Category: Review

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.


Review: The Viscount’s Sinful Bargain by Kate Archer (2020)

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

This shouldn’t have been my cup of tea at all. It’s awash with dukes, it’s all about the season (yawn) and it features a feisty heroine and an arrogant hero. And yet, somehow, it worked, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Who’d a thunk it?

Here’s the premise: six dukes are thoroughly fed up with their heirs refusing to marry and provide them with the vital grandsons they need to continue the line. They form a pact to knock their respective sons into shape, which involves losing their allowances and having to live in penury. The said heirs are outraged by this potential curtailment to their enjoyably wife-free lives. I did wonder where all the younger brothers were in this scenario. If the dukes themselves had done their duty as they should, then surely there would be two or three more sons in the pipeline if the number one sons fail to come up to scratch? But it’s a small point.

The sons are required to put in an appearance at every suitable engagement they’re invited to, and be sociable. Naturally, as the pact becomes known, every ambitious young lady and her mama sets their sights on one or other of the ducal heirs. Resentfully, until they can find a way of evading the terms of the pact, they turn up as bidden. Thus Edwin, Viscount Hampton, randomly agrees to dance with Cassandra Knightsbridge, where she is so miffed by his surly manners and lack of conversation that she berates him in ringing terms. Later, when she happens to sit near him at supper, she is still so cross with him that she lets slip certain unladylike facts about herself – that she likes to ride at a gallop, and without a groom in attendance, and that she regularly goes out shooting pheasant.

Lord Hampton and his friends strongly dislike the attention now being focused on them. If only the gossipy ton had some other story to deflect attention from the pact… and Edwin remembers Cassandra’s unusual habits. But galloping and shooting pheasant aren’t quite peculiar enough to do the trick, so Lord Dalton, one of the six, sends a man off to deepest Surrey to find some scandal about Cass.

Almost at once, Edwin has second thoughts. It’s really not honourable to besmirch the good name of a lady, and besides, she’s the most interesting female he’s ever met. When they manage to talk properly to each other, they find they have a great deal in common and actually get on rather well. But too late. Cass’s reputation is shot to pieces, her own ball is ruined and she’s forced to bolt back to Surrey.

I won’t spoil the surprise of how things go after this. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it hugely and it all seemed very appropriate (if not very plausible, but the proliferation of dukes already puts it out of the realm of credibility). There are a couple of events that happen very conveniently for plot purposes later on which really stretch the suspension of disbelief almost to snapping point, but I was enjoying the story too much at that point to be overly bothered.

There are some nitpicky things that bothered me. The Americanisms, for instance, such as looking ‘out the window’ (Brits would say ‘look out OF the window’), and fall and stoop (English houses don’t have stoops). Dance cards – well, so many Regencies have dance cards, even though they weren’t a thing until Victorian times, so let that pass. Gentlemen wouldn’t normally ride to a ball in town (such a pain to have to change into full evening dress when you arrive). The house in Berkeley Square that has a front garden (a cursory glance at Google StreetView would set that right; the vast majority of London houses, and every house in Berkeley Square, are virtually on the street, with only the narrow space of the ‘area’ (access to the basement) separating front door from pavement). And what does it mean when the heir to a dukedom is ‘already an earl’? He has a courtesy title (typically a marquessate, but it could be anything), but he isn’t an actual peer.

But despite all that, this book creates an authentic Regency atmosphere in one very important sense – it’s all about rank, ie the class system, which drives all of English society in those days. Those with rank used their power and influence to affect those below them, but they in their turn could be influenced by those of higher rank, and therefore greater power and influence. And despite those Americanisms and the irritating number of dukes, the book is beautifully written and I found it utterly absorbing. Five stars. Oh, and that title? A bit misleading. There’s nothing the least bit sinful or steamy about any of it.


Review: Delsie by Joan Smith (1982)

Posted June 2, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I probably shouldn’t have enjoyed this as much as I did, being the standard-for-the-era domineering hero and the short-sightedly stubborn heroine, but I guess I was in the right mood to take it all as light-hearted fun.

Here’s the premise: Delsie Sommer hasn’t had an easy life. Her father’s various money-making ventures all failed, and when he died, Delsie and her mother were left very little to live on. Nevertheless, her mother had once known a better life, so she made sure that Delsie had a lady’s education. But when she, too, dies, Delsie doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. She’s a little too grand to make friends of the labouring classes, and she’s far below the local aristocrat, Lord deVigne, and his family. She ekes out a precarious existence as a schoolteacher at the village school, thinking herself quite unnoticed by the great ones at the hall.

