Tag: harmon

Review: The World’s A Stage by Joyce Harmon

Posted August 22, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

I’ve never read a Joyce Harmon book yet that I didn’t love, and here’s another one. Beautifully written, clever and, best of all, funny, this was just a pleasure to read from start to finish.

Here’s the premise: Peter Barton is a humble actor who found himself playing the role of a gentleman. I think this happened in a previous book in the series, although I don’t remember it. Anyway, he discovered he was rather convincing at it, and able to make a living by winning regularly at cards. His memory has been sharpened by learning lines, so he finds it easy to remember cards, too (I’m not totally convinced that skill transfers readily, but never mind). So for several years he’s been living a low-key existence on the fringes of London society, but now he’s being pursued by a marriage-minded young lady, and the smallest investigation into his circumstances will reveal what a fraud he is.

Amy Greenlow, on the other hand, is a lady who’s been forced by dire circumstances to become an actress on the stage, taking the name of Amadora. She’s become a great success but she has many men pursuing her in the hopes of making her their mistress, and one of them, the creepy Marquis of Grissam, is very, very determined. It doesn’t take long for Peter to see a solution to both their difficulties if he pretends to be Amy’s protector, thus deterring both their ardent pursuers.

This is a delicious twist on the fake betrothal trope, and of course it isn’t long before the two are falling into scrapes with the deception, and in between times falling in love. I loved both hero and heroine here. They’re both intelligent, resourceful people who find creative ways out of their difficulties, and even at the end, there’s a neat and unexpected twist, which I didn’t see coming even though it was completely in character. And did I mention that it’s laugh-out-loud funny? Here’s just one exchange that I loved:

“Ma’am!” he breathed, “your most humble… devoted… loyal… ardent…”
“A noun, Chilly,” Peter advised lazily. “We could really use a noun right about now.”

A delightful tale, a lovely slow-build romance and an excellent five stars.

Tags:


Review: Mary Bennet and the Shades of Pemberley by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 12, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’m ashamed to admit that I was slightly disappointed by this. Not by the plot or the characters or the writing, which were well up to scratch. No, I’d got myself invested in the possibility of a romance for Mary with a certain handsome young lord, and he wasn’t even in this book. Instead, we got a dashing military man as potential love interest. Which of course may be shaping up to be a love triangle, but…

Well, never mind about the romantic angle, or lack of it. That’s just me. Here’s the premise: Mary Bennet, the over-educated but under-talented middle sister from Pride And Prejudice has here been re-imagined as a young lady with a very special talent indeed: Mary, it transpires, is a magician. This she discovered in book 1 of the series, and in books 2 and 3, as her ability is undergoing training by the secret Order of St George, she tripped over various dastardly plots which her skills, with a bit of help from other magicians and a few familiar faces from P&P, were able to resolve. Now she’s heading off to see Darcy and Lizzie at Pemberley and blow me down if there isn’t something odd going on there, too. As one character put it, why can’t you just go on holiday like everyone else?

Like any self-respecting ancestral pile, Pemberley has a couple of resident ghosts, but the problem here is that there seem to be random extra ghosts popping up all over the place. A couple of cavaliers are duking it out on the lawn, there’s a well-bred Norman lady spinning in the drawing room, and (rather delightfully) an opera dancer is in the ballroom. Elizabeth can see these ‘shades’ (hence the book’s title; geddit?), even though no one else can, and it’s driving her almost to the point of a nervous breakdown.

Happily, our newly-fledged magician can see them too, and sets about, in her sensible, systematic way, to find out more about them, discover how they got there, and maybe even get them back to where they came from. This is a lot of fun, and the very different characters of the ghosts definitely add to it. It has to be said that the challenges are not very great and Mary seems to succeed with some of her self-appointed tasks almost too easily. There is a villain, but this too is easily spotted. So this is perhaps the gentlest story yet of this series.

But drama and out-of-nowhere plot twists aren’t at all what this series is about, since it’s three parts P&P, two parts cozy mystery and one part Harry Potter. Neither the language nor the characters are strictly true to the books, but they’re terrific fun and I recommend them to anyone who would like a little added magic in their Jane Austen. A good four stars, and here’s hoping that a certain handsome lord turns up in a future book.

Tags:


Review: Mary Bennet and the Beast of Rosings Park by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 12, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I love this series so, so much! After the Bingley Codex and the Wickham Artifact, now we have the Beast of Rosings Park, and although it doesn’t quite have the punch-the-air awesomeness of the previous book, it’s still a terrific outing for our Pride and Prejudice bluestocking with surprising hidden talents. The premise is that bookish Mary Bennet has discovered that she has magical abilities, and has been whisked off to London and the basement of the British Museum to be trained to use her new abilities. Anyone who always suspected there was more to Mary than met the eye or who likes a little magic in their Regency, this is the series you’ve been waiting for.

