Tag: hambly

Review: Ormsley by Jenny Hambly (2022)

Posted May 6, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another stellar read from Jenny Hambly, which I read more or less in one sitting. Lovely characters who feel like the sort of people you could actually meet in real life (and enjoy spending time with), beautiful writing and a perfectly evoked Regency with no anachronisms that I detected.

Here’s the premise: Hugh Brandforth, the Earl of Ormsley, returns unannounced to his estate after a futile pursuit of a wife. He’s thirty-seven, and was enjoying his discreet dalliances with married women too much to bother marrying himself, but being the only son, his ageing father had decided to secure the succession more firmly by taking a second wife, younger than Hugh. She produced a son, Henry, but Hugh has no love for his stepmother and her mother, and has belatedly decided to do his duty and find himself a sensible wife who won’t be difficult and will definitely not expect him to love her. He doesn’t believe in love. But it’s proving to be trickier than he’d supposed, so he’s not in the best of moods when he arrives home.

It’s not the homecoming he might have wished for. The gates are locked, for one thing, and then he finds himself berated by his old nurse for neglecting his little brother, accosted by an aggrieved woman, who is a complete stranger, when he mistook her for the boy’s nursemaid, and even the woman’s coachman is disrespectful. It’s a bit much for an earl to put up with.

But who’s this aggrieved woman, I hear you ask? Why, that’s the heroine, Miss Cressida Harrington, who has leased the dower house from the Countess of Ormsley, in order to escape from Bath rather precipitately. She was about to receive an unwelcome proposal from a notorious rake, and feared he was about to resort to heavy tactics to ensure her acceptance. But that’s not the sort of marriage she wants. She was once betrothed to a man who then died, and she’s not about to settle for something less than the perfect love she shared with Robin.

This is quite a lot of groundwork to get past before the story properly gets underway, and quite a bit of it is upfront in the first chapter, which describes Hugh’s childhood and upbringing in some detail. It’s very much the way Georgette Heyer would have done it, too, but for my taste I think I prefer to uncover the characters’ histories in dribs and drabs over many chapters.

From then onwards, the story unrolls without too many surprises. Hugh learns how to love, and Cressy learns that her first love was very different from the grown-up passionate feelings she develops for Hugh. In between, Henry learns to become less wild, Hugh’s youthful stepmother and her mother throw spanners in the works, Hugh’s loose-lipped friend does his unwitting bit to muck things up and Cressy’s erstwhile suitor turns up to drum up a little macho maleness in Hugh’s breast. And there are some family secrets to emerge, none of them terribly surprising, but nicely done.

There’s a lot to be said for a pleasant and undemanding read like this. There weren’t any great obstacles to the main characters’ romance, apart from their own reluctance, that is, and after the initial hostilities their sparky exchanges are perhaps a little flat. But they’re both sensible, their moments of high drama are understandable, and thank heavens for people who talk openly to each other, and have wise friends to steer their budding romance away from the shoals of the Great Misunderstanding and into open waters. And at the end, most of the antagonists have repented somewhat and are Doing the Decent Thing. And if that makes it seem slightly dull, overall, that’s partly a reaction to the sheer brilliance of Carteret, which was so epic that almost anything would be a bit of a come-down afterwards. So it doesn’t quite reach the heights of five stars for me, but it’s a very, very good four stars, and highly recommended.


Review: Carteret by Jenny Hambly (2021)

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

Another lovely read from Jenny Hambly, and for me this is the best of the series so far. Laurence is exactly my kind of hero – reserved, dignified and every inch the perfect gentleman. Heroine Cassandra is a feisty and determined lady, someone we can all root for. The plot unfolds smoothly, and is a joy to read.

Here’s the premise: Laurence, Viscount Carteret has his life in good order, keeping himself to himself and pursuing his duties with methodical conscientiousness. He’s on his way to his imposing country mansion when his quiet evening at an inn is disrupted by a very unlikely fugitive, in the shape of Miss Cassandra Fenton, who seeks refuge in his private parlour from a Bow Street runner. Surrendering to a whim for once, Laurence allows her to hide while he sees off the runner, then shares his meal with her before escorting her to temporary safety nearby, intending to return in the morning to see her to her destination. But Cassandra neither wants nor needs his help. She’s safer making her own way to her chosen refuge, the home of her former governess. Since they have been using only first names with each other, and neither knows where the other is bound, that would seem to be the end of that.

