Tag: baxter

Review: The Baronet’s Lady Biologist by Alissa Baxter (2022)

Posted March 4, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I always look forward to a new Alissa Baxter book. There are very few authors I trust to provide not just a wonderful story but a truly immersive Regency experience, but she’s one of them. This is the third book in the series about the scientific Linfield family, and heroine Georgiana’s interest is in butterflies and insects, and pretty much everything else of a biological nature. There are not many Regency romances where the sentence ‘He had delivered the […] preserved caterpillars to Linfield House’ might appear, but I love a heroine who has her head filled with more than just the latest bonnets.

Here’s the premise: like her sister Harriet before her, science is the great love of her life, and a husband would only feature if he could be useful to her and finance her travels to collect specimens. Not for her the traditional female domain of home and children. She wants a different sort of husband, one doting enough to indulge every whim of hers. Whoever she marries, it definitely won’t be obnoxious Sir Giles Tavistock, whose arrogance led him to suppose she was setting her cap at him, and to say so where she could overhear him. So not even his handsome face or his own interest in entomology makes him palatable to her.

Georgiana is quite happy to go to London and participate in the season – she might meet that doting potential husband, after all. It takes her away from her beloved butterflies and the countryside, but when she discovers her painting skills are in demand to record the collection of an elderly cousin, and then Sir Giles’s, she’s quite reconciled. Of course, we can see where this is going, and just in case we were in any doubt, there’s an instant attraction between her and Sir Giles. Even though he’s not looking for a wife at all, and she’s looking for a very particular kind of husband, they’re drawn to each other.

Needless to say, there are plenty of obstacles to be swerved around before they realise they’re meant for each other. There are some misunderstandings, but quite believable ones, and not a case of a character simply jumping to an illogical conclusion or taking one person’s word for it. They were also cleared up relatively quickly. There was a rival for Georgiana’s affections, and a nice little subplot involving Napoleon – which was true! And kudos to the author for weaving that little gem into the story in a completely natural way, but then she’s always been brilliant at finding unusual nuggets of research to inspire her writing. A previous book had loads about authentic Regency-era curries, for instance.

Of the characters, Georgiana is a very sympathetic heroine. The modern reader can only feel for her, unable to pursue her chosen scientific research openly, and completely bound by the conventions of the day to the domestic sphere. Her attempts to travel and explore the world are very understandable, but her acceptance of reality is sensible, if a little bit sad. I really wanted her to have her trip to Italy, but Regency women just couldn’t have it all, and social norms (not to mention the lack of contraception) kept them at home. Well done the author for tackling that dilemma honestly.

Sir Giles is my favourite kind of hero, the intelligent but silent type, who may be slow to fall in love, but when he knows his own mind, pursues his goal with steady determination. There were a lot of minor characters, too many for me to keep straight, and I wasn’t totally sure of the purpose of all of them, but they certainly made the story feel realistic. Too many Regencies have the same small group of characters who meet up wherever they go, and London seems to be otherwise empty.

This is a lovely traditional read, which follows the time-honoured path of the London season, balls, house parties and drives with eligible gentlemen in curricles, with the added spice of the scientific background and a nice little mystery going on. My over-sensitive pedantometer wasn’t triggered by any anachronisms (although I had to look up ‘Inuit’, which I wasn’t sure was in use then – but it was!). My only grumbles, such as they are, are that I would have liked a bit more passion from the principals (they were a little too restrained for my taste), and the book felt a little samey. Being the third in the series, and all of them featuring a heroine with a strong interest of her own, a strong, silent scientist hero and a somewhat narrow range of settings, there’s a slight sense of deja vu. But that doesn’t matter because the author’s wonderful writing works its magic to make the book a pleasure to read. A good four stars.

I beta-read this book a long time ago, and received a free copy of the pre-release version, but my opinions are my own.


Review: The Earl’s Lady Geologist by Alissa Baxter (2021) [Trad])

Posted March 2, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by Alissa Baxter, so I wasn’t in the least surprised to find this one right up there at her usual high standard. The title is intriguing right from the start – a lady geologist? Sign me up! And our first view of her, filthy dirty but happy as a grig fossicking on the beach for fossils, confirms that she’s going to be a wonderful, independent-minded heroine. And here comes the earl, darkly brooding and disapproving, to drag her reluctantly to London for the last thing she wants, a season of balls and no fossils.

