Review: Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady

Posted April 5, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well, that was fun! I’ve been hoping to read this book for ages, since it’s touted as the definitive version of Sanditon, Jane Austen’s unfinished work, but I was waiting patiently for it to come out in ebook form. But a clear-out of the loft produced a box full of old Georgette Heyer paperbacks, and amongst them this Signet book from 1975, the pages yellowed and brittle with age. I haven’t read a dead tree book in years, but this was one I couldn’t resist.

There was another reason for reading it, too, since I’m working through a rerun of the 2019 TV version, and it was an interesting comparison. Or rather, there is absolutely NO comparison. One is light-hearted, witty, elegant and charming. The other is… well, I’m tempted to say pointless. But enough of the TV version. This review is about the book.

Here’s the premise: Charlotte Heywood is taken up by Mr Tom Parker and his wife after the Parkers’ carriage suffers an accident outside the Heywood house. She is to stay with them at the small seaside town of Sanditon, which Mr Parker is busily trying to turn into a fashionable resort like Brighton, complete with sea bathing (from bathing machines!) and splendid views and lots and lots of bracing fresh air. Lady Denham is the other prime mover in this venture, and the first few chapters introduce an array of other characters: Mr Parker’s brother and sisters, hypochondriacs all; Sir Edward and Miss Denham, the impoverished aristocrats; Clara Brereton, the poor relation; wealthy mulatto Miss Lambe and her entourage; and finally, briefly glimpsed, the presumed hero of the book, Sydney Parker, yet another brother. That was as far as Jane Austen got, so everything else comes from the imagination of Another Lady.

Most of these characters are reasonably well defined from the start, but one is a complete enigma – Sydney Parker. Jane Austen tells us virtually nothing about him, so he’s a blank slate. Another Lady does a terrific job of making him a likable and very heroic hero, while also making him darkly enigmatic at times. He’s one of the most original characters I’ve come across, and I totally understand why Charlotte finds him so compelling. I find him compelling, too! This is one of those rare cases where all the other characters agree that Sydney is a charismatic, charming and intelligent man, and he actually behaves that way. I get so tired of Regency authors telling us that a character is clever when they continue to do blindingly stupid things, so it’s very pleasant to be able to say that Sydney really is clever. His cleverness trips him up sometimes, but he’s clever enough to get himself out of the mess.

The blurb describes Charlotte as ‘Jane Austen’s most captivating heroine’. That’s a bit misleading, because we don’t really know much about Jane Austen’s Charlotte at all, so this is really Another Lady’s Charlotte, and yes, she is rather captivating, a very practical girl who makes an interesting counterpoint to the flighty and up-in-the-boughs Parkers, with their constant schemes. She is also a very well brought up young lady, who gently reproves Sydney whenever he seems to wander into misguided territory. In fact, to begin with, she seems to disapprove of him rather thoroughly, as a frivolous chap with a mischievous or even a bad streak. But of course she comes round nicely.

The plot, such as it is, meanders about rather charmingly, with a visit to neighbouring resort Brinshore and some whimsical efforts to collect seaweed. Towards the end, it veers into melodramatic territory, seeming like one of the more extreme Georgette Heyers before resolving itself neatly and without fuss. A lovely read, and although it has too much focus on the romance to ever pretend to be an authentic Jane Austen, and the language never rises to her sublime heights (in particular, Another Lady never comes close to capturing Sir Edward’s pompous and long-winded verbiage), I enjoyed it enormously. Five stars. Thoroughly recommended.

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Review: The Fourth Marchioness by Jayne Davis

Posted March 29, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another absorbing read from Jayne Davis, with a basic plot that might have been a bit dull in other hands (that well-worn scenario, the choose-a-bride house party) spiced up with an intriguing spying plot.