After her efforts at the end of book 2 (Jupiter Bennet!!! That made me laugh so hard), Mary is recovering at home from her overdose-of-magic induced infirmity, because magic always has a cost. The story is that she caught Amazonian Fever from an artifact at the British Museum, and there’s a delightful moment when the local doctor is fascinated by her previously unknown illness and wants to research her and write the details up for his fellow medics. It’s a challenge for Mary and her magician minder, Mrs Courtland, to put him off. I love these little touches of realism.

After a stay with the Bingleys in book 1, and then with the Gardiners and Wickhams in book 2, here we are at Hunsford parsonage with Mr and Mrs Collins, and the irrepressible Lady Catherine de Burgh. The author keeps these characters fairly close to their P&P characters, but, as with Mary herself, there are some characters that are not quite as per the book, including Anne de Burgh and her governess/chaperon, Mrs Jenkins. I loved the way they were developed, but I won’t spoil the surprise by giving anything away. There’s an array of minor characters, too, and now that Mary has a sizable dowry (courtesy of the Prince Regent after the book 2 incident), she’s surprisingly popular. Her illness prevents her from dancing, but luckily her health improves enough to see her scampering about the countryside well before the end of the book, so that she can participate in monster-hunting expeditions. I’m also not going to say anything about the monster. This unravels in a slightly more predictable way than in previous books, but it was still fun, and gave Mary the opportunity for some creative magic.

In the last book, there were teeny tiny hints of a romantic future for Mary with a certain handsome young lord, and I was thrilled to see him turn up again here, even though the romance really isn’t progressing very fast. No, let’s be honest, it’s not progressing at all. Sigh. Still, I’m optimistic. Book 4, the Shades of Pemberley, may possibly be the final book of the series, so fingers crossed for a happy ending for Mary. I can’t wait.

For anyone expecting Austen-esque writing or a strict adherence to canon, this book probably isn’t for you, but for anyone else, it’s delightful and I highly recommend the whole series (which should probably be read in order). Five stars.

Tags:


Review: Mary Bennet and the Wickham Artifact by Joyce Harmon

Posted November 21, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

So. Much. Fun. I absolutely loved this book, almost from beginning to end. Almost? Well, there were a few moments early on when I feared that it was going to get bogged down in a lot of Harry Potter-esque magic school descriptions, with all the action pushed to the last few chapters, which is probably perfect for some readers but not me. Happily, things warmed up pretty quickly and there were some tremendous goings-on that had me cheering wildly. And the ending was twelve shades of awesome.

Here’s the premise: Mary Bennet (yes, that Mary Bennet) discovered that she has magical capabilities in the first book of the series (Mary Bennet and the Bingley Codex). Now she’s been whisked off to London to the Order of St George, tucked away in secret parts of the British Museum, to be instructed properly in magical abilities of various sorts. Because her ability wasn’t discovered until she was an adult, she hasn’t grown up knowing the correct way of doing things, so her efforts are sometimes rather unorthodox, and – oh joy! – her mentors actually encourage her free thinking and creativity. This is very much an improvement on the conventional person-with-new-abilities trope, where the mentors try to shoehorn her into the proper ways, with the result that uncontrolled magic breaks out at inopportune moments. Of course, there’s still much to learn, so she does some herbology (here we are in Harry Potter mode again – I half expected care of magical creatures to turn up next), and – even more joy! – battle magic! I do love me some battle magic.

Out in the muggle – sorry, non-magical world, we have some familiar characters. Mary is staying with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, and who should also be staying but Lydia and Wickham, the latter recovering from an injury received at Waterloo. Wickham’s survival seems to be due to a mysterious Egyptian amulet, which he thinks merely deflected a bullet, but which Mary recognises as a magical artifact. And shortly thereafter, mayhem breaks out as an ancient form of evil is let loose and the race is on to save the world and so forth.

There was so much to enjoy in this book. I loved some of the curiosities in the museum basement, such as Mr Philpott, and the oh-so-useful Doors. I loved the little vignettes of Lydia and Wickham. I loved the small but significant role for Prinny (the Prince Regent). I loved the teaching of basic self-defence as well as battle magic (how sensible). And – oh joy of joys! – is that a love interest for Mary hoving into view? I appreciate that, if so, it will develop over the course of multiple books, but I shall be sadly disappointed if she doesn’t walk off with her charming young lord in the end.

