Review: ‘Bath Tangle’ by Georgette Heyer

October 17, 2017 Review 0

This is a fairly typical Heyer – an over-dominant and worldly male and a gooseish and very silly ingenue female, with a wide difference in ages. Fortunately, these two spend some time betrothed but they don’t in the end marry, because the real heroine of the book is not at all gooseish or silly, and is just as over-dominant a the male. For once, Heyer makes the hero and heroine a good, if tempestuous, match for each other.

The book has a nice premise. When the Earl of Spenborough dies, he leaves behind a very young widow, and an unmarried daughter several years older than the widow. Fanny, the widow, is sweet, charming, timid, uncomfortable in high society and distressed by the slightest breach in propriety. Serena, the daughter, is very much her father’s daughter – wild, wilful, as hard a rider to hounds as any man, and determined to have her own way in everything. And when she discovers that her father has left her fortune and the right of approval of her marriage to the man she once jilted, the Marquis of Rotherham, sparks fly. But when Fanny and Serena move to Bath, and Serena meets up with old flame Hector, and Rotherham randomly betroths himself to gooseish little Emily, the stage is set for the Bath Tangle of the title.

Naturally, matters eventually resolve themselves into happiness for all, but along the way there are some very funny moments, some lovely side characters and a great deal to enjoy. The hero and heroine are not my favourites – Serena is too hoydenish for my liking, and I prefer the Freddy Standen style of hero, rather than these rogueish, sometimes rakish, types. But Fanny, Hector and the delightful, if not very respectable, granny of Emily’s make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. Four stars.

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Review: ‘Lord John’s Dilemma’ by G G Vandagriff

October 7, 2017 Review 0

This is one of those books that is perfectly readable, without ever setting the world on fire. There’s nothing too terrible about it, but also nothing to render it particularly memorable, either. It’s just a pleasant read, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

The Lord John of the title is a younger son returning from Waterloo wounded and battle-weary. The book describes it as melancholia, which we would now call depression or (in this case) PTSD, but I liked the use of the old-fashioned term. He’s set his mind on marrying the daughter of the pushy neighbours, a lovely girl who’s eminently suitable and rich, and is also conveniently in love with him. Unfortunately, he keeps getting distracted by the neighbours’ new governess, who needs rescuing at regular intervals (by our hero, naturally), but is also not what she seems. This sets up a nicely arranged mix of characters, as well as the dilemma of the title.

The writing is rather good, although there are Americanisms a-plenty (off of, for instance, and fall instead of autumn). Also, although the scene of waltzing in the field of yellow daisies is wonderful and romantic and beautifully evocative, I have no idea what sort of yellow daisies might be growing in the English countryside. Bit of a puzzle, that (I suspect they’re meant to be sunflowers). This book also supports my hypothesis that no American author ever really gets to grips with the British peerage. Our hero is the younger son of an earl, and therefore would not be called Lord John at all (he’d be the Honourable Mr John Whatever). However, these are minor quibbles which never interfered with my enjoyment of the book, and both the story and the characters are nicely done.

Things go off the boil at the end, with an improbable rival for the heroine’s hand, and a dependence on an impausibility, but nevertheless, it rated four stars.

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Review: ‘The Dashing Widow’ by Elizabeth Bramwell

October 5, 2017 Review 0

You don’t read much about widows in Regency romances, with the focus very much on the unmarried ingenue or her slightly older independent-minded sister, so this book is a refreshing change. Abigail Merriweather is thoroughly disapproved of by London’s high society, since she has the temerity to be a widow who doesn’t know her place, and is always getting into scrapes. Worse, her money comes from trade, courtesy of her conveniently deceased husband. And when her friend helps to introduce Abby to London ways, the most disapproving of all is the friend’s brother, the Earl of Gloucester.

This is a charming and well-written story that had me chuckling. It’s rare to find anyone who can emulate the lightness of touch and romantic tangles of Georgette Heyer, but this author can. There were a few Heyer-esque phrases that didn’t ring quite true – ‘up to the snuff’ and ‘outside of the enough’, which should be ‘up to snuff’ and ‘outside of enough’. But otherwise, I noticed few mistakes.

It’s fairly frivolous and lighthearted, and it’s also very short (and stopped at 88% on my Kindle, the remainder filled with samples of the author’s other books), but if you’re looking for a quick and amusing read in the style of Georgette Heyer, this is one to try. Four stars.

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TV review: Pride and Prejudice (1980)

September 15, 2017 Review 0

A lot of reviews praise this version for its fresh feel, but I found it very stilted, and actually disliked it pretty strongly. Elizabeth was flat, Darcy was stiff and arrogant almost all the way through, Mr Bennet was unpleasant, Mrs Bennet was… oh, actually, she was all right. Lady Catherine was good, too, but you have to be pretty ham-fisted to get that wrong, and she was the right age for the mother of an unmarried daughter. And hallelujah for a version which actually does something with Anne de Burgh, and makes her into a sympathetic character. Mr Collins was not funny enough. In fact the whole production largely lost its wit.

