Posts Categorized: Review

Review: ‘Miss Lacey’s Last Fling’ by Candice Hern

January 19, 2018 Review 0

A wonderful read, which starts with a most unusual premise: a girl who has been the downtrodden and unregarded homebody running her widowed father’s country house discovers that she has inherited her mother’s fatal illness and only has months to live. Determined to experience everything she can before she dies, she takes herself to London to stay with her disreputable aunt, where she conducts herself outrageously and becomes notorious.

Given this premise, the remaining twists of the plot are so blindingly obvious that there are truly no surprises. But it doesn’t matter. Rosalind’s vitality and the delightful way she hurls herself into every new experience are glorious. Her hero, Max, a notorious rake and son of her aunt’s great love, is determined to resist her charms but is slowly drawn to her despite himself. The growing love between these two is beautifully brought out.

Now, this is not to say that the book is perfect, because no book ever is. Rosalind’s machinations to keep her illness secret defy credibility, and the ending sagged pretty badly. There was so much stupidity and misunderstanding and angsting and back-and-forth between our hero and heroine that I wanted to box their ears. Both of them. One thing I do dislike is an artificial obstacle before the HEA. Once they both come to realise that this is True Love, then I expect them to behave like sensible, rational human beings and get things sorted out pronto.

But in the end, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment too much. I loved both these characters and their realistic and slow-growing love, and (unlike many Regencies) I can actually imagine them being contented for the rest of their lives. Five stars.

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Review: ‘Return to the Regency’ by Audrey Harrison

January 19, 2018 Review 0

This is such a lovely idea! Who wouldn’t want to be picked up after a difficult year and offered the chance to go back to the Regency era for a couple of weeks? With money, servants, accommodation – everything provided. Even a fairy godmother. Who could fail to be healed and comforted by the gentle manners of two hundred years ago? But for Catherine, it doesn’t quite work out as expected.

And that pretty much summarises this book, too. What should be a delightful escapist read turns out to be… well, rather dull. The modern-day part of the story just didn’t capture my interest and the Regency part was not much more than a run-down of Regency life in Bath. Now, the details were fascinating, and a salutary reminder that, however romantic the Regency seems when it’s got Colin Firth in it, in reality that part of history was really pretty unpleasant. The clothes were uncomfortable, the food was barely edible and the perfect manners concealed a great deal of misbehaviour. And then there’s the healthcare…

But while the author’s research has obviously been pretty thorough, the rest of the book is less up to snuff. The characters are either very good or totally villainous, and it’s not difficult to spot which is which. I’d have liked either heroine Catherine or hero Chris to display something less than goody-two-shoes virtue, which gets a bit tedious after a while. And the inevitable misunderstanding between them is horribly cliched. Then there’s a plot twist at the end which felt utterly contrived.

Now, if this sounds very critical, I did actually enjoy the story quite a bit. It’s a gentle, easy read with two pleasant main characters and a resounding HEA. My only problem with it is that it’s not a Regency romance, it’s really a contemporary romance with a portal element, and if that’s your thing, you might well enjoy it more than I did. But it wasn’t really my cup of tea, so that keeps it to three stars.

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Movie review: Lost in Austen (2008)

January 12, 2018 Review 0

Well, this is a riot and no mistake. A modern woman obsessed with Pride and Prejudice finds a portal to the book world in her bathroom when Elizabeth Bennet materialises there. While Elizabeth stays in modern Hammersmith, Amanda Price goes to Longbourn and tries to steer the characters to their true destinies, and fails in spectacular fashion. Jane marries Mr Collins, Charlotte Lucas goes off to be a missionary in Africa, Lydia runs away with Mr Bingley, Mr Bennet duels him, Wickham is a Puck-like mischievous spirit who’s not wicked at all, and Darcy falls in love with Amanda herself.

There was a huge amount to enjoy in this. I wasn’t much fussed about Amanda or Darcy, not least because he was a foot taller than her, which I found horribly distracting (yes, I know, how shallow of me). I wasn’t convinced by Elizabeth, either. But Hugh Bonneville and Alex Kingston as Mr and Mrs Bennet were an absolute joy, both like and unlike their book versions. Mrs Bennet in particular is far less silly and more… not intelligent, exactly, but certainly streetwise. She knows what she wants for her daughters and nothing will stand in her way.

The other Bennet sisters were terrific, too, and so visually perfect that I was right there with Amanda when she correctly identified each one. I liked Mr Wickham, who had a great deal of charm, but I couldn’t for the life of me see why he would be so helpful to Amanda. Plot reasons, I suppose.

