Posts Categorized: Review

Review: Love Letters To A Lady by Fanny Finch

November 16, 2018 Review 0

This has such an intriguing premise: a man is too shy to court the woman he loves openly, so he writes to her to declare himself, but forgets to sign his name. Thus begins a correspondence where both parties can explore their real natures free of the constraints of public society. So much potential, but the execution was sadly lacking.

Let’s get the logistics out of the way first. The lady is able to reply to her anonymous lover because he uses an anonymous post office box to receive his mail. This is set in a time two hundred years ago, when a decent mail service was only just getting going properly. Mail coaches had been operating for a mere twenty years. There was no regular doorstep delivery for most people, you collected your mail yourself (or sent your footman to collect it) from the nearest post office, which might be just a back room in a shop. Same for sending letters – no post boxes to pop them into yet. Most houses didn’t have numbers or even names, street names were very ad hoc, and very often the only information available for addressing letters was the recipient’s name and a town or village. You could direct a letter to John Smith of Anytown, and it would reach him because so few people were literate that the local post office would know every John Smith personally. Where do anonymous letters sent to post office boxes fit in? They don’t. I can’t find a definitive answer, but I’d be prepared to bet that post office boxes were a twentieth century invention, or late Victorian at the earliest.

OK, so moving on. The characters are nicely done. The heroine, Julia, is feisty and smart and witty. The hero, James, is a thoroughly nice man. They have been friends for years, get along well and… really, the only obstacle is his reluctance to declare himself. So the letters strategy is a neat device, and leaving off his name makes an ingenious puzzle for her and allows both of them to talk freely. So freely, in fact, that she falls in love with her mysterious suitor and is disappointed to find out that it’s really boring old James.

And that’s basically the whole plot. There’s a rival suitor and some pressure from her parents, but nothing that really affects the straightforward flow of the story towards a HEA. So why did it take so long to get there? Because both characters angsted about every last little nuance to the umpteenth degree. Every word in every letter was analysed over and over, and it got very tedious. With some decent editing, this story could have been told in half the time, and would have been much better for it.

Apart from the post office box (and I freely admit I have nothing but gut feel to suggest that it’s an anachronism), there were only a couple of glaring errors. James is heir to a ‘count’ who owns a ‘county’, which made me laugh out loud. No counts in the British peerage, and nobody owns a whole county (well, maybe the Duke of Rutland owns the tiny county of Rutland, who knows, but generally nobles don’t actually own the whole of the place they’re named after). And the rival suitor, a Mr Carson, was the heir to a marquis (he’d have had a courtesy title of earl, and his sister would be Lady Something Carson, not Miss Carson). It is insulting when authors profess to write about a specific time and place, and then don’t make the least effort even to get the basics right.

This could have been a great story. The premise is terrific — original and with lots of potential. The characters were solid, too, and thank goodness for no cardboard-cutout villain. But the annoying errors and the endless tedious angsting keep it to three stars.

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Review: The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen

November 7, 2018 Review 0

This was a disappointment. I’d heard such good things about Julie Klassen, and her covers are awesome, so when I had some birthday money and chose to buy a whole array of Regencies, she was very much on my list. She’s a Christian writer, so I knew I’d be getting a more traditional read, and I’d hoped for strong character development and good historical accuracy. In the event, only one of those came up to scratch.

Here’s the premise: Olivia Keene comes home from her work teaching at a local girls’ school to find a man strangling her mother. She immediately bops him over the head with the poker, thereby saving her mother’s life. Now what? Run for help from the neighbours, maybe? Send for the local constable? No, her mother pushes something into her hand and tells her to run away at once, leaving her alone in the house with the unconscious would-be murderer. And Olivia actually does this? Why? Already we have a logical disconnect.

Then we get a succession of scenes worthy of a cheap Hollywood B-movie, involving running through woods at night, wild dogs, a near-rape, an unlikely rescue from same, more dogs and a close encounter with the local aristocracy out hunting. Then we veer into a Disney movie, with a good Samaritan or two, before plunging back into melodrama with eavesdropping, capture, the local clink, near-rape (again) and an even more unlikely rescue from same (again).