And that was, perhaps, the biggest problem with Elizabeth. In the book she’s lively, irreverent, quick-witted and very, very funny. As portrayed here, there’s nothing funny about her at all. She reads her lines as if she’s struggling with the antiquated language, and then she smiles all the time to lighten the tone. It makes her seem like the sort of sweet, simpering miss that’s the very antithesis of the real Elizabeth!

Darcy had only one facial expression all the way through until the final scene. It was very, very hard to see what any woman would find attractive about him. One scene in particular summarises the way his character is portrayed. After he gives Elizabeth her letter, he is seen walked steadily away from her…and away and away and away… the whole time she reads, he never varies his pace or direction. Yet this is the defining moment in the book for Darcy. He’s proposed and been rejected in the most brutal fashion, and been forced to re-evaluate his conduct and explain himself to her. He is in the process of a major change of character, yet the scene says exactly the opposite, that he remains unswerving in his manner and methods. Completely, utterly wrong.

The camera work is of the era, I suppose, and the costumes the same – almost right, but not quite. And all the men seemed to dress the same, with no distinction of rank. Only Lady Catherine had the properly aristocratic elaborate costume. And I did wonder what happened to the Bennet sisters’ dresses at the end, when they changed style quite abruptly, as if a different designer was called in at the last minute. The script used quite a lot of the author’s original words, even from the narration, but then used them in the wrong place or put them in the mouths of the wrong characters, which had a strangely jarring effect.

A dreadful piece of work, and not recommended at all, except for completists.

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Review: ‘A Gentleman of Fortune’ by Anna Dean

September 5, 2017 Review 0

I adored the first book in this series (’A Moment of Silence’), which combines two of my great loves – the Regency era, and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple-style amateur sleuth. So this one was a no-brainer. It isn’t quite as successful as the first book, but it’s still a delightfully enjoyable read. The writing is authentically Austen-esque, the mystery is intriguing and the sleuthing rattles along at a merry pace.

In fact, it’s almost too fast a pace. Our amateur detective, Miss Dido Kent, has only to poke her nose out of doors for her to bump into someone with information to impart, or else she overhears something of vital import, or she calls on someone and they obligingly tell her exactly what she wants to know. All this become increasingly implausible, frankly.

One aspect which bothered me somewhat was the numerous similarities to Jane Austen’s Emma. I suppose it’s done as an affectionate homage, but every time we had a strawberry-picking party or the characters start making anagrams with double meanings, I was knocked out of this book and straight into another book. And there’s one parallel that actually gives away a plot element, which felt all kinds of wrong to me (although there’s a twist at the end which partially ameliorates the situation).

This is not a conventional Regency romance, but there is a romantic story simmering beneath the murder, which was begun in the first book, and continues swimmingly here. It leads, in fact, to some interesting (and spirited!) discussions between Miss Kent and her paramour, he feeling that she should be guided by him and give up this nasty sleuthing business, and leave everything to the constables, and she feeling that such submissive behaviour would rip out her very soul. And really, the root of the problem is the nature of marriage in such a patriarchal society as Regency England, where women were very much expected to submit and not worry their pretty little heads with… well, anything very much outside the domestic sphere. I enjoyed this element of the book very much.

Another excellent read, beautifully written, with the murder mystery and romance threads nicely balanced. Very enjoyable and highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: The Heiress of Linn Hagh by Karen Charlton

September 5, 2017 Review 0

This book should have been right up my street – Regency era, murder mystery, a locked room mystery, even! What could be better? Well, quite a lot of things as it turned out. I don’t know if this is the author’s debut work, but it certainly reads that way. It’s clunky and uneven, and much of it just doesn’t work for me.

I like the idea very much – Stephen Lavender, a Bow Street Runner (an early kind of policeman) is sent to Northumberland with his trusty constable Woods to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an heiress from a locked room. Some of the background colour is excellent. The scene with the prostitute, while it has no relevance to the plot whatsoever, and is there only to show how much research the author has done, is nevertheless an effective introduction to the seedier side of London life, complete with holes in the prostitute’s stockings.

But then it’s off to the north by coach and another irrelevance. The coach is held up by highwaymen (yes, that tired old chestnut) and our two stalwart policemen perform the necessary heroics to avert disaster, aided by a Spanish lady who happens to be handy with a gun. This is where the book goes off the rails, because Lavender unaccountably gets the hots for the Spanish babe (who’s a married woman, by the way) and fancies his chances rather. He essentially forces her to have dinner with him alone, something no respectable woman would or should do, and is very disappointed when she fails to offer him the expected invitation to her bed. I don’t know what this is supposed to achieve, but frankly, it made him very unlikable to me. I do expect a Regency hero to demonstrate some care for a woman’s reputation, and not just attempt to screw her the first time he meets her. Not a nice man.

