Category: Review

Review: The Wicked Governess by Mary Lancaster

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Mary Lancaster’s books are always entertaining, so I knew I’d enjoy this right from the start. There was less in the way of piracy and other shenanigans in this book, which is very much a plus for me, and the romance, while a little insta-lust, is still very well developed.

Here’s the premise: Caroline Grey, the governess at Braithwaite Castle in the previous book, is summarily dismissed for an alleged misdemeanour, finding work at the sinister Haven Hall instead. Her pupil is mute, but not physically, so it’s presumed there’s been some traumatic incident. Also at Haven Hall is the slightly bonkers aunt and the child’s darkly mysterious father, Javan Benedict. When Caroline arrives, the family is very reclusive, so needless to say, she attempts to draw them out into society. They are surprisingly willing (well, the book would be quite dull if they weren’t), and so they are, inch by reluctant inch, rehabilitated.

Caroline is a likable character, and although she’s the wicked governess of the title, there isn’t really anything wicked about her, except in the fevered imaginations of some Blackhaven residents. She does have some family issues, but they aren’t terribly dramatic.

Hero Javan, on the other hand, has a whole shedload of issues. We’re into Beauty and the Beast territory here, since he’s the wounded and scarred beast to Caroline’s beauty. I’m not a huge fan of the instant hots for each other scenario, but it’s something of a feature in Lancaster’s work, so I’m used to it by now. There’s also some fairly physical lusting and one graphic sex scene, so traditionalists beware.

There isn’t anything wildly original about the plot, and readers can work out almost from the start how it’s going to go, but it’s nicely done, as always, it feels believably Regency, and there’s enough action to sweep the plot along without overwhelming the romance. I liked Caroline a lot, and although I had less patience with Javan, I understood his reluctance to commit himself. Honourable mentions for Rosa, the mute daughter, who was a wonderful character in her own right, and the mischievous cousin, Richard. I hope we see more of him (and I’m likely to get my wish, because the author loves to bring in characters from previous books).

Great fun, and a nicely written book that fulfils all expectations of the series without becoming boring. Four stars.


Review: The Wicked Marquis by Mary Lancaster

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Every Mary Lancaster book is a cracking read, and this is no exception. A spirited heroine, an unusual but very hot hero, a one-look-across-a-crowded-room insta-love (although it was an orchard in this case), loads of passionate kisses and a whole heap of shenanigans of the smuggling/spies/thieves variety. It’s all very entertaining, and for those who enjoyed the first four books in the series, this is more of the same. For myself, I’d have liked a little bit of variety on the basic plot, and there were several loose threads left dangling, but it was still a great read.

Here’s the premise: Lady Serena Conway, sister to the Earl of Braithwaite, has been sent home from London to Blackhaven after the disgrace of jilting a dull but respectable baronet. Stuck at Braithwaite Castle with only her younger sisters and their governess for company, and strictly forbidden from venturing into society, she’s soon bored witless by her captivity. But then she spies an odd looking man from the window, entering the castle’s orchard. And naturally, she rushes out to find out who he is.
He turns out to be the impoverished Marquis of Tamar, although it’s some time before Serena learns who he is, and so we have the amusement of her thinking the scruffy painter who treats her with casual friendship will be shocked when he realises who she is, when in fact she’s shocked to discover he outranks her. But he’s wildly ineligible, being completely broke, and somewhat disreputable.

Needless to say, as is pretty usual with Mary Lancaster’s books, the two are magically drawn to each other from the start, and are soon sharing passionate kisses, described in some detail. But of course there’s always an obstacle, and Tamar’s past soon comes back to haunt them.

There are no fewer than three dramatic subplots – some mysterious goings on in the castle cellar, the theft of some of Tamar’s paintings and a bailiff who’s hanging around him, even though peers of the realm can’t be thrown into a debtor’s prison. The first comes to the boil quite early in the book, the second is very easily solved and the third seemed to fizzle out after the bailiff was given a bit of a talking to. Or maybe I missed a vital point, I don’t know. There were a couple of other dangling threads that puzzled me. One was the cheerful actress who helps Tamar out and seems to be there merely to throw Serena into a bout of jealousy, but he never seemed to explain it properly to her. Again, maybe I missed it. The other weird part was the collection of jewellery dumped on Tamar at an awkward moment. What was that all about? I clearly missed the point of that entirely. But then these books always have so much going on that it’s very easy to get swept up in the excitement and read so fast that details just whizz by.

