Category: Review

Review: Runaway Bride by Jane Aitken Hodge (1978)

Posted January 24, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

An odd one. This was almost a greatest hits compilation of all my least favourite tropes, it’s oddly written with some pseudo-Regency era language and the romance is very much an afterthought, as was common when it was first published, and yet I still read it avidly, despite all that. Maybe even a sub-par 70’s Regency makes for better reading than much of the modern stuff? Who knows.

Here’s the premise: Jennifer Purchas is a seventeen-year-old heiress whose father’s death leaves her in the hands of her uncle, who seems to be more interested in her fortune than in her welfare. When he informs her that she is to marry a stranger, a friend of her dead brothers who asked him to look after her, she runs away to her friend, who finds her a position as a governess. This goes on swimmingly until the children’s bad-tempered guardian appears, but just when Jenny has persuaded him that a beautiful and hoydenish girl of seventeen is, in fact, a perfectly sensible choice of governess (only in a Regency romance, methinks), her wicked uncle kidnaps her. She runs away again, this time to London, where she finds herself caught up in a riot and fortuitously rescued by the very same bad-tempered guardian, who deposits her with his eccentric grandmother (a duchess!). So Jenny, under a false name, is thrust into the whirlwind of the season, where her beauty and liveliness soon attract swarms of suitors. Of course they do. Sigh.

I almost bailed at this point, but somehow I kept going, wading through the positive swamp of tropes. Let me list some of the principal ones. The beautiful runaway heiress, check. The grumpy hero, check. The great misunderstanding, check (also known as not seeing what was blindingly obvious). The wicked guardian. The wicked rake. The manipulative aunt with a rival daughter. The mass of coincidences. The heroine who doesn’t spot danger (until it’s too late, naturally). The hero who doesn’t bother to tell the heroine that he loves her until the very last chapter. The secret note that draws the heroine to a secluded spot (yawn). And so on and so on.

Now some of this is great fun. I loved the moments where the heroine got herself out of trouble, although I have to confess that her propensity for running away got very tedious. I counted four separate occasions, which is at least two too many. I disliked it when she had to depend on the hero turning up at a vital moment to rescue her (which I think happened twice), but mostly Jenny looked after herself, and managed a certain amount of looking after other people, too. A resourceful lass.

I also liked the period in London, which slips straight into a very traditional form of Regency romance, with balls and masquerades and duels and the whole panoply that Georgette Heyer drew on. The author effortlessly weaves real people and events into the story (again, a Heyer trait), which adds a certain authenticity to proceedings. But the hero is also Heyer-esque, the grumpy, sneering, macho type that is really not my favourite type. I’m more of a Freddy Standen fangirl, myself – give me a gentle, understated hero every day of the week. And the hero’s bad temper gets him into trouble time after time (and gets the heroine into trouble, too).

There weren’t too many historical missteps, although (as so often in Regencies) the author takes liberties with the marriage laws. No, you can’t actually force anyone to marry against their will, not if you want the marriage to be legal, no, a guardian can’t marry off his ward to his own financial advantage, and no, you definitely can’t have anyone marry under a false name – that’s fraud and the marriage would be illegal to boot. But since none of these proposed irregularities actually came to pass, I can let them go.

One that I can’t let go is the question of Jenny’s guardian. It seems her father neglected to name a guardian in his will (or the named guardian had died, not sure about that). That does NOT mean that her uncle would automatically take over the role, and if he did, he wouldn’t have control of her finances as well as her person. There would have been trustees for the fortune and the Court of Chancery would appoint a guardian for Jenny herself. Since she was over 14, Jenny would legally be able to nominate her own choice of guardian. So she would never have been quite so helplessly under the control of her uncle (although of course that would have spoilt the story!).

This was a mixed bag for me. I liked the well-evoked Regency, the deft use of real history and the feisty and resourceful heroine, even if she made some stupid mistakes sometimes. I disliked the grumpily bad-tempered hero who is the very antithesis of Regency restraint. But even though it didn’t entirely work for me, it’s still a well-realised traditional-style Regency that I know many readers will absolutely love. I’d like to give it three and a half stars, but given the sheer weight of unlikable tropes, I’ll settle for three stars. But I’d like to try another of the author’s works that might suit me better.

