A giveaway, and some news

May 15, 2017 General, Sons of the Marquess, The Daughters of Allamont Hall 2

I’m giving stuff away!

I have some cool swag for 6 lucky people – mousemats, keyrings and drinks coasters featuring the covers of the Daughters of Allamont Hall. To have a chance to win, all you have to do is email me and tell me which is your favourite character from any of the books. Not read them yet? Can’t remember their names? No problem! Just answer ‘the butler’, because the poor servants never get much of a mention in Regency romances, do they? No purchase or commitment necessary to enter, and your friends are welcome to join in the fun too.

The competition runs until the end of May, when I’ll whip out my random number generator and pick 6 winners to receive an assortment of swag.
All the news, and coming soon – your next free book

The audiobook of Amy is almost finished, and I’ll have some to give away FREE, so if you’re a fan of audiobooks, watch out for that in the next few weeks.

I’m hard at work on the follow-on series to The Daughters of Allamont Hall, which follows the match-making efforts of Connie, now the Marchioness of Carrbridge, on behalf of her brothers-in-law. The first book of the series, Lord Reginald, will be released in September.

But you don’t have to wait that long to hear more of the Allamonts and their many relations! In the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a novella, The Earl of Deveron, about Connie’s husband at the time he inherited his title, explaining why he was so devious in his dealings with Connie and almost lost her to his brother. It also hints at the financial troubles about to hit the Marquess and his family in the new series.

Best of all, it will be completely FREE and exclusive to my mailing list subscribers. If you’re not already subscribed, now’s the time to sign up to be sure to get your free novella.

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Review: ‘Sense And Sensibility’ (1995, 2008)

May 5, 2017 Review 2

The intention here was to write a review of the 2008 TV version of Sense and Sensibility. The problem with that is that it inevitably begs comparison with the 1995 Emma Thompson film version, which just happens to be one of my favourite films of all time, and by far my most-loved Jane Austen adaptation. So, for simplicity, I’ll combine reviews here to contrast the good and bad points of each.

One thing both got right was the casting of the main roles. The 1995 film had Kate Winslet as Marianne, Emma Thompson as Elinor, Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars, Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon and Greg Wise as Willoughby. The 2008 version had Charity Wakefield as Marianne, Hattie Morahan as Elinor, Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars, David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon and Dominic Cooper as Willoughby. They all looked and (mostly) sounded the part, in fact there were times when, if I closed my eyes, I couldn’t distinguish one actor from the other. David Morrissey’s flat northern vowels were inescapable, and Willoughby broke into Essex-speak in moments of high emotion, but since neither could be faulted for their acting otherwise, I forgive them. I have a slight personal preference for Hugh Grant’s bumbling Edward, and Charity Wakefield captured Marianne’s open-hearted affection and innocence to perfection, but really, there was very little to choose between them.

On the minor characters, the 1995 film won hands down. No one could better Robert Hardy’s Sir John Middleton, or Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie as the Palmers. It also made the excellent decision to prune away some of the less significant characters. Lady Middleton and her many children, Miss Steele and the Dashwoods’ young son all got the chop, and the story was the better for it.

The settings were both pretty good. Both had wonderful Norlands, and a suitably small, isolated and windswept Barton Cottage. If anything, the 2008 version made the cottage more rustic and therefore more of a contrast with Norland, with the peeling paintwork and low doorframes. It almost seemed a little too rustic, but let that pass. My only grumble was Mrs Jennings’ house in London which seemed somewhat too grand for a widow. Even in the early nineteenth century, housing in London was very expensive.

Where the two versions differ most is in the scripts. Emma Thompson’s captures all the wit and charm of the original. The scenes with Edward’s visit to Norland are delightful, with the discussion about the source of the Nile, and swabbing decks. It’s also particularly good with the subtext of Elinor’s desperate unhappiness, which the reader/viewer understands perfectly well, even when nothing explicit is said. My favourite part of the film is when Colonel Brandon offers a living to Edward and asks Elinor to tell him of it. The viewer feels for her as she tries to refuse, and then suffers the awkwardness of the meeting with Edward. Beautifully written, beautifully acted. The 2008 film skates over the words to show only the emotion bubbling below the surface, which works but loses all the subtlety of the original.

