Posts Categorized: Review

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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DNF: ‘Annabelle Enchanted the Rejected Earl’ by Hanna Hamilton

December 5, 2017 Review 0

I’m not going to give this a rating because I haven’t read the whole book. Frankly, the writing style and premise aren’t appealing enough to me. However, when I was reading reviews of the book, I came across a reference to a character who ‘used to be an Earl’. Instantly, I was intrigued. How, by all that’s wonderful, could anyone be an Earl and then lose the title?  Some arcane legal challenge? The unearthing of another heir? The revelation of illegitimacy? Several possibilities, but all pretty rare. So, when I found out that the book is available in KU and I could download as part of my subscription, I decided to find out.

The answer turned out, sadly, to be much more mundane – that old chestnut, an author who hasn’t a clue how the British peerage worked (and still works, come to that). So if historical accuracy is important to you, you might want to avoid this one. There’s some fairly un-Regency language in here, too: “Her body language was all at odds, which only amped up the emotional mess that he was experiencing inside.” Or: “He assumed that he would simply be alright with getting the closure he needed…”. But if this doesn’t bother you, lots of people seem to like this book, so the author must be getting something right. Just not the historical bits.

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Review: ‘Faro’s Daughter’ by Georgette Heyer

December 5, 2017 Review 0

I missed this one in my chronological reread of Heyer’s Regency romances because it’s actually set in the 18th century, but apart from the occasional mention of brocade coats and lace frills and sac dresses, it’s indistinguishable from the other romances. The hero is the usual world-weary older man, arrogant to the point of rudeness. The heroine is the spirited and independent sort, not quite the Grand Sophy or Serena from Bath Tangle, but along those lines. There are not one but two doe-eyed ingenues, and one callow buck, so we are on familiar ground here.

Here’s the premise: gaming club hostess Deborah Grantham has attracted the attention of young Adrian Maplethorpe, who fancies himself in love. Believing Deb to be a fortune hunter, Adrian’s trustee Max Ravenscar sets off to get rid of her. First he tries to bribe her, but she is so insulted that she refuses, and so sets in train a series of escalating reprisals between the two.

These are not my favourite Heyer characters, by any means, but the story was so entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny that I loved it anyway. The whole wine cellar incident is just sublime. There was only one wobbly moment right at the end, where the hero confesses his love and tells her he wants to marry her, and she’s so angry at him she just can’t stop shouting at him. That makes her seem like too silly for words. Could she not at least have had a wait-what? moment, and stopped shouting long enough to recognise the fundamental change in their relationship?

But ultimately, one doesn’t read Heyer for the rational behaviour of her heroines (or heroes either), so this is another five star read for me.

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Review: ‘Chemsworth Hall: Book 1: Violet’ by Perpetua Langley

November 29, 2017 Review 0

This book was a delight from start to finish. Every character was a comedic masterpiece, from Lord Mulholland, deeply suspicious of anyone emanating from a different county, to Smuckers the butler, seeing himself as a knight of old, rallying the troops below stairs to ever greater feats.

The premise is a simple one. Viscount Mulholland and his lady wife have managed to produce one son (Henry) and seven daughters (Violet, Rose, Daisy, Marigold, Lily and twins Poppy and Pansy). Now that Henry is at Oxford, Lady Mulholland instructs him to bring home one of his new friends so that she may begin her campaign of marrying off the daughters, in strict order of seniority. So Violet is to be paired with Lord Smythesdon, the eldest son of an earl. Since Violet is the academic of the family, and Lord Smythesdon considers education the domain of men, sparks are bound to fly.

The tale of how these two overcome their troubled beginning, learn to appreciate each other and in time find their happiness is delightful, enlivened by the helpful or otherwise efforts of their two families, the neighbours and the servants. There is laugh-out-loud humour on every page, every character is both funny and yet very real, and the historical details were accurate enough not to trip up a self-confessed pedant like me. My only quibble is that the author uses ‘shall’ relentlessly instead of ‘will’, which soon grows tiresome. But it’s a minor point. For anyone looking for a whimsical, humorous and sweet Regency (or possibly Victorian) romance, this is highly recommended.