I won’t say anything about the defeat-the-bad-guy ending except that it was a true punch-the-air moment, leaving me with a huge grin on my face. This is a wonderful read, highly recommended for anyone who thought the one thing lacking in Jane Austen’s work was a little magic, or anyone who suspected there was more to Mary Bennet than the whiny, priggish bluestocking she appeared to be in Pride and Prejudice. Five stars, and there are at least two more books in the series to look forward to: Mary Bennet and the Beast of Rosings Park, and Mary Bennet and the Shades of Pemberley. I can’t wait.

Tags:


Review: Mary Bennet and the Bingley Codex by Joyce Harmon

Posted July 9, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well, this was a whole heap of fun! A Pride and Prejudice sequel with a little light magic thrown in.

Here’s the premise: Jane and Bingley have been married for about a year, and have settled in an estate in Cheshire. After a visit to Longbourn, they take bookish Mary Bennet back with them where she discovers their enormous library and some very peculiar books…

If you always thought there was more to Mary Bennet than meets the eye, this is the book for you. This is not the Mary of P&P, the rather peevish girl who practiced her music and studied books constantly but played very badly and displayed no understanding gleaned from her learning. That was Mary seen through the cynical eyes of her sister Elizabeth. But this is Mary’s own story, and since we’re privy to her inner thoughts, she turns out to be surprisingly intelligent and self-aware and even manipulative at times to get what she wants. I liked her very much.

The middle part of the story got a bit slow, since it was largely about Mary being taught some magical precepts by a pair of mentors. I thought of it as the Harry Potter section, where Mary sort of goes to magic school. If you like your magic explained to you in depth, you’ll enjoy this very much, but I far preferred Mary’s own experiments, or anything where things were happening, rather than sitting around in the library talking. But once Caroline Bingley arrives on a husband-hunting mission (not that she’s being typecast, or anything…), and a suitor emerges for Mary the pace hots up a bit, and then it’s all downhill for the dramatic ride to the finishing line.

I didn’t spot the villain, but then I never do. I’m constantly surprised when that really nice, friendly character turns out to be an evil so-and-so. The resolution was very neatly done – a satisfying comeuppance. And Caroline Bingley gets a gentler resolution than perhaps she deserves.

There’s no romance at all in Mary’s life, at least not in this book. Since this is the first of a series, I’m optimistic that she’ll meet a charming and handsome young wizard somewhere on her adventures. A pleasant, easy read, with an unexpectedly congenial Mary Bennet, totally canonical Jane, Bingley and Caroline, and some interesting side characters. Four stars. I hope it won’t be too long until the next book in the series.

Tags:


Review: Katherine When She Smiled by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 16, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

Every Joyce Harmon book is a delight and this one is no exception. For anyone looking for a substitute for Georgette Heyer, here’s an author who might just fit the bill. She has a light hand with dialogue, a strong array of characters and plots that effortlessly unfurl. This one eschews the standard Regency settings of society London or Bath, being firmly set in a small village, but that makes it a gentler, more affectionate look at Regency life. And it’s very, very funny. I do love a book which makes me chuckle all the way through.

Heroine Katherine is the oldest of her family, now orphaned by the recent death of her father. But amongst his scholarly papers she finds a half-written Gothic novel, the latest in a long line of them, by which her father had secretly been supporting his family. Katherine realises that, to keep a roof over their heads, she has to continue her father’s novel-writing career.

Our hero is the long-awaited brother of a duke, a soldier returning from the wars to claim his estate and find himself a suitable wife. The ladies of the village have their own ideas on the subject of suitability, and handsome Lord Charles sets many a female heart a-fluttering – except for Katherine, who’s busy fending off the attentions of the worthy young vicar while shouldering all the burdens of her family.

As with Heyer, the subplots, which involve a couple of boys behaving boyishly and much Gothic fun and games, tend to overshadow the romance at times, and although we see Charles’ moment of revelation regarding Katherine, we never see hers towards him (or at least, it is so understated as to be almost invisible), which was a great pity. I do like to see the protagonists inching towards an understanding. But both of them behaved with intelligence and common sense, no one acted stupidly in pique and (hallelujah!) there were no contrived misunderstandings.

Some of the loose ends tidied up and the other pairings resulting seemed a little too convenient to me, but I won’t quibble. There were a very few typos, and a smattering of Americanisms (gotten, fall instead of autumn), but Harmon has such a strong grasp of the Regency era that it never bothered me. This is a lovely traditional Regency, very much in the style of Georgette Heyer, and I highly recommend it, and all Harmon’s books, to all Heyer fans. Five stars.

Tags:


Review: Regency Road Trip by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 16, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

 

This is one of those delightful books that is filled with something that’s so rare in modern writing – charm. It manages to be whimsical without being silly, it’s effortlessly funny and the plot rattles along at a nice pace. And three rousing cheers for a romance featuring a decidedly older couple. Yes, there’s a side romance with a younger pair, but that never overshadows the main event.