The romance… I don’t know why, but it didn’t grab me. I’m not a big fan of insta-love, or of well-brought-up young ladies who immediately fall panting into the arms of the most unlikely characters, and somehow, despite the nicely drawn descriptions of Serena’s feelings (the author does this so well), somehow I wasn’t convinced. Perhaps it was because, compared to some of the previous Blackhaven heroines, Serena felt rather ordinary. Or perhaps there was so much else going on that the romance felt a bit rushed. Tamar, on the other hand, is rather a charmer, completely open about his admiration, and so swept up in his obsession that he has to paint her instantly, now, this very minute.

Of the other characters, there are quite a few popping up from the earlier books. It’s not necessary to have read them, but it would have been handy to have a little guide to remind me. The Dowager Countess was the usual type, fairly stiff and a bit domineering. Serena’s brother Braithwaite was an interesting character, although his switch from dead against the marriage to let’s-call-the-banns was breathtakingly swift. I loved the reason for it though (which I won’t spoil the surprise by mentioning). And I loved the children, and long-suffering Miss Grey, their governess.

Another rattling good yarn in this series. Four stars, and since the next book is about the governess, I’m going to have to go straight on to that.


Review: Escapade by Joan Smith

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

After a couple of reads that just didn’t do it for me, I was relieved to come back to Joan Smith for this delightfully frothy traditional Regency. It’s very old school, of course, being over 40 years old now, but that just emphasises how far tastes have shifted. There’s no existential angst or any of those new-fangled feminist opinions that modern heroines are so fond of. No, this is all about the season and Almack’s and the proper pursuit of every respectable young lady, which is Finding Oneself A Suitable Husband.
Here’s the premise: Ella Fairmont is no longer a debutante, but her aunt hasn’t given up hope, so here she is indulging in another round of London’s Marriage Mart. To make the exercise more palatable, Ella amuses herself by retailing all the society gossip in a snippy little newspaper column, where she poses as ‘Miss Prattle’. The principal object of her vitriolic pen is Patrick, Duke of Clare (although we’re never given a reason why she dislikes him so much). But then the Duke invites Ella and her Aunt Sara to a house party at his country residence in Dorset…

I’ve read a similar tale more than once before, but even if I hadn’t, it would be easy enough to see how things are going to go, and it’s true that there are few surprises. But that’s not what a book like this is all about. If you want shocking twists, go and read a thriller. With a Regency, it’s all about the journey, not the destination, and the journey here is delightful.

First of all, there are a whole array of very silly side characters. The Duke, foolish man, has invited along three of the leading contenders for his hand, for he happens to be one of the most eligible bachelors in the kingdom. Lady Honor is the high-ranking one, without a word to say for herself, utterly confident that the duke is hers by right. Miss Sheridan is the beautiful one, who can think of nothing but her appearance. And Miss Prentiss is the one with a multitude of accomplishments, none of which she has much aptitude for. There are three male friends, too, to make up the numbers and squabble gently over the ladies’ hands, but they blurred together in my mind and I can’t even remember their names.

An honourable mention must go to the duke’s mother, a lovely, sensible lady who’s entirely supportive of her son, and completely different from the usual trope of the harridan dowager duchess. Then there’s Aunt Sara, who’s a bit of a live wire and has some of the best lines in the book.

But the starring roles go to Ella and Patrick, who start off deep in indifference, start to discover that the other is actually more interesting that they’d suspected and needless to say, end up very much in love. Given the date of the book, this is a fairly restrained affair, devoid of real passion, and mostly their growing interest manifests itself in the rising level of banter between them. They are soon on first-name terms, and arousing a certain amount of jealousy in the others.

