Review: Fortunate Wager by Jan Jones

September 22, 2018 Review 0

Book 3 of the Newmarket series, and this is the first that really does depend on the horse racing town for both setting and plot. It’s a corker of a story, and after some slight wobbles in book 2, this one is right back on form – a believable hero and heroine, a plot that doesn’t stretch credulity to snapping point and a delightful romance.

The plot is basically Pride and Prejudice – a snooty rich guy who insults the heroine early on and then spends the rest of the book becoming worthy of her. That’s OK, because probably 50% of Regencies are Pride and Prejudice thinly disguised and most of the rest are Persuasion. The snooty rich guy is Lord Alexander Rothwell, the second son of a duke, who has conveniently inherited an estate of his own, which neatly sidesteps the usual dilemma of younger sons, that of having no money besides what Papa dishes out. Usually they have to find some kind of employment, but not here.

Lord Alexander – yes, let’s deal with his name upfront, because it’s the only error I came across in the whole book. His name is Lord Alexander Rothwell, and he would be addressed as Lord Alexander by most people, or my lord/your lordship by servants and the like. Close friend might call him Rothwell. Very close friends from childhood might call him Alexander or Alex. But nobody familiar with the aristocracy would ever call him Lord Rothwell. Ever. The author missed a trick there: she could have had the social-climbing goldsmith get it wrong, while everyone else gets it right.

Lord Alexander is a grumpy old sod, and rude into the bargain, and to be honest, I didn’t much like him at first. Even when his miserable history began to be revealed, which was supposed to make him a sympathetic character, I still didn’t like him. And it takes him a long, long time to see what’s right under his nose and begin to do the right thing.

The heroine, Caroline Fortune, on the other hand, is an utter delight. She’s that awkward middle daughter, plain and gawky and bookish, and more interested in horses than people. She’s also refreshingly straightforward, and eschews polite white lies in favour of the unvarnished truth. Needless to say, she likes riding horses astride and dressed as a boy, behaviour that would get her instantly ostracised if discovered. But she’s also kind and sensible and willing to be polite in society if she has to. I liked her a lot.

The plot is fairly thin – a drunken bet between Lord Alexander and Caroline’s brother Harry, which involves them training a mean-tempered horse of Lord A’s and winning a race with him. It turns out the horse gets spooked by loud male voices, so guess who has to tame it and then ride it in the race? Never saw that one coming…

There’s also some shady business going on which sees Lord A getting bopped on the head by a mysterious assailant, and Caroline has to nurse him back to health, thus leading neatly to some close encounters between hero and heroine of the kissing and groping variety. There’s no actual sex in the book, but the temperature rises to dangerous levels from time to time.

There’s a lot about this book that would normally irritate me to death – the obnoxious hero, for instance, and the feisty, independent heroine dressing up in breeches to ride astride, but the writing is just so good, I was carried along with it. I loved the minor characters, too (especially the duchess!), and there is so much wit in it that I was chortling all the way through. I even got used to the hero being called Lord Rothwell after a while. Nothing terribly unexpected happens, and the villain was obvious from ten miles away, but this was a delightful read and I enjoyed almost every moment of it. Five stars.

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Review: Fair Deception by Jan Jones

September 22, 2018 Review 0

Another great read in the series. This works well as a stand-alone but the early chapters would be an easier read coming straight after book 1, The Kydd Inheritance, or maybe it’s just me that forgets who’s who in no time flat. It doesn’t quite have the glorious humour of that book, and I found the hero just a tad too volatile for my taste, but the way the author weaves multiple strands of plot together into an entertaining braid is masterful.

