Tag: dunn

Review: My Lord Winter by Carola Dunn (1992)

Posted February 13, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Some books of this age feel surprisingly modern, but this one is so old-fashioned it’s positively quaint. A buttoned-up hero, a spirited heroine who nevertheless gets into a Heyeresque tangle, and a traditional season stuffed to the gunnels with court presentations, balls, Almack’s patronesses, Gunters, and a society dripping with titles. But there are also glimpses of servants and the middle classes who have lives and personalities of their own, and some delightful side romances.

Here’s the premise: Lady Jane Brooke is the much neglected daughter of a marquis and marchioness who are far too wrapped up in their own affairs to think about her needs. When she reaches an age when she absolutely must be launched into society, they neglect to send a serviceable carriage for her, and she has to take a dilapidated vehicle which eventually expires in Oxford. The resourceful Jane, accompanied by her governess, Miss Gracechurch (Gracie) and her maid Ellie, haven’t enough money to hire a post chaise, so it will have to be the mail coach. When it falls into a ditch right outside the Earl of Wintringham’s gates in thick fog, Jane is determined to seek shelter within. The curmudgeonly earl (my lord Winter from the title) is all for throwing them all out into the fog, but when the Dowager Countess, his aunt, says the same thing, he prefers to thwart her by inviting them all to stay.

To say they’re a motley bunch doesn’t do them justice. Apart from Jane and Gracie, there are a lawyer, a loudmouthed northern industrialist and two undergraduates who’ve been rusticated. All of which enlivens the earl’s dinner table no end. This part of the book is very funny, and Jane’s attempts to wrest something resembling conversation from the earl start to bear fruit when he’s revealed to be an interesting companion behind the steely exterior. They spend enough time together before the fog lifts to begin to have some feelings for each other.

If this were all, it wouldn’t be much to write home about, but the central conceit of the plot is that Jane has been travelling on the mail coach as plain Miss Jane Brooke, so as not to attract unwanted attention to herself. She’s relieved to find that the earl and his aunt rarely come to town and never attend grand social events, so Jane’s unlikely to meet them there. She decides, therefore, not to explain who she really is. Who would believe her anyway? A girl in unfashionable clothes travelling on the mail coach is hardly likely to be the daughter of a marquis.

The rest of the book involves Jane making her come-out in London, while going to increasingly implausible lengths to avoid meeting the marquis publicly, when her deception will be revealed. Instead, he seeks her out through the lawyer from the coach, and she meets him many times in her guise as Miss Jane Brooke, and they visit the many attractions of the city, like Astley’s Amphitheatre and the Tower of London. Some reviews find the continued deception too difficult to believe in, but to my mind it’s very much in tune with the spirit of Georgette Heyer, who wrote many heroines who became increasing illogical in their attempts to cling to the original lie and avoid owning up. There are shades of Arabella here, partly with the breakdown outside the gates of an unfriendly man, but mainly because the last quarter of that book involves Arabella’s increasingly convoluted machinations, where all that was needed was for her to tell the hero the truth. So I forgive this book for following the same pattern, and the eventual resolution is very sweet and quite moving.

A lovely traditional Regency, very much in the Heyer style, beautifully written, and if you find the main couple not to your taste, there are two other charming romances to enjoy. Five stars.



Review: Thea’s Marquis by Carola Dunn (1993)

Posted June 12, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is the third and final part of the trilogy, and unlike book 2, it really does help to have read the earlier books first. This is the book where all the pigeons come home to roost, so to speak. In book 1, fortune hunter Jason, Lord Kilmore tried to elope with Alison Larkin. In book 2, he actually did elope with an heiress, but when that fell apart, he married another heiress, Penny Bryant. This book picks up the story a few weeks or months later. Jason has already gone to London, and his mother, his two sisters and his new wife are travelling south from their home near the Scottish border to join him. Penny is pregnant and finding morning sickness rather a trial, and Megan is suffering from a migraine. The ladies stop at an inn, and it’s shy, timid Thea who’s dispatched to secure rooms for them, since the other ladies aren’t up to the job.

But there’s a problem – the inn is full because of a sporting event, and there are no rooms to be had. Happily for the Kilmore ladies, a passing hero rescues them by giving up his room, and his friend’s, too, and then inviting the ladies to dine with them. The hero is the imposingly large Lord Hazlewood and his small but dandyish friend is Will DeVine. And so begins the odd friendship between these two and the Kilmore ladies.

