Tag: davis

Review: Playing With Fire by Jayne Davis

Posted July 10, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

Well, that was awesome. Jayne Davis is my favourite kind of author, partly because I never know what she’s going to come up with next and partly because she allows the story to expand and grow and unfurl its petals in whatever way feels right. So many authors constrain their characters to conform to the needs of the plot, but Davis’s tales always feel completely natural and organic, as if they were always meant to be. This one starts with a tense escape from revolutionary France, morphs into a first London season, complete with visits to the mantua-maker, drives in the park and assorted suitors, veers off into a brilliantly funny piece of trickery worthy of Georgette Heyer, lurches back into tension again and then ends with a delicious romantic denouement. Utterly wonderful.

Here’s the premise: Phoebe Deane is the little-regarded poor relation, living with her aunt and uncle, who are French emigres. When her aunt and cousin decide to return to their chateau to recover some possessions, Phoebe accompanies them, but it’s 1793, the revolution is in full swing, aristocrats are not welcome and Phoebe can’t make her aunt understand the urgency of escaping as quickly as possible. Her aunt’s arrogant manners soon get them into trouble, but they find help from an unlikely source.

Alex Westbrook finds himself drawn to help the family, even though it might hamper his own secret mission in France. But he finds that Phoebe is quick-witted and resourceful enough to be a trusted ally, and more than willing to take risks when necessary. So begins an unlikely friendship, but can it ever be anything more? Well, we can guess the answer to that, but there’s a long and winding road to reach it.

I confess that for the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. The difficulties in France are so intense and so relentless, that it almost felt like Game of Thrones. What horrible event was coming next? Even though I knew that the protagonists would survive (because romance) it was a little too intense for comfort. However, once Phoebe reached London and dived into the more familiar ground of preparations for the season, it was a lot more comfortable. Phoebe’s a fantastic character – smart and plucky, with a ton of initiative. Sometimes she seemed almost too smart, and a bit too lucky, but that was OK. Alex – well, who could not like Alex? A great hero, who risks everything to save the mysterious redhead, and treats her like a real person not a helpless female who needs a man to tell her what to do and to protect her.

Of the side-characters, some we’ve seen before (this is the third book in the Marstone series), although it’s not necessary to have read them all. I very much like that the three books are spread out over about twenty years, so this one acts as an extended epilogue to the earlier books, for those who enjoy such catchups. The new characters tended to fall into the helpful yokels or villainous villains categories, although some were just plain irritating (Comtesse de Calvac, I’m looking at you). Phoebe’s uncle, the Comte, who had been distant and uninterested before, suddenly and implausibly becomes a sort of fairy-goduncle to Phoebe, and naturally the dowdy poor relation instantly becomes an attractive and desirable potential bride. This was great fun.

But of course, things soon go pear-shaped and we’re off into all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, and all the time the romance is simmering on the back burner, never ever forgotten and gradually coming to the fore. The ending is lovely and perfectly in keeping with the various characters involved, and if some things seemed unnecessarily convoluted, it was all too much fun to quibble over. The only slight complaint I have is that towards the end, some of the dramatic events happen off-screen. I would like to have seen them up close. But it’s a trivial point.

A wonderful read, whether you like thriller-type tension, something more traditional or a quirky mixture – this book has it all! Not to mention a lovely romance, with some swoon-worthy kisses (and nothing more than that). As always with this author, the writing is top-notch with an effortless evocation of the era, in both England and France. Five stars.

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Review: A Suitable Match by Jayne Davis

Posted July 10, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Jayne Davis is an interesting writer. Every book she writes is different, and I love that sense of not knowing what I’m going to get when I fire up the Kindle. Her debut, The Mrs MacKinnons, was sharply original and darkly funny. Sauce For The Gander was a more conventional romance with a strong helping of boy’s own adventure. An Embroidered Spoon had the unusual setting (for a Regency) of Wales, coupled with an uncompromising view of the stifling life of a young woman in the era. And here we are with another switch, a straight-down-the-line tale of the kind that Georgette Heyer fans love – fancy gowns, balls, rides in the park, matchmaking and all the paraphernalia of the London season, with a spying sub-plot. It’s all great fun, and if I slightly miss the out-there originality of The Mrs MacKinnons, this is still better than 99% of Regencies on the market these days.

Here’s the plot: Lady Isabella Stanlake is the youngest daughter of the Earl of Marstone. Her sisters and her brother are all married, so now it’s her turn, and her overbearing father isn’t about to give her any freedom to choose for herself. She’ll marry someone he thinks suitable, and there’s an end to it. Her aunt is bribed to bring her out and make sure she toes the line. Fortunately, Bella is a smart and enterprising young lady, and manages to make the most of her season while avoiding the most hideous of the potential husbands on offer.

