Tag: dunn

Review: Ginnie Come Lately by Carola Dunn (1993)

Posted July 25, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well. What to make of this? I’ve had good luck with Carola Dunn’s other books, and I’ve read quite a few, but this one just didn’t work for me, and it’s all the hero’s fault.

Here’s the premise: Justin, Lord Amis, heir to an earldom, has spent two years as a diplomat tootling round Europe in the train of various government officials in the aftermath of Waterloo and the outbreak of peace. He returns home, hoping to pick up the threads of his understanding with Lady Amabel Fellowes. Has she waited for him all this time? She has! But at their first meeting, she gives him some information that puts all thoughts of his own marriage out of his mind. His elderly father, who has been living as a recluse ever since his wife died, has remarried a widow with nine children. Justin must rush home to Wooburn Court to find out what is going on.

He’s only just reached the grounds of the ancestral home when he spies a woman with a group of children. Aha! His new stepmother and some of his step-siblings. He promptly falls off his horse (why? Is he such an incompetent rider?), and then proceeds to hurl abuse at the woman before riding off again. It’s worth quoting his exact words, and remembering that this is a viscount and a grown man, not a child, addressing the woman he believes is his new stepmother, whom he has never met before.

‘He looked her up and down in a shockingly insolent manner, from the shabby chip-straw bonnet hiding her golden ringlets to the half-boots of worn jean. Sneering, he said, “So you are the gull-catcher. Mutton dressed as lamb! You need not expect to profit by your chicanery, strumpet. By all the devils in hell, I’ll see you damned first!”’

This may work perfectly well for a villain, but a hero? No. There’s a very funny scene where the woman so addressed tries to account for the odd terminology used (“Why did he call you a trumpet, Ginnie?”). Of course, this is not stepmama at all, but the eldest of the children, who is 20, and definitely not a strumpet (and neither is her mother).

Then comes the scene which really set my teeth on edge. Justin comes down for dinner and finds Ginnie alone, and after a brief exchange of hostile fire, grabs her and kisses her. And she, stupid woman, instead of slapping his smug face, allows him to do it and then pretends nothing happened.

From here on, it’s outright war. Justin is determined to best the Webster children, and they set out with a will to make his life as miserable as possible. Hot water goes missing, starched cravats are discovered limp, there are nettles in the bed, burrs in his boots and a hedgehog amongst his clothes. Meanwhile, it gradually dawns on him that his father, who had been dwindling into a sad old age, is lively and besotted and terribly happy. And as he gets to know the Webster children better, he realises they’re actually fine people (apart from the mischievous twins). All his accusations against them, of spending his father’s money extravagantly, for instance, are completely untrue.

At this point, there might still have been a redemptive arc for him, if he’d simply admitted he was wrong and made his peace with them. But he never quite comes clean, he’s still behaving inappropriately with Ginnie, and he’s invited all his most toffee-nosed friends from London, including his intended, to a house party. The original idea was to put the Websters properly in their place, and if he’d simply confessed all to Ginnie (who runs the household single handed, because of course she does), I’d have liked him a lot better. But he lets things run, there’s confusion and some perfectly natural jealousy from Ginnie, and when his friends are rude about the Websters, just as he was initially, he says nothing, when really he should have said, “Yes, I thought that at first, too, but they’re really nice when you get to know them better”. Stupid Justin.

And then he makes his biggest and stupidest mistake. Having decided that he really doesn’t want to marry Lady Amabel, who is a cow of the first order, he gets hot and heavy with Ginnie but before breaking it off with Lady Amabel. Cue awkward scene.

I can imagine that this sounded really good in the synopsis the author presented to her publisher. Arrogant hero is a bumptious fool, but is taught a valuable lesson by the virtuous Ginnie and her charming (if amusingly mischievous) siblings. The trouble is, to justify the necessary hostility between the factions, Justin has to step way, way beyond the bounds even of common decency, let alone the standards of honour expected of a Regency gentleman. What kind of a man calls his father’s new wife a strumpet to her face? What kind of man forces a kiss on a girl under the protection of his father? What kind of man allows his friends to insult his family? What kind of a man tells a woman who’s waited years for him that he’s not going to marry her after all (even if she is a cow)? It’s appalling behaviour, and I just can’t forgive him.

Obviously, not everyone will see it that way, and if you can manage to read it without any pearl-clutching, you must have a stronger constitution than I do, certainly, but there’s a pleasant and even, dare I say it, a charming little story hidden away behind all the snarling. It’s short, anyway, and even if I dislike the hero intensely, I have no fault to find with the writing. Two stars.

