Tag: stables

Review: High Garth by Mira Stables (1977)

Posted December 7, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, because so many people whose opinions I respect love it and recommended it to me. Well, now I’ve read it and… meh. If you like lyrical descriptions of a rather idealised life on a remote Yorkshire farm, this is definitely the book for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a compelling romance with credible obstacles to overcome and actual tension between the couple, best look elsewhere.

Here’s the premise: Patrick Delvercourt is struggling to make a go of his small farm in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, after he inherited a house but no money. With the house let to tenants, he has to make a go of the farm, with the help of a small number of loyal workers. But his housekeeper is becoming too frail for the work, and there’s his young brother to be watched over and given some education. His attempts to advertise for a housekeeper-cum-governess have fallen apart when the women discover just how isolated and primitive the farm is. But Patrick has the good fortune to stumble across Ann Beverley, clearly a lady, but reduced to governessing and newly dismissed from her post. Cautiously, the two agree to give it a try.

The early part of the book is a paean to the beauties of Yorkshire, and a detailed description of just how farming people lived in whatever year this is set (I’m not sure whether it’s Regency or Victorian, to be honest). It’s interesting, but frankly it doesn’t move the plot along very much. I’m all in favour of a bit of description, but I do like something to actually happen as well. But this part of the book is all about describing just how beautiful Yorkshire is (yes, we got that) and establishing the relationships. There’s nothing to dislike about it, but it didn’t set me on fire, either.

The middle part picks up a bit with the reveal that the tenant of the house he inherited is none other than Patrick’s lost love, the woman he nearly married before losing his house and fortune. She promptly married someone else, and rented Patrick’s house (which was why she wanted to marry him in the first place). So now she’s his nearest neighbour and a perpetual reminder of what he’s lost. She’s also a cow of the first degree, so he’s better off without her, frankly, which he’s surely smart enough to see. She’s typifies one of the major problems with the book, in fact, which is that all the characters are either too good to be true or out and out villains. It’s true that Patrick and Ann are not without flaws, but they are sneakily positive flaws like pride and being over-sensitive about matters of rank and fortune.

And here in a nutshell is the biggest problem I found – that there is no real obstacle to the romance at all, apart from the aforesaid pride and a perceived discrepancy of rank. There’s some slight tension between them at times, but it’s largely because of misunderstandings (yes, that old chestnut), and therefore not very convincing. And there’s a major fail in all this, in that both hero and heroine are keeping big secrets from each other, and one of them, at least, would remove every vestige of an obstacle at a stroke, if it were revealed. But that would spoil the story, so it isn’t revealed until the very end. I can’t tell you how annoyed I was by it.** (Spoiler below, if you want it.)

I have one other quibble. Ann left home to be a governess largely because her vastly rich stepfather was so horrible to her. But then at the end of the book he turns up, is as nice as pie to everyone, essentially engineers the marriage and gives Ann a tidy dowry as well! Believable? Not in the slightest.

Despite all this, I have to confess that there was a lot that I enjoyed about the book. Ann and Patrick were both lovely, sympathetic characters, pride and secrets notwithstanding, and little Philip was fun. There were even moments when the lyrical descriptions quite won me over. Still, the lack of much plot, the implausibility of the stepfather’s change of heart and that huge secret kept me from unreserved enjoyment. With any other writer, I might give this three stars, but I’m a huge fan of Mira Stables in general and the quality of the writing gets it four stars.

**

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Review: A Marriage Arranged by Mira Stables (1981) [Trad]

Posted August 25, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a difficult one to rate. I liked the premise, the characters and the fact that there was no out-and-out villain, only some social spitefulness. On the other hand, the romance was understated, nothing remotely surprising happened and the writing style was as dry as dust. I enjoyed it, on the whole, but a bit of sparkle would have made it so much better. When reading, I frequently feel the urge to slap the characters upside the head, but this is the first time I can remember wanting to slap the author upside the head.

