Category: Review

Review: ‘Arabella’ by Georgette Heyer

Posted November 2, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

The eighth in my reread of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in chronological order, and I’m up to 1949. This is the first one that I recall a great deal about from my previous reads, enough to place it as one of my favourites, and I have to say, it hasn’t lost its charm.

Arabella Tallent, an impoverished vicar’s daughter from Heythram, Yorkshire, is invited by her wealthy godmother to enjoy a season in London. As the eldest daughter of eight children, and the beauty of the family, she fully understands that her duty is to marry well, and help bring out her younger sisters. But things go wrong before she even reaches London. A carriage malfunction causes her to seek help from the shooting lodge of Mr Robert Beaumaris, enormously wealthy, a nonpareil and arbiter of fashion. Overhearing him grumbling about predatory females pursuing him even into the country, Arabella is stung to pretend that she’s vastly wealthy herself. And from this small lie hangs the tale.

This is the first Heyer to feature a heroine that the reader can genuinely root for. Unimpressed by the frivolous London society she finds herself in, she remains true to her Yorkshire roots and her father’s moral code of Christian charity, and there are moments when I positively cheered for her. I also liked the emphasis in this book on the developing romance, which was never overshadowed by high jinks going on elsewhere. Despite this, however, the romance is still unbalanced. Beaumaris is intelligent, mature, sensible and astute. Arabella has a great deal of commonsense, but is not his intellectual equal and still does stupid things, so that he calls her a goose and acts in an almost avuncular manner towards her. And there was a moment where I wanted to shake Arabella. When a man you’re attracted to proposes believing you to be wealthy, the correct answer is, “I’d love to, but I have to tell you something first…” The book would have been a lot shorter, of course, but I’d have respected Arabella a lot more.

Even so, a hugely enjoyable read, which had me smiling all the way through. Five stars.


Review: ‘The Foundling’ by Georgette Heyer

Posted October 18, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

The seventh book in my attempt to reread all Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in chronological sequence. This one was published in 1948, and it’s a cracker. The Duke of Sale, a posthumous son and heir, has been cosseted from birth, every aspect of his life dictated by his guardian and uncle, and an array of loyal and devoted retainers. When he was a sickly child, this was appropriate, but now, at twenty-four, he’s chafing at the bit. He dutifully proposes to Lady Harriet Presteigne, his uncle’s choice of bride, and even though he likes her well enough, he longs for a little freedom from the demands of being a duke. So when his young cousin finds himself in a spot of bother, the Duke decides to go incognito to get him out of the scrape.

His adventures as Mr Dash of Nowhere in Particular are hugely entertaining, involving a runaway boy, a beautiful foundling girl, a kidnapping and much more besides. Meanwhile, his various relations and retainers are traipsing round the countryside trying to find him and rescue him. In the process, the Duke learns to appreciate his entourage and they, in their turn, learn that he’s a resourceful and competent young man who doesn’t need rescuing after all.

The Duke is the star turn here, being both gently self-effacing and also innately aristocratic, a tough act to pull off. The supporting cast are also likable, although (as is common with Heyer) tending to caricature at times, as the story veers towards farce. The love interest, Lady Harriet, is pleasant enough and an excellent match for the Duke, but she suffered greatly from playing no part in events for most of the book.

My constant complaint with these stories is that romance is generally forgotten until the last chapter, when the hero sweeps the heroine into his arms with a quite unexpected declaration of love. This book falls into the same trap, but at least enough has been shown to demonstrate that these two are truly made for each other. Other than that, an enjoyable romp. Five stars.


Review: ‘In Want Of A Wife’ by Odelia Floris

Posted October 12, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This book took me completely by surprise. Having loaded up my Kindle ready for a long-haul flight, I started with the big-name books and discarded them one-by-one — too many typos, too implausible, too historically inaccurate. By the time I got to this one, I had no expectations. And then it completely blew me away. Within five minutes of meeting Miss Rosa Lane — shy, stammering, socially inept Rosa — I desperately wanted her to have her happy ever after.

The plot is a time-honoured one: two sisters go to London for the season to find husbands for themselves. The older sister, Arielle, is excited at the prospect and declares she’s going to fall in love with the handsomest man she can find. Poor Rosa is terrified, of course. How will she ever manage at balls and large social gatherings, amongst so many strangers? She’s bound to be inept and say and do the wrong things. And both sisters are correct. Arielle instantly falls for the dashing and handsome Captain Steele, while Rosa can barely speak a word, even to the gentlemanly and unthreatening Mr d’Arcy, a widower in his thirties who is, as Jane Austen and the title of the book have it, ‘in want of a wife’, and who is unexpectedly friendly towards Rosa. But there’s another man whose attention she attracts, Steele’s friend, the strangely sardonic Captain Spencer.

