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.


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.


‘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!


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.


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.


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.


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


Review: ‘Carpet of Snowdrops’ by Heather King

January 23, 2017 Review 0

Heather King is a new author to me, but her cover for A Carpet of Snowdrops uses the same Regency-era portrait that I use on one of my own books, so I was naturally drawn to it. The opening is very melodramatic: a heavily pregnant woman is walking through the snow pushing a small cart carrying all her possessions. She’s trying to get to the home of a Duke, the brother of her now-dead husband. A rider approaches at speed and almost runs her down.

The reader’s sympathy is instantly aroused for the widow and her unborn child, and when she is turned away by her husband’s family, her plight seems desperate indeed. But the reckless horseman is Joscelyn, Lord Rollaston, and he’s an honourable man, so he takes steps to ensure the widow, Eloise, is looked after. And thereby begins a slowly developing and gentle romance.

This is a short book (it felt like a novella to me) so there are no real sub-plots and not much scope to develop the minor characters. Nevertheless, the two main characters shine like stars, always behaving in rational ways and never stepping outside the rigid bounds of Regency propriety. The writing is excellent, the descriptions evocative and the story, mild as it is, drew me along with that just-one-more-page syndrome that is the sign of a truly enjoyable book. Five stars.


TV/film review: Persuasion (1996) and (2007)

January 22, 2017 Review 1

Screenshot (181)I watched these two back to back, so it seemed sensible to review them together. I can’t honestly say that one was dramatically better or worse than the other. They both had good points and weaker points.

The 1995 version features Amanda Root as Anne Elliott and Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth, while the 2007 version has Sally Hawkins as Anne and Rupert Penry-Jones in the hero’s role. I love Amanda Root as Anne – she has the perfect face for it, capable of being made to look quite plain in the early stages of the book, and growing into a luminous beauty as her hopes rise towards the end. Her manner is perfect for the self-effacing but capable Anne, too. Sally Hawkins is less aptly cast, but she has a beautifully expressive face which captured the sad moments to perfection. Of the men, Ciaran Hinds is perhaps a slightly better fit for the role, but Rupert Penry-Jones appeals to my romantic side a little better.

Screenshot (182)Both versions follow the story of the book very closely, using much of the original language and with splendid sets and costumes. The supporting characters are all excellent, so no complaints at all in those areas. Well, it’s hard to go wrong when you have Lyme and Bath as your backdrops. The 1995 version is a tad earthier, with more mud about, and the Harvilles appear to live in quite a hovel. The 2007 version takes more liberties for dramatic purposes. All that running about Bath, the spray-drenched pier at Lyme and the long-drawn-out opening scene of the closing up of Kellynch Hall were a bit much for my taste. But this version also managed to convey brilliantly Captain Wentworth’s gradual reawakening to all Anne’s good qualities, which is difficult to do well, so kudos for that.

I enjoyed both versions, but if I had to choose one or the other, could I just say: I’ll have the Amanda Root version, but with Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth? Pretty please?


Film review: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (2007) with Keira Knightley

January 12, 2017 Review 0

Screenshot (142)Where to begin? There is so much wrong with this movie I can’t even get my head round it. Let’s start with the good, or at least worthy, parts. Firstly, I like the attempt to place the story in the rougher, more robust late-Georgian era rather than the starchier, more prim version of the Regency so beloved of most adaptations. The early scene set in the Meryton assembly gave a good impression of the more energetic style of dancing that was very much part of the era. The wildness of the younger daughters fits in well here.

Secondly, the romantic element is played up quite well. Elizabeth’s emotions are well displayed, starting with real distress after reading Darcy’s letter, and showing her developing feelings thereafter. At least she’s shown having some feelings before she sees Pemberley, which always strikes me as a particularly awkward moment to start liking Darcy, as if one look at the house is enough to sway her, the avaricious little minx. So I liked seeing a degree of misery before that. Keira Knightley, who is spectacularly ill-suited for the role in almost every other way, pulls this off with aplomb, having strong enough acting skills to pull off the love-sick scenes. And the final scenes are well done and have real emotion – the reunion with Darcy, and the interview with Mr Bennet.

And thirdly, not a good point, but an observation. A two hour movie is necessarily going to be curtailed in a score of ways. Characters were cut out wholesale – Maria and Sir William Lucas, Mr and Mrs Hurst and all the Gardiner children got the chop. Favourite scenes were merged or cut and almost everything was truncated, sometimes to the point where it made little sense. But at least all five Bennet girls survived.

