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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Review: A Lady’s Prerogative by Annabelle Anders

Posted May 3, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is the third book of the Lord Love a Lady series that I’ve read, although I got them out of order. I started with #3, to which I gave five stars, then #1, which mustered four stars, and then I came to this book, which is #2 in the series, and I started to get worried.

Let’s get the plot out of the way first, such as it is. Our heroine is Natalie, the girl who sensibly released the Duke of Cortland from their betrothal in book 1 so that he could marry his true love, Lilly. Now Natalie’s branded a jilt, and confined to the country estate of her parents to rusticate for a while. She’s bored and looking for a little excitement, when into her life wanders unredeemed rake Garrett. There could have been some interesting ways to take a story like this, but sadly the author chose the most obvious and well-worn one, and the first half of the book becomes in essence one long bout of foreplay.

I don’t have any issues with sex in a Regency romance, but it does have to conform to a degree of plausibility. This particular case has a number of problems in that regard. Firstly, Natalie. Having set her up in book 1 as the oh-so-cool and composed ladylike type, suddenly she’s a walking bundle of overwrought emotions, essentially throwing herself at Garrett’s head. Then there’s Garrett himself. He’s old enough and experienced enough to keep himself under control and not respond when the daughter of his host tries, in her innocence, to seduce him. And then there are Natalie’s parents. What on earth are they thinking, not merely to invite an acknowledged rake to a house party with their vulnerable daughter, but to allow them to wander off together unchaperoned and even, at one point, to hint that Garrett might be an acceptable husband for her? It’s unconscionable. It would serve them right if he did what rakes are known for, and got her pregnant.

So the first half of the book is the two finding a dozen different ways to sneak off and be alone, and do some of the things that well-brought-up young ladies shouldn’t even know about. But then the sub-plot kicks in, the book lurches into melodrama and suddenly the author’s talent shines through again, releasing all that soul-searching and emotion that I so enjoyed in the other two books. Now, there are plenty of issues with plausibility in the second half of the book, too, plus all the Americanisms that pepper all these books, but none of that mattered a bit. I got thoroughly swept up in the story, really enjoyed the way the two characters resolved their differences and got very teary-eyed when they got their happy ending. Extra brownie points for knowing the law regarding the earldom, as well. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of five stars for me, but it’s a very good four stars.

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Review: Nobody’s Lady by Annabelle Anders

Posted May 2, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Michael Redmond, now the Duke of Cortland, has been ambushed on his way to London by highway robbers, who have stolen his coach and horses. He makes his way on foot to an inn, where he bumps into a face from the past, Lilly Bridges, now the widowed Lady Beauchamp. There’s a lot of history between them, but he’s now embarked on an urgent political mission and is betrothed, to boot, so that past must stay buried – if it can.

So right from the start, it’s clear that there’s a whole heap of sexual tension between these two. We see their past history unfolding in parallel with the present day events, but we’re already aware of their tragedy – that they should have married, but because of a misunderstanding, it never happened. She married the widower of her older sister, and he never married, although he’s recently betrothed himself unemotionally to the daughter of a political ally.

I’m not normally keen on the overworked trope of the Great Misunderstanding, but the author here makes it more credible than most such scenarios. There’s one major flaw in the logic, though. Lilly married her dead sister’s husband (a baron), a union frowned on by the church, because when a man and woman marry, they become ‘one flesh’. This means that her sisters are theoretically his sisters too, so a marriage to the deceased wife’s sister becomes incestuous. In theory. In practice, this was such a pragmatic solution to the problem of a widower with children that it actually happened quite a lot. One of Jane Austen’s brothers did exactly this. And, contrary to the statements in the books, such marriages are not illegal. It’s far, far more complicated than that. Such a marriage was voidable. That meant that it was perfectly legal until someone challenged it, at which point it became void, the marriage no longer existed and any children were rendered illegitimate.

That uncertainty made it unlikely in the extreme that any responsible nobleman would contract such a marriage because of the risk that a male heir might be suddenly disinherited. On the other side of the coin, no responsible father would push his daughter into such a union, either, because of the risk that she would be left without the protection of a husband. It would be disastrous. The whole premise of the book is that Lilly’s father persuades her to marry for security, when in fact he was putting her into a very uncertain and potentially ruinous situation.

That aside, the question of whether such a marriage would be scandalous is an interesting one. Lilly’s baron husband would have been listed in Debrett’s Peerage, together with the names of both his wives, so the matter could hardly be kept secret. It wasn’t a sensible choice for a peer, but I don’t know just how much of a scandal it would cause. These are interesting questions, and I applaud the author for treading in such murky legal territory, even if she doesn’t quite get all the complexities straight.

But this is just the background to the romantic difficulties faced by our two protagonists. Michael and Lilly find themselves thrown together by circumstance, and increasingly unable to keep their hands off each other. Neither of them is the restrained Regency type so beloved of Georgette Heyer. Lust overcomes them with increasing frequency and in a range of implausible al fresco settings. The sex scenes are tastefully done, but moderately graphic, so beware if that’s not your thing. It’s fairly obvious where things are going, but how they get there is always interesting. The ending is fairly dramatic, with a huge coincidence and an over-the-top villain, but I enjoyed it nevertheless, and everybody got what they wanted in the end.

Of the characters, I liked Lilly very much. She was enchantingly natural and genuine, following her heart more than her head but never regretting what she’s done. Michael I had a bit less sympathy for. Considering the position he was in, with his marriage fast approaching, he really was very bad about keeping his breeches buttoned with Lilly. He was constantly overcome with uncontrollable lust, and then swamped with guilt afterwards. Pro tip: feeling guilty doesn’t excuse the lapse in behaviour. By contrast, compare the actions of Michael’s friend Danbury. He’s a very contented bachelor, but he happily agrees to pretend to be a suitor to Lilly to deflect attention from her relationship with Michael, and when things go pear-shaped, he gallantly prepares to marry her to get everyone out of the pickle. That is a true hero.

Now, for those who are sensitive about anachronisms, this book is riddled with them, and the Americanisms are so egregious that I can’t believe the author even tried to avoid modern usage. The one that made me shudder from horror is ‘go potty’ (in a toilet context). This isn’t a British expression even today, and certainly not in the Regency era. I found myself sufficiently swept up in the story not to mind too much, but if swathes of ‘visit with’ and ‘passed’ and ‘off of’ and ‘gotten’ would upset you, this author is best avoided.

It’s actually a pity the author didn’t let a (British) proofreader loose on the book, because if the anachronisms could have been ironed out, this would have been a fine story indeed. The romance and the heart-breaking situation the protagonists find themselves in are examined in unswerving detail, the other characters are quite properly kept in the background, and there’s plenty of angst and deep emotion to satisfy even the most discerning reader. I loved it, and only the horrible anachronisms keep it to four stars.

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A fun new Facebook group for Regency romance fans!

Posted April 15, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in General / 0 Comments

I’ve got together with several other authors of Regency romances to create a salon for Regency fans to meet. We’ll be sharing our new releases, teasers, giveaways, sales, and other delightful treats, and (naturally) talking about our favourite Regency reads. All my new friends write (and read) the same style of Regency that I write – “Sizzle in the drawing room, not the bedroom.”

If you’re a Facebook user and you’d like to join us, you’ll receive a very warm welcome to Lady Catherine’s Salon from me and all my new friends.

Lynn Winchester
Catherine Tinley
Regina Scott
Gail Eastwood
Anna St. Claire
Charlotte Henry
Martine Roberts

Come along and say hello! Click here to join.

And to get the new group underway, our first featured author is Charlotte Henry, who will be ‘at home’ with Lady Catherine this week.

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Review: Sauce for the Gander by Jayne Davis

Posted March 31, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 15 Comments

Jayne Davis’s first book, The Mrs MacKinnons, was a blast of fresh air in the stuffy and overdone trope-forest of Regency romance. Brilliantly-drawn characters, an unusual situation and a hefty dollop of humour in unexpected places made it a delight to read, even though there were darker undertones. This book is a much more conventional outing, a marriage of convenience that turns into a bit of a boy’s own adventure, but still a wonderful, classy read.

Here’s the premise: Will is the son of an earl obsessed with rank and heritage. He’s the second son, but now the heir and responsible for perpetuating the line. But he’s been gallivanting about town, bedding willing married women and gambling excessively, in the time-honoured tradition of Regency heroes. But then he’s caught out by an irate husband and challenged to a duel. He survives by the skin of his teeth, but his father’s had enough, and orders him to marry his choice of bride.

She turns out to be Connie, the little-regarded younger daughter of a lower-ranked local man, whose meek and obedient demeanour masks a spirited intelligence. The two meet at the altar, and make their way immediately to Will’s grace-and-favour estate in Devonshire, where the servants and locals are strangely unwelcoming.

The romance is the usual one for a marriage of convenience – a slow build through respect to physical attraction to trust and, eventually, love. I liked both Will and Connie very much, although there really wasn’t very much to dislike about them. Will’s bad-boy reputation drops away pretty fast, to turn him into a thoughtful, caring man, and Connie is a bit of a paragon from day one. I would have preferred a little more friction between the two – perhaps resentment at their enforced marriage, or some hints of bad behaviour from Will, but his previous wildness is all set down to boredom and the two get along together pretty well right from the start. There are one or two moments where Will has to consciously broaden his horizons to encompass his new responsibilities, which was neatly done, and the way Connie struggled to find the right moment to raise the issue of sex was very believable. Still, their relationship felt very modern to me, and I’m not sure that any Regency man, especially one with Will’s past, would be quite so considerate of his wife’s feelings.

