Posts Tagged: speers

Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Felicity’ by Susan Speers

March 17, 2018 Review 2

Finally! After five books in the series where the author’s talent almost shone through but was drowned out by misfiring plots, a scattergun approach to punctuation and (in one case) sheer dullness, here she gets everything right. Fascinating characters, an engrossing story, a villain unmasked and a heart-warming romance – this one works on all fronts, and the editing is excellent, too.

Here’s the premise: Felicity Debenham has been passed from one distant relation to another, and given the most desperate jobs, treated with contempt, cheated of her pay and accused of stealing. Cast out on the streets with no other recourse, she turns to an old friend who now runs an employment agency. But it isn’t the sort of agency that supplies respectable maids, companions and governesses, and Felicity is forced to consider learning a new, and less respectable, trade.

She’s rescued by a most unlikely circumstance. Hervey Godbold is looking for female companionship to bring some cheer to the last Christmas of his dying friend, Laurence Dashiell. Unable to find any respectable woman willing to travel north with him, he’s forced to try less reputable sources. Felicity, of course, is happy to help, and so these two set off on their journey together.

Hervey is a most unusual hero for any romance, for he’s a big, blundering sort of guy, not terribly bright but good hearted, and very gentle with Felicity, treating her with the utmost respect, even though he’s effectively paid for her services as a whore. Laurence, Hervey’s soldier friend who’s dying from his wounds, is another gentle soul. He calls Felicity ‘Happiness’, and Hervey calls her ‘Fliss’, and I loved both names for her, which spoke volumes about the two men. Of course, there’s a villain, Laurence’s cousin Dart, who is only waiting for Laurence to die to take over his estate. And he’s been defrauding Laurence, somehow, but no one can quite work out how.

There’s never any doubt as to how things will turn out, and if I have a complaint at all about these books, it’s that the characters fall too rigidly into the good or bad side. There are no shades of grey here, only black and white. But the story is lovely, the romance is charming and the few sex scenes are appropriate and unusually realistic for the genre (by which I mean that the heroine doesn’t fall into instant ecstasy the moment she gets her kit off).

The whole series is interesting, but this one excels. Highly recommended for anyone looking for something different from the usual unfeasibly handsome dukes behaving badly and improbably beautiful but wilfully independent young ladies. Five stars. And now the wait begins for Miss G. Gladys? Gertrude? Gillian?

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Edwina’ by Susan Speers

March 17, 2018 Review 0

The fifth of this series, and yet again a completely different story. Not for this author the constant reworking of one threadbare plot over and over. Not all the books are totally successful, but they’re all intriguing, and the hope of uncovering another gem keeps me reading on through the alphabet.

The spinster this time is Edwina Howlett, or Garrett as she calls herself for much of the book, for reasons that never made a great deal of sense to me. She’s been the governess/companion to spoilt, wilful Louisa Hart, who was one of the potential brides invited to the house party in Abigail. I really like that these books are loosely connected in this way, without the artificial constructs of an array of brothers or sisters. Now that Edwina’s charge is betrothed and shortly to marry, she’s no longer needed and takes up a position as a school teacher with a family friend, first in Bath and then in London. But it soon becomes clear that a great deal went on behind the scenes during Edwina’s time at Hartfield.

Edwina herself is a very likable character, very sensible and down to earth, yet holding steadily to her one true love. I never got much sense of her appearance, and I couldn’t tell you whether she was plain or pretty, tall or short, or whatever. Maybe it was all in there and I just missed it, I don’t know. Her love interest, however, I can see very clearly.

He doesn’t come out of this too well. Sir Geoffrey Hart is the father of the girl Edwina was governess to, and therefore an older man who ought to know better. He’s thrown Edwina out of his house, in harrowing circumstances, and immediately betrothed himself to an unpleasant woman of his own age, and although his reasons for this gradually become clear, it is still utterly reprehensible behaviour in a gentleman. Inevitably, despite the apparent permanent parting, he ends up bumping into Edwina at every verse end, whereupon he blows hot and cold and is generally thoroughly annoying. At odd moments he becomes seriously heroic, only to abandon Edwina without a word immediately afterwards. Honestly, I just wanted to slap him upside the head. The contrast with the steadfast and devoted Captain Palfrey in Daphne is striking. Not all heroes need to be the same, but they need to have some redeeming qualities besides the heroine being in love with them.

The author provides an attractive alternative suitor in Mr Richard Ravenscroft, who is a totally nice man, independently wealthy, handsome and pleasingly devoted to Edwina. But he never really develops beyond this sketchy outline, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because Edwina is besotted by her flaky older man. There are some subplots going on in the background, but essentially they are just feeding the romance plot.