And then things get really silly. Lord Bradley (one of the huntsmen) discovers that a dark family secret has been overheard by Olivia, who is now rendered mute. Instead of paying her to disappear, preferably a long way away, he takes her into his home and makes her a nursery maid. It is hard to imagine any situation more likely to have the dark secret revealed to the whole world. Even if she never recovers the power of speech, she can read and write, for heaven’s sake. This makes zero sense, except that this is a romance and the protagonists have to get together somehow. But my eyes were rolling pretty hard, I can tell you.

This sort of thing is a problem right the way through the book. None of the characters behave like sensible, rational people, and they keep doing things that defy credibility, without any real reason. Olivia follows Lord Bradley around, poking into this and that, wandering around the house, and nothing bad happens as a result. In fact, nothing bad ever does seem to happen to her. She does stupid things and gets away with it every time. Every man around is seemingly drawn to her for some mystical reason, from the groom through the ne’er-do-well cousin, the hero and even the elderly earl, whose feelings at least are paternal and he’s not just getting the hots for her. Oh, I forgot the clergyman. He had the hots for her, too.

As for the hero, constantly agonising over whether he’s really going to inherit or not, I never warmed to him, never quite got what he saw in the heroine or what she saw in him, and never found his transformation from brooding aristocrat to contented lover believable.

The last third or so of the book has mystery piled upon mystery in such a convoluted and contrived way, with information deliberately withheld to ramp up the suspense (don’t you just hate that? I do), that, frankly, I lost interest in who was a villain and who was a good guy masquerading as a villain and who was a red herring. And what exactly was the point of the stable fire, except to show the hero being heroic, and then give the heroine an opportunity to see him in the bath?

So was there anything good about it? Actually, yes. The historical research and writing was excellent, and many things were much truer to the Regency era than is usual these days. The author got the titles and legal aspects right (hooray!), and didn’t shy away from the ramifications of the situation the hero found himself in. I liked that very much. It would have been all too easy to airbrush it out of the way, but she faced up to it very well. I felt she was a little pedantic in areas that were mere customs rather than strict rules. For instance, not all governesses were kept isolated from both family and servants. Jane Austen’s Emma, for instance, has the example of Miss Taylor, who was companion, friend and confidante to both Emma and her father, and far more than just a governess. It seemed unlikely to me that the servants, having made a friend of Olivia when she was a nursery maid, would turn their backs on her when she was promoted to governess. I also disliked the explaining of the position of heir presumptive to Cousin Felix, and pointing out that he wouldn’t get the title. Felix would have grown up knowing exactly what he would be entitled to, and it would certainly not reduce his marriage prospects.

Overall, this was a long-drawn-out piece of melodrama, rather implausible, with characters who behaved without an ounce of common sense and never really resonated with me. There was some Christian preachiness from the clergyman, but probably less than I expected. The writing was excellent, though, and the historical detail is solid, so if you don’t mind all the drama, this is a good read. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, though. Three stars.

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Review: The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Georgette by Susan Speers

October 16, 2018 Review 0

After the success of Felicity, I was nervous about this, since the author’s history in this series is wildly variable. But this is another success. It lacks some of the dazzling originality of previous books, returning to the well-trodden Regency style of drawing room manners, but it is so polished a performance that I have few quibbles. The romance is credible, the writing is stylish and there’s a surer hand than before with the plotting. An excellent read.

Here’s the premise: Georgette Sinclair is in the doghouse for jilting a perfectly acceptable suitor just two weeks before the wedding. To allow time for the scandal to die down, she’s sent to Rosborough Hall to provide company for a distant relation, a young wife suffering from depression and migraines. The wife, Allegra, turns out to be a flighty piece, not at all happy with her staid husband, Sir Edmund Rosborough. She neglects her child, Patricia (Pippa), and only comes to life when surrounded by cicisbeos. Her husband, meanwhile, is miserable too. Into this strained household is dropped Georgette, equally troubled and vulnerable.

The difficult relationship between Allegra, Edmund, Georgette and Pippa forms the backbone of the book, and there’s a slow and intricate build to the inevitable crisis which is both beautifully written and compelling. I don’t want to spoil anything by revealing plot details, but there were several twists that caught me by surprise, but in the best way, such that you can see the inevitability of it when it happens and it doesn’t just come out of left field.