Now Cassy may be a spirited woman, but she’s also a true Regency lady, so when her protestations fail, off she goes to London to be paraded in the Marriage Mart. She doesn’t intend to marry, and she has enough of a fortune to allow her to do what she wants, but she’s perfectly willing to play her part to please her relations who disapprove of all that fossil-hunting, and think the only proper life for a woman is as a wife and mother. Besides, in London there are all sorts of interesting fossil-related things going on, so she weasels her way into a Geological Society meeting, dressed as a man, where Edward, the brooding, disapproving earl, promptly discovers her.

Despite this rocky start, the two have a common interest in geology (the whole family seem to be geologists, at least the male members), and Cassy’s sparky enough to attract the earl’s attention. Their quick-witted banter is very lively. She’s better company, at any rate, than the usual sort of coquettish young ladies he knows. He needs to marry and produce an heir, so why not? So now we have a woman who doesn’t want to marry at all, and a man who isn’t much bothered but thinks she’ll do, and has no expectation of a refusal. Cue the awkward proposal and a heroine who gives him a piece of her mind, in no uncertain fashion. Go Cassy!

Of course, as it’s quite obvious that these two were made for each other, there’s a long slow slide into love for her, and (surprisingly) a sudden lurch into it for him, or at least a sudden realisation that that’s what’s going on. I would have liked to see his realisation rather than find out after the event, so to speak, but that’s a small point. He’s a rational, analytical sort of man, so a sudden outbreak of emotion wouldn’t really be his style. I know so many men like this, not eloquent, not always very self-aware, but very devoted when they do fall in love.

Cassy is such an easy heroine to root for, a perfect blend of independence and Regency behaviour. Her qualms about marriage were very soundly based and understandable, and to be honest, one wonders why so many Regencies, which are accurate in every other way, have the heroine hurtling into matrimony without a second thought as soon as she sees the hero’s square jaw or shapely thighs. Marriage was a dodgy business for a woman, and needed some serious consideration.

The other characters are pleasant, likable people who want the best for both Cassy and Edward. There are a couple of sub-plots which are resolved rather easily, and a suitably dastardly villain, and although the ending is rather drawn-out, there’s a lovely, romantic second proposal, where Edward finally gets it right, Cassy accepts wholeheartedly and then they go right back to their verbal sparring! Wonderful stuff.

A lovely, very funny, traditional read from an author who has a true sense of the Regency. I would have preferred a little more emotion at moments of high tension, and a little less geology, but that’s just a personal preference. I had the pleasure of reading this as a beta reader, and again as an ARC reader, and loved it both times. Highly recommended. Five stars.


Review: ‘A Marchioness Below Stairs’ by Alissa Baxter [Trad]

Posted March 5, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This book picks up the story of a couple of minor characters in the previous book, Lord Fenmore’s Wager. Isabel was once betrothed to a man she loved passionately, but instead she married a waelthy, elderly man to restore her family’s fortunes. Now widowed, she discovers that her former love is about to marry another, and fate conspires to trap them all together in a country house beset by snow and influenza. Isabel is not too proud to help out in the kitchens, along with another guest, the disreputable Marcus Bateman.

The author writes her romances skillfully, and there’s never any question about who Isabel will end up with. The difficulty is his reputation, and her desire not to surrender her new-found independence and wealth to a man. I liked her spirit, but she does take some foolish risks in pursuit of her objectives, and needs to be rescued rather frequently. As for Marcus, I liked him very much, but I found him to be oddly volatile. He seems to veer from determinedly pursuing Isabel to staying coolly aloof, and I couldn’t always understand his motives.

The biggest issue with the book for me is the amount of background detail taking up page space that could be used to advance the romance. I realise this is personal preference, so if you’ve always wanted to know more about the workings of a Regency kitchen, the slave trade or how to make an authentic curry in the Regency era, this is absolutely the book for you. Sadly, I am not such a person.

However, Baxter’s writing is excellent, as always, and her dialogue, manners and settings are true to the era. There’s also no sex, for those who enjoy a traditional Regency. The romance is sparkling, and only the excess of culinary and political detail keeps it to four stars.


Review: ‘Lord Fenmore’s Wager’ by Alissa Baxter [Trad]

Posted March 5, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another terrific read from Alissa Baxter. This one has less action than The Dashing Debutante (no highwaymen!), it was pure drawing room drama, but it felt like a smoother read.