Here’s the premise: Susanna Fair is scraping a living as a stage entertainer, barely even qualifying as a legitimate actress, in London. That’s bad enough, but she has a problem in Mr Rafe Warwick, who has laid a bet that he will bed her before too long, a bet he’s determined to win by any means necessary. To the rescue comes Christopher (Kit) Kydd, owner of the impoverished Kydd Court and he also has a problem. He needs money to restore his home, but he doesn’t want to marry an heiress and condemn himself to a loveless marriage. He has a wealthy aunt who has money to spare – but only if he can convince her he’s not in the least ramshackle. Maybe if he had a fake fiancee, he could convince her?

So the actress who needs to get out of town fast and the man in need of someone to play the role of his betrothed form an unlikely alliance. As with all fake betrothal tropes, it’s obvious how everything will end up, but along the way there’s a number of people to be convinced by the deception, a travelling theatre group, the reappearance by the villain and a great many misunderstandings between hero and heroine before matters are resolved.

Much of the misunderstanding arises because the heroine neglects to tell the hero some small but highly significant details about herself, and every time the hero discovers he’s been misled (again) he blows a fuse and throws a tantrum. I would have liked him a lot better if he’d shown a bit more restraint, but I suppose it wouldn’t have been so dramatic. There are no sex scenes but there’s a great deal of barely repressed sexual tension and passionate kissing, and both hero and heroine get weak-kneed at the mere sight of each other very early in the book. It’s not exactly insta-lust, but it’s certainly insta-desire and it seems about as realistic as these things usually are (ie not very).

One technical issue: a very minor plot point involves a marriage between minors which was declared invalid because they didn’t have the permission of parents/guardians. But it’s my understanding that this only applies with marriage by licence (special or common). In this case, since the banns were read in the usual way, the marriage would almost certainly have been perfectly legal.

The multiple plot threads get very entangled by the end, but naturally all is resolved in a suitable way and everybody gets what he or she wants (except the villain, naturally). I didn’t find this quite as gloriously entertaining as the first book, but it was still terrific fun and a good four stars.

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Review: The Mrs MacKinnons by Jayne Davis

September 8, 2018 Review 0

I loved this book. I didn’t think I was going to like it, because the prologue is a grim war scene, but this is merely a brief backdrop to the main story. Yes, it’s important, but the author never dwells on the details, and so it becomes, as it should, the underlying thread of explanation for many of the characters, and not the central focus.

Here’s the premise: Major Matthew Southam returns from India after unexpectedly inheriting a title and a small estate. His surviving family, his stepmother and half-brother and half-sister, rather wish he had died in India, and have been quietly helping themselves to his fortune for years. Meanwhile, the inherited estate is neglected and empty of servants and furniture. Matthew is too traumatised by his war experiences to do more than drink, and then drink some more.

Meanwhile, Mrs Charlotte MacKinnon, a widow with a young son living in the nearest village to the estate, is hard-pressed to make ends meet. She writes cute children’s stories and a nature column for a London publisher, helps local businessmen manage their finances and generally uses her education and brains to earn what coins she can. She shares her home with another soldier’s widow, also called MacKinnon, so the two are rather charmingly known to the locals as Mrs Captain and Mrs Sergeant.

And if that were all, this would be a standard Regency romance between a strong man damaged by war, brought back to reality and happiness by the love of a good, if impoverished, woman. But this is not quite that story, and part of the reason is, perhaps, the most fascinating character I’ve come across for some time, Sergeant Webb, who’s returned from India with Matthew and attached himself to him. Matthew is so wrapped up in his own misery that he more or less hands over responsibility for getting things straight to Webb. He hasn’t a clue about fixing up houses, but he’s a man who’s happy to go out and find people with more knowledge than him, which includes Charlotte. And so she and Matthew are thrown together, and gradually, very, very gradually, aided by Charlotte’s young son, Charlotte’s common sense, Webb’s organisational abilities and the house itself, the two reach an accord.