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Review: A Susceptible Gentleman by Carola Dunn (1990)

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

Well, what can I say? This was meant to be humorous, and I gave it the benefit of the doubt for most of the way through (and it was funny, actually), but the hero just stepped beyond the pale, for me.

Here’s the premise: Sarah Meade is the vicar’s sister, living a quiet life in a country parish and at the age of twenty-four, almost at the point of giving up on the prospect of marriage. Besides, she’s been in love with neighbour Adam, Viscount Cheverell, for years, but he looks on her as a sort of honorary sister. He’s the only son, with four highly-strung sisters, which has made him ultra-sympathetic to female troubles. He’s set up homes for unmarried mothers and schools, and he’s also managed to acquire three mistresses – simultaneously!

Now, some readers will back away at this point, but I like to give a book the benefit of the doubt with its basic premise, however implausible or unheroic, and see how things develop from there. Adam finds himself in difficulties with all three mistresses, so when he’s summoned home to deal with one of his troublesome sisters, the three follow him there. To avoid inflicting them on his rather strait-laced mother, he sends them round to the vicarage, for Sarah and brother Jonathan to deal with. Meanwhile his sisters are determined to see him married off, and descend on him with three candidates. He agrees that he probably ought to get married, and so begins a delicate dance around the three women, while also dealing with his three mistresses.

There’s no doubt that all this is very funny, if the reader can set aside the pearl-clutching that the three mistresses evoke. It’s meant to be light-hearted fluff, and given the date it was written (more than thirty years ago), mores were quite different then and the heroes of Regency romances were expected to be men’s men. Mistresses were just a normal part of the genre, and I don’t mind that (much). What got seriously up my nose is the despicable way Adam treats Sarah. Time after time he says (or thinks), “Oh, Sarah’s a good sport, she won’t mind,” and Sarah herself says at one point, “If he says that one more time, I’m going to scream.” And you can see her point. He treats her *really* badly, he expects her to deal with his mistresses, and then, when he gets himself entangled with all three of his marriage candidates, he expects her to sort that out, too!

Needless to say, it all comes right in the end, but I have to wonder just how faithful a husband Adam would be. He’s just too susceptible to womankind and (frankly) too stupid to avoid future entanglements, and he’s just the sort of idiot to think, “Oh well, it’ll be fine because Sarah will never know about it.” Ugh. So for me this only rates three stars, but it’s very well written, and for anyone less twitchy about male misbehaviour, looking for a light-hearted traditional read, this will probably suit you very well.

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Review: The Frog Earl by Carola Dunn (2004)

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

This was a whole heap of fun. It’s rather light-heartedly based on the frog prince story, and since it doesn’t belabour the point, it has an unusual degree of charm, with appealing characters and no artificial veering off into melodrama.

Here’s the premise: Simon Hurst is that staple of the Regency romance, the disregarded second son who is unexpectedly thrust into the position of heir. He’s the Earl of Derwent, leaving behind his happy career in the navy, but his father, the Marquis of Stokesbury is far from happy. He asks cousin Gerald, Viscount Litton, to take Simon up to town to add some polish to the rough navy man. Simon hates the stiff formality and constraining clothes of the fashionable world, but there are compensations, like a certain beautiful young lady. It’s only when Simon accidentally overhears said young lady telling a friend that she only wants him for his fortune and rank, and would take him even if he were a frog, that he realises his error. He sets off, incognito, for the estate of an aunt in Cheshire to recover his spirits and learn something of estate management, and there he meets Mimi…

The blurb describes Mimi as ‘half English, half Indian and all mischief’, which hits the nail precisely on the head. She’s always up to some scheme or other, and Simon encounters her catching tadpoles to raise, for various complicated reasons. When she drops her bracelet into the water and Simon recovers it for her, he extracts from her three wishes – to dine with him, dance with him and to kiss him. She has no intention of complying, but he is intrigued and sets about ensuring that she fulfils her side of the bargain.

Mimi and Simon are both delightful characters. He is one of my favourite hero types, a sensible man very much at ease with himself who knows what he wants and sets about getting it with steady determination. And Mimi is such a rare thing in Regencies – a young and mischievous spirit who may get carried away sometimes but is entirely good-hearted and not in the least silly. Gerald, the urbane and dashing man-about-town is not so much a sidekick as another well-rounded hero, and Harriet the vicar’s daughter, who knows her place and isn’t unrealistic, but would so very much like to get married, is lovely too. There is a whole army of minor characters, and frankly I never got most of them straight in my head, but it didn’t matter. The whole book simply oozes charm, and made me smile all the way through.