Well, there wouldn’t be much of a story if that were the case, so it isn’t very long before the two are thrown together again, and set about gradually uncovering the story behind Cassandra’s flight from her home, which resulted in the Bow Street runner being set on her, and also the mysteries surrounding the former governess and her home. And needless to say, they are also falling in love at the same time, and although things go along swimmingly for a while, it’s inevitable that someone as strait-laced as Laurence and someone as impetuous and daring as Cassandra would eventually fall out. When it happens, the quarrel is spectacular, and I felt all the gut-wrenching turmoil in both of them.

The ending has some lovely and (to me) quite unexpected twists which resolved everything beautifully. As always with Hambly, the characters, even the minor ones, are full of authentic life, and there’s also Laurence’s house, which has a starring role to play. It’s rare to see a backdrop used so aptly as this, but here everything about Westerby perfectly encapsulates the characters of Laurence’s father, and Laurence himself, and also illuminates the characters of Laurence’s two sisters. Brilliantly done.

A wonderfully written book, a perfect evocation of the Regency. Five stars.


Review: Bassington by Jenny Hambly (2021) [Trad]

Posted June 12, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’ve loved everything Jenny Hambly has written and this is no exception, but I have to admit this one fell a little bit flat and meandered into the weeds at the end. Even so, with two likable protagonists, a fascinating array of side characters and a genuine dilemma for the heroine, this is still a cracking read.

Here’s the premise: Captain Charles Bassington survives the carnage of Waterloo, only to fall ill with an inflammation of the lungs. While he recuperates in rural France, with communications difficult, his neighbour and friend Lady Selena is so mad with worry for him that she sends his friend Lord Carteret to find him and bring him home.

At this point, Selena’s heart is painfully obvious to everyone. She’s been in love with Charles for years, and her worry for him is too great for her to dissemble. But there’s a wrinkle. Charles has been writing to her from France (a bit naughty when they’re not betrothed), and he’s suggested that Lord Carteret would make her a good husband. She’s had an unsuccessful season in London, partly through shyness and partly because she just doesn’t want anyone but Charles, but now she has to face up to reality. She’s twenty years old, Charles is not going to marry her and it’s time she left her childish dreams behind and started looking seriously for a husband.

Almost at once, two suitors pop up. One is the same Lord Carteret recommended by Charles. The other is an older man (all of 37! Mr Knightley territory), Lord Ormsley. Both of them are eligible, gentlemanly and attentive. And here is the dilemma of all sensible Regency women – should she settle for one or other of the two, or should she hold out for the man she really wants, with the risk that she might never marry? It was a serious problem at the time, and waiting for love to happen along wasn’t a good idea outside the pages of a novel.

While Selena is weighing up her suitors and Charles is recovering from his illness, there’s a bit of a mystery thrown into the mix, with the discovery of a body and a necklace in the local lough (lake). The necklace belonged to a local girl who disappeared a few years ago after suffering an unrequited love affair, so it seems an open and shut case, but is it?

In the background are a whole array of minor characters. I loved that both our main characters enjoyed warm, loving families. Not without the odd irritation, of course, but generally they’re normal folks, and not the evil, overbearing relations so often encountered in a Regency romance. In fact, Selena’s stepmother epitomises the deftness with which the characters are drawn. Lord Sheringham has only recently remarried, just nine months after the death of his wife (Selena’s mother). We first encounter the new Lady Sheringham in London with Selena as she tries her best to find her a husband, and there’s a certain tension between the two. It looks as if Lady S is going to fall neatly into the trope of wicked (or at least deeply unpleasant) stepmother, especially as she has a daughter of her own to marry off.

But back home in the north, she is gradually revealed as being rather an insecure person, unused to being part of a loyal and affectionate family and unsure of how far to unbend in her dealings with the tenants. She slowly relaxes her stance towards Selena and is revealed as a much more nuanced and frankly interesting character. I very much enjoyed this miniature character development going on alongside the main story.

