Tag: davis

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: Writing Regency England [Non-fiction] by Jayne Davis and Gail Eastwood

Posted November 15, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is the book I wish I’d had when I first started writing Regencies seven years ago. In fact, I did no research at all for my first attempt, apart from steeping myself in Georgette Heyer’s entire catalogue and absorbing a great deal of information by osmosis. So, I just sat down to write. But there came a moment in the second book when my heroine was writing a letter. She finished it, set down her pen and reached for an envelope… Wait a minute. Envelopes? In the Regency? Vague memories surfaced of simply unfolding a letter (thank you, all those BBC costume dramas, but are they accurate?). So it’s off to the internet to look it up. The trouble with the internet is that it’s not Regency-focused, so you have to jump past paragraphs about aerograms and the US Civil War and Japanese envelope sizes before you get to the history of envelopes, and even then it has to be teased out of a deluge of irrelevant information. But by contrast, Writing Regency England says succinctly: ‘ Pre-made envelopes did not exist until after 1830, so letters were usually folded and secured by the use of sealing wax or a paste wafer.’ Perfect!

The book contains 16 chapters on topics roughly grouped into three categories: language, setting and society. As a native Brit myself, I probably won’t make use of the lists of American expressions or non-British flora and fauna, and I’ve been writing Regencies long enough to know the difference between barons and baronets, and heirs apparent and heirs presumptive, but there are still fascinating sections that I shall be using all the time. It’s 31st October – what can my hero shoot/stalk/hunt? [Answer: pheasant and wild ducks; red stags, fallow bucks and roe bucks in England; red hinds and roe does in Scotland]. What’s in flower in the garden? [Answer: asters, bizzie lizzies, dahlias, zinnias (amongst others), but not roses].

Among the most interesting chapters for me are the ones dealing with regional variations over England. There are also snippets about Britain’s other constituent parts like Wales and Scotland (Ireland isn’t covered, apart from the language). I’ve travelled about the country quite a bit, but without acquiring much idea of the different geographical features or how the houses differ from one region to another. All that is here, including place names, dialect, and the different terminology for things like rivers, hills and lakes, with pictures and maps, so you can see exactly what they’re talking about. And the authors never forget that the book is aimed at authors, so there are some wonderful suggestions for Regency-accurate ways to injure or even kill your characters!

But this book isn’t only useful to authors. I know there are many readers out there who care deeply about historical accuracy in the Regency romances you read, and even if you don’t, there must have been times when you looked up from a book thinking, “Wait a minute – was that really a thing then?” It can be frustrating not to know. And then one book shows a situation that another book depicts as being impossible, historically – so which is right? If you’ve ever wondered whether what you were reading was accurate or not, then this is the book to tell you.

So whether you’re an author or a reader, this book is highly recommended. I was given an advance copy to read, but I’ve bought it too – it will sit right beside my laptop as I write from now on. An excellent five stars.

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Review: King George’s Man by Jayne Davis (2023)

Posted May 29, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Jayne Davis is one of the most reliable of the new school of historical romance authors, not because she writes the familiar themes repeatedly but precisely the opposite. She’s not afraid to step off the well-trodden paths and set her characters firmly down in unusual territory – the pre-Regency Georgian era, for one thing, far-flung parts of the British Isles for another, and the hard-working middle and lower classes. As a consequence, her books are always fascinating, and this is just the latest example.

Here’s the premise: Nell Mason has fallen on hard times. Her father’s bank failed, and when he died, she and her mother were forced to turn to her uncle, running a shady inn on the Yorkshire moors. Her mother is now dead, too, but Nell is still there, working as an unpaid skivvy in the kitchen, keeping her head down to avoid her uncle’s cruelty. She’d love to leave, but the occasional coin she gets as a tip isn’t enough to risk it, and where would she go anyway? She knows her uncle’s up to some nefarious business, but there’s not much she can do about that, either.

Into this difficult situation comes a man who could bring her a great deal of trouble. Lieutenant Toby Bourne is on leave from the army before a posting to the Colonies, and he’s recruited to investigate a highway robbery, which leads him to the lonely inn. He soon realises that Nell is not the usual lowly inn worker, and draws her into his plans. She finds herself having to take unusual risks, pitting herself against not just the highwayman but also her own uncle.

