Tag: dolan

Review: The Substitute Bridegroom by Charlotte Louise Dolan (1991) [Trad]

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

This was a hard one to rate. There was a lot about it I disliked quite intensely, and there were moments that had me rolling my eyes pretty hard. But on the other hand, I read it avidly despite the eye-rolling and that has to count for something.

Here’s the premise: Elizabeth Goldsborough is the Incomparable beauty of the season, a resounding success, capped with an engagement to the most handsome and eligible gentleman of the day, Simon Bellgrave. But an accident leaves her with a disfiguring scar on one cheek, her betrothed has trouble even looking at the injury and so she releases him from their engagement. And he, the cad, takes off without the slightest protest. Elizabeth’s brother isn’t having her spending her days as an old maid, so he informs the man responsible for her accident, Captain Darius St John, that he’d better marry her to make reparation. And he, the cad, refuses. Until his snake of a sister tells him he mustn’t do it, whereupon he promptly offers for Elizabeth, and she accepts him.

And at this point, I’m probably at peak eye-rolling, because what kind of hero only does the honourable thing because his sister tells him not to? And what kind of daft heroine accepts a man like that? I can see that she might if she already knows and likes him, or if he at least presents himself in a gentlemanly manner, and puts a good face on the inevitable, but Darius is so rude and surly and totally bad-mannered that it’s hard to imagine any rational woman wanting him. And it’s not as if she would be entirely destitute if she doesn’t marry him, either. She has a brother to look after her, she has her own fortune, for heaven’s sake, she’s independent. She can wait it out for a man to come along who doesn’t care about her scar. The author makes a valiant effort to convince the reader that Elizabeth is completely unmarriageable now, because only a perfectly flawless face can possibly succeed in attracting a man, and the ton will ostracise her and bla bla bla… no, not convincing for a moment (as later events prove).

So she’s stupid, and he’s boorish and self-centred and rag-mannered and… yes, I disliked him pretty thoroughly at this point. He’s completely focused on his army career, and thinks all women are fickle, duplicitous witches, and with his own family as evidence, I can see where he’s got that idea from. Anyway, they marry and after a quick romp with her, he disappears back to the war, because heaven forfend that he should change anything in his life just because he has a wife (and possibly a child, given the romping interlude). And here’s where we’re back into eye-rolling territory, because at this point, for no reason whatsoever that I can ascertain, she decides she’s in love with him. Good grief.

There’s a strange scenario where she writes to him regularly, nice, chatty letters about what’s going on back home, which he reads out for the entertainment of his men, but it never once occurs to him to write back to her. She’s hanging about waiting for the letters to arrive every day and always being disappointed, so when he appears unexpectedly (because no, he couldn’t possibly have written to tell his wife he’s coming home, could he?), he finds himself cold-shouldered by all the locals who’ve gathered protectively around his neglected wife. And naturally he blames her for it. Because of course he does.

And so it goes on. Whenever there’s the least possibility of him behaving badly and misunderstanding everything and blaming his poor wife for everything he perceives is wrong (because women are wicked, duplicitous witches, so of course he does), he storms out in a huff, and it takes the whole book for him to dimly perceive, through the fog of his own prejudice and (frankly) stupidity that she’s actually quite nice really, despite being a woman. Honestly, his batman is streets brighter than Darius is.

The ending gets pretty silly, with his sisters having a starring role. I think it was meant to be funny, but I didn’t find it particularly amusing. But at least Darius realises what a treasure he has in Elizabeth, and they get their happy ending eventually, even though, as it turns out, scars fade with time and become fashion accessories, so Elizabeth’s prospects weren’t as ruined as we were all led to believe. Especially when she might become a duchess. There was one major historical error – a duke can’t ever resign his title or his entailed estates, whether or not there’s an heir. It was also mentioned at one point that if Elizabeth were a duchess and Darius died, she would lose her title, but that’s wrong, and since there’s a dowager duchess in this very book, I can’t imagine why the idea was even mentioned.

I’ve been pretty critical of this on a number of levels, but the fact remains that I galloped through it almost without taking a breath, and despite all the eye-rolling, I never once considered abandoning the book. So I concluded that it worked for me at some deeper level, despite the problems. It’s probably somewhere between a three and a four star read, but the writing was generally good, so I’m going with four.


Review: Three Lords For Lady Anne by Charlotte Louise Dolan [Trad]

Posted April 28, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

[First published 1991] My second Dolan on the trot, and another oddly original work that ought to have irritated me but actually surprised me at every turn, and very much in a good way. Every time I thought the story was descending into cliche, the author took a sharp turn into new territory.

Here’s the plot: Anne Hemsworth is a governess – yes, it’s that plot. She finds herself dispatched to Devon to take on twin boys who’ve driven away all previous governesses. Yep, still in the time-honoured plot. There’s a rakish ne’er-do-well, who instantly tries to get into Anne’s bed, and there’s the absentee guardian, tall, stern and brooding, who descends unexpectedly… I must have read a dozen or more variations on this one. And then there’s one misunderstanding after another between the two protagonists, so you begin to wonder if they will ever get themselves sorted out, although the instant sizzling attraction between them suggests they will.

