Tag: dunn

Review: A Poor Relation by Carola Dunn (1990)

Posted August 13, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is one of those books that shouldn’t have worked at all, because it fell into such well-worn ruts that it was a wonder it was able to scramble its way out of them, but somehow it did, and I loved it.

Here’s the premise: Rowena Caxton receives some bad news from her lawyer – the estate her father left her, and which she has been quite happily managing to keep in good order, has been subsumed by debts, and must be sold. Rowena is penniless, and must throw herself on the mercy of her aunt and uncle. Her uncle is easy-going but distant, and her aunt is happy to take her on as companion and chaperon to the spoilt, wilful and beautiful Millicent, around whom the household revolves. Millicent delights in putting Rowena down at every opportunity, but Rowena makes a friend of Anne, the plain younger sister. Meanwhile, Major Christopher Scott, who has been escorting his injured friend, Captain Bernard Cartwright, back from the wars, is astonished to find that he has inherited an earldom, complete with run-down estate and no wherewithal to improve it. And right next door lives the incomparable Millie, with a sizable fortune…

Now, the cliches here just jump off the page. The poor relation heroine… check. The unexpected nobleman… check. The impoverished estate with the need to marry an heiress… check. The selfish and petulant ingenue… check. The charming (but interestingly injured) sidekick… check. The uncaring relations… check. And naturally the first few times the hero and heroine meet, it’s under difficult circumstances, when he treats her like a servant (because she looks like one) and she thinks he’s too rude for words (because he is). And naturally they are thrown together at every turn and slowly learn to appreciate each other.

So yes, the plot runs on well-worn rails, but the trick is in the execution, and it’s here that Dunn’s talent shines. Both hero and heroine (and the minor pairing) are lively characters, very likable. Rowena is a teeny bit subversive without veering into outright rebellion. The major is rather charming beneath the briskly military exterior. They bond over apples, which is seriously original (she tells him how to manage his orchards, which are his main crop). The minor characters, even those who are merely there as foils for the principals, are quirky rather than over-the-top pantomime characters. And needless to say, the writing is superb.

The romance develops nicely, and isn’t forgotten about until the last page, although I could have done without the final foolish obstacle and the (frankly silly) resolution of it, but I still enjoyed this enormously. Five stars.

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Review: Mayhem and Miranda by Carola Dunn (1997)

Posted May 17, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Astonishingly, this was suggested to me by the Goodreads recommendations algorithm, possibly the first time in history that an algorithm has ever nudged me towards a book that I actually enjoyed. It’s pretty silly, in a lot of ways, but it was so much fun that I won’t hold that against it.

Here’s the premise: Miranda Carmichael is companion to eccentric Lady Wiston. Now eccentric characters abound in Regencies of a certain kind, but Lady Wiston is *seriously* eccentric – her philanthropic efforts involve viewing prisons and lunatic asylums, and rescuing all sorts of working class people in need of a helping hand. Some of them are recruited to staff her house, some just come for tea and one is teaching her yoga. Miranda takes all that in her stride. But when Lady Wiston’s down-at-heel nephew, Peter Daviot, arrives to write a book of his adventures in British Canada, Miranda finds herself rather torn. He’s very charming and amusing and so forth, but she can’t help disapproving of him, too.

And then another nephew, Lord Snell, puts in an appearance and the plot really builds a head of steam. I won’t say too much about that, because it would spoil things to give away too much, but suffice to say there is plenty of the advertised mayhem of the title, resolved by some very resourceful doings by all the main characters and some of the more colourful secondary characters, too.

I liked both sides of our romantic couple here. It’s clear almost from the start that these two are made for each other, but they don’t hurtle into things, thank goodness, building a solid and very believable friendship first, until the dastardly villain drives them apart (and again, the obstacle was very believable and entirely consistent with Regency mores). Although they could, perhaps, have simply sat down and talked things over, it would have been very much outside the bounds of propriety to do so, so I had no problem with that. And frankly, jealous Peter, misunderstanding everything, was gloriously funny, as were Lady Wiston and her motley collection of wacky misfits.