So the adventure unfolds, and to be frank, there’s a lot more adventure than romance. Toby and Nell are on good terms fairly quickly, but the drama rather overshadows the gradual development of their feelings. I can’t say the balance was wrong, because the fallout from the robbery is dramatic enough to justify the attention paid to it, but the romance was just a tad low-key for my liking. Even very late in the day, when Toby finally gets round to proposing, they’re both still uncertain about the depth of their feelings. Luckily, they’re both sensible enough to talk things through, so there are no last-minute misunderstandings. And I very much liked the pragmatic way Nell decided their future. It wasn’t the outcome I’d been expecting, but it was perfectly in keeping with their characters. And I loved the mini-epilogue right at the end, summarising a lot of history in one newspaper announcement (and complete with authentic-looking ‘s’ shaped like ‘f’ – a delightful touch!).

I haven’t said much about the adventure, because I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone, but it’s all very nicely done. Along the way, there are people who both help and hinder Nell and Toby, whether through wickedness or silliness, but they were always fully rounded and believable characters. I actually felt sorry for Miss Delaney, the epitome of silliness, who should have been better protected by her parents, and there were some lovely side characters, like Aunt Em and the magistrate. Naturally, being Jayne Davis, there’s not a single whisper of an anachronism, and the writing is well up to her usual standard.

A lovely, lovely story about ordinary people caught up in difficult circumstances, yet always behaving with honour and dignity, and a fine, low-key romance. Five stars.


Review: The Curlew’s Call by Jayne Davis (2022)

Posted October 20, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’ve been waiting for this to come out because the premise is so intriguing. And even though I knew how it would have to end, the interesting question was how the author would get to that point and make all the characters sympathetic. Be warned, however, that there is one scene of a sexual nature, and the book contains some serious sexual themes, dealt with in a sympathetic but honest way.

Here’s the premise: Ellie Wilson has been married for five years without a hint of a child. But on her way home after a family funeral, a coach accident throws her into a chance meeting with Captain Tom Allerby, who happens to be passing and stops to help as the stranded passengers, some injured, struggle to a nearby inn. An initial spark of shared trouble and friendship deepens over the evening to something more, and the two share one night of passion before separating, not expecting to meet again. But Tom can’t forget the woman he knew so briefly, and Ellie finds herself with a permanent reminder, in the form of a child. And since her husband is more friend than lover, he’ll know it’s not his.

Normally I’d describe something of how the protagonists resolve their problems, but I don’t want to do that here. Suffice to say that there are multiple challenges for our hero and heroine to deal with. Ellie has to own up to what she’s done and her husband has to decide how to cope with the revelation. Martin has problems of his own, too, including a cousin who’s trying to wrest control of his two farms from him. And Tom returns after two years to find Ellie, and is faced with a situation he hadn’t expected. It will not surprise anyone to hear that there is a happy ending to all this trouble, but things get very dramatic along the way.

Davis is a writer whose evocation of the Regency era always feels spot on to me, and this book is particularly enjoyable because it’s far away from the usual themes of balls and Almack’s and rides in the park. These pages are populated by hard-working ordinary folk – doctors and farmers and horse-breeders and attorneys and their women. Their marriages are as likely to be pragmatic as romantic, the misfits are fitted in somewhere, people are accepted for who and what they are, in the main (Ellie’s pious and selfish father excepted). And there are good and bad everywhere. It all feels very real, and there are little vignettes that don’t impact the plot greatly but provide those little flourishes that provide colour and depth (I’m thinking particularly of Kate and Tom’s brother’s wife and the poor, long-suffering magistrate).

If I have a complaint at all, and it’s a very minor and personal one, I’d have liked a bit more passion from Ellie and Tom towards the end. Given that the story kicked off with a night of illicit passion, I thought they were a tad too restrained afterwards. There were some highly emotional moments of terrible fear when the subsequent relief might have swept them into some fervent kissing, at the least. But it didn’t happen and that’s OK too. The author knows her characters best, and perhaps the memory of the time when they didn’t restrain themselves kept them in line later. There, that explains it nicely.

A wonderful, satisfying story, with bittersweet moments but a lot of joy, too. A great read. Five stars.