But then the whole angle of the 2008 version is towards ramping up the emotion. The camera frequently lingers on Marianne’s expressive face, and even gives Elinor moments of obvious distress (against her personality, but perhaps more in keeping with the visual age we live in). The scene where Willoughby takes Marianne to the house he hopes to inherit sums up in glorious style her love and trusting innocence as she lifts her face for that delicate kiss. And then a very telling moment, as Willoughby visibly draws back from thoughts of seduction and clearly decides that she’s too good for that and he must marry her instead. That was very nicely done.

One aspect the 2008 version got spectacularly right was in bringing to the fore Willoughby’s previous seduction of Colonel Brandon’s ward. In the book, this is kept as a background mystery until close to the end, by which time it has lost some of its impact. Here, the seduction is the first thing we see, and it makes Colonel Brandon’s later behaviour far more understandable and more poignant. I liked the duel, too, over-dramatic as it was.

Overall, I still prefer the 1995 Emma Thompson version, but the 2008 version, with its Andrew Davies script, is also very enjoyable to watch. And that stirring music is still running round in my head.

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Review: ‘An Inheritance for the Birds’ by Linda Banche

April 28, 2017 Review 0

This is a sweet little story, with loads of quirky charm. When an elderly lady dies, her will sets up a contest for her estate between her two likely inheritors: her great-nephew, Kit Winnington, and her companion, Angela Stratton. All they have to do is to keep the old lady’s pet ducks happy, with the winner being determined by the solicitor administering the will. Since both are poor enough for the inheritance to be an attractive proposition, the battle is underway.

This is a delightful premise, and the contest, as it unfolds, doesn’t disappoint. The protagonists are suitably hostile towards each other, while (naturally) each finding the other remarkably desirable, the ducks have plenty of character of their own while providing much of the comic relief, and there’s an array of eccentric friends and neighbours on hand to provide plenty of complications.

It’s quite short, so the conclusion is reached all too soon. My only objection is that the friends and neighbours are a little too silly for words, so the story loses the opportunity for any subtlety. And as for the prospect of any man of the era removing his shirt to work when ladies might happen upon him, and said ladies falling upon him with glee, and even touching him, while he’s in such a state of undress – no, just no. But the tale is so charming in every other way, that it would be churlish to complain too much. An enjoyable four stars.

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Film review: Northanger Abbey (TV, 2007)

April 20, 2017 Review 0

It’s years since I’ve read the book, so I watched this with more or less fresh eyes, as a casual viewer, and I have no idea at all how closely it adheres to the book. Not very, probably, given the sexytimes between Isabella Thorpe and the dashing if callous Captain Tilney, and the somewhat raunchy dreams of Catherine Morland. I found them pretty implausible but whatever.

I’m going to be honest and say that this film left me unmoved. It wasn’t bad, exactly, but it just wasn’t convincing, somehow. None of the characters felt quite right for their roles and even the costumes grated on me, for some unfathomable reason (usually these days the accuracy is spot-on and there’s a proper adjustment for rank and character, but these just didn’t do it for me). Even the romance fell flat, which was really disappointing.

Now it’s not that there was anything wrong with it at all, and there were elements that I loved – Catherine’s dreams, for instance, full of dashing heroes and wildly romantic moments. But somehow, overall it was just ho-hum. If I have to account for it, I’d say that it failed to provide me with the full immersion-in-the-Regency experience – in other words, although it was well done, I could never forget I was watching actors in costumes on film sets. Very sad.

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Review: ‘Mistaken Kiss’ by Kathleen Baldwin

April 5, 2017 Review 0

A Bookbub free download.

This is an oddball one. The start is delicious. Willa is the sister of a clergyman, steeped in the logical and philosophical debates of her brother and his friend, Sir Daniel Braeburn. When her brother realises that she is growing up (and Willa’s breasts have a great deal to do with this observation, to very amusing effect), he decides that she should marry his fusty friend, so that the three of them can go on exactly as before. Willa isn’t completely unwilling, but she feels that they only way to determine whether she and Sir Daniel would suit is to kiss him.

This she sets out to do, but being very short-sighted, and having to remove her spectacles before undertaking the deed, she ends up kissing the wrong man, Alexander Braeburn, the brother of Sir Daniel. Naturally, the passionate kiss she shares with him turns everything upside down. And from there on, the game is to get the two together. To spin things out (because obviously two young people instantly attracted to each other and with no obstacles to marriage cannot be tolerated in a Regency romance), Willa is whisked off to London by batty Aunt Honore, who puts her in all sorts of near-compromising situations in order to raise the protective instincts of her reluctant swain.