A few quibbles. The final few chapters descend almost into farce, where the characters keep bumping into each other in the most improbable way. There are some continuity errors, so that Georgette says at one point that a kiss is her first, yet she clearly describes an earlier kiss with her almost-husband. There are a very few typos and some wayward punctuation.

But none of this was a problem for me. I enjoyed this enormously, the writing was effective and beautifully evocative, and I was thrilled that the protagonists behaved well despite temptation. Hooray for characters with moral backbone. Five stars. I can’t wait to find out what the letter H has in store.

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Review: A Governess For the Brooding Duke by Bridget Barton

October 9, 2018 Review 0

Well, what to say about this? Readers of traditional Regency romances are presumably looking for one of three things: a splendid, emotional romance with a full measure of feels; a good sense of a historical time and place, to take them back into the past; or a story full of the richness of language as it was in the past. Sadly, this book fails on all counts. The romance is bone dry and passionless, the history is a mixture of details looked up on Wikipedia and absolute howlers, and the writing is so stilted and repetitive as to be almost funny. I’d like a pound for every time a character said “In truth”.

The premise isn’t original but it’s a promising one, full of possibilities. Georgette Darrington is left destitute and homeless when her father dies, forced to take a position as a governess. Her father, apparently, is a ‘minor baron’, whatever that is (a baron is a baron, the only distinction is in the date of creation), but there are no other relations (presumably the barony becomes extinct) to call upon for aid, and Georgette, who lives in London and mingles with society, seemingly hasn’t a single friend able to help, either. So she goes to an employment agency to find a job. This all seems highly unlikely. Even supposing she has no suitors willing to marry her at a moment’s notice, she would almost certainly find work as a governess through the grapevine, not through a servants’ registry, which would have specialised in housemaids and the like. I also wondered why her noble father didn’t have a country estate, as was normal for peers and gentry of the day. But never mind.

So the first job offered is with a duke – well, of course it is! And with no references, no letter of recommendation and no attempt by the agency or the duke himself to ascertain whether our heroine is remotely suitable for the job, she starts work. Her pupils are the duke’s twin nieces, four years old, who previously lived in Wales and so speak Welsh, and have a Welsh accent. The duke has given only one instruction for the governess – the girls are to be taught only English, and their Welsh accent eradicated. So our heroine promptly starts learning Welsh and encouraging them to use Welsh at every turn so they won’t lose their culture. Of course she does.

This is what comes of imposing modern values on historical fiction. In the Regency, ethnic and regional culture just wasn’t a thing. In Britain, regional accents weren’t even tolerated in public life until the Beatles came along in the 1960s. If you had any pretensions to status, you spoke with received pronunciation or you took elocution lessons until you did. Anyone who talked differently from what was expected of their class was ostracised and laughed at. So the duke was absolutely right to want to suppress that Welsh accent, because those girls would have been ridiculed for it. Of course, since they were only four, they would lose it pretty quickly anyway if they were surrounded by English accents, so there was no need to do anything about it. It’s a pity this theme wasn’t developed in a true Regency manner, because it’s an interesting and unusual one. I’d like to see what an author with a better grounding in the era could have done with it.

There are any number of other instances that demonstrate that the author has done some research, but doesn’t have a real feel for the era. She looked up how often the horses needed to be changed when travelling, for instance, but then conflates a post-chaise with a mail coach, so our heroine arrives at the ducal home in a post-chaise that also delivers the mail, with a ‘driver’ (a mail coach has a coachman and a post-chaise has postilions). She’s aware that a governess is neither servant nor family, and might eat meals in her room, but in a household of that size she would have had her own sitting room (as would the housekeeper) and the use of a personal servant to help her dress and bathe. Footmen served tea, not maids. There was no afternoon tea in the Regency era, and luncheon (or nuncheon) was a new-fangled idea that hadn’t quite caught on. Bridge wasn’t invented until 1896. Regency folks played whist, or piquet, or vingt-et-un, or faro, or cribbage.