Her brother would help her find someone to her liking, as he did for her older sisters, but he’s called away on secret business and so he asks his friend, Nick Carterton, to keep an eye on Bella and help her out if she gets into trouble. Nick is dutifully looking for a wife, so he’s doing the season too, and it’s no problem to look after Bella, especially as she turns out to be far more interesting than the terribly dull and worthy young ladies he’s picked out as possible brides. Nick didn’t light any fires for me, but he’s a steady and honourable young man, and if that sounds ever so slightly dull, it also makes him a more realistic hero than most found in modern Regencies.

Alongside the main story were a number of side plots involving spying, blackmail and a man in disguise, plus an intriguing glimpse of the unpleasanter side of Regency life, involving a seamstress who loses her job. Kind-hearted Isabella sweeps in to rescue her, in the process discovering just how difficult life can be for those at the bottom of society. This sort of story teeters on the edge of imposing modern sensibilities on the world of two hundred years ago, but Davis manages to make Isabella’s benevolence believable. Bella’s extremely sheltered upbringing, bordering on imprisonment, means that she has an unsullied if naive approach to the sophisticated world she now finds herself in, and her intelligent if slightly wayward personality inevitably leads her into such situations.

The story chugs along very pleasantly until the final stretch, when all sorts of mayhem breaks out and things get quite dramatic. Bella’s efforts to escape her fate were ingenious (I love a resourceful heroine), but I greatly appreciated that the villains are not exactly stupid either. Kudos to the author for avoiding the trap of making things too easy for the heroine. And then there’s a delightfully twisty ending, that took me very much by surprise. Nicely done. A very well-written traditional Regency, and a good four stars.

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Review: Captain Kempton’s Christmas by Jayne Davis

Posted February 16, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

My second Christmas novella on the trot, and it’s another good one, and (surprise!) another second chance romance. I still don’t really get the whole Regency Christmas thing, and would have enjoyed the story just as much if it were set in midsummer, but whatever.

Here’s the premise: our hero and heroine meet and fall in love one summer, but there’s no time to formalise things. He’s a naval lieutenant, and is called back to his ship after only a fortnight. He asks her to wait for him, and she agrees, but… the next he hears, she’s married someone else. Several years later, they meet up again at a Christmas house party. He’s now a captain and she’s widowed, but naturally things aren’t that simple. He’s resentful and jealous of her husband, and she’s just about given up hope of a reconciliation. And so they dance around each other, being stiffly polite and really, I just wanted to bang their heads together. Would it be so hard for him to ask about her husband? Would it be so hard for her to unbend a little?

There were a fair few flashbacks in this as the story gradually unfolds, and although I thought the characters weren’t perhaps quite as sensible as they might have been, there were reasons for their hesitation (villainy ahoy!). I liked both hero and heroine, her reasons for marrying were excellent and the ending was terrific. As always with this author, the Regency feel was spot on. A good four stars.

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Review: An Embroidered Spoon by Jayne Davis

Posted January 14, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

The third full-length novel from this new author, and it’s another corker. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Regency romance set in Wales before, but Davis skilfully creates the backdrop and the array of characters, both the aristocratic and the not-quite-gentry.

Here’s the premise: Izzy Farrington, the daughter of a baron, is packed off to an impoverished spinster aunt in Wales to reflect upon her wilful refusal of several respectable offers of marriage, in the hope that her miserable surroundings will bring her to her senses. But Aunt Eugenia isn’t quite what she expected, and although she finds life very different in Wales, after some amusing mishaps, she begins to find much to interest her. One particular interest is Rhys Williams, a businessman who draws Izzy into his world of wool and sheep-breeding and all manner of intriguing subjects previously unknown to a gently brought up daughter of the aristocracy.

This part of the book is a delight, evoking a totally convincing corner of the Regency world (Wales is portrayed as a wonderfully romantic place, while also wet, wild and windswept!), and both Izzy’s reaction to her new situation, and the reactions of her new relations and friends are very believable. The story takes a more conventional twist when Izzy’s father, Lord Bedley, discovers that spinster Aunt Eugenia is actually married, and to a solicitor (the horror!), and whisks Izzy back to London to be respectably courted again.

But while this could have been a dull transition to conventional Regency tropes, the author gives the reader an unusual but brilliantly portrayed insight into the utterly stifling life of a young lady. Izzy is provided with every material comfort, and surrounded by friends and family who all (in their various ways) want the best for her, but she has no freedom whatsoever. Cut off from the man she was falling in love with, and not even sure yet of her own heart, she has no way to see him or even convey a message to him. She is chaperoned wherever she goes. The governess will report any untoward conversation with a stranger. The servants will be fired if they help her. Even her correspondence is opened by her father (and yes, this is completely true to the era). And, worst of all, she’s constantly pressured to accept one of the suitors her parents approve of. How she manages, despite all these restrictions, to avoid an unwanted betrothal, communicate with Rhys and decide her future for herself take up the rest of the book, and beautifully done it is too.

The minor characters are all wonderfully drawn, but the star of the show is Izzy herself, an intelligent and resourceful girl who starts off on completely the wrong foot in her new home, but quickly learns to adapt. Another wonderful read from Jayne Davis. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Sauce for the Gander by Jayne Davis

Posted March 31, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 15 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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