Review: Mary Bennet and the Bingley Codex by Joyce Harmon

Posted July 9, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well, this was a whole heap of fun! A Pride and Prejudice sequel with a little light magic thrown in.

Here’s the premise: Jane and Bingley have been married for about a year, and have settled in an estate in Cheshire. After a visit to Longbourn, they take bookish Mary Bennet back with them where she discovers their enormous library and some very peculiar books…

If you always thought there was more to Mary Bennet than meets the eye, this is the book for you. This is not the Mary of P&P, the rather peevish girl who practiced her music and studied books constantly but played very badly and displayed no understanding gleaned from her learning. That was Mary seen through the cynical eyes of her sister Elizabeth. But this is Mary’s own story, and since we’re privy to her inner thoughts, she turns out to be surprisingly intelligent and self-aware and even manipulative at times to get what she wants. I liked her very much.

The middle part of the story got a bit slow, since it was largely about Mary being taught some magical precepts by a pair of mentors. I thought of it as the Harry Potter section, where Mary sort of goes to magic school. If you like your magic explained to you in depth, you’ll enjoy this very much, but I far preferred Mary’s own experiments, or anything where things were happening, rather than sitting around in the library talking. But once Caroline Bingley arrives on a husband-hunting mission (not that she’s being typecast, or anything…), and a suitor emerges for Mary the pace hots up a bit, and then it’s all downhill for the dramatic ride to the finishing line.

I didn’t spot the villain, but then I never do. I’m constantly surprised when that really nice, friendly character turns out to be an evil so-and-so. The resolution was very neatly done – a satisfying comeuppance. And Caroline Bingley gets a gentler resolution than perhaps she deserves.

There’s no romance at all in Mary’s life, at least not in this book. Since this is the first of a series, I’m optimistic that she’ll meet a charming and handsome young wizard somewhere on her adventures. A pleasant, easy read, with an unexpectedly congenial Mary Bennet, totally canonical Jane, Bingley and Caroline, and some interesting side characters. Four stars. I hope it won’t be too long until the next book in the series.

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Review: In Milady’s Chamber by Sheri Cobb South

Posted July 8, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This book was great fun. It’s very much an Agatha Christie style murder mystery (in the bedchamber with the nail scissors…). The sleuth isn’t exactly an amateur (he’s a Bow Street Runner, a forerunner of the police), but techniques were so under-developed in those days that he might as well be one.

Here’s the premise: Lady Fieldhurst is a failure. Having been married to her viscount husband for six years, she’s failed at the one thing expected of her – the production of an heir. Or any child, really. With the marriage already rocky, she resolves to revenge herself on her unfaithful husband by taking a lover. But there’s a surprise awaiting the would-be lovers when they reach her bedroom – the body of her husband, stabbed in the neck with a pair of her ladyship’s own nail scissors.

Naturally the two fall under suspicion, but the Bow Street Runner sent to investigate the crime, John Pickett, is not exactly unbiased, for he falls instantly under the spell of the beautiful widow. And so begins a very determined search for the real murderer, to ensure that his adored viscountess isn’t wrongfully hanged.

I liked John Pickett very much. He’s rather a gauche, inept fellow, constantly blushing and tripping over things, which is all rather endearing. Despite having some prejudice against the widow’s putative lover, and rich toffs in general, he’s very aware of his biases and tries very hard to compensate for them (not always successfully!). Apparently there’s a prequel that gives his background, but I haven’t read it and didn’t feel I’d missed anything vital. The widow is a less sympathetic character initially, although she unbent somewhat later on, but I never found her particularly likable. She wasn’t unlikable, either, being more of a blank slate for Pickett’s much stronger personality to draw on. But it seems these two will have a whole series together, so I daresay she will blossom into a more rounded character later.