Some grumbles (because what would a review be without a few grumbles?). Firstly, the characters. There are a huge array on display here, and I never got them straight in my mind. Selena’s family confused me. How old was Gregory, her brother? Or Eddy, another brother? He was never seen, owing to some illness from India (malaria, possibly?). I never even knew what the family name was. If any of these details were mentioned, I missed them. There were a bunch of local families that I never quite sorted out, including Cedric, who turned out to be quite important to Selena’s history. He was mentioned once or twice in passing, but I never got the impression that it was a big deal, and Selena always seemed so composed that it was hard to believe she’d had a traumatic experience. She was supposed to be shy in company, but that didn’t come across to me particularly well. And Lady Sheringham’s horrible parents appeared out of the blue, with no warning of anything untoward in her history. Maybe I read too quickly to spot the clues, or maybe they were just too subtle for my brain.

The mystery of the body in the lough was resolved in the most unexciting way imaginable. I liked the idea of it, and it felt very plausible, but it seemed like too much of a coincidence, the way it happened. It would have been more satisfying, I think, if the discovery of the body had triggered the resolution instead of it just happening (trying not to reveal anything here). But I was glad it wasn’t as black an event as it seemed at first.

Now, none of this would matter a bit, but I confess to being a bit disappointed at the way the romance ended. Here we have a dashing captain, a leader of men who knows very well how to be decisive, and we have a sensible, intelligent and spirited heroine who knows her own mind. She also has the shining example of two friends who seized control of their own destinies by setting out to snare their chosen husbands. Even if she decided not to use their precise methods, I would have liked to see Selena seize control of her destiny, too. Or that Charles would decide to be brave and snatch her from under the noses of her two suitors. But no. He has to be talked into it by half his relations and hers, and negotiate with his father first, which is very correct but (for me) infuriating. What I want is for one or other or (preferably) both the protagonists to be swept away by passion in the end, overcoming all obstacles, real or imagined. I was also hoping that Charles would turn out to be rich in his own right. His brother-in-law was managing his prize money for him, but although it was mentioned in passing, nothing further was said about that, and Charles had to beg his father for financial support.

As always, though, the book is beautifully written. Here’s a lovely quote: ‘There could be no comparison between Lord Carteret’s cool, grey gaze and Charles’ warm, laughing blue eyes, just as there was no comparison between a still, wintry morning and a glorious summer’s day.’ For almost the whole book, I was utterly enthralled, and couldn’t put it down. Only that somewhat unfocused ending keeps it to four stars for me. 


Review: Allerdale by Jenny Hambly (2021) [Trad]

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

Every Jenny Hambly book is a lovely read in the traditional style, very much modelled on Georgette Heyer. This is a more conventional outing than the previous series, which transported the reader to the less well-trodden venues of Buttermere and Cheltenham, for here we are in London for the season, complete with outings to the theatre, Richmond Park and the drawing rooms and ballrooms of Mayfair. Very much one for the traditionalists.

Here’s the premise: Eleanor Edgcott is the orphaned daughter of a diplomat. He’s left her very well off, so even though she’s living with a cousin, she’d really like to set up her own establishment and be independent. If that’s not possible, she’ll find some other project to absorb her energies, and there’s always her cousin and his wife to sort out, and a beautiful young girl to rescue from the clutches of a determined rake. The last thing she needs is a husband to cramp her style and curb her independent spirit.

Miles, the Earl of Allerdale, is attempting to polish up his reputation after his wild and impulsive ways led him to near disaster. He’s been learning to manage his estates in the north, and finding it unexpectedly fulfilling, but now he’s back in town and he’s rashly promised his mother he’ll find himself a wife. He’s not very keen, and anyway, no one catches his eye. The respectable ones are dull as ditchwater, and the interesting ones are too headstrong to make good wife material.

Anyone who read Georgianna will remember Lord Allerdale as the villain of that book. Rather a charming and attractive one, as it happens, so the task of transforming him into a hero isn’t terribly challenging. It’s not necessary to have read that book, since the events therein are explained in some detail, but a lot of the characters from that whole series pop up here, which may be confusing for anyone who sees that this is book 1 of a series and expects it to be a fresh start. I get that they would all be in town for the season and they all know each other, but still, I felt that there were rather too many of them, frankly. I’m hopeless at remembering the details of previous books, so I just let it all wash over me, but it was confusing.