And… that’s about it, really. There are some side plots involving her friend and his, which are pretty silly, but no worse than most Regencies, the writing is good, the two main characters are lovely, and there’s some nice business with the horse breeding which the hero is involved with. Oh yes, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny. My main concern is that the frivolous side plots so quickly twist from amusing to serious. The boating incident, for instance, which was very funny initially, and I loved that the heroine deduced what was going on and got herself out of the boat, but then the whole escapade veered off into near-tragedy, a startling change of tone. And the batty aunt was quite dangerous, I thought, in getting Willa into some quite dodgy situations. I didn’t find her funny at all.

But overall, an entertaining and enjoyable read with a nice romance, a little spoiled by the abrupt changes of tone. Four stars.

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‘Hope’ is now available… and the series draws to a conclusion!

April 4, 2017 The Daughters of Allamont Hall 0

Click to buyThe final book in The Daughters of Allamont Hall series is now available at all Amazons, and you can discover just what happened to the two missing brothers, Ernest and Frank, and what Mama has been up to! I hope there will be a few surprises along the way and that you find the conclusion satisfying. Click the image to buy for just $2.99 – but hurry! That’s a special new release price. And for a few days only, you can get Amy completely FREE, and buy Belle for just 99c (or equivalent). All the books are also free to subscribers in the Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime programs.

For me this is the end of an eighteen month adventure, starting from an idea that came to me when I was a passenger on a long, boring car journey, and finishing with the final tally of six novels and a novella. I’ve had the most amazing fun getting to know these characters and their world, and bringing each sister her happy ever after. Thank you for sharing the journey with me.

But of course this isn’t the end of the Allamont sisters and their large extended family, so watch out for Sons of the Marquess, coming later this year. There will be a FREE prequel novella, The Earl of Deveron, coming this summer (or winter, if you live in the southern hemisphere!), and then book 1 of the series, Lord Reginald, will be released around September or October. You can read a sneak preview at the end of Hope. And for those wondering when Cousin Mary will find lasting happiness, rest assured it won’t be long; she and Daniel Merton will be important characters in the new series.

Happy reading!

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Review: ‘Cousin Cecilia’ by Joan Smith

March 15, 2017 Review 0

This is a lovely traditional Regency, focused on social niceties and marriage prospects and not much else. Anyone looking for high action or sex scenes or intrigue should look elsewhere. But for anyone who’s a fan of Georgette Heyer, this is a good substitute.

The premise is that the heroine, the eponymous Cecilia, is unmarried herself but an expert matchmaker, brought in to ensure that her cousins’ suitors get to the point of a declaration. She finds they’ve been led astray by recently returned widower Lord Wickham, so she sets out to charm him in order to arrange matters to her satisfaction. So far so good, and of course it’s no surprise that the initial flirtation between the two turns to something else.

With all Regencies of this type, there are two aspects that both have to work well for the book to be an overall success. One is the romp element, the side plots and minor characters and mishaps that drive the story forward, provide the amusement and throw the main characters into increasingly difficult encounters. This side of the story is fairly lightweight, but the characters are well-sketched and the mishaps are suitably entertaining. Cecilia’s efforts to bring her three provincial charges to a proper degree of self-esteem are nicely done, and I liked that the girls tended to lapse as soon as her back was turned. I liked, too, the very confined setting. Although the book ends up in London at the height of the season, most of it is set in one small town, and this aspect reminded me of Pride and Prejudice.

The romance is quite nicely developed, a slow-burn rather than insta-love or (worse) nothing at all until the last chapter. But here we see how a society flirtation gradually deepens and turns to serious love. However, I had a real problem with the character of Lord Wickham. He’s framed at the start as the villain of the piece, a worldly and dissolute man who leads the young suitors of the cousins by taking them to gambling dens and entertaining them to drunken parties at his home. He’s a very aloof, unfriendly man, we’re told, who never socialises and is rarely seen.

And naturally, the first time our heroine ventures out of the house, who should she bump into but this reclusive man, walking about town like anyone else, and perfectly willing to be sociable and charming, and even requesting permission to call upon her the next day. Just like any regular fellow. This pattern is repeated endlessly. Far from being a dissolute man leading the youngsters astray, he turns out to be a quiet and well educated, not to say learned, man, and it’s not really clear to me why he ever had a bad reputation. This is a theme of quite a few Regencies, in fact, that the supposed rake or black sheep turns out to be perfectly respectable after all.