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Review: The Duke’s Secret Heir by Sarah Mallory (2017)

Posted January 24, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

I’ve read a couple of the author’s works under the pen name Melinda Hammond (Autumn Bride and Dream Chasers) and loved both of them. This didn’t resonate with me in quite the same way, but it’s still an absorbing, powerful read that I tore through in a day.

Here’s the premise: wealthy cit’s daughter Ellen Tatham and duke’s son Max Colnebrooke met, fell in love and married in a whirlwind romance in Egypt. But the fortunes of war meant that Max had to send his bride away to safety, and in the confused circumstances they both came to believe that the other has betrayed them. She ran away to Harrogate, pretending to be a widow to account for the birth of her son, James, while Max hurled himself into ever riskier enterprises, only returning when the unexpected death of his elder brother makes him the Duke of Rossenhall. Now he finds himself in Harrogate visiting old friends and meets up with Ellen again.

Now this is a delicious situation, because the two are thrown into any number of public meetings (what a lot of balls they had in Harrogate!), yet no one knows they are married, and there are reasons (of course there are!) why the secret can’t be revealed immediately. And there’s a big surprise for Max – he has a son and heir. So there’s a huge amount of tension between the two protagonists right from the start, both bitter about the apparent betrayal of the other, and yet still very much drawn to each other.

And this is, fundamentally, the whole plot. The two circle with stiff Regency politeness around each other, accepting that they have to live superficially as husband and wife because of their son, but trying very hard not to give way to the desire that lurks just below the surface. They don’t always manage it, so there’s the occasional passionate kiss and even a whole night of passion before they revert to that oh-so-restrained politeness. When they arrive at the ducal estate, there’s a malicious sister-in-law to contend with (widow of the older brother), and Ellen sets about making herself charming and duchess-like to servants, the steward, the tenants and the local residents.

And that is one of the problems with this book – Ellen is just a little too perfect. She’s beautiful, clever, a great manager, a wonderful mother and everyone loves her. I like a little more grit in the oyster, frankly. Max is pretty damn perfect, too, except for the whole guilt trip, which he places entirely on his wife’s shoulders. I suppose to be honest, the one problem they both have is pride – too much pride to confess what they really feel, or even to sit down and have a proper conversation. After all, there’s surely one subject they ought to be discussing openly, and that’s whether they intend to have more children. That’s what marriage is for, after all, if you’re a duke with a title and vast wealth to pass on. One heir really isn’t enough. But they never address the issue at all.

The story is a fairly simple one. There are no great mysteries or backstory revelations to unfurl, the minor characters are either out and out villains like the sister-in-law, or they’re saccharine sweet. Only Ellen’s old friend, the globe-trotting Miss Ackroyd, shows some spark of an interesting character (interesting to me, anyway; these things are deeply personal). And I have to say, I was a little unsettled to see the fresh widow jump immediately into a new romance. It seemed a little tasteless to me.

But none of these minor grumbles interfered very much with my enjoyment, and as I say, I romped through the book in no time, neglecting a lot of essential tasks to keep reading, which is always the sign of a good book. This one is deeply satisfying at the emotional level as the two main characters work through their bitterness to reach a rapport, although it took them perhaps a few chapters too many to get there. There’s some sex, but it’s tastefully done, and the writing is superb. Happily, not a single historical inaccuracy dinged my over-sensitive pedantometer. A good four stars.

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Review: Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide by Quenby Olsen (2021)

Posted January 12, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This book was an absolute delight. I love a book that takes me by surprise, and this book is surprising in spades. It features a downtrodden spinster, aged forty, a diffident vicar, aged more than forty, a motherly cook/housekeeper, and an impoverished but charming villain. Oh, and a dragon, but that part isn’t so much of a surprise, given the title.