The historical research is (as far as I can tell) absolutely spot on. I know nothing about the Bow Street Runners, but that aspect of the book seems very convincing to me. The only moment that gave me pause is when the dead viscount’s cousin (I think) turns up to claim the title, with a wife who’s already planning to dig up the heroine’s rose garden. I know the widow is acknowledged as barren, and the couple are described as ‘estranged’ but they were still living in the same house, and a pregnancy wasn’t outside the bounds of possibility. It’s crass in the extreme not to give the widow the opportunity to say one way or the other before ordering the new curtains. And even if the couple themselves are that vulgar, others should question their rudeness. However, that was the only (slightly) off note.

The story follows the formula of all such murder mysteries, with a full complement of red herrings and a moment when even our sturdy hero is forced to admit that his lady love might be guilty, before seeing the light just in the nick of time. So no surprises in that direction, but plenty of twists and turns along the way. I didn’t guess the murderer, but then I never do. A nice, gentle story with plenty of humour, always a bonus, and a very entertaining detective. Five stars.

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Review: Wyndcross by Martha Keyes

Posted July 7, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

It’s a rare day when I find a new author I can rave about, but here we are. Martha Keyes’ first full-length Regency romance manages to tick all the boxes – engaging characters, believable situations and a truly authentic setting. The dialogue is sparkling with wit in the best tradition of Georgette Heyer, and the characters all speak and behave in a credibly Regency manner. Awesome.

Here’s the premise: Kate Matcham is in a difficult situation. Her father died trying to stamp out smuggling in Dorsetshire, and her mother remarried a man in trade. Kate’s spending most of her time with her widowed aunt in London, but she’s aware that, with younger sisters growing up, she’s expected to marry well. Her options are limited, though – a marriage of convenience, an offer of a less savoury sort, or the slight possibility of a fortune from her less-than-respectable step-father. She doesn’t want any of them. But then she receives an unexpected invitation to stay with a childhood friend very near to her old home. The only problem? The charming young man she finds herself falling for is earmarked for her friend.

I adore a character who makes me laugh, and William, the aforementioned charming young man, has the most glorious sense of humour. He brings out the best in Kate, and their verbal sparring matches are a delight. There are some other fun characters, too, and (with a couple of minor exceptions) the bad guys are not so much wicked as flailing about trying to do their best, albeit in a fairly misguided way.

The smuggling subplot is not an original one, and the resolution there was fairly melodramatic, but it never felt outrageously contrived and the characters behaved (on the whole) in keeping with their characters. I say ‘on the whole’, because I got a bit twitchy about William keeping Kate in the dark, especially when it’s clear at this point that he’s in love with her. Knowing her history and character, and knowing how dangerous the situation was, not telling her put her at great risk. I would have liked a bit more passion from him, too, especially at the end when they’ve been through some difficult times together. Sweeping her into his manly arms wouldn’t have gone amiss at that point. Sometimes Regency restraint can be carried a tad too far!

As for Kate, she did a great deal of agonising and it took her a long time to realise what was going on with William, both on the smuggling front and emotionally. There’s that Regency restraint again. I’m not a huge fan of hand-wringing heroines, but with Kate it was very understandable, given her background and her presumed unsuitability to marry William, who is the heir to an earldom. But when the two of them did finally manage to set aside that pesky Regency restraint for five minutes and sort themselves out, it was well worth the wait.

On the historical accuracy front, I have virtually nothing to grumble about. The only Americanisms I spotted were a couple of gottens and one or two times Kate gazed ‘out the window’. There were a couple of anachronisms. ‘Empathy’ was first recorded in 1895 and ‘surreal’ in 1936. Trivial stuff. In every other way – dialogue, manners, setting – the author’s grasp of the Regency is very assured, and the wit and sparkle that flies between Kate and William reminded me very much of Georgette Heyer. A wonderful read, highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Eleanor by Martha Keyes