Now, a lot of the logic of the book fell apart because of the oddball things that were happening, and everyone seemed to bounce around the countryside between Longbourn, Kent, Pemberley and Hammersmith as if the distances were nothing at all, and everyone turned up everywhere, often with no explanation, but it never mattered. Historical accuracy went out of the window, too. The writers obviously had no clue about Georgian meals, or correct manners, or legal matters (no, you can’t just get married in two weeks flat, you need a licence, and you can’t annul a marriage for non-consummation). None of it mattered. The whole thing was so gloriously funny that it just rolled along in its own little bubble of craziness.

Great fun. Absolute purists might cringe, but I loved it.

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Movie review: Miss Austen Regrets (2008)

January 12, 2018 Review 0

A bit of a weepy, this one, but a splendid attempt to examine why it is that some of history’s finest love stories were written by a woman who never married. The cast list is stellar, and every single one of them pulls their weight, not a dud amongst them.

The premise is that Jane is called upon to advise her niece Fanny as to whether her suitor Mr Plumtree is a suitable match for her. This causes Jane to reflect on her own missed opportunity, a proposal from a man of wealth and property, accepted initially and then rejected the following morning, which would have secured not only her own future, but also that of her mother and unmarried sister. Because of this refusal, the three ladies slide into genteel poverty, like Mrs and Miss Bates in Emma. There is also an uncle of Fanny’s, who proposed at one time and clearly still regrets losing Jane.

The Jane depicted here is a glorious character, clever and witty, if a little cynical, every line filled with subtle humour. I understand that much of the script is derived from her letters and I can well believe it. Her talent shines in every utterance. And Jane is a flirt! And a romp, running around the garden drinking champagne with Fanny and peering in at the men playing cards, commenting on their attractiveness, both physical and financial. Has he a castle, she enquires at one point.

This is all delightful, but the theme of money runs through the film like a misplaced thread on stitchery. The novels all say to marry for love, but in real life Regency women rarely had the option. One waited patiently, being ladylike, until a man offered for one. Then there were but two choices: accept, and live out your days mired in permanent pregnancy, with all its attendant risks; or refuse, and hope for a better offer, with the risk of a decline into impoverished spinsterhood. In real life, two of Jane’s sisters-in-law died in childbirth (both during their eleventh confinements!), and two others had wives who died for other reasons. It was an uncertain time to be a woman. And yet the genteel but grinding poverty of spinsterhood was hardly much better.

In many ways this is a gloomy film. Jane and her mother and sister spend their lives moving from place to place, struggling to keep their heads above water financially, totally dependent on men for such security and help that they have, and harbouring simmering resentments for years over Jane’s rejected proposal. It’s easy to see that some of her acute observations in the books arise from a degree of world-weary cynicism. And yet when Jane is in party mood, she’s so witty and lively, it’s hard to reconcile the two sides of her character. Purists will probably hate the film, but I loved party animal Jane and the acting is so sublime from all involved that I found the film a joy to watch.

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TV review: Mansfield Park (1983)

January 12, 2018 Review 0

Mansfield Park is the book I know least about, and the one I’ve seen least performed, so I’m not even terribly clear about the plot details, never mind nuances of dialogue use and so on. This is a 6-part series, and after the first episode I really thought I wasn’t going to enjoy it much at all. But it grew on me, and by about part 4 I was really into it. With so much time, the story really was able to take its time and expand enough for me to understand the story and the characters better.

Let me talk first about Fanny and Edmund. I know it’s shallow of me, but I felt both of them were miscast on appearance alone. Nicholas Farrell (Edmund) has a wonderfully strong face, but it’s better suited to character roles than that of young hero. Sylvestra Le Touzel (Fanny) just didn’t fit my mental image of the character. With all the talk of her health, and not being strong, I always envisaged her as a dainty, delicate little thing, and Le Touzel is too robustly healthy, to my mind. See, I told you it was shallow. I have no criticism of their acting skills, although perhaps neither had quite the emotional range that was required at times of high drama. Fanny in particular was too often immobile (although that is no doubt how she was directed to act).

Of the other characters, Anna Massey stole the show as Mrs Norris, a wonderful performance, although it’s so well-written by the author that it would be a plum role for any actress. I also liked Lady Bertram (a minority view, I think). I wondered if her extreme indolence was either an illness, or perhaps a dependence on laudanum (opium). But I loved her fluttering hands and the tremor in her voice and her complete inability to do anything for herself. The contrast with Mrs Norris was delightful. I also liked Mrs Price in Portsmouth, although her husband was a dreadful caricature, and overacted to boot.