The duke’s journey to love is steady and rather touching. Once his interest is piqued, he turns his attention on Ella and singles her out very conspicuously. For some reason, never properly explained, everyone assumes he’s just stringing her along, or flirting, or otherwise just amusing himself, but since he doesn’t have a reputation as a rake, it’s hard to see why they would think that. And towards the end, when she seems to blow hot and cold, he pursues her quite determinedly and charmingly.

Ella, however, is harder to fathom. Why did she dislike him so determinedly at first, enough to make him the principal recipient of all her most acid comments in the gossip column? Why, when she starts to realise that he’s actually not as bad as she’d thought, does she not ease off a bit? And why, why why, when she’s written something completely wrong and malicious about him, doesn’t she do the sensible thing and confess? I do get a bit cross with heroines (and heroes) who just refuse to talk things through. And another why – why, for the love of mike, when he proposes to her, albeit in a completely wacky way, doesn’t she at least wonder if he might be serious? And again, talk to the poor man. Give him a chance to explain himself. But I suppose if all heroes and heroines were sensible, rational beings, their stories would be about 20 pages long.

Now if this was all, this would be just another light-hearted Regency romance, nothing special. Fortunately, after a slightly sluggish start, it kicks into a glorious high gear of comedy. The banter between Patrick and Ella is sparkling, with just an edge of hostility, but there’s also a lot of fun in the house party itself, when Ella comes up with some outrageous schemes for the guests to entertain themselves, although I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what they are.

Needless to say, there are some hiccups on the road to true love, resolved in the last few pages by the hero sweeping the heroine into his manly arms for a thorough kissing. I strongly disapproved of his arrogance (he never for one moment doubts that she’ll marry him) and I wanted him to grovel just a little bit to win her over, but that was very much the norm for that era.

A beautifully written book, with a few very minor historical errors that only extreme pedants like me would even notice, with a charming hero, a spirited and intelligent heroine and a shed-load of laugh-out-loud humour. I loved it. Five stars.


Review: Lady Osbaldestone’s Christmas Goose by Stephanie Laurens

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A whimsical Christmas-themed tale, involving a missing flock of geese, some badly-behaved gentlemen, some well-behaved children, a reluctant lord and one very determined grandmother. It’s a light-hearted and entertaining read, and if the problems are resolved rather too easily and the characters are a little too wholesome, that’s in keeping with the spirit of the festive season.

Here’s the premise: widowed Lady Osbaldestone has moved into her dower property of Hartington Manor and is looking forward to Christmas with her daughter and family, only to have her plans disrupted. There’s mumps in the household, and Lady O has to take care of her three grandchildren over Christmas. She’s never had to look after small children before (that’s what servants are for), and they get into a certain number of adventures (along the lines of ‘We wondered what would happen if…’). But when the village’s flock of geese, earmarked for Christmas dinner, disappears, that’s a mystery grandma and grandchildren can unite to solve.

Along the way, they discover Miss Eugenia Fitzgibbon, struggling to keep her brother and his rather wild friends out of trouble, and Lord Longfellow, reclusive because of a disfiguring war injury, and decide that a little match-making will be just the thing.

Everything turns out pretty much as you’d expect, but the match-making and sleuthing antics are quite ingenious, and there are all the usual events of Christmas as well – decking the halls, the carol service, the nativity re-enactment and the skating party. A lot of this felt very Victorian rather than Regency, but it didn’t matter. The children were surprisingly grown-up for their ages, but that didn’t matter, either.

An amusing read for traditional Christmas aficianados. Four stars.


Review: The Player by Stella Riley

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

An awesome read. The author has a genius for putting her characters into an almost impossible-to-resolve situation and then leaving them to wriggle out of it as best they can. This worked perfectly in The Parfit Knight, but it’s just a shade less successful here.

