Review: Petteril’s Folly by Mary Lancaster (2024)

Posted July 18, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This series just gets better and better. At the end of the last book, Piers and April found themselves in an awkward situation which they resolved by getting married. Now, after an idyllic honeymoon, they return to England to face the music, and explain just why a viscount married an ex-thief from the slums of London. Not that anyone knows April’s full history, but they know she’s basically a servant. Now, dressed for her rank, and behaving like a lady, will she be accepted or will the sky fall in on their heads?

Meanwhile, Piers’ valet, Stewart, has been arrested for stealing a baronet’s purse at the local inn, and our intrepid sleuthing duo have to uncover the truth of what happened that night and rescue Stewart from the false accusation. There’s the usual array of suspects, and the question of who’s telling the truth. I have to say that the mysteries aren’t the main reason I read this series, but they’re always enjoyable to see unravelled. This one is particularly satisfying because when the truth is revealed, it’s a case of ‘oh, of course’ and not ‘oh well, I suppose that makes sense’. I felt that if I’d been bothered to think it through, I’d have worked it out.

But really, I’m here for Piers and April. They’re such an unlikely couple, both damaged and needy in different ways, and yet totally dependent on each other. I’ve said all along that April’s transformation from guttersnipe to servant to lady and now to viscountess is not believable in the slightest. Spread over several years, maybe, but that’s not the case here. And somehow, astonishingly, the servants who had known April as a servant fail to recognise her as the new viscountess. Is that remotely credible? I don’t think so. They might pretend not to remember her previous incarnation, but they would certainly recognise her. I’m reminded of the Downton Abbey housemaid who left to become a secretary, married her boss and returned on a visit as a respectable upper-class wife, and she was certainly recognised. There are certainly times when you can’t place someone when you see them in a different context but you generally know that you know them.

But it’s a small point. Given the big leap in the last book which saw the pair married, all their well-wishers must be glad the author didn’t keep us in suspense as to how things are going to go. I can’t see a smooth path from here on, though. Things are still going to be rocky with the family, and I suspect there’s some serious history to April that’s yet to be uncovered. We shall see. But in the meantime, another well-earned five stars for a highly enjoyable read, and on to the next book in this addictive series.


Review: The Meddler by Kate Archer (2022)

Posted July 18, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I romped through Archer’s first series scattering five star reviews like rose petals, and this series is already going the same way. The author has a wonderfully humorous style of writing not just the upper classes but also the servant class, which adds a whole new dimension to the book.

Here’s the premise: six noble ladies who have not themselves had daughters decide to each sponsor a girl through the season, choosing someone who would not otherwise have the opportunity and hoping to triumphantly see each girl suitably married. The first girl chosen is Georgiana Wilcox, daughter of an impoverished baron, who is to be brought into society by Lady Mendleton. Like all the sponsoring ladies, Lady Mendelton has a mental image of how a daughter ought to be – sweet, gentle, demure and (naturally) highly accomplished at all the maidenly arts. Georgiana, she discovers, is not like that. Her unconventional upbringing has taught her to ride, but astride, not sidesaddle, she can’t sing, can’t play an instrument, doesn’t paint or draw or net purses. She’s also very direct, and no shrinking violet. Fortunately, she can dance, and she’s also smart, solving a murder puzzle before anyone else and winning a meeting with the Queen.

She’s been brought to London to find a husband, and there’s just one man who’s out of bounds, and that is Lady Mendleton’s own son, Jasper, Viscount Langley, who his mother has hopes of marrying off to Lady Annabelle Rumsford, a marquess’s daughter. Needless to say, Jasper turns out to be just the man to give Georgiana the wobbles, and it seems he might have the wobbles for her too…

Woven through this fairly straightforward romance is a somewhat implausible mystery involving Queen Charlotte, mad King George and the Stuart pretender to the throne. Jasper acts as an agent for the Queen, trying to find out who is passing information about the King’s madness to the newspapers. It has to be said at once that Jasper must be the world’s worst investigator, for he consistently jumps to the wrong conclusions, and never sees the patently obvious solution right under his own nose. For instance, having worked out that the information is spread from his own household and could be emanating from any of the residents, he then decides it must be Georgiana and sets a trap for her by leaving false information where it could easily be spotted, not just by her, but by anyone in the household. When that information is published, he decides he’s got proof that it’s her. Basically, he’s an idiot.

