Review: ‘The Earl And The Girl From The Abbey’ by Regina Darcy

November 25, 2016 Review 0

I keep seeing Regina Darcy’s books popping up in the bestseller lists, so eventually I had to try one of them. I found it a frustrating read. On the one hand, the story is an appealing one, the main characters are likable and there are fewer historical errors than usual in many modern Regencies. On the other hand, there were innumerable minor errors, mostly punctuation, which made me very twitchy, and the story was just too short for any real character development. Amazon judges it to be 61 pages long, but the book ends at 76% of that, the rest being taken up with chapters of other books. That’s barely more than short story length.

Let’s get the historical errors out of the way first. The younger son of an earl is not a lord, not even when he’s the heir presumptive. He’s the Honourable Mr Davenport (in this case). Then there’s the Earl managing to re-outfit himself by popping into a tailor and coming out fully supplied. Nope. The making of gentlemen’s clothing was a long-drawn-out business involving selecting materials, measuring and multiple fittings, which would have taken weeks to complete. But these are minor matters, which only pedants like me care about.

More concerning is the implausibility of the romance. He needs to marry an heiress, she wants to meet a man she can fall in love with. They meet once at a dinner, have one conversation and that’s it. They’re in love and he immediately sets off to meet Aunty (or possibly Auntie, depending on which page you’re on), the Abbess of the local abbey, to ask permission to marry her niece. Not that she needs permission, being of age and all, but still. And then we’re into a whole implausible scandal, with a villain so obvious it’s impossible to miss. A dramatic finale and {drumroll} that’s it. All done and dusted.

Now, it would be possible to build this into a full-length novel, with some deeper character development. I would have liked to see more of our abbey-raised heroine encountering the peculiarities of Regency society. I’d have liked to see some serious rivals for her hand (since she’s an heiress) so that our hero has to work to win her over. I’d have liked, at the least, a nod towards a slower courtship. A paragraph or two describing how he visits more and more often, so that their love develops more naturally, would have been enough.

So for me, this wasn’t a wholly satisfactory story but then I’m a self-confessed pedant. It’s clear from some passages that the author has a flair for writing Regency. With a little more time taken to develop the characters and their relationships, and a thorough editing pass, this would be a good, if short, read. Three stars.

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Review: ‘The Quiet Gentleman’ by Georgette Heyer

November 20, 2016 Review 0

This is a curious one, #10 in my reread of all Heyer’s Regency romances, written in 1951. After the delights of Arabella, and a charmingly developed romance, this is a return to the perfunctory love affair, quite overshadowed by the needs of the plot. And instead of the usual near-farcical Regency romp, implausible but always entertaining, Heyer veers into murder mystery territory.

The story revolves around Gervase Frant, the Earl of St Erth, who returns after many years to claim his family seat at Stanyon. He finds his step-mother and half-brother, Martin, less than welcoming. His long absence and a spell in the army at Waterloo have encouraged them to believe that Martin will ultimately inherit, and Gervase’s return is an unpleasant surprise. Only cousin Theo, who manages the estate, is friendly. So when it appears that someone is trying to kill Gervase, suspicion naturally falls on spoilt, impulsive Martin.

The hero and heroine in this one, Gervase and the delightfully down-to-earth Miss Morville, never really get much opportunity to develop their relationship until the very last moment. In fact, for the first half of the book, Gervase is cheerfully paying court to the beautiful and lively young daughter of the rich but not terribly well-bred neighbours. I rather disapproved of his behaviour, actually. A man of his position and age, presumed to be in the market for a wife, might well have aroused expectations in the young lady. Common sense might have suggested keeping more of a distance. But that would have spoiled the story rather.

The mystery part of the plot failed to create much tension, since the identity of the perpetrator was blindingly obvious almost from the start. Again, I disapproved of Gervase’s behaviour in the way he resolved the issue, but I can see the reasoning behind it. A fairly melodramatic ending finally brings our two lovers together and all is well. Despite the weaknesses in the plot and my usual grumble about the overshadowed romance, this was another highly enjoyable read. Five stars.