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TV Review: ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1980)

November 28, 2017 Review 0

These older series are interesting little pieces of history in their own right, and the differences between versions can be illuminating. This version is nearly forty years old, and it shows in some aspects – the sets and costumes, for instance, are far more stagey than modern TV, but the actors, brought up in the grand British traditions of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC, know how to enunciate properly so that the viewer doesn’t need subtitles to understand what’s going on.

Of the actors, the only one I recognised was Tracey Childs (Marianne), who was also in another 80’s drama, Howard’s Way. I thought she made an excellent Marianne, capturing nicely her over-exuberant and emotional personality. She was particularly effective in the distraught London scenes. Irene Richards, as Elinor, was less effective, I thought. She captured effectively neither the practical, down-to-earth side of her character, nor the deep-seated emotions bubbling beneath the surface. I also found her movements to be rather stilted, but perhaps that was an attempt to convey her repressed nature.

Of the minor characters, Mrs Jennings was given a much bigger and more sympathetic role here, turning her from a comedy figure teasing the girls about their lovers to a genuinely maternal person. I liked her the better for it, but it didn’t feel true to the book. The other characters were competent without standing out particularly. Lady Middleton had more of a role in this version, being far more lively than in the book (some versions cut her out altogether). Margaret was the one who got the chop here, but I don’t think the story was any the worse for it.

The one seminal scene by which I judge any adaptation of this book is the occasion when Elinor is called upon to tell Edward that Colonel Brandon has given him a living, so enabling him to marry Lucy Steele. The pathos in the scene, and the subtext which both the reader/viewer and the characters themselves are equally aware of, that Elinor and Edward are very much in love and Edward is only marrying to honourably uphold a longstanding and bitterly regretted engagement, makes it one of the most profoundly moving scenes ever written. It needs superb acting skills but no other embellishment. The Emma Thompson version captured this perfectly, while the 2008 version resorted to overacting and oozing emotionalism. This version is pretty good, too, and stuck to the original words for maximum effect.

The settings lost a certain wildness. Barton Cottage was chocolate box pretty, and nowhere near the sea, and Marianne’s propensity to walk in the rain was lost. I thought an opportunity was lost to portray the sisters’ characters through their clothes, but they seemed to wear very similar garments. Elinor’s in particular I felt should have been plainer, less decorated, to demonstrate her practical nature, and the frill of curled hair round her face was entirely wrong. None of the dresses looked quite right, to me. Maybe they economised by not using authentic materials, so that although they superficially looked all right, they didn’t sit or drape properly.

One aspect that bothered me a great deal was a certain degree of impropriety in the sisters. The number of times one or other of them was left alone in a room with a man was shocking! Elinor was constantly showing people out (that’s what the servants are for, dear), and when Colonel Brandon was brought into Marianne’s bedroom and then left alone with her – I clutched my pearls, I can tell you. But maybe all that was in the book, who knows.

A competent adaptation, I thought, and enjoyable to watch but not my favourite.

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Review: ‘Stolen Waters’ by Beth Andrews

November 26, 2017 Review 0

I bought this way back at the beginning of the year when I was researching the West Indies in the Regency era, but the book that needed the research was published in March, and here I am only just getting round to doing my research. Ah well.

The premise is interesting: an upper-class English woman, Sarah, is travelling to the West Indies to join her new husband on his sugar plantation. Accompanying her is a Spanish girl, Maria, acting as maid and companion. The journey and the arrival on the (mythical) island of St Edmunds are fascinating glimpses into the era, and nicely drawn. But it soon becomes clear that the heart of the book is not the setting or the historical aspects, but the convoluted love lives of the main characters, including Sarah’s husband, Matthew, and his mulatto cousin Jacob, who has been brought up as an English gentleman. This rapidly devolves into a lot of angsty hand-wringing, followed by… well, you can probably guess the way things go.

Now I have no problem with the romance side of things, but I did find the pairings somewhat problematic and the surprise at the inevitable consequences hard to believe. So ultimately this didn’t work for me at all, and I ended up skimming to get to the end. But it’s nicely written, and the depiction of English Regency manners dropped into the tropical setting is very convincing. There are some nice side characters, and if the care for the welfare of the slaves seemed a bit too modern, and the hurricanes, water spouts and the like a bit too plot-convenient and symbolic, it’s still an interesting view of a very unusual aspect of Regency life. Recommended for anyone who doesn’t mind the rather overwrought romantic agonising, but it wasn’t my sort of book at all, which keeps it to three stars.