There’s some drama in the later stages caused by their pesky relatives, but at bottom this is a beautiful slow-build romance, with the underlying theme that even grievous war injuries needn’t define the rest of your life. I loved the main characters, I loved their first kiss and I loved seeing the house gradually brought back to a healthy and functioning state alongside Matthew’s own recovery. I never would have thought that details about furniture and linens and paintwork would be so interesting, but they were. And if Sergeant Webb became implausibly clever at organising everyone, he was so much fun that I quite forgave him. The humour isn’t the conventional Regency romp style, but the sort that jumps up and slaps you on the head when you least expect it, and lightens a book that might otherwise be quite dark at times.

A great read, and highly recommended for anyone looking for something a little more meaty than the average frothy Regency. Five stars.

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Review: Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

September 8, 2018 Review 0

When I read Georgette Heyer’s works for the first time, many moons ago, this was very much my favourite. It’s always nerve-wracking returning to a much-loved book after a long time, but almost from the first page, I knew my memory had not let me down. This is surely the most scintillating dialogue Heyer ever wrote. Every meeting between hero Miles Calverleigh and heroine Abigail Wendover is delightful, and it’s hard to think of a single change which would improve the book. It’s quite perfect.

The premise: Abby returns to her Bath home aware that her niece, Fanny, has fallen violently in love with a plausible fortune-hunter, Stacy Calverleigh, under the auspices of Abby’s rather dippy older sister, Selina. Also returning home after twenty years in India is Stacy’s uncle, Miles, the black sheep of the title. Naturally this leads to the most delicious exchange of misunderstanding between Abby and Miles (’Are you Mr Calverleigh?’ ‘I’ve never been given any reason to suppose that I’m not!’), but eventually she works out which Mr C he is, and then begins the most glorious courtship of any of Heyer’s books. I’ve complained many times that the romance tends to be forgotten in the excitement of the adventures, but here the growing love between Miles and Abby is very much centre stage. And there is no prevarication: he makes his attraction clear right from the start, and she is almost as open.

In the background is the difficulty with the fortune-hunter, but luckily the object of his attentions, although fulfilling the standard Heyer role of beautiful but silly ingenue, is far less silly than usual, and there are no mad chases to recover an eloping couple or anything of that nature. I loved the means by which the obnoxious Stacy is dealt with, and I also loved Miles’ method of detaching Abby from her clinging relations, and finally getting her to the altar, as she herself wishes. Neatly done, and far more plausible than is often the case. I’m not a fan of the heroine who doesn’t know her own mind until the hero wraps her in his manly arms and kisses her thoroughly, and here Abby is perfectly well aware of what she wants. Five perfect stars.

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Review: Frederica by Georgette Heyer

August 15, 2018 Review 0

After a run of 5* Heyers, this one lost a star for a rash of silliness. Too many of her books depend for their climactic disaster on characters behaving in positively bird-witted ways, without an ounce of common sense, and so it is here. Fortunately, the hero and heroine rise above the foolishness, there’s a lovely slow-build romance going on, too, and the humour is as well-developed as always.

Here’s the premise: the Merriville family descends on London so that beautiful Charis can make her come-out. To ensure this, older sister Frederica calls upon a distant relation, the Marquis of Alverstoke, to help launch Charis into society. Alverstoke is a bored, over-indulged and selfish rake-about-town who is unaccustomed to lifting a finger, even for much closer relations, but the chance to infuriate his own sisters spurs him to agree to hold a ball for Charis, and his sisters’ daughters.

So far, so meh. Alverstoke is, at this point, an unappealing character, entirely self-centred, and Frederica isn’t much better, being an overly managing and verbose spinster, completely caught up in the affairs of her family to the exclusion of any other consideration. But luckily Frederica has three brothers, and the younger two, sixteen-year-old Jessamy and twelve-year-old Felix, are the glorious, and very funny, heart of the book. Felix is obsessed with mechanical devices of all kinds and is charming enough to succeed in dragging a very reluctant Alverstoke on a trip to examine a foundry, amongst other delights. Jessamy is trying to study to be a worthy clergyman, in time, but would really rather be out on horseback. And both of them have a great propensity to get into deep trouble, whereupon they promptly turn to Alverstoke for help.

