Review: ‘Gaining The Gentleman’ by Eleanor Meyers

December 29, 2017 Review 0

DNF. I bought this with birthday money as a treat for myself, because it was one of the top three bestselling Regency romances on Amazon (US site) that day. Now, bestselling just means ‘most popular’, with no guarantee that it will be my cup of tea at all, and anyone who’s read my previous reviews will know that I’m kind of picky about my Regencies. I’ll let slide a certain sloppiness on dates and behaviour, as long as it’s not too outrageous, and I don’t mind a bit of modern language, if the book’s not littered with ‘okays’ and such like, and I’ll even accept that England was entirely populated by dukes, but heaven forfend if one of those dukes is addressed as ‘my lord’. Correct forms of address are really easy to look up. I don’t expect everyone to grasp the nuances of heirs apparent and heirs presumptive, or to know precisely when a widow is a dowager, but please at least know the difference between Lord John and Lord Fortescue (no, they’re not interchangeable).
So how does this book hold up?

First complaint: the book opens at the 6% mark on my Kindle. Why? I like to go back to have a look at the cover and then work forwards. When I do that here, I find a huge amount of filler – several cute speeches from the author, lots of chivvying to sign up to the mailing list and a massive list of characters, with their full titles (an extra brownie point for knowing that a Marquess is a Most Honourable and an Earl is a Right Honourable, but we hardly need to be so pedantic here, especially when several of the wives are not given their proper titles at all).

Second complaint: so many names! And all of them seemingly inter-related in some way that is explained quite casually in passing, as if the reader should already know who these people are, or else be referring constantly to the aforementioned list of characters (there are reminders between chapters to refer to the list!). I appreciate that sometimes there’s a need to introduce a wide cast of characters, but please make sure they’re all necessary. Georgette Heyer once filled the first chapter of a book with endless relations in an extended family who were never heard of again, but she was making a point about the main character so it’s allowable. Mostly, it’s just filler. And please, authors, don’t reintroduce all the characters from previous books unless they have a significant role to play in this story.

Third (nit-picky) complaint: the author does appear to have done some research into the era. Hooray! The language is modern but mostly not intrusively so. And then you get howlers like this:
“Lord William, Earl of Cartridge, and Lady Jane Lawson had just given birth to their second child a few weeks ago, making it their second boy, Charles. The lord was very glad indeed and had even joked at the country club to have finally given his wife permission to have daughters!”
There are four errors just in those two sentences. The proud parents in this case would be referred to as the Earl and Countess of Cartridge, or (more usually) Lord and Lady Cartridge, never, never, ever as Lord William and Lady Jane Lawson. Lord Cartridge would be referred to as ‘the earl’ not ‘the lord’. And a country club? I don’t think so. Even today, Britain isn’t big on country clubs and they never had them in the Regency era. The upper classes would call or dine or stay at each other’s houses, or go to public assemblies (as in Pride and Prejudice – the Meryton assembly is where Darcy slighted Elizabeth). There were some very famous clubs in London, of course, but not in the country. And two pages further on, two unmarried ladies are addressed as Lady Haywood and Lady Eaton. Sigh. I know that 99% of readers don’t notice or care, but unfortunately I’m in the curmudgeonly 1%.

Then, sadly, the story veers off into some highly implausible mystery involving a necklace and murders and a lot of skipping about London looking for clues, while the hero and heroine moon over each other and behave in thoroughly peculiar ways. None of the dialogue really rang true to me, and although I appreciate what the author was trying to do, it just didn’t work for me and I gave up on it. So, not my cup of tea at all. However, as previously mentioned, this was one of the top selling books at the time, so clearly tons of people love this author and I’m (once again) the minority report. No rating because of the DNF.


Review: ‘Yeti in the Mist’ by Francesca Rose

December 29, 2017 Review 0

OK. A weird one. This showed up as a sponsored ad underneath one of my own books, and I was intrigued enough to try it. It’s set in the Victorian era, and involves a young wife, her injured husband and a yeti. Um, yes. This is a world where yeti are a part of society, albeit on the fringes of it. So we’re talking paranormal romance, I guess?

The premise is that Catherine’s husband Reginald has been shot and left paralysed during action with the East India Company Army. His Yeti batman (or just friend) Yolann lives with them. When Reginald tells Catherine to take a lover, he’s hoping she’ll have the child he can’t give her. She finds Yolann a more attractive option, and takes him as her lover.

I liked the way Yeti culture is drawn in this book. The Yeti have a matriarchal multi-mate society, where a woman takes several male mates but she’s the one in charge. There are some lovely descriptions of Yolann’s fur and the status markings and the style of dance they use for meditation. It’s all rather well done.

There’s a shed-load of sex in the book, graphically described, so if that’s not your thing best avoid this one. There’s also some side plot business about their various brothers which, to be honest, I skated over since it wasn’t very interesting. I was far more intrigued by the Yetis, frankly. An unusual read, but I enjoyed it. Four stars.


Review: ‘Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle’ by Georgette Heyer

December 16, 2017 Review 0

This was published the same year as April Lady, and is so much the better of the two that it’s untrue. The hero is a seemingly perfect gentleman, not a cynical, world-weary older man, and his only flaw is a tendency to arrogance. But then he is a duke, so perhaps that’s unavoidable. The heroine is a bright, independent-minded young lady, quite young (as Heyer’s heroines tend to be) but not at all the silly ingenue.

The premise is that our hero, Sylvester, has decided to get married. He has a shortlist of eligible females, but his godmother bounces him into considering another (our heroine, Phoebe). She’s only met him briefly, but found him cold and reserved. She’s written a novel and made him, thinly disguised, into the villain. And when she hears he’s coming to the family home to offer for her, she’s so horrified that she runs away.

This sets in train all sorts of Heyer-esque misadventures and misunderstandings, including an enforced stay in an inn, where Sylvester plays the hero rather than the villain, and both hero and heroine discover that the other is not as bad as rumour painted them. But when the novel is published and Sylvester learns that Phoebe has made him a laughing stock, things get very sticky.

The scenes between Sylvester and Phoebe shine, but there are also some fairly tedious passages that I was basically skim-reading just to get through them. In particular, the histrionics of Ianthe and her swain got old really, really quickly, and by the time we got to France, I was just hoping for Sylvester to turn up and make things interesting again.

The romance works better than many Heyers, in that the developing relationship between the hero and heroine is clear to see. I liked, too, Sylvester’s disintegration from suave society man who always knows the correct thing to say to incoherent lover, getting everything wrong. But Phoebe is just a termagent at this point, and I really wanted to slap her. So many Heyers end with the heroine too stupid to recognise her own feelings, and having to be forced to acknowledge them by the hero sweeping her into his manly arms for a passionate kiss. I’d like it if, just once, the story could end with him proposing and her accepting him in a sensible manner. Still, four stars for a nice romance, some laugh-out-loud moments and a good array of excellent side characters (the horrible Ianthe notwithstanding).


Review: ‘April Lady’ by Georgette Heyer

December 16, 2017 Review 0

This is one of Heyer’s books that I remember vividly from my original read many years ago, and not in a good way. I’ve not been looking forward to reaching this point in my reread. It has so many of the motifs I really dislike: the worldly older hero, the silly, very young heroine, the misunderstandings, the main romance pushed aside by the subplots… Not to mention there’s also a second silly, very young female, plus (another Heyer favourite) a rather wild young man.

The overriding problem is the relationship between the hero and heroine. In the very first scene, he is telling her off for running up so many bills and she’s miserably apologetic, and although there’s no heat in his manner, it still comes across as something not very much like a married couple. An uncle/niece, perhaps, or a teacher ticking off a naughty schoolchild. And even though he’s somewhat affectionate towards her, his manner is more avuncular than husbandly. It’s certainly not a marriage of equals, and one wonders just what he sees in her.

The other problem is that every difficulty between them could be resolved if they just sat down for five minutes and talked to each other. But no, she jumps through endless hoops to avoid telling him something trivial, and he gets all huffy and uptight, and frankly, they deserve their misery. As for the subplot with the ridiculous sister, the less said about that the better. This is the first Heyer I actually skim-read just to get through it, and even then the payoff wasn’t worth it. There’s a point where the heroine sets off to confess all to the hero (at which point, I’m yelling ‘YES!!!’), she realises he’s misunderstood something and instead of just explaining it, she dashes all over London trying to resolve things single-handed, while he’s dashing around after her. And of course, there’s a whole heap of prime Heyer shenanigans as a result, but by that time, I just wanted to bang their heads together. This is one romance where it’s impossible to see how the marriage will last. Sadly, this doesn’t merit more than two stars.


Review: ‘The Ruined Lady’ by Bree Verity

December 5, 2017 Review 0

Maybe it’s my horrible cold that’s turned my brain to mush, but this book made no sense to me on any level. I liked the premise – a lady of 32 sees herself descending into unlamented spinsterhood and determines to have one night of passion before she relinquishes all hope of love. As seducer, she chooses her childhood friend, Quincey, the Earl of Edenburgh. And this part is fine, although as so often happens, the innocent virgin turns out to have a previously unsuspected capacity for multiple orgasms, but whatever. The only constraint she lays on her friend (apart from secrecy, obviously!) is that he mustn’t get all sentimental and offer to marry her, because she’s not a suitable wife for an earl.

And this is where things start to go off the rails somewhat, because she is Lady Felicity Merryweather, and therefore by the rules of the peerage she must be the daughter of an earl, at least (or possibly a marquess or a duke). Yes, these titles really do mean something. Anyway, a perfectly acceptable wife for an earl, one would have thought.

Well, he does get all sentimental and decides that he loves her so he proposes and she rejects him, rather huffily. And then, having been shouted at by her mother for turning down a perfectly good offer (to an earl!) and given all sorts of reasons why, the very next day she demurely agrees to marry some random business acquaintance of her father’s, a widower with six children. Why? And why does her father, who’s a lord, remember, have business acquaintances anyway? Or, if he does, would want his titled daughter to marry one? Nope, not making sense to me.

So then Felicity herself starts to go off the rails. Having been dressed by her mother in dowdy clothes and therefore ignored by society for 14 years, she suddenly decides to tart herself up a bit and lo and behold, she’s beautiful and everyone wants to dance with her. Including the randy Duke of Rushton (who’s addressed throughout as Lord Rushton, but let’s not even get into the correct forms of address for dukes because, you know, I might start ranting and Christmas is coming). Anyway, the randy duke dances twice with Felicity, including a minuet (how shocking!) and suddenly her reputation is in danger. And so on and so forth, and none of this made any sense to me.

On the plus side, I really liked Quincey, and Felicity herself when she’s not making shockingly irrational decisions. There are some interesting side characters, and I liked Felicity’s father, too, especially when he tells Quincey not to have daughters because they’re just too much trouble. Needless to say, everything comes right in the end, and if you don’t much mind how dukes are addressed and you like a bit of jolly old sex in your Regency and you haven’t got a horrible cold making you grumpy, you might like this book pretty well.


DNF: ‘Annabelle Enchanted the Rejected Earl’ by Hanna Hamilton

December 5, 2017 Review 0

I’m not going to give this a rating because I haven’t read the whole book. Frankly, the writing style and premise aren’t appealing enough to me. However, when I was reading reviews of the book, I came across a reference to a character who ‘used to be an Earl’. Instantly, I was intrigued. How, by all that’s wonderful, could anyone be an Earl and then lose the title?  Some arcane legal challenge? The unearthing of another heir? The revelation of illegitimacy? Several possibilities, but all pretty rare. So, when I found out that the book is available in KU and I could download as part of my subscription, I decided to find out.

The answer turned out, sadly, to be much more mundane – that old chestnut, an author who hasn’t a clue how the British peerage worked (and still works, come to that). So if historical accuracy is important to you, you might want to avoid this one. There’s some fairly un-Regency language in here, too: “Her body language was all at odds, which only amped up the emotional mess that he was experiencing inside.” Or: “He assumed that he would simply be alright with getting the closure he needed…”. But if this doesn’t bother you, lots of people seem to like this book, so the author must be getting something right. Just not the historical bits.


Review: ‘Faro’s Daughter’ by Georgette Heyer

December 5, 2017 Review 0

I missed this one in my chronological reread of Heyer’s Regency romances because it’s actually set in the 18th century, but apart from the occasional mention of brocade coats and lace frills and sac dresses, it’s indistinguishable from the other romances. The hero is the usual world-weary older man, arrogant to the point of rudeness. The heroine is the spirited and independent sort, not quite the Grand Sophy or Serena from Bath Tangle, but along those lines. There are not one but two doe-eyed ingenues, and one callow buck, so we are on familiar ground here.

Here’s the premise: gaming club hostess Deborah Grantham has attracted the attention of young Adrian Maplethorpe, who fancies himself in love. Believing Deb to be a fortune hunter, Adrian’s trustee Max Ravenscar sets off to get rid of her. First he tries to bribe her, but she is so insulted that she refuses, and so sets in train a series of escalating reprisals between the two.

These are not my favourite Heyer characters, by any means, but the story was so entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny that I loved it anyway. The whole wine cellar incident is just sublime. There was only one wobbly moment right at the end, where the hero confesses his love and tells her he wants to marry her, and she’s so angry at him she just can’t stop shouting at him. That makes her seem like too silly for words. Could she not at least have had a wait-what? moment, and stopped shouting long enough to recognise the fundamental change in their relationship?

But ultimately, one doesn’t read Heyer for the rational behaviour of her heroines (or heroes either), so this is another five star read for me.


Review: ‘Chemsworth Hall: Book 1: Violet’ by Perpetua Langley

November 29, 2017 Review 0

This book was a delight from start to finish. Every character was a comedic masterpiece, from Lord Mulholland, deeply suspicious of anyone emanating from a different county, to Smuckers the butler, seeing himself as a knight of old, rallying the troops below stairs to ever greater feats.

The premise is a simple one. Viscount Mulholland and his lady wife have managed to produce one son (Henry) and seven daughters (Violet, Rose, Daisy, Marigold, Lily and twins Poppy and Pansy). Now that Henry is at Oxford, Lady Mulholland instructs him to bring home one of his new friends so that she may begin her campaign of marrying off the daughters, in strict order of seniority. So Violet is to be paired with Lord Smythesdon, the eldest son of an earl. Since Violet is the academic of the family, and Lord Smythesdon considers education the domain of men, sparks are bound to fly.

The tale of how these two overcome their troubled beginning, learn to appreciate each other and in time find their happiness is delightful, enlivened by the helpful or otherwise efforts of their two families, the neighbours and the servants. There is laugh-out-loud humour on every page, every character is both funny and yet very real, and the historical details were accurate enough not to trip up a self-confessed pedant like me. My only quibble is that the author uses ‘shall’ relentlessly instead of ‘will’, which soon grows tiresome. But it’s a minor point. For anyone looking for a whimsical, humorous and sweet Regency (or possibly Victorian) romance, this is highly recommended.


TV Review: ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1980)

November 28, 2017 Review 0

These older series are interesting little pieces of history in their own right, and the differences between versions can be illuminating. This version is nearly forty years old, and it shows in some aspects – the sets and costumes, for instance, are far more stagey than modern TV, but the actors, brought up in the grand British traditions of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC, know how to enunciate properly so that the viewer doesn’t need subtitles to understand what’s going on.

Of the actors, the only one I recognised was Tracey Childs (Marianne), who was also in another 80’s drama, Howard’s Way. I thought she made an excellent Marianne, capturing nicely her over-exuberant and emotional personality. She was particularly effective in the distraught London scenes. Irene Richards, as Elinor, was less effective, I thought. She captured effectively neither the practical, down-to-earth side of her character, nor the deep-seated emotions bubbling beneath the surface. I also found her movements to be rather stilted, but perhaps that was an attempt to convey her repressed nature.

Of the minor characters, Mrs Jennings was given a much bigger and more sympathetic role here, turning her from a comedy figure teasing the girls about their lovers to a genuinely maternal person. I liked her the better for it, but it didn’t feel true to the book. The other characters were competent without standing out particularly. Lady Middleton had more of a role in this version, being far more lively than in the book (some versions cut her out altogether). Margaret was the one who got the chop here, but I don’t think the story was any the worse for it.

The one seminal scene by which I judge any adaptation of this book is the occasion when Elinor is called upon to tell Edward that Colonel Brandon has given him a living, so enabling him to marry Lucy Steele. The pathos in the scene, and the subtext which both the reader/viewer and the characters themselves are equally aware of, that Elinor and Edward are very much in love and Edward is only marrying to honourably uphold a longstanding and bitterly regretted engagement, makes it one of the most profoundly moving scenes ever written. It needs superb acting skills but no other embellishment. The Emma Thompson version captured this perfectly, while the 2008 version resorted to overacting and oozing emotionalism. This version is pretty good, too, and stuck to the original words for maximum effect.

The settings lost a certain wildness. Barton Cottage was chocolate box pretty, and nowhere near the sea, and Marianne’s propensity to walk in the rain was lost. I thought an opportunity was lost to portray the sisters’ characters through their clothes, but they seemed to wear very similar garments. Elinor’s in particular I felt should have been plainer, less decorated, to demonstrate her practical nature, and the frill of curled hair round her face was entirely wrong. None of the dresses looked quite right, to me. Maybe they economised by not using authentic materials, so that although they superficially looked all right, they didn’t sit or drape properly.

One aspect that bothered me a great deal was a certain degree of impropriety in the sisters. The number of times one or other of them was left alone in a room with a man was shocking! Elinor was constantly showing people out (that’s what the servants are for, dear), and when Colonel Brandon was brought into Marianne’s bedroom and then left alone with her – I clutched my pearls, I can tell you. But maybe all that was in the book, who knows.

A competent adaptation, I thought, and enjoyable to watch but not my favourite.


Review: ‘Stolen Waters’ by Beth Andrews

November 26, 2017 Review 0

I bought this way back at the beginning of the year when I was researching the West Indies in the Regency era, but the book that needed the research was published in March, and here I am only just getting round to doing my research. Ah well.

The premise is interesting: an upper-class English woman, Sarah, is travelling to the West Indies to join her new husband on his sugar plantation. Accompanying her is a Spanish girl, Maria, acting as maid and companion. The journey and the arrival on the (mythical) island of St Edmunds are fascinating glimpses into the era, and nicely drawn. But it soon becomes clear that the heart of the book is not the setting or the historical aspects, but the convoluted love lives of the main characters, including Sarah’s husband, Matthew, and his mulatto cousin Jacob, who has been brought up as an English gentleman. This rapidly devolves into a lot of angsty hand-wringing, followed by… well, you can probably guess the way things go.

Now I have no problem with the romance side of things, but I did find the pairings somewhat problematic and the surprise at the inevitable consequences hard to believe. So ultimately this didn’t work for me at all, and I ended up skimming to get to the end. But it’s nicely written, and the depiction of English Regency manners dropped into the tropical setting is very convincing. There are some nice side characters, and if the care for the welfare of the slaves seemed a bit too modern, and the hurricanes, water spouts and the like a bit too plot-convenient and symbolic, it’s still an interesting view of a very unusual aspect of Regency life. Recommended for anyone who doesn’t mind the rather overwrought romantic agonising, but it wasn’t my sort of book at all, which keeps it to three stars.