In the end, Edwina begins to cast off her very convincing impression of a doormat and starts to stand up for herself, and her love interest finally comes good. And about time too.

These books are so frustrating. On the one hand, the stories are fresh and different and very well grounded in the Regency era. On the other hand, the editing is pretty dire, with commas, quote marks and capital letters randomly added or missing, and far too many choppy sentences and clunky dialogue. The plotting is clunky, too. To give but one example, Edwina meets Richard Ravenscroft accidentally at an inn while they are travelling in different directions. They’ve barely got past the awkward introductions (he’s bathing in the river at the time) before he’s spilling his life history and asking her advice, at great length. To describe this as implausible doesn’t begin to do justice to the random let’s-just-throw-them-together nature of it.

And yet, despite all my grumbles, here I am reading steadily through the series. I already have Felicity and I’m pretty sure I’ll go on to G (Geraldine? Georgiana? Grace?) and H (my money’s on Harriet) and right through to Z (Zinnia? Zoe?). I would love to see the author slow down her production schedule and put a bit of polish on these, with decent covers and some solid developmental editing and proofreading. Then they could be something really special. This one is closer to a three star for me, but it tackles some serious issues and is so original in other ways that I’ll round it up to four stars.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Daphne’ by Susan Speers

March 17, 2018 Review 0

This series is a real mixed bag. Abigail was delightful, Belinda a little less successful, Cecily a powerful and absorbing read. But this one is just dull. The focus is a children’s Nativity play, there are a couple of nasty characters with no redeeming qualities, and a hero who’s just a very nice man. The heroine doesn’t show much character, either, and absolutely nothing of interest happens. The slowness isn’t helped by dialogue that covers every word spoken between the characters.

Here’s the plot, such as it is: Daphne (who’s supposed to be a chatterbox but we never really hear this) lives in genteel poverty with her elderly aunts. She’s courted by retired sea-dog Captain Palfrey and a cousin, clergyman Gideon Spicer. The clergyman is resolutely dogmatic in insisting that she marry him, and I longed to box his ears every time he refused to take no for an answer. Daphne was far more restrained in her refusals than I would have been. There are some struggles with money issues and a problem for Captain Palfrey which Daphne gets involved with and that’s about it, really.

There are fewer editing issues in this book than in books 2 and 3 in the series, but there are still far too many punctuation errors and one or two sentences that just made no sense. There are some implausibilities in the plot, too. Even so, I still enjoyed the romance, and especially the ending which was very satisfactory. Three stars. I’ve already downloaded Edwina and Felicity, so I’ll probably read on and hope for better fortune.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of A Regency Spinster: Cecily’ by Susan Speers

March 2, 2018 Review 0

The enjoyable aspect of a series like this is that every book is different. It’s like a box of chocolates where you don’t know until you try it whether you’ve got the strawberry cream or the caramel or the nutty one. I loved Abigail, was ho-hum about Belinda and now Cecily is perhaps the strongest story yet. But be warned – for sensitive souls, it’s a bit of a weepy.

Here’s the plot: Cecily has endured some heartbreaking years, but at last she’s found a sanctuary of sorts in the small seaside village of Daggers Bay, acting as companion to the invalid daughter of a neighbouring family. But then into this quiet life comes a man from her past – Lord Hawley, heir to an earldom.

I’m not going to spoil the read by revealing too much of what follows, but suffice it to say that both characters have to learn to live with and accept the past, and change enough to have a future together. These are two strong-minded people who share an unbreakable bond of love, and I wept buckets as they gradually came to their happy ever after. A great love story. There is a sex scene, but it’s nicely done and felt in character.

There are some fine minor characters, too, especially Laurel, the invalid, and I think we’ve met the Daphne of the next book. There are a few caricatures, too, especially amongst the villainous characters, and I do think Carlton was way too easy on his mother – I’d have been spitting fire about it. The historical accuracy level is high, although Viscount Hawley would always be addressed as Lord Hawley, and never as Viscount. Dukes are the only nobles ever addressed by their rank.

So why only four stars? It’s because the editing is terrible. Speech marks are left out here, there and everywhere, there are extra or missing words, there’s confusion over lie and lay, and Laurel becomes Lauren at one point. And if the author could have brought herself to use the past perfect tense (using ‘had’) many passages would have been greatly improved. It’s such a shame, because the book is well-written and emotionally very powerful, but such sloppiness lets it down badly. Four stars and on to Daphne.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Belinda’ by Susan Speers

February 2, 2018 Review 0

I loved the first book in this series, Abigail, and immediately plunged into this one, which featured one of the intriguing side characters from the first book. Sadly, it is nothing like as resounding a success as the first one. Large parts of the plot are, not to put too fine a point on it, a hot mess.