So. On to the bad stuff. Settle down, this is going to be l-o-n-g. Let’s talk about the farm first, that whole thing with the pig, and geese and chickens and dogs and mud everywhere. OK, I get that the idea was to show the Bennets’ lowly status in society, the fact that they haven’t risen very far above the rank of farmer. But… Mr Bennet’s income is some two thousand a year, almost half of Mr Bingley’s. There is NO WAY ON EARTH that they live in the midst of their own farm. The set designer has taken a single line of the book (’[the horses] are wanted on the farm more often than I can get them’) and extrapolated to plonk the entire household in the middle of the farm. Every gentleman of the era living in the country had a home farm to supply their food needs; none of them lived on the farm. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

There are so many historical inaccuracies in the film. The costumes were hit and miss, and I hated that Elizabeth never seemed to wear a hat or gloves (or shoes, sometimes!). I suppose it was intended to show her independence of spirit, but really it shows her to be quite beyond the bounds of propriety. A lady never went out without a hat, and not wearing gloves was incredibly fast – a man might touch one’s bare skin! The horror! And let us draw a veil over the whole matter of hairstyles for the younger girls, and the men, for that matter. Shudder. What were they thinking?

Then there was the question of forms of address. Darcy never seems to call Elizabeth anything but Miss Elizabeth, even when alone with her, even when there isn’t another Miss Bennet within fifty miles. If it’s meant to show intimacy or growing attachment, it fails. It’s just plain wrong. And then when Mrs Bennet and the younger girls arrive at Netherfield, they are announced as ‘Mrs Bennet, Miss Bennet, Miss Bennet, Miss Bennet’. Utterly wrong. It was perhaps intended to be amusing, but instead it just makes the scriptwriter look incompetent.

So let’s talk about the script. I’m not a purist, by any means, and I’ve already accepted the necessity for cutting and modifying to squeeze the story into two hours, but Jane Austen was a brilliant writer. Best to use her words as much as possible, surely? But no, the scriptwriter chose to toss out a great deal of well-crafted prose and replace it with something far more mundane. Sometimes it sounded like dumbing down, as when Elizabeth’s comment to Lady Catherine that she ‘plays, but very ill’ is changed so that she plays ‘poorly’. Is that because the scriptwriter thought the audience wouldn’t understand the expression, or because she herself didn’t? And some of the crucial interchanges lost much of their sense to the need to overplay the emotion, and OK, I get that sometimes Austen was dry and not emotional enough, so I can perhaps forgive that. But it also lost all the wit. The delightful exchange at the piano at Rosings where Elizabeth talks to Darcy through Colonel Fitzwilliam is condensed to bland nothingness, and ends with Elizabeth’s extraordinarily rude comment: ‘Maybe you should practise more’.

It’s the same problem with the chosen settings. Why was the first proposal scene set at a temple in the pouring rain? It creates a dramatic backdrop, and our main characters can be dripping to (presumably) symbolise their rejection of the proprieties (or something), but honestly, it was just silly. And then there was Pemberley. Elizabeth arrives in a carriage with her aunt and uncle, looks around the house (which looks more like a museum, to be honest), and gets lost. Fine. But then she comes across Georgiana and Darcy (wrong: they would never have been allowed in the house if any of the family were at home), is spotted, has her embarrassing conversation with Darcy and then – walks back to the village? Excuse me? Her aunt and uncle left her behind? To walk home alone? And Darcy let her do that? I don’t think so. And as for Lady Catherine turning up in the middle of the night – no, no, no, a thousand times no!

On the subject of Lady Catherine, here we have one of the stellar actresses of our time, Judi Dench, in a role she could fulfil with her eyes closed, yet somehow managing here to be merely ordinary. How does that even happen? With Jane Austen writing the lines and Judi Dench speaking them, what could possibly go wrong? I have no idea, but something did. Then there are Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn, brilliant actors both, underwhelming as Mr and Mrs Bennet, apart from a couple of flashes where the script gave them room to breathe. Other actors were plain miscast, like Elizabeth herself (I’m not a great fan of Keira Knightley, but I’ve seen her much, much better than this), the younger sisters, Mr and Miss Bingley and Mr Collins. I read one review that said (paraphrasing) if one actor is wooden, you can put it down to bad acting, but if they’re all wooden, it has to be a more fundamental problem, either the script or the direction or both. I’d agree with that.

The interesting question is this: if I’d never read the book and never seen the BBC’s 1995 version, would I have rated this more highly? The answer is surely no. There is no charm here, no effervescent lightness of touch that would lift the film above the ordinary. The dramatic scenes of flowing frocks on the horizon or the hero and heroine dripping wet are plain silly. And frankly, any film that puts Judi Dench in the sort of role she was born for, yet manages to make her performance ordinary deserves to die. What an incredible waste. There are a couple of moments at the end when the script rises above the mundane, and I rather enjoyed that energetic country dance early on, but the rest of it was dire.