Georgiana’s progress through London society is very funny, especially the attempts to mount a horse fitted with a sidesaddle for the first time, which had me laughing till I cried. I’ve never before encountered a version of the Regency where a lady would drive to Hyde Park in a carriage with a groom bringing her horse, and then mount up in the park. It might have been done that way, I suppose, and it certainly makes for a gloriously public faux pas, but I’d have thought most riders would mount up in the mews behind the house, or the horse might be brought to the door, and then they’d ride to the park.

Can I just mention here how much I dislike Regency heroines who ride astride? I know it makes her unconventional and feisty and independent and all that jazz, but it also makes her outrageously scandalous. Whether you do it sensibly, in trousers, or impractically in a skirt that flies up and reveals most of your legs, it would be a shocking thing to do, as bad as the legendary bad thing of tying your garter in public. Even in a voluminous riding habit, designed to keep a lady’s legs decorously hidden, riding astride would reveal more than any respectable maiden should do. If you’ve seen season 2 of Bridgerton, you’ll know exactly what I mean. And as for jumping onto a horse astride in a ballgown – no. Just, no. And while I’m on the subject, one of Georgiana’s outings to the park (in a carriage, with the horse brought by a groom) has the groom riding her horse. So either the groom was riding sidesaddle or Georgiana was planning to ride astride. Either way, it’s a no no.

The romance isn’t the most sizzling in the world. The couple spend very little time together, and when they do we don’t really get much insight into what attracts them to each other apart from he’s handsome and she’s beautiful. But there are some nice moments of introspection. She’s sensibly trying not to be drawn to him, knowing she has an obligation to make a good match and he’s out of bounds. And he rather sweetly agonises over the right time to make his move. If he goes in too late, someone else might snaffle her, but he has to be sure. It’s tricky, and (frankly) he’s not the sharpest knife in the block, so he dithers a bit, but it was a nice insight. I’ve always known that it was difficult for women – does he like me or not, is he going to offer or not, and if someone who’s just meh offers, do I take him or hold out for the one I really want? But it wasn’t easy for men either!

The climax is pretty over the top, all things considered, with thicko Jasper getting himself in hot water, and Georgiana and half the servants having to rescue him. But it’s all quite neatly done, it brings all that romantic dithering to a resounding end, and it’s very funny, to boot, so no complaints from me. The writing is very readable, although with some Americanisms that triggered my (admittedly over-sensitive) pedantometer. Buckingham Palace was twice called simply Buckingham, which was pretty odd, and wasn’t it still Buckingham House at this point? We don’t have faucets in England, only taps. Dancing cards were a Victorian idea. And the author seems to have an aversion to adverbs, so there’s ‘arriving unexpected’ instead of ‘arriving unexpectedly’.

None of that mattered though, because the whole book was just so much fun that I’m going for five stars again.


Review: A Capital Arrangement by Christina Dudley (2024)

Posted July 17, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Oh, the joy of a new Christina Dudley book! Sadly this is the last of the Ellsworth Assortment series, following the romantic adventures of a father who married four times and had the eponymous assortment of children. This features the youngest daughter, Beatrice, the sensitive one of the family, and is a charming wrap-up of the series.

Here’s the premise: Beatrice Ellsworth looks to be set for contented spinsterhood. She’s happy not venturing too far from home, helping her older siblings with their growing families and not finding a man to suit her from the limited selection around Winchester. Her family conspire to arrange a trip to the seaside for her, to unfashionable Bognor, in the hope that a change of scene will inspire a change of heart. Their plans succeed beyond their wildest dreams, for on a sea bathing expedition, an accident with the bathing machine leaves Beatrice trapped underwater. Happily, another bather comes to her rescue, and even more happily he turns out to be a handsome and personable young man. The Ellsworths immediately draw him into their sphere and stand back to allow love to develop.

Which it does, but there’s a teeny, tiny problem – John Clayton, the aforementioned personable young man is already engaged. He’s a canal engineer, and when his mentor in that career died two years before, he left John everything – his business, and his daughter and the fortune she’s inherited. All John has to do is to marry her. At the time, it seemed like a great idea. Now, meeting Beatrice and being instantly smitten, he sees the flaws in the arrangement. But John is an honourable man, so he tells the Ellsworths that he’s engaged, which is just as well, for his betrothed, Priscilla, arrives in Bognor on a surprise visit.