There are difficulties, of course. For Mimi and Simon, there’s the problem that he is pretending to be a bailiff, and therefore would be viewed as a fortune-hunter if he openly courts Mimi. He wants her to fall in love with him for his own sake, and not just because he’s the heir to a marquisate. And for Gerald and Harriet, there’s the huge disparity of rank, although frankly this is a difficult obstacle to take seriously when half the Regency romances ever written have some form of it. It would be a different matter for a peer’s daughter to ‘marry down’ but men did it all the time (in real life as well as between the covers of books).

I do have one serious grumble, however. The romances chug along rather splendidly for most of the book, developing slowly and rather naturally. And then, bam, the most perfunctory wrapping up you can imagine. I’m not a fan of the elongated and mushy epilogue, but I do like a somewhat more romantic ending than this. Mimi switches without comment from trying to pair Simon off with Harriet (and feeling unaccountably dismal about the prospect) to talking about love, without any sign of a revelatory moment (unless somehow I missed it). And the proposal scenes are brief to the point of brusqueness. Not a happy camper about that. I can only assume the author was given a word limit by her publisher and had a bit of a scramble to fit everything in, but it was all very unsatisfactory.

But with that proviso, this is a lovely and very charming traditional read, amusing and light but with some serious themes of friendship and class beneath the froth. I thoroughly enjoyed it – right up until the final chapter or two, which knocks it down to four stars.

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Review: Angel by Carola Dunn (1984)

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

I was a bit uncertain of this one at first, since the heroine is a bit of a flighty, act-first-apologise-later sort of girl, but it grew on me, and the hero is lovely, so I totally got why the heroine fell for him. It’s beautifully written, very traditional and set rather splendidly in the Lake District, so bonus points for that (it’s always nice to get off the well-worn London-Brighton-Bath-country-house circuit).

Here’s the premise: Lady Evangelina (or Angel, for short) Brenthaven is the rather spoilt daughter of the Marquis of Tesborough. After eighteen proposals in two years, all of which she’s turned down, she’s tired of the Marriage Mart and being courted for her looks and fortune. When her friend, vicar’s daughter Catherine Sutton, invites her to join them in a stay in the Lakes, Angel decides to assume an alias and enjoy a quiet summer untrammelled by fortune-hunters. But Angel is the sort of person who just draws chaos around her, and so she accidentally (and occasionally deliberately) upends the rather dull lives of her neighbours, the grumpy Earl of Grisedale and his subdued daughter Beth, the earl’s nephew Sir Gregory Markham, Beth’s suitor Lord Welch, and of course the Sutton family. And then there’s the matter of Lord Grisedale’s estranged son, Lord Dominic Markham, who went off soldiering several years ago and hasn’t been heard from since…

There are a lot of characters in this, and I frequently got confused between the men. In addition to Sir Gregory and Lord Welch, there’s also Gerald Leigh, another vicar and suitor of Beth, and it won’t surprise anyone to discover that the missing Lord Dominic does eventually make an appearance. In fact, he is the cause of one of the funniest jokes of the book, for since his father has declared him persona non grata and told him never to darken the doors of the family home again, he returns under an alias, yet an astonishing number of the locals recognise him. Nobody seems to be fooled by his disguise in the slightest.

Dom is, of course, the hero and his scenes with heroine Angel are the best in the book. They have an instant rapport, and they develop a charming but very chaste friendship. He teaches her about wild flowers and she teaches him not to skulk out of sight. The romance develops beautifully and it’s just a pity that Dom has an outbreak of I’m-not-worthy-itis towards the end, but then there really is no other serious obstacle to the match, so the author had trouble slowing down the gallop to the altar.

There are not one but two side-romances along the way, plus a somewhat implausible but nicely developed mystery, which throws up two of the men as possible villains. The author has some trouble maintaining the pretence that both are equally plausible candidates, and she has to make Angel fairly blind to the good/bad qualities of the two to sustain the pretence. Catherine, on the other hand, is much more sensible and a far better judge of character. She and her paramour also have some delightful banter, and their romance progresses far more smoothly than Angel’s.

There’s one moment in the book, though, when both women are desperately in love with their respective men, and yet very much uncertain as to whether their feelings are returned. This must have been such a common problem with real-life Regency women, who lived their lives in a world of decorous and completely meaningless interactions with men who may or may not have any serious intentions towards them. Angel comments that, “It is perfectly horrid to be in love and not to know,” and Catherine replies, “Isn’t it?” I can only sympathise, and be glad to live in a more open age.