Eleanor is a lovely heroine, and anyone who’s read Georgette Heyer’s Grand Sophy will recognise her at once. She’s not quite as interfering as Sophy, and I liked her the better for that, but she’s a splendidly spirited and independent lady, quick-witted and (mostly) sensible. Her interactions with Miles are sparky and fun from the start.

But that raises an interesting point. Although we know almost from page 1 that these two are destined to end up together, and assorted friends and relations are pushing them towards each other, they don’t actually meet until almost a third of the way through the book. It makes the romance seem rather rushed, especially as there’s a very abrupt transition from getting-to-know-you outings to the proposal. I actually enjoyed the proposal scene very much – Eleanor was at her most creative – but it did seem to explode out of nowhere.

I must mention one of the sub-plots, which is another one fans of Georgette Heyer will recognise, this time from Cotillion. A beautiful orphan is being browbeaten by her vulgar aunt into becoming the mistress of a notable rake. Meanwhile, an impoverished Russian gent has fallen wildly in love with her, and it falls to Eleanor to rescue the orphan and pair her up with the Russian gent.

The name of Georgette Heyer crops up a lot in the context of Jenny Hambly’s books. Partly that’s because Hambly’s writing is every bit as deft as Heyer’s, and aficianados will love the familiar expressions and phraseology. As far as plots go, it’s not that Hambly is unoriginal, it’s more that Heyer covered pretty much the full range of plots in certain settings, like Bath and the London season, so anyone treading the same ground is inevitably going to evoke echoes of Heyer. And honestly, that’s no bad thing. I enjoyed playing spot-the-similarity.

If you’ve read Hambly before, this is another accomplished and highly enjoyable read. It was four stars for me because the romance jumped a little too fast to the question of marriage – I like a slower build-up, but that’s purely a personal preference. And if you’re new to the author, I recommend you start at the beginning, with Rosalind.


Review: Georgianna by Jenny Hambly (2020) [Trad]

Posted November 29, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

I really think that Jenny Hambly gets better and better with every book. I’ve always enjoyed her work, but there’s a polish to her writing now that makes the story shine. This is a classic story of a daughter failing to follow the wishes of her family and being sent away in disgrace, to find that she blossoms in the new setting and finds out who she really is. And (naturally) finds true love, of course.

Here’s the premise: we met Lady Georgianna Voss in book 1 of the series (Marianne) leaving Miss Wolfraston’s Seminary for Young Ladies with her two friends. Marianne was the hoydenish one, and Charlotte the quiet, timid one. Georgianna is the repressed one, browbeaten by her domineering and impossible-to-please mother, and ignored by her largely absent father. Her younger brother is the apple of her mother’s eye, while Georgianna is never meek enough or dutiful enough to please her mother. When she refuses the eligible but dull man her mother has chosen for her, she is banished to the home of her aunt in the Lake District.

I have to say that Lady Westbury (her mother) is a real piece of work. She’s trapped in a loveless marriage herself and she seems determined to force Georgianna into the same unhappy state. I really felt for Georgianna, whose home life is so unhappy that she’s nauseous when she arrives home, and whenever she’s summoned to see her mother. And yet she has the confidence to speak up for herself, even though she’s terrified.

The aunt, Lady Colyford, is a different kettle of fish altogether. She lives in eccentric semi-wildness by Buttermere lake with her two companions, one slightly bonkers and the other more practical. In this self-sufficient all-female environment, Georgianna thrives and begins to blossom.

Our hero, meanwhile, is Alexander Knight, unexpectedly heir to a dukedom after his older brother drowned in Buttermere. When a local girl claims that her child was fathered by the brother, Alexander sets out incognito to uncover the truth about it, and of course the complications arising from that are not hard to see.
There’s one other character of significance – Lord Allerdale, the wild pal that Alexander’s brother was visiting when he drowned, and the last person to see him alive. Needless to say, he takes an interest in Georgianna, and leaves her with an interesting dilemma – should she choose the smooth but rather ramshackle Lord Allerdale, who’s a suitable match for her? Or should she settle for the unassuming Mr Knight, seemingly well below her station in life, but very much on her wavelength?