Here’s the premise: Miss Mildred Percy lives in a tiny attic room in her younger sister’s house, the archetypal poor relation, treated as an unpaid servant looking after the children, excluded from social events and thoroughly badly treated. And she’s been in that position for so long she barely even thinks about it any more. But then one day a distant relation leaves her an inheritance, which turns out to be a motley collection of… well, all sorts of odd things, including journals and other notes. Since this intriguing collection conveniently arrives when her sister is out, and Mildred knows it will be commandeered or, worse, thrown away, if her sister finds out about it, she hastily hides everything in her room, and drags the empty box outside to hide it in an outhouse. Whereupon she is spotted and then assisted by the local vicar.

This scene is so delicious, I just can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. Here’s the downtrodden and mousy spinster caught in a rebellious act, while the mild-mannered and fairly reclusive vicar, who has never dared to step beyond the formalities with her before, enters into the spirit of the thing with the utmost aplomb. In no time, he has volunteered to help her investigate the collection by storing some of it at the vicarage for safekeeping from the acquisitive sister. And amongst the items of interest is an odd sort of stone. A rather egg-shaped stone…

The hatching of the dragon is beautifully done, along with the realisation that small, winged, fire-breathing reptiles are not well-suited to life in small English villages. The race is on to find a secure home in which to raise the baby dragon, keeping him safe from would-be thieves and disbelieving neighbours, and perhaps find an expert who might be able to advise them. From there the story unfolds pretty much as you would expect. But it’s not really the story that’s the most interesting element of this book, because the style is one I’ve never encountered before – quirky, chatty, half rambling and repeatedly breaking the fourth wall to address the reader, directly or indirectly. I loved it, and found it laugh out loud funny, but I can imagine that not everyone would like it, so read the sample before buying.

Anyone expecting a romance might be in for a let-down, because, as romances go, this is the most low-key one imaginable. Also, since this is the first of a series which seemingly features the same characters, there doesn’t seem likely to be any increase in the romantic element going forward. If that’s a big thing for you, then this is probably not the book for you. But I loved, loved, loved the two principal characters, I loved the writing style, and I adored the baby dragon. If you’re looking for something a bit different and you like dragons, then you should drop everything and read this at once. Five stars.

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Review: Wilde in Love by Eloisa James (2017)

Posted January 12, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

I almost gave up on this book at about the 20% mark. Neither of the main characters struck me as being particularly interesting, and the plot was so obvious it was probably visible from space. Basically, I was bored. But I decided to read a couple more pages, just to remind myself why I was abandoning it, and somehow I got sucked in. And then there were Issues at the end so it fell apart rather, but it had its moments in the middle.

Here’s the premise: Lord Alaric Wilde is the third son of a duke, after Horatius and Roland (improbably called North by the family). As a third son, he’s off the hook for family continuation purposes, so he’s spent a number of years tootling round the world meeting strange tribes and writing about them. But now Horatius has drowned in a bog, and Alaric has returned home to support the family, only to find himself the most famous man in England, with every female swooning over him, exaggerated prints of his exploits everywhere and even a play about his adventures, which is about as accurate as such adaptations usually are. What’s worse, his family don’t need him. Roland, the new heir, is dizzily in love and engaged, so the succession is secured, and he doesn’t need any help with his duties as one-day-duke. So Alaric finds himself at a loose end, with no escape from his fanatical admirers and no occupation.

But there’s a bright spot. The house party at Lindow Castle, the ducal residence, includes the very unadmiring Miss Willa Ffynche. Alaric is intrigued and sets out to woo her into submission, and very single-minded he is about it too. Needless to say, Willa eventually succumbs, and this being that sort of book, they end up in bed together for some pretty graphic hanky-panky. And that’s OK, I suppose, but then we have to have the Suitably Melodramatic Incident so that the heroine can demonstrate her pluck and the hero can bravely rescue her, and I really wish authors wouldn’t do this. Does anyone really believe that the heroine is going to die three chapters from the end? Well, in certain kinds of fiction, yes, but not in a Regency romance. So by all means put her through some drama, if you must, but don’t spin it out for page after page. And there wasn’t even a compelling reason for the villain to do this. Sigh.

