Category: Review

Review: Katherine When She Smiled by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 16, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

Every Joyce Harmon book is a delight and this one is no exception. For anyone looking for a substitute for Georgette Heyer, here’s an author who might just fit the bill. She has a light hand with dialogue, a strong array of characters and plots that effortlessly unfurl. This one eschews the standard Regency settings of society London or Bath, being firmly set in a small village, but that makes it a gentler, more affectionate look at Regency life. And it’s very, very funny. I do love a book which makes me chuckle all the way through.

Heroine Katherine is the oldest of her family, now orphaned by the recent death of her father. But amongst his scholarly papers she finds a half-written Gothic novel, the latest in a long line of them, by which her father had secretly been supporting his family. Katherine realises that, to keep a roof over their heads, she has to continue her father’s novel-writing career.

Our hero is the long-awaited brother of a duke, a soldier returning from the wars to claim his estate and find himself a suitable wife. The ladies of the village have their own ideas on the subject of suitability, and handsome Lord Charles sets many a female heart a-fluttering – except for Katherine, who’s busy fending off the attentions of the worthy young vicar while shouldering all the burdens of her family.

As with Heyer, the subplots, which involve a couple of boys behaving boyishly and much Gothic fun and games, tend to overshadow the romance at times, and although we see Charles’ moment of revelation regarding Katherine, we never see hers towards him (or at least, it is so understated as to be almost invisible), which was a great pity. I do like to see the protagonists inching towards an understanding. But both of them behaved with intelligence and common sense, no one acted stupidly in pique and (hallelujah!) there were no contrived misunderstandings.

Some of the loose ends tidied up and the other pairings resulting seemed a little too convenient to me, but I won’t quibble. There were a very few typos, and a smattering of Americanisms (gotten, fall instead of autumn), but Harmon has such a strong grasp of the Regency era that it ever bothered me. This is a lovely traditional Regency, very much in the style of Georgette Heyer, and I highly recommend it, and all Harmon’s books, to all Heyer fans. Five stars.


Review: Regency Road Trip by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 16, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments


This is one of those delightful books that is filled with something that’s so rare in modern writing – charm. It manages to be whimsical without being silly, it’s effortlessly funny and the plot rattles along at a nice pace. And three rousing cheers for a romance featuring a decidedly older couple. Yes, there’s a side romance with a younger pair, but that never overshadows the main event.

The plot is a simple one: the Earl of Salford has returned from the wars to find his estate on the verge of ruin at the hands of his cousin and heir. The estate can be rescued, but as soon as the aging earl pops off, the heir will take over again, unless he can produce an heir to transplant the cousin. In most Regencies, this would be the cue for a marriage of convenience plot, but the earl refuses to play that game. Instead, he trawls the family tree and finds a missing branch of the family which meandered off into middle-class-dom a couple of generations ago.

To track down the missing heir, he recruits his good friend Eliza Merryhew, and to make things more fun, they travel incognito, as a baron’s widow and her devoted manservant. Which just makes things even more entertaining, of course. If the search is a little too easily resolved, that just leaves a little more time for those romances to brew up. My only complaint is that the story is too short – I really wanted more about this lovely couple! Five stars.


Review: Miss Serena’s Secret by Carolyn Miller

Posted February 25, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a difficult book for me to rate. On the one hand, it’s well written, it feels realistically steeped in the Regency era and I was definitely rooting for the two lovers. But on the other hand… boy, was it slow, and the on again/off again between the protagonists got old really quickly. I much prefer a couple who know their own minds and go after what they want, rather than a lot of existential angsting.

So this follows directly after the first book in this series, Winning Miss Winthrop, so we get to see our happy couple from last time around billing and cooing, holding hands under the table, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes and generally behaving in twenty first century ways. Well, whatever. Some readers like that, but personally I prefer my Regency characters to behave like proper Regency characters and not display affection openly.