To be honest, there isn’t anything terribly unexpected here. Allerdale turns out to be roguish but not beyond the pale, Georgianna resourcefully rescues herself from difficulties, sensible girl that she is, and Mr Knight is fortuitously revealed as being of a rank that even Mama must approve. In some ways, it would have made a more interesting story if she had really fallen in love with a mere gentleman, instead of a future duke, but there we are. This is not that story.

To round things off, the question of the illegitimate child is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and there are resolutions and rapprochements for several minor characters, to tie everything up with a whole array of neat little bows. And the romance ends in fine style. There aren’t too many emotional fireworks here, but that is totally in keeping with Georgianna’s character. I loved watching her find her own strength of character, and face up to her mother at the end, and Alexander is definitely my sort of hero. I also loved the well-evoked setting of Buttermere. I’ve never been there but I could visualise it perfectly. A quiet but eminently enjoyable story. Five stars.


Review: Miss Hayes by Jenny Hambly [Trad]

Posted June 17, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Jenny Hambly has become one of my automatic buys, and I loved the first book in her new series, Marianne, so I was thrilled to discover this follow on. It was a bit of a surprise, however. Marianne introduced three very different pupils at Miss Wolfraston’s Seminary for Young Ladies, and naturally I expected the second book to follow the pattern of the first, and feature another one of the three. And it does, in a way, for here is timid Miss Charlotte Fletcher, venturing outside the Seminary for the first time in years. But accompanying her on this momentous journey is teacher and friend Miss Sarah Hayes, the daughter of a baron who lost all his money, forcing her to leave behind the glamorous world of London society and hide herself away as a teacher. Charlotte would have been a difficult heroine to root for, but luckily it’s lively, somewhat tempestuous Sarah who’s the star of this tale.

Charlotte and Sarah set off from the Seminary to spend the summer with Charlotte’s Aunt Augusta, Lady Carstairs, recently returned from India. Also bound for the Carstairs’ house is Lord Seymore, Charlotte’s guardian and a former admirer of Sarah’s when she was briefly the star of the London season. So the stage is set for the two to rediscover each other, but there’s a whole heap of history to be sorted out first.

For the first few chapters, it seems as if the history is all being dumped on the hapless reader at once, and some of it feels a little disconnected. What was the point of the death of Lord Seymore’s aunt in London, for instance? Apart from delaying him, it seemed to serve no other purpose in the story. Fortunately, after several chapters laden with much backstory, we emerge into sunlight again and the story proper begins.

I was delighted to meet again one of the most charming characters from Marianne, Sir Horace Bamber, a man who might be seen as a brainless buffoon (even his own brother, the local vicar, makes gentle fun of him) but is actually a very kind, gentlemanly man, who emerges from the shadows of minor-character-dom as a rather splendid hero figure. In fact, all the minor characters are well rounded and interesting in their own right. I particularly enjoyed the gloriously eccentric Lady Carstairs and her doting husband.

Never mind that, what about the romance, I hear you say? Well, no worries there. Sarah’s a lovely, sparky heroine, and Lord Seymore’s a suitably heroic sort of hero, a thoroughly pleasant chap. Right from the start, it’s clear these two are made for each other, and our hero, at least, is in the mood for marriage. ‘When the apple is ripe, it will fall’, one of the characters says, and that is just the state Lord Seymore is in. Sarah should be ready to leave behind her dreary life at the Seminary and return to proper society. So what can possibly go wrong? Well, not much, frankly. She’s weighed down by her father’s death and her own reduction in circumstances, and prejudiced against him by his seeming neglect of Charlotte over the years. He’s hampered by the idea of her as a social butterfly, and thinks a quiet country mouse would suit him better. None of this really holds things up much.

In the background there’s an easily-solved mystery which Lord Carstairs, a former judge, sorts out with an aplomb worthy of Hercules Poirot. In addition, Sarah’s bothered by her unpleasant former fiance (who dumped her when her father lost his money, the cad) and there’s some business to do with salt smuggling, which was interesting but didn’t seem to have much to do with anything else.

The resolution of the romance, when it comes, is absolutely delicious, and there’s a sweet romance for shy little Charlotte, too, which was lovely, and a hint that the last of the three friends, Georgianna, will be the star of the next book.