Here’s the premise: Belinda is the epitome of a poor relation. She’s passed around from one branch of the family to another, as she might be useful. Eventually, she washes up in London, at the home of elderly Millicent Anstruther, to whom Belinda is to act as companion. Millicent, we are given to understand, is a dragon, who chews up companions and spits them out.

And here is the first of several problems. Millicent is a little brusque, but she’s never less than kind to Belinda. She gives her light secretarial duties, fits her out in stylish clothes and takes her along to every grand society event. The hostile person in the family is Millicent’s niece Fleur, who fits neatly into the spoilt, wilful but beautiful debutante category. She treats Belinda as a servant and is unfailingly rude to her. Millicent, the supposed dragon, ticks her off for these insults, of course, pointing out that Belinda is family.

The central plot revolves around a collection of archaeological artifacts, which Fleur and scholar Edward Fortescue, a friend of Belinda’s from book 1, are cataloguing. This is where everything unravels, because very little of this made much sense to me. I found it impossible to believe that the honour of the family hinged entirely on the collection, and there were so many coincidences and lucky breaks as to defy credibility. I’m still not sure who set the fires, or what became of the visits to His Grace and the Earl, which Millicent’s brothers were to undertake. Nor could I believe for one moment that spoilt, selfish Fleur, surrounded by titled suitors, would run away with a penniless man. Hot mess, the whole lot of it.

And here’s a complaint that I don’t often have to make these days — this book was riddled with typos. Not so much spelling errors, but missing or extraneous words, poor punctuation and even a wrong name (Millicent is called Mildred at one point). This is so disappointing, because the first book was very much cleaner in this respect, and it’s so sad when a fine writer’s work is let down in this way.

But the main romance was lovely. The hero was a delightful character that I was rooting for all the way, Belinda’s growing feelings were perfectly understandable and the misunderstandings between them actually made some sense. All their scenes shimmered with romantic fairy dust, even when Belinda herself wasn’t aware of it, there was no gratuitous sex scene this time (unlike the first book), and the ending was delightful. So, despite the hot mess (which may just be my brain not working well) and the typos, I’m going to give this three stars and hope for better in book 3, Cecily.

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Review: ‘The Difficult Life of a Regency Spinster: Abigail’ by Susan Speers

February 2, 2018 Review 0

A delightful book that almost made it to five stars. This is the first of a series focusing on Regency spinsters, those not born to great beauty or wealth or connections, who must eke out an existence as best they can. Miss Abigail Grey is a little-regarded step-daughter of her mother’s second husband, and, with her mother long-dead, has a difficult future ahead of her. But when she accompanies her wilful half-sister to a house party for the Marquess of Southey to choose a bride, Abigail recognises him as the impoverished soldier she rejected seven years earlier. There’s never any doubt as to where this is going, but the journey is entrancing.

I liked the Marquess very much, a sensible, thoughtful man, doing his duty at his aunt’s behest. A lesser writer would have had him rushing into a betrothal with the half-sister before realising his mistake, but no, he courts Abigail very determinedly, if discreetly, and never allows himself to be drawn in by the young ladies vying for his hand, or their scheming mamas. And Abigail behaves with (mostly) propriety, and has good reason for continuing to resist the marquess. And thereby lies a minor grumble – it surely wouldn’t have been too difficult for her to explain to him the reason for her refusal. It would have saved a great deal of difficulty.

The other characters are lightly sketched in, but I’ve been pleased to learn that some of them turn up later in the series. I didn’t detect any historical inaccuracies, and the writing avoided the pitfall of anachronistic manners or dialogue. Some aspects felt very Heyer-like (the wilful young ingenue and the callow youth, for instance, and perhaps the marquess falls into the world-weary older man role so beloved of Heyer, although happily without rakish tendencies). In almost all respects the book was the greatest pleasure to read.

The exception, and the reason for the loss of a star, is the gratuitous sex scene in the conservatory. I have no problem with sex in a Regency romance, but this felt utterly out of character for both parties. I would have loved a detailed proposal scene at this point, with the marquess spelling out how his feelings have deepened over the years since their brief earlier meeting, and how well-suited they were. Passion can be expressed just as well in words as in horizontal action.

Apart from this blip, the book was well-nigh perfect for me, I inhaled it in a day, and am going straight on to Belinda. Four stars.

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