Tag: keyes

Review: The Road to Rushbury by Martha Keyes

Posted July 24, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A new Martha Keyes book is always a thrill, and this one was another excellent read, a gentle, straightforward romance set away from the usual Regency settings of London, Bath and great country houses in a very small village in Yorkshire. It has one of the best opening lines I’ve come across in the genre: ‘Ten thousand. That was the number of pins Georgiana Paige estimated she’d had stuck in her hair since her coming out eight years ago.’ And there in a nutshell is the premise for the story. After eight seasons in the marriage mart of London, Georgiana is firmly on the shelf. When an opportunity arises, she accepts her spinsterhood, abandons the London season to her younger sister and decamps to become a companion to her aunt in Yorkshire.

The setting is very different from anything she’s experienced before, and initially she encounters suspicion and outright hostility from the villagers, but she rises to the challenge and, having criticised the state of the roads in the neighbourhood, volunteers to become the local Surveyor of Roads, and see about putting them right. Her guide in this endeavour is the local vicar, Samuel Derrick, who is one of the most overtly hostile of the villagers, having developed a great dislike of selfish gentry after a bad experience, but he is gradually won over by her determination and complete lack of the arrogance he’d expected.

The romance between them is (in my view) the best kind, where they slowly get to know each other and learn to appreciate the other’s good qualities, and this element of the book is stellar. The road-building and the interactions with the mostly wholesome and apple-cheeked villagers, particularly the hard-pressed weaver family, the Reeds, I found slow going.

I also wondered a little about the seeming glamorisation of hand-crafting, when the Reeds didn’t seem to be doing too well on it, and the demonising of the industrialisation of the industry, a process which was certainly disadvantageous to many workers, but also reduced the price of cottons and woollen fabrics, and benefited many. I would have liked to see a little more discussion of the two sides of the story (and there are always two sides; industrialisation wasn’t just about profit). But instead Georgiana instantly accepts that change is a bad thing, and the local land-owners are turned into villains for wanting to develop the village a bit.

After the halfway point, things speed up considerably, and after taking several days over the early chapters, the latter ones kept me up until the small hours, just to see how the ingenious Georgiana would resolve the difficulty and get her man, because it all seemed to be impossible for a while. The ending is a bit ‘with one bound they were free’, but it didn’t matter by that point, and the romantic denouement was delightful, with a nice twist to it.

If I have a complaint at all, it’s that the two main characters were a bit too perfect. Samuel had his prejudices, but otherwise he seemed to spend his life helping the poor and preaching well-received sermons, while Georgiana seemed to have no visible flaws at all, winning over all the villagers (with the possible exception of Lady Whatsit at the big house!). She was just a thoroughly nice person, and I would have liked to see a bit more fire from her. It would have been nice to see more of the aunt, too, who seemed to be merely a convenient plot device to draw Georgiana to Rushbury and then be more or less ignored. I do think she could have done more to intervene when the crisis hit and Georgiana was obviously very unhappy.

As always with Martha Keyes, this is a beautifully written tale. My favourite line was this, of clouds: ‘inching along at the leisurely pace of clouds that had nowhere to go.’ The research was excellent (I never knew there was such a post as Surveyor of Roads), and the romance is lovely. Not the most dramatic read ever, but very enjoyable nevertheless (it reminds me a bit of Lark Rise to Candleford, where nothing much happens very slowly, but in the most pleasant way). Four stars.

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Review: Hazelhurst by Martha Keyes

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

I read this straight after book 3 of the series, Cecilia, and here we have another book with a fascinating premise: three months after marrying for love, Lady Anne Vincent discovers that her supposed husband was a bigamist. She isn’t married at all, and her future options are limited. She daren’t risk her heart in another love match, so when her father proposes a marriage of convenience for her, she accepts without demur. Tobias Cosgrove (brother of Cecilia and her sisters) knows he must marry, as the son and heir, but a marriage of convenience may be just the ticket, allowing him to continue his free-wheeling ways without interference.