Here’s the premise: James, the Marquess of Harlford, is coming to terms with his unexpected ennoblement after his older brother’s death. He’d rather be pursuing his scientific research, but his mother is determined to marry him off to prevent eccentric Uncle David from inheriting. She arranges a house party with some suitable candidates. Among the chosen guests are two who’ve wangled an invitation for reasons of their own. Gossipy Lady Jesson and her companion Alice Bryant have an ulterior motive – to find out if Lord Harlford’s secret letters to France mean he’s a traitor to his country. Alice doesn’t like what she has to do, but when James starts to pay attention to her, her position becomes very awkward indeed.

It’s easy to like both hero and heroine here. James is the sort of person we’ve all met, someone who’s so engrossed in his own affairs that he fails to see what’s right under his nose. Not from lack of perspicuity, either, but simply because his thoughts are so occupied that he just doesn’t notice what’s going on. Alice is smart and sensible, and able to rescue the hapless James from the machinations of his mama’s multitude of ambitious guests. He, in his turn, rescues her from machinations of a different sort. Being thrown together in this way leads them both into a rather tentative courtship.

But there’s more than Mama and a rash of title-hunting young ladies to contend with, because if James isn’t a traitor, who is? And they will stop at nothing to get the information they need about James’s experiments. And so this part of the plot hurtles into melodrama and danger and an exciting rescue plan, and although there was nothing terribly unexpected in any of this, it was still a dramatic page turner.

Along the way, there are some nicely eccentric side characters, like Uncle David and the Dowager Marchioness, and if the house party setting throws up few surprises (why are wannabe marchionesses so unsubtle?), it’s still a fun read, beautifully written and with impeccable historical research. Five stars.

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Review: Allerdale by Jenny Hambly

Posted March 29, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Every Jenny Hambly book is a lovely read in the traditional style, very much modelled on Georgette Heyer. This is a more conventional outing than the previous series, which transported the reader to the less well-trodden venues of Buttermere and Cheltenham, for here we are in London for the season, complete with outings to the theatre, Richmond Park and the drawing rooms and ballrooms of Mayfair. Very much one for the traditionalists.

Here’s the premise: Eleanor Edgcott is the orphaned daughter of a diplomat. He’s left her very well off, so even though she’s living with a cousin, she’d really like to set up her own establishment and be independent. If that’s not possible, she’ll find some other project to absorb her energies, and there’s always her cousin and his wife to sort out, and a beautiful young girl to rescue from the clutches of a determined rake. The last thing she needs is a husband to cramp her style and curb her independent spirit.

Miles, the Earl of Allerdale, is attempting to polish up his reputation after his wild and impulsive ways led him to near disaster. He’s been learning to manage his estates in the north, and finding it unexpectedly fulfilling, but now he’s back in town and he’s rashly promised his mother he’ll find himself a wife. He’s not very keen, and anyway, no one catches his eye. The respectable ones are dull as ditchwater, and the interesting ones are too headstrong to make good wife material.

Anyone who read Georgianna will remember Lord Allerdale as the villain of that book. Rather a charming and attractive one, as it happens, so the task of transforming him into a hero isn’t terribly challenging. It’s not necessary to have read that book, since the events therein are explained in some detail, but a lot of the characters from that whole series pop up here, which may be confusing for anyone who sees that this is book 1 of a series and expects it to be a fresh start. I get that they would all be in town for the season and they all know each other, but still, I felt that there were rather too many of them, frankly. I’m hopeless at remembering the details of previous books, so I just let it all wash over me, but it was confusing.

Eleanor is a lovely heroine, and anyone who’s read Georgette Heyer’s Grand Sophy will recognise her at once. She’s not quite as interfering as Sophy, and I liked her the better for that, but she’s a splendidly spirited and independent lady, quick-witted and (mostly) sensible. Her interactions with Miles are sparky and fun from the start.

But that raises an interesting point. Although we know almost from page 1 that these two are destined to end up together, and assorted friends and relations are pushing them towards each other, they don’t actually meet until almost a third of the way through the book. It makes the romance seem rather rushed, especially as there’s a very abrupt transition from getting-to-know-you outings to the proposal. I actually enjoyed the proposal scene very much – Eleanor was at her most creative – but it did seem to explode out of nowhere.