As always, the author writes with assurance and a strong grasp of the Regency era. Fans of Georgette Heyer will find Jenny Hambly a worthy substitute, with sparkling wit, a full complement of strongly-drawn characters and even a sprinkling of Heyer’s traditional phrases. I loved it, and can’t wait for the next in the series. Five stars.


Review: Marianne by Jenny Hambly [Trad]

Posted June 14, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I love a book that ends with such a rousing happy ever after that it puts a silly grin on my face, and this was just such a book. A wonderfully Heyer-esque read with a multitude of entertaining minor characters, a charming romance and plenty of humour, too. What’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: Marianne Montagu and her two friends are leaving Miss Wolfraston’s Seminary for Young Ladies not quite as improved as might be desired. Marianne is a bit too lively for a girl of seventeen soon to make her come-out, Charlotte is a shy soul and Georgianna, an earl’s daughter, is being pushed into marriage with an unappealing man before she’s even enjoyed a season in London. But Marianne’s aunt, Lady Brancaster, wants to take her to the spa town of Cheltenham to take the waters, and as she may bring a friend, Georgianna goes too. Naturally enough, it’s no time at all before Marianne is getting into scrapes, and I loved this line: ‘When Marianne returned to the pump room with a ruined parasol, grass stains on her dress and a cat in her arms, Lady Brancaster began to realise that she might have taken on more than she had bargained for.’

Cheltenham is a refreshing change from Bath, although it has all the usual attractions in a pump room, noxious waters and an assembly room where young ladies might happen to bump into eligible gentlemen. And lo, here comes Lord Cranbourne, also escaping being pushed into marriage and, much to his annoyance, immediately finding himself drawn into one of Marianne’s scrapes. And so the romance begins, with neither of them looking for love, but finding it all the same.

I liked both the main characters. Heyer aficianados will recognise echoes of many of her heroes in Lord Cranbourne, who conforms very much to the jaded, world-weary and selfish man of experience, the dominant type who turns out to be just the right person to have around in a crisis. Marianne is the ingenue, sweet, innocent and very straightforward, who gets into unthinking trouble with the kindest of intentions and is thoroughly mortified afterwards – until the next time! So nothing unusual about them, but nicely drawn, and Marianne at least was never silly as so many very young heroines (especially in Heyer) often are.

There’s a huge cast of supporting characters and a myriad minor sub-plots, which I found rather a lot to keep track of, especially as so many of the characters were titled and I got them muddled up — Lady Brancaster and Lady Bamber, for instance, and Lady Strickland and Lady Silchester. So be prepared to take notes, or else (as I did) spend time paging back and forth to work out who was who. But the little side stories were delightful and added a great deal to the charm of the book, so it’s worth making the effort.

In the end, though, it’s the main romance that steals the show, and the proposal scene is totally awesome, and completely in character. I loved it. Highly recommended reading, and a treat for Heyer fans, who’ll love the writing style and language, the sparkling dialogue and the array of lively minor characters. Five stars.


Review: Katherine by Jenny Hambly [Trad]

Posted February 21, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 3 Comments

This is the third book by this author, and it’s another assured and enjoyable read. Heroine Katherine is a calm and sensible woman, and hero Harry is an irrepressible rogue, and if this is a little more conventional an outing than Rosalind and Sophie, that’s not a problem in the slightest.

Here’s the premise: Katherine’s brother, for whom she’s kept house for several years, has recently married and Katherine’s feeling a bit in the way of her rather crotchety and newly pregnant sister-in-law. She accepts her brother’s commission to travel to a neglected part of his estate to restore it to order. The house, Helagon in Cornwall, is not quite falling down, but needs more work than she’d foreseen. A tricky problem. Meanwhile, wild boy Harry, Viscount Treleven, has returned to his former home after five years in exile, determined to be a good landlord and settle down just a little. Needless to say, these two find themselves unwilling and somewhat antagonistic neighbours…

I liked Katherine very much. Her awkward position, having her role as mistress of the house usurped by the new wife, who naturally wants everything her own way, must have been a very common one in Regency times, and most women didn’t have the option of another estate to run away to. Most such women would have simply dwindled away to become the poor relation, or else hastily accepted the first suitable offer, so Katherine is lucky to avoid those fates, but her position is still a difficult one. Even when Helagon is fully restored, it would be considered quite odd for a single woman to live there, even with a companion for respectability. But Katherine doesn’t dwell on her future, throwing herself into the business of renovation with practical spirit, as with everything. Her first meeting with Harry is very much in that vein, after he has seemingly been shot by a poacher and she briskly deals with his injury.