The servants are pretty horrible to Georgette, for reasons which were never made clear. Why on earth were the butler, housekeeper and head nurse so determined to be unpleasant? Her washing water is stone cold, her food is inedible and she’s left to get lost in the rabbit warren of servants’ quarters. There’s no sensible reason for this. Even a senior servant could lose their position if complaints are lodged against them, so they wouldn’t risk it, and there’s absolutely nothing to gain by antagonising the new governess.

Another illogicality lies with the duke. He doesn’t want the twins around and their accent and use of Welsh upsets him, so why not find another home for them? Maybe a female relative living not too far away, who actually likes the girls? Well, stone me, the duke has an aunt who would love to look after the girls, but no, he has to be a martyr and make everyone miserable.

The duke is the only character who has a bit of depth to him. He blows hot and cold, and one minute he’s ticking Georgette off, and the next he’s sharing intimacies and hugs with her in a fairly inappropriate way, but at least he’s not saccharine-sweet, like Georgette, the aunt and the twins, nor is he outright villainous, like the servants. As for the romance, there’s no insight into the main characters’ feelings so the blossoming into love at the end feels abrupt and not very believable. There’s no passion and no real emotion, either, but it’s perfectly clean, for those who prefer that.

All in all, there are the glimmerings of a good story here, but the execution is flat, without an ounce of sparkle or humour, and very little feel for the Regency era. Two stars for having virtually no typos, getting the titles mostly right (hallelujah!) and an original theme in the children’s language issue, but I can’t really recommend this otherwise.

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Review: A Rational Proposal by Jan Jones

September 26, 2018 Review 0

Another one I have mixed views about. On the one hand, the whole villainous villains and their villainous villainy got a bit trying. I like my Regencies firmly ensconced in the drawing room, not mingling with the low-life of the era. On the other hand – boy, can the author write! Every word is so perfectly chosen that I was in constant admiration, and the dialogue between Verity and Charles is nothing short of brilliant, and laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes.

This is billed as both book 5 of the Newmarket series, and book 1 of the Furze House Irregulars, and while I understand the reasons for that, it’s a bit confusing. The plot starts with a will. Verity Bowman inherits a tidy sum, but only if she can demonstrate that she has spent six months in a rational manner. The lawyer assigned the task of judging the rationality of her behaviour is Charles Congreve. Verity is actually a very smart lady, but unconventional and Charles is resigned to a difficult six months. This is compounded by the fact that he’s in love with Verity, but being merely a salaried attorney, not a gentleman, he feels himself to be beneath her.

So Verity and Charles and her mother go up to London, for reasons that escape me, at which point the cast of characters explodes, including quite a few from previous books as well as new ones, and frankly there were some I never quite got straight. Plus there were various sub-plots and subterfuges and I gave up trying to work out what they were really trying to do, as opposed to what they told people they were doing, and let it all wash over me. There was something to do with a Big Meanie who was doing Bad Things, and various Lesser Meanies, and a great deal about lowlifes and prisons and tarts with a heart of gold, and so on and so forth. I just let the author’s delicious wordsmithery swoosh around me, and didn’t worry too much about it.

The ending got quite tense, but naturally it all came out right in the end. And then, just when you think it’s all over, there came a proposal scene of such awesomeness that I’ve had to reread it several times since.

This is obviously a bridging novel between the Newmarket series and the Furze House series, so there are many references to earlier events, as well as a lot of setup for forthcoming books. As such, some elements are a little awkward. But the main characters are delightful, there’s a sweet little romance for Verity’s mother and the prose is mind-blowingly good, so this gets four stars despite the muddly bits. If your brain copes better with muddly bits (aka complex plottery) than mine, you’ll get on fine with it.

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Review: An Unconventional Act by Jan Jones

September 26, 2018 Review 0

I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I enjoyed it enormously and found myself picking up my Kindle to sneak in an extra chapter when I should have been doing other things, always a sign of a book that has its claws in deep. On the other hand, it veered from implausible but let’s go along with it right over the edge into eye-rollingly incredible at times. The villain was too villainous, the danger too ever-present, the hero too heroic, the heroine too resourceful and the dramatic climax too melodramatic for words. And don’t mention the oh-so-convenient key.