I only spotted one error. The Earl of Grisedale’s eldest son (Dom) should have a courtesy title, typically a viscountcy. He would absolutely not be Lord Dominic, which was a title reserved for the younger sons of Dukes and Marquises. I also wondered why the next male heir to the earldom (after Dom) is a baronet (Sir Gregory), another title passed in the male line. That would only be possible if his father had been awarded the baronetcy, which is not impossible but unusual.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this. Some reviewers hated Angel, and I can understand why. She seems very immature, and rushes into things without thinking, but her actions are never malicious, and are often not even selfish, but designed to make things better for other people – which she does, in spades. Even the grumpy Earl miraculously comes round in the end. So although there were wobbly moments when Angel seemed just a little too wild, she was also good-hearted and kind, and in the end she grew on me rather. And Dom – well, he’s a real charmer. This is one of those books that could fall either way, but for me it mostly worked pretty well. Four stars.

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Review: A Poor Relation by Carola Dunn (1990)

Posted August 13, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is one of those books that shouldn’t have worked at all, because it fell into such well-worn ruts that it was a wonder it was able to scramble its way out of them, but somehow it did, and I loved it.

Here’s the premise: Rowena Caxton receives some bad news from her lawyer – the estate her father left her, and which she has been quite happily managing to keep in good order, has been subsumed by debts, and must be sold. Rowena is penniless, and must throw herself on the mercy of her aunt and uncle. Her uncle is easy-going but distant, and her aunt is happy to take her on as companion and chaperon to the spoilt, wilful and beautiful Millicent, around whom the household revolves. Millicent delights in putting Rowena down at every opportunity, but Rowena makes a friend of Anne, the plain younger sister. Meanwhile, Major Christopher Scott, who has been escorting his injured friend, Captain Bernard Cartwright, back from the wars, is astonished to find that he has inherited an earldom, complete with run-down estate and no wherewithal to improve it. And right next door lives the incomparable Millie, with a sizable fortune…

Now, the cliches here just jump off the page. The poor relation heroine… check. The unexpected nobleman… check. The impoverished estate with the need to marry an heiress… check. The selfish and petulant ingenue… check. The charming (but interestingly injured) sidekick… check. The uncaring relations… check. And naturally the first few times the hero and heroine meet, it’s under difficult circumstances, when he treats her like a servant (because she looks like one) and she thinks he’s too rude for words (because he is). And naturally they are thrown together at every turn and slowly learn to appreciate each other.

So yes, the plot runs on well-worn rails, but the trick is in the execution, and it’s here that Dunn’s talent shines. Both hero and heroine (and the minor pairing) are lively characters, very likable. Rowena is a teeny bit subversive without veering into outright rebellion. The major is rather charming beneath the briskly military exterior. They bond over apples, which is seriously original (she tells him how to manage his orchards, which are his main crop). The minor characters, even those who are merely there as foils for the principals, are quirky rather than over-the-top pantomime characters. And needless to say, the writing is superb.

The romance develops nicely, and isn’t forgotten about until the last page, although I could have done without the final foolish obstacle and the (frankly silly) resolution of it, but I still enjoyed this enormously. Five stars.

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Review: Mayhem and Miranda by Carola Dunn (1997)

Posted May 17, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Astonishingly, this was suggested to me by the Goodreads recommendations algorithm, possibly the first time in history that an algorithm has ever nudged me towards a book that I actually enjoyed. It’s pretty silly, in a lot of ways, but it was so much fun that I won’t hold that against it.

Here’s the premise: Miranda Carmichael is companion to eccentric Lady Wiston. Now eccentric characters abound in Regencies of a certain kind, but Lady Wiston is *seriously* eccentric – her philanthropic efforts involve viewing prisons and lunatic asylums, and rescuing all sorts of working class people in need of a helping hand. Some of them are recruited to staff her house, some just come for tea and one is teaching her yoga. Miranda takes all that in her stride. But when Lady Wiston’s down-at-heel nephew, Peter Daviot, arrives to write a book of his adventures in British Canada, Miranda finds herself rather torn. He’s very charming and amusing and so forth, but she can’t help disapproving of him, too.

And then another nephew, Lord Snell, puts in an appearance and the plot really builds a head of steam. I won’t say too much about that, because it would spoil things to give away too much, but suffice to say there is plenty of the advertised mayhem of the title, resolved by some very resourceful doings by all the main characters and some of the more colourful secondary characters, too.