Beatrice accepts that John is not for her, but she doesn’t have the temperament to shake off her disappointment easily. To distract her from her woes, she’s shipped off to London with a family with a daughter of her own age, who’s been torn from the highly unsuitable arms of a groom, and is also to be distracted by London entertainments (and hopefully find a more suitable husband). Now, Marjorie is a real piece of work, and I’d bet that most of us know someone just like her. She’s either Beatrice’s very, very best friend or her mortal enemy, with no point in between. Everything that goes against Marjorie’s own wishes is Beatrice’s fault, and she’s completely and utterly selfish and irrational. And also very funny, it has to be said. And while she’s busily falling for another swain almost as unsuitable as the groom, Beatrice is struggling to overcome her feelings for John Clayton, who pops up everywhere (even at Almack’s, which I felt was a bit of a stretch, but never mind). He’s trying to drum up investors for his canal, while his betrothed is beginning to realise that he’s just as canal-obsessed as her father ever was.

The ending brought no surprises at all, but that’s not a criticism. It means that no unRegency-like rabbits were pulled out of hats to get John out of his betrothal. I did want to box his ears, mind you, at that long-drawn-out proposal. There comes a point when explanations can wait and the couple just need to fall into each other’s arms and enjoy a long, toe-tingling kiss. There was one surprise, though – Mr Rotherwood, who wandered onstage from the previous series, a delightful appearance (once I’d worked out who he was and why his story sounded so familiar!).

This is a quieter book than some of the earlier ones of the series, but that’s entirely in keeping with Beatrice’s quieter nature, so that’s not a criticism either. There’s a smattering of Americanisms but it’s so beautifully written in other ways and I was enjoying the book so much that I didn’t care. In some ways, the previous book, with its stronger emphasis on the glorious Ellsworth family, would have made a more resounding series finale (wouldn’t we all love to be part of a big, rumbustious, affectionate family like the Ellsworths?). Still, this was a wonderful read. A very worthy five stars and I commend the whole series to anyone looking for a literate, intelligent and witty read with a true grasp of the Regency.


Review: Strange Capers by Joan Smith (1986)

Posted July 17, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Never was a book more aptly titled – strange capers, indeed. I had no idea what was going on, or who was on which side, or what was true and what was just an outright lie for most of the book. And the romance was a bit strange, too. But despite all that, it was wildly funny and I enjoyed it hugely.

Here’s the premise: Constance Pethel lives at a rundown old manor house, Thornbury, on the south coast with a widow, Lady Savage, who for years has been wheedling funds out of the house’s owner, Lord Aiglon, for refubishment, which she then never carries out. Constance has learnt to go along with Rachel’s manipulations for a quiet life, although she doesn’t really approve. The days and weeks and years drift by, and the only excitement is the prospect of Bonaparte invading. To that end, a militia has been got up locally, but a shipment of rifles for them has mysteriously disappeared, probably into French hands. Into this placid existence comes Lord Aiglon himself, and the two ladies soon have more to worry about than Aiglon discovering that the funds for refurbishment have been pocketed by Rachel.

Aiglon is a curious sort of hero, but one that’s all too common in books of this age. He’s top-to-toe aristocratic entitlement, needless to say, but when he makes a play for Constance, is he just flirting or does he have something more serious in mind, and if so what? Constance can’t make him out (and neither can the reader initially) since he tells her many things that sound reprehensible (that he’s gambled away his fortune, he’s hiding because he’s killed a man in a duel, he routinely gets blind drunk, and a whole lot more besides). But every time she begins to suspect that he’s not really as bad as he makes himself out to be, she uncovers some other element of his behaviour that makes him seem even more of a villain. Might he even be involved in traitorous activities like selling arms to the French? And all the time, he’s relentlessly pursuing Constance, and even sweeping her into his arms for a passionate kiss without so much as a by-your-leave. That’s the aristocratic entitlement at work.

Constance, meanwhile, who has more hair than wit, is swept this way and that by the constantly veering lord (he’s an earl, we find out eventually), quite unable to make up her mind whether he’s trustworthy or not, on any level. She’s also played for a fool by Rachel, who doesn’t hesitate to send her to keep watch on Aiglon or listen at keyholes, which she does without a second thought. Like I said, more hair than wit. Frankly, it’s hard to see what Aiglon sees in her.

The finale is completely over the top, but at least it brings the romance to a resounding conclusion, with a little bit more build-up than is common in this vintage. Some Regencies from this era leave the romance to the very last page, the hero proposes and that’s it, but we do get a bit more than that here, with some nice romantic moments to enjoy. That was, frankly, the best part of the melodramatic ending which was all too silly for words.