Review: A Question of Duty by Jayne Davis (2021)

Posted July 21, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another lovely novella from one of the most reliable of recent Regency authors, and a prequel to the fascinating Marstone family saga.

Here’s the premise: Captain Jack Stanlake is sent home from the Colonies as his father is ill, and he is asked to escort the Colonel’s wife and daughters who are also returning to England. Their purpose is to find husbands, and the girls’ mama is ambitious for them. She sees Jack, the younger son of an earl, as a potential target. He can’t afford a wife, though, and although he’s drawn to Clara, the elder daughter, he knows his father would never approve a marriage to a merchant’s niece. She’s drawn to him, too, but she’s not sure she wants to be tied down to a husband when there’s a whole world to explore.

When they arrive in London, they go their separate ways, she to the frivolity of the London season and he to his father’s deathbed and an unexpected and most unwelcome complication – an arranged marriage. Jack has to scramble to extricate himself from his brother’s machinations. The title of the book suggests that there’s a serious dilemma for Jack to solve, but it seemed to me that he made his decision rather easily. I think in reality he might have hesitated a little more. But there again, brother Charles is such a piece of work that maybe he forfeits any right to expect Jack to respect his duty to the family.

The romance ends in appropriate style, aided and abetted by various members of Clara’s family, and thank goodness for that. So many Regencies seem to be populated entirely by dysfunctional families that it makes a refreshing change to meet one that seems normal and perfectly benign. Davis’ writing is, as always, note perfect, and the crossing of the Atlantic was beautifully evoked. I could almost hear the creaking of the ship and the slap of the sails, and taste the salt in the air. Wonderful stuff. And there’s never any need to worry about historical correctness with Davis. I was pleased that when Jack writes to Clara, he does so through the medium of her uncle, as is proper.

A lovely tale, and as it’s a prequel to the whole Marstone saga, it makes me want to rush off and reread the rest of the series (which is now available in a handy boxed set, I discovered). Five stars.


Review: Saving Meg by Jayne Davis (2021)

Posted May 18, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Short but very sweet – a lovely little novella about a soldier returning from the Napoleonic wars to claim the woman he’s loved for years, battling through snow to her side, only to find that she’s on the brink of marrying her cousin. Needless to say, there’s a lot more to it, as Meg is being forced into marriage by threats against her mother. Jon arrives just in time, but what can he do to help? He can save Meg by marrying her himself, that’s what.

So begins a heroic ride through the snow to obtain a marriage licence in time to prevent the marriage, or at least to prevent the repercussions if Meg refuses point blank to go through with it at the altar. I won’t spoil the story by revealing how the villain’s dastardly plot is foiled, but suffice to say that my pedantic soul was thrilled by the clever use of the provisions of the Marriage Act, and by an ingenious intervention from the vicar.

So three rousing cheers for impeccable deployment of Regency law and plot logic, the romance was heart-warming, and there’s a delightfully original epilogue. My only complaint is that it’s too short! I could have stood to read a lot more about these characters. Five stars.


Review: The Fourth Marchioness by Jayne Davis

Posted March 29, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another absorbing read from Jayne Davis, with a basic plot that might have been a bit dull in other hands (that well-worn scenario, the choose-a-bride house party) spiced up with an intriguing spying plot.

Here’s the premise: James, the Marquess of Harlford, is coming to terms with his unexpected ennoblement after his older brother’s death. He’d rather be pursuing his scientific research, but his mother is determined to marry him off to prevent eccentric Uncle David from inheriting. She arranges a house party with some suitable candidates. Among the chosen guests are two who’ve wangled an invitation for reasons of their own. Gossipy Lady Jesson and her companion Alice Bryant have an ulterior motive – to find out if Lord Harlford’s secret letters to France mean he’s a traitor to his country. Alice doesn’t like what she has to do, but when James starts to pay attention to her, her position becomes very awkward indeed.

It’s easy to like both hero and heroine here. James is the sort of person we’ve all met, someone who’s so engrossed in his own affairs that he fails to see what’s right under his nose. Not from lack of perspicuity, either, but simply because his thoughts are so occupied that he just doesn’t notice what’s going on. Alice is smart and sensible, and able to rescue the hapless James from the machinations of his mama’s multitude of ambitious guests. He, in his turn, rescues her from machinations of a different sort. Being thrown together in this way leads them both into a rather tentative courtship.

