Category: Review

Review: Winning Miss Winthrop by Carolyn Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily Larkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Rosalind by Jenny Hambly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: I Close My Eyes by Regina Puckett

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Missing Duke by Heather King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Love Letters To A Lady by Fanny Finch

Posted November 16, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

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

Posted November 7, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

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

Posted October 16, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

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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