Here’s the premise: Julian (unknown surname) has been deprived of his ancestral home by his father’s profligate ways and sheer spitefulness. Even though he knew that Julian could bring it back into good order, and wanted to do so, he deliberately sold it. So when he dies and Julian inherits the barony, and is wealthy enough in his own right to buy back Wellasford, he makes the journey there to try his luck. The new owner, Mr Morley, won’t sell, but although he’s restored the house to its former glory, he’s been less successful in managing the estate. He realises that Julian has that skill, in spades. And Julian is unmarried, and Morley has a daughter, Anna… And so a marriage is arranged.

So far, so conventional. But both Morley and his daughter are very far from conventional. He’s a historian, who makes his daughter dress up in various historical costumes for his own pleasure, and although she doesn’t mind it and in fact rather relishes being different, it’s still a pretty weird thing to do. He’s paranoid about her health, too, feeding her up and insisting she drinks a ton of milk, so that she’s overweight. He also has never let her ride side-saddle, only astride, although that’s fairly illogical. When in history did women ever ride astride? But that’s perhaps beside the point. Anna agrees to the marriage, but she insists on some conditions. She wants a season in London to compensate for her less-than-successful previous season, she wants to lose weight first and she wants a fair degree of freedom, so the marriage won’t be consummated until after all this is accomplished.

Julian sees no reason not to agree to all this, but the reader can easily foresee the sort of problems which might (and do) arise. The plot ran on rails from this point onwards, and it could have been a much more exciting book with a bit of effort from the author. Or it could have been heart-rending, perhaps, as the two protagonists spiral into unhappiness. But no, because the book is written in such a flat narrative style that it lost a great deal of its drama and all of its emotional depth. It was frustrating that such good potential was largely wasted, and the ending was too abrupt for words. I’m not a huge fan of long, schmaltzy epilogues, but a cutoff the instant they kiss is too short. In other circumstances, I might have gone for three stars for this, but I still enjoyed it and was invested in the characters, and I’m a Mira Stables fan so she gets the benefit of the doubt, and four stars.

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Review: Honey-Pot by Mira Stables (1979) [Trad]

Posted August 6, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

After two very enjoyable reads from Mira Stables, this one was a slight disappointment. The writing, the historical accuracy and the romance were well up to scratch, but there were elements that I found concerning.

Here’s the premise: Letty Waydene is more or less betrothed to Lucian Staneborough, but she’s deeply suspicious that society belle Russet Ingram is trying to tempt him away from her. She asks her guardian, James Cameron, to do something about it. So he does. He kidnaps Russet and holds her a prisoner at his remote country estate.

Wait a minute… he kidnaps her? Yep. Initially she’s confined to one locked room, but when she makes a risky bid to escape, he gradually allows her a little more freedom. Now, I’m all for a hero being masterful and macho, but there’s a clear line between that and aggressively domineering, and it seems to me that the hero clearly crosses it here. He does soften somewhat as the story progresses, but then there’s a moment towards the end of the book when he has another outbreak of one-sided decision-making. Of course, this was first published in 1979 (forty years ago!) when things were very different, so I make allowances, but it still left a nasty taste in my mouth, and if this would bother you, best avoid.

The other oddity in this book is the extraordinarily convoluted backstories the characters have. Much of this seemed like pure plot contrivance – Russet’s wealth, and the father pensioned off to Italy because reasons, so that Russet can be just setting out on a journey there when she’s kidnapped and so won’t be missed. And then there were James’s Indian servants, whose purpose seemed to be to increase Russet’s isolation in captivity because they couldn’t speak much English. A more serious weakness is James’s complete failure to verify his ward’s story. She tells him Russet is a problem and he immediately jumps to intervene, ending in the drastic step of kidnapping her. That seems to display a sad assessment of his flighty ward’s character.

Really, all these problems should have counted against the book more than they ultimately did, but it’s so well-written and the romance is so beautifully developed that I managed to overlook most of them. Still, that kidnapping keeps it to four stars.