Here’s the premise: the Earl of Sarre is forced to return from a ten-year exile in France to take up his role as head of the family after both his father and his brother have died. He doesn’t want to, and his mother certainly doesn’t want him home, but duty calls. There’s only one problem: the reason for his exile, a huge personal tragedy and accompanying scandal, mean that society may not accept him, and that makes it tricky to fulfil at least one of his obligations, that of marrying. He still has friends, however, as well as one huge advantage – he’s an actor of incomparable talent, a skill he can use to guide him through society and provide a mask he can hide behind.

Caroline Maitland is a wool merchant’s heiress, in London to make an advantageous match but she’s not finding it easy. Her fortune makes her a target for plausible rogues, and when one of her suitors is Sarre’s mortal enemy, she falls under his vengeful gaze. And Sarre finds himself drawn into a spider’s web of deceit that leads them both into a terrible dilemma.

My main problem with this is a suspension of disbelief issue. For the plot to work at all, it’s necessary for Caroline to not realise something highly significant, and frankly, I never quite bought into that. It just seemed to be a stretch too far. I also disliked the lengths to which Sarre went before telling her exactly what was going on. There were several points at which he should have come clean, but I suppose that was part of his character – hiding behind one or other of his acting personas and never actually being the real man behind the disguises. He’d been acting a part for so long that he no longer knew who or what he was, and that at least was believable.

I have a quibble about the Duke of Rockliffe, too. I know the series is named for him, so he’s in every book, but he’s too much of a magical McGuffin for my taste. He sees all, knows all, understands all and miraculously appears just when he’s wanted to save the day. It’s all just a bit too convenient. However, it’s his series and he’s a cool character so I can live with it.

Ultimately, however implausible it might have been underneath, the way the characters deal with the circumstances in which they find themselves is twelve shades of awesome, and utterly satisfying. I love this author’s creativity, and boy, can she write. A very enjoyable five stars.


Review: Chemsworth Hall Book 2: Rose: Perpetua Langley

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another delightfully frivolous tale from Perpetua Langley, wherein Lady Mulholland continues on her majestic way to marrying off all seven off her daughters, in strict order of seniority, naturally. Book 1 saw Violet happily paired off, so now it’s the turn of Rose, and that’s a bit problematic, because only the boldest man will do. No milquetoast suitor need apply. But happily such a man has been found, a friend of brother Henry at Oxford, and since he owes a favour to Violet’s husband, off he goes to Chemsworth Hall, happily unaware that he has been earmarked for Rose.

A series of misunderstandings leaves Rose seriously underwhelmed by Edwin Hamilton’s boldness, and leads him to believe that several members of the family are quite mad. How Edwin rediscovers his boldness and comes to understand that Rose is not mad at all is a joy to read. Every page is laugh-out-loud funny, and every character delightfully eccentric, not excluding the butler, housekeeper and footmen. I would be hard pressed to name one as a favourite, even, for they’re all wonderful.

It’s all dreadfully silly, of course, and anyone expecting a conventional Regency romance might be disappointed, but if you’re in the mood for the light-hearted and whimsical, this might just hit the spot. There’s a fair sprinkling of Americanisms, although nothing too terrible, an overuse of shall instead of will and one very bad historical error (no, a peer can’t disinherit his heir from the title, ever). Notwithstanding that, I loved it (what can I say, I’m a sucker for any book that makes me laugh out loud). Five stars.


Review: The Mesalliance by Stella Riley

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

After the joyful surprise of The Parfit Knight, which I regarded as a rare perfect tale, this follow-on was, for me, a far more uneven effort. It’s still well-written, it’s still enjoyable, but it suffered from one major problem and a host of minor niggles.

Here’s the premise: the Duke of Rockliffe has reluctantly decided that he needs to marry to fulfil his dynastic obligations, and provide a chaperon for the debut in society of his high-spirited young sister, Nell. While accompanying her to a nightmarish house party and adroitly side-stepping the social climbing daughter of the house, he meets Adeline Kendrick. He already knows her, having met her some years ago at one of his far-flung estates, where he was drawn to her free-spirited semi-wild nature. Now she’s the little-regarded poor relation, hiding her resentment behind a barbed tongue and a somewhat passive-aggressive style of resistance. Rock is just as drawn to the adult Adeline, although not in a romantic way, more a kind of lustful fascination. So when the social-climbing daughter’s machinations go wrong and Adeline is seemingly compromised by the duke, he decides to marry her, because why not?