But there’s more than Mama and a rash of title-hunting young ladies to contend with, because if James isn’t a traitor, who is? And they will stop at nothing to get the information they need about James’s experiments. And so this part of the plot hurtles into melodrama and danger and an exciting rescue plan, and although there was nothing terribly unexpected in any of this, it was still a dramatic page turner.

Along the way, there are some nicely eccentric side characters, like Uncle David and the Dowager Marchioness, and if the house party setting throws up few surprises (why are wannabe marchionesses so unsubtle?), it’s still a fun read, beautifully written and with impeccable historical research. Five stars.


Review: Playing With Fire by Jayne Davis

Posted July 10, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

Well, that was awesome. Jayne Davis is my favourite kind of author, partly because I never know what she’s going to come up with next and partly because she allows the story to expand and grow and unfurl its petals in whatever way feels right. So many authors constrain their characters to conform to the needs of the plot, but Davis’s tales always feel completely natural and organic, as if they were always meant to be. This one starts with a tense escape from revolutionary France, morphs into a first London season, complete with visits to the mantua-maker, drives in the park and assorted suitors, veers off into a brilliantly funny piece of trickery worthy of Georgette Heyer, lurches back into tension again and then ends with a delicious romantic denouement. Utterly wonderful.

Here’s the premise: Phoebe Deane is the little-regarded poor relation, living with her aunt and uncle, who are French emigres. When her aunt and cousin decide to return to their chateau to recover some possessions, Phoebe accompanies them, but it’s 1793, the revolution is in full swing, aristocrats are not welcome and Phoebe can’t make her aunt understand the urgency of escaping as quickly as possible. Her aunt’s arrogant manners soon get them into trouble, but they find help from an unlikely source.

Alex Westbrook finds himself drawn to help the family, even though it might hamper his own secret mission in France. But he finds that Phoebe is quick-witted and resourceful enough to be a trusted ally, and more than willing to take risks when necessary. So begins an unlikely friendship, but can it ever be anything more? Well, we can guess the answer to that, but there’s a long and winding road to reach it.

I confess that for the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. The difficulties in France are so intense and so relentless, that it almost felt like Game of Thrones. What horrible event was coming next? Even though I knew that the protagonists would survive (because romance) it was a little too intense for comfort. However, once Phoebe reached London and dived into the more familiar ground of preparations for the season, it was a lot more comfortable. Phoebe’s a fantastic character – smart and plucky, with a ton of initiative. Sometimes she seemed almost too smart, and a bit too lucky, but that was OK. Alex – well, who could not like Alex? A great hero, who risks everything to save the mysterious redhead, and treats her like a real person not a helpless female who needs a man to tell her what to do and to protect her.

Of the side-characters, some we’ve seen before (this is the third book in the Marstone series), although it’s not necessary to have read them all. I very much like that the three books are spread out over about twenty years, so this one acts as an extended epilogue to the earlier books, for those who enjoy such catchups. The new characters tended to fall into the helpful yokels or villainous villains categories, although some were just plain irritating (Comtesse de Calvac, I’m looking at you). Phoebe’s uncle, the Comte, who had been distant and uninterested before, suddenly and implausibly becomes a sort of fairy-goduncle to Phoebe, and naturally the dowdy poor relation instantly becomes an attractive and desirable potential bride. This was great fun.

But of course, things soon go pear-shaped and we’re off into all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, and all the time the romance is simmering on the back burner, never ever forgotten and gradually coming to the fore. The ending is lovely and perfectly in keeping with the various characters involved, and if some things seemed unnecessarily convoluted, it was all too much fun to quibble over. The only slight complaint I have is that towards the end, some of the dramatic events happen off-screen. I would like to have seen them up close. But it’s a trivial point.

A wonderful read, whether you like thriller-type tension, something more traditional or a quirky mixture – this book has it all! Not to mention a lovely romance, with some swoon-worthy kisses (and nothing more than that). As always with this author, the writing is top-notch with an effortless evocation of the era, in both England and France. Five stars.