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Dulcie is now out!

November 19, 2016 The Daughters of Allamont Hall 0

Dulcie, Book 4 of The Daughters of Allamont Hall, is now available for the very special price of $0.99 (or equivalent) for a few days only. Or you can borrow it for free with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime. Click here or the Buy! button above to link to your local Amazon.

Thank you for your support! If you enjoy reading Dulcie, please consider telling your friends or posting a short review. Word of mouth is an author’s best friend and much appreciated, not only by me but by other readers wondering whether a book is their cup of tea or not. Thank you so much!

A special price on Amy too!

To celebrate the release of Dulcie, you can also buy Book 1 of the Allamont Hall series, Amy, at the low price of just 99c. If you have Regency-loving friends who would enjoy the series, here’s an opportunity to start reading at a great price. Click the Buy! button above to link to your local Amazon.

And lots more romance to read, either free or for just 99c!

RomanceCrossPromo

If your tastes extend beyond the Regency era to other types of romance, there are 60 books available on 18th/19th November, all either free or just 99c. There are contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, scifi, timetravel and chicklit, as well as historical, and heat levels from clean and wholesome to steamy. See all the books here.

About Dulcie: The Daughters of Allamont Hall Book 4:

dulcie360A traditional Regency romance, drawing room rather than bedroom.

Dulcie’s sharp tongue has got her into trouble many times, and set her at odds even with her own sisters, but when she falls out with a neighbour, he challenges her to swap places with his ailing sister — she will go to Allamont Hall to recover in luxury, while Dulcie must manage the chores of a small cottage. As she learns to milk the goat and cook meat without burning it, she also learns a great deal about humility and honesty — and about love.

Alex Drummond is struggling to maintain the appearance of a gentleman on the small income of a village schoolmaster. Cheerful and outgoing in company, yet fighting black moods at home, an outbreak of temper makes him cross swords with the infuriating and spoilt Dulcie Allamont. His scorn turns first to respect and then to admiration. But Dulcie is a rich woman, and quite out of his reach…

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About Regency book covers

November 13, 2016 General 0

When I was beginning to consider covers for my own series of Regency romances, naturally I looked at what was being put out there in the genre. I checked the bestsellers’ list, the hot new releases and the Kindle Unlimited lists for ideas. There were a few styles that came up over and over. And, to be honest, there were even a few stock photos that came up over and over.

MultiCovers

I really like this image. It’s very pretty, it indicates the genre perfectly and it’s one of the rare stock photos in which the costume actually isn’t too far from authentic. That white dress is also easy to modify; it can be colour-altered, inverted and cropped to give different looks. Still, it’s such a striking image that it’s very recognisable whatever you do. I’ve found eleven twelve fourteen variants of it so far (I’m sure there are many more).

But what are the alternatives? Here are some other cover styles that came up over and over again.

1) The Big Frock

We can probably blame Courtney Milan for starting this trend. A woman in a huge-skirt ball gown, typically off the shoulder, in a vivid colour, all of which has not the slightest relationship to the Regency era. I understand the need for a striking image which conveys the romantic element, and the rather grand background to many of these books, featuring as they do the upper echelons of wealthy, titled English society. But I still shudder whenever I see one of these adorning the front of a Regency book. Victorian, maybe, but please, not Regency! Lots of stock photos available for these, for self-publishers with a budget.

2) The Couple In A Clinch

These generally get closer to authentic Regency costume. The woman might wear a gown with a narrow skirt, short sleeves and long gloves. There might be a bonnet and a swept-up hairdo with ringlets. The man might be sporting breeches and a cravat (or not!). But still, they don’t usually come close to historical accuracy, especially as most of the couples are half undressed. There’s also a lot of bad Photoshopping and repeated use of the same stock photos. Still, they do at least inform the reader that’s there’s likely to be a hefty dose of sex in the book.