But the complexities of the slowly unravelling plot, and the constant blatant lies and machinations of all the principal players (apart from Constance, of course, who has no clue what’s going on) are very funny, and I enjoyed it all enormously. It’s awash with Americanisms (we didn’t and still don’t have real estate agencies here, or ‘everything’ stores), but that’s par for the course with this author. If you want a change from modern angsty Regencies, Joan Smith is well worth a try, but be warned that her books are very variable. I rate most as four or five stars, but I’ve had the odd one or two I just couldn’t finish. Happily, this one is definitely a five star for me.


Review: True Companions by Jenny Hambly (2024)

Posted July 17, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another gentle read from Jenny Hambly, with a delightful mix of characters, not one but two sweet romances and another of her wonderfully atmospheric houses. Oh yes, and a snappy dog and a foul-mouthed parrot. I wonder why it is that Regency parrots are always so rude? There must be one or two that could be trained to recite Shakespeare’s sonnets, or quotes from the Bible. But I digress.

Here’s the premise: Lucy Talbot has been a resident of Ashwick Hall, a refuge for women fleeing from trouble, for two years, hiding away from her family and society while she recovers from a breach with her twin sister. Now her godmother has returned from abroad and wishes to reclaim Lucy and reintroduce her to society – and her own family, not just her estranged sister, but her brother, too, who was raised largely apart from his sisters. Mr Frederick Ashton (Freddie) is regarded as a buffoon because of his cherubic appearance and seeming lack of intelligence, as well as his habit of falling asleep anywhere – even at a ball! But his sleep problems result from the nightmares he’s suffered from for years. To try to cure them, he determines to return to his childhood home for the first time since his parents were murdered there.

So there we have the two main characters and their backstories, and as is usual with a Hambly book, there’s a lot of backstory laid out upfront at the start of the book, which does tend to slow things down a bit. There’s also a problem in that the two main characters are not connected and there’s not the usual meet-at-a-ball setup to get things rolling. So they meet accidentally in the park on account of Jacko the monkey, which is quite cute (ha! A meet-cute, right?) but it feels just a shade coincidental.

This early part of the book feels quite slow. There is all that backstory to be unfurled in the early chapters. Then there’s the slow and rather forced development of the friendship between Lucy and Freddie in London. Lucy’s brother makes a brief appearance and then vanishes. I wasn’t sure what purpose he served in the story, but perhaps he is being prepared for a larger role in a later book. Come to that, I didn’t quite see the point of Lord and Lady Kirkby, either. I wondered whether I should have recognised them from an earlier book, but even if so, I didn’t think they added materially to the story. Nor did the little side story of the maid add much, except to show Lucy’s compassion, although that was already clear enough, I should have thought.

So this early part of the book was quite lumpy and disjointed, not uninteresting but without the usual smooth flow of Hambly’s writing. But then we arrive at Ashton Manor, and the author’s great strength comes to the fore – her wonderful way of describing places. The house (based on a real house, Haddon Hall, apparently) is a fascinating medieval building with all sorts of quirky passages and oddly placed stairs. I’d have loved to have a proper floor plan to follow along as the characters moved about the house, but perhaps that would have spoilt the surprises. One of Hambly’s earlier books, Carteret, also features a house that’s so brilliantly described it’s almost like another character, as it is here.

Meanwhile Lucy and Freddie are inching towards something more than friendship. I liked both characters. Lucy is beautifully drawn, a complex character who appears timid on the surface but has a steel backbone when required, and Freddie is just a sweetheart. Who could not love him? He’s another of Hambly’s unusual heroes, reminding me a little of the delightful Derry, star of Derriford, who was a perfect gentleman of surprising talents who became utterly tongue-tied in the presence of ladies.

Abby I liked a lot less. I found her rather a nasty, vindictive creature at times, and although some of her mischief arose from the best of motives, it didn’t always look that way. If I’d been Lucy, I’m not sure I’d have forgiven her for some of her transgressions. There was a villain, of course, who was flagged up almost from the start, but his villainy was thwarted, naturally. This was really the only action in the whole book.

