Review: ‘The Rake’ by Mary Jo Putney

December 31, 2016 Review 0

It’s a testament to the author’s skill that this book managed four stars from me, because there’s a great deal about it that really rubbed me the wrong way. The hero, for instance, the supposed rake of the title, turns out to be a great deal less villainous than advertised. Most of his duels seemed to consist of summary justice when the law refused to intervene, or defending a lady’s honour, or simple self-defence. His conquests of the female variety seemed to hurl themselves at him, rather. Not a single virgin was deflowered by him, so far as I could make out. His worst offence was drinking to excess, which was more or less par for the course in those days, and anyway he spends the whole book trying to keep off the booze. Not so much a villain as a hero in disguise. Grrr.

Then there’s the heroine. If there’s one thing I hate about a Regency-era novel, it’s finding a character who is really just a modern woman in period skirts. Or trousers, in this case. She’s a reformer, so naturally she’s introduced crop rotation to the farms, and set up small businesses to help out the soldiers displaced by the end of the war, and is busily educating all the children. Oh, and let’s not forget the smallpox vaccination program. And she’s good at everything, and has made all the farms and businesses profitable and everybody loves her, especially the three charming orphans she happens to be raising. Grrr.

What about the plot? Well, there isn’t much of one. There’s a villain, who’s suitably villainous in a cartoony, mustache-twirling kind of way, easily spotted and even more easily defeated. There are some minor romances along the way, which the author never really bothers to develop beyond the most rudimentary meet-fall-in-love-let’s-get-married approach. There are some set-piece encounters – the rescue scene, the ballroom scene, the woman seen creeping out of the hero’s room, the heroic battle scene, you know the sort of thing. And then there’s the stupidly noble for-your-own-good action that involves the hero and heroine splitting up without talking to each other. These are two people who’ve displayed a great deal of intelligence and articulacy, not to mention some very intimate moments, and they can’t simply sit down and talk things through? Grrr.

And then there’s the backstory. Now, I have no complaint with the hero, because he’s had a pretty miserable time of it, all things considered, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s fully entitled to be as grumpy as he likes about life. But the heroine – oh, ye gods, what is there to say about a woman who walks away from her life for such a ridiculously idiotic reason? And then stays away? A great deal of the early part of the book is concerned with building sympathy for this woman in her precarious position, constantly poised on the brink of starvation or worse, when in fact she could have fixed everything in five minutes. Grrr.

But…

Something about the main characters got under my skin. Their obvious physical attraction to each other, their verbal sparring, their repeated attempts to understand and help each other, and eventually their complete acceptance of each other, warts and all – it all worked to make them fully rounded people, and the intensity in their interactions was mesmerising. Their personalities towered over the rest of the book and lifted the story into the realm of the extraordinary. If only there had not been so much to dislike… Four stars.

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Review: ‘Brighton Road’ by Susan Carroll

December 27, 2016 Review 0

This book was an absolute delight, from the moment the dreaming heroine falls off the sofa in the first chapter to the slightly bungled romantic scene on the beach at the end. I loved both main characters, I loved the minor characters, I loved the way everything went wrong in the most natural manner possible, and I loved the growing romance between two such unlikely people. I even loved the dog (although honesty compels me to acknowledge that he was as much plot point as comic relief). This one of those books that I really wish I’d written myself. It’s a perfect Regency romp, with a cascade of escalating and very funny disasters that arise purely from the original premise and the characters themselves (well, all right, and the dog, sometimes), combined with a delightfully judged romance.

Here’s the premise: Gwenda Vickers is a young lady who writes romantic fiction, so when she accidentally overhears starchy Lord Ravenel proposing to a lady, she feels compelled to offer him the benefit of her professional advice on how the business should be conducted. He is less than amused by her suggestions. Thrown together by circumstance (and the dog), his gentlemanly attempts to escort her to her family in Brighton lead to any number of entertaining escapades and a growing romance.

What makes this book so charming is the two lead characters. Gwenda has had a wildly eccentric upbringing, so a demure miss she most definitely is not, yet there’s an innocence about her that constantly leads her into trouble. Ravenel is buttoned up tight, but as one near-disaster follows another, he gradually unwinds enough to begin to enjoy himself. The minor characters are great fun, too, especially Gwenda’s oddball family. The final chapters stretch credibility somewhat, but the ending is lovely. Five stars.

