be my brain not working well) and the typos, I’m going to give this three stars and hope for better in book 3, Cecily.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Abigail’ by Susan Speers

February 2, 2018 Review 0

A delightful book that almost made it to five stars. This is the first of a series focusing on Regency spinsters, those not born to great beauty or wealth or connections, who must eke out an existence as best they can. Miss Abigail Grey is a little-regarded step-daughter of her mother’s second husband, and, with her mother long-dead, has a difficult future ahead of her. But when she accompanies her wilful half-sister to a house party for the Marquess of Southey to choose a bride, Abigail recognises him as the impoverished soldier she rejected seven years earlier. There’s never any doubt as to where this is going, but the journey is entrancing.

I liked the Marquess very much, a sensible, thoughtful man, doing his duty at his aunt’s behest. A lesser writer would have had him rushing into a betrothal with the half-sister before realising his mistake, but no, he courts Abigail very determinedly, if discreetly, and never allows himself to be drawn in by the young ladies vying for his hand, or their scheming mamas. And Abigail behaves with (mostly) propriety, and has good reason for continuing to resist the marquess. And thereby lies a minor grumble – it surely wouldn’t have been too difficult for her to explain to him the reason for her refusal. It would have saved a great deal of difficulty.

The other characters are lightly sketched in, but I’ve been pleased to learn that some of them turn up later in the series. I didn’t detect any historical inaccuracies, and the writing avoided the pitfall of anachronistic manners or dialogue. Some aspects felt very Heyer-like (the wilful young ingenue and the callow youth, for instance, and perhaps the marquess falls into the world-weary older man role so beloved of Heyer, although happily without rakish tendencies). In almost all respects the book was the greatest pleasure to read.

The exception, and the reason for the loss of a star, is the gratuitous sex scene in the conservatory. I have no problem with sex in a Regency romance, but this felt utterly out of character for both parties. I would have loved a detailed proposal scene at this point, with the marquess spelling out how his feelings have deepened over the years since their brief earlier meeting, and how well-suited they were. Passion can be expressed just as well in words as in horizontal action.

Apart from this blip, the book was well-nigh perfect for me, I inhaled it in a day, and am going straight on to Belinda. Four stars.

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Review: ‘In Honour Bound’ by Elizabeth Bailey

January 28, 2018 Review 0

This was a very enjoyable read, marred only by some over-the-top melodrama. Isolde has grown up with her soldier father, following the drum on the continent, learning to shoot, ride and wield a sword like a man and not so much about ladylike behaviour. When her father dies, his will sends her to her father’s old friend for protection, rather than her mother’s relations. But the old friend has died, and his son now finds himself in charge of the girl.

Richard is just my sort of hero – sensible, intelligent, thoughtful and not at all ramshackle. Isolde is a delightful mix of naivety, feisty independence and the sheer misery of being alone and friendless in the world. Richard puts his sister Alicia in charge of teaching Isolde to be a lady, and this is where everything goes horribly wrong, both in the plot and for this reader. Naturally Isolde’s new life can’t be all sweetness and light, for that would make for a very dull story, but Alicia was so wildly aggressive and hostile towards Isolde that it was ridiculous.

Fortunately, Isolde is a very enterprising young lady, and, with the help of the sympathetic servants, heads off to determine her own destiny. Or so she thinks. Naturally, things get worse before they get better, but all ends happily. A well-written and entertaining tale. Four stars.

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