The romance… well, the outcome was inevitable, but I wasn’t at all sure of Freddie’s dramatic proposal. It seemed to come too quickly and to be too overwrought for a man of such gentlemanly manners, but that’s just me. I far prefer a gentler finale, personally. And a couple of side characters reach their own finale in a somewhat awkwardly written manner. While I’m grumbling, can I just mention how confusing it is to have two characters called Lucinda and Lucy (who was also Drusilla)? And then there were all the ladies – Lady Westcliffe, Lady Wirksworth, Lady Frampton, Lady Kirkby. Each time I came across one of those, there was a momentary adjustment to make: now, which one is this? And one final grumble. I was very surprised to see some Americanisms creeping into a book by a British author – drapes instead of curtains, for instance, and ‘quite the adventure’ where I would say ‘quite AN adventure’. Trivial stuff, but it tripped me up.

Does this sound very critical? Perhaps it’s just the result of coming to this straight after a whole series of very different Regencies, and this suffered by contrast. It is, as always with this author, beautifully written, some of my grumbles (like putting a lot of backstory in the early chapters) are just the way this author writes, and as usual she nails the characters perfectly. This is a perfect read for anyone looking for an authentic Regency in a gentle, low-action story. Freddie is an absolute darling, and I loved the evocative descriptions of Ashton Manor, so I’m going to settle for four stars.


Review: The Earl’s Iron Warrant by Kate Archer (2021)

Posted June 16, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A terrific end to an excellent series. Yes, there was a certain sameiness to the plots but there was so much originality to the side issues, and it was so damned funny, I can forgive everything.

Here’s the premise: of the six dukes who set up the original pact (the premise of the series) for their sons to be forced to marry and produce heirs, five have complied. Only Lord Dalton still defies his father, swearing he will never marry, no matter what. Miss Daisy Danworth, daughter of the positively horrid Lord Childress, has also sworn never to marry, and the death of her not at all lamented parent changes that not one whit. She’ll come of age in a few months, and into her substantial inheritance from her mother, and then she’ll be free to live her life as she pleases, and a husband has no part in that. But her father’s heir is Lord Dalton’s father, and, in the devious way of fathers keen to marry off their sons, he sends Daisy to Ramsgate to see out her mourning period, with Lord Dalton to watch over her.

I wondered at once how it was that the heir to a viscountcy was a duke, a situation so implausible as to need some detailed explanation to account for it, but never mind. This whole series is awash with implausibilities so let it pass. As is the way with this series, the principals are already very aware of each other, despite the never marrying business. So the whole book becomes a slow slide into love, or rather, the awareness of an already existing love.

But really, the main point of the story is not the romance, because we already know exactly how that’s going to go. It’s all about the situation and the odd events it throws up and (as is now a hallmark of this author) the quirky doings of the servants. Bellamy the fairly incompetent butler, the cowardly footmen, Mrs Broadbent, the housekeeper, with her ‘what-fors’ are all priceless. Then there’s the mangy cat that Lord Dalton adopts in a real-world example of the ‘save the cat’ principle of stories (which is to establish an unlikely and possibly unlikable character as a hero by showing him saving a cat at an early stage). There are some brilliant moments which will stay with me for a long time (for instance, the two lords, otherwise bereft of weaponry, answering an unexpected knock on the door with pokers, being the only things that came to hand).

I confess I was a little disappointed at the resolution to Lord Burke’s story, which has been hinted at for the last couple of books but turned out to be something not very original. I thought there was going to be a lot more to it, but hey-ho, it made a heart-warming little sub-plot, I suppose. And I suppose Lord Dalton’s backstory, and his reasons for holding out against marriage for so long, is also not very original. The blurb says his reasons are ‘not what people imagine’, but they were exactly what I imagined, so that too was a slight disappointment.

But the main characters were lovely, even Lord Dalton who was something of a villain in earlier books. I liked Daisy, apart from the name. So cool and elegant a lady deserved a less bucolic name, I felt, especially as it seemed incongruous that her father, with his social ambitions, would countenance it. The mystery part of the plot was mildly interesting, even if not particularly believable (why ransack the library and then later return and go directly to the right place?). The incident in the sea was truly scary, to those of us with a fear of drowning.

There were a few oddities. I’ve already mentioned the heir to the viscountcy being a duke. There’s also a misunderstanding about Regency meals. The heroine is shocked to have all the various dishes on the table at once. In fact, that was the norm in those days, and even if she was more used to the newly fashionable idea of individual starter/fish/meat/dessert courses, she would have been very familiar with the old style. Also, the mention of drinking chocolate is anachronistic. All chocolate was drunk in the Regency. Solid chocolate just wasn’t a thing.