There were a few moments that made me sit up rather suddenly. For instance, cowslips, poppies and elderberries all at once? What interesting weather they must be having there. Willa doesn’t wear fur – how terribly modern. The gentlemen all swear like troopers in front of the ladies, who are frightfully ladylike. Seemed a bit incongruous to me. And I had to look up what a roly-poly was (I think it’s what we Brits call a woodlouse). I gave the skunk a pass, because it’s meant to be a foreign creature, and although I fretted all the way through as to why the ducal heir is Lord Roland instead of having a courtesy title (he’d most likely be a marquess), the author does give an excuse of sorts for it. And bonus points for pointing out that Lord Wilde is an incorrect form of Lord Alaric Wilde.

So on the whole, the negative points outweighed the positive, but it’s very well written, and far more erudite than the average Regency, so three stars overall.

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Review: Dame Durden’s Daughter by Joan Smith (1978)

Posted January 12, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

I’ve had this sitting on my Kindle for a while, but I was reluctant to start it, for some reason. My experiences with Joan Smith have been variable, to put it mildly, ranging from five stars to bailing out after a couple of chapters. This one seemed like it might fall into the oddball category, and so it does, but it’s also wildly funny, with some glorious exchanges between the two principals.

Here’s the premise: Edith Durden has been raised by a mother who lives largely in the past, feeling that their Saxon roots are far superior to the upstart ducal family living nearby. Dame Durden is convinced that a local clergyman, Dr Thorne, whose blood is as pure as her own, is the only proper husband for Edith. Meanwhile, the old duke has died, and the new duke, his rakehell only son, Helver, returns from a long sojourn abroad to take up the reins of his estate. He’s at first disgruntled to find that he must actually apply himself to the work, and then surprised to find that he enjoys it. The other surprise is that his childhood playmate, Eddie Durden, is now a rather attractive young woman, but it isn’t until she becomes engaged to Dr Thorne that Helver begins to take her seriously.

So here we have the classic betrothed-to-the-wrong-man scenario, the heroine knowing perfectly well that she loves Helver, but since he only seems to see her as a friend, and she has to marry someone, she settles for the rather dreary clergyman, convincing herself that at least she will be part of the village, instead of sequestered away with her mother, and therefore she’ll be able to do some good for the parishioners.

I liked Edith very much, and unlike in many such tales, she isn’t forced to marry by the machinations of her evil mother. Her mother, in fact, while being wildly eccentric and having one foot very firmly planted in the Tudor era, is nevertheless a perfectly kind and loving mother, who wants the best for her daughter. Given the lack of likely marriage prospects, she weighs up the two possibilities and discounts Helver at once because despite the good looks and charm, he’s far too wild to be marriage material. Besides, he shows not the slightest romantic interest in Edith. So Dame Durden pushes her daughter very gently towards the terribly respectable and upright Dr Thorne. It’s only after the betrothal, when she’s thrown into his company a lot more, that she realises what a dreadful loveless marriage it would be.

Helver is a fascinating character. Being the only child of his elderly parents, and discovering that every minor infraction convinces them that he’s akin to the devil himself, he not unnaturally decided he might as well not bother even trying to be good. It soon becomes clear that although he has been pretty wild, much of his reputation has been exaggerated and his devilry consists mainly of wandering around Europe wherever the whim takes him, and bedding willing women. All of which he cheerfully describes to Edith, regarding her as an honorary bloke, perhaps. But despite a certain selfish streak born of idleness, when he’s forced to accept his ducal responsibilities, he proves to have a good heart, more willing to see to the modest needs of his tenants than his own family.

There are no surprises in the way the story ends, but the question of how that point will be reached is very much up in the air. Helver is late to the realisation that he loves Edith, but since he is sure she also loves him, he’s determined to see off the obnoxious Dr Thorne and win his bride. But the wild streak in him means that the reader can’t be quite sure just how he’ll do it. It’s mentioned more than once that he’s capable of kidnapping her and whisking her away to Gretna, and so a thread of uncertainty runs through the final chapters. Will he just get impatient, or has he finally grown up enough to tackle the problem with intelligence? I won’t spoil the surprise by answering the question, but I highly recommend reading the book to find out, and, perhaps an even bigger inducement, to enjoy the wonderful banter between the two principals. Brilliantly written, refreshingly different and only a very small scattering of Americanisms to jolt the unwary reader back to the 21st century. Five stars.