Naturally, what starts out as a marriage of cool self-sufficiency, both leading their own independent lives and hardly meeting except by accident, gradually becomes something more. I liked the way they inched oh-so-gradually towards a deeper relationship, as she begins to feel the loneliness of her life, and he begins to appreciate the value of a friend at home. Along the way, there are outbreaks of slightly over-the-top high spirits, which serve to break down the reserve between them, and times when they talked as adults. I particularly enjoyed the scene where they sat together in the bedroom – very powerful and memorable. It helps that they’re both sensible, likable characters that the reader can totally root for.

But of course it can’t all be plain sailing, as Anne’s past returns to haunt her and the fragile rapport between Anne and Tobias is in danger of splintering. I wasn’t entirely convinced by these later episodes, with all the melodramas and misunderstandings, but by that time I was too invested to worry about it, and the ending was just perfect.

A lovely traditional Regency with two very sympathetic characters, and the author’s assured grasp of the Regency era. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Cecilia by Martha Keyes

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

This was always going to be that tricky third book of the series, the one where the heroine had been thoroughly unlikable throughout the first two. Is it possible to redeem her? This is one of an author’s greatest challenges, but Keyes is an accomplished storyteller and weaves Cecelia’s redemption effortlessly. She also has a great talent for an unusual premise. Our hero, Jacques Levesque, assumed the role of a French nobleman as a young boy after chance gave him and his father the opportunity. Now grown up, he struggles to live with the deception, as society accepts him without question. This is an intriguing starting point, and although the reader can guess that Jacques will be unmasked at some point, the how and why and what happens then are all to be revealed.

Cecilia is a difficult character to root for. She has been so thoroughly self-centred and unpleasant in the previous books, one almost wants to see her get her comeuppance. But because we are (at last) seeing Cecilia’s selfish behaviour from within her own head, we can begin to understand the pressure she is under to please her parents and make a stunning marriage. She is, after all, the beauty of the family, who draws men to her without even trying, so she’s been able to play games with them, imagining that she has only to smile to have them running back. But the loss of a suitor she believed constant in the previous book has dented her confidence, and when she meets Jacques and he tells her she is affected and superficial, she starts to rethink her attitudes. As for Jacques, he thinks her nothing but a shallow socialite until he overhears her in a completely different mood, and realises there is a completely different girl beneath the artificial exterior. Both of them begin to see behind the masks they’ve chosen to hide behind in society.

But it isn’t entirely Jacques who is the catalyst for Cecilia to change. Here the author takes a huge risk by introducing a real Regency character, Lady Caroline Lamb, who takes Cecilia under her wing and encourages her to break out of her docile little life. I must admit that my heart sank when she first appeared, because usually these real-world characters are introduced as cameos, scoring points for the author: hey, look at all the research I’ve done! Not so here. Lady Caroline is not only an integral part of the plot, she also feels totally believable, outrageous actions and all. Yes, she seems bonkers, but then she really was!

There was only one point where I felt a plot contrivance was stretched a bit thin, in that the one person who is in a position to reveal Jacques’ deception as a boy is coincidentally someone who is closely connected with him as an adult. I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers, but it did seem a bit implausible. On the other hand, the twist that brought about the happy ending might seem a bit deus ex machina, but the groundwork was laid right through the book. Besides, at that point, I was so invested in our hero and heroine that I’d have accepted a far less likely scenario.

I was nervous about starting this book because I didn’t expect to like Cecilia very much, but I quickly got swept up in it, and deeply invested in and terrified for both hero and heroine: Jacques because he would inevitably be unmasked at some stage, and Cecilia because she would have to discover that the man she loved was an imposter. As always with Martha Keyes, the writing and historical accuracy are impeccable. Highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Goodwill for the Gentleman by Martha Keyes

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

A lovely second-chance romance by one of my new favourite authors. I’ve never quite understood the appeal of Christmas romances, especially in the Regency which really didn’t make a big deal of the holiday season (it became huge in the Victorian era) but the author makes a convincing case for it here, since the heroine has German ancestry and therefore has the whole Christmas tree tradition. With or without the Christmas tree (with naked candles! Yikes! Mr Health and Mr Safety would NOT approve!), the whole snowed-up setting works perfectly for this particular story.