Harry isn’t quite the lighthearted flirt he appeared to be in the previous book, where his humour lightened the tone considerably. That’s inevitable, perhaps, in the book where he meets his match and the roguishness has to give way to more serious considerations. There’s also his duties as landlord, especially one who’s been absent for some years, to weigh him down, and a neighbour who isn’t as friendly as he might be. However, I did miss the lightness just a little.

Of the side characters, I particularly liked Harry’s younger sister Henrietta, painfully shy and recovering from a not very enjoyable London season. Katherine’s advice on the proper management of flirtatious comments was one of the highlights of the book. Lord and Lady Hayward were fun characters, too. The villain is dealt with with suitable panache.

There’s nothing terribly unexpected in the way the story unravelled, but it was a fine read nevertheless, and I liked Harry’s scruples at the end – realising that his history as a flirt meant that he had to be absolutely sure of his own mind before speaking. A good four stars.


Review: Sophie by Jenny Hambly [Trad]

Posted June 8, 2019 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s previous book, her debut publication, so I looked forward to this with some enthusiasm and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very different story, but that’s all to the good, and it features another spirited and independent heroine.

Sophie, the widowed Lady Lewisham, has just emerged from her year of mourning for her much older husband. It wasn’t a love match. He was in desperate need of an heir, and she was young, beautiful and available, with parents willing to accept a generous settlement to agree to the marriage. But this is not the conventional story of an unwilling bride and an unpleasant husband. Sophie was perfectly willing to do her duty to the benefit of her family, and Edward turned out to be a kind and considerate husband, who encouraged Sophie to read and expand her mind under his aegis. Even though the heir didn’t happen, he ensured that she became independently wealthy after his death.

So Sophie decides that she will continue to expand her mind by travelling to Italy with her companion, Miss Trew, and that was a pretty intrepid thing to do in those days, without a male or three to oversee everything. Naturally things go wrong as they travel, but luckily they encounter an acquaintance from London, Sir Philip Bray, who helps them out. And since he’s as handsome as she is beautiful… romance ahoy.

Needless to say, it’s not quite as simple as all that. Sophie is enjoying her independence (and her fortune!) and has no desire at all to surrender either to a man. And Philip is a confirmed bachelor and something of a rake. He’s happy with his succession of mistresses and has no intention at all of trading them in for a wife. And so the whole plot is the two of them inching towards their HEA, sometimes taking one step forward and two back, and sometimes veering off at a tangent, but always totally, utterly convinced that they aren’t heading for the altar. No way. Absolutely not.

In lesser hands this might have been rather dull. The interchanges between the two principals tended towards the grumpy, with only occasional bursts of romantic tension to counterpoint their wrangling. There are some minor side plots with an Italian family, resolved rather too easily, and a gentle little romance for Miss Trew, but none of that added much to the main story. Only Philip’s friend, Harry, added some much needed animation and humour to spice things up. But when our hero and heroine do break out of the grumpiness and allow the attraction between them to shine through, the result is breathtaking. There are some sublime moments of high emotion to more than compensate for all that crossness.

The author’s other great talent is in descriptive prose, and this book is superb in that respect, with its lush evocations of both the Italian countryside and the English. Her grasp of the Regency is sound enough to make the description of travelling through Italy perfectly believable. And for people, too, the author is able to create an image of a character in just a few well-chosen words. Wonderful stuff.