This time around, the lead characters are the sister and friend of the previous couple. Serena is the cool as ice, just out of the seminary young lady with artistic talent. Harry is the ne’er do well heir to an earldom, with roguish charm and tendencies towards mistresses and gambling. There’s a lot of strait-laced disapproval of poor Harry from his family, his friends and from Serena, all of which got on my nerves rather. He doesn’t seem to have stepped beyond the normal bounds for a young man of means in that era, so although I can understand that his family wanted him to settle down, it seemed a bit much to regard him as unredeemable. Especially when he’s so charming (yes, I confess I have a thing for roguish charm, and Harry’s very funny with it, always a plus).

For various implausible reasons, the two are thrown together at Harry’s family home in Derbyshire, and for even more implausible reasons, Harry is told not to exert his considerable charm on Serena. But naturally they begin to fall in love anyway, and why not? She’s a young lady of breeding and good family, he’s the heir to an earldom and (despite all the posturing about his reputation) he’s extremely eligible. So the author’s ingenuity is tested rather to find ways to keep the two apart. Serena has both an unfortunate previous encounter with a male tutor at her school, which has put her off men, plus a medical condition. Harry has a former lover amongst other problems, but none of this is insuperable if people would just talk to each other, instead of stoically putting up with things in silence. And as for the whole shenanigans with the painting at the exhibition, it just seemed over the top to me.

Both the main characters seemed too driven by the opinions of other people. Serena was very contrary, not making any protest about her art master’s behaviour, then giving in too readily to the idea of exhibiting her painting, even though it must have been obvious there would be problems. And at other times, she was quite determined to do her own thing. Harry seemed weak at times, and needed regular chats from his friends to stiffen his backbone. I could see what the author was trying to achieve, but her efforts to bring drama to the plot often served only to weaken her characters.

However, the book is well written, Serena’s artwork is very well described and it will appeal to anyone who likes a slow-building romance with lots of (minor) obstacles for the characters to angst about. The Christian theme is less intrusive than in the first book. But for me, the contrivances of the plot and the dithering main characters keep this to three stars.


Review: Winning Miss Winthrop by Carolyn Miller

Posted February 25, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I got off on the wrong foot with this, misunderstanding the opening scenes pretty comprehensively. Too many random names, unexplained relationships and (frankly) comments which made no sense. When a baron dies, there is never the least question of who will inherit the title. The rules were laid down at the time the barony was created and simply can’t be changed, so no one would be in any doubt about it. Eventually, I restarted, discovered the family tree at the beginning and thereafter got on rather better, but still… the heir is never going to be a surprise. Nor that the widow and unmarried daughters will move to the dower house, and live on cabbage soup forever more. Such was the way of the Regency world – the male heir got everything, everyone else got crumbs.

So here’s the plot. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The hero and heroine have some deeply buried history. Met, fell in love, split up because reasons. Now they meet again, still in love, but somehow they both think the other hates them. And needless to say, it takes the entire book for the reasons to emerge and for them to work out their misunderstandings, when really, if they had a jot of sense they would say: we’re both of age, no obstacles now, what do you say we give it another go? Or at least talk about it, and not rush off making plans with some other person altogether. I must have read this theme a score of times, and it still makes me want to bang their heads together. For the woman, it’s difficult with the constraints of Regency life, but a man of independent means should be perfectly capable of deciding what he wants in a wife, and reaching out for it.

The hero, Jonathan, comes across initially as a paragon of virtue. He spends his time improving the lot of his tenants, helping out his cousins and, in his spare time, starting a village school. Meanwhile, the heroine, Catherine, continues to call him Mr Carlew, even though he’s now Lord Winthrop, which is incredibly rude. However, she otherwise behaves with commendable restraint, especially with her mother, who is completely horrible in the early part of the book.

But then both hero and heroine go off the rails. He decides that the best way to forget Catherine is to marry some pretty young thing at the earliest opportunity, and pays determined court to the first passable girl who turns up. She goes off to Bath where she is openly rude to visitors, who then retaliate by circulating spiteful rumours about her relationship with an elderly man. And to compound the stupid, everyone thinks it’s a great idea to counteract the rumours by setting up a fake engagement with the elderly man. Oh dear.