But these issues never bothered me overmuch. There’s a charm to these stories that trumps any nitpicky quibbles, and I’ve blazed through the whole series in a few days, enjoying every one hugely. Book 2 is perhaps my favourite by a slight margin, but they’re all wonderfully readable, and this one is by far the funniest. Highly entertaining. Yet again, this merits five stars.


Review: The Peer’s Roguish Word by Kate Archer (2021)

Posted June 16, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Hugely enjoyable, and a great contrast with the previous book, where the two principals were obviously well suited by their common love of horses. Here, they couldn’t be more different, but the author makes it work beautifully.

Here’s the premise: Miss Kitty Dell is an intellectual, more interested in science and her books than dancing. Still, it’s time to put aside her books and enjoy her first season in town, and perhaps she’ll meet a like-minded gentleman amongst the members of the Royal Society? Certainly she’ll never marry anyone like Giles, Marquess of Grayson, who is a frivolous dandy, without a serious thought in his head beyond the folds of his excessively starched cravat. Besides, he may flirt a lot, but he never offers marriage. But Giles is piqued by Kitty’s disdain, and sets out to charm her as only he knows how. Meanwhile, there’s something odd going on at the Royal Society…

I think my favourite book of this series is book 2, but I liked this one almost as much and for the same reason. The hero here has a relaxed, easy-going approach to life. He’s one of the world’s charmers, a pleasant, likeable fellow, and yes, he’s a terrible flirt and a bit of a dandy, it has to be said, but he’s good company. And when Kitty refuses to be drawn in to his flirtations, he’s a little bit piqued, because he charms all the ladies, so how can she be immune? He then sets out to win her over in other ways. He drops the grandiose and eye-rollingly silly compliments, sends her presents that he thinks she will like (a book! Smart man, although not that smart) and he even takes an interest in the troubles at the Royal Society, and finds creative ways to help out. He’s not an intellectual, but he’s not stupid and he sets after Kitty with single-minded determination, but always being his charming self. Some heroes are so up their own rear ends they’re impossible to like, but Grayson is a straightforward, sunny chap, the sort it’s impossible to dislike.

I liked Kitty as well, for being so sensible about things. Even though she’s painted as a rapid intellectual, she recognises that for the few weeks of the season, at least, she has to focus on dances and gowns and shopping and being pleasant to people she doesn’t even like too much. Happily, she has parents who are nice, sensible people, acting to protect their daughter and steer her gently without ever pushing her or disrespecting her. It’s lovely to see in a genre which is overflowing with thoroughly nasty parents and step-parents. I did think Kitty had some logic failure towards the end of the book, though, in suspecting Grayson of various crimes. And having correctly deduced that an invitation to meet a gentleman in the garden at a ball is Not A Good Thing, she then does it anyway. Silly girl.

The mystery isn’t particularly mysterious, since the identity of the villain is obvious from his first appearance. It’s still fun, however, and again Grayson is creative in resolving it. I particularly loved the letter from his distant relation. I must also applaud the author for imbuing her minor characters with such original ideas for balls. I love the mask lady, and the recreation of Valhalla would be spectacular. I’d love to see that in a TV recreation.

There were only a few anachronisms – sidewalk (Brits have pavements), psyche (not used in the psychological sense until 1910), and again, London town houses don’t have front gardens. Most of them don’t have ballrooms either, since space was at a premium, but it’s so convenient I can let that pass. But these are very minor irritations in a series that I’m enjoying enormously. I don’t remember the last time I read an entire series back to back, since I usually get jaded after two or three, but Archer keeps creating interesting pairings in a style that’s amusing and easy to read, without losing too much Regency authenticity. Five stars and straight on to see how Lord Dalton meets his doom.


Review: The Baron’s Dangerous Contract by Kate Archer (2021)

Posted June 16, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Book 4 of the series, and I confess they are a bit samey, but still hugely entertaining. This is the horse-mad couple, so anyone not interested in vast amounts of equine discussion should steer clear.

Here’s the premise: Penny Darlington and Henry, Viscount Cabot have been good friends for two years now. They meet frequently, and at balls he generally takes the supper dance so they can talk more – about their mutual love of horses. They get on like a house on fire, and she’s even begun to think there may be something in it. But then, in one night, it’s all ruined. He tells her curtly that she knows nothing about horses. He knows at once that he’s made a mull of it, and hurt her deeply, but even when he’s invited to stay with the family at Newmarket, she’s so dismissive of him that even his apologies don’t sway her.