So here we have the classic marriage of convenience tale, with a lot of similarities to Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage, with shades of April Lady and a hint of Venetia, too. To start with, things go well, with Rock acting in a gentlemanly fashion to allow his bride to grow accustomed to her role as a duchess. But when they go to London and start to move in society and events from the past rise up to knock them sideways, everything gets more complicated and frankly, the book goes off the rails somewhat.

Let me deal with the major problem first, which is that time-honoured obstacle, the Great Misunderstanding. I have a rule that if a plot difficulty can be resolved if the characters just sat down and talked to each other, that’s an epic fail, and that’s pretty much what we have here. When Adeline encounters a difficulty, instead of just telling Rock all about it and letting him deal with it (as he should), she attempts to deal with it herself and then gradually involves all his friends in the deception. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Naturally the marriage goes from bad to worse as Rock realises she doesn’t trust him, which (given her history) wouldn’t be too bad, except that she seemingly trusts all his friends above her own husband. Foolish girl. And then he gets grumpy about it and flounces off. Naturally, they do eventually overcome the problem and open up to each other, but it all takes far too long.

Of the minor niggles, these are just me and probably wouldn’t bother most people. This being the second book of the series, a number of characters from the first book pop up, often with important minor roles but not much explanation of who they were, so I struggled to remember some of them. I could have done with less of them, to be honest. I found Adeline’s refusal to open up to Rock inexplicable. He’s a lovely character, who’s very gentle with her, woos her romantically and even explains what he’s doing, but even though she’s in love with him, she never gives an inch. I get that she’s built mental walls to shield herself from the world, but she really needed to meet him half way. The villain of the piece is way, way over the top with a hugely melodramatic outburst in the middle of a crowded ballroom, which I found impossible to believe. There were a couple of minor side romances which were quite nicely done, but I could have done with less of them, too. And a really trivial grumble, this, but I cannot take seriously a duke whose given name is Tracy. Even though it’s historically accurate. Just no.

Having said all this, Riley’s writing is so superb and Rock is such an awesome hero overall (apart from that flounce) that this still reaches four star heights for me. For those who prefer a completely clean story, there’s one bedroom scene, quite graphic although tastefully done. I already have the next book in the series (The Player), but I’ll take a break before trying that, I think.


Review: The Parfit Knight by Stella Riley

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

There are not many books that I regard as absolutely perfect, but this is one of them. It hit the right notes for me from start to finish, like one of those wonderful tasting menu meals where each course is so exquisite that you’re mentally ready for the next one to be somehow less, but it never is. Not a disappointing moment to be found. As with many books from this era (1986), there are strong echoes of Georgette Heyer but that’s no bad thing.

Here’s the premise: the Marquis of Amberley is en route to one of his estates when his coach is attacked by highwaymen. He sees off the villains, but his coachman is shot, and the marquis is forced to seek help at the nearest house, with snow beginning to fall. There he finds Rosalind Vernon, alone but for her servants and a badly-brought-up parrot, who take care of the coachman and entertain the marquis for a week until the snow has melted. Rosalind is living outside society for a reason – she has been blind since a childhood accident. She is, however, intelligent and self-assured, not repining over her disability in the least. Needless to say, the two hit it off straight away, and in this aspect, the story reminded me forcibly of Heyer’s Venetia, even to the scene of Rosalind waking on the first morning after Amberley’s arrival happy at the knowledge that she has met a true friend.

Amberley returns to London determined to see Rosalind enjoy society, and only partly so that he’ll be able to see her himself. He persuades her brother, Philip, to bring her to town, but determines that he won’t hover around her so much that he deters other suitors. For there will be other suitors, he’s sure, because Rosalind is exceptionally beautiful.
The Marquis of Amberley is one of those heroes so beloved of Heyer – intelligent, mature, floating effortlessly through the drawing rooms of Georgian high society, admired by men and women alike, a little sardonic, superficially ruthless but morally upright in his private dealings. We see him first at the card tables, apparently leading a green young man into deep waters, but later see him return the man’s vowels (IOUs) without payment, as a lesson to him. In his dealings with Rosalind, too, he’s unfailingly gentlemanly. I loved him, I have to confess – he’s absolutely my kind of hero.