And then, when things get rough in Bath, Catherine and her mother decamp for home, where the plot veers between melodrama and outright farce, and the hero has to ride to the rescue. And even then, when they’re finally given an opportunity to set things straight, they only half explain and leave several chapters for the romance to finally lurch to its happy ever after. And this is indicative of the whole book – everything was dragged out far too much. The whole plot could have been condensed by about a third to make a much tauter and (to my mind) more readable story. But many people enjoy an expansive Regency so I guess it’s all a matter of taste.

The other characters were more in the nature of caricatures. The two mothers behaved incredibly badly for most of the book, before miraculously becoming sickly-sweet at the end. The hero’s half-sister, Julia, veers between niceness and spoilt brat. The recently-married couple (characters from a previous book?) are uniformly sickly-sweet. The residents of Bath are, for plot reasons, shallow tittle-tattlers to a man (or woman), with the exception of the General, who’s a sweetie pie.

This is a Christian book, so there are numerous references to God, and a degree of preachiness, and this got a bit wearisome after a while. I do appreciate the point that there is a real need for this kind of book, and there are so many Regencies where the main characters are jumping into bed by chapter 3 that a faith-based story is refreshing. However, I sometimes found it hard to see the point. There were times when Catherine’s mother was particularly whiny, and a prayer or the memory of a snippet from the Scriptures helped Catherine stay sane and patient, which was good, but there were many times where she behaved incredibly badly, despite all the prayers and Bible-reading. However, I’m not very familiar with this kind of story, so it may be that there are subtleties that whizzed over my head.

There were a very few historical errors. Whisk(e)y was difficult to get in the Regency, so our hero would have shared a brandy with his friends instead, or possibly Madeira or claret. Adrenaline was unknown (first recorded usage 1893). The letter in an envelope was unlikely; there were occasional hand-made ones, but envelopes weren’t in widespread use until 1840. I learnt a new word – to pang, as a verb – and while this is interesting, I could have wished that Catherine’s heart had panged a little less frequently. Not sure if anyone in Regency times would call a sister ‘poppet’ (it was in use, but it sounds odd to me).

But generally speaking, the historical accuracy was excellent and the writing hard to criticise. I would have liked a little more humour, although at one point there’s a glorious discussion of the etiquette attached to sneezes. I would have loved more of this kind of whimsy. Despite my long list of criticisms, there is nothing at all wrong with this book. It follows a well-worn plot, very close to Persuasion, although with echoes of Pride and Prejudice and Heyer’s Bath Tangle, too, and it’s none the worse for that. It was perfectly readable, and even though I wanted to slap the main characters upside the head, I kept reading avidly to see how they resolved their differences.

And yet… somehow, it didn’t quite work for me. The characters never quite came alive, the dialogue sometimes felt stiff and some of the plot twists felt contrived. Worst of all, I never quite got past the feeling that the hero, at least, ought to have been sensible enough to know what he wanted and go after it, without stupidly getting betrothed to some woman he doesn’t care tuppence about. So ultimately it only gets three stars for me, but I already have the next book in the series (about Catherine’s sister, Serena), so I shall give that a go.


Review: Lord Blackwell’s Rude Awakening by Julie Tetel Andresen

Posted February 17, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a surprising book. I picked it up because it looked like an interesting plot, a pragmatic marriage of convenience between two people from adjoining estates whose circumstances had recently changed. It turned out to be a whole heap of slightly kinky sex, so if discipline and light bondage isn’t your thing – avoid! And then, oddly, the sex was more or less abandoned to focus on more intellectual matters and the burgeoning relationship (outside of the bedroom) between the protagonists. Their conversations sometimes felt like some kind of verbal ping-pong. I have to confess that I’m not at all sure what the author was trying to achieve here, but whatever it was, it whizzed over my head.

As for the characters, I liked Charlotte very much. She felt like someone I would enjoy knowing, and her huge range of friends and acquaintances, despite rarely leaving the vicinity of her home, felt very realistic to me. Max I cordially disliked. I hated the way he treated his bride, hated his arrogance, and didn’t find his conversion to besotted husband at all believable. I also didn’t find him the least bit attractive. Despite being told how handsome and so forth he is, there was no charm there, and frankly he felt like a world-weary and selfish older man.