While he tries his best to return to the comfortable and enjoyable relationship they had earlier, and she continues to freeze him out, he has another problem. His father’s attempts to persuade him to marry have reduced his funds to nothing and he has a race-winning horse, he hopes, to enter at Newmarket. He resorts to borrowing the money he needs knowing a win will cover his debts, but the money-lender isn’t prepared to leave things to chance, and sets up a nefarious scheme to ensure the horse loses.

Observant readers will see how the plot will unfold long before the author reveals it, but that doesn’t make it uninteresting or boring. There is, however, a certain amount of repetition in the romances of this series. They all seem to conform to the enemies to lovers trope, wherein the hero discovers his true feelings long before the heroine, and he therefore has to fight (or scheme or grovel) in order to win her. In book 2, the hero’s dare-anything personality made this fun, but by book 4, there are fewer attractions to the process, and I just wanted the protagonists to understand their own feelings and get on with it. Still, the author has a deft hand with side characters, particularly those of the servant class or even lower, and this keeps things humming along nicely, even when the hero and heroine need their ears boxed.

Anachronisms? Well, there were a few. Rube annoyed me (again) and the dance cards (again), and rucksacks weren’t a thing until 1866 or thereabouts. Also, how precisely did the hero manage to ride from Newmarket to Devon, then to London, and then to Bath, all apparently in three days? He changed horses often, the book says, but really, hiring riding horses every few miles wasn’t really a thing in the Regency. You’d need to hire a post chaise and team, which came with postilions who were restricted to 7 miles an hour. One other oddity – the title talks about a baron, but there doesn’t seem to have been a baron in the book at all, so not sure what that’s about.

But you know what? None of these quibbles mattered. I still really, really enjoyed the book, the author’s writing style just suits what I like to read (I particularly love the way the characters are constantly talking at cross purposes – very clever! And funny!), so I’m going to go for five stars. Again.


Review: The Lord’s Desperate Pledge by Kate Archer (2020)

Posted June 16, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another five star read, although it was a close run thing. The first few chapters were, frankly, a bit dull (the season again? Really?), but once the hero showed up to play piquet everything livened up nicely.

Here’s the premise: Hayes, Viscount Ashworth, is the heir to a dukedom, but it’s not a dukedom in very good heart. He’s managed to turn things around by his skill at cards, and he’s not about to be distracted from his purpose by anyone, least of all a bucolic chit like Lily Farnsworth. But when she tells him that she can beat him at piquet – his own speciality! – he sets out to take her down a peg or two. He’s astonished and mortified, not to say angry, when she proves her point. How can a female possibly play piquet so well?

Little does he know that Lily has grown up in even more dire financial straits than he has, and has had to use her quick wits and formidable memory to win at cards to keep her family afloat, just as he has. She’s slowly accumulated enough to fund a season in London for herself, with the object of securing a good match, that is, a husband rich enough to save the family from penury. She doesn’t aspire to a dukedom, thank you very much, and besides, Lord Ashworth and his friends are determined to thwart their conspiring fathers and avoid matrimony, so he’s out of the equation… isn’t he?

Well, we all know the answer to that. This is another in a splendid series wherein the heroes, heirs to dukedoms every one, slowly succumb to the charms of the most unlikely lady, despite their best endeavours. The books are completely free of hanky-panky, in fact, there’s no kiss in this one until the very end. The hero is not quite as appealing as Lord Lockwood from book 2, in fact he starts off unspeakably arrogant and only slowly comes to appreciate the heroine’s skill. Lily herself is the sort of heroine who is pleasant to read about – the usual resourceful, feisty type – but will probably be quickly forgotten. The aunt who says whatever comes into her mind is quite fun, however, there’s a spunky street urchin for Lily to rescue (shades of Heyer’s Arabella there), and the villain is suitably villainous, and comes to a very appropriate sticky end, after giving both hero and heroine a moment to shine and display their courage (and the hero’s strong arms, naturally).

My over-sensitive pedant-o-meter wasn’t tested quite as much as previously. I’m getting a little tired of the ubiquitous dance cards (a Victorian fixture) and of gentlemen riding to a ball (and thereby arriving in breeches and boots, smelling of horse, and having to change into full evening dress on arrival – not very practical). Also, ‘rube’ raised my eyebrows. I thoroughly disapproved of Lily’s aunt disappearing to the card room at a ball and leaving the poor girl to her own devices. A chaperon was supposed to watch over her charge at all times, and steer her towards suitable partners, and away from the unsuitable ones, not to mention protecting her from predatory men who might compromise her.