Review: A Suitable Match by Jayne Davis

Posted July 10, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Jayne Davis is an interesting writer. Every book she writes is different, and I love that sense of not knowing what I’m going to get when I fire up the Kindle. Her debut, The Mrs MacKinnons, was sharply original and darkly funny. Sauce For The Gander was a more conventional romance with a strong helping of boy’s own adventure. An Embroidered Spoon had the unusual setting (for a Regency) of Wales, coupled with an uncompromising view of the stifling life of a young woman in the era. And here we are with another switch, a straight-down-the-line tale of the kind that Georgette Heyer fans love – fancy gowns, balls, rides in the park, matchmaking and all the paraphernalia of the London season, with a spying sub-plot. It’s all great fun, and if I slightly miss the out-there originality of The Mrs MacKinnons, this is still better than 99% of Regencies on the market these days.

Here’s the plot: Lady Isabella Stanlake is the youngest daughter of the Earl of Marstone. Her sisters and her brother are all married, so now it’s her turn, and her overbearing father isn’t about to give her any freedom to choose for herself. She’ll marry someone he thinks suitable, and there’s an end to it. Her aunt is bribed to bring her out and make sure she toes the line. Fortunately, Bella is a smart and enterprising young lady, and manages to make the most of her season while avoiding the most hideous of the potential husbands on offer.

Her brother would help her find someone to her liking, as he did for her older sisters, but he’s called away on secret business and so he asks his friend, Nick Carterton, to keep an eye on Bella and help her out if she gets into trouble. Nick is dutifully looking for a wife, so he’s doing the season too, and it’s no problem to look after Bella, especially as she turns out to be far more interesting than the terribly dull and worthy young ladies he’s picked out as possible brides. Nick didn’t light any fires for me, but he’s a steady and honourable young man, and if that sounds ever so slightly dull, it also makes him a more realistic hero than most found in modern Regencies.

Alongside the main story were a number of side plots involving spying, blackmail and a man in disguise, plus an intriguing glimpse of the unpleasanter side of Regency life, involving a seamstress who loses her job. Kind-hearted Isabella sweeps in to rescue her, in the process discovering just how difficult life can be for those at the bottom of society. This sort of story teeters on the edge of imposing modern sensibilities on the world of two hundred years ago, but Davis manages to make Isabella’s benevolence believable. Bella’s extremely sheltered upbringing, bordering on imprisonment, means that she has an unsullied if naive approach to the sophisticated world she now finds herself in, and her intelligent if slightly wayward personality inevitably leads her into such situations.

The story chugs along very pleasantly until the final stretch, when all sorts of mayhem breaks out and things get quite dramatic. Bella’s efforts to escape her fate were ingenious (I love a resourceful heroine), but I greatly appreciated that the villains are not exactly stupid either. Kudos to the author for avoiding the trap of making things too easy for the heroine. And then there’s a delightfully twisty ending, that took me very much by surprise. Nicely done. A very well-written traditional Regency, and a good four stars.


Review: Captain Kempton’s Christmas by Jayne Davis

Posted February 16, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

My second Christmas novella on the trot, and it’s another good one, and (surprise!) another second chance romance. I still don’t really get the whole Regency Christmas thing, and would have enjoyed the story just as much if it were set in midsummer, but whatever.

Here’s the premise: our hero and heroine meet and fall in love one summer, but there’s no time to formalise things. He’s a naval lieutenant, and is called back to his ship after only a fortnight. He asks her to wait for him, and she agrees, but… the next he hears, she’s married someone else. Several years later, they meet up again at a Christmas house party. He’s now a captain and she’s widowed, but naturally things aren’t that simple. He’s resentful and jealous of her husband, and she’s just about given up hope of a reconciliation. And so they dance around each other, being stiffly polite and really, I just wanted to bang their heads together. Would it be so hard for him to ask about her husband? Would it be so hard for her to unbend a little?

There were a fair few flashbacks in this as the story gradually unfolds, and although I thought the characters weren’t perhaps quite as sensible as they might have been, there were reasons for their hesitation (villainy ahoy!). I liked both hero and heroine, her reasons for marrying were excellent and the ending was terrific. As always with this author, the Regency feel was spot on. A good four stars.