The boy’s own adventure was great fun, but I won’t spoil things by saying any more about that. At least it went some way towards alleviating Will’s boredom and need for activity. I wasn’t totally convinced by the resolution to the various difficulties, which seemed fraught with potential problems to me, but the romance ended charmingly.

This is another wonderful read from the author. It lacks the originality of the previous book, and I missed the humour, too, but the writing is superb, with some glorious descriptions of the house and surroundings, and a strong sense of both time and place. Thoroughly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: The Waiting Bride by Rose Pearson

Posted March 27, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Rose Pearson is a new author to me, although I’ve seen her books gracing the best-seller lists for some time. This one tempted me with its premise: our hero and heroine are nudged into an arranged betrothal by their respective parents. They agree to it, although she insists that he has to propose first. He fails to do so, and is so terrified at the prospect of marrying her that he scoots off to India. But when he eventually returns, he knows he’s expected to do his duty and he’s still terrified. She, for her part, worries about marriage without any sort of affection. It’s all a bit of a muddle. And into the middle of it comes another candidate for the lady’s hand…

Right from the start, it’s obvious that this is going to be heavy on the angst and misunderstandings. If the couple could just sit themselves down with a nice cup of tea and talk it all out, there would be no story. However, the author makes the two of them credibly unable to do this. In the first place, after a very brief courtship and more than a year apart, neither of them is at all sure what they feel about the other. Also, Philip is endearingly socially inept (for a viscount), and manages to mess up every conversation with the lady, when he manages to speak at all. Marianne is a good Regency girl who isn’t supposed to express strong emotion, even when she feels it. So although there is a whole heap of angst, it feels quite believable, and I was rooting for poor, tongue-tied Philip to get his act together and tell her how he feels.

So let’s get the negative stuff out of the way, and these are just minor points that probably won’t bother anyone but me. I’m a demon for spotting title errors in Regencies, and this one has a couple. Lord Henry Redmond, the other potential husband for Marianne, is the heir to an Earl. That would give him a courtesy title, most likely a viscountcy, so he’d be Lord Something, not Lord Henry (which is a courtesy title reserved for the younger sons of dukes and marquesses). Also, Marianne’s maid calls her ‘my lady’, which she isn’t, at least she doesn’t have the title Lady Marianne, being only the daughter of viscount. Don’t you just love the British peerage? The maid would call her ‘miss’, or ‘Miss Marianne’, or perhaps ‘madam’. One other mistake – Marianne’s sister should be addressed as Miss Harriet. She’d only be Miss Weston if her sister wasn’t there. On the other hand, everyone correctly calls Philip by his title, Galsworthy, even his mother. Kudos to the author for getting that right.

There were some social oddities. The story opens in September, which is described as the very end of the season, but usually the season ended in July or so, when everyone decamped to the country for the start of the shooting season in mid-August. I don’t know why so many people were still in town so late. Some of the social interactions felt a little odd to me – everyone conversing freely around and across the dinner table, for instance, and although the ladies changed for dinner, the gentlemen appeared not to (Lord Henry is invited to dinner on the spur of the moment). And one inconsistency: after a dinner at Marianne’s house, there’s mention of driving home afterwards. I also wondered why two girls of marriageable age were left to wander around town with only a maid as a chaperon. Where was their mother? Or failing that, an aunt or married cousin to look after them.

One other grumble: the whole premise of the book is the question of the betrothal – are they betrothed or aren’t they? And the question of whether they can break it off. There’s some suggestion that he could break it off, but her reputation would be damaged if she were to do it, which is the opposite of the usual (it’s generally accepted that a gentleman does not break off an engagement). But of course they aren’t really engaged… or are they? They have been corresponding for more than a year, which is generally taken as evidence of a betrothal. I found it all very confusing. A betrothal was a pretty binding agreement in those days, so it was as well to know just whether you were or you weren’t.

So things chug along quite nicely for a while. Yes, there’s a lot of angsting but that’s signalled right from the start so it’s no surprise, and our hero and heroine seem to be getting along quite nicely. Happy ending ahoy. So what can possibly go wrong? The plot, that’s what. The author decided to throw a spanner in the works and… it’s completely over the top. Now, I get that the author wanted to ramp up the tension at the end, but it was just too much for me. Sorry.

For anyone whose powers of suspension of disbelief are greater than mine, you might well enjoy this. It’s very readable, and the story’s an interesting and unusual one. But I didn’t like the fudging of whether they were engaged or not, and the melodramatic ending keeps the rating down. Most of the book is a solid four star, but that ending is just two stars for me, so that averages out to three stars.

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