And so, by very gradual degrees, Alverstoke learns to care for someone other than himself, and Frederica learns to depend on someone other than herself, and by even more gradual degrees they fall in love. We see this more clearly in Alverstoke, and I loved the careful way he protected Frederica from gossip by not paying her too much attention, and being very casual when he’s with her, so that she isn’t seen as merely the latest flirt of a confirmed rake. With the downside, of course, that she never quite realises his intentions and he never quite finds himself in a position to raise the issue.

This aspect of the book is faultless, but of course it wouldn’t be a Heyer without at least one silly ingenue. Here, it’s Charis who fulfils the role, aided and abetted by the handsome but equally empty-headed Endymion, Alverstoke’s heir. They manage to create the usual end-of-book crisis, which is fortunately resolved rather quickly here. An honourable mention at this point to Alverstoke’s secretary, Mr Charles Trevor, who creatively solves every dilemma, and a dishonourable mention for Lufra, the Baluchistan hound, who sadly turned out to be a mere plot device, for he was barely mentioned after his magnificent performance in Green Park. A good four stars.

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Review: The Gentleman Physician by Sally Britton

August 11, 2018 Review 0

This book was both better and worse than its predecessor. Better, because the historical accuracy was quite impressive – the author has done her homework in a number of areas. Worse, because somehow it lost the freshness and emotional depth I so enjoyed in the first book of the series.

Here’s the premise: Julia Devon is the little-regarded eldest daughter of a most unpleasant social-climbing man. Several years ago, Julia had her season in London, but failed to make the expected spectacular marriage because she fell in love with an unsuitable man. Now she’s twenty-three and heading for permanent spinsterhood. After her younger sister married for love (the story of The Social Tutor) their father is so incensed that he banishes Julia to Bath, to act as poor relation to Lady Heatherton, a cousin. There she meets again her spurned suitor, Nathanial Hastings, now a physician beginning to develop his medical practice.

And so all is in train for a second chance romance, and, to be perfectly honest, this book should have been about five chapters long, because there really were no serious obstacles to their marriage. They are both five years older and wiser, he has a profession which is capable of sustaining a wife, with care, all it required was for him to court her sensibly. But no, that would be too easy, so we have to resort to that time-honoured fudge, the Great Misunderstanding. He believes she never cared for him. She believes he no longer cares for her. And it takes a lot of pushing and shoving from their friends to get past that, and persuade them to open up to each other.

The side plot concerns Lady Heatherton and her husband, a baron, who is dying of consumption. It’s not a particularly cheerful background for a romance, although it was a common enough event in Regency times, being one of the major killers of the era. The process of dying takes much of the book, and the consequences of the death are clearly a setup for a future book, so matters remains unresolved here. Apart from that there is very little else going on. A benevolent widow pops up to offer timely advice and practical help. A couple of friends passed through that I would like to have seen more of, a lively and interesting pair but only bit players here. And one young lady seems to have no function other than to convince Julia that Nathanial is courting someone else, because she is never seen again.

And so to pedant’s corner. My only real complaint in this book is those pesky titles. The baron is Lord Heatherton, never Baron Heatherton and certainly never the Baron of Heatherton (barons aren’t ‘of’ anywhere, although they might be Baron Something of Somewhere). His wife is Lady Heatherton, nothing else. Her intimate friends may call her Virginia but she is never, ever Lady Virginia Macon, or Lady Virginia anything. Like her husband, she is never addressed or described as Baroness. It’s complicated, but there are whole books devoted to spelling out these details.

Apart from this, the author is to be commended for her research. There are lots of nice details here. I particularly liked the clock being stopped when the baron died, and the fake doors on the Royal Crescent. I wasn’t too sure about the doctor and his friend having a luncheon of soup and sandwiches at a Bath teashop, however. Luncheon wasn’t a common meal in the Regency, and were there teashops in those days? And again, supper was used in place of dinner. But these are small details.