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Review: Birdie and the Beastly Duke by Sofi Laporte (2021)

Posted December 21, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well, here’s a thing – a Sofi Laporte book that didn’t have me squealing with delight. I’ve enjoyed both the previous books, so what went wrong with this one? Nothing in the writing, that’s for sure. Again the author creates an original and entertaining story out of seemingly tired old tropes. But for me it veered too far off the track of a conventional Regency and into the realm of straight-up slapstick Gothic. Not my favourite thing. But if you’re in the market for Laporte’s unique take on beauty (sort of) and the beast, this may very well hit the spot.

Here’s the premise: Birdie, or more formally the Honourable Roberta Talbot, is fed up with taking care of her feckless family. She’s on her way to a position as a governess in order to support them, but when she bumps into a girl travelling to an unwanted marriage, she can’t help but envy her. Marriage! That would suit Birdie down to the ground, even an unknown elderly gentleman living in the wilds of Scotland. Whereas the girl would just love to be a governess and escape her fate. And so they switch places…

Off Birdie goes, and from here on, everything is over the top Gothic. The mysterious coachman, the desolate castle perched on a cliff, the elderly (and very deaf) retainer who is the only servant, and the mysterious Captain Gabriel Eversleigh himself, who turns out to be not so elderly, but with his face disfigured by war wounds. Oh yes, and he’s now a duke, but you probably guessed that from the title. The marriage takes place, whereupon the bridegroom immediately gives Birdie a purse full of money and tells her to take herself off back to civilisation. He’s done his duty by her, as was promised to her father (or rather the father of the girl Birdie has swapped places with), and now he just wants to be left alone.

Birdie doesn’t want to go back to civilisation, however. She wants a marriage, even one as peculiar as this, and so she sets about getting servants, cleaning up the castle, starting a school for the village children and, all the while, getting under Gabriel’s skin and drawing him back into the real world. All of this is par for the course with this kind of story, but naturally Laporte puts her own delightful spin on it, and it’s all very funny.

I liked Birdie very much. She’s resourceful and practical and not in the least the delicate flower that well-brought-up Regency ladies are supposed to be. I liked Gabriel, too, when he finally emerged from his shell, but I’m not a big fan of a man (a duke!) who thinks he’ll just hide away in his tower and the world can go hang. He sounds like a good leader of his troops in the army and felt a great responsibility for them, so why could he not apply the same sense of duty to the villagers who depended on him? The ending tied up a lot of loose ends rather cleverly, and Gabriel finally does the right thing without prompting. And kudos to the author for getting the legalities of their marriage absolutely right.

Anyone reading this just for the romance would probably love it. I have a requirement that the author’s evocation of the Regency has to convince me, even if it’s not totally accurate. None of us lived in those times, after all, so who can say what is historically accurate? Every author creates a slightly different version of the era, and that’s all to the good. This was too unreal for me to believe in, however, which keeps it to three stars for me. Anyone less picky than me would probably love it, and it is certainly great fun. I already have the next (and possibly final) book in the series, so I’ll read that and hope it works better for me.

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Review: Carteret by Jenny Hambly (2021)

Posted December 21, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another lovely read from Jenny Hambly, and for me this is the best of the series so far. Laurence is exactly my kind of hero – reserved, dignified and every inch the perfect gentleman. Heroine Cassandra is a feisty and determined lady, someone we can all root for. The plot unfolds smoothly, and is a joy to read.

Here’s the premise: Laurence, Viscount Carteret has his life in good order, keeping himself to himself and pursuing his duties with methodical conscientiousness. He’s on his way to his imposing country mansion when his quiet evening at an inn is disrupted by a very unlikely fugitive, in the shape of Miss Cassandra Fenton, who seeks refuge in his private parlour from a Bow Street runner. Surrendering to a whim for once, Laurence allows her to hide while he sees off the runner, then shares his meal with her before escorting her to temporary safety nearby, intending to return in the morning to see her to her destination. But Cassandra neither wants nor needs his help. She’s safer making her own way to her chosen refuge, the home of her former governess. Since they have been using only first names with each other, and neither knows where the other is bound, that would seem to be the end of that.