The premise is a tad implausible: Anthony Hamilton gambles away his estate which he finds a burden. As part of the deal, he also includes his unmarried sister Diana. She’s won by the Earl of Fenmore, who insists that she move to his estate to act as temporary governess to his nephews and companion to his mother.

And already the hero is seen to be… well, heroic, because he’s the one who reminds Hamilton about his sister during the gambling session, and he also steps in to take the bet on himself when he sees that Diana might be won by a notorious rake. And of course he treats Diana as one of the family, in the most gentlemanlike manner. When she attempts several ruses to get him to release her, he sees through them at once and is amused and intrigued by her.

So the stage is set for love, but despite the fact that there are no insuperable obstacles on either side, it still takes the whole book and a great many misunderstandings before these two come together. Unlike many such books, however, the misunderstandings really do have some substance because they’re grounded in Regency manners. He is a gentleman and her employer, so naturally he has to keep his distance. And when she moves to Bath and has another suitor, naturally he can’t interfere. And she, being a lady, can’t tell him how she feels.

The whole business underscores just how awkward courtship was in those days, the difficulty of trying to get to know the person well enough to make a sensible decision on whether to spend the rest of your life with them, and the delicate balance between showing an interest and raising expectations. If a man takes a step too far, he may be required as a matter of honour to marry her whether he wants to or not. If he doesn’t go far enough, she may go off with someone else. And on her side, there’s the problem of distinguishing between serious courtship and flirtation, and trying to avoid a reputation as a flirt or a jilt. You can see why they often ended up marrying whoever their parents chose, or sticking to the familiarity of cousins – it was a lot easier!

Fortunately, these two do finally get together. But they’re a fairly cerebral couple, who do a lot of internal agonising about the difficulties of their situation and rationalising their actions. If you’re looking for a grand passion, this probably isn’t the book for you but the ending is nicely romantic. Recommended for anyone who likes a completely clean traditional Regency, with strongly authentic writing and historical accuracy and a satisfying romance. Five stars. And now on to A Marchioness Below Stairs.


Review: ‘The Dashing Debutante’ by Alissa Baxter [Trad]

Posted March 5, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a lovely read, a truly traditional Regency romance very reminiscent of Georgette Heyer. It features a feisty, I’ll-do-it-myself heroine, a rakish but charming hero, lots of witty banter and a whole array of amusing and/or villainous side characters.

The premise is that Miss Alexandra Grantham likes to play at being Robin Hood, taking on the role of highwayman to steal from the rich to bring a little comfort to the poor. This all comes to a crashing halt when a mysterious gentleman takes over the neighbouring estate and unmasks Alex. But she amuses him and when she goes to London for her coming-out season, he decides to make her fashionable, which he can do because, in a shocking twist (not), he’s a leader of society and a duke. Of course he is.

In a book like this, the plot isn’t really important except as a backdrop to the setpiece scenes – the balls and routs, the visit to Vauxhall Gardens, the clandestine meetings on curiously empty balconies at crowded parties and so on. Every scene with the two principals in it sparkled gloriously. I loved their banter and battles of wit, which sometimes he won and sometimes she did. And both of them were nicely real and sensible. He never arrogantly assumed she would marry him just because he was rich, titled and wanted her. She didn’t defy him just to demonstrate her independence. The rest of it, especially the fairly unbelievable dastardly plot at the end, was less interesting, but all of it was beautifully written, and for those who like a book with no sex at all, this one is perfectly safe.

Some very minor quibbles… Alex was oddly unobservant about the duke’s intentions. He goes riding and driving with her every day, he takes every opportunity to dance the rather scandalous waltz with her, everyone in London is in hourly anticipation of their betrothal and she is entirely oblivious until she’s told. He even kisses her at a very early stage, but this doesn’t give her a hint. Unusually for a modern Regency, this book is pretty accurate on language and Regency manners, although I thought the duke was overstepping the mark in saying that Alex was under his protection. And two duels were fought by gentlemen who had no right to defend the honour of the ladies in question, which was a bit much. Sometimes the author liked to squeeze in more of her extensive research than was really necessary for the advancement of the story. And finally, I felt the proposal scene fell a little bit flat after all the drama of the previous chapter or two, not to mention that everyone knew it was coming. I would have liked the duke to show a bit more passion.

But these are very minor grumbles, and I enjoyed the book so much that it’s a definite five star, and I’m going straight on to Lord Fenmore’s Wager.