While Thea, having led a sheltered life, struggles to behave and speak in the ladylike manner favoured by her mother, every time she puts her foot in it, Lord Hazlewood is there to smooth things over. He is the perfect courteous gentleman, and she begins to feel that she would not mind having to meet him again in London. So on to London the ladies go, their way smoothed by the thoughtful Lord Hazlewood.

There they find that Penny’s house is practically bare of furniture, everything having been trashed by her uncle before he moved out. Jason has managed to make repairs and supply the bare bones of the required furniture, but not much more. He’s also shocked by Penny’s exhausted appearance, and not at all the loving husband she’d hoped to find. And so, unusually for a Regency romance, even though these two appeared to have achieved their happy ending in the previous book, the state of their marriage becomes a central concern of this one, and even more so when previous events come back to haunt Jason and make Penny unhappy. It’s an interesting, and very realistic, scenario and I applaud the author for not assuming that everything in the garden will be rosy as soon as a girl has a ring on her finger.

Meanwhile our pair of heroes, Mr DeVine and Lord Hazlemere, are circling round the two Kilmore ladies, lively Megan and shy Thea, not at all put off (in Lord H’s case) and only slightly put off (in Mr DV’s) by the fact that they live in Russell Square, home of cits and lawyers. Of course the road to happiness is not smooth, and there’s the usual dramatic finale, but it’s clear that these two are both perfectly matched couples. I have to say, I liked all the characters in this book, and the way their stories played out. Thea learns to be more assertive, Lord Hazlewood learns the value of allowing his emotions free rein occasionally, and everything is tied up satisfactorily.

There’s only one aspect of the book that gave me pause. Lord Hazlewood has a mistress of many years’ standing. Now, he does pay her off once he realises he’s thinking of marrying Thea, but up until that point, he visits regularly and they seem to have a very cosy relationship, more like husband and wife than anything else. And then Lord Hazlewood is surprised when his mistress is upset at the break up. My question would be: how could he NOT be upset himself? Why is he not a least partly in love with her? I’m not sure I can like a man who is so detached about ending a relationship of many years.

But I suppose this is par for the course with books of this age. There’s a very different morality at play, where mistresses and wives are two different things, and occupy separate places in a man’s life. However shocking it looks to us now, the world was a different place thirty years ago. Apart from that, I have no real grumbles. I would have liked a little longer with our primary couple post-proposal, but that’s true of virtually every book of this vintage, so it’s not really a complaint. A lovely five-star read.


Review: The Road To Gretna by Carola Dunn (1992)

Posted June 12, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a complete riot. Two eloping couples meet on the way to Gretna Green, and as their journeys become more and more entwined, it becomes clear that the pairings are sadly mismatched. It’s a follow-on to A Lord For Miss Larkin, but there’s very little reference to that story, except that the hero here was the villain (of a sort) in the earlier book.

Here’s the premise: Jason, Lord Kilmore, is in desperate needs of funds to rescue him from penury. He tried in the previous book to elope with heiress Alison Larkin, but that came to nought. Now he’s eloping with heiress Henrietta White, who’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but pretty. And rich. Very, very rich. But when he arrives at Henrietta’s house in the dead of night, with a carriage awaiting them, the lady who drops into his arms, literally, from an upper window is not the delicate form of Henrietta, but the larger person of Penny Bryant. This scene is so redolent of Georgette Heyer’s The Corinthian, even to the name (Penelope) of the heroine that I was rather taken aback. However, it soon diverges as the two realise their mistake – they are both eloping, but not with each other. Jason has entered the wrong garden from the mews. Penny sets him right and they part amicably, Jason finds Henrietta, accompanied by her maid, a kitten and a mountain of luggage, and away they go.

Needless to say, the two couples, departing from the same spot and bound on the same journey, inevitably meet up several times on the road, and Jason and Penny are called upon to solve the many difficulties they encounter, many of them, it has to be said, created by Henrietta and her kitten (and who takes a kitten on an elopement?). Penny’s intended, the very Scottish Dr Angus Knox, is just as irritating as Henrietta in his way, especially when he descends into almost impenetrable dialect. I could have done with a lot less of the ‘dinnae ken’ and whatnot.

But our hero and heroine are lovely, and Jason redeems himself in spades for his behaviour in the previous book, when he was actually the villain of the piece, albeit a rather half-hearted one. And now we know why, because the author intended him to be the hero in this book. There’s a very nice ending, when Jason disposes in economical style of the villain of this book, and if it’s all very implausible, it’s also funny and oddly touching to see Jason the fortune-hunter rising to the occasion in magnificent style. A very enjoyable five stars.


