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Review: The Courtship of Chloe by Dorothy Mack

Posted June 22, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

I loved this book. It was first published in 1992, so it’s a solid traditional Regency, and nothing about it was earth-shatteringly original, but it was beautifully written, with well-drawn and sympathetic characters, and a nicely developed romance. Anyone pining for a new Georgette Heyer would find this a satisfactory substitute.

Here’s the premise: Chloe Norris is a down-to-earth doctor’s daughter, sent by various circumstances to help out the Keeson family who are planning a ball to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of younger daughter Lady Mary. It seems a simple enough business, but Chloe finds herself thrust into the midst of awkward family tensions. Matriarch Lady Montrose is superficially friendly but ruthlessly domineering. Lady Mary is curiously uninterested in her marriage. Older sister Patricia is sunk in grief for her recently deceased husband, ignoring her daughter Emilie. Younger son Ned Keeson is an outrageous and determined flirt. And then there’s Ivor, the eldest son and Earl of Montrose, who seems very drawn to Chloe. But Chloe’s betrothed to navy man Captain Bertram Otley, so that will protect her from unwanted advances, won’t it?

Chloe’s arrival is the pebble in the pond that sets ripples in motion. She starts by making friends with the sadly neglected little girl Emilie and gradually draws both the sisters out of their self-absorption. And Ivor finds her a refreshing change from the women in his usual circle of acquaintances. Chloe has no drawing-room accomplishments, apart from an ability to sew a hem, but she’s well read and intelligent and can hold her own against him over the chessboard. He holds himself aloof from the world, burying himself in estate work and physical labour with his workers, but Chloe draws him out of himself.

Now, apart from Chloe’s engagement, which has been in existence for five years and must therefore be presumed to have run aground, there’s absolutely no obstacle to these two getting together whenever they please. Ambitious Lady Montrose doesn’t like it, of course, but Ivor’s a grown man in full possession of his fortune, so that really isn’t a problem. Somehow, however, the romance chugs along at the speed of treacle (molasses for US-ians), with Chloe trying to keep her head down and not tread on any snooty matriachal toes, Ivor gradually making up his rather sluggish (in emotional matters) mind and said matriarch lobbing hand grenades at them.

Chloe, it has to be said, is something of a Mary Sue, in that pretty much everything she does turns out well, she never blows her top or walks out in a huff or shows the slightest crack in her perfect Regency ladylike composure. Even when she gets into trouble by allowing Emilie to get caught in a downpour, it’s because she was so engrossed in entertaining the child. She is just a tad too perfect, but still a very sympathetic character as just about the only normal (and unselfish) person in the whole household.

Ivor is a more believable character, that staple of the Regency novel, the silently brooding nobleman. I disliked his utter obliviousness to his sisters’ unhappiness, and his rather cowardly way of hiding away from his mother. He was also pretty arrogant in assuming that Chloe’s engagement would easily be set aside for him. He was so confident of success that he told everyone that he was going to marry her before he even proposed – and this to a woman already betrothed!

Of the other characters, Lady Montrose is a bit of a cliche, the snobby, ambitious and manipulative mama, but very well-drawn and never losing her smarmy outward appearance until the very end. The two sisters lacked backbone, especially Mary. I usually have very little time for characters who realise they’re making a hideous mistake but are quite prepared to go ahead and make it anyway, but in this case I totally got the point that it was easier just to give in and do what was expected rather than fight it out with mama. Patricia is slightly over the top, but still a believable woman quite overcome by grief. Ned is also slightly over the top as the irrepressible flirt, but even he is so terrified of his mother that he resorts to extreme (and ungentlemanly) measures to thwart her matchmaking. The writing is excellent, with just the very occasional Americanism, although I laughed so hard at the settee in the rose garden! No, just no.

In the end none of these minor quibbles mattered at all, since I was totally swept up in the story. It’s not profound, but it’s a charming traditional Regency with a range of interesting characters and a very satisfactory romance. Five stars.

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Review: The Unlikely Chaperone by Dorothy Mack

Posted June 11, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 8 Comments

This book was first published in 1991, according to Goodreads, one of a whole swathe of the author’s books now being re-released in Kindle versions. Not surprisingly, it’s a very traditional style of story, focusing on the London season, Almack’s, drives through Hyde Park, morning calls and so forth. For anyone looking longingly for a Georgette Heyer substitute, this is a very good alternative, featuring many of the same types of characters, setpiece scenes and witty dialogue. In fact, there are echoes of Frederica, Black Sheep, Venetia and Arabella along the way.

Here’s the premise: Alexandra Farrish has been forced to take on the responsibility of raising her young siblings after the death of their mother. Now they’ve all come to London for the season to find husbands for three of the girls, incomparable beauty Didi, and identical twins Cassie and Arie. And amongst the hordes of admirers drawn to Didi, comes one of London’s most eligible bachelors, the Marquess of Malvern. Can Didi bring him to a proposal, or will he decide he’s looking for more than mere beauty?The story has a somewhat rocky start for an otherwise frivolous Regency, for the opening is Lord Malvern rushing to the bedside of his dying sister, who tells him just who has brought her to this pass — unrequited love for one Lee Farrish. Malvern then spends some time tracking down Farrish, and storming into his first encounter with the Farrish family, and Alexandra’s robust style of dialogue. He comes to realise that it’s not Lee’s fault, and is then drawn into Didi’s orbit.

Now, at first sight this is a peculiar response to the death of his sister, but the author makes a good case for a man who is emotionally unbalanced and makes an irrational decision on the spot to marry and settle down to home and family. I won’t spoil the surprise by spelling out how this odd courtship progresses, but suffice it to say that there is an ample sufficiency of marriages and betrothals by the end of the book, and each one of them very appropriate for the couple concerned.

There are some plot oddities, like the girl rescued from likely prostitution by the heroine and never mentioned again, and the brother, Lee, whose only purpose seemed to be to draw Lord Malvern into the Farrish’s circle, since he was largely forgotten thereafter. This won’t suit anyone looking for a modern style of story, with an independent heroine and a respectful-of-women hero. This is the old-fashioned kind, where the women are all aiming to make good marriages and the men are strong and borderline domineering, while remaining terribly gentlemanlike, but it’s an excellent example of the type, very Heyer-esque, and well written with only a light sprinkle of Americanisms. Five stars.

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