I must mention one of the sub-plots, which is another one fans of Georgette Heyer will recognise, this time from Cotillion. A beautiful orphan is being browbeaten by her vulgar aunt into becoming the mistress of a notable rake. Meanwhile, an impoverished Russian gent has fallen wildly in love with her, and it falls to Eleanor to rescue the orphan and pair her up with the Russian gent.

The name of Georgette Heyer crops up a lot in the context of Jenny Hambly’s books. Partly that’s because Hambly’s writing is every bit as deft as Heyer’s, and aficianados will love the familiar expressions and phraseology. As far as plots go, it’s not that Hambly is unoriginal, it’s more that Heyer covered pretty much the full range of plots in certain settings, like Bath and the London season, so anyone treading the same ground is inevitably going to evoke echoes of Heyer. And honestly, that’s no bad thing. I enjoyed playing spot-the-similarity.

If you’ve read Hambly before, this is another accomplished and highly enjoyable read. It was four stars for me because the romance jumped a little too fast to the question of marriage – I like a slower build-up, but that’s purely a personal preference. And if you’re new to the author, I recommend you start at the beginning, with Rosalind.

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

Posted March 22, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Susan Speers is one of my favourite authors, not because she’s the World’s Best Writer (she has her faults, like most writers do), but because she always takes me by surprise. I just never know from one book to the next what I’m going to find. More than that, even within the book itself, I never know where it’s going. With most Regencies, once the characters are on stage and the circumstances are laid out, it’s generally easy to predict what will happen. Not the details, but the general flow. Not with a Speers book, and there’s an edginess to that that’s almost entirely lacking elsewhere in the genre. Mary Balogh had it in some of her early works, but it’s rare. One reviewer described this book as thrilling, and I can see why. I find it unsettling, but it’s still fascinating, as all Speers’ books are. I’ve varied in how much I’ve enjoyed each one, but I would never dream of missing one, and now that Amazon has stopped telling followers about new releases, she’s the only author where I regularly check to see if there’s a new one out.

Here’s the premise: Isobel is an orphan living with her stepmother and two stepsisters. Her guardian is away in India and has been happy to let Isobel’s stepmother run the estate and look after Isobel, but in the nature of stepmothers, this one is bent on squeezing out Isobel in favour of her own daughters, and taking possession of Isobel’s mother’s collection of jewellery, intended for Isobel. Unable to stop her, Isobel resorts to stealing her own jewellery, and when that is discovered, borrowing and replacing it, just to appease her own sense of injustice.

Into this difficult setting comes the mysterious Earl of Drayton to buy a silver presentation box, part of Isobel’s fortune, being sold over her head. He has his own objectives, but his path runs alongside Isobel’s for a while, so when she runs away from home to avoid an unwanted marriage or the threat of an asylum, he scoops her up to protect her.

Or so he says. I have to say that the earl came across as rather a dark character to me. He very creepily turns up wherever Isobel happens to be. Is he watching her? I was suspicious of him almost to the end, and when he started kissing Isobel in the moonlight, I feared the worst for her. He dumps her on a friend of his, and I was suspicious of her, too! What are these two up to? The friendly Eudora with her mysteriously missing companion and her willingness to take in a random stranger just because Drayton asks her to had me silently screaming: run away, Isobel! Quick, quick!

After this brief interlude of cosseting in London, the book veers off into road movie territory, with a series of stops with various people where Isobel has to pretend to be Eudora’s companion (replacing the mysteriously missing one), Eudora takes malicious delight in bossing her about and the earl continues to leap out of dark corners and indulge in moonlight kisses. It’s this latter habit that inevitably gets them into trouble and leads to a fake engagement. Or is it fake? Hard to tell what the earl is feeling or thinking, frankly, and Isobel, to whose thoughts we are privy, is such a jumble of contradictions that there’s no making her out, either. Eudora was not much easier to understand.