3) The Tasteful Floral Display

This is most often seen on Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF), or, as they like to call it, Pride and Prejudice variations or continuations or retellings or whatever. I assume the lack of human figures is intended to leave the actual faces of the characters to the reader’s imagination, so that she can picture Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen or Matthew Rhys, as preferred. I’d always assumed that the flowers implied a lack of sex, but even a brief look at some opening chapters suggests that one purpose of JAFF is to fantasise about getting it on with Mr Darcy. To each their own. These have the virtue of being incredibly cheap to run up at home and some of them are lovely, but it’s not easy to do them well.

4) The Stylised Silhouette

Popular with traditional Regencies, these save the bother of finding stock photos with accurate costumes. The outlines used can be quite quirky, which makes me feel they’re aiming for the Regency-romp-style of Georgette Heyer (but her publisher doesn’t use covers like this, so what do I know?). Another simple option for self-pubbers who are handy with Photoshop or Canva.

5) The Serious Painting

The cover is a painting taken from the era. Again, the tone conveyed (to my mind) is less of the sexy bodice-ripping and more of the old-school romance, or maybe even a stab at tackling serious social issues of the day, or a darker tone in general. Easy to find for self-pubbers, but the good ones are very overused.

6) The Historically Accurate Gown

I’ve heard of one lady who makes her own gowns, and photographs her friends wearing them for her covers, which is totally awesome, but for those less skilled with a needle, it’s extremely hard to source authentic clothing images. What’s really needed is some way to connect cover designers with the thousands of historical re-enactment societies. Until then, this type of cover is the province of traditional publishers, who can afford to commission the costumes.

7) The Genuine Fashion Plate

There were innumerable journals published in the era which contained fashion plates, designed to show fashion-conscious ladies living in the provinces what the highest levels of society were wearing so that they could make cheap copies. These make excellent cover images if you don’t mind the rather stylised tiny hands and feet, and dainty faces. Generally used on traditional Regencies.

8) And then there’s mine…

I have an absolute abhorrence of historical inaccuracy in cover photos, so my options were limited. In the end, I took the serious painting idea, and modified it to make it a bit different from the many others. Most have dark backgrounds, inappropriate for my frothy, light-hearted tales, so I decided to use only the head and shoulders, surrounding the oval portrait shape with a lighter tone. Not having any artistic skills myself, I called in a professional to create the final images for me. I’m incredibly pleased with the result!

dulcie360

Which style of cover do you like best?

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Review: ‘The Grand Sophy’ by Georgette Heyer

November 6, 2016 Review 0

The Grand Sophy, published in 1950, features a heroine that every modern reader can surely enjoy. Sophy Stanton-Lacey is a glorious character, feisty without being unfeasibly modern, spirited and determined without being aggressive, a catalyst for change without being ruthless. Yes, she’s meddlesome and manipulative, but she genuinely wants the best possible outcome for everyone. From the moment she arrives at her aunt’s house in London, armed with her own Spanish horse, a parrot and a monkey, she dominates the page, charming and infuriating her relations in equal measure.

Her stuffy cousin Charles and his priggish fiancee, Miss Eugenia Wraxton, bear the brunt of Sophy’s good-humoured efforts to sort out their lives. Eugenia, in particular, is beautifully drawn, very much the other side of the coin from Sophy herself. Eugenia is constantly trying to ‘give her a hint’ about how to behave in London society, none of which advice Sophy needs, ensconced as she already is in diplomatic and political circles through her father’s career. And where Sophy wants to rearrange the romantic pairings of her cousins, which she can see will only bring them grief, Eugenia’s meddling takes the form of interference in the running of the household and suppressing the natural liveliness of the children.

As always with Heyer, the tangles reach a very entertaining climax where everything teeters on the brink of disaster before abruptly resolving itself into a happy ending mode. And, as always, the romance is almost forgotten about until the very last chapter. I confess, this weakness of the author’s is a constant irritant to me, as I far prefer a romance that builds steadily over the course of the book. However, everything else about this was a delight, even including the Lady-Catherine-like aunt and the array of caricature supporting roles. Five stars.