And so the romance gets under way, and, given that both parties are intelligent, articulate people of independent means and both free to marry, it becomes increasingly difficult to contrive reasons why they shouldn’t progress smoothly to the altar. So the author falls back on the time-honoured strategy – the misunderstanding. He thinks she’s looking only for a practical marriage of convenience. She’s insulted by his unromantic proposal. And then they go to London and things get very silly indeed. I know Regencies are required to have a degree of silliness, with the two lovers at cross-purposes, but this was far too long-drawn-out for my taste.

However, overall the story was an enjoyable traditional Regency, historically sound and with characters who were believably of the era. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and only the above-mentioned flakiness in the plot keeps it to fours stars.

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Review: ‘You’re The Rogue That I Want’ by Samantha Holt

March 4, 2017 Birthday Regencies, Review 0

When I had some Amazon tokens for my last birthday, I decided to buy some recommended traditional Regency romances, partly as research for my own Regencies, but also because I just like to read that style. But for comparison I also bought the top three bestsellers on Amazon on the day. This is one of those top three, so we can safely say this is the type of book that a great many people enjoy reading.

So let’s get one thing clear right from the start – this is not a Regency romance. Sure, there are references to pelisses and bonnets, breeches and mail coaches, and so on, but with only minor tweaks the whole story could be lifted and replanted in almost any era from late Victorian onwards. I can see it as a very successful contemporary romance. But not Regency. There is nothing at all in the characters’ behaviour or attitudes that speaks of that era.

So here’s the premise. The hero, Red, is the wealthy Earl of Redmere, whose hobby is smuggling. The heroine, Hannah, is a twenty-year-old who’s travelled alone from Hampshire to meet Red to persuade him to cross to France to collect a priceless historical artifact. And ‘travelled alone’ is not here a euphemism for ‘accompanied only by a lady’s maid, coachman, postilion and two footmen’ – she supposedly took the public coach. Alone, and no, she’s not a housemaid or governess, she’s supposed to be well-to-do. So my eyes are already rolling pretty hard at this point.

Our hero refuses, naturally, but changes his mind because reasons. At this point, I expected an adventure, with a trip to France and all that, but no, Red sends his crew off to France, and the next thing the boat is returning with the artifact. Then the heroine wants him to take her to London. He refuses, then changes his mind, because reasons. And off they go to London, abandoning the coach and accompanying servants pretty quickly because reasons.

And it becomes obvious from this point on that the reasons are actually to ensure that the hero and heroine are thrown together in a series of carefully staged vignettes of gradually rising sexual tension, strung into something vaguely resembling a narrative. Our heroic pair enjoy a night at a deserted inn, share a room at various inns and at one point are almost drowned crossing a river, which lucky escape causes them to kiss passionately on reaching dry land. Of course it does. And eventually all this increasing steaminess leads to the natural conclusion, whereupon our virgin heroine unleashes her capacity for multiple orgasms. Of course she does.

Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with any of this. In a contemporary romance it would be unexceptional, and even in a Regency it’s fine if the plot scaffolding is a little less flimsy than it is here. You can see how little the author is concerned with the background by her treatment of the priceless artifact. It’s described mostly just as a stone, and we learn later that it’s a mini-Rosetta stone, showing the same text in two previously undeciphered scripts. At first it takes two men to lift it off the boat. Later, the hero manages to cart it about while also carrying other luggage. Later still, he drops it rather painfully onto his foot. But the author never bothers to describe it. I imagined it as being stone-like, that is round, until it was described as being propped up against a wall. Only then did I realise that it was a slab or tablet shape. But we’re never given any indication of the dimensions, because at bottom it’s just a plot device.

Some other minor grumbles. Whisky. Repeat after me: whisky has no ‘e’ in it, not in Regency-era England. Lots of modern language (’the boss of me’? Really?). A hefty dose of typos, especially towards the end, as if the proofreader just gave up at some point. But the author’s done some research, especially into travel times, and I was delighted that, when new clothes were needed, they didn’t just pop into a shop and emerge fully kitted out again. But so much was out of kilter for a Regency novel that these details couldn’t redeem it for me. And then the ending – oh dear. After building up so nicely to the climax (so to speak), the author spoiled it all by tossing in one of those stupid moments where everything could have been resolved by a two minute chat, but no, the hero has to be all noble, for the heroine’s own good. Bleagh.