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Review: ‘The Mysterious Heir’ by Edith Layton

December 23, 2016 Birthday Regencies, Review 0

I got off on completely the wrong foot with this one, a 1984 book which is part of my birthday Regency list. The very first scene introduces the reader to a curmudgeonly gentleman, sitting huddled beside the fire with his very much needed walking stick, massaging his gammy leg (an old war wound) and railing at the rain. Naturally I assumed he was a very elderly gentleman, and took the young man, fair of form and face, who bounds in later, as the hero. Not so. The curmudgeon turns out to be thirty or so, an earl and indisputably the hero.

Then I was tripped up by the Earl having to meet three prospective heirs and choose one from amongst them. Excuse me? On what planet did any titled Regency gent get to choose his heir? He might leave his property where he liked (if it wasn’t entailed), but the title followed very strict rules. So I was struggling in the early chapters with both misdirection and historical blunders.

Neither of the main characters really grabbed me by the throat, so to speak. The Earl continues to act the curmudgeon for most of the book, and in his dealings with Elizabeth, the heroine, there’s an edge almost of violence sometimes, that really made me dislike him. He also treats her with unspeakable cruelty at the end, and no, not telling her what’s going on ‘for her own good’ is not an acceptable excuse. And she’s an idiot sometimes, but she probably had more of an excuse than he did.

However, there’s a lot to like about this book. There’s plenty of humour, there are some delightful minor characters, like Bev, the gay friend of the Earl, Anthony, one of the heirs, who is a huge fan of Napoleon, and another heir, Owen, a podgy foodaholic. The writing is excellent and the plot unfolded at a stately but enjoyable pace. The villains are idiotically obvious, but subtlety isn’t a prerequisite for this kind of book.

What saved everything for me was the development of the romance, which blossoms very, very slowly over the whole course of the book. I’m a sucker for a believable romance, and the author is skillful enough to infuse the whole thing with romantic fairydust which, in the end, outweighed the less likable aspects of their characters. And there was enough tension in some of the hero and heroine’s scenes to keep me avidly turning the pages. Four stars.

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Review: ‘The Nomad Harp’ by Laura Matthews

December 17, 2016 Review 0

This is the first of my birthday Regencies (a selection from 1980 to the present bought with my gift cards), the earliest, written in 1980. The author is new to me, and I found it an enjoyable read, with some humour and a nicely drawn romance.

The premise: a career naval officer finds himself unexpectedly inheriting a viscountcy. He feels obliged to retire from the navy to manage his estates, but there’s a wrinkle: he’s betrothed to a woman he scarcely knows, attracted by her virtuoso playing of the harp. When he goes to visit, he finds her unimpressed by his elevation in rank. She had accepted his offer only because he would be away at sea a great deal, which would allow her to maintain her independent lifestyle. She breaks off the engagement after discovering that he’s falling for a much more suitable young lady.

But naturally, that isn’t the end of things. The story devolves into the usual Regency mix-ups and misunderstandings, albeit more believable than is sometimes the case, with an array of minor characters to liven things up. But it’s the main characters which make or break a story like this, and here I had my doubts. Lord Pontley himself is a fairly straightlaced sort of chap, too dour to be obvious hero material, and I confess to not entirely understanding his motives for dealing with the suitable young lady he finds himself engaged to. Indeed, for a serious sort of chap, he gets engaged for the most frivolous of reasons. Still, I rather liked him.

The heroine, Glenna Forbes, I found less likable. For a supposedly forthright and independent-minded young lady, she was a terrible ditherer. It’s conventional in fiction that when a character proposes a plan that the reader can clearly see is going to happen, there’s still a certain amount of argument round and about before it’s agreed to. Here, Glenna protested against perfectly reasonable proposals for far, far too long. I really wanted to slap her upside the head. And some of the things she does are just plain silly (like the whole companion scheme, for instance). The only purpose that I could see was so that she would find out about Lord Pontley’s feelings for the suitable young lady.

Despite all that, however, I found the book very enjoyable. I love a Regency where the romance builds slowly over the whole book, and this is particularly credible example. The minor characters are terrific, the historical accuracy is good and there’s enough humour to leaven the mixture. Four stars.