But then it’s on to the mystery, and another array of cliches – the unpleasant step-brother with the even more unpleasant friends, the wicked step-sister, the loyal maid, the simple but harmless brother, oh and let’s not forget the gypsies who are unfriendly initially but come round when the hero renders them some service or other (stop me if you’ve heard this plot before). There are the usual array of set-piece confrontations, which don’t throw up too many surprises.

There’s a lot of Gothic about this, and the mysteries (the locked room and the disappearing heiress) are resolved quite nicely. The writing’s good, too, and the author’s done her research. This is possibly one of those series that will settle down and become unmissable by about the third book, but for me the clunky pacing, the unlikable characters and especially the very unpleasant main character keep this to three stars for me.

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Review: ‘One Night For Love’/’A Summer To Remember’ by Mary Balogh

August 29, 2017 Review 0

One Night For Love:

This book is perfect. The end.

Hmm… I suppose I should write a bit more than that. Let’s start with the premise. Neville Wyatt, the Earl of Kilbourne, is awaiting his bride at the altar. She’s Lauren Edgeworth, friend and neighbour, educated and accomplished, a perfect English lady, exactly suited to becoming a countess. Neville is happy about it, his bride is thrilled, since she’s been in love with him for years and waited while he went off to the war in Portugal, and all their friends and relations gathered in the church are thrilled for them both. And then the unthinkable happens – a simply-dressed poverty-stricken woman rushes into the church and Neville recognises her. She’s his wife, his sergeant’s daughter that he married on the battlefield and thought had died.

Now this is all sorts of delicious, right from the start. What an appalling situation! Lily, the wife, is uneducated and illiterate, a child of nature who loves to run about barefoot and hasn’t the least idea how to be a countess and move in the high level of society that Neville occupies. What’s more, she’s been a prisoner of war for many months, and has been repeatedly raped. So even were there no other issues, the marriage is fraught with difficulties for everyone – Neville and Lily, poor abandoned Lauren, and all the horrified friends and relations, who don’t know what to make of Lily and her scandalously unconventional ways.

But it soon becomes clear that there is a ray of hope, for this was a love match. Neville didn’t just marry Lily out of obligation to his dying sergeant, he truly loves her and all her innocent, free-spirit ways, and she loves him. But even as they inch towards a new understanding, everything falls apart (which I won’t spoilerise but it’s nicely done).

Of course, all comes right in the end, and Lily learns to fit herself into Neville’s world without losing her essential nature, and if I found her transformation a little glib and unconvincing, it hardly matters. One word of warning: this is NOT a romance in the conventional sense, because the protagonists are already in love (and married, even!) before the book starts. But it is a love story, and a beautiful piece of writing which I shall remember for a long time. Five stars.

A Summer To Remember:

This is a follow-on to One Night For Love, which told the story of Neville’s reunion with Lily, his child-like bride from his army days, who reappears at the church door just as Neville is about to marry society lady Lauren. That was a five star read for me, a beautifully resonant piece of writing. This book is about Lauren, and it’s a very different type of story in every way, yet Balogh’s writing lifts it to the heights of another memorable five stars.

The premise is an intriguing one: Lauren, the perfect English lady, perfectly composed and proper, no matter the occasion, is dealing with an unprecedented disaster – jilted on her wedding day by the man she’s loved and waited for for years. She deals with it with her usual unruffled manner, no matter what heartbreak may be going on below the surface, but she’s determined never to think of marriage again.

Meanwhile, Kit Butler is one of London’s most infamous bachelors, living life to the full and by no means ready to settle down. But his family is pushing him to marry and he’s determined to make his own choice. But a bet with his friends leads him to court the least likely person – icy Lauren. This is a very common plot device, but here it’s not in the least contrived, and it’s very entertaining watching Kit woo the unyielding Lauren. But when he finally proposes, Lauren has a proposition of her own: she will agree to a fake betrothal to keep his relatives at bay, and in return, he will give her a memorable summer of adventure. At the end of it, she will jilt him and set him free, while rendering herself, she hopes, unmarriageable. And so the stage is set…

This book is an exact counterpart to its predecessor in one way: whereas One Night For Love centred on free spirit Lily learning the ways of society, this one is about buttoned-up Lauren learning to relax and become something of a free spirit. In neither case is the transformation entirely convincing, but I like to think that fiction simply speeds a process that would, in the real world, take many years.

This is a delightful tale, both for Kit’s wonderful schemes to push Lauren out of her comfort zone, but also Lauren’s elegant and oh-so-ladylike put-downs of Kit’s very ill-mannered family. And needless to say, our two protagonists find themselves very much in love before the end of the book.

For those intrigued by the eccentric Bedwyn family, neighbours of the main family in this book, they have their own series so you can read your fill of them. Personally, nothing about them caught my fancy, so I won’t be reading on, but I highly recommend this book and its predecessor, for the two are best read together, I think. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Toll-Gate’ by Georgette Heyer

August 26, 2017 Review 0

I started this book twice. The first time, I was put off by the vast number of names and intertwined relationships. The second time, determined to learn them all, I still got befuddled. And you know what? After the first chapter, none of them are ever seen again! That is so irritating.

This is part of my reread of all Heyer’s Regency romances, in chronological order. Oddly enough, this is the first one not to ring any bells with me, so I think I must have missed it before. The premise – John Staple, former captain of the Dragoons, takes a wrong turn while going to visit a friend. Finding himself at a toll-gate, manned only by a boy whose father has disappeared under odd circumstances, he stays to uncover the mystery. And for another, more personal, reason.

One of my biggest complaints about Heyer is that the romance tends to get buried by the twists and turns of the plot, only to suddenly reappear in the last chapter. Not so here, for it forms the centre of the unlikely chain of events that unfolds, and for once is the least implausible part of the story. I liked both the main characters, and if their love is more bolt-from-the-blue than slow-burn, it felt realistic for two people old enough to know their own minds.

My other big complaint about Heyer is the amount of Regency cant she likes to use. When it’s just a couple of characters, it’s not too bad, but here almost everybody uses it liberally and it drove me nuts. It’s a dreadful distraction, and (frankly) the worst kind of well-researched showing off.

The ending is pretty silly, but also unsettling in some ways. But then it was written in 1954 so I suppose sensibilities were different then. Four stars.

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Review: ‘Edenbrooke’ by Julianne Donaldson

August 23, 2017 Review 0

This is a wonderful book – exquisitely written, with well-drawn characters and a beautifully developed relationship. Too often there’s an instant attraction and then they’re head over heels in love, as if that’s all it takes to set a couple on the path to a lifetime of happiness. I far prefer a slow-blooming love. The book also has an astonishing sense of time and place. I wanted to be at Edenbrooke too, and sink into its welcoming arms, and feel as if I were coming home, just like the heroine.

Marianne Daventry has lived with her grandmother in Bath since her mother’s death a year earlier. Her twin Cecily lives with another relative in London, and their father has taken himself off to France. Marianne is bored to tears, missing the countryside and its natural beauty, and is delighted to receive an invitation to stay at Edenbrooke, where the man her sister hopes to marry lives. Edenbrooke offers her the open country her spirit so desperately needs – and a man who delights and infuriates her in equal measure.

If this book were nothing but Marianne’s return to the freedom of nature and her encounters with the infuriating Philip it would be perfect. Unfortunately, it depends on coincidence, a villain and an ignorance of her host’s family that beggars belief. I also have a lot of quibbles about Philip’s behaviour, which is far too forward for a man supposedly watching the proprieties.

The book also fails one of my primary tests – would the plot fall apart if the characters sat down and talked to each other? In this case, the whole plot hinges on Marianne not knowing precisely who Philip is until a long way into the book. Despite my quibbles, I enjoyed this enormously, because the writing is just so good, worthy of five stars. As it is, the reliance on coincidence and non-communication keep it to four stars.

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Review: ‘The Weaver Takes A Wife’ by Sheri Cobb South

August 16, 2017 Review 0

This book was a complete delight – right up until the point where it descended into stupidity and farce. The premise: Mr Ethan Brundy is a Lancashire mill-owner, formerly in the work-house, now fabulously wealthy but still showing a strong accent and appalling dress sense. Lady Helen Radley is the sharp-tongued daughter of the impoverished Duke of Reddington that Brundy falls in love with across a crowded theatre. Arranged marriage ensues.

Brundy is a glorious character, impossible to dislike, quite impervious to the snubs of the ton. Helen is less admirable but she gradually comes to appreciate his good qualities. When he visits his mill in Manchester, she misses him and accompanies him on his next visit, finding herself impressed with his methods and the way his workers love him. There’s a degree of idealisation in the portrayal of so many well-scrubbed and happy workers, and Lady Helen’s transformation from shrew to loving wife is a little too rapid for plausibility, but the charm of the characters and the amusing ways they deal with their peculiar situation overcome any deficiencies at this point.

The main characters’ gradually growing rapport would make enough of a story, but then the author spoils it by throwing in some melodramatic business with a villain, a debt, a necklace and a great deal of implausible creeping about at night, ending with Brundy acting entirely out of character. I’d hoped he could come up with some clever way to deal with the villain but no. Great characters, beautifully written, but the ridiculous farce keeps it to three stars.

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