The premise: our heroine, Jenny Castle, is running away from her wicked cousin who’s just inherited the estate and is determined to have the full value from it, including Jenny’s share, by fair means or foul. She seeks refuge with the travelling theatre company seen in a previous book, run by Adam Prettyman. Adam’s wife, Mary, has recently died, leaving him with two young children and a heap of financial worries. Jenny has been sent by a mutual friend to help out with both problems, by governessing the children and keeping the company’s accounts. For various unlikely reasons, Jenny, Adam and the children end up sharing sleeping quarters.

So far, so implausible, but whatever. I don’t mind some artistic licence in the initial setup, and it does make it screamingly obvious where the romance is going to come from. Jenny and Adam are cautious of each other, but as time goes by they learn to trust each other. She’s clever with the numbers (of course she is) and brilliant with the kids (of course she is), and he’s brilliant about organising the plays and the logistics of packing up and moving around. I’d guess he’s dyslexic (or the number equivalent) since he’s hopeless with numbers but so good about 3D spatial stuff.

But it wouldn’t be a Regency romance if two people who liked each other a bit just rolled along the road to matrimony. Oh no, there have to be Serious Obstacles. In her case, it’s the whole being-chased-by-the-wicked-cousin thing, which she’s neglected to mention. In his case, it’s a past history of uncontrolled temper and violence, which he’s also neglected to mention. So they have to work through their differences and Reveal All before they can move forward.

Now, none of this is uninteresting, but it also isn’t a particularly original story and the characters aren’t quite strong enough to lift the ordinary story that extra notch upwards to make it extraordinary. Jenny is a perfectly nice, sensible and courageous woman. Adam is a normal sort of bloke. Both of them have talents. Neither of them is interesting enough to be unforgettable.

One opportunity to raise the book a level was wasted, in my view. There’s a significant sub-plot involving slavery, and the book is set at a date when slavery was illegal in Britain and slave trading was illegal in the British Empire. Nevertheless, slavery itself was still widespread in many places and many British families drew their wealth from slave-worked plantations. So although Britain was edging into the complete abolition of slavery, the question was still controversial. It would have been interesting, I think, to have heard something of the views prevailing at the time, that is, some explanation of why slavery was considered so necessary. Even a line or two to suggest that there was more than one opinion would have been good. But instead, the modern view is assumed to be the only right one, any other opinion is shocking, and the reader is left to wonder what real Regency people actually thought, and why they did what they did.

This sounds more negative than I intended, but actually all these points are relatively trivial. The author’s talent shines through, and although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the previous book, it was still a fine read, and a good four stars.

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Review: Fortunate Wager by Jan Jones

September 22, 2018 Review 0

Book 3 of the Newmarket series, and this is the first that really does depend on the horse racing town for both setting and plot. It’s a corker of a story, and after some slight wobbles in book 2, this one is right back on form – a believable hero and heroine, a plot that doesn’t stretch credulity to snapping point and a delightful romance.

The plot is basically Pride and Prejudice – a snooty rich guy who insults the heroine early on and then spends the rest of the book becoming worthy of her. That’s OK, because probably 50% of Regencies are Pride and Prejudice thinly disguised and most of the rest are Persuasion. The snooty rich guy is Lord Alexander Rothwell, the second son of a duke, who has conveniently inherited an estate of his own, which neatly sidesteps the usual dilemma of younger sons, that of having no money besides what Papa dishes out. Usually they have to find some kind of employment, but not here.

Lord Alexander – yes, let’s deal with his name upfront, because it’s the only error I came across in the whole book. His name is Lord Alexander Rothwell, and he would be addressed as Lord Alexander by most people, or my lord/your lordship by servants and the like. Close friend might call him Rothwell. Very close friends from childhood might call him Alexander or Alex. But nobody familiar with the aristocracy would ever call him Lord Rothwell. Ever. The author missed a trick there: she could have had the social-climbing goldsmith get it wrong, while everyone else gets it right.

Lord Alexander is a grumpy old sod, and rude into the bargain, and to be honest, I didn’t much like him at first. Even when his miserable history began to be revealed, which was supposed to make him a sympathetic character, I still didn’t like him. And it takes him a long, long time to see what’s right under his nose and begin to do the right thing.