The plot is a simple one: the Earl of Salford has returned from the wars to find his estate on the verge of ruin at the hands of his cousin and heir. The estate can be rescued, but as soon as the aging earl pops off, the heir will take over again, unless he can produce an heir to transplant the cousin. In most Regencies, this would be the cue for a marriage of convenience plot, but the earl refuses to play that game. Instead, he trawls the family tree and finds a missing branch of the family which meandered off into middle-class-dom a couple of generations ago.

To track down the missing heir, he recruits his good friend Eliza Merryhew, and to make things more fun, they travel incognito, as a baron’s widow and her devoted manservant. Which just makes things even more entertaining, of course. If the search is a little too easily resolved, that just leaves a little more time for those romances to brew up. My only complaint is that the story is too short – I really wanted more about this lovely couple! Five stars.

Tags:


Review: ‘A Feather To Fly With’ by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 31, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

It’s always a good sign when a book keeps me up until 2am, and so it is with this captivating tale, which could almost be an undiscovered Georgette Heyer. There’s nothing terribly unexpected about the story, but it’s the characters who make it. The scholarly and unworldly Duke of Winton is adorable, and his efforts to move through the social whirl of the season and find himself a wife are gloriously funny. He approaches it, naturally, as a scientific problem to be solved, but misunderstandings abound, as when his friend suggests sending a book instead of flowers to a young lady after a ball, and the duke sends her ‘Principia Mathematica’, but only the English translation, in case her Latin isn’t up to the original! The friend, Justin Amesbury, is the exact opposite, socially astute, gently guiding the duke through the shoals of ambitious mamas and insipid debutantes, a thoroughly nice man.

The ladies are just as well drawn. Cleo is the unconventional daughter of unconventional parents, newly arrived in England determined to restore the family fortunes to allow her younger brother to be a gentleman, and armed with a cunning plan to achieve her aim. Felicity is the dutiful daughter who knows she’s expected to marry well. And when these four get together, things go a little awry. But the ending is pure Heyer, a mad dash through the countryside with misunderstandings on all sides, followed by a slick and very fast wrap-up of the romance elements.

This one won’t work for you if you expect a romance to involve heavy interaction between the principals, with loads of sexual tension or actual sex. It also won’t suit those looking for lots of action or modern characters in period clothes. This is a classic traditional Regency romance, which is beautifully written and very, very funny, one of those books that makes you sad when you reach the end. I enjoyed every single moment of it. Five stars.

Tags:


Review: ‘The Town And Country Season’ by Joyce Harmon

Posted March 30, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I love the idea of this: identical twin sisters, but with very different personalities, are making their come-out, but there’s only enough money for one of them to do the season in London. The other is to stay in a small country village, but they’ll meet up once a week… and naturally a certain amount of swapping places goes on. Well, the story practically writes itself, doesn’t it?

The biggest problem is that the reader is inevitably tossed from town to country and back again with dizzying frequency. There are different sets of characters in each to remember, and the two sisters swap names too, so the potential for confusion is enormous. And to make things worse, there are no scene breaks provided, so I regularly missed the signs of a new setting. It would have been so helpful to mark each change of location explicitly, whether London or Piddledean (glorious name!), to avoid confusion. However, by about the halfway point, everything began to fall into place, and there was no more than a momentary where-are-we? sort-out at each jump or new chapter.

The characters are lovely. There are no wicked villains, no real nastiness, apart from a couple of cutting remarks from a previously spurned girlfriend, and everybody means well and acts sensibly and thoughtfully. Nothing of a terribly untoward nature happens, and if the romances fall into place rather too easily, the story is so delicious that I can forgive it. I particularly liked Mama, who, unlike most such characters, isn’t merely a plot device, but has her own very interesting story running alongside her daughters’.

This is a Regency romance of the old school, where the backdrop is the season, the objective is marriage, everyone meets everyone in Hyde Park and there’s a major waltz scene at Almack’s (which is wonderful, by the way). Any reader looking for hot sex, a moustache-twirling villain, a heroine who strides about in trousers smoking cheroots or similar should move swiftly on. No Regency conventions are flouted here, and the language is mostly authentic. There are one or two turns of phrase (’visit with’ or ‘fall’, for instance) that sounded too American, but it wasn’t intrusive.

The book reads well enough as a standalone, but there are suggestions of previous books here and there, as various characters and events are alluded to. So if you’re a stickler for reading in order, you might want to check out the author’s other books first.

This is a delightful story that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. Five stars, and I’m going straight off to root out the author’s other Regencies.

Tags: