Tag: farr

Review: The Mistletoe Test by Diane Farr (2017)

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

I’m having a good run of reads at the moment, all of older books or, as in this case, a newer book by an established author. Diane Farr wrote some of my favourite Regencies from around twenty years ago, so it was a real treat to discover this newer work that’s very much in the same vein. It’s a lovely, light read, although with some serious moments when the subject of slavery arises. Very much one for the traditionalists.

Here’s the premise: Felicity Pennington is being threatened with a sixth season in London by her rich, indulgent Aunt Agnes, better known as baronet’s widow Lady DuFrayne. Felicity wouldn’t mind, but it’s surely time her younger sister Lucille, aka Lulu, had her chance. She’s a bit of a madcap hoyden, but perhaps she could make a smaller debut in their home town of Bath over the winter to prepare her – nothing could go wrong, could it?

Aunt Agnes reluctantly agrees, and instantly Lulu gets into trouble at her debut event, managing to tip a water-filled vase over herself. But all is not lost, for appearing miraculously on the scene to rescue her from total ignominy is Oliver Stanhope, who’s everything that’s desirable in Lulu’s eyes, and isn’t at all censorious, despite being the son of a bishop. There’s only one problem – he’s already as good as betrothed to the humourless Miss Almeria Bliss, an inapt name if ever I heard one.

Into all this arrives the person of Sir Gavin DuFrayne, the inheritor of Aunt Agnes’s husband’s baronetcy and the estate but not the fortune, which went to Aunt Agnes. Now that his father has died, he’s sold the plantations in Barbados and has returned home to try to wrest some of that fortune for himself, or at the very least, stop his aunt blowing the whole lot on the deeply unworthy Pennington family. Although he has to admit that Felicity Pennington is good fun, with her sharp mind and willingness to spar with him.

It’s obvious at this point where the story is going, and so it does, with few surprises, but every step of the way is filled with charm and humour and a delightful lightness of touch. The only darker note is the discussion of slavery, where Gavin tries to recruit Felicity to his cause of helping his own freed slaves to come to England, which he isn’t able to do because he stupidly tied up all his money for several years (which is the only misstep in the entire book, because he’s far too smart to do that before he’s done what he promised for the freed slaves; serious plot manipulation there).

Apart from the main characters being anti-slavery (which is a very common theme in modern Regencies and barely worthy of comment, even though there was far more controversy about it at the time), the book is actually quite subversive. For one thing, Aunt Agnes’s husband leaves only the entailed property to his heir, and gives all his money to his widow. Nor does she have it only for her lifetime – it’s hers absolutely. She could give it all to the Penningtons if she wants, or an orphanage, or spend every last penny, leaving the baronet in relative poverty. That would be regarded as wicked in an age when male primogeniture was everything, and a man with a title was expected to live expensively. We’re not really told why he did this, although it’s hinted that Gavin’s father was something of a reprobate, but it’s still a drastic step to take.

The other unusual arrangement is that Oliver Stanhope is his father’s heir, despite being the middle of three brothers. Again, it’s almost invariably the eldest son who inherits, but here it’s shown as an agreement between the men of the family. The eldest and youngest sons wanted to follow their father into the church and Oliver didn’t, so he gets the money. Although I have to say that his delight in his new estate and the enthusiasm with which he threw parties there were delightful. He has so much joie de vie, it’s obvious he’s a perfect match for the exuberant Lulu.

The story eventually winds its way to Christmas and the mistletoe test of the title about which I will say nothing except that it’s all lovely. I would have liked a little more followup with Gavin and Felicity, who were supposed to be the main characters but got pushed into the background by Lulu and Oliver far too often. I liked that the minor characters got their turn in the spotlight, but I wanted to see a bit more of the majors. In particular, I wanted to see a lot more of them falling in love. But that’s not really a complaint. This was a lovely traditional read that put a smile on my face almost from start to finish. Beautifully written, with lots of humour and charm, I can’t give it less than five stars.


Review: Duel of Hearts by Diane Farr

Posted December 12, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is an oddball one, completely wacky and wild, but very, very funny. Lilah Chadwick and Lord Drakesley (Drake) meet in inauspicious circumstances – at a country coaching inn, squabbling over the only available carriage for hire. Both are determined to have it and not prepared to yield, so when they discover that they are bound for the same place, they do the only sensible thing and share the carriage.

They soon find that they have even more in common, for Lilah’s father is planning to marry Drake’s cousin, a wedding that they will both do anything to stop. Naturally, they set aside their differences and join forces to separate the two, so that Lilah can have her beloved father all to herself again, and Drake can marry his childhood sweetheart.

And so the stage is set for these two to fight and squabble and battle their way to the realisation that what they thought they wanted and what they actually want may be two very different things. Now, none of this should work at all. Lilah and Drake have to be utterly oblivious and (quite frankly) stupid not to see what is right under their noses, which everyone else can see perfectly well. Much of what happens is so over-the-top that it ought to be unbelievable and ridiculous. And yet, somehow, the author pulls it off magnificently. I rolled my eyes and wanted to bang their heads together several times per chapter, but I still loved this book. Realistic it isn’t, but it’s very, very funny. Five stars.