The language used is a bit modern, and knocked me out of immersion quite a few times. I’m not sure a Regency physician would say that he wanted to be a ‘hands-on’ doctor, and his medical advice was terribly modern, with all that hand-washing, fresh air and sunshine, but then there are very few writers who have the stomach to write positively about leeches, cupping and the theories of humours. I noticed a smattering of wrongly used words (bore instead of bared, for instance) but it was much better than the first book.

I was looking forward to this story, because Julia was the interesting sister with the mysterious past in the first book. I wanted to see her get her HEA. But in the end it was rather a damp squib, which never really drew me in. The characters were pleasant enough, but too selfless and generous for words, and this was true of most of the minor characters, too. The baron’s younger brother is a fairly cardboard-cutout villain. And in the end, nothing very much happened, and there were no real obstacles to our hero and heroine. However, don’t let my nitpicks put you off. It was still an enjoyable read from an author with real talent, and I recommend it. Four stars.

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Review: The Social Tutor by Sally Britton

August 11, 2018 Review 0

There’s lots to love about this, but also some slightly wobbly aspects. On the one hand, the romance is exquisitely well-drawn, perfect in every detail. On the other, the surrounding plot is fairly clunky, and there are some technical issues that interfered with my reading pleasure quite considerably.

Here’s the premise: Miss Christine Devon is the middle daughter of three, now preparing for her debut season in London. Her elder sister, Julia, made a mess of her season, failing to marry the required rich and/or titled man her father demanded. Christine is determined to do better, and meet all her father’s expectations. She wants to make him proud of her. On a neighbouring estate, Thomas Gilbert is the son and heir of a respectable but recently impoverished family, returned from a trip to Italy with a string of mares he hopes to breed. Coincidentally, Christine owns several stallions which she, too, hopes to breed one day.

So the stage is set for a romance based around their common interest in horses. Well, not exactly. Intriguingly, Christine has an unusual problem – she is socially inept, never knowing what to say, and when she does speak, often offending people. She sets the vicar by the ears by arguing theological points with him, and is initially quite oblivious to the general outrage her behaviour creates. But she’s aware that there’s a problem, and, bent on fulfilling her father’s expectations, when she meets Thomas accidentally while out riding, she enlists his help to tutor her in how to converse and flirt with gentlemen.

This part of the story is delicious, and while Christine’s infelicitous attempts to improve her technique lack something of the wit that (say) Georgette Heyer would have given them, they are incredibly true to life (read: I saw my younger self in Christine). Her lack of empathy with those around her, and her habit of saying whatever comes into her head are both endearing and, at the same time, full of pathos.

But of course, while she is learning from Thomas, she is also falling in love, and he with her. The scenes where they oh-so-nearly kiss are breathtaking – well, I was holding my breath, anyway. Excellent writing.

In the background, there are Christine’s two sisters, the younger Rebecca, still trying to walk a fine line between rebellion and conforming to her father’s demanding precepts, and older sister Julia, who seems a bit stuffy at first, but eventually unbends towards Christine. Thomas’s parents are lovely, too, a couple who married for love and are still happy together, and want that for their son, too. As for Christine’s father, I’m not a big fan of the autocratic father as a plot driver, personally, and this is a particularly obnoxious specimen, driven totally by considerations of rank and wealth, and with no interest whatsoever in his daughters’ happiness. If he were not quite so evil, there would be virtually no obstacle to the love match at all, so to my mind he doesn’t quite ring true as a character, he’s more of a plot device, albeit a very common one.