Another character who shone was Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary Crawford. I’ve never taken much notice of her in previous versions, or in the book, but here I felt her intelligence and underlying good nature shone through. I liked, too, that Edmund is finally turned against her by a want of principle on her part. It isn’t necessary for her to demonstrate it, but simply the opinions she expresses are enough to sink his esteem. Whereas Henry Crawford has to prove how shallow and stupid he is by running away with Maria Rushworth. To be honest, I always felt this was a flaw in the book, for surely Henry would never do anything to sink his chances of making a respectable marriage. I couldn’t quite work out whether he truly loved Fanny and might have been redeemed if he had married her, or if he just thought he was in love or was merely piqued because she wouldn’t have him. He turned back to his flirtatious ways soon enough when he was away from her. In this version, Fanny’s trip home is not so much a punishment for her ingratitude in refusing Henry, but an opportunity to see what she has left behind, and to reflect on her options.

Honourable mentions go to Bernard Hepton as a very gentlemanly Sir Thomas Bertram, and poor Mr Rushworth, a stupid but perfectly respectable young man, whose bewildered pursuit of Maria and Henry in the grounds of his house made me very sympathetic towards him. He really didn’t deserve what happened to him.

One surprising aspect that was done spectacularly well – the costumes. The men’s costumes in particular were glorious, perfectly fitted to their characters. I wasn’t too sure that Mrs Norris would wear quite such an old-fashioned style of gown, for it was a point of honour amongst the gentry to have the most fashionable attire that you could afford, but it rather suited her bustling nature to wear something so full-skirted and swishy, rather than the tight empire-line dresses, so unflattering to the older lady. Mary Crawford wore an array of wonderful clothes, sharply stylish, direct from the most fashionable modistes of London, which were a nice contrast with Fanny’s much plainer and more feminine gowns.

And a very small detail that absolutely delighted me – this version shows a proper, Regency waltz. We are so familiar with the modern ballroom waltz and the face-to-face positioning of the couple that we’ve come to expect it, but that’s not how it was when it first appeared. The couple stood initially side by side, or (more accurately) hip to hip, gazing into each other’s eyes, holding hands but with one arm raised, with a variety of changes of position during the dance, which might increase in tempo so the couples are moving faster and faster towards the end. A very different style of dance! It was lovely to see it done properly.

An excellent version, the only weakness for me being the miscasting of the lead characters.

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Review: ‘Gaining The Gentleman’ by Eleanor Meyers

December 29, 2017 Review 0

DNF. I bought this with birthday money as a treat for myself, because it was one of the top three bestselling Regency romances on Amazon (US site) that day. Now, bestselling just means ‘most popular’, with no guarantee that it will be my cup of tea at all, and anyone who’s read my previous reviews will know that I’m kind of picky about my Regencies. I’ll let slide a certain sloppiness on dates and behaviour, as long as it’s not too outrageous, and I don’t mind a bit of modern language, if the book’s not littered with ‘okays’ and such like, and I’ll even accept that England was entirely populated by dukes, but heaven forfend if one of those dukes is addressed as ‘my lord’. Correct forms of address are really easy to look up. I don’t expect everyone to grasp the nuances of heirs apparent and heirs presumptive, or to know precisely when a widow is a dowager, but please at least know the difference between Lord John and Lord Fortescue (no, they’re not interchangeable).
So how does this book hold up?

First complaint: the book opens at the 6% mark on my Kindle. Why? I like to go back to have a look at the cover and then work forwards. When I do that here, I find a huge amount of filler – several cute speeches from the author, lots of chivvying to sign up to the mailing list and a massive list of characters, with their full titles (an extra brownie point for knowing that a Marquess is a Most Honourable and an Earl is a Right Honourable, but we hardly need to be so pedantic here, especially when several of the wives are not given their proper titles at all).

Second complaint: so many names! And all of them seemingly inter-related in some way that is explained quite casually in passing, as if the reader should already know who these people are, or else be referring constantly to the aforementioned list of characters (there are reminders between chapters to refer to the list!). I appreciate that sometimes there’s a need to introduce a wide cast of characters, but please make sure they’re all necessary. Georgette Heyer once filled the first chapter of a book with endless relations in an extended family who were never heard of again, but she was making a point about the main character so it’s allowable. Mostly, it’s just filler. And please, authors, don’t reintroduce all the characters from previous books unless they have a significant role to play in this story.