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Review: The Byram Succession by Mira Stables (1978) [Trad]

Posted August 6, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

After the success of Stranger Within The Gates, I moved straight on to this one, to find a very different but equally enjoyable tale. The premise is an old one – two cousins doing the season, one a raving beauty, the other passable. One a fashionably ninny, the other more thoughtful. One a spoilt, spiteful brat, the other a pleasantly-mannered girl. Well, she’s the heroine, so of course she is. But Thea has something often lacking in such heroines – an unexpectedly acquired and rather large fortune. But, as is the way in Regency romances, the fortune is not to be mentioned to avoid the dire prospect of fortune hunters. The fact that this also deters otherwise respectable suitors, like the impoverished heir to a dukedom, is never considered.

The said heir to the dukedom isn’t terribly impoverished (it’s hard to dissipate a dukedom-sized fortune), but his parents would like him to marry some money all the same, to replenish the family coffers. So when he comes across an accident on the road, and helps a self-possessed young lady to rescue the fallen curricle driver and the injured horse, he’s politely interested in her but not enough to consider her for the role of future duchess.

He is himself the interest of the above-mentioned spoilt brat, Tina, who has decided it’s her destiny to be a duchess and so sets out to cajole, entice and charm Lord Skirlaugh, and when that doesn’t have the desired effect, she resorts to scheming and plotting instead. This makes a nice change from the wicked cousin trying to improve his chances of inheriting, which seems to be the commonest Regency villain. Tina isn’t actually wicked, she’s simply self-centred and oblivious to the consequences of her actions.

I liked both Skirlaugh and Thea. He’s a bit cynical, and sensitive about his facial scars (are they a war wound? I don’t remember). She’s refreshingly different from the usual society debutante, and their romance felt nicely believable. The ending is a little bit contrived but by that point I was so invested in these two that I didn’t mind. A well-written story with the ring of Regency authenticity about it. My only (very mild) grumble is that I don’t know Lord Skirlaugh’s exact rank. As the heir to a duke, he’s likely to be a marquess, but it’s never said explicitly. Highly recommended for those looking for a solid traditional read. Five stars.

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Review: Stranger Within The Gates by Mira Stables (1976) [Trad]

Posted August 6, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

This was a very pleasant surprise. It’s an old book, previously released in 1976, and now available in ebook form, so it’s very much old school. That means it’s pretty wordy with not a huge amount of action and the characters conform to the expectations of the day – the hero is a domineering rake and the heroine is delightfully feminine and demure… no, wait. These two are nothing like that at all, both being intelligent and mature, and thank goodness for a story about an older-than-average couple.

Robert Develyn married badly and went off adventuring in foreign parts when his wife ran off with someone else. Now she’s dead and at the age of forty, he’s returned to England to settle into rural retirement and raise his young daughter. He’s been left an estate in Kent, but he hasn’t seen it or its previous owner for donkey’s years and he finds that a few things have changed.

For one thing, there’s a new house just inside the gates, inhabited by the household of one Miss Francesca Thornish, past the age of looking for a suitor and eccentric enough to enjoy dressing up in men’s clothes when she feels like it. She is thus when Robert first encounters her. He thinks she’s an idle gatekeeper, and she thinks he’s excessively rude, and so they get off on quite the wrong foot.

But the rest of the book chronicles their slow progress towards grudging respect, tolerance, liking and eventually love. This is, to my mind, quite the best kind of romance, and there’s no silliness, no misunderstandings, just two sensible people, set in their ways, slowly coming to realise that their lives have utterly changed.

Both characters are interesting, but Francesca is fascinating. She’s something I thought was impossible – a Regency heroine who has all the independence of spirit of a modern woman yet is completely true to her era. When she does put on a pretty gown and become the lady of society, the effect is heightened by knowing what she’s like the rest of the time. She’s a pattern-card of respectability only when and if she chooses to be, and nobody forces her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. And while we’re on the subject of characters, a round of applause for the deceased Earl of Finmore, the previous owner of Robert’s new estate and Francesca’s protector, who (despite being dead) is one of the liveliest characters in the book.

The end is complicated by some contrived business with the horse and a not very plausible villain, but by this point it didn’t matter. This is a lovely, old-fashioned Regency that I highly recommend. Five stars.

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