Along the way, there are a number of adventures that don’t seem to be much connected but are quite entertaining anyway, a rather clever denouement that I enjoyed and a satisfactory resolution to the romance. These two were not the most passionate of couples (apart from when struck by moonlight!) but they felt like a good fit, to me. The sex is mentioned but it’s not graphic in the slightest. As far as historical accuracy goes, nothing jumped out at me, although I was thrown by the earl’s estate being called Blackpool (which is a very famous town in Lancashire), but I don’t think it was meant to be anywhere near the town. Another house mentioned was called Blessings, an oddly unBritish name. With all the travelling around, I never had any idea where they were, most of the time. I’d have liked some idea of locations just to get my bearings (it’s very dislocating, as a Brit, not to know where the characters are and which way they’re travelling). As usual with Speers, a final edit wouldn’t have gone amiss. There were a number of typos, and the punctuation was terrible.

This is not my favourite Speers, but I still enjoyed it a lot and galloped through it in a couple of days. It unsettled me not to know whether any of the main characters were heroes or villains or some combination until the very end. Combined with the jumping about from place to place, that keeps it to four stars for me, but it was still a very worthwhile and interesting read. Now on to J… Jane? Juliana? Jennifer?

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Review: Mr Gardiner and the Governess by Sally Britton

Posted March 22, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Sally Britton is one of the most talented of the new style of Regency authors emerging from the US who write sex-free stories with a strong historical foundation, and bring a welcome freshness to the genre. Britton’s been honing her craft for a few years now — this is book number twenty or so and it’s well-nigh perfect. Sympathetic characters, a wonderfully evoked setting and a swoon-worthy romance – what’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: Alice Sharpe has been passed from one household to another as the poor relation, but now she’s outstayed her welcome and is forced to take up employment as governess in a duke’s household. She’s desperate to make a go of it, but she gets off on the wrong foot immediately with a man she meets in the gardens, and assumes is just one of the duke’s gardeners. But Rupert Gardiner is an entomologist, a man fascinated by insects, and he’s engaged on a project dear to the heart of the duke – to make an illustrated record of the flora of the ducal grounds. While he’s doing that, he can also study his precious beetles. But the new governess is a distraction, and he’s not sure what to make of her.

The plot… well, there isn’t really a plot. Rupert and Alice tiptoe around each other, trying to reach a working arrangement and get to know each other better without neglecting the duties they’re paid to do, or attracting the ire of their employers. And gradually, oh so slowly, they find themselves drawn together and teetering on the edge of falling in love. They share some lovely moments together, and their first kisses are delicious. There are very few bumps in the road, they are too sensible for there to be any misunderstandings and the duke’s household is composed of universally nice, kind people, so there’s not much to go wrong, really, apart from a few minor hiccups. A special nod to Rupert’s valet, who has a very minor role, but manages to steal pretty much every scene he’s in. The children are great fun, too.

If this sounds dull, it really isn’t because there’s a magical ingredient that lifts the story far above the ordinary, and that is the garden itself. The flowers and trees, the lawns and pools, the statues (I’d love to see the statue garden) and of course all Rupert’s little beasties are evocatively described. I loved it. I also liked the idea of the duke’s house, Clairvoir Castle, which was only built ten years earlier, but was designed to look ancient – a neat conceit. And I squeaked in delight to discover that the castle’s name is pronounced CLEE-VER – that is just so British, like Beauchamp and Cholmondeley and Worcestershire and a thousand and one other names that are pronounced oddly. Kudos to the author for that little touch.

Another aspect I liked is the duke himself. The Regency romance genre is stuffed with dukes who swan idly about, and are invariably young, rakish, manly and very, very hot. This duke is involved in government business, politics and diplomacy, just as he should be, and the ducal family members are gracious and regal. There’s a very strong air that they’re way, way above Alice and Rupert on the social ladder, as you’d expect. This is beautifully done. I loved the scene where Alice is being interviewed by the two duchesses, with the distinction of rank and the opulence and elegance of the room brilliantly evoked.

This is a quiet, low-action story, and if you’re looking for elopements or highwaymen, duels at dawn or a kidnapping, you should probably pass on this one. But if you want a beautifully written and gentle story with a lovely romance and an exquisitely drawn setting, I highly recommend it. Five stars.