Well, there wouldn’t be much of a story if that were the case, so it isn’t very long before the two are thrown together again, and set about gradually uncovering the story behind Cassandra’s flight from her home, which resulted in the Bow Street runner being set on her, and also the mysteries surrounding the former governess and her home. And needless to say, they are also falling in love at the same time, and although things go along swimmingly for a while, it’s inevitable that someone as strait-laced as Laurence and someone as impetuous and daring as Cassandra would eventually fall out. When it happens, the quarrel is spectacular, and I felt all the gut-wrenching turmoil in both of them.

The ending has some lovely and (to me) quite unexpected twists which resolved everything beautifully. As always with Hambly, the characters, even the minor ones, are full of authentic life, and there’s also Laurence’s house, which has a starring role to play. It’s rare to see a backdrop used so aptly as this, but here everything about Westerby perfectly encapsulates the characters of Laurence’s father, and Laurence himself, and also illuminates the characters of Laurence’s two sisters. Brilliantly done.

A wonderfully written book, a perfect evocation of the Regency. Five stars.

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Review: A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh (2010)

Posted December 10, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Surprisingly, this book opens with almost the same plot as the previous book in the series, with a young widow deciding to take a lover. The reasons are different, and the characters are very different, but it’s still an odd choice and felt awkward to me.

Here’s the premise: Hannah, the Duchess of Dunbarton, is a widow at thirty, the elderly duke she married at nineteen dead. She’s determined to enjoy her freedom by taking a lover, and she knows just who she wants – the dangerous but seductive rake, Constantine Huxtable. Had Constantine been born two days later, he would have inherited his father’s earldom; instead he’s illegitimate, living a wild life and taking a new mistress every season. Hannah is determined to be his choice that year, and he’s content to go along with it. Their manoeuvring for advantage in the negotiating stage of their affair is perhaps the highlight of the book.

The other element I enjoyed was uncovering the truth about Hannah’s marriage. She’s widely believed to have married the duke for financial security and rank, and to have been repeatedly unfaithful to him. I found the real story much more interesting and a refreshing take on such April-to-December marriages. The reason for the marriage becomes clear only quite late in the book.
Constantine is a far less interesting character. The rake is such a staple of Regency romances, but almost invariably he turns out to be a pussy cat masquerading as a tiger. I would like it if, just once, these supposedly dangerous men would actually be dangerous, and not thoroughgoing heroes. It’s so boring.

My other complaint is a practical one. These two engage in a very active affair without either of them giving a single thought to the possibility of pregnancy. Any real arrangement between a man and his mistress would have to make some allowance for children. She’s a widowed duchess, after all, and a leading light of the social scene. An illegitimate child would cause no end of a scandal, and would be impossible to keep quiet. She would be ruined. Yet the only even sideways mention of the subject is when she expresses pleasure that her period arrived when she was away from her lover, so their bedroom sessions wouldn’t be disrupted!

Needless to say, the two lovers really do fall in love as the book progresses. She learns to shed the icy-cold and brittle exterior she generally shows the world and he, too, learns to reveal his true nature. The ending is, frankly, rather schmaltzy and saccharine, a little too sweet for my taste, but Balogh’s writing is, as always, superb. Four stars. As always with Balogh, there are sex scenes.

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Review: Seducing An Angel by Mary Balogh (2009)

Posted December 9, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Every Mary Balogh book is worth reading, but they do vary in likeability. The previous three books in this series I rated 5*, 3* and 4*. This one is back to 5* for me, mainly because I liked both the main characters, the romance was a pleasant slow burn, and there were no huge implausibilities in the plot. There was altogether too much angst, but that’s par for the course, and there was the bonus of the hero’s three sisters busily being older-sister-ish, plus several lovely minor characters.

Here’s the premise: Cassandra, Lady Paget, is widowed and in trouble. Her promised dower income, houses and jewellery are being withheld by her late husband’s eldest son, because she’s alleged to have murdered her husband with an axe. Without money, friends or relations willing to help her, she is practically destitute. In desperation, she sets out to find herself a rich, well-born lover to keep her as his mistress. Gate-crashing a society ball, she spots the angelic-looking Stephen, the Earl of Merton, and sets out to seduce him. And she succeeds – up to a point, for he ends up bedding her and accepts her arrangement. But then second thoughts set in when he hears her story, and he decides that what she needs most is a friend who will help her rehabilitate herself in society.