And so the story unfolds with the choice Rosa has to make — the odd Captain, for whom she begins to have feelings, although he shows no sign of affection towards her, or the safe option, the wealthy widower with a comfortable situation, a marriage of convenience and perhaps a lifetime with respectability but no love. It’s a dilemma that so many Regency ladies must have faced — take the dull but safe offer now, or hold out for something better. Tricky. But when d’Arcy makes the offer, Rosa is too grateful and, frankly, too timid to turn him down and so, rather nervously, she marries him.

The rest of the book is an excellent description of how so many marriages of convenience must have gone — the polite formalities, the stilted conversations over dinner (Mr d’Arcy talks of very little beyond the weather!), the sheer loneliness of a life lived with someone who is virtually a stranger, played out in front of the servants. There are some very funny moments though, when the two are trying to conduct a conversation from opposite ends of a very long dining table, and misunderstanding each other, and having to repeat everything and shout. I wondered if they were going to resort to passing notes by way of the butler! The ending is pretty near perfect, and I actually cried when these two lovely people finally got all the obstacles out of the way and were set fair for happiness.

Is the book perfect? No, of course not. There were a few clunky moments, there were one or two places where I questioned the historical accuracy, the villains were a little too extreme and there were some parts of the story that could have been fleshed out a little more to give it some needed depth — I would have liked to see more of d’Arcy’s daughter, for instance, and one or two scenes showing Rosa with her after the marriage would have been welcome. One other (trivial) comment. It takes a certain amount of confidence to write a Regency romance with a hero called d’Arcy. There’s just too much baggage associated with the name. Captain Steele, too, reminded me of Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility.

I only have one serious grumble and that is the lack of chaperonage. I’ll forgive the two sisters travelling on the stagecoach because I assume there was an (unmentioned) matron accompanying them. But in London the aunt is simply never around, apart from formal functions like balls. During the day, she seems to be conveniently out visiting all the time, leaving the two sisters alone as prey for anyone who happens to turn up, or to walk about the streets and parks on their own. She must be the world’s worst chaperon! I’d expect her to take the girls with her when she goes visiting or shopping, to ensure they are introduced to all of her acquaintance, and once any gentlemen start to pay them attention she should be checking their backgrounds and ensuring that they’re respectable, and steering her nieces away from any bad apples. Instead she seems to take no interest at all until things reach crisis point.

But none of this detracted from the book for me in the slightest. From the very first page, its charm swept me along, and I was rooting for the hero and heroine all the way. A delightful read. Five stars.


Regency romance review: ‘To Kiss A Rake’ by Barbara Monajem

Posted September 9, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Sometimes when I’m looking for a book to read, I feel the need to do some research for my own Regency romances. So it is with this one. I picked it from the top of Amazon’s popularity lists, and since it’s more than a year old, it must be a good example of a well-targeted book that’s selling well because it gives readers exactly what they want.

First appearances are so-so. The title is exactly like a million other Regencies (To Kiss/Marry/Desire/Love a Rake/Duke/Scoundrel/Lord). Nothing terribly original there. And the cover is also like a million others — a modern couple in vaguely old-fashioned clothes, the man half-naked, the woman in full make-up, in a clinch. So far, so meh.

But the opening chapters are good. Our feisty heroine, Melinda, is helping out a friend who’s cried off from an elopement. She agrees to leave a ball to inform the man that it’s all off, the friend being too cowardly. But instead she meets our sturdy hero, Miles, who is helping his friend manage the elopement. Owing to a misunderstanding followed by a bump on the head, Melinda is abducted instead of the friend and finds herself stranded at an inn far from home with a strange man. He tries to get her home, but (naturally) they’re spotted and recognised. Now, it takes some industrial strength suspension of disbelief to accept all the missteps that have to happen to get to this point. In particular, it’s necessary for Melinda to be believably misidentified as the eloping girl, and I confess to rolling my eyes once or twice. Still, I can forgive a little contrivance to get the ball rolling.

It’s after this point that things begin to go off the rails somewhat. The plot requires a lot of characters to behave in, frankly, incredible ways. I found it impossible to believe in the evil grandmother, and the author has painted a harsh picture of Regency society, entirely filled, it seems, with shallow, immoral and selfish people without an ounce of humanity. I know times were very different then, but people were still people, with just the same range of weaknesses and strengths as modern people, not almost uniformly horrible, as here. Nor did I find Miles’s loss of reputation very believable. Then there’s the ongoing elopement plot, which centred on possibly the stupidest girl in Christendom. This sort of thing is fairly common for the genre, though, it has to be said.