The heroine, Caroline Fortune, on the other hand, is an utter delight. She’s that awkward middle daughter, plain and gawky and bookish, and more interested in horses than people. She’s also refreshingly straightforward, and eschews polite white lies in favour of the unvarnished truth. Needless to say, she likes riding horses astride and dressed as a boy, behaviour that would get her instantly ostracised if discovered. But she’s also kind and sensible and willing to be polite in society if she has to. I liked her a lot.

The plot is fairly thin – a drunken bet between Lord Alexander and Caroline’s brother Harry, which involves them training a mean-tempered horse of Lord A’s and winning a race with him. It turns out the horse gets spooked by loud male voices, so guess who has to tame it and then ride it in the race? Never saw that one coming…

There’s also some shady business going on which sees Lord A getting bopped on the head by a mysterious assailant, and Caroline has to nurse him back to health, thus leading neatly to some close encounters between hero and heroine of the kissing and groping variety. There’s no actual sex in the book, but the temperature rises to dangerous levels from time to time.

There’s a lot about this book that would normally irritate me to death – the obnoxious hero, for instance, and the feisty, independent heroine dressing up in breeches to ride astride, but the writing is just so good, I was carried along with it. I loved the minor characters, too (especially the duchess!), and there is so much wit in it that I was chortling all the way through. I even got used to the hero being called Lord Rothwell after a while. Nothing terribly unexpected happens, and the villain was obvious from ten miles away, but this was a delightful read and I enjoyed almost every moment of it. Five stars.

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Review: Fair Deception by Jan Jones

September 22, 2018 Review 0

Another great read in the series. This works well as a stand-alone but the early chapters would be an easier read coming straight after book 1, The Kydd Inheritance, or maybe it’s just me that forgets who’s who in no time flat. It doesn’t quite have the glorious humour of that book, and I found the hero just a tad too volatile for my taste, but the way the author weaves multiple strands of plot together into an entertaining braid is masterful.

Here’s the premise: Susanna Fair is scraping a living as a stage entertainer, barely even qualifying as a legitimate actress, in London. That’s bad enough, but she has a problem in Mr Rafe Warwick, who has laid a bet that he will bed her before too long, a bet he’s determined to win by any means necessary. To the rescue comes Christopher (Kit) Kydd, owner of the impoverished Kydd Court and he also has a problem. He needs money to restore his home, but he doesn’t want to marry an heiress and condemn himself to a loveless marriage. He has a wealthy aunt who has money to spare – but only if he can convince her he’s not in the least ramshackle. Maybe if he had a fake fiancee, he could convince her?

So the actress who needs to get out of town fast and the man in need of someone to play the role of his betrothed form an unlikely alliance. As with all fake betrothal tropes, it’s obvious how everything will end up, but along the way there’s a number of people to be convinced by the deception, a travelling theatre group, the reappearance by the villain and a great many misunderstandings between hero and heroine before matters are resolved.

Much of the misunderstanding arises because the heroine neglects to tell the hero some small but highly significant details about herself, and every time the hero discovers he’s been misled (again) he blows a fuse and throws a tantrum. I would have liked him a lot better if he’d shown a bit more restraint, but I suppose it wouldn’t have been so dramatic. There are no sex scenes but there’s a great deal of barely repressed sexual tension and passionate kissing, and both hero and heroine get weak-kneed at the mere sight of each other very early in the book. It’s not exactly insta-lust, but it’s certainly insta-desire and it seems about as realistic as these things usually are (ie not very).

One technical issue: a very minor plot point involves a marriage between minors which was declared invalid because they didn’t have the permission of parents/guardians. But it’s my understanding that this only applies with marriage by licence (special or common). In this case, since the banns were read in the usual way, the marriage would almost certainly have been perfectly legal.

The multiple plot threads get very entangled by the end, but naturally all is resolved in a suitable way and everybody gets what he or she wants (except the villain, naturally). I didn’t find this quite as gloriously entertaining as the first book, but it was still terrific fun and a good four stars.

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Review: The Mrs MacKinnons by Jayne Davis

September 8, 2018 Review 2

I loved this book. I didn’t think I was going to like it, because the prologue is a grim war scene, but this is merely a brief backdrop to the main story. Yes, it’s important, but the author never dwells on the details, and so it becomes, as it should, the underlying thread of explanation for many of the characters, and not the central focus.