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Review: Scandalizing The Duke by Leslie Knowles

Posted March 9, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

Well, that was fun! A lively heroine, a duke with Daddy Issues, and a nice but not over-detailed look at the season with a slowly developing romance, this one doesn’t push the boundaries at all but it’s an enjoyable read.

Here’s the premise: Charlotte Longborough is embarking on her first season, alongside sister Elizabeth, who’s still single after her previous season. They are being brought out by their aunt, who turns out to be surprisingly well connected, for Charlotte soon finds herself awash with lords of one sort or another. In fact, there were so many titled gentlemen swilling around that I lost track of all but a handful early on. The principal one, and the top of Charlotte’s hopeful list of eligible men, is Lucien, the Duke of Wolverton, but their first meeting doesn’t go well. While out walking her very large dog, Charlotte is dragged into the path of the duke’s horse, and ends up almost trampled into the mud. A couple more incidents of the same type convince Charlotte that she’s blown any chance she might ever have had with him, and makes Lucien see her as nothing but trouble. Naturally, with such an inauspicious beginning, the two immediately have the hots for each other (because of course they do).

I found Charlotte a difficult character to get to grips with. She’s very likable, with her penchant for rescuing stray animals and her straightforward manners, but I never got a good sense of where she was coming from. Like any good Regency matchmaker, the interested reader needs to know the precise social standing of the heroine, but with Charlotte the only information I had was that her dowry was modest, and there was some slightly disreputable family history regarding an aunt. I have no idea of the rank of her father, who might be anything from lower gentry up to viscount level (but not beyond, or she’d be Lady Charlotte). Where do they live? Are they connected to any of the great families? Why does she have a duke on her list at all if she’s slightly dubious with only a modest dowry? I don’t even know whether her father is still alive. Maybe I missed the answers to these questions, I don’t know, but it made Charlotte feel rather unrooted.

One thing that bothered me is that Charlotte never sees Lucien as a potential husband. Considering he was top of her list, and therefore she sees herself as (presumably) duchess material, and he treats her in a friendly manner, and considering she’s very drawn to him, it surprised me that she never shows any signs of her attraction. At their first dance, she cheekily asks him to introduce her to some of the other names on his list. Was that a subtle form of flirtation? Or just not particularly caring what he thought of her? I couldn’t make her out at all. And later, after they’ve been sharing passionate kisses, even though she responds to him, I never had the sense of her falling head over heels in love with him, or starting to dream about him. She just seems to dismiss the possibility.

Lucien, on the other hand, felt like a much more solid character. It’s easy to see precisely how he got to where he was and behaved in the way he did, and his past (and his father) provided a solid foundation for his character. I think he may have been intended to be a bit unlikable at first – his own aunt calls him priggish and it’s hard to disagree. Nevertheless, I always found him a sympathetic and very interesting character. My only grumble is that, considering his defining characteristic is his determination to behave with the utmost propriety at all times, he gave way to improper impulses at pretty much every opportunity. From lustful thoughts, he progressed to passionate kisses in rather short order, even when Charlotte is staying at his house. There’s no graphic sex, but the kisses are described in some detail.

The villain is a particularly nasty character, and I was relieved that Charlotte persuaded the duke to get involved in the situation and that the matter was resolved satisfactorily. The resolution was a pretty breath-taking page-turner, but more than that I won’t say. Of the side characters, younger sister Sarah is a very useful plot device, sister Elizabeth seemed to fade into the background and I’d have liked to see more of Lucien’s half brother, who interested me a lot. However, this is the first book of the series, so he might get his own story later.

The romance… well, it was obvious these two were made for each other, but quite why it took them so long to realise it is a mystery. Their encounters in deserted libraries and the like were lovely, if a little too sexy for propriety, but then that was the book’s basic premise, the unravelling of Lucien’s priggishness. But the ending left me a little flat. After all that lusting and build-up of sexual tension, I felt there needed to be an actual sex scene to clear the air, or else an over-blown super-flowery emotional scene, and instead the book just stopped. Which was a bit of a disappointment.
Leslie Knowles is a new author to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed this. The first part of the book was slightly choppy, and there were a fair few minor typos, but nothing to spoil my enjoyment, and I just galloped through it. Four stars.

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Review: Lady With A Black Umbrella by Mary Balogh

Posted March 8, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 4 Comments

Once you’ve read a few Mary Balogh books, you begin to have some feel for what one is like, and this book… just isn’t it. She’s written edgy, challenging stuff, and she’s written angst-heavy emotional stuff, but this lightweight, witty and downright frivolous stuff? Not so much. But boy, did I enjoy it. This is the Balogh book for those who don’t like Balogh books.

Here’s the premise: Giles Fairhaven, Viscount Kincade, is in a spot of bother. On his way to Bath to visit his parents, his overnight stay at an inn is ruined when his purse is stolen. He can’t pay his shot, he can’t pay his debts to the casual gaming opponent of the previous night, and he can’t even pay the serving wench who warmed his bed. And just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, he’s set upon by three ruffians in the inn yard as he’s on the point of leaving. But rescue comes from an improbable quarter – a diminutive lady clad only in a nightgown and wielding a black umbrella, who sees off his assailants, sends him on his way and then pays all his debts. Even the wench.

Since he and the lady both end up in town, it isn’t very long before he discovers who she is and sets about repaying her and hoping to set the whole humiliating episode behind him as soon as possible. But Daisy Morrison isn’t what he expected, and when she asks him to help him launch her younger sister Rose into society, he finds himself unexpectedly agreeing. The Fairhaven family is marshalled to help out, and Giles finds himself gritting his teeth and suffering from more than one of Daisy’s wild starts… and also finds himself oddly attracted to her.

In other hands, this would be a hot mess. Daisy is borderline unbelievable in her sunny insistence that she’s an old spinster who can look after herself, thank you very much. She’s a managing female of the worst kind, and completely oblivious to subtle signals, and trivialities like other people’s feelings. She would be easy to dislike, but I just found her funny. Giles’s intense annoyance with her escapades while also irresistibly drawn to her is a hard act to pull off. But this is Mary Balogh and so it absolutely works. And it’s funny! I love a book which makes me laugh out loud, and this one really does.

There’s one sex scene near the end which isn’t particularly graphic (mainly because Daisy talks all the way through it, which is hysterical), and some fairly graphically described kissing and lusting, but otherwise if you’d told me this was an undiscovered Georgette Heyer, I’d totally believe it. The romance is there, but it’s never spelt out until very close to the end. There are a couple of subsidiary romances that work very well without overwhelming the main couple, and the matter of the stolen purse and the ruffians is resolved rather neatly.

All in all, this is something of a Marmite book, depending on whether you like Daisy or not. I found her cute and amusing, and rarely irritating because although she’s often reckless of her own safety, she’s not stupid. There really are sensible reasons for the things she does, even if perhaps there may be better ways to achieve her objective. OK, there are always better ways. But I can’t remember when I last laughed so much at a book, so I’m giving it the full five stars.

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Review: The Naturalist by Christina Dudley

Posted March 6, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well, this was a delightful surprise. For some reason, I’d formed the impression that this was going to be pretentious tosh, but it turned out to be a rather well-written tale in authentically Regency language, with an interesting array of characters and a plot that depends less than is common these days on contrivance and misunderstanding.

Here’s the premise: Joseph Tierney is the younger son of a baronet, whose family had hoped he would enter the church but who preferred the pursuit of science instead. Having secured the patronage of the Royal Society, he is dispatched to Somerset to begin his explorations at Pattergees, the home of Lord Marlton. He accidentally stumbles across a local lad perfect as an assistant for his work, a rough-spoken boy who miraculously knows enough Latin to name the species around them. Unfortunately, the local lad turns out to be Alice Hapgood, one of the squire’s daughters, and once the word gets about that she’s been out and about in boy’s clothes, and alone with Joseph, he feels obliged to marry her.

Now the logic of this is dubious. I’ve never been a great fan of the compromised maiden trope. Unless there’s been actual naughtiness of the baby-producing type between the couple, it’s really unreasonable to expect them to be forced into marriage. Alice is 17, young enough to have it laughed off as childish misbehaviour, she’s the squire’s daughter, after all, and this is village society, not the hallowed realms of Almack’s and Carlton House. It would be a nine-days wonder and then forgotten about, apart from some gentle teasing from time to time. However, every author sets the tone of her own created Regency, and it fits with Joseph’s serious and dutiful character. He accepts the inevitable (as he sees it) with good grace, even though it means giving up his career as a naturalist and going into the church after all.

So there’s a hasty betrothal, but plenty of room for believable misunderstanding between our non-lovers. He assumes she’s trapped him into it from pure ambition, whereas she’s been in love with him from the moment she set eyes on him, and hates the thought that the man she loves is marrying her from duty and will inevitably resent her and rue his lost career. There’s a memorable moment when he’s protesting that he’s going to marry her whether she likes it or not, she’s trying to shut him up and somehow it turns into a kiss, which they are both surprisingly enthusiastic about. But this misunderstanding leads to a glorious later scene where both of them are being entirely honest and open and straightforward with each other, and yet still manage to be entirely at cross purposes. Quite brilliantly written.

Also brilliant is the way Joseph gradually and by very small increments comes to see that this marriage is actually a good thing in itself, and marriage to Alice is the perfect outcome for him. I wasn’t mad about the oh-so-convenient-for-the-plot meeting with his scientific mentors, but the time he spends with his father and brother, talking about Alice and seeing his parsonage, bring him to the perfect place for the charming, if a tad overblown resolution to the romance.

This is a beautifully written old school Regency, a real treat for those who love the authentic language of the era, and a nice evocation of the historical setting, with two sensible and likable leads. I only spotted a very few Americanisms (fall [*] instead of autumn) and one absolute howler (possums [*] in England? I don’t think so!), but nothing that affected my enjoyment of the book. A very elegant read, with more books in the series about the eccentric Hapgood family. Five stars.

[*] UPDATE: a reader tells me that these issues have been fixed.

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Review: Prince Regent (TV; 1979)

Posted March 2, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is an oddball one. I know very little about the Prince Regent, who was born Prince George, made Prince of Wales, then Prince Regent and eventually became King George IV. He is merely a background figure in most Regency romances, or at best he may qualify for a walk-on part. This 8-episode series brings him centre stage, and covers his whole adult life, from his coming-of-age in 1783 to his coronation in 1820, with a quick round-up at the end of what happened after that. Historically, it’s quite interesting, although I have no idea how accurate it it.

The early episodes deal with his infatuation with the twice-married (and Catholic!) Maria Fitzherbert, who was older than him. She’s portrayed here as a rather virtuous person who refused to become one of George’s many mistresses and insisted that they marry first. Given that they couldn’t marry without the permission of his father, King George III, and even if they could, her Catholicism meant that he would surrender his right to the throne, it was a completely bonkers exercise. However, George drummed up a dodgy priest prepared to ‘marry’ them anyway, and they then pretended that she was his wife. Of course, the marriage was completely invalid, but it got George what he wanted.

Later episodes deal with George’s troubled marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick and the life and death of his daughter, Princess Charlotte. It is a mystery to me how King George III and Queen Charlotte managed to have fifteen children, yet Princess Charlotte was in her lifetime the only legitimate grandchild. You would think that some of the royal princes, at least, would have done their duty for England, but seemingly not. After Princess Charlotte’s death, there was an unseemly scramble amongst the middle-aged princes to dump mistresses, marry suitable princesses and sire an heir, a race won by Prince Edward (the fourth son) who produced Victoria.

The loose thread running through the whole series is the sporadic madness of George’s father, King George III, which eventually became so overwhelming that George was made Regent and thereby gave his name to a whole genre of historical romances. It’s a moment George has been waiting for (and even scheming for) over many years, and he’s thrilled to finally get to run the show. It’s curious that George is portrayed here as a sensitive soul, constantly distraught by some setback or other. He’s always seemed like a pretty selfish so-and-so to me, but whatever.

This is not the sort of sweeping, high-budget production we’ve come to expect. It’s more than forty years old, most scenes are shot in the studio with limited other actors on stage, and maybe this gives it a more intimate, domestic feel, but it reminded me most of Blackadder. The Crown it definitely is not. The costumes are over-the-top exuberant, and I suspect the designers took their lead from some of the exaggerated cartoons of the era rather than the more restrained fashion plates. The acting is a bit over-the-top too, although Peter Egan does a reasonable job as the Prince himself.

This is one to watch only if you have a strong interest in the historical elements, frankly. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s strange rather than gripping.

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Review: The Earl’s Lady Geologist by Alissa Baxter

Posted March 2, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by Alissa Baxter, so I wasn’t in the least surprised to find this one right up there at her usual high standard. The title is intriguing right from the start – a lady geologist? Sign me up! And our first view of her, filthy dirty but happy as a grig fossicking on the beach for fossils, confirms that she’s going to be a wonderful, independent-minded heroine. And here comes the earl, darkly brooding and disapproving, to drag her reluctantly to London for the last thing she wants, a season of balls and no fossils.

Now Cassy may be a spirited woman, but she’s also a true Regency lady, so when her protestations fail, off she goes to London to be paraded in the Marriage Mart. She doesn’t intend to marry, and she has enough of a fortune to allow her to do what she wants, but she’s perfectly willing to play her part to please her relations who disapprove of all that fossil-hunting, and think the only proper life for a woman is as a wife and mother. Besides, in London there are all sorts of interesting fossil-related things going on, so she weasels her way into a Geological Society meeting, dressed as a man, where Edward, the brooding, disapproving earl, promptly discovers her.

Despite this rocky start, the two have a common interest in geology (the whole family seem to be geologists, at least the male members), and Cassy’s sparky enough to attract the earl’s attention. Their quick-witted banter is very lively. She’s better company, at any rate, than the usual sort of coquettish young ladies he knows. He needs to marry and produce an heir, so why not? So now we have a woman who doesn’t want to marry at all, and a man who isn’t much bothered but thinks she’ll do, and has no expectation of a refusal. Cue the awkward proposal and a heroine who gives him a piece of her mind, in no uncertain fashion. Go Cassy!

Of course, as it’s quite obvious that these two were made for each other, there’s a long slow slide into love for her, and (surprisingly) a sudden lurch into it for him, or at least a sudden realisation that that’s what’s going on. I would have liked to see his realisation rather than find out after the event, so to speak, but that’s a small point. He’s a rational, analytical sort of man, so a sudden outbreak of emotion wouldn’t really be his style. I know so many men like this, not eloquent, not always very self-aware, but very devoted when they do fall in love.

Cassy is such an easy heroine to root for, a perfect blend of independence and Regency behaviour. Her qualms about marriage were very soundly based and understandable, and to be honest, one wonders why so many Regencies, which are accurate in every other way, have the heroine hurtling into matrimony without a second thought as soon as she sees the hero’s square jaw or shapely thighs. Marriage was a dodgy business for a woman, and needed some serious consideration.

The other characters are pleasant, likable people who want the best for both Cassy and Edward. There are a couple of sub-plots which are resolved rather easily, and a suitably dastardly villain, and although the ending is rather drawn-out, there’s a lovely, romantic second proposal, where Edward finally gets it right, Cassy accepts wholeheartedly and then they go right back to their verbal sparring! Wonderful stuff.

A lovely, very funny, traditional read from an author who has a true sense of the Regency. I would have preferred a little more emotion at moments of high tension, and a little less geology, but that’s just a personal preference. I had the pleasure of reading this as a beta reader, and again as an ARC reader, and loved it both times. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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