In the end, it’s Lady Wiston who steps to help our hapless pair of lovers, just as she does for all her rescued ne’er-do-wells, and a more creative and delicious enabling of the romantic denouement would be hard to find. Funny and exciting and charming all at once – I can’t give this less than five stars.

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Review: The Fortune Hunters by Carola Dunn

Posted August 18, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

What a great read! This has the glories of Regency Bath as a backdrop, two delightful main characters, an array of interesting side characters and some lovely humour.

Here’s the premise: brother and sister Jessica and Sir Nathan Franklin are in financial difficulties. The lease is up on their home and farm, their new landlord wants more money to renew than they can afford and it looks like they’ll have to move out. But there’s one last throw of the dice: if they sell some hideous family jewels, they can afford a few weeks in Bath, putting on a bit of a show, and perhaps one of them will be able to make a wealthy marriage. Matthew Walsingham has a similar problem. Having just been disinherited, he finds his way to Bath to look for a rich heiress. And when Jessica and Matthew meet and feel an instant attraction, it seems as if they’ve both found just what they were hoping for.

Their romance plays out with a background of traditional Bath activities – the Assembly Room, the Pump Room, walks in Sydney Gardens, picnics, outings and a dunking in the canal. Well, OK, that last part is a bit different, but it was a delightful scene, so no complaints on that score. There are a number of side stories going on as well as our main couple, plus Nathan’s own romantic difficulties, and to be honest, I felt as if there was too much extraneous business and too many characters, not to mention that some of them felt rather cliched.

However, our hero and heroine are delightful, with some splendid banter and it’s obvious that they’re made for each other. Some Regencies feature characters who are so much at odds that one fears for their future happiness, but not these two. I liked that the author didn’t hesitate to address the difficulties of the premise head on. In the Regency, honour was everything, and it really isn’t honourable to pretend to be wealthy to entice a rich marriage partner. Matthew and Jessica both have the problem of deciding just when and how to confess that they’re not what they seem, and Nathan has a different problem – having fallen for an actual heiress, he looks like the sneaky fortune hunter he is, but no longer wants to be. How they extract themselves from these tangled issues is the heart of the story, and it’s rather nicely done.

The two main romances are wrapped up beautifully, the writing and historical accuracy are faultless and an honourable mention for the eccentric Miss Tibbett, the former governess now promoted to aunt status for the Bath visit, and constantly disappearing to examine Roman remains. She was a plot device, of course, but an enjoyable one. A lovely book. Five stars.

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Regency review: ‘Two Corinthians’ by Carola Dunn

Posted May 29, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I love a good Regency romance, but I find it difficult to find any that aren’t dreadfully silly, and historically inaccurate to boot. I don’t expect every last detail to be perfect, but some things are terribly easy to check, like correct forms of address for the aristocracy, and it’s a great irritant when the author hasn’t even bothered. However, I have no such complaints here. There is a great deal of detail of clothing, and the language is riddled with contemporary cant, but it all felt very authentic. And while there is an outbreak of silliness at the end, it was forgivable.

The two Corinthians (men about town) of the title are George Winterbourne and Bertram Pomeroy. Bertram having lost the love of his life to George’s brother, is urged by his ailing father to marry soon. The suggestion is the elder Miss Sutton, Claire, eccentric and spinsterish at twenty eight, but suitable. George, meanwhile, becomes entangled with Claire and her lively younger sister, Lizzie, by chance, and enters into a pact with Lizzie: he will pretend to woo her to stop her dragonish mother from berating her.

So George is pretending to court Lizzie and Bertram is reluctantly courting Claire, and… well, we can see where this is going, can’t we? But even if the resolution is predictable, that’s not a fault in a book like this. It’s more about the journey than the destination, and here the journey is entertaining and unfolds gently and rather sweetly, with good behaviour on all sides.

There’s not much action, so those looking for highwaymen or pirates or spies should move swiftly on. Nor are there any outbreaks of uncontrollable lust. If you like Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, then this book is just the ticket. A pleasant, gentle read. Four stars.

A footnote: I didn’t realise it, but this book is actually a sequel to Miss Hartwell’s Dilemma. It made things a little confusing early on as the author skated rapidly over the backstory, but I soon got the hang of it. However, it’s probably a more enjoyable read if approached in the correct order.

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