But one of them has noticed her. Lord deVigne’s brother-in-law, Mr Grayshott, now a widower, turns up on Delsie’s doorstep one day, quite unannounced and without any prior acquaintance, and proposes marriage to her. He’s not an appealing man, with the smell of drink about him, so she indignantly turns him down. A second proposal when he is clearly drunk is treated the same way. Some time after this, an approach is made by Lord deVigne himself. Grayshott has drunk himself almost into the grave, but there is his six-year-old daughter to consider, who will be shipped off to unsympathetic relations if nothing is done. But if Delsie will marry Grayshott on his deathbed, she will be saved from a life of hardship, the daughter will have a stepmother and everyone will be better off.

Delsie’s tempted by the whole business of being saved from a life of hardship, naturally, but Grayshott is even less appealing as a husband now, and what if he recovers and she has to live with him for years? So she says no again, but Lord deVigne is a determined man. He leaves her to consider the offer for a month, which she does every time she walks to the school in the rain or eats bread and cheese in her tiny lodging room, and then he basically says: he’s about to pop off, it’s now or never. And sweeps Delsie away to be married.

This part of the book is very like Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow, although with a better excuse for the marriage than Heyer’s version. At least Grayshott had a yen for Delsie beforehand and the motive was to rescue the daughter. Delsie, not surprisingly, finds her new life very much to her taste, but she quickly finds that there’s something odd going on in the orchard at night, and there are bags of gold coins everywhere. So part two of the book is about uncovering the mystery, Delsie wanting to be on hand to witness the uncovering and Lord deVigne wanting very much to keep her out of danger by not letting her witness anything.

As is usual in a book of this age, the romance is subtle. I was quite a way into it before I realised that Lord deVigne was the hero, having, for some reason, assumed he was older than he must have been (perhaps mid-thirties?). But once I twigged, it was obvious that he had set his sights on Delsie almost from the start. Mind you, I disapproved violently of some of his behaviour. Delsie was a new widow, so she should have been free from any importunement from hopeful suitors. Instead, he steals a kiss from her in the garden at night, and makes rather racy remarks to her (when she says she will just have to share stepdaughter Bobbie’s bed, he says, ‘Lucky Bobbie’). Which, frankly, is not at all the thing. But aristocrats will be aristocratic, so I suppose it’s par for the course, and Delsie doesn’t seem to mind.

This was a fun read. I liked the other characters, especially gossipy Lady Jane and her bookish husband Sir Harold, a mismatched pair if ever there was one. I liked the hero, too, despite his autocratic ways, because he only got autocratic when it really mattered; the rest of the time he made sterling efforts to defer to Delsie. She was a little too stubborn, but I can understand her reasoning. There was a good sprinkling of Americanisms like visit with, gotten, fall, and so on, but I’m used to that with this author. In many ways this was a standard Regency romp, but some of the early chapters, describing Delsie’s pre-marriage life and the way she saw the deVignes as they passed through the village in their fancy carriages was a cut above the usual for this genre, and I enjoyed it hugely, so I’m going for the full five stars.


Review: Fair Ellen by Jayne Davis (2024)

Posted June 2, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Every book by Jayne Davis is a joy to read and this is no exception. Wonderful, well-rounded characters, a plausible plot and a writing style that’s both literate and authentic; what’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: when Ellen Barnes’ childhood friend, Duncan Grant, returns from five years in the army to manage his inherited farms, Ellen realises that both she and Duncan have grown up. She sees him now in a very different way, and perhaps, in time, he’ll start to see her differently, too? But before that can happen, he meets her beautiful cousin, Harriet, and he’s smitten. He pursues Harriet determinedly, and before too long, they’re betrothed. Ellen must learn to accept the inevitability of their marriage, even though she knows Harriet to be a spoilt and wilful girl, devoted only to herself, and not at all worthy to marry a good man like Duncan.

But an incident at a ball leads to a rupture with Harriet. Duncan can’t understand why Harriet appears to have turned against him, and enlists Ellen’s help to restore him to Harriet’s favour. Poor Ellen! Against her better judgement, she does try to help, even though she hopes Duncan will finally understand how shallow Harriet is. And even if he does, will he ever turn to Ellen instead?

Of course, readers know the answer to that. Duncan is a smart cookie, and I loved his highly original method of finding out the truth about the incident at the ball, and thus the truth of Harriet’s character. After that, it’s but a small step to appreciating Ellen’s good qualities.