The book is well written, although there were a few historical inaccuracies. The author falls into the usual trap of assuming a wedding will be a showy affair, but Regency weddings were generally pretty low key. The bride would just wear her best dress of the moment, rather than a special wedding dress, and certainly not an heirloom dress from a generation ago! But at least it wasn’t white. And no one would ever kiss in public, and certainly not in church, that would be unthinkable. The hero would be very unlikely to drink a single malt (whisky was under all sorts of restrictions at the time, and brandy was the more usual tipple). I somehow don’t think a Regency character would worry about ‘staying on task’.

The oddness of the book keeps it to three stars for me, but it’s an interesting attempt at something out of the usual style of Regencies. I recommend it to anyone who likes something a little different and doesn’t mind the mild kinkiness. It’s a brave and well-crafted attempt at originality, and I enjoyed it despite its quirks.


Review: The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily Larkin

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

This is a book of two halves. The first half is perfect. No, really – absolutely perfect, hitting all the right notes. I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I laughed some more. It was wonderful. The second half, not so much.

Let’s start with the premise, which is usually one that has me rolling my eyes in disbelief – a man must marry before a certain date in order to gain his inheritance. If he doesn’t, he loses it. Yes, that old chestnut. As a rule, the reason for this is specious, at best, and the man in question promptly runs off and proposes to the most improbable person imaginable, who even more improbably accepts him. Even Georgette Heyer had trouble making characters like this sensible (see Friday’s Child, although Heyer’s humour allows her to get away with it, just). But here, the circumstances make it more understandable, and the hero, James, while determined to secure his inheritance, at leasts sets out to marry someone suitable, the sister of his best friend, someone he’s known for years and regards as a comfortable friend.

The heroine, Kate, unfortunately overhears him talking about his plans and his lack of love for her, so although she’s been in love with him for years, she turns him down (another Heyer plot, Sprig Muslin). Instead, she offers to find him a bride, and this part of the book is deliciously funny. Every candidate, James discovers, has some fatal flaw – too tall, too short, too thin, too plump, too much of a chatterbox, too painfully shy, too silly… As he dismisses every possibility, he realises what is wrong with all of them – they are not Kate.

But then Kate comes up with a candidate who is perfect in every way – beautiful, intelligent, sensible. James concedes that she would make a perfect wife, but unfortunately Kate’s brother Harry thinks so too… Oops. This could have turned into a silly Bath Tangle-esque muddle of mismatched pairs, but the characters are sensible people who recognise the problem and behave with maturity, talking their way out of trouble. This is awesome.

However, with the way now clear for the two main characters to realise their love for each other, the author settles for that time-worn obstacle, the misunderstanding. Even though James declares his love for Kate, she refuses to believe him and turns him away, he gets angry and thus we come to part two of the book which is all about sex. We get chapter after chapter of (essentially) foreplay as James decides that the only way to win Kate over is to seduce her. To be honest, the endless I-love-you, I-don’t-believe-you back and forth, and the long-drawn-out seduction got very tedious. I’m OK with the idea that Regency people were just as passionate as modern folk, but the era was all about restraint and using clever conversation to convey emotions. Having dealt with their problems so sensibly in the first half, it was disappointing that common sense went out of the window in the second half. I so wanted James to convince Kate with words, not by ripping her clothes off. But the one sex scene is tastefully done, if implausible.

Apart from this, the book is beautifully written and historically accurate down to the last detail, and I highly recommend it for those who don’t mind a bit of sex in their Regency. For me, the long-drawn-out and unlikely resolution keeps things to four stars.


Review: Rosalind by Jenny Hambly

Posted December 27, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 3 Comments

It’s always a delight to find a new author who respects the traditions of the incomparable Georgette Heyer, and so it is with Jenny Hambly. Heyer afficianados will find echoes of the great lady in the characters, the situations and some of the expressions and cant terms used, and if Hambly doesn’t quite capture Heyer’s sublime touch with sparkling dialogue – well, who does?