If I have a complaint, it’s that the romance is too straightforward. Or perhaps it’s the characters themselves who are too straightforward. They are both intelligent, sensible people without any real flaws (apart from grumpiness and an unwillingness to do their duty as hero/heroine of a romance). There are no real obstacles, except for their own personal resistance to the idea of matrimony, and after fighting against it for the whole length of the book, in the end they cave in rather easily when pushed and everything in the garden is rosy. I think I would have preferred them to take things more slowly and cautiously at this point rather than tipping straight into planning the honeymoon. Sophie needed to be absolutely sure that Philip would allow her to continue to grow as a person, and Philip needed to be certain he’d overcome his personal baggage. But I did like that they both seriously considered the idea of not getting married at all, but simply having an affair. A great instance of the author respecting the customs of the Regency, while also respecting the intelligence of her characters.

An excellent book, highly recommended, and I look forward to reading the irrepressible Harry’s story which I feel sure is bound to follow. Five stars.


Review: Rosalind by Jenny Hambly [Trad]

Posted December 27, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 3 Comments

It’s always a delight to find a new author who respects the traditions of the incomparable Georgette Heyer, and so it is with Jenny Hambly. Heyer afficianados will find echoes of the great lady in the characters, the situations and some of the expressions and cant terms used, and if Hambly doesn’t quite capture Heyer’s sublime touch with sparkling dialogue – well, who does?

The premise is that Lady Rosalind Marlowe is the daughter of an earl who died in impoverished circumstances after gambling away his wealth. She sets out to get her revenge on the men who won large sums from him by breaking into their homes and stealing valuable items from them, not for the money but simply to shame them. But on her last venture, she is caught – not by the elderly Earl of Atherton who had been her father’s gambling crony, but by his handsome son George who has recently inherited. Well, we can see where this is going, can’t we?

He is surprisingly lenient, not only shielding her from the Bow Street Runner who is hot on her trail, but offering her a post as companion to his newly widowed mother. His motives are not entirely altruistic – he finds her very attractive, and really, the gentlemanly thing to do would be to offer help, but keep himself out of it. But the romance has to get going somehow, so I’m not going to complain at a little implausibility at the start.

The Dowager Lady Atherton turns out not to be the traditional dragon, but a charming and very friendly woman, who delights in fostering the budding romance between the two. George has two sisters, both married, and the whole family is a great deal of fun and not at all starchy. I really liked George’s two friends, too, because yes, as in all the best Heyer stories, the hero has a couple of friends to help him into and out of scrapes. It wasn’t clear how they all met (if it was mentioned, I’ve forgotten it), but they seemed an odd bunch. Sir Philip Bray is an ex-soldier, and Lord Preeve is the stammering, gentlemanly, but not terribly bright, comedy turn.

What about the plot? Well, after the excitement of Rosalind breaking and entering, being caught, evading the Bow Street Runner and facing up to her captor, the book becomes a less dramatic drawing room affair. Rosalind sets aside her breeches and mask, and becomes a well-behaved lady again. Well, perhaps not totally well-behaved, for she’s not a woman to swoon at a challenge or leave things to the men, and she’s as often doing the rescuing as being rescued. Still, for a while there’s a little less drama and the problems are of a more domestic nature.

But of course there’s a villain lurking about the place and getting up to his villainous tricks. This was all suitably thrilling and built to a very satisfactory climax and conclusion. I confess to being a little disappointed that the villain’s motivation was George and not Rosalind. It would have been perfect if Mr Villain had discovered Rosalind’s thievery, and she had learnt that her actions could have serious consequences. Instead, George has to appear to be heartless about Mr V to set things off, which seems out of character in such an otherwise thoroughly nice bloke, and all Rosalind learns from her stealing is that if you get caught, you get whisked off to a country estate and have a very pleasant time.

Everything comes right in the end, naturally, and the slightly neglected romance reemerges and reaches its triumphant conclusion, with a delicious proposal and a rather splendid wedding scene. An honourable mention here for a creative use of Pride and Prejudice. So many Regency authors think it’s cute to have the heroine reading Austen, but here the book has an actual role to play in the development of the story, which I thought was very ingenious. Kudos to the author.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this. The author’s liking for comma splices took some getting used to, but there were so few other issues that I set it down as authorial style and therefore intentional. Otherwise, the writing is spot on, with lots of great period detail, Heyer-esque dialogue and an elegant way with description that the author in me greatly admired. A terrific debut, although a few plot issues keep it to four stars. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a clean traditional Regency. I’m now waiting for the next book, which will feature the charming and wise Sir Philip.