I liked both sides of our romantic couple here. It’s clear almost from the start that these two are made for each other, but they don’t hurtle into things, thank goodness, building a solid and very believable friendship first, until the dastardly villain drives them apart (and again, the obstacle was very believable and entirely consistent with Regency mores). Although they could, perhaps, have simply sat down and talked things over, it would have been very much outside the bounds of propriety to do so, so I had no problem with that. And frankly, jealous Peter, misunderstanding everything, was gloriously funny, as were Lady Wiston and her motley collection of wacky misfits.

In the end, it’s Lady Wiston who steps to help our hapless pair of lovers, just as she does for all her rescued ne’er-do-wells, and a more creative and delicious enabling of the romantic denouement would be hard to find. Funny and exciting and charming all at once – I can’t give this less than five stars.

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Review: The Fortune Hunters by Carola Dunn

Posted August 18, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

What a great read! This has the glories of Regency Bath as a backdrop, two delightful main characters, an array of interesting side characters and some lovely humour.

Here’s the premise: brother and sister Jessica and Sir Nathan Franklin are in financial difficulties. The lease is up on their home and farm, their new landlord wants more money to renew than they can afford and it looks like they’ll have to move out. But there’s one last throw of the dice: if they sell some hideous family jewels, they can afford a few weeks in Bath, putting on a bit of a show, and perhaps one of them will be able to make a wealthy marriage. Matthew Walsingham has a similar problem. Having just been disinherited, he finds his way to Bath to look for a rich heiress. And when Jessica and Matthew meet and feel an instant attraction, it seems as if they’ve both found just what they were hoping for.

Their romance plays out with a background of traditional Bath activities – the Assembly Room, the Pump Room, walks in Sydney Gardens, picnics, outings and a dunking in the canal. Well, OK, that last part is a bit different, but it was a delightful scene, so no complaints on that score. There are a number of side stories going on as well as our main couple, plus Nathan’s own romantic difficulties, and to be honest, I felt as if there was too much extraneous business and too many characters, not to mention that some of them felt rather cliched.

However, our hero and heroine are delightful, with some splendid banter and it’s obvious that they’re made for each other. Some Regencies feature characters who are so much at odds that one fears for their future happiness, but not these two. I liked that the author didn’t hesitate to address the difficulties of the premise head on. In the Regency, honour was everything, and it really isn’t honourable to pretend to be wealthy to entice a rich marriage partner. Matthew and Jessica both have the problem of deciding just when and how to confess that they’re not what they seem, and Nathan has a different problem – having fallen for an actual heiress, he looks like the sneaky fortune hunter he is, but no longer wants to be. How they extract themselves from these tangled issues is the heart of the story, and it’s rather nicely done.

The two main romances are wrapped up beautifully, the writing and historical accuracy are faultless and an honourable mention for the eccentric Miss Tibbett, the former governess now promoted to aunt status for the Bath visit, and constantly disappearing to examine Roman remains. She was a plot device, of course, but an enjoyable one. A lovely book. Five stars.

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Regency review: ‘Two Corinthians’ by Carola Dunn

Posted May 29, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I love a good Regency romance, but I find it difficult to find any that aren’t dreadfully silly, and historically inaccurate to boot. I don’t expect every last detail to be perfect, but some things are terribly easy to check, like correct forms of address for the aristocracy, and it’s a great irritant when the author hasn’t even bothered. However, I have no such complaints here. There is a great deal of detail of clothing, and the language is riddled with contemporary cant, but it all felt very authentic. And while there is an outbreak of silliness at the end, it was forgivable.

The two Corinthians (men about town) of the title are George Winterbourne and Bertram Pomeroy. Bertram having lost the love of his life to George’s brother, is urged by his ailing father to marry soon. The suggestion is the elder Miss Sutton, Claire, eccentric and spinsterish at twenty eight, but suitable. George, meanwhile, becomes entangled with Claire and her lively younger sister, Lizzie, by chance, and enters into a pact with Lizzie: he will pretend to woo her to stop her dragonish mother from berating her.

So George is pretending to court Lizzie and Bertram is reluctantly courting Claire, and… well, we can see where this is going, can’t we? But even if the resolution is predictable, that’s not a fault in a book like this. It’s more about the journey than the destination, and here the journey is entertaining and unfolds gently and rather sweetly, with good behaviour on all sides.

There’s not much action, so those looking for highwaymen or pirates or spies should move swiftly on. Nor are there any outbreaks of uncontrollable lust. If you like Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, then this book is just the ticket. A pleasant, gentle read. Four stars.

A footnote: I didn’t realise it, but this book is actually a sequel to Miss Hartwell’s Dilemma. It made things a little confusing early on as the author skated rapidly over the backstory, but I soon got the hang of it. However, it’s probably a more enjoyable read if approached in the correct order.

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