The premise is that eldest son and heir Hugh Warrilow was expected to marry the neighbours’ eldest daughter, Lucy Caldwell, but he disgraced himself by jilting her and running off to join the army. Now, three years later, he’s returned home, determined to set matters right and try to forget the reason for the jilting – that he was in love with Lucy’s sister Emma. For her part, Emma will never forgive Hugh for what he did, and now they’re snowed up together at his home…

There’s nothing unexpected about this story which unfolds delightfully. Both Hugh and Emma were perfectly believable and sympathetic characters, and their gradual rapprochement was a joy to watch. I loved the sledges in the snow, and also the parlour game snapdragon (a new one to me). I felt there was rather too much angsty backstory squeezed in, what with the war widow, the survivor and the brother’s betrothal issues, but that’s not really a complaint because they all serve to increase Hugh’s guilt. I would have liked, too, for Hugh himself to have confessed all to Emma, instead of leaving it to others to enlighten her, but again, not a complaint.

A couple of very trivial niggles. When Hugh comes home unannounced, there are no servants to greet him and he carries his own luggage into the house and simply walks into the dining room. I found that a real stretch. There would at the very least have been grooms or kitchen staff around, and where was his valet or batman? And then he sits down to join the others for dinner, a place already set (they were psychic!) and without changing out of his travel-stained clothes into evening dress. Um, no. Also, one character is described as a ‘country barrister’. Barristers are the top-ranked lawyers, who put the case in the highest courts, so they’re based in the cities. A country lawyer would be an attorney, whose work is the boring transfer of bits of land or flocks of sheep. Totally trivial niggles, which didn’t spoil my enjoyment at all.

A great read. Five stars.

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Review: Phoebe by Martha Keyes

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

A short and sweet free story from one of my new favourite authors. Phoebe is awaiting the return of the man she loves from his tour of the continent. Without a formal betrothal, she wasn’t able to write to him, but every day she wrote a line or two in a year-long letter. Now she awaits his arrival at a ball, with the letter heavy in her reticule. But before he appears, she overhears dreadful news – he’s enamoured of a woman he met he France. So when she finally meets him again, to save her pride she makes up an attachment to another man.

And so the stage is set for a story that’s based entirely on that time-honoured plot, the Great Misunderstanding. We know this because we can see inside the head of lover George, and know that he’s stayed faithful to Phoebe and he’s bewildered and hurt by her seeming defection. Fortunately, Phoebe’s sensible enough not to let George leave again without at least showing him her letter, and the story is short enough that matters get resolved speedily.

I have some very minor quibbles. I’d have preferred the letter to play a bigger role in the resolution than it did, purely for the symmetry, and I felt there was too much explanation at the end of things which the reader already knows and don’t need to be spelt out. There would have been more tension, too, if we hadn’t known exactly what George was feeling. But the romance ended beautifully, and the writing is excellent, as always. Four stars.

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Review: Isabel by Martha Keyes

Posted September 22, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I loved Wyndcross, the predecessor to this book, so I knew right from the start that I would love this, too, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very different story, in many ways a more conventional Regency romance, complete with that time-honoured plot-device, the fake betrothal, and perhaps it doesn’t quite reach the sublime heights of Wyndcross, but that was a very high bar.

Isabel Cosgrove, our heroine, had a walk-on role in the previous book, but it’s not necessary to have read that one first. This book picks up Isabel’s story in London in the midst of the shared season for her and her sister, up from Dorset for the occasion, and Isabel is suffering in comparison with the beautiful Cecilia. Our hero, Charles Galbraith, is in thrall to one of the ton’s incomparables, Julia Darling, who is a flighty piece, seeming to have lost interest in him in favour of another eligible. So Charles does what any young man would do when spurned by the woman he loves – he goes off and gets blind drunk, so drunk that he ends up in a wager with Isabel’s father, and wins her hand in marriage.