PS I’ve chosen to illustrate this with the classic paperback cover I remember from years gone by. I may even still have a copy in the attic. Sadly, my modern Kindle version has a far less interesting external cover, and none at all within the body of the book.

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Review: ‘Arabella’ by Georgette Heyer

November 2, 2016 Review 0

The eighth in my reread of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in chronological order, and I’m up to 1949. This is the first one that I recall a great deal about from my previous reads, enough to place it as one of my favourites, and I have to say, it hasn’t lost its charm.

Arabella Tallent, an impoverished vicar’s daughter from Heythram, Yorkshire, is invited by her wealthy godmother to enjoy a season in London. As the eldest daughter of eight children, and the beauty of the family, she fully understands that her duty is to marry well, and help bring out her younger sisters. But things go wrong before she even reaches London. A carriage malfunction causes her to seek help from the shooting lodge of Mr Robert Beaumaris, enormously wealthy, a nonpareil and arbiter of fashion. Overhearing him grumbling about predatory females pursuing him even into the country, Arabella is stung to pretend that she’s vastly wealthy herself. And from this small lie hangs the tale.

This is the first Heyer to feature a heroine that the reader can genuinely root for. Unimpressed by the frivolous London society she finds herself in, she remains true to her Yorkshire roots and her father’s moral code of Christian charity, and there are moments when I positively cheered for her. I also liked the emphasis in this book on the developing romance, which was never overshadowed by high jinks going on elsewhere. Despite this, however, the romance is still unbalanced. Beaumaris is intelligent, mature, sensible and astute. Arabella has a great deal of commonsense, but is not his intellectual equal and still does stupid things, so that he calls her a goose and acts in an almost avuncular manner towards her. And there was a moment where I wanted to shake Arabella. When a man you’re attracted to proposes believing you to be wealthy, the correct answer is, “I’d love to, but I have to tell you something first…” The book would have been a lot shorter, of course, but I’d have respected Arabella a lot more.

Even so, a hugely enjoyable read, which had me smiling all the way through. Five stars.

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Coming soon – Dulcie: The Daughters of Allamont Hall Book 4

November 1, 2016 The Daughters of Allamont Hall 1

Dulcie will be released on 18th November 2016, at the special price of just 99c for a few days only. Sign up to the mailing list so you don’t miss out on this offer.

dulcie360Dulcie’s sharp tongue has got her into trouble many times, and set her at odds even with her own sisters, but when she falls out with a neighbour, he challenges her to swap places with his ailing sister — she will go to Allamont Hall to recover in luxury, while Dulcie must manage the chores of a small cottage. As she learns to milk the goat and cook meat without burning it, she also learns a great deal about humility and honesty — and about love.

Alex Drummond is struggling to maintain the appearance of a gentleman on the small income of a village schoolmaster. Cheerful and outgoing in company, yet fighting black moods at home, an outbreak of temper makes him cross swords with the infuriating and spoilt Dulcie Allamont. His scorn turns first to respect and then to admiration. But Dulcie is a rich woman, and quite out of his reach…

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Review: ‘The Foundling’ by Georgette Heyer

October 18, 2016 Review 0

The seventh book in my attempt to reread all Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in chronological sequence. This one was published in 1948, and it’s a cracker. The Duke of Sale, a posthumous son and heir, has been cosseted from birth, every aspect of his life dictated by his guardian and uncle, and an array of loyal and devoted retainers. When he was a sickly child, this was appropriate, but now, at twenty-four, he’s chafing at the bit. He dutifully proposes to Lady Harriet Presteigne, his uncle’s choice of bride, and even though he likes her well enough, he longs for a little freedom from the demands of being a duke. So when his young cousin finds himself in a spot of bother, the Duke decides to go incognito to get him out of the scrape.

His adventures as Mr Dash of Nowhere in Particular are hugely entertaining, involving a runaway boy, a beautiful foundling girl, a kidnapping and much more besides. Meanwhile, his various relations and retainers are traipsing round the countryside trying to find him and rescue him. In the process, the Duke learns to appreciate his entourage and they, in their turn, learn that he’s a resourceful and competent young man who doesn’t need rescuing after all.

