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Review: Sauce for the Gander by Jayne Davis

Posted March 31, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 11 Comments

Jayne Davis’s first book, The Mrs MacKinnons, was a blast of fresh air in the stuffy and overdone trope-forest of Regency romance. Brilliantly-drawn characters, an unusual situation and a hefty dollop of humour in unexpected places made it a delight to read, even though there were darker undertones. This book is a much more conventional outing, a marriage of convenience that turns into a bit of a boy’s own adventure, but still a wonderful, classy read.

Here’s the premise: Will is the son of an earl obsessed with rank and heritage. He’s the second son, but now the heir and responsible for perpetuating the line. But he’s been gallivanting about town, bedding willing married women and gambling excessively, in the time-honoured tradition of Regency heroes. But then he’s caught out by an irate husband and challenged to a duel. He survives by the skin of his teeth, but his father’s had enough, and orders him to marry his choice of bride.

She turns out to be Connie, the little-regarded younger daughter of a lower-ranked local man, whose meek and obedient demeanour masks a spirited intelligence. The two meet at the altar, and make their way immediately to Will’s grace-and-favour estate in Devonshire, where the servants and locals are strangely unwelcoming.

The romance is the usual one for a marriage of convenience – a slow build through respect to physical attraction to trust and, eventually, love. I liked both Will and Connie very much, although there really wasn’t very much to dislike about them. Will’s bad-boy reputation drops away pretty fast, to turn him into a thoughtful, caring man, and Connie is a bit of a paragon from day one. I would have preferred a little more friction between the two – perhaps resentment at their enforced marriage, or some hints of bad behaviour from Will, but his previous wildness is all set down to boredom and the two get along together pretty well right from the start. There are one or two moments where Will has to consciously broaden his horizons to encompass his new responsibilities, which was neatly done, and the way Connie struggled to find the right moment to raise the issue of sex was very believable. Still, their relationship felt very modern to me, and I’m not sure that any Regency man, especially one with Will’s past, would be quite so considerate of his wife’s feelings.

The boy’s own adventure was great fun, but I won’t spoil things by saying any more about that. At least it went some way towards alleviating Will’s boredom and need for activity. I wasn’t totally convinced by the resolution to the various difficulties, which seemed fraught with potential problems to me, but the romance ended charmingly.

This is another wonderful read from the author. It lacks the originality of the previous book, and I missed the humour, too, but the writing is superb, with some glorious descriptions of the house and surroundings, and a strong sense of both time and place. Thoroughly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: The Mrs MacKinnons by Jayne Davis

Posted September 8, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 4 Comments

I loved this book. I didn’t think I was going to like it, because the prologue is a grim war scene, but this is merely a brief backdrop to the main story. Yes, it’s important, but the author never dwells on the details, and so it becomes, as it should, the underlying thread of explanation for many of the characters, and not the central focus.

Here’s the premise: Major Matthew Southam returns from India after unexpectedly inheriting a title and a small estate. His surviving family, his stepmother and half-brother and half-sister, rather wish he had died in India, and have been quietly helping themselves to his fortune for years. Meanwhile, the inherited estate is neglected and empty of servants and furniture. Matthew is too traumatised by his war experiences to do more than drink, and then drink some more.

Meanwhile, Mrs Charlotte MacKinnon, a widow with a young son living in the nearest village to the estate, is hard-pressed to make ends meet. She writes cute children’s stories and a nature column for a London publisher, helps local businessmen manage their finances and generally uses her education and brains to earn what coins she can. She shares her home with another soldier’s widow, also called MacKinnon, so the two are rather charmingly known to the locals as Mrs Captain and Mrs Sergeant.

And if that were all, this would be a standard Regency romance between a strong man damaged by war, brought back to reality and happiness by the love of a good, if impoverished, woman. But this is not quite that story, and part of the reason is, perhaps, the most fascinating character I’ve come across for some time, Sergeant Webb, who’s returned from India with Matthew and attached himself to him. Matthew is so wrapped up in his own misery that he more or less hands over responsibility for getting things straight to Webb. He hasn’t a clue about fixing up houses, but he’s a man who’s happy to go out and find people with more knowledge than him, which includes Charlotte. And so she and Matthew are thrown together, and gradually, very, very gradually, aided by Charlotte’s young son, Charlotte’s common sense, Webb’s organisational abilities and the house itself, the two reach an accord.

There’s some drama in the later stages caused by their pesky relatives, but at bottom this is a beautiful slow-build romance, with the underlying theme that even grievous war injuries needn’t define the rest of your life. I loved the main characters, I loved their first kiss and I loved seeing the house gradually brought back to a healthy and functioning state alongside Matthew’s own recovery. I never would have thought that details about furniture and linens and paintwork would be so interesting, but they were. And if Sergeant Webb became implausibly clever at organising everyone, he was so much fun that I quite forgave him. The humour isn’t the conventional Regency romp style, but the sort that jumps up and slaps you on the head when you least expect it, and lightens a book that might otherwise be quite dark at times.

A great read, and highly recommended for anyone looking for something a little more meaty than the average frothy Regency. Five stars.

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