So. To the technical issues, which is just me being my usual pedantic self. The author has done a lot of research into the Regency era, but she’s missing a few of the basics. The one point that rankled most with me was the number of gentlemen who had ‘business associates’ or were ‘away on business’. The distinguishing characteristic of a gentleman is that he does not engage in ‘business’ or trade of any sort. He has an independent income, preferably from the rent on land, but some might be held in funds. He might visit his distant estates, perhaps, but if he says he has business in town, it’s because he’s visiting his lawyer, his banker or his mistress. Younger sons might engage in the most respectable professions, such as the church, law, the army or politics, but the true gentleman and his eldest son, at least, do not undertake any employment. This is an important distinction to make, because Mr Devon wants his daughters to marry well in part to provide him with good quality business connections. Nope. Social connections, yes, but not business.

The other big issue is the matter of titles. This is something that almost all American authors, and a lot of Brits, too, get tangled up with, and it is complicated, true, but the correct forms of address haven’t changed much in the last two hundred years. The Earl of Annesbury, for instance, is addressed as Lord Annesbury, or Annesbury by his friends, or my lord by inferiors. I don’t know where the title Lord Calvert came from, but it’s wrong. And as for the earl mentioned in passing as having two sons, who would both inherit titles, one from the mother – this just made me shudder. It’s not totally impossible, but it’s so wildly improbable as to cause astonishment when mentioned. I also was uncomfortable with Christine being called ‘Miss Christine’ almost constantly. It’s fine when she’s with her sisters, but it would be more normal to call her ‘Miss Devon’ when she’s on her own and there’s no possibility of confusion.

Another Regency blunder concerns the meals. The main meal of the day is dinner (not supper), and it might consist of a single course, all set out on the table before the guests sit down, sweet and savoury dishes together, or there might be two courses, with the table cleared and then reset with another huge collection of dishes. There might also be ‘removes’, with some dishes replaced by others. But no soup course, fish course, etc. That was a Victorian invention. As was afternoon tea. A supper was a light meal served at the end of an evening by those who dined early, or in the middle of a ball. On the other hand, the author has done her research on the waltz, and describes the early form of it very well. Hardly anyone gets this right, so kudos for that (and it’s a terrific scene!).

On the writing, there were a host of Americanisms, like fall for autumn, passed for died, dove instead of dived, and so on, although these don’t matter much. The homophones are worse (words that sound the same but mean something different, like bare for bear, poured over instead of pored over, and ring a peel instead of ring a peal). A good editor should have spotted those.

Well, this has turned into quite an essay, but I hate those reviews that say ‘good/bad historical accuracy/editing/whatever’. I like to know what that means. I hope you do too, or maybe no one will actually read this far, who knows. Deep breath, nearly done.

On the plot clunkiness, I’ve already mentioned that a large part of the plot depends wholly on the autocratic father, but there is another moment at the end which kind of ruined things for me. I won’t mention it because spoiler, but it was a shame, because up until then things had been going along swimmingly. The early annoyances of inaccuracies and the like had faded away, there were scenes of real emotional intensity between the two protagonists and things were well on their way to a possible five stars. But suddenly all the obstacles were airbrushed out of existence, and we tipped straight into the happy ever after at breakneck speed.

Now, I wouldn’t want anyone to mistake this list of problems as an overall criticism of the book. They were problems for me because I’m horribly pedantic that way, but most people won’t even notice them. In every other respects, this is a terrific book, with likable and realistic protagonists, a beautifully developed slow-build romance and a story happily free of side plots, stupidity and sex. The lovers get their long-awaited kiss in the last-but-one chapter and ride off into the (metaphorical) sunset in the most satisfactory way. It’s the first of the series, and possibly the author’s first published work, it’s a refreshingly original and well-written entry into the genre and I highly recommend it, even though for me personally the historical inaccuracies and that plot clunkiness keep it to four stars. I enjoyed it despite all of that, and I’ll certainly try more of the series. The next book is, I believe, about Julia and I really want to see her get her HEA. So, onward.