Of the main characters, I liked Miles very much. Melinda, not so much. The romance side of things is good, although there’s a bit too much insta-lurve, and the whole virgin-to-sex-fiend-after-one-kiss trope has been done endlessly, and should die a fiery death. But the build-up was good and the sex scenes were good, so there’s that. But I wanted to bang their heads together to knock some sense into them. I know they both had the obligatory tortured backgrounds and all those emotional scars, yada yada yada, but they were also intelligent and rational people who whined and angsted and got annoyed with each other far too much. They made far too many decisions based on assumptions about what the other would feel, which were inevitably wrong. Ultimately, this book failed one of my acid tests for plot credibility, in that there would have been no plot at all worth the name if the characters had just sat down and talked to each other.

There isn’t anything wrong with this book. It’s well-written and easy to read, although the constant head-hopping from Miles to Melinda and back made me dizzy. There were a few word choices that surprised me (bum, for instance) but I assume the author’s done her research on that. The Regency setting isn’t very pronounced, and apart from the odd reference to Almack’s and the like, the book could have been set anytime up to the late Victorian era without major changes (it’s actually set in 1804). I didn’t notice any glaring errors, which was pleasant.

For anyone who’s looking for a typical modern Regency romance, with plenty of sex and agonising, and isn’t bothered by a certain amount of starkly black and white characterisation, I can recommend this. It wasn’t much to my personal taste, and I did quite a bit of skimming to get to the end, so it’s just three stars.


Regency review: ‘Friday’s Child’ by Georgette Heyer

Posted August 8, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

It’s an odd thing, but whereas The Corinthian was every bit as frivolous as this, and ten times as implausible, it was still very enjoyable to read. This one, however, often felt tediously silly. The reason, at a guess, is in the characters. In The Corinthian, both the main characters are sharply intelligent, although muted by innocence (in the case of the heroine) and a degree of cynicism (in the hero). I can forgive characters a great deal if their actions make some kind of sense.

But Friday’s Child is based on stupidity. Both hero and heroine behave in ridiculous ways, without an ounce of common sense, and that’s really annoying. Viscount Sheringham needs to get married to release his inheritance money, and, rejected by the woman he’s been pursuing all season, he is so annoyed he swears to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be Hero Wantage, the ultra-naive girl-next-door. And so they marry, and she gets into scrape after scrape through ignorance (or sheer stupidity) and he carries on behaving exactly as if he were still a batchelor. Cue all sorts of tangles.

There’s a certain charm to the characters, and the collection of male friends who rally round the naive bride and make her an honorary member of their set is very amusing. But, as with The Corinthian, the bride is terribly young, only seventeen, and I disapproved violently of her behaviour in Bath, where she pretends to be single.

This was entertaining, in a frothy and fairly silly way, although I’m not a big fan of all the Regency cant, and the sheer weight of silliness keeps this one at four stars.


Victorian romance review: ‘Violet’ by May Burnett

Posted August 4, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is (I think) the tenth book in the Amberley Chronicles series, set in 1844, although they seem to be largely stand-alone works, only loosely connected. Typically, I’ve only read the first of the series, The Impostor Debutante, before this, but I didn’t have any trouble reading this one, or feel that I’d missed anything important. There were a number of characters mentioned that perhaps readers of the whole series would have recognised, but it worked fine for me.

The premise is that still-unmarried Violet Ellsworthy is bequeathed a cottage by a previously unsuspected relative with a somewhat dodgy past. She goes to have a look at her inheritance and sort through her relative’s papers (finding some steamy stuff amongst them), and along the way bumps into Simon, Lord Rillingford, who has been accused of raping and abandoning the daughter of local gentry. Violet and Simon are immediately attracted, but first they have to find out who fathered the girl’s baby.

The characters here are both sensible, likable people, who behave in perfectly rational ways, and are obviously well-suited romantically. The writing is excellent, capturing the essence of the era without being unreadably verbose or complex. There’s some mention of sex (the deceased relative had a very lively time of it) and the rape is discussed, but nothing graphic. There’s a real historical feel to the background, so the author has obviously done her research. I wondered a little at the attitude of the local quality, who seemed almost uniformly to believe the pregnant girl, and disbelieve the local lord of the manor, because of some unfortunate dalliance in his past. Personally, it doesn’t usually go well to call the highest-ranking man of the neighbourhood a liar, even behind his back, but it’s a small point.