Third (nit-picky) complaint: the author does appear to have done some research into the era. Hooray! The language is modern but mostly not intrusively so. And then you get howlers like this:
“Lord William, Earl of Cartridge, and Lady Jane Lawson had just given birth to their second child a few weeks ago, making it their second boy, Charles. The lord was very glad indeed and had even joked at the country club to have finally given his wife permission to have daughters!”
There are four errors just in those two sentences. The proud parents in this case would be referred to as the Earl and Countess of Cartridge, or (more usually) Lord and Lady Cartridge, never, never, ever as Lord William and Lady Jane Lawson. Lord Cartridge would be referred to as ‘the earl’ not ‘the lord’. And a country club? I don’t think so. Even today, Britain isn’t big on country clubs and they never had them in the Regency era. The upper classes would call or dine or stay at each other’s houses, or go to public assemblies (as in Pride and Prejudice – the Meryton assembly is where Darcy slighted Elizabeth). There were some very famous clubs in London, of course, but not in the country. And two pages further on, two unmarried ladies are addressed as Lady Haywood and Lady Eaton. Sigh. I know that 99% of readers don’t notice or care, but unfortunately I’m in the curmudgeonly 1%.

Then, sadly, the story veers off into some highly implausible mystery involving a necklace and murders and a lot of skipping about London looking for clues, while the hero and heroine moon over each other and behave in thoroughly peculiar ways. None of the dialogue really rang true to me, and although I appreciate what the author was trying to do, it just didn’t work for me and I gave up on it. So, not my cup of tea at all. However, as previously mentioned, this was one of the top selling books at the time, so clearly tons of people love this author and I’m (once again) the minority report. No rating because of the DNF.

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Review: ‘Yeti in the Mist’ by Francesca Rose

December 29, 2017 Review 0

OK. A weird one. This showed up as a sponsored ad underneath one of my own books, and I was intrigued enough to try it. It’s set in the Victorian era, and involves a young wife, her injured husband and a yeti. Um, yes. This is a world where yeti are a part of society, albeit on the fringes of it. So we’re talking paranormal romance, I guess?

The premise is that Catherine’s husband Reginald has been shot and left paralysed during action with the East India Company Army. His Yeti batman (or just friend) Yolann lives with them. When Reginald tells Catherine to take a lover, he’s hoping she’ll have the child he can’t give her. She finds Yolann a more attractive option, and takes him as her lover.

I liked the way Yeti culture is drawn in this book. The Yeti have a matriarchal multi-mate society, where a woman takes several male mates but she’s the one in charge. There are some lovely descriptions of Yolann’s fur and the status markings and the style of dance they use for meditation. It’s all rather well done.

There’s a shed-load of sex in the book, graphically described, so if that’s not your thing best avoid this one. There’s also some side plot business about their various brothers which, to be honest, I skated over since it wasn’t very interesting. I was far more intrigued by the Yetis, frankly. An unusual read, but I enjoyed it. Four stars.

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Review: ‘Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle’ by Georgette Heyer

December 16, 2017 Review 0

This was published the same year as April Lady, and is so much the better of the two that it’s untrue. The hero is a seemingly perfect gentleman, not a cynical, world-weary older man, and his only flaw is a tendency to arrogance. But then he is a duke, so perhaps that’s unavoidable. The heroine is a bright, independent-minded young lady, quite young (as Heyer’s heroines tend to be) but not at all the silly ingenue.

The premise is that our hero, Sylvester, has decided to get married. He has a shortlist of eligible females, but his godmother bounces him into considering another (our heroine, Phoebe). She’s only met him briefly, but found him cold and reserved. She’s written a novel and made him, thinly disguised, into the villain. And when she hears he’s coming to the family home to offer for her, she’s so horrified that she runs away.

This sets in train all sorts of Heyer-esque misadventures and misunderstandings, including an enforced stay in an inn, where Sylvester plays the hero rather than the villain, and both hero and heroine discover that the other is not as bad as rumour painted them. But when the novel is published and Sylvester learns that Phoebe has made him a laughing stock, things get very sticky.

The scenes between Sylvester and Phoebe shine, but there are also some fairly tedious passages that I was basically skim-reading just to get through them. In particular, the histrionics of Ianthe and her swain got old really, really quickly, and by the time we got to France, I was just hoping for Sylvester to turn up and make things interesting again.