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Review: False Colours by Georgette Heyer

August 5, 2018 Review 0

There’s something magical about an identical twin story, and this one is about as good as they come. Kit Fancot, as the younger brother, has taken up a diplomatic career. When he returns to England, he finds his brother Evelyn has disappeared, while on the brink of a very sudden betrothal. All the lady’s relations have been gathered to meet Evelyn, and to save his brother from embarrassment, Kit agrees to impersonate him.

He scrapes through the meeting and retires to the family estate to hide away until Evelyn turns up again, but the young lady’s formidable grandmother invites herself and her granddaughter to stay with them. This is a crisis, so Kit’s widowed mother invites some starchy relations and one of her beaux to join them. Thus begins one of the most awkward house parties ever, not helped by Kit and the young lady, Cressy, beginning to fall in love.

Of course Evelyn eventually turns up again, having fallen in love himself, and the brothers have to dream up some ingenious way to swap back their identities and pair up with their chosen ladies, without creating a scandal. The whole book is delightful, and one of the funniest Heyers ever. As with many of her tales, the principal characters are perfectly rational people, but the side characters are gloriously over the top.

Lady Denville is clearly based on the outrageously extravagant Duchess of Devonshire, completely dippy about money but so charming that nobody ever minded. Well, except her late husband, who was a hard-nosed sort of bloke and gave her a rotten time. Sir Bonamy Ripple, her vastly overweight but very wealthy admirer, is no doubt based on the Prince of Wales, or Prinny, himself. These two, and the formidable grandmother, provide most of the entertainment, and the dialogue is utterly brilliant. The scene where Lady Denville persuades perpetual bachelor Sir Bonamy to marry her is masterful.

Naturally all’s well that ends well, everyone ends up with the most suitable partner (yes, even Sir Bonamy!) and scandal is averted. Five well-earned stars.

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Review: The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

July 25, 2018 Review 2

A delight from start to finish. A hero and heroine who are both sensible, reasonable people, a young buck who manages to be perfectly gentlemanly, a ‘villain’ who still manages to be sympathetic despite his total selfishness, and a plot that rattles along nicely without any eye-rolling moments. What could possibly go wrong? Well, I’ll come to that.

The premise: to the disgust of his less well-heeled relatives, Sir Waldo Hawkridge has inherited a run-down property in Yorkshire from the reclusive Joseph Calver. To the delight of the locals, Sir Waldo, known as the Nonesuch for his sporting abilities, arrives to inspect the property, with his cousin Julian, Lord Lindeth, in tow. Julian’s escaping the efforts of his fond mother to see him rise to stellar heights in London society. He, however, prefers a quiet country life.

The locals are determined to make the most of these unexpected arrivals, and launch a season of outings and parties and general gaiety, with the less than subtle intention of securing one or both of the gentlemen for one of the local girls. Julian is instantly smitten by the devastatingly beautiful Tiffany Wield, while Waldo is drawn to her cool, composed and oh-so-elegant governess-companion, Ancilla Trent.

And so begins the dance. Waldo and Ancilla both, in their different ways, contrive to keep Julian out of Tiffany’s clutches, Ancilla by playing on Tiffany’s self-interest, and Waldo by manoeuvring Tiffany to show her worst, self-centred, temper-tantrum self in front of Julian. And this goes along so swimmingly that Tiffany decides to run away and recruits the equally self-centred cousin Laurence to her cause, a mistake of huge (and very entertaining) proportions.

All of this is delightful, and our two principals are merrily falling in love and on the brink of their happy ending, but naturally this wouldn’t be a Regency romance if two rational adults simply fell in love and got married, and so we come to the inevitable obstacle. Surely it can’t be…? But it is. Once again a perfectly decent story is mucked up with The Great Misunderstanding, of the sort that could easily be sorted out in two minutes if the hero and heroine just talked to each other.

Which is disappointing, but luckily the hero is a sensible man who doesn’t storm off in a huff or (as in some books) immediately betroth himself to some hideously unsuitable person. Instead, he keeps asking the heroine ‘Why not?’ every time she refuses him, by which means the matter is eventually resolved. Thank heavens for sensible heroes!