The Duke is the star turn here, being both gently self-effacing and also innately aristocratic, a tough act to pull off. The supporting cast are also likable, although (as is common with Heyer) tending to caricature at times, as the story veers towards farce. The love interest, Lady Harriet, is pleasant enough and an excellent match for the Duke, but she suffered greatly from playing no part in events for most of the book.

My constant complaint with these stories is that romance is generally forgotten until the last chapter, when the hero sweeps the heroine into his arms with a quite unexpected declaration of love. This book falls into the same trap, but at least enough has been shown to demonstrate that these two are truly made for each other. Other than that, an enjoyable romp. Five stars.

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Review: ‘In Want Of A Wife’ by Odelia Floris

October 12, 2016 Review 0

This book took me completely by surprise. Having loaded up my Kindle ready for a long-haul flight, I started with the big-name books and discarded them one-by-one — too many typos, too implausible, too historically inaccurate. By the time I got to this one, I had no expectations. And then it completely blew me away. Within five minutes of meeting Miss Rosa Lane — shy, stammering, socially inept Rosa — I desperately wanted her to have her happy ever after.

The plot is a time-honoured one: two sisters go to London for the season to find husbands for themselves. The older sister, Arielle, is excited at the prospect and declares she’s going to fall in love with the handsomest man she can find. Poor Rosa is terrified, of course. How will she ever manage at balls and large social gatherings, amongst so many strangers? She’s bound to be inept and say and do the wrong things. And both sisters are correct. Arielle instantly falls for the dashing and handsome Captain Steele, while Rosa can barely speak a word, even to the gentlemanly and unthreatening Mr d’Arcy, a widower in his thirties who is, as Jane Austen and the title of the book have it, ‘in want of a wife’, and who is unexpectedly friendly towards Rosa. But there’s another man whose attention she attracts, Steele’s friend, the strangely sardonic Captain Spencer.

And so the story unfolds with the choice Rosa has to make — the odd Captain, for whom she begins to have feelings, although he shows no sign of affection towards her, or the safe option, the wealthy widower with a comfortable situation, a marriage of convenience and perhaps a lifetime with respectability but no love. It’s a dilemma that so many Regency ladies must have faced — take the dull but safe offer now, or hold out for something better. Tricky. But when d’Arcy makes the offer, Rosa is too grateful and, frankly, too timid to turn him down and so, rather nervously, she marries him.

The rest of the book is an excellent description of how so many marriages of convenience must have gone — the polite formalities, the stilted conversations over dinner (Mr d’Arcy talks of very little beyond the weather!), the sheer loneliness of a life lived with someone who is virtually a stranger, played out in front of the servants. There are some very funny moments though, when the two are trying to conduct a conversation from opposite ends of a very long dining table, and misunderstanding each other, and having to repeat everything and shout. I wondered if they were going to resort to passing notes by way of the butler! The ending is pretty near perfect, and I actually cried when these two lovely people finally got all the obstacles out of the way and were set fair for happiness.

Is the book perfect? No, of course not. There were a few clunky moments, there were one or two places where I questioned the historical accuracy, the villains were a little too extreme and there were some parts of the story that could have been fleshed out a little more to give it some needed depth — I would have liked to see more of d’Arcy’s daughter, for instance, and one or two scenes showing Rosa with her after the marriage would have been welcome. One other (trivial) comment. It takes a certain amount of confidence to write a Regency romance with a hero called d’Arcy. There’s just too much baggage associated with the name. Captain Steele, too, reminded me of Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility.

I only have one serious grumble and that is the lack of chaperonage. I’ll forgive the two sisters travelling on the stagecoach because I assume there was an (unmentioned) matron accompanying them. But in London the aunt is simply never around, apart from formal functions like balls. During the day, she seems to be conveniently out visiting all the time, leaving the two sisters alone as prey for anyone who happens to turn up, or to walk about the streets and parks on their own. She must be the world’s worst chaperon! I’d expect her to take the girls with her when she goes visiting or shopping, to ensure they are introduced to all of her acquaintance, and once any gentlemen start to pay them attention she should be checking their backgrounds and ensuring that they’re respectable, and steering her nieces away from any bad apples. Instead she seems to take no interest at all until things reach crisis point.