Review: Playing To Win by Diane Farr

Posted September 19, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

An interesting and unusual premise: Trevor Whitlatch is sent to recover a debt for a friend from a famous courtesan. She surprises him by offering him her own illegitimate daughter to settle the debt. As soon as he sees her, Whitlatch agrees to the deal. Why? Well, because she’s beautiful, of course, and, given her heritage, she’s destined to end up as a courtesan herself, so why shouldn’t he be her patron? After all, he’s a connoisseur, she’s in no position to complain and he’s very determined.

Clarissa, however, is equally determined to avoid her mother’s fate in life. She’s been educated, so she feels that a life as a governess would suit her. She’s not foolish enough to aspire to marriage to a respectable man, thanks to her mother, but she wants to earn her keep honestly. Whitlatch is quite happy to allow her the time to accept his new offer – after all, the chase makes the inevitable outcome all the more rewarding – but he finds himself flummoxed by his new charge at every turn. She is nothing like he’d expected, even his servants treat her like a lady and gradually he finds himself falling under her spell.

This book was previously published as ‘Fair Game’, and to be honest, I feel that was a better title for it. It captures perfectly the vulnerability of Clarissa – she’s as defenceless as a deer in the hunter’s sights, but her strength of character, and her essential innocence and goodness shine through. The ending isn’t a surprise, naturally, but it’s nicely done. A beautifully written book with two great characters at its heart, an interesting dilemma and a soupcon of humour. Five stars.


Review: ‘The Fortune Hunter’ by Diane Farr

Posted April 12, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Oh boy (fans self). This was a sizzler and no mistake. And yet, pretty clean. There’s one actual sex scene, although very tastefully done and completely non-graphic, but the rest of it is all kisses and gentle touches. And yet… so hot.

The story picks up the most interesting character from the previous book, Falling For Chloe. Lord Rival is one of the ton’s most notorious rakes, who’s been living a precarious hand-to-mouth existence ever since he inherited his run-down estate some twelve years ago. He’s so impoverished that he lives in rooms with no servants, and does all the work of taking care of his clothes. He survives by playing piquet for money against rich, not terribly bright women who fall for his charms and see their losses as a fair price for an hour in the gaming room with his undivided attention. But he’s beginning to realise that he needs to do something more permanent to resolve his financial woes, and that means marrying an heiress.

Top of his list is the elusive Lady Olivia Fairfax, and he meets the lady in the most inauspicious circumstances. She is dressed in old clothes, engaged in cleaning up the stored treasures of a recently deceased gentleman for one of her charity projects. He, not unnaturally, mistakes her for a maid, and so they get off on quite the wrong foot. But some odd clauses in the deceased gentleman’s will throw them together anyway, and since he’s determined to win her and she is equally determined that he won’t, the sparks soon fly.

There’s an oddness about money in this book. George (Lord Rival) is supposedly dead broke, but in the previous book he managed to win several hundred pounds at a time from his besotted victims, and in this one he’s offered an annuity of eight hundred pounds a year. These are large sums, and with a combination of the annuity and some light card play, he could give himself a substantial income of several thousand a year, more than adequate to restore his estate. But, no matter.

This is one of those books that takes a completely unlikeable character and, by shining a light on his history and circumstances, makes him into something approaching a real hero. I liked George a lot, and was really rooting for him to work out what it was that he really wanted, which, rather foolishly, he seems to be in the dark about. Olivia I was less enamoured of. She has the hots for George right from the start (as all the women he meets seem to), and she allows him to take a great many liberties, yet she won’t agree to marry him. I thought he had the patience of a saint to put up with her yes-please-no-don’t-yes-please shenanigans. But the banter between them is glorious, and did I mention how hot this book is?

The ending is perfect. I did wonder how the author was going to resolve the central issue of the situation, but she carried it off magnificently. That’s all I will say about it. Five stars.


Review: ‘Falling For Chloe’ by Diane Farr

Posted April 12, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I loved the two previous books I read by Diane Farr, but this one is a bit of a mish-mash. There are some delightful moments mixed in with some ho-hum parts that just don’t work for me.

The plot: Gil and Chloe have been the best of friends for years. He’s now a man-about-town and she’s a spirited and independent young lady who’s perfectly content to live a secluded country life. But when they inadvertently find themselves in a compromising situation, some kindly soul sends a notice of their engagement to the newspaper. Then Gil’s sister Tish takes the inexperienced Chloe under her wing and launches her into London society.

The writing is very much inspired by Georgette Heyer, and unfortunately many of the characters are drawn from her favourite stereotypes, too. Chloe is the innocent young girl getting into scrapes, Gil has the two regulation not-very-bright friends, there’s an overbearing mother and a devilish rake… all the usual suspects. And the plot is driven by misunderstandings and silliness which is all resolved with a wave of the hand in the last chapter.

There are two aspects that really grated on me. One is Gil’s sister, whose marriage of three years, although founded on love, is now falling apart, and all because the husband and wife don’t bother to talk to each other. This breaks one of the cardinal rules of any romance, for me, that a happy marriage should be happy for life, and the wife shouldn’t be off flirting with a notorious rake. And here’s the other point that bothered me. Chloe, our otherwise charming heroine, sees Tish’s rake and is promptly drawn to him herself, to the point of kisses and other bad behaviour in a betrothed lady, even if the betrothal is a bit of a sham. She might not realise that she’s in love with the hero, but she shouldn’t be getting hot and bothered over another man.

Despite these issues, I really enjoyed the read, and the romance came to a very satisfactory conclusion, even if they did have to be prodded into it rather. Four stars.


Review: ‘Once Upon A Christmas’ by Diane Farr

Posted March 2, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another lovely story from Diane Farr. Why have I only just discovered this author? She writes exactly the sort of tale I like to read – two people thrown together almost against their will, who oh-so-slowly fall in love. Now, the obstacle to their happiness in this case is one of those misunderstandings that would be cleared up in five minutes if they just sat down and discussed things, and normally I hate that, but in this case the obstacle is so outrageous and funny that I didn’t mind it at all.

Here’s the premise: when Celia Delacourt suffers the tragic loss of her entire family, she is relieved and grateful to be offered a home by her distant relative the Duchess of Arnsford, even though she suspects the Duchess has devious plans afoot. And when Celia learns what the plot is, she’s determined not to cooperate. But when she meets the Duchess’s son, Jack, she finds that he’s not at all what she’d expected.

I loved the way these two inched their way to an understanding. Jack is a delightful hero, for once not a rake or a scoundrel or a ne’er-do-well. He’s just a young man enjoying a certain freedom, and his wildness is harmless stuff. He’s generous to a fault, and befriends people that his mother definitely wouldn’t approve of (since they’re of lower rank and some are even, quite shockingly, commoners!). And although he starts his acquaintance with Celia with some subterfuge, he finds himself quite unable to maintain the facade in the face of her sweet nature and compassion. And Celia herself is a gentle soul who is also perfectly well able to stand up for herself, when necessary. So these two are definitely made for each other.

There’s a very nice little side romance going on, too, involving the stuffy fiancee from The Nobody. I approved of the author’s delicate touch here, not making Elizabeth fall violently in love, which would have been out of character, and inappropriate for the gentleman.

If I have a grumble at all, it’s that the book finished at 92% on my Kindle, the rest being filled with samples from other books. I was also a bit shocked that the author swept away Celia’s entire family in one fell swoop, although I suspect it was necessary to give her the happy family background in contrast to the much stiffer upbringing Jack had endured. A terrific read, with a lovely romantic ending. Five stars.


Review: ‘The Nobody’ by Diane Farr

Posted February 14, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

An utterly delightful book, that I loved from start to weepy finish. Caitlin is the older sister who goes along for the ride on her prettier younger sister’s debut season in London. Nothing much is expected of Caitlin, and she isn’t even presented at court (the family couldn’t afford two court dresses, which made me very sad for her), and when her sister is off curtsying to the Queen, Caitlin is at a musical evening with her new friend, overhearing herself described by a snobbish lady of the ton as a nobody.

Humiliated and upset, Caitlin makes a run for home through the dark streets of London. She witnesses a man running away from a group of thugs, and finds herself unceremoniously pulled into a passionate kiss so that he can evade his pursuers. They part, after a lively discussion of the proprieties pertaining to the unusual situation, without either knowing who the other is. But it isn’t long before they find out, and Caitlin realises she’s been kissed by the brother of her new friend, a man who is betrothed to the snobbish lady who insulted her.

Now all this is fairly implausible, but very entertaining. The banter between the two is lively and witty, especially so on his side, and we can see exactly where this is going. Except that Richard Kilverton is betrothed, and a Regency gentleman does not, under any circumstances, cry off from a betrothal. So the rest of the book is, naturally, focused on him trying to persuade the lady to cry off, instead.

Which leads me to my main, possibly only, grumble about this book. I can let Richard off that snatched kiss at the beginning, which was a desperate measure of self-preservation, and a pretty innovative one, it has to be said. But he then proceeds to pay an inordinate amount of attention to Caitlin, including (but not limited to) dancing the waltz with her (twice! On one night!) and sneaking out onto a terrace to kiss her rather thoroughly. Given that he’s engaged to someone else, this is very ungentlemanly behaviour, and would be unforgivable… except that he really is incredibly charming and delightful, and it’s very hard to be cross with him.

Needless to say, with a bit of sleight of hand, everything comes right, and the subplot turned out to have an unexpected ending, and I enjoyed the whole unlikely story so much that I can’t give it less than five stars.