And Rosalind is my kind of heroine, feisty and independent (but in a Georgian not modern way), not at all sorry for herself, living life as it’s offered to her and not as she wished it would be. Most of all, she’s never silly. She waits patiently for Amberley to come to the point, enjoying all the new experiences coming her way in the meantime, neither rushing him nor despairing, but confident that he feels the same way that she does.

But of course in every romance there must be an Obstacle that prevents the lovers coming together too soon, and in this case it’s a humdinger, and I totally understood why Amberley was floored by it. Usually the Obstacle is something trivial, like a previous romantic disappointment that has left hero or heroine disillusioned, or some imagined disparity of rank or wealth, but this is not at all like that. It’s such a disaster that poor Amberley dithers a little too long and then everything starts to unravel, and this is all utterly believable.

This is actually the great strength of the whole book, that everyone behaves entirely according to character, and no one becomes a caricature or acts moronically simply to shift the plot along. The crisis, when it comes, cycles through funny and horrifying and glorious and heart-breaking, with the bad-mannered parrot playing a starring role. And while the men are away attempting to resolve things in their masculine way, poor, poor Rosalind is left to wait alone and gradually shift from delirious anticipation to fear to that dreary despair of knowing that he’s not coming. But fortunately, she’s no passive victim and sets out to wrest control of her own future now, at once, without delay (more shades of Venetia). The ending is quite simply perfect.

Apart from the two wonderful main characters, there’s a host of splendid minor characters – the perpetually misunderstanding Philip, laconic but all-seeing Rock, sensible Isabel, and charming Eloise, and the writing is of a rare quality. A wonderful traditional Regency. Five stars.


Review: Beth and the Mistaken Identity by Alicia Cameron

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I find this a really difficult book to review. On the one hand, it’s well-written, with few errors and a pretty good portrayal of the Regency. On the other hand, it depends on a couple of huge misunderstandings at the very start (obviously; it’s in the title) which the heroine deliberately continues, a massive coincidence towards the end and a frankly unbelievable resolution. I also found the relationships between the characters wildly confusing. I felt as if I’d missed a chapter or two early on which explained everything, and I never really worked out who some of them were.

Here’s the premise: Beth Culpepper is a lady’s maid who’s been turned off without a character for helping her headstrong young mistress on her clandestine adventures. She hopes to find work at an inn, but soon realises that there are some pretty dodgy customers there. While she’s wondering what to do, she’s spotted by a kindly marquis, who assumes from her clothes (her mistress’s castoffs) that she’s gently born, and has run away from school. His sister (who’s a princess!) coincidentally recognises her from one of those clandestine outings to Vauxhall Gardens, and thinks she’s her mistress, Sophy Ludgate. Feeling sorry for Beth, they sweep her up and carry her off to London to stay at their house there, and await the return of… well, someone (some of those hazily-connected characters I mentioned). Beth feels unable to confess the truth and manages to play the part of a lady well enough to convince them.

So already there’s plenty of plot-fudging going on, and it continues for most of the book, with Beth’s reasons for not revealing herself and the marquis’s for keeping her under their roof falling into the plot-convenience category. I never believed for one minute that a maid, no matter how good an actress, could pretend to be a lady for a whole week without arousing suspicions. I was also somewhat suspicious of Beth’s predilection for books. That she could read, I accept, but to spend her days curled up in the library reading up on Greek mythology seemed a stretch too far, although to be fair, the author shows her struggling with the pronunciation.

Having said all that, the slowly developing romance is delightful. The marquis is an unusual character for a Regency hero, being a thoroughly nice chap, who just needs to lighten up a little. The teasing banter between the three principals is charming, and often very funny. He’s so used to being the target of ambitious young ladies with a yen to become a marchioness that he falls instantly under the spell of Beth, who has no expectations at all in that direction and so treats him a bit like an older brother.