But none of this detracted from the book for me in the slightest. From the very first page, its charm swept me along, and I was rooting for the hero and heroine all the way. A delightful read. Five stars.

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Regency romance review: ‘To Kiss A Rake’ by Barbara Monajem

September 9, 2016 Review 0

Sometimes when I’m looking for a book to read, I feel the need to do some research for my own Regency romances. So it is with this one. I picked it from the top of Amazon’s popularity lists, and since it’s more than a year old, it must be a good example of a well-targeted book that’s selling well because it gives readers exactly what they want.

First appearances are so-so. The title is exactly like a million other Regencies (To Kiss/Marry/Desire/Love a Rake/Duke/Scoundrel/Lord). Nothing terribly original there. And the cover is also like a million others — a modern couple in vaguely old-fashioned clothes, the man half-naked, the woman in full make-up, in a clinch. So far, so meh.

But the opening chapters are good. Our feisty heroine, Melinda, is helping out a friend who’s cried off from an elopement. She agrees to leave a ball to inform the man that it’s all off, the friend being too cowardly. But instead she meets our sturdy hero, Miles, who is helping his friend manage the elopement. Owing to a misunderstanding followed by a bump on the head, Melinda is abducted instead of the friend and finds herself stranded at an inn far from home with a strange man. He tries to get her home, but (naturally) they’re spotted and recognised. Now, it takes some industrial strength suspension of disbelief to accept all the missteps that have to happen to get to this point. In particular, it’s necessary for Melinda to be believably misidentified as the eloping girl, and I confess to rolling my eyes once or twice. Still, I can forgive a little contrivance to get the ball rolling.

It’s after this point that things begin to go off the rails somewhat. The plot requires a lot of characters to behave in, frankly, incredible ways. I found it impossible to believe in the evil grandmother, and the author has painted a harsh picture of Regency society, entirely filled, it seems, with shallow, immoral and selfish people without an ounce of humanity. I know times were very different then, but people were still people, with just the same range of weaknesses and strengths as modern people, not almost uniformly horrible, as here. Nor did I find Miles’s loss of reputation very believable. Then there’s the ongoing elopement plot, which centred on possibly the stupidest girl in Christendom. This sort of thing is fairly common for the genre, though, it has to be said.

Of the main characters, I liked Miles very much. Melinda, not so much. The romance side of things is good, although there’s a bit too much insta-lurve, and the whole virgin-to-sex-fiend-after-one-kiss trope has been done endlessly, and should die a fiery death. But the build-up was good and the sex scenes were good, so there’s that. But I wanted to bang their heads together to knock some sense into them. I know they both had the obligatory tortured backgrounds and all those emotional scars, yada yada yada, but they were also intelligent and rational people who whined and angsted and got annoyed with each other far too much. They made far too many decisions based on assumptions about what the other would feel, which were inevitably wrong. Ultimately, this book failed one of my acid tests for plot credibility, in that there would have been no plot at all worth the name if the characters had just sat down and talked to each other.

There isn’t anything wrong with this book. It’s well-written and easy to read, although the constant head-hopping from Miles to Melinda and back made me dizzy. There were a few word choices that surprised me (bum, for instance) but I assume the author’s done her research on that. The Regency setting isn’t very pronounced, and apart from the odd reference to Almack’s and the like, the book could have been set anytime up to the late Victorian era without major changes (it’s actually set in 1804). I didn’t notice any glaring errors, which was pleasant.

For anyone who’s looking for a typical modern Regency romance, with plenty of sex and agonising, and isn’t bothered by a certain amount of starkly black and white characterisation, I can recommend this. It wasn’t much to my personal taste, and I did quite a bit of skimming to get to the end, so it’s just three stars.

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