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Birthday Regencies

December 4, 2016 Birthday Regencies 0

I recently had a birthday, and my kind relatives treated me to Amazon gift cards. Naturally, I rushed to the Amazon Kindle store to buy as many books as I could with their largesse. Since I’m rereading Georgette Heyer at the moment, I thought it would be an interesting contrast to try something more recent for comparison. My tastes just now running to traditional rather than bodice-ripper, I searched particularly for that style, although it was difficult to find them – they tend to be well-buried amongst all those covers with flowing skirts and off-the-shoulder numbers. But here’s what I came up with, in three categories (prices in £ alongside):

1) Older books (pre-2001):

  • The Nomad Harp: Laura Matthews 2.67 1980
  • The Mysterious Heir: Edith Layton 3.85 1984
  • Brighton Road: Susan Carroll 2.20 1988
  • The Rake: Mary Jo Putney 4.02 1989
  • Cousin Cecilia: Joan Smith 2.99 1990
  • Lord of Scoundrels: Loretta Chase 3.99 1995
  • Reforming Lord Ragsdale: Carla Kelly 2.49 1995
  • One Night For Love: Mary Balogh 4.99 1999
  • A Summer To Remember: Mary Balogh 5.99 2002
  • The Viscount Who Loved Me: Julia Quinn 3.33 2000

2) More recent (2001-2012):

  • The Silent Governess: Julie Klassen 3.69 2010
  • The Kiss Of A Stranger: Sarah M Eden 1.09 2011
  • Edenbrooke: Julianne Donaldson 8.59 2012

3) The latest thing – the three bestsellers in the US on the day I looked:

  • The Duke’s Everburning Passion: Charlotte Stone 0.99
  • You’re The Rogue That I Want: Samantha Holt 3.27
  • Gaining the Gentleman: Eleanor Meyers 0.99

I’ve already made a start on The Nomad Harp, and I’ll review everything as I read them.

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Review: ‘Cotillion’ by Georgette Heyer

December 2, 2016 Review 0

The run of five star reviews is getting longer. Here’s another classic, #11 in my complete reread of the author’s Regency romances, and this is the fifth five star in succession. Yet I can’t give it less, not when I enjoyed it so much. This is absolutely vintage Heyer, with perhaps my favourite hero so far, a spirited and self-assured heroine, a wonderful sub-plot and a very credible romance, for once.

This book, first published in 1953, starts with an outrageous arrangement: wealthy Mr Penicuik decides to leave his considerable fortune to whichever of his nephews marries his adopted daughter Kitty. Two turn up – the rather pompous clergyman and the not-quite-all-there Earl. Kitty composedly turns them down. But when dandy-about-town Freddy Standen arrives, not quite understanding what is happening, and, when he does, immediately ready to turn tail and run away, Kitty persuades him into a fake betrothal so that she can get herself up to town. Because there’s yet another cousin, Jack, the handsome rake…

And so begins this wonderful tale. What I love most about it is that although in some respects it falls into the traditional Heyer mould of an older man-about-town and a young ingenue, Kitty isn’t at all a helpless young thing, and Freddy isn’t the usual world-weary rake. He’s just a very, very nice man who would never, ever do anything improper, and is clearly far better husband material than the arrogant Jack, so sure of Kitty that he makes no attempt to win her until it’s too late. Jack isn’t really a villain, and in a great many Regencies he would be the hero, but Freddy is truly the hero of this one, and every bit the perfect gentleman.

I mentioned the sub-plot, which involves Dolphinton, the dim-witted Earl, who is so terrified of his mother that he hides under the table! He’s meant as the comic relief, but it’s hard not to like him and his most implausible paramour. The real comedy came from Freddy, who gallantly squires Kitty all over town to the many sights she is determined to see. As an aside, quite my favourite character after Freddy himself was his father, Lord Legerton, who is as astute and sardonic as Freddy is slow-on-the-uptake and straightforward. Their conversations were delightful.

I have been grumbling all the way through my rereads about the romance element being forgotten about until the very last moment, but not so here. The relationship develops slowly but surely, and the ending brought everything to a head and resolved matters most satisfactorily. Five stars.

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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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