This wasn’t quite as much rip-roaring fun as book 2, and the here-we-are-in-the-season-again moments were a bit tedious, but once it got going it was very entertaining. The card games were terrific, and I particularly liked Lord Dalton acting sensibly for a change, and steering Lord Ashworth away from a scandalous confrontation with Lily. They had this charming conversation afterwards:

‘The Lords Ashworth and Dalton trotted through the dark streets after departing Lady Montague’s card party.
“As you mean to be silent,” Lord Dalton said, “I will carry on both sides of the conversation. You say to me, thank you for pulling me out of Lady Montague’s house before I said anything else outrageous. Then, I say to you, you’re very welcome friend, but you must watch your tongue. The girl has a father, and perhaps even brothers, it will not do well to accuse her of trickery, which is tantamount to an accusation of cheating.”
“You saw it for yourself!” Hayes muttered.
“I did not, actually,” Lord Dalton said. “I walked away after she trounced you on the first play. I occupied myself with a cold ham until it seemed the game was coming to an end.”
“Nobody is that good,” Hayes said. “Nobody.”
“It appears she is that good,” Lord Dalton said drily.’

It seems I’m going to be working my way through this entire series, but I’m particularly looking forward to Lord Dalton’s story. Five stars and on to book 4.


Review: The Marquess’ Daring Wager by Kate Archer (2020)

Posted June 4, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Oh, this was so much fun! I enjoyed the first book in the series, but this was actually a lot better, funnier on several levels, with some gloriously eccentric characters and a very determined and not at all risk averse hero.

Here’s the premise: following the pact made by six dukes to force their heirs to marry, and the determination of said heirs to avoid matrimony at all costs, one of their number has already fallen into parson’s mousetrap. Now Richard, the Marquess of Lockwood, is veering dangerously close to falling for Lady Sybil Hayworth. He’s been paying her pointed attention during the season, and although she views him with icy disfavour, he arranges to follow her to Yorkshire to continue his campaign. And since he’ll need her father’s permission, too, and his approbation will weigh with Sybil, he sets out to ingratiate himself with him, too. But Lord Blanding and his daughter are made of sterner stuff, and Richard finds it harder than he expected to win over the father, never mind the daughter.

Richard is a great character, a war hero with a reputation as a man willing to take any risk, who yet always manages to come out on top. He’s cheerfully undeterred by any setback, always ready with a new idea and willingly taking on (and usually losing) increasingly outrageous wagers with Lord Blanding in the hope of softening his attitude.

Sybil comes out of this less well. For one thing, she’s as resolutely never-forget-an-insult as her father, which is a fairly stupidly dogmatic approach to life, frankly. And then she determinedly ignores the glaringly obvious idea that Lord Lockwood has inveigled his way into a house party hosted by people he’s never met before purely on her account. Yes, we get the whole I’m-not-worthy thing and the low self-esteem, but really, it was staring her in the face.

Of the other characters, honourable mentions to Charlie the street urchin and Kingston the valet, who really should have a show of their own, since Charlie had all the best lines, and drove the plot in interesting ways, too. The plot flowed a lot better in this book than the first. Partly that’s the setting – a country house party has far more creative scope than the season (loved the regatta!). Partly, though, it’s that there was no need for the sort of oh-my-goodness-look-what-just-happened-out-of-the-blue shenanigans that were necessary in book 1. This time the final crisis arose with an air of character-driven inevitability about it (I knew the instant someone yelled ‘Fire!’ what had happened), and beautifully gave the hero his moment to shine. A very well-written finale.

Fewer Americanisms for me to grumble about this time. The baron called Sir John tripped me up (a baronet, surely?). Pence are plural – one penny, two or more pence. A duke and duchess are never Lord or Lady anything, it’s always Duke or Duchess, or their graces, or full titles. One other oddity: the author repeatedly used the construct ‘The lord did so-and-so’, which probably isn’t wrong (you’d say the duke did or the marquess did, so why not the lord did?), but somehow it just sounded odd to my ears.

An excellent read, overall, both well written and funny, with some great characters. If book 1 just scraped five stars, this one earns it in spades and then some. Highly recommended. I’ll probably go on to read the rest of the series – I’m particularly interested to find out more about Lord Dalton.