The premise is that Lady Rosalind Marlowe is the daughter of an earl who died in impoverished circumstances after gambling away his wealth. She sets out to get her revenge on the men who won large sums from him by breaking into their homes and stealing valuable items from them, not for the money but simply to shame them. But on her last venture, she is caught – not by the elderly Earl of Atherton who had been her father’s gambling crony, but by his handsome son George who has recently inherited. Well, we can see where this is going, can’t we?

He is surprisingly lenient, not only shielding her from the Bow Street Runner who is hot on her trail, but offering her a post as companion to his newly widowed mother. His motives are not entirely altruistic – he finds her very attractive, and really, the gentlemanly thing to do would be to offer help, but keep himself out of it. But the romance has to get going somehow, so I’m not going to complain at a little implausibility at the start.

The Dowager Lady Atherton turns out not to be the traditional dragon, but a charming and very friendly woman, who delights in fostering the budding romance between the two. George has two sisters, both married, and the whole family is a great deal of fun and not at all starchy. I really liked George’s two friends, too, because yes, as in all the best Heyer stories, the hero has a couple of friends to help him into and out of scrapes. It wasn’t clear how they all met (if it was mentioned, I’ve forgotten it), but they seemed an odd bunch. Sir Philip Bray is an ex-soldier, and Lord Preeve is the stammering, gentlemanly, but not terribly bright, comedy turn.

What about the plot? Well, after the excitement of Rosalind breaking and entering, being caught, evading the Bow Street Runner and facing up to her captor, the book becomes a less dramatic drawing room affair. Rosalind sets aside her breeches and mask, and becomes a well-behaved lady again. Well, perhaps not totally well-behaved, for she’s not a woman to swoon at a challenge or leave things to the men, and she’s as often doing the rescuing as being rescued. Still, for a while there’s a little less drama and the problems are of a more domestic nature.

But of course there’s a villain lurking about the place and getting up to his villainous tricks. This was all suitably thrilling and built to a very satisfactory climax and conclusion. I confess to being a little disappointed that the villain’s motivation was George and not Rosalind. It would have been perfect if Mr Villain had discovered Rosalind’s thievery, and she had learnt that her actions could have serious consequences. Instead, George has to appear to be heartless about Mr V to set things off, which seems out of character in such an otherwise thoroughly nice bloke, and all Rosalind learns from her stealing is that if you get caught, you get whisked off to a country estate and have a very pleasant time.

Everything comes right in the end, naturally, and the slightly neglected romance reemerges and reaches its triumphant conclusion, with a delicious proposal and a rather splendid wedding scene. An honourable mention here for a creative use of Pride and Prejudice. So many Regency authors think it’s cute to have the heroine reading Austen, but here the book has an actual role to play in the development of the story, which I thought was very ingenious. Kudos to the author.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this. The author’s liking for comma splices took some getting used to, but there were so few other issues that I set it down as authorial style and therefore intentional. Otherwise, the writing is spot on, with lots of great period detail, Heyer-esque dialogue and an elegant way with description that the author in me greatly admired. A terrific debut, although a few plot issues keep it to four stars. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a clean traditional Regency. I’m now waiting for the next book, which will feature the charming and wise Sir Philip.


Review: I Close My Eyes by Regina Puckett

Posted December 10, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 4 Comments

I picked up this book because it has a beautiful cover, it was in Kindle Unlimited (so no cost to try it out) and the opening intrigued me. The heroine is first seen hiding in a corner of a ballroom with her eyes closed to escape from the world. The hero finds her there and is captivated. So far, so good.

But from there things spiral downhill rather quickly. The heroine is hiding because some spiteful rival has tipped a punchbowl over her, for unspecified reasons. So instead of laughing it off or going home to change or plotting her revenge or anything sensible, she hides in a corner. Nobody offers to help her (not even the hero). Instead he stays talking to her behind the potted palm, and when her evil parents accuse him of kissing her and insist that he marries her he… well, he says: oh, all right then. Um, what?

So they marry but it has to be unconsummated because reasons. Oh, and did I mention that he’s a duke? And she’s a duke’s daughter? Although it’s hard to tell from the way the author mangles the titles. Then they go off and frolic on a beach in slo-mo and everything is wonderful but then he has to go away because reasons. And somehow, even though they both know where the other one is, they never, ever write to each other. Then a lot of bad stuff happens, because everyone around them is an evil person because… well, they just are, all right? Then I got to the point where he’s going to relinquish his title to his cousin (he’s a duke, the title is his until the day he dies, and that’s all there is to it), and I just gave up and skimmed to the end. Apparently this book was a finalist in the 2017 Readers’ Favorite Historical Romance Awards, but it would seem that knowing something about the historical period in which the book is set is not a prerequisite.

OK, so this book didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t imagine any real people behaving the way these characters do, and especially not in the Regency era or the Victorian era (the book is categorised as belonging to both, another impossibility). However, it’s well-written, the romance is nicely drawn and if you’re not too bothered by historical liberties, it’s a nice read and a little bit different. Be warned though that there are some heart-rending moments for the hero and heroine on their way to their happy ever after. Three stars for an interesting and unusual story, and a great cover.


Review: The Missing Duke by Heather King

Posted December 3, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This book and I just didn’t hit it off. Even though I’d loved the author’s A Carpet of Snowdrops, this very different work failed for me on every level. Nothing wrong with it at all, just a mismatch of my requirements with what the book was offering.

I chose it because the premise intrigued me. Twin boys, the two sons of a duke, are playing in the park attended by their flirtatious nursemaid and a footman, when the older boy simply disappears. No amount of searching uncovers what has happened to him. He’s believed to be dead, but his brother refuses to accept it. Even when he grows to adulthood and no trace is ever found of his brother, he never stops searching for him, and never accepts that he’s dead. So far so good.

Then we hit the first stumbling block. The female main character is masquerading as a man and acting as secretary to the surviving brother. Well now. There are, of course, some very famous cases where women of the era pretended to be men and had unexceptional careers as a doctor, or in the navy, so I know perfectly well that it could be done. In real life. But in fiction, I want to know how it was possible. How did she cope with periods? Not being able to pee standing up? Did she cut her hair? None of this is addressed. Apart from mentioning that she binds her breasts to flatten them, and occasionally lowering the timbre of her voice, there is no acknowledgement of these problems. When she later transforms back into a woman, there is her hair long enough to be twisted into a knot on top of her head, with curls cascading down. How did she hide all that hair when she was supposedly a man? Enquiring minds want to know.

Then there is her secretaryship of the son of a duke, a man managing the ducal estates for his missing brother, since their father is now dead. Typically a secretary would be someone on the fringes of the nobility himself – a younger son, perhaps, or a cousin, but someone loosely connected to the employer. It is such a responsible position that one would hardly give it to the first likely lad who applies. However, I can probably go along with that more than the woman-dressed-as-a-man thing.

Then there is the writing style. I like an author who’s done her research, but here we get every last drop of it. This is the book for you if you want to know where to change horses on the Calais to Paris route, or what the posting inns looked like, or the scenery, what every character ate, or the name of every village they passed through… Well, OK, maybe I exaggerated the last part, but sometimes it felt more like a travel guide than an author telling a story. Here’s a sample:

‘It was approaching five of the clock when Adam drew the curricle into the spacious yard of the Red Lion at Egham, one of the foremost coaching inns on the Exeter road. The large, red-brick buildings contained stabling for upwards of two hundred horses in addition to the most elegant amenities for the traveller. Leaving the chestnuts in the diligent care of Carrots and the ostlers, he strode into the inn along a fine, wood-panelled hallway. A handsome staircase rose to the upper floors and the sounds of an orchestra tuning their instruments echoed from beyond the double doors into the ballroom. The aromas of roasting meats, baking bread, coffee and tobacco filled the air, creating an ambience of warmth and pleasure.