The romance works better than many Heyers, in that the developing relationship between the hero and heroine is clear to see. I liked, too, Sylvester’s disintegration from suave society man who always knows the correct thing to say to incoherent lover, getting everything wrong. But Phoebe is just a termagent at this point, and I really wanted to slap her. So many Heyers end with the heroine too stupid to recognise her own feelings, and having to be forced to acknowledge them by the hero sweeping her into his manly arms for a passionate kiss. I’d like it if, just once, the story could end with him proposing and her accepting him in a sensible manner. Still, four stars for a nice romance, some laugh-out-loud moments and a good array of excellent side characters (the horrible Ianthe notwithstanding).

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Review: ‘April Lady’ by Georgette Heyer

December 16, 2017 Review 0

This is one of Heyer’s books that I remember vividly from my original read many years ago, and not in a good way. I’ve not been looking forward to reaching this point in my reread. It has so many of the motifs I really dislike: the worldly older hero, the silly, very young heroine, the misunderstandings, the main romance pushed aside by the subplots… Not to mention there’s also a second silly, very young female, plus (another Heyer favourite) a rather wild young man.

The overriding problem is the relationship between the hero and heroine. In the very first scene, he is telling her off for running up so many bills and she’s miserably apologetic, and although there’s no heat in his manner, it still comes across as something not very much like a married couple. An uncle/niece, perhaps, or a teacher ticking off a naughty schoolchild. And even though he’s somewhat affectionate towards her, his manner is more avuncular than husbandly. It’s certainly not a marriage of equals, and one wonders just what he sees in her.

The other problem is that every difficulty between them could be resolved if they just sat down for five minutes and talked to each other. But no, she jumps through endless hoops to avoid telling him something trivial, and he gets all huffy and uptight, and frankly, they deserve their misery. As for the subplot with the ridiculous sister, the less said about that the better. This is the first Heyer I actually skim-read just to get through it, and even then the payoff wasn’t worth it. There’s a point where the heroine sets off to confess all to the hero (at which point, I’m yelling ‘YES!!!’), she realises he’s misunderstood something and instead of just explaining it, she dashes all over London trying to resolve things single-handed, while he’s dashing around after her. And of course, there’s a whole heap of prime Heyer shenanigans as a result, but by that time, I just wanted to bang their heads together. This is one romance where it’s impossible to see how the marriage will last. Sadly, this doesn’t merit more than two stars.

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Review: ‘The Ruined Lady’ by Bree Verity

December 5, 2017 Review 0

Maybe it’s my horrible cold that’s turned my brain to mush, but this book made no sense to me on any level. I liked the premise – a lady of 32 sees herself descending into unlamented spinsterhood and determines to have one night of passion before she relinquishes all hope of love. As seducer, she chooses her childhood friend, Quincey, the Earl of Edenburgh. And this part is fine, although as so often happens, the innocent virgin turns out to have a previously unsuspected capacity for multiple orgasms, but whatever. The only constraint she lays on her friend (apart from secrecy, obviously!) is that he mustn’t get all sentimental and offer to marry her, because she’s not a suitable wife for an earl.

And this is where things start to go off the rails somewhat, because she is Lady Felicity Merryweather, and therefore by the rules of the peerage she must be the daughter of an earl, at least (or possibly a marquess or a duke). Yes, these titles really do mean something. Anyway, a perfectly acceptable wife for an earl, one would have thought.

Well, he does get all sentimental and decides that he loves her so he proposes and she rejects him, rather huffily. And then, having been shouted at by her mother for turning down a perfectly good offer (to an earl!) and given all sorts of reasons why, the very next day she demurely agrees to marry some random business acquaintance of her father’s, a widower with six children. Why? And why does her father, who’s a lord, remember, have business acquaintances anyway? Or, if he does, would want his titled daughter to marry one? Nope, not making sense to me.

So then Felicity herself starts to go off the rails. Having been dressed by her mother in dowdy clothes and therefore ignored by society for 14 years, she suddenly decides to tart herself up a bit and lo and behold, she’s beautiful and everyone wants to dance with her. Including the randy Duke of Rushton (who’s addressed throughout as Lord Rushton, but let’s not even get into the correct forms of address for dukes because, you know, I might start ranting and Christmas is coming). Anyway, the randy duke dances twice with Felicity, including a minuet (how shocking!) and suddenly her reputation is in danger. And so on and so forth, and none of this made any sense to me.

On the plus side, I really liked Quincey, and Felicity herself when she’s not making shockingly irrational decisions. There are some interesting side characters, and I liked Felicity’s father, too, especially when he tells Quincey not to have daughters because they’re just too much trouble. Needless to say, everything comes right in the end, and if you don’t much mind how dukes are addressed and you like a bit of jolly old sex in your Regency and you haven’t got a horrible cold making you grumpy, you might like this book pretty well.

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