If I have a quibble at all, it’s that both the romance and the mystery of the raped girl are resolved rather too easily. I’d expected some extra layers of complexity or at least an unexpected twist at the end, but everything came out just as I’d anticipated, which was a bit disappointing. And after that, there’s a certain amount of jumping about the countryside to visit this relative or that, nervously informing them of the impending marriage, only to have everybody happy as sandboys about it. So any possible tension dissipated very quickly. However, this part of the book might be of greater interest to those who’ve followed the series from the start and know these characters well.

Overall, a very enjoyable read, recommended for those who like a clean, authentic Victorian read, only let down for my personal taste by the somewhat flat ending. Four stars.


Regency review: ‘The Reluctant Widow’ by Georgette Heyer

Posted July 26, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was published in 1946, a fairly classic Heyer, with a most intriguing plot. Elinor Rochdale, a young woman of good birth but straitened circumstances, sets out to accept a position as a governess. When she inadvertently steps into the wrong carriage at the coach stop, she finds herself conveyed to the estate of one Ned Carlyon. Carlyon believes Elinor to be the young woman he hired to marry his dying cousin, Eustace Cheviot, in order to avoid inheriting Cheviot’s estate himself. Somehow, Elinor is talked into marrying Eustace on his deathbed and thus becomes a widow almost as soon as the ring is on her finger. And from there onwards, the plot descends rather rapidly into a whirl of housebreakers, secret passages, uninvited guests, murder, missing government papers, and a dog named Bouncer.

As a traditional Regency romp, this is rather good. The misunderstandings, adventures and tangled web of mysteries keep things bowling along at a merry pace, and Carlyon’s younger brother, Nicky, and Bouncer the dog steal the show. The romance is the usual unsatisfactory Heyer variant, two people who are obviously destined for each other but show virtually no inclination in that direction until the last chapter. I suppose the heroine could be said to display a softening attitude towards the hero, as her indignant expostulations gradually become more perfunctory, but the hero never seemed to change in tone at all. Only a comment by his sister suggests that there is something going on, so that the ending comes as less of a shock.

This was a very wordy book, and the lady’s protestations at the high-handedness of Carlyon became quite tedious after a while. However, that was the style of the era, and in other respects the book is a good, solid read. Both the main characters were believable and sensible, which makes a change. I’m wavering between three and four stars, but I’ll be generous and go for four stars.


Regency review: ‘The Corinthian’ by Georgette Heyer

Posted June 25, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

After the history-fest of An Infamous Army, written in 1937, which I couldn’t even attempt, this one couldn’t be more different. It’s the most frivolous, silly, light-hearted confection imaginable, but then it was written in 1940, so perhaps frivolity was what was most needed.

The plot begins with Sir Richard Wyndham, the Corinthian (dandy) of the title, accepting that at the age of twenty nine, he must make a loveless marriage to please his family. Neither the icily practical lady, nor her debt-riddled family, appeal much, but he feels he must do his duty. But on the evening before making the offer which will tie him, he gets very drunk and on his way home he spots someone climbing out of an upstairs window. This is seventeen-year-old Penelope (Pen) Creed, an heiress escaping the prospect of an unwanted marriage to a cousin, by dressing as a boy and running away. Richard agrees to help her escape, and thereby sets in train a glorious set of ever-more-unlikely events, involving stolen diamonds, an elopement, a Bow Street Runner, even a murder, and a whole array of wonderfully eccentric characters.

The story is delightfully silly, but the real charm is in the two main characters. Pen is a complete innocent, always coming up with outlandish schemes which go horribly wrong, and then require even more outlandish schemes to set things right. Richard is the world-weary cynic, trying very hard to protect her from the worst consequences of her actions. The writing is as light as a feather, with humour in almost every line.

This book was a delight from start to finish. The romance isn’t totally convincing, not least because Pen is so young and innocent, it’s hard to believe that she really knows her own mind. But that’s a very minor quibble. A very enjoyable five stars.


Regency review: ‘An Infamous Army’ by Georgette Heyer

Posted June 9, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

I set out to read all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in publication order, and here I am at the second book, written in 1937, and already I’m refusing to jump. The opening is a whole confusion of characters, so, naturally, I turned to the Goodreads reviews for advice. And find that this book is more of a historical treatise on the Battle of Waterloo than fiction. It is, apparently, still required reading for the officer training school at Sandhurst.

Well, it may be picky of me, but I read for entertainment, not to be hit over the head with the author’s depth of research. I’ll take a raincheck on this one, and maybe come back to it later, when I feel stronger. Pass.

Nice cover, though.