Now, if all that sounds yawn-inducingly boring, it’s not at all. For one thing, the misunderstandings are actually very clever and our couple work out what’s actually going on very quickly, simply by logical deduction, so no coincidences or deus ex machina, just the little grey cells. For another thing, the twins are actually very, very ingenious (as they tell Anne themselves!). And for a third thing, she, too, is very clever and is the teacher we all wish we’d had. And for a fourth thing (last one, I promise!), that instant sizzling attraction leads to some deliciously romantic moments. And if I hadn’t promised to stop at four, I would also mention the author’s glorious sense of humour.

The villain of the piece is delightfully inept, even with the aid of his long-suffering valet, and the twins are more than a match for him. The book is light on backstory. We know Anne’s from the start, but hero Bronson’s is only slowly revealed. It makes him rather a sad and lonely figure, but the author handles it with a very light hand.

This reminds me of my major bugbear with the book – the names. I refuse to believe that any man, much less a baron, would be called Bronson, and then there’s Creighton, Gloriana, Collier, Demetrius… Poor Collier, named after a coal miner! I shuddered every time I encountered the poor fellow. But otherwise, the book is a delightful read, and maybe it’s the fact that it was published 30 years ago that makes it so refreshingly different now. Five stars.


Review: Fallen Angel by Charlotte Louise Dolan [Trad]

Posted April 28, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

[Note: first published 1994] I should have hated this. The heroine is a downtrodden and meek young woman who is taken advantage of by all her selfish relations. She falls desperately in love with the hero right from the start and would do anything for him, even become his mistress. The hero is that staple of Regencies, the overbearing, domineering male who does precisely what he wants. The plot revolves around the fact that the two of them never talk openly to each other. So… a doormat, a tyrant and the Great Misunderstanding. And yet… it works. It really works. Amazing.

Here’s the premise: Gabriel, the Earl of Sherington, is the little-regarded younger son who was sent away to sea at the age of 10, and proceeded to make his own fortune. Now he’s unexpectedly inherited the title and is busy fending off his obnoxious relations who want him to do everything the way things have always been done. Even his servants gang up on him with a campaign of passive resistance when he fails to fall into line. To prove he’s his own man, and also to spite them all, he sets off for a far-flung estate for some peace and quiet.

On the way to said far-flung estate, he encounters Verity Jolliffe, the doormat, stranded a few miles from home on a journey from one set of obnoxious relations to another (there is an overabundance of obnoxious relations in this book). In possibly the only moment of spirit she shows in the entire story, Verity cadges a lift from the glowering earl. He introduces himself as Sherington, so when he meets her relations, she calls him Mr Sherington, and they’re a bit sniffy about him, not realising he’s an earl. This is an old trick, and it falls a bit flat here because when she later discovers he’s Lord Sherington, she knows all about him and his bad reputation, so why would she not suspect that Mr Sherington might be connected?

Gabriel offers to return Verity to the stage coach stop when she leaves her family to return to London, and somewhere on these two brief encounters he decides that she’s not like the flirtatious and avaricious young women he’s met before, and is docile enough to make an undemanding wife who won’t kick up a fuss over his mistresses and absences from home, or try to change him. But in order to ensure that she stays in line, he decides to make her fall in love with him.

And so the central conceit of the story is born: he devotes almost the entire book to making her fall for him, when in fact she’s been in love with him right from the start. Things are complicated by Verity’s sister and family, with whom she lives in London, who appropriate the earl for themselves and never at any time consider that he might be dropping by so frequently to see Verity. This makes them pretty stupid, of course, but then Gabriel is pretty stupid not to realise that Verity’s panting for him, and she’s pretty stupid not to make it clear. She doesn’t know what he wants from her, but she’s absolutely certain that, whatever it is, she’ll give it to him.

The whole thing is pretty implausible, and yet it’s so beautifully written and so funny that it just rolls along. Naturally, while Gabriel is busy trying to make Verity love him, and getting totally mad when he thinks he’s failing, he’s actually falling in love himself. He’s exactly the sort of arrogant, self-centred character I’d normally hate, yet somehow his fits of rage at his own failures are rather endearing. And the ending, when he finally gets Verity to the church, is a total shock. I should have been outraged, yet somehow the author makes it a triumphant punch-the-air moment.

Apart from the excessive quantity of obnoxious relations, the book captures the Regency feel perfectly, and even my over-sensitive pedant-o-meter only registered a tiny sprinkle of Americanisms. I did laugh at the earl’s stately home being called Sherington Close, though – in Britain a close is a short dead-end street or a narrow back alley, not a suitable name for some vast ancestral home.

An unusual but very effective play on the domineering male meets meek female theme, with some very funny moments and a totally satisfying ending. There’s a bit of lusting, but nothing at all graphic. Five stars.