Now, there’s a lot to take on board here. Superficially it makes both Charles and Mr Cosgrove look like idiots. Charles is not only throwing away any possibility of Julia changing her mind again and coming back to him, he’s also binding himself for life to a woman he barely knows. And as for Mr Cosgrove, he looks like the world’s worst father for agreeing to such a wager in the first place (although, to be fair, he does have a better reason for his actions than mere drunken caprice). But Charles doesn’t, and the author sets herself quite a challenge here – from such an unpromising beginning, to make Charles into a sympathetic and heroic character. It’s a testament to her skill that she achieves this splendidly.

Fortunately for the reader inclined to dislike drunken Charles (ie me), sober Charles turns out to be a charming and honourable man, who immediately makes Isabel an offer in form. Which she rejects, even though she’s had the hots for him for years, because she doesn’t want a resentful husband, constantly mooning over his lost love and trying not to show it. Which is terribly decent of her. I’m not sure I could ever be quite so noble and self-sacrificing as the typical Regency heroine.

But she has a cunning plan. If she and Charles pretend to be betrothed for a while, it will make Julia jealous enough to return to Charles, and by that time Isabel’s beautiful younger sister will have achieved the expected stellar match and their father will be too pleased to be angry with Isabel. Now, there are more holes in this scheme than a sieve. I don’t know why it is, but whenever Regency characters get into a pickle, one of them is sure to say: I know, let’s pretend to be engaged! That’ll totally work! Which makes me want to bang their heads together and say: Guys, this is a terrible idea, don’t do it, OK? But they never listen.

So off they go with their fake betrothal, and of course all sorts of complications ensue, as expected. There’s a fairly dodgy subplot with a cute ingenue, who’s both naive and worldly-wise all at the same time, and the usual dastardly villain, and everything builds to a grand climax, which is good, dramatic stuff. But it’s the romance that steals the show here, and it’s my favourite sort, the slow build of two sensible and intelligent people towards their inevitable destiny. The denouement is delicious.

Niggles? Not many. Apart from a few anachronisms (a Regency hero who feels the need to ‘get out of his own head’?) and a plot that occasionally felt as if it was held together with chewing gum and string, this book was a delight. There was humour, some fun side-characters (I particularly liked gossipy plotter Mary) and a swoon-worthy hero. Isabel was a great heroine, and if her plan went a little awry, her intentions were the best, and I liked her a lot. I had some reservations about the premise and how drunken Charles would redeem himself, but the author pulled it off magnificently, so I can’t give this less than five stars. Looking forward to the next book about Isabel’s beautiful younger sister.

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Review: Wyndcross by Martha Keyes

Posted July 7, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

It’s a rare day when I find a new author I can rave about, but here we are. Martha Keyes’ first full-length Regency romance manages to tick all the boxes – engaging characters, believable situations and a truly authentic setting. The dialogue is sparkling with wit in the best tradition of Georgette Heyer, and the characters all speak and behave in a credibly Regency manner. Awesome.

Here’s the premise: Kate Matcham is in a difficult situation. Her father died trying to stamp out smuggling in Dorsetshire, and her mother remarried a man in trade. Kate’s spending most of her time with her widowed aunt in London, but she’s aware that, with younger sisters growing up, she’s expected to marry well. Her options are limited, though – a marriage of convenience, an offer of a less savoury sort, or the slight possibility of a fortune from her less-than-respectable step-father. She doesn’t want any of them. But then she receives an unexpected invitation to stay with a childhood friend very near to her old home. The only problem? The charming young man she finds herself falling for is earmarked for her friend.

I adore a character who makes me laugh, and William, the aforementioned charming young man, has the most glorious sense of humour. He brings out the best in Kate, and their verbal sparring matches are a delight. There are some other fun characters, too, and (with a couple of minor exceptions) the bad guys are not so much wicked as flailing about trying to do their best, albeit in a fairly misguided way.

The smuggling subplot is not an original one, and the resolution there was fairly melodramatic, but it never felt outrageously contrived and the characters behaved (on the whole) in keeping with their characters. I say ‘on the whole’, because I got a bit twitchy about William keeping Kate in the dark, especially when it’s clear at this point that he’s in love with her. Knowing her history and character, and knowing how dangerous the situation was, not telling her put her at great risk. I would have liked a bit more passion from him, too, especially at the end when they’ve been through some difficult times together. Sweeping her into his manly arms wouldn’t have gone amiss at that point. Sometimes Regency restraint can be carried a tad too far!