Here’s the premise: Major Matthew Southam returns from India after unexpectedly inheriting a title and a small estate. His surviving family, his stepmother and half-brother and half-sister, rather wish he had died in India, and have been quietly helping themselves to his fortune for years. Meanwhile, the inherited estate is neglected and empty of servants and furniture. Matthew is too traumatised by his war experiences to do more than drink, and then drink some more.

Meanwhile, Mrs Charlotte MacKinnon, a widow with a young son living in the nearest village to the estate, is hard-pressed to make ends meet. She writes cute children’s stories and a nature column for a London publisher, helps local businessmen manage their finances and generally uses her education and brains to earn what coins she can. She shares her home with another soldier’s widow, also called MacKinnon, so the two are rather charmingly known to the locals as Mrs Captain and Mrs Sergeant.

And if that were all, this would be a standard Regency romance between a strong man damaged by war, brought back to reality and happiness by the love of a good, if impoverished, woman. But this is not quite that story, and part of the reason is, perhaps, the most fascinating character I’ve come across for some time, Sergeant Webb, who’s returned from India with Matthew and attached himself to him. Matthew is so wrapped up in his own misery that he more or less hands over responsibility for getting things straight to Webb. He hasn’t a clue about fixing up houses, but he’s a man who’s happy to go out and find people with more knowledge than him, which includes Charlotte. And so she and Matthew are thrown together, and gradually, very, very gradually, aided by Charlotte’s young son, Charlotte’s common sense, Webb’s organisational abilities and the house itself, the two reach an accord.

There’s some drama in the later stages caused by their pesky relatives, but at bottom this is a beautiful slow-build romance, with the underlying theme that even grievous war injuries needn’t define the rest of your life. I loved the main characters, I loved their first kiss and I loved seeing the house gradually brought back to a healthy and functioning state alongside Matthew’s own recovery. I never would have thought that details about furniture and linens and paintwork would be so interesting, but they were. And if Sergeant Webb became implausibly clever at organising everyone, he was so much fun that I quite forgave him. The humour isn’t the conventional Regency romp style, but the sort that jumps up and slaps you on the head when you least expect it, and lightens a book that might otherwise be quite dark at times.

A great read, and highly recommended for anyone looking for something a little more meaty than the average frothy Regency. Five stars.

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Review: Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

September 8, 2018 Review 0

When I read Georgette Heyer’s works for the first time, many moons ago, this was very much my favourite. It’s always nerve-wracking returning to a much-loved book after a long time, but almost from the first page, I knew my memory had not let me down. This is surely the most scintillating dialogue Heyer ever wrote. Every meeting between hero Miles Calverleigh and heroine Abigail Wendover is delightful, and it’s hard to think of a single change which would improve the book. It’s quite perfect.

The premise: Abby returns to her Bath home aware that her niece, Fanny, has fallen violently in love with a plausible fortune-hunter, Stacy Calverleigh, under the auspices of Abby’s rather dippy older sister, Selina. Also returning home after twenty years in India is Stacy’s uncle, Miles, the black sheep of the title. Naturally this leads to the most delicious exchange of misunderstanding between Abby and Miles (’Are you Mr Calverleigh?’ ‘I’ve never been given any reason to suppose that I’m not!’), but eventually she works out which Mr C he is, and then begins the most glorious courtship of any of Heyer’s books. I’ve complained many times that the romance tends to be forgotten in the excitement of the adventures, but here the growing love between Miles and Abby is very much centre stage. And there is no prevarication: he makes his attraction clear right from the start, and she is almost as open.

In the background is the difficulty with the fortune-hunter, but luckily the object of his attentions, although fulfilling the standard Heyer role of beautiful but silly ingenue, is far less silly than usual, and there are no mad chases to recover an eloping couple or anything of that nature. I loved the means by which the obnoxious Stacy is dealt with, and I also loved Miles’ method of detaching Abby from her clinging relations, and finally getting her to the altar, as she herself wishes. Neatly done, and far more plausible than is often the case. I’m not a fan of the heroine who doesn’t know her own mind until the hero wraps her in his manly arms and kisses her thoroughly, and here Abby is perfectly well aware of what she wants. Five perfect stars.

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