This is a beautifully written story, as always with this author, and really, there’s only one thing wrong with it – it’s too short. Being novella length, certain parts of the story seemed rushed. Both Duncan’s courtship of Harriet and his realisation of Ellen’s true worth were either skipped altogether or were too fast to be entirely believable. I wasn’t convinced that Duncan could be steadfastly in love with Harriet, and then switch his affections to Ellen within a week or two, and the only reason I can accept it is because they’re such good friends to start with. I would have loved this to be a full-length book, but even so, I enjoyed it so much it’s definitely a five star read.


Review: The Lord And The Lady Astronomer by Alissa Baxter (2013)

Posted June 2, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I enjoyed this, as always with this author, but these books do become a little samey after a while. The heroine engrossed in her scientific endeavours, the hero enamoured right from the start but with misunderstandings… this was a sweet romance, but not particularly dramatic.

Here’s the premise: Abigail, the youngest of the sisters featured in this series, is interested in astronomy, so it’s a real thrill when her uncle, Lord Longmore, invites her to assist with a star chart he’s compiling. The other person assisting him is William, Viscount Rochvale, the heir to an earldom, who takes a shine to Abigail almost from their first meeting. But he can’t court her properly when they’re spending so much time watching the stars together (and at night, too!), and there’s a complication: his cousin, Gerald Burnby, appears to be courting Abigail too, and he’s a charming and handsome man with a way with the ladies. And then there’s the mysterious Roman urn that appears in the attic and is then stolen…

As always with this author’s work, I like the hero very much. Her heroes all seem to be cut from the same cloth – sensible, unostentatious men who know what they want but aren’t always articulate enough to convey that clearly to the heroine. Her heroines, likewise, are serious about their scientific pursuits, to the extent of not even considering marriage as a possibility. I confess, much as I enjoy these books, and the author’s writing is always wonderful, I would enjoy them a little more if they surprised me now and then. But that’s just me.

If I have a grumble at all about this book, it’s the usual complaint of the last in the series – a lot of loose ends to be tied up and a grand family reunion sweetened with a very large dose of sugar, which felt just a tiny bit unnecessary. But it all works as a sort of series epilogue, for those who like that sort of thing. For anyone looking for a traditional read with the addition of some historical detail, these books are highly recommended. Four stars.


Review: The Baron And The Lady Chemist by Alissa Baxter (2023)

Posted May 25, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’m a big fan of the author, and I like that she gives her heroines unusual interests for a Regency lady, but it does tend to throw the plot onto a predictable path. Still a good read, but I’d have liked to be surprised now and then.

Here’s the premise: Dorothea (or Thea) Grantham is fascinated by chemistry, and has learnt to apply its principles to adding unusual colours to silk. Her shawls and scarves are therefore highly unusual, and much admired, but ladies aren’t supposed to get involved in serious science projects, so when it comes time to make her debut in society, she’d better keep quiet about her activities. She’s permitted to attend lectures – quite trendy for ladies as well as gentlemen – but not to show any deeper knowledge of chemistry.

Nevertheless, her work attracts attention. The items are so unusual they’re thought to be made of (illegal) imported silk, instead of good old British silk. Lord Castleroy is attracted to Thea, but he’s also deeply suspicious of her silk items, and so are a number of other people, both friendly and otherwise. So Thea’s season of frivolous society events is interlaced with more serious scientific pursuits, and a constant battle to keep her methods of colouring silk a secret.

As Lord Castleroy begins a determined courtship, Thea has another problem to contend with. Her mother died in a accident in an open carriage, which Thea witnessed, and ever since she’s been unable to ride in an open carriage. Lord Castleroy steps forward as a true hero at this point, slowly and patiently helping Thea overcome her fears so that she can at least enjoy gentle drives with admirers (mainly him, it has to be said). I particularly liked that he took his party by boat on the river rather than subject Thea to a longer drive than she was used to. How can she resist him?

But resist him she does, of course, because there wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise, and frankly, it’s such a major decision for a Regency lady that it’s a wonder so many of them rushed into matrimony they way they did (and still do, in most novels). Thea hesitates, and although she comes to realise that she loves him, an unfortunate curricle accident means that when he finally proposes, she’s too upset to answer him.

And then silliness rises up to swamp the plot, and although the hero manages to rescue the heroine from her predicament, he has a most uncharacteristic outbreak of huffiness, just to throw a last-minute spanner in the works before the now inevitable happy ending.

I’ve mentioned that I found the book a touch predictable, which doesn’t make it any less readable. The writing quality is stellar, as always, and if I’d have preferred a little less detail about chemistry and the silk industry, that’s just me. I know a lot of readers love these authentic details. A nice read, although the lack of surprises and the final silliness keep it to four stars.