As for Kate, she did a great deal of agonising and it took her a long time to realise what was going on with William, both on the smuggling front and emotionally. There’s that Regency restraint again. I’m not a huge fan of hand-wringing heroines, but with Kate it was very understandable, given her background and her presumed unsuitability to marry William, who is the heir to an earldom. But when the two of them did finally manage to set aside that pesky Regency restraint for five minutes and sort themselves out, it was well worth the wait.

On the historical accuracy front, I have virtually nothing to grumble about. The only Americanisms I spotted were a couple of gottens and one or two times Kate gazed ‘out the window’. There were a couple of anachronisms. ‘Empathy’ was first recorded in 1895 and ‘surreal’ in 1936. Trivial stuff. In every other way – dialogue, manners, setting – the author’s grasp of the Regency is very assured, and the wit and sparkle that flies between Kate and William reminded me very much of Georgette Heyer. A wonderful read, highly recommended. Five stars.

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Review: Eleanor by Martha Keyes

Posted July 1, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a novella-length story as an introduction to this debut author, and it’s a pretty accomplished work for a first timer. The premise is an unusual one. Lawrence Debenham has been browbeaten by his parents for his whole life. Now they’ve bought him a modest estate so that he can assume the responsibilities of a gentleman of property, and settle down with a suitably worthy wife. He is rebelling in the only way he can, by inviting a couple of pleasure-bent friends to join him in a life of idleness, doing anything rather than accede to his parents’ wishes and accept the mantle of duty.
But into this dissolute life appears Eleanor Renwick, her young brother John and a very large dog called Anne. Finding them stranded at the local inn by a broken-down carriage, Lawrence recklessly invites them to stay at his house until the repairs have been completed, and finds himself face to face with Eleanor’s deeply-felt but lightly-borne sense of duty. John (and the dog) help Lawrence to recapture his youth and Eleanor… well, it’s not difficult to see where things are heading with Eleanor, if only Lawrence can set aside his wish to thwart his parents.This is a straightforward little story. There are no dastardly villains, no kidnappings or shady goings-on, all the characters are pleasant, decent sorts and thank goodness for a plot which doesn’t depend on the two main characters misunderstanding each other or failing to communicate. It has to be said that very little happens rather slowly, but what does happen is enjoyable enough. There’s a tendency to describe every single piece of dialogue or gesture or smile, which slows things even more. When the author has got into her stride, I hope she’ll tighten her writing a bit and vary the pace.

On the historical accuracy front, I only have one quibble. A lady finding herself stranded at an inn with only a young brother and a dog as escort is in a bit of a bind, especially if there are no rooms to be had at said inn. What she would never, never do, however, is to go off with a single man to stay at his home. If he were married, or his mother were in residence, it would be acceptable, but a lady staying unchaperoned in a house with only young, single gentlemen and servants is a big no-no. However, it’s the whole premise of the story, so it has to be given a pass.

I liked all the characters. John and the dog are plot devices, but charming ones. Eleanor is a serious type who needed Lawrence’s childlike imagination to lighten her life, and Lawrence needed a dose of her graceful approach to duty to enable him to accept his responsibilities. Both their dilemmas felt real, and if they fell into the romance a little too easily, it was obvious that they were well suited and would be very contented together.

There were a fair few Americanisms (fall instead of autumn, passed instead of died, amongst others), and there were some expressions that felt too modern to me, but otherwise the writing was fine, and mercifully free of typos and wayward punctuation. In the end, Lawrence’s difficulties resolved themselves very easily. I would have liked to have met his parents, having heard them demonised for most of the book. It would have been fun to find out whether they really were as dreadful as Lawrence made out, although there’s a hint that it’s his own fears that made them seem so. It’s a small point, however. The focus of the story is the romance, which builds nicely to a delightful resolution. A pleasant and readable debut. I shall be looking forward to the author’s first full length book. Four stars.

PS I don’t usually comment on covers, since the inside of a book is generally more interesting, but a huge thumbs-up for a cover that features something close to historically accurate clothing rather than a glorified prom gown.

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