Posted July 1, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a novella-length story as an introduction to this debut author, and it’s a pretty accomplished work for a first timer. The premise is an unusual one. Lawrence Debenham has been browbeaten by his parents for his whole life. Now they’ve bought him a modest estate so that he can assume the responsibilities of a gentleman of property, and settle down with a suitably worthy wife. He is rebelling in the only way he can, by inviting a couple of pleasure-bent friends to join him in a life of idleness, doing anything rather than accede to his parents’ wishes and accept the mantle of duty.
But into this dissolute life appears Eleanor Renwick, her young brother John and a very large dog called Anne. Finding them stranded at the local inn by a broken-down carriage, Lawrence recklessly invites them to stay at his house until the repairs have been completed, and finds himself face to face with Eleanor’s deeply-felt but lightly-borne sense of duty. John (and the dog) help Lawrence to recapture his youth and Eleanor… well, it’s not difficult to see where things are heading with Eleanor, if only Lawrence can set aside his wish to thwart his parents.This is a straightforward little story. There are no dastardly villains, no kidnappings or shady goings-on, all the characters are pleasant, decent sorts and thank goodness for a plot which doesn’t depend on the two main characters misunderstanding each other or failing to communicate. It has to be said that very little happens rather slowly, but what does happen is enjoyable enough. There’s a tendency to describe every single piece of dialogue or gesture or smile, which slows things even more. When the author has got into her stride, I hope she’ll tighten her writing a bit and vary the pace.

On the historical accuracy front, I only have one quibble. A lady finding herself stranded at an inn with only a young brother and a dog as escort is in a bit of a bind, especially if there are no rooms to be had at said inn. What she would never, never do, however, is to go off with a single man to stay at his home. If he were married, or his mother were in residence, it would be acceptable, but a lady staying unchaperoned in a house with only young, single gentlemen and servants is a big no-no. However, it’s the whole premise of the story, so it has to be given a pass.

I liked all the characters. John and the dog are plot devices, but charming ones. Eleanor is a serious type who needed Lawrence’s childlike imagination to lighten her life, and Lawrence needed a dose of her graceful approach to duty to enable him to accept his responsibilities. Both their dilemmas felt real, and if they fell into the romance a little too easily, it was obvious that they were well suited and would be very contented together.

There were a fair few Americanisms (fall instead of autumn, passed instead of died, amongst others), and there were some expressions that felt too modern to me, but otherwise the writing was fine, and mercifully free of typos and wayward punctuation. In the end, Lawrence’s difficulties resolved themselves very easily. I would have liked to have met his parents, having heard them demonised for most of the book. It would have been fun to find out whether they really were as dreadful as Lawrence made out, although there’s a hint that it’s his own fears that made them seem so. It’s a small point, however. The focus of the story is the romance, which builds nicely to a delightful resolution. A pleasant and readable debut. I shall be looking forward to the author’s first full length book. Four stars.

PS I don’t usually comment on covers, since the inside of a book is generally more interesting, but a huge thumbs-up for a cover that features something close to historically accurate clothing rather than a glorified prom gown.

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Review: Band Sinister by K J Charles

Posted June 18, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I adored this book. Absolutely adored it. It’s stuffed full of wildly outrageous characters, the situation is implausible and there are a great many modern sensibilities shoehorned into Regency characters but none of that mattered, because towering over all that is the most glorious love story I’ve read for a long time. And it’s also intelligent and witty and a joy to read. What’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: shy, innocent Guy and his sparky sister Amanda are living in seclusion after a scandal. When Amanda breaks her leg in a riding accident, she’s forced to recuperate at the home of Sir Philip Rookwood, where he’s hosting a group of his disreputable friends. But the disreputable friends turn out to be artists and scientists and other intelligentsia, and Guy finds them fascinating. And the most fascinating of them all is Sir Philip himself, who is equally fascinated by Guy.

So yes, this is an m/m romance with a shedload of sex, so if that’s not your thing, steer clear.
However, the sex is (in many ways) less interesting than the cautious way the two men inch their way towards an understanding, and the experienced Philip leads the virginal Guy towards a relationship that’s far, far more than just sex. Most of the book is simply talking, as Guy attempts to work out exactly what he wants. As he gradually becomes more confident of his own wishes, he is not the only one who’s learning and opening up to new experiences. And let’s not forget the backdrop to this, for here we are in the Regency where homosexual acts carried the death penalty. The choices here are not at all straightforward.

The dramatic climax (so to speak) is a little over the top, but by that point I was quite happy to go along with it. If you don’t mind a lot of blokeish sex, I highly recommend this for the larger-than-life characters, the sparkling wit and the unconventional setting. This is as far from the traditional Regency of balls and Almacks and stupid misunderstandings as it’s possible to get. It’s clever and funny and a fine love story to boot. I found it an absolute delight. Five stars.

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Review: Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer

Posted June 12, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

I’ve reread almost all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels in the order she wrote them and, with the exception of the two with a war setting (Spanish Bride and An Infamous Army), which I abandoned as not my thing, I’ve enjoyed them all. Until now. Cousin Kate is an odd mixture of light romance and Gothic suspense with very dark undertones which somehow fails on both counts. Having read droves of Heyers that were essentially light-hearted, if very elegant, fluff, this was quite a shock to the system.

Here’s the premise: Kate Malvern is an impoverished orphan struggling to make her way as a governess. When the son of the house shocks his family by proposing, she finds herself out on her ear and running back to her former nurse for shelter while she looks for another position. But Sarah, the nurse, secretly writes to Kate’s only known relative, Lady Broome, who descends at once and sweeps Kate off to her stately pile, Staplewood, where she lives with her elderly and frail baronet husband, her highly-strung son Torquil, and a resident doctor. Lady Broome showers Kate with kindness and gifts, but Kate suspects that she wants something in return and feels that all is not well at Staplewood…

The first part of the book is all Gothic mysteriousness. Lady Broome is suffocatingly kind, but somehow cold. Sir Timothy is an old dear obviously surrendering mastery to his dominant wife. Torquil the beautiful adolescent son is oddly moody. The doctor and the servants seem resolutely determined to convince Kate that everything’s wonderful. And somehow Kate, who’s as bright as a button in other ways, never seems to notice how odd the household is, or if she does, she explains it away to herself or accepts whatever explanation she’s given. The average reader (by which I mean me) is saying: oh, come on, girl! Get a grip.

Into the midst of this spookiness drifts the Broome cousin and next heir, Philip, who seems to have wandered in from another story altogether. In a proper Gothic suspense novel, he would make the heroine fall head over heels in love with him, and then make her suspect him of trying to off Torquil, who stands between him and the baronetcy. Philip handily accomplishes the first part in a matter of days, but resolutely refuses to play the part of apparent villain. There are very brief mentions of certain ‘accidents’ that befell (or almost befell Torquil) for which he blamed Philip, but these are never substantiated, are set down as the products of an excitable imagination and eventually are forgotten about altogether.

Philip is far too nice and non-threatening to play the villain, and insists on being solely the romantic hero. But even here he falls short. He, too, falls head over heels in love within days, but they can’t marry because… um, because… Nope, there isn’t a single obstacle. Dear Aunt Minerva won’t like it, of course, but Philip is independent of her. He has his own house and fortune, he’s a nice, sensible chap and he’s old enough to know his own mind. Kate is gently-brought-up and also old enough to know what she wants, and although she agonises at tedious length about her lack of fortune and connections and other trivia, she never comes close to refusing him outright. To be fair, Heyer obviously recognised the lack of obstacles, because the romance is stitched up midway through the book, but they can’t simply take off and leave dear Aunt Minerva in their dust because… well, because of a fairly cack-handed plot contrivance, actually.

And so the plot builds to the inevitable tragic ending… wait, what? This is Heyer, right, where happy endings are baked in. But not this time. Oh, our low-key hero and heroine get to ride off into the sunset, as expected, but otherwise, the ending is a bit of a downer. All in all, not a particularly enjoyable read. The romance is my least favourite style, the plot was a million miles from the light, fluffy type that’s Heyer’s signature, and even the moments of humour were few and far between. Heyer’s shown she can tackle more demanding relationships in A Civil Contract, and I will always applaud an author for stepping outside her comfort zone and trying something new, but this one was a relative flop for me. Three stars.

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Review: Sophie by Jenny Hambly

Posted June 8, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s previous book, her debut publication, so I looked forward to this with some enthusiasm and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very different story, but that’s all to the good, and it features another spirited and independent heroine.

Sophie, the widowed Lady Lewisham, has just emerged from her year of mourning for her much older husband. It wasn’t a love match. He was in desperate need of an heir, and she was young, beautiful and available, with parents willing to accept a generous settlement to agree to the marriage. But this is not the conventional story of an unwilling bride and an unpleasant husband. Sophie was perfectly willing to do her duty to the benefit of her family, and Edward turned out to be a kind and considerate husband, who encouraged Sophie to read and expand her mind under his aegis. Even though the heir didn’t happen, he ensured that she became independently wealthy after his death.

So Sophie decides that she will continue to expand her mind by travelling to Italy with her companion, Miss Trew, and that was a pretty intrepid thing to do in those days, without a male or three to oversee everything. Naturally things go wrong as they travel, but luckily they encounter an acquaintance from London, Sir Philip Bray, who helps them out. And since he’s as handsome as she is beautiful… romance ahoy.

Needless to say, it’s not quite as simple as all that. Sophie is enjoying her independence (and her fortune!) and has no desire at all to surrender either to a man. And Philip is a confirmed bachelor and something of a rake. He’s happy with his succession of mistresses and has no intention at all of trading them in for a wife. And so the whole plot is the two of them inching towards their HEA, sometimes taking one step forward and two back, and sometimes veering off at a tangent, but always totally, utterly convinced that they aren’t heading for the altar. No way. Absolutely not.

In lesser hands this might have been rather dull. The interchanges between the two principals tended towards the grumpy, with only occasional bursts of romantic tension to counterpoint their wrangling. There are some minor side plots with an Italian family, resolved rather too easily, and a gentle little romance for Miss Trew, but none of that added much to the main story. Only Philip’s friend, Harry, added some much needed animation and humour to spice things up. But when our hero and heroine do break out of the grumpiness and allow the attraction between them to shine through, the result is breathtaking. There are some sublime moments of high emotion to more than compensate for all that crossness.

The author’s other great talent is in descriptive prose, and this book is superb in that respect, with its lush evocations of both the Italian countryside and the English. Her grasp of the Regency is sound enough to make the description of travelling through Italy perfectly believable. And for people, too, the author is able to create an image of a character in just a few well-chosen words. Wonderful stuff.

If I have a complaint, it’s that the romance is too straightforward. Or perhaps it’s the characters themselves who are too straightforward. They are both intelligent, sensible people without any real flaws (apart from grumpiness and an unwillingness to do their duty as hero/heroine of a romance). There are no real obstacles, except for their own personal resistance to the idea of matrimony, and after fighting against it for the whole length of the book, in the end they cave in rather easily when pushed and everything in the garden is rosy. I think I would have preferred them to take things more slowly and cautiously at this point rather than tipping straight into planning the honeymoon. Sophie needed to be absolutely sure that Philip would allow her to continue to grow as a person, and Philip needed to be certain he’d overcome his personal baggage. But I did like that they both seriously considered the idea of not getting married at all, but simply having an affair. A great instance of the author respecting the customs of the Regency, while also respecting the intelligence of her characters.

An excellent book, highly recommended, and I look forward to reading the irrepressible Harry’s story which I feel sure is bound to follow. Five stars.

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Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Posted May 20, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

This is perhaps Jane Austen’s most neglected novel, if ‘neglected’ is a word that can be applied to Austen at all. Pride and Prejudice is the monster towering over everything else, but the romantic difficulties of Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility, the whimsy of Northanger Abbey and the elegant plotting of Emma all outshine poor, plodding Mansfield Park, which doesn’t even have much of the author’s acid humour to leaven it.

But Mansfield Park is, in many ways, the most intriguing of them all, because the heart of it is about morality. The other books touch on the subject, of course, usually when the smiling, handsome rogue is revealed to be a total villain, but Mansfield Park brings it front and centre stage in the character of Edmund – a man with the most delicate sense of propriety himself, who has (in effect) raised his cousin Fanny to his own high principles, and yet he succumbs to a woman of dodgy morals while Fanny resolutely refuses her rakish suitor.

These two characters, and the counterpoint in the Crawford siblings, are very problematic for modern readers. Edmund and Fanny, with their high moral standards and censorious tone, come across as downright prudish at times, while Mary and Henry Crawford are witty and lively and thoroughly appealing. Their dodgy morals just aren’t so obvious to us, and even if we notice them, we wonder just what is so wrong about much of what they do.

Fanny’s other problem is that she resolutely refuses to marry Henry Crawford, and this, too, is hard to understand. She has been brought up as the poor relation, forever grateful for any crumbs falling from the table. She’s sensible, intelligent and dutiful, she knows perfectly well that she’ll never get another offer as good (as her uncle uncompromisingly points out to her), and she knows how much it will benefit her impoverished family enormously. Yet she turns him down because he flirted with her cousins, and because she’s secretly in love with Edmund. And here is where Austen’s logic falters, because she shows us very clearly the result of marrying for love alone in Fanny’s own ramshackle family. Yet she has Fanny holding out to the bitter end for love, in defiance of common sense. The rational solution is for her to tell Henry Crawford that she wants to see him prove that he can be faithful for at least a year before considering his offer. He would fail, of course.

The ending is pretty silly. I’m not a big fan of Austen’s overly-dramatic denouements, but this one is the worst of them. Henry Crawford may have been all sorts of a feckless fool, but I’ve always thought he was too astute to ever run away with a married woman, and Julia’s elopement made even less sense. And then Austen has the problem that her hero, who has been in love with one woman for virtually the entire book, has to abruptly do an about turn in the final chapter to marry the heroine. Plausible? Not much.

But beneath the wobbly plotting, there are some interesting themes cropping up. Nature or nurture, for instance, and whether goodness is inherent or learnt, with the contrast between Fanny and her cousins. Her siblings William and Susan are also examples of characters with innate good qualities, despite their upbringing. Then there is the gulf between wealth and poverty, and the interesting (but never explored) fact that Sir Thomas Bertram’s wealth comes from presumably slave-worked plantations in the West Indies, at a time when abolitionism was in the ascendancy. There is the indolence of Lady Bertram and Fanny’s mother, contrasted with the constant busyness of Mrs Norris. There is the selfishness of Tom Bertram, the Crawfords and Mrs Norris, and the too-good-to-be-true unselfishness of Fanny, who abruptly becomes very selfish indeed when faced with the prospect of marrying Henry Crawford. Sometimes these contrasts are almost too strongly drawn, but they give the book a depth that, say, Pride and Prejudice never reaches.

In the end, this is an interesting book, not an easy read, but thought-provoking. The plotting wobbles keep this to four stars for me.

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Review: The Girl In The Gatehouse by Julie Klassen

Posted May 19, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is very much my sort of book. Slow, gentle and engrossing, the characters have time to live and breathe and the plot to unwind without haste. It’s not for those who like a lot of angst and brow-beating – everything here is much lower key than that. I disliked a previous Klassen (The Silent Governess) for its overblown melodrama, but this one is refreshingly different.

Here’s the premise: Mariah Aubrey has been banished from her family after a scandal (it’s presumed sexual, but the details aren’t revealed until quite late in the book). She’s given a home in a disused gatehouse by a distant relation with a single servant to support her, and essentially abandoned by her family to get by as best she can. With no other income, she resorts to writing novels in secret. This is such a standard trope of Regencies these days, but here the author makes the comparison with Jane Austen explicit by quoting her several times in chapter headings.

The hero is Captain Matthew Bryant, returning to England successful and wealthy after the Napoleonic wars, and here again the Austen comparison is blatant, for this is none other than a thinly disguised Captain Wentworth. Unlike Miss Austen’s hero, however, Captain Bryant has not forgotten his first love who rejected his suit, and is determined to demonstrate to her that he is now eminently suitable by leasing the estate wherein our heroine’s gatehouse resides.

There is a complicated side plot involving the owner of the estate Bryant leases, an array of minor characters divided neatly into the good and evil camps, a local workhouse with surprisingly wholesome inhabitants, and a shedload of coincidences abounding. However, the headline romance is rock solid, with the obvious attraction between the two tempered by Bryant’s grim determination to win back his former love, and Mariah’s murky past. I very much enjoyed the slow build of the relationship between them, and their interactions felt very real.

I was quite confused by the gatehouse itself. Since it became a plot point, I’d have liked one feature explained in detail early on – that even though the gate alongside is securely locked, it’s possible to get from one side to the other by going through the gatehouse. There’s a door on each side. That wasn’t at all clear to me until very late in the book (I’m used to gates that have a lodge inside the gates and separate from them), so it confused me to no end when people seemed to magically pass through the locked gate.

Towards the end, the subplots devolve into melodrama rather, there are far too many minor hiccups between our star-crossed lovers (once they realise This Is Love, I like them to just get on with it and not dither about) and the epilogue is stuffed with completely implausible and sugar-sweet conversions, but I still enjoyed the story very much. Four stars.

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Review: Lady Saves The Duke by Annabelle Anders

Posted May 4, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I loved this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and for all the right reasons. It’s riddled with silly anachronisms and Americanisms and (shock, horror!) I didn’t mind a bit because it was so much fun to read.

Here’s the premise: our heroine Abigail is dwindling into spinsterhood after her only season in London went disastrously wrong. Her mother hasn’t quite given up on her, however, and wheedles her a place at a stylish house party, where she encounters the tragic figure of hero Alex (who’s a duke, naturally), whose wife and children died in an accident. They don’t seem to have much in common, until a wardrobe malfunction and a chance meeting in the library at night upends both their lives. Abigail is ruined again, and the duke has to make things right. Or he could marry her…

I liked both the main characters. They felt believably three-dimensional, especially given their personal histories. So many authors throw in a past tragedy to draw reader sympathy and attempt to give a character depth, but it rarely works. Anders, however, is a strong enough writer to pull it off, and the internal thought processes of Abigail and Alex, and their conflicting emotions, were very convincing.

There’s only one part of this book where, for me, the plot logic failed. Abigail’s decision to go for a midnight stroll around a house full of men, especially given her history, defies all common sense. And then, meeting Alex in the library, why on earth did she not simply run back to her room? But it’s an essential part of the plot that brings them together, so I’ll let it pass.

From then on, the whole story works wonderfully, and if there are a few over the top moments (Abigail getting to church, for instance), they never strayed from amusing to absurd. As a marriage of convenience story, with the two protagonists inching towards a working arrangement and then (surprise!) to love, this one is hard to beat. But be warned, the sex scenes are moderately graphic, so if that’s not for you, this one’s best avoided. It’s not perfect in the historical accuracy department, by a long chalk, but it was so well-written that it got a pass from me (something that hardly ever happens). However, if gotten and fall and so on will push your buttons, then avoid. For me, it’s a rare five star.

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