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Review: ‘A Place of Confinement’ by Anna Dean

October 30, 2017 Review 0

This series is a collection of little gems: beautifully written tales that never, ever impose modern sensibilities on the characters, and manage to combine Jane Austen’s wit and observational skills with the amateur sleuthing of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. The romance is subtle and clever, with the obstacles being intellectual and philosophical ones, rather than the usual tired old tropes. This is the fourth book of the series, and although the romance finally reaches a satisfactory conclusion here, I really, really hope there will be more to come about these delightful characters.

At the start of the book, Miss Dido Kent is in disgrace, having shown a reluctance to entertain a marriage offer from the local clergyman, a widowed gentleman with a pew and a half of children from his first marriage. At the age of thirty six, Dido is very much on the shelf, and with her family in some financial difficulties, her marriage would relieve them of the expense of housing, feeding and clothing her, and she should, of course, accept the offer gratefully. The reader knows, as her family do not, that she has another offer on the table, from the charming Mr William Lomax, but he has financial difficulties of his own paying off the debts of his son, and he also disapproves of Dido’s propensity to rush off furiously investigating every odd circumstance that turns up.

Dido has been sent off to act as companion to her wealthy Aunt Manners, which state may either make her appreciate the value of the clergyman’s attentions or perhaps induce Aunt Manners to leave her some money. But naturally Dido immediately falls into the middle of a mystery, which she feels obliged to attempt to unravel. For once, however, Mr Lomax encourages her to some extent, because his own son (he of the debts) is in the middle of the drama, and likely to hang for murder unless Dido can solve the mystery.

As with all these books, many of the seminal events, and Dido’s thoughts on them, are revealed in long, musing letters to her sister, Eliza. I did wonder how much poor Eliza would be obliged to pay for these huge missives, for the cost of letters was enormous in those days. Still, let that pass. My biggest criticism of these books has always been the number of times Dido just happens to bump into someone who reveals crucial information, or else she just happens to see something, or (even more unlikely) people just happen to show her things or tell her things or urge her to find out things. Which is very convenient for the plot, but a little implausible.

Not that any of that matters. I so seldom find a book these days that is nothing but a pure joy to read, but the Dido Kent books definitely fall into that category. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: ‘A Woman of Consequence’ by Anna Dean

October 30, 2017 Review 0

I loved the first two in this charming series where Miss Marple meets Jane Austen, and I gobbled this one up in just as much delight. The writing is pure pleasure, with a rich tapestry of historical detail woven effortlessly into the letters and thoughts of spinster Miss Dido Kent. There are few people who can capture the style of Jane Austen, and while some come close with language and settings, Anna Dean is the only author I’ve found who also has Austen-ite levels of wit.

In this book, Dido’s family has suffered some financial reverses, and the cottage she shares with her sister Eliza has been given up. Dido is now living under her brother’s roof, suffering the jibes of her unkind sister-in-law, required to live in a cold little attic room and generally treated as an unpaid servant. That doesn’t stop her from visiting the neighbours at Madderstone Abbey, and when a girl falls from the steps of the abbey ruins after apparently seeing a ghost, and then a body is found in the pond, Dido is asked to use her investigative skills to uncover the truth.

The ongoing slow-burn romance with Mr William Lomax inches a little further towards a resolution, although the two still have their quite forcible arguments about the propriety of what Dido is doing, and whether it’s proper for a well-bred lady to concern herself with murders and other goings-on. I enjoy the romance every bit as much as the murder mysteries in these books, but these differences of opinion are beginning to seem repetitive now.

The resolution of the mystery is both highly implausible and excessively convoluted, and a part of it involves a character who is barely introduced until about 80% of the way into the book, so that felt like a bit of a cheat. However, it all fitted together very nicely, so I’m not going to grumble too much. Besides, the book was such a joy to read that these complaints pale into insignificance. Another delightful five star read.

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