‘He entered the coffee room, which was already half full and where a small fire burned in the grate despite the clemency of the weather. This part of the inn dated from the seventeenth century or thereabouts and was low-beamed, cool and dark within. The landlord greeted him with polite deference.

‘“My lord, what a pleasure it is to see you. Are you wishful to dine? We have a nice piece of lamb roasting on the jack; very tender and served with minted green peas. There is a steak and kidney pie in the oven and one of my good lady’s rhubarb tarts as well. What might be your fancy, sir?”

‘“I will take some of the lamb, thank you, Brooks. You have a private parlour to spare? I am expecting a guest for dinner.”’

And so on. I know some readers love this amount of detail but to me it slowed the pace to a crawl, and made what was at bottom an exciting story into something that I found a real effort to get through. I abandoned the struggle at the 50% point, skimming the rest to find out just what had happened to the missing brother and man-girl Lucy’s father.

I’m giving this three stars because it’s a well-written tale that a lot of readers will love. Just not me, sadly.


Review: Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas

Posted November 19, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’m very torn on this one. The early parts I loved, despite the whole plot veering way into the red zone on the plausibility meter. But the later parts – meh. And most of the good/meh dichotomy springs directly from the hero’s behaviour. When he’s gentle and tender with the heroine, he’s lovely. When he turns into the Hulk – not so much.

So here’s the (highly implausible) premise: Grant Morgan has risen from the gutter to become one of the most feared and respected Bow Street Runners, specialising in jobs for banks which pay rather well. He’s become rich enough to live like a gentleman and get himself invited to at least the fringes of good society. That’s where he encounters drop-dead-gorgeous courtesan Vivian Duvall, but when he turns down her proposition, she spreads the rumour that she had turned him down, making him a laughing stock. So when Vivian washes up in the Thames almost dead, Grant takes her home and decides that he’s going to make sure she lives so that he can have his revenge on her. Only trouble is, she’s lost her memory, and she doesn’t behave at all like the Vivian he knows…

So far, so wildly unlikely, but never mind. In the early chapters, Grant’s forceful personality is all focused on getting Vivian well again, and not alarming her, so that she will stay around long enough for him to have his wicked way with her. This makes him delightfully gentle and thoughtful, and I really liked the way such a big, powerful man was portrayed, treating her as delicately as a child. But of course he has an end in view, so it isn’t long before he’s getting inappropriately close to her, holding her on his lap and even getting into bed with her (purely to keep her warm, you understand).

This is where the story veers off the rails somewhat, because Vivian is, at this point, behaving with uncharacteristic innocence, considering she’s a renowned and shameless courtesan, while also finding herself inexplicably drawn to her supposed protector (who’s actually planning to ravish her). Grant’s motives are pretty clear at this point, but hers are far murkier, and I didn’t find them particularly convincing.

But when she starts to recover, the plan to solve the mystery of her attempted murder gets pretty silly. Having spent the first half of the book keeping Vivian’s survival a secret, and hiding her safely away where she can be protected, Grant parades her in front of half the ton at a fancy evening do, having deliberately invited every likely murderer along. And then he lets her wander off into the gardens alone. This is where the plot lost its last tenuous grip on plausibility.

After that, it all gets too silly for words, and falls down the rabbit-hole of Cliche-Land, and Grant turns into the Hulk. Frankly, I skimmed most of this nonsense. On the plus side, the author can write, and she’s done her research, and if there was a little too much detail on clothing and furnishings for my taste, that’s a personal preference, not a criticism. I liked the premise here, of two characters who are mingling with the fringes of society while being from a much lower class, and I liked some aspects of Grant’s personality. Vivian suffered from being too contradictory to be believable, but then I’ve always had trouble believing in heroines who are supposed to be oh-so-virginal, but turn into drooling puddles of lust as soon as the hero smiles rakishly at them. The sex scenes were pretty much the usual for the genre, after a long, slow build-up with a ton of sexual tension. This was an interesting read, if not wholly successful for me, so I’m going with three stars, but there was enough potential that I’ll certainly try another Kleypas in future.