At this stage, I should point out once again that this was one of the three bestselling Regency romances on Amazon when I bought it. It’s still highly ranked, and has a 4.5 review average (which is stunningly good). Which means my poor opinion of it is shared by – well, probably nobody. If you don’t mind a fairly non-authentic Regency, with a strong focus on the main characters having the hots for each other, and not a lot else, then I commend this book to you. In fact, anyone who’s not me would probably enjoy this book enormously, and I’m just an eccentric pedant to grumble about it. On the plus side, I read it to the end, didn’t skip much and (looking on the bright side) all that eye-rolling is probably good for my facial muscles. Or something. Three stars.

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Film review: Emma (1996) and Emma (1996)

February 12, 2017 Review 0

Screenshot (249) Two films based on the same book, released in the same year, both feature length not serials (albeit one a theatre movie, one made for TV) – what were they thinking? And yet – both are beautifully done, with great scripts, great actors in every role, great settings and attention to detail, to the point that it’s very, very hard to say one is better than the other. I watched them back to back and enjoyed both equally.

The movie version stars Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role and Jeremy Northam as Mr Knightley, while the made for TV version stars Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Mr Knightley. There really isn’t much to choose between either of the ladies, although perhaps my personal preference would fall for Beckinsale, but only because I’ve always pictured Emma as dark haired, and the very blonde Paltrow jars ever so slightly. Of the men, again, personal preference would be for Jeremy Northam, but they were both admirably suited to the role.

Of the lesser characters, both Miss Bates and Harriets were perfect, and the Eltons in both films were excellent, too. Of the two Frank Churchills, I liked the Beckinsale version better, but only because the Paltrow version had dreadful hair (I know, how shallow of me!). As for the Jane Fairfax’s, if you stood them both in front of me, I’m not sure I could tell one from the other. The only character where I had a strong (and reasoned) preference was Mr Woodhouse – I thought the Beckinsale incarnation of Bernard Hepton encapsulated his old-woman fussing perfectly, while the Paltrow version seemed too vigorous, somehow.

Screenshot (250)Some random thoughts. For the final coming together between Emma and Mr Knightley, I thought the Paltrow version captured the emotion better. The Beckinsale version, on the other hand, caught beautifully the dreadful situation of Jane Fairfax and her fragile emotional state. The Beckinsale film stayed truer to the book with regard to the Eltons – their smug, self-satisfied snobbery, very pleased with themselves, and perfectly suited. The Paltrow version of Mrs Elton was very entertaining, in constantly talking over her husband so that he can barely get a word in, but it leaves him looking rather as if he may regret his marriage, a step away from the book. But I did like her talking to camera during the wedding scene. The Beckinsale film ended with the massive harvest festival dance, clearly designed to bring all the bridal couples together at once, even farmer Robert Martin. I didn’t think it was entirely successful, but it wasn’t a problem.

In many ways, Emma is perhaps the best of Jane Austen’s works. I love it, because all the heroine’s troubles arise from her own personality. If she had not meddled in Harriet’s affairs, if she had been kinder to poor Miss Bates, if she had taken Jane Fairfax under her wing as she should, then everybody’s lives would have been smoother. Of course, then there would have been a lot less story to enjoy!

But one aspect of the book unsettles me rather, and that is Mr Knightley’s age, or perhaps I should say, not so much his age as the fact that he has known Emma since she was born. In fact, he was practically an adult already, and there’s something icky about a man who watches a girl grow up and then falls in love with her. Large age differences were very common in those days, not even worthy of comment (it was disparity of wealth/rank that got people agitated) and in a small, confined society, such things must have happened a great deal, but even so, I found it a little unsettling.

Overall, I can recommend both of these versions, but if I had to pick just one, I’d probably plump for the Beckinsale variant by a whisker.

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New books at 99c for a short time only!

January 30, 2017 Uncategorized 0

Yes, folks, I sent two new books out into the world last week. Grace is the fifth book in The Daughters of Allamont Hall, and it’s a fun ride! Grace is the boisterous, tomboyish sister who would love to have an adventure, but she finds out that some adventures can have dire consequences. Available to buy for 99c (or equivalent) at your local Amazon, or download for free with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime.

The sixth and final book in the series, Hope, will be released on 31st March 2017, in which all the final mysteries will be resolved. What did happen to the missing brothers, Ernest and Frank? And what does Mama get up to on those visits to Shropshire? You can pre-order Hope for just 99c (or equivalent) from Amazon. These prices will only last for a few days.

Click the images to buy, borrow or pre-order, or click the Buy! button above.

Click to buy or borrow Click to pre-order

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