And that is precisely what he sets out to do, squiring her about town, ensuring she is invited to every ton event and enlisting his sisters’ help in the project. Stephen is the angel of the title, and yes, he’s terribly angelic because although he’s paying her as a mistress, he isn’t taking advantage of that at all. In fact, he’s a thoroughly nice guy, somewhat guilty because he was drawn into the original seduction, and determined to do the right thing by her. Although of course he’s hugely attracted to her, and so he ends up dancing her onto the balcony at a ball and kissing her… whereupon they are promptly spotted and bounced into a betrothal.

I’ve never understood why any well-brought-up gentleman would find himself in that position. I can see why a woman might try to get herself ‘compromised’ to get a husband, because women had so little control over the process, but a man knows the consequences if he steps out of line, so why let yourself get into that position? Unless you choose to, of course. And perhaps Stephen subconsciously wanted to make things right with Cassie, and make an honest woman of her. In any event, he at once announces their betrothal, and even though Cassie assures him she will break things off at a suitable moment, he is determined to make it happen. And his sisters are equally determined.

From then onwards, the story becomes a straightforward courtship, and despite the protestations of the lady, there’s never any real doubt of how it will end. As always with Balogh, the dialogue is superb, and this turned into a real page-turner for me. Five stars. As with all Balogh books, there’s some graphic sex.

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Review: The Last Waltz by Mary Balogh (2009)

Posted December 7, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Mary Balogh has an unerring instinct for creating gloriously convoluted situations for her characters to face up to, and here she does it again. Ten years ago, Christina and Gerard were seemingly deep in love and on the brink of a betrothal when she abruptly agreed to marry his cousin, Gilbert, the Earl of Wanstead. Now Gilbert and his younger brother have both died, Christina produced only daughters, and Gerard has inherited the title and Thornwood, where he proposes to hold a house party over Christmas to choose a bride. His hostess? That will have to be Christina, the widowed Lady Wanstead.

This is a delicious situation, of course. He thinks she’s a cold-hearted mercenary witch, who chose security and a title over love. She thinks he’s a rake and a wastrel. Neither view is accurate, but it takes the whole book for this to emerge, and the reasons for the misunderstanding. Like all misunderstandings, one has to question the intelligence of people who, whatever the circumstances, allow themselves to be herded in a different direction so passively. Given the supposed closeness of the relationship, why on earth didn’t they talk to each other?

What becomes obvious much sooner, however, is that Christina had a miserable marriage. Her husband was a deeply pious and controlling man, cut in the mould of the strictest of Puritans, so that there was no pleasure allowed in the house. If Christina wanted new clothes for herself or her daughters, she had to ask for and justify every penny, a humiliating experience. Rules were set and had to be adhered to or the transgressor would be punished. It takes her a while to realise that Gerard is not at all the same, and although he sets the rules in his own house too, they are generous and kindly ones. Gradually Christina and her daughters emerge from their shell a little bit.

And very gradually, inch by cautious inch, the two begin to rebuild the rapport they once shared into something they can live with. But first they have to bring closure to the past – don’t they? Since this is Balogh, it’s not really a spoiler to reveal that sex comes into it, and traditionalists should note that it’s fairly graphic. And here we have the biggest logic fail I’ve come across in many a year. Their idea of closure is such an epically stupid thing to do that in other hands it might be a book-meets-wall moment. Mary Balogh is such a brilliant writer that if she told me that black was white I’d be almost prepared to take her word for it, but even she can’t make this work. I do see what she was aiming for, and she writes it so well that after an exasperated sigh or two I read on, but nothing really justifies it.

After that, it’s onwards to the last waltz of the title, the resolution of the final remaining misunderstandings and the inevitable melodramatic happy ending. Fortunately, this and the earlier parts of the book are mostly enough to compensate for that logic fail. Four stars.

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