Beth is an even more unusual heroine, and I liked that the author addressed the issue of Beth’s lowly status head on. Having been a servant herself, she ‘sees’ the servants in the marquis’s house in ways that the marquis and his sister never do. They don’t even know the names of half of them. The sister seems uninterested, but the marquis, to his credit, is very willing to have his eyes opened, and Beth’s gentle but sure-handed reorganisation of the whole household is one of the delights of the book.

There’s one other unusual feature of this book. Most Regencies focus fairly closely on the hero and heroine, and everything is seen through their eyes. Here, though, we get to see the cause of Beth’s difficulties, in the shape of Miss Sophy Ludgate. Sophy’s a fascinating character, who continually gets herself into trouble in the most exuberant way, and somehow always manages to make it seem like the most reasonable thing in the world. She’s not wicked, just rather thoughtless and self-absorbed (but she’s not alone in that), but she is very, very plausible and it’s easy to see how Beth was drawn in to helping her. There’s a neat resolution to her problems that I very much liked.

Unfortunately, the resolution of the romance wasn’t quite so successful, to my mind. There was always going to be a clash of epic proportions when the marquis discovered that the love of his life is a humble maid, and although it’s obvious that there will be a happy ending, I didn’t find it particularly plausible. Some rank disparities are just too great to be bridged, no matter how ingeniously they’re covered up.

However, that’s just me, and for those who can suspend disbelief a bit more than I can, this is a well-written and charming story. I can’t give this one more than three stars, but I’m impressed enough with the author to want to try another of her books.


Review: First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Mary Balogh is capable of spinning a brilliant tale out of almost nothing, and so it is here. It’s a basic marriage of convenience plot, with very few stumbling blocks on the way to the happy ever after, but it’s beautifully done.

Here’s the premise: Elliott Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, arrives in the tiny village of Throckbridge to upend the lives of one of its residents, seventeen-year-old Stephen Huxtable, by telling him he is the new Earl of Merton. Elliott thinks he’ll just whisk the boy off to be trained up to his new position, but Stephen has three older sisters who are not about to be left behind.

Now Elliott has the problem of introducing all four of them into society, and how is he to manage the sisters? He has no females in his own family in a position to do it. But he’s been thinking he ought to marry soon anyway. Maybe he should marry one of the Huxtable girls, and solve two problems at once? He sets his sights on Margaret, the eldest, but middle sister Vanessa, a widow, intervenes to save her sister from a loveless marriage.

Does this sound familiar? It will if you’ve ever read Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage, where the youngest sister jumps in to protect her older sisters from a similarly loveless match. In that book, the prospective bridegroom, Lord Rule, is intrigued enough by the girl’s audacity to do it, but Elliott has (supposedly) disliked Vanessa from the start, so I was very intrigued to see how she would persuade him. It’s a note-perfect scene, beautifully written.

From then on, the story proceeds on the traditional rails, and in fact, almost nothing happens at all. The four Huxtables adapt beautifully to their new life, are accepted without a qualm into the high society world of the London season, and make no social faux pas. This is a story with absolutely no surprises. It’s the way the main characters deal with the non-surprises that makes this book such a joy. Not so much Elliott, who is a fairly typical example of a buttoned-up, arrogant bloke, who’s not willing to sit down and talk things through. He’s a real grumpy-drawers, who’d far rather sulk than find a way to solve a problem. But Vanessa – oh, Vanessa is a glorious character. She’s a totally straightforward and outspoken person, and she’s not about to let her chance of happiness trickle away by letting a problem fester. No, she sets out to confront Elliott and draw him out of the shell he’s been building around himself.

The side characters fade into the background as the story progresses, no doubt ready to spring up, fully formed, for their role in a future book of the series. Sisters Margaret and Katherine, brother Stephen and cousin Con will all get their turn in the spotlight. But this book is thoroughly about Vanessa and Elliott, and their marriage (and yes, there’s a fair amount of sex in it). A wonderful read. Five stars.