Review: A Lord For Miss Larkin by Carola Dunn (1991)

Posted June 12, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’m a fan of Carola Dunn’s Regencies, and although they don’t all work for me, that’s true of any author, and the writing is always superb, even if I do occasionally want to throttle the hero. But no such difficulties here. Mr Philip Trevelyan is the perfect hero, a man who makes things happen and can always be depended on, and he has almost superhuman powers of restraint, a characteristic which all Regency gentlemen should display but often don’t.

Here’s the premise: Miss Alison Larkin is living a hand-to-mouth existence in an unfashionable part of London, with a collection of gently eccentric aunts, three small dogs and one great big one (a Newfoundland, who turns out to have a starring role in the story). Another, even more eccentric, aunt returns, newly widowed, from India with her late husband’s fortune in her reticule. She’s determined to spend some of that money on Alison to give her a proper season, and a dowry to boot. None of the aunts is suited to sponsoring her in society, however, so the Nabob aunt engages Lady Emma Grant, the widow of a baron, to launch her.

At this point the story is the very conventional one of the unsophisticated debutante going through the usual rituals of buying new clothes, learning to dance, attending her first ball, hoping for vouchers from Almack’s and so forth. It’s very resonant of Georgette Heyer’s Arabella, with the beautiful young lady finding herself much sought after, and her suitors unaware of her humble background. The big difference is that Arabella is thought to be an heiress, whereas Alison actually is an heiress. The other principal difference is that Alison has set her heart on marrying a lord. I can’t remember whether any sensible reason was given for this or whether it was merely a whim, but although she understands that it’s unlikely, she is definitely leaning in that direction. Which is why she doesn’t even consider the very attractive Mr Philip Trevelyan, the first eligible man to cross her path in this new life of hers. It doesn’t help, of course, that he displays not the least interest in her, in fact, he seems rather to sneer at this upstart cit his good friend Emma has taken on. It also doesn’t help that the reader’s first sight of him is proposing to Emma (who fortunately turns him down).

As is the way of books of this era, Alison is pretty enough and lively enough and rich enough to spark a ton of interest from society gentlemen, and several of them are lords, too. There’s attractive but impoverished Lord Kilmore, for a start. Then there’s Alison’s charming cousin, Lord Deverill. And there’s steady but dull Lord Fane. And while Alison is focused on her bevy of lords, she’s slowly coming to depend on Philip, and he’s slowly coming to appreciate all her good points. So far, so predictable, and although her lords deplore the eccentric aunts and unfashionable home address, somehow it doesn’t stop Alison becoming a runaway success and getting those oh-so-important vouchers for Almack’s.

Now, none of this is enough to set the book much above the readable but unremarkable run of the mill for Regencies of the era. But towards the end, it manages to rise above the average in a most unusual way. This is somewhat spoilerish, so skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want to know any more.

When the other lords fall by the wayside, for one reason or another, and Lord Fane is the last one left standing, Philip does something quite remarkable. He’s well aware by this time that he wants to marry Alison, but he thinks she sees him merely as an avuncular white knight who rides to her rescue when needed. He thinks, too, that she truly wants to marry a lord. And why shouldn’t she have her wish? So he sets up a house party at his estate, invites Lord Fane and Alison, and leaves them to sort things out between them. As someone says to him, he’s taking a terrible risk, and if this story were to be written nowadays, undoubtedly the hero would muscle his way between heroine and lordly suitor, and do everything in his power to prevent the match. Or he might declare himself, and thus give her the choice. But no, with the true restraint of a Regency gentleman, he stands aside.

I have to say, though, that while I am totally in awe of such authentic principles, it puts the heroine in a terrible dilemma. It’s the great conundrum of life for a Regency heroine — does she accept the offer that’s on the table, even if it’s not perfect, or does she hold out for a better (or at least more palatable) offer, which may never happen? If she misjudges, she may end up married to the wrong man, or else left on the shelf altogether. This is why I’m always in favour of giving the heroine the full choice of options, and here her sponsor in society, Lady Emma, should have been alert to the possibility. She should have been whispering in her ear that Lord Fane was not the only man with a serious interest in her. How can Alison make a rational choice without all the information?

But of course, everything comes right in the end, although not without a little gratuitous melodrama to liven things up, and give the hero the opportunity to show off his heroic tendencies. A lovely read, beautifully written and totally authentic. Highly recommended. Five stars.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.