Despite the annoyance of The Great Misunderstanding, the rest of the book was overwhelmingly enjoyable, and it was all cleared up quickly so I’m not going to knock off a star. Plus I rather liked Waldo – one of the better heroes, I think. So, five stars.

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Review: The Youngest Dowager by Louise Allen

July 13, 2018 Review 0

I’m not at all sure what to make of this one. On the one hand, I devoured it with relish, storming through the pages at a rate of knots. On the other hand, it has a number of aspects that make me roll my eyes so hard my head is spinning.

The premise is excellent. Marissa was married at seventeen to the much older Earl of Longminster at the command of her father. He was a cold and controlling man, and she can hardly believe that she’s now free. The new earl, Marcus, newly arrived from the West Indies, is very like his predecessor in looks, but not in personality. The two are drawn together, but she’s reluctant to get involved. He thinks her coldness towards him is because she’s still in love with her husband, and she thinks that all men are like her late husband. So far, so interesting.

But the plot soon becomes implausible, and in places downright preposterous. Marissa can hardly turn round without bumping into Marcus, usually at a moment when her secretly passionate nature is to the fore and she’s doing something hoydenish, and frequently when they’re alone. Almost at once, he’s claiming a passionate kiss and (surprise!) she responds to him. And then backs away hastily, remembering that he’s a man and therefore The Enemy.

This back and forth goes on for pretty much the whole book, with the encounters getting more and more ridiculous. Would you believe that a very proper Regency lady, a countess, no less, goes riding secretly at night, astride, naturally, and then goes skinny-dipping in the sea? No? Nor would I, but so it is. And would you believe that her secret ride is observed by the earl, who immediately summons his horse and chases after her, even stripping off and dashing into the sea to rescue her, gallant hero that he is? Well, he thought she was trying to kill herself. Of course he did. And he needed to console her pretty thoroughly after rescuing her. Of course he did. My eyes were rolling pretty hard at this point.

But you know what? It was a great scene anyway, and I loved it. The author is a terrific writer, however wacky the plot, and the story just carried me along. I had a lot of sympathy for Marissa, who had had a pretty horrible life and was naturally finding it a bit difficult to put herself in the power of another man. Marcus I found more difficult to like. He veered about too randomly for my liking, grabbing kisses at the most inappropriate times, and in a fairly domineering way, deciding that he’ll marry Marissa seemingly out of the blue, getting mad at her, displaying a violent temper and then bantering with her in a light-hearted manner completely out of keeping with his previous moods. He just didn’t make much sense to me.

And yet somehow, in all this hot mess of contradictions and misunderstandings and wrong assumptions on both sides, even including that tired old cliche, the mistress that’s in his past but the heroine doesn’t know that… sigh… it all works and I really enjoyed the romance. The sex scenes are hot (and fairly graphic, so if you’re not into that, steer clear), there’s real chemistry between the hero and heroine, and there was definitely emotional depth to it as Marcus discovers just what sort of a husband his predecessor was, and Marissa gradually learns to trust him and open up a bit. There are some fairly minor side plots, and the wayward sister (another tired old cliche) is pretty silly, but it was the main romance that made the book for me.

Even the several times my pedant-o-meter went off didn’t spoil my enjoyment. Drapes instead of curtains, for instance, or Marcus being called an Honourable (I spent ages trying to figure out a way to make him so before finally giving it up as an error). I wasn’t comfortable with all the ladies being in full mourning for over a year, either, because the Regency was far more flexible about that, but none of this spoilt my enjoyment, and the book was so well written and so accurate in most other respects, that I gave the author a pass. And she got a shed-load of brownie points for a couple of beautifully correct introduction scenes (most authors are far too casual about it; proper introductions were hugely important in Regency society).

A great read for those who like a spicier Regency, but the implausibilities keep it to four stars.

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