Tag: hambly

Review: What’s In A Name? by Janny Hambly (2023)

Posted November 15, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A new Jenny Hambly book is always a treat, and so it is here – a lovely gentle read, with nothing too melodramatic to disturb the slowly developing romance.

Here’s the premise: Emma Wynn has been living in a safe environment for a year, a place where women escaping from dangers in their life can hide away and recover their health and strength. There she befriended another girl with a traumatic past. But Nell is now happily married to the Marquess of Eagleton and living quietly in Cornwall as she awaits the birth of her first child. Emma is sent to keep her company, a way of giving her a change of scenery while still keeping her safe. There she meets the Eagletons’ reclusive neighbour, Oliver Carne, a man with his own difficult history. The two are drawn to each other from the first, by way of a series of rather too convenient ‘accidents’, but the secrets and scandals of their pasts make them wary of getting involved.

Emma and Oliver are both sensible and eminently likeable people. It’s obvious that they are well suited and everything moves along smoothly, except for the teeny tiny problem of their pasts. Emma must keep herself free from scandal so that she can assume control of her younger brother when she attains her majority, but Oliver has been embroiled in a particularly nasty scandal. It’s not of his making, but it seems impossible to prove his innocence – or is it? The last third of the book addresses this problem, and the weight of history for both the main characters rather overshadows the romance. It makes the book seem rather unbalanced, the gentle and slow-moving nature of the couple’s developing love giving way abruptly to a faster pace as both of them face up to their pasts. Then the difficulties are resolved almost too easily.

The author’s writing shines, as always, with a sure sense of the Regency and a particular talent for evoking a place. In Carteret, it was the house that was described in exquisite detail, but here it’s the outdoors – the river, with its shingle beach where Oliver pulled his boat from the water, or the woods with the ‘buttery yellow’ leaves and frost underfoot. Hambly brings these settings vividly to life, and the image of Emma as a wood nymph in her moss green cloak is one that lingers long in the mind.
I’ve said that our hero and heroine are sensible, but they’re almost too sensible sometimes. I would have liked the odd flaw in their personalities and a little more fire from them now and then. Regency restraint is a real thing and they certainly have good reasons for holding back, but it was a relief when Oliver finally decided he’s not going to wait and got things moving at last. If I have a grumble at all (and it’s a very trivial one), it’s that Emma’s sudden outbreak of accidents seemed very convenient to the plot. Her panic at almost meeting strangers seemed a little out of character, but her injuries forced her into contact with former doctor Oliver.

The other characters are nicely drawn, from the marquess, an endearing combination of haughty aristocrat and over-anxious husband, the very Italian Signora Mantovani and Maria, the down-to-earth locals and Oliver’s grumpy but not unreasonable relations. Be warned, though, that several of the characters have been seen before. Although this is the first of a new series, there’s some overlap with the previous series, as is now the norm with this author. It’s not essential to have read it, but a familiarity with ‘Eagleton’ will be very helpful. I’m spectacularly bad at remembering previous books, but there was enough detail given here to jog my memory, and I don’t think a newcomer to the author would have much trouble picking up the backstory.

As always, a lovely read from one of the best Regency authors around. A very good four stars.



Review: Eagleton by Jenny Hambly (2023)

Posted April 27, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Jenny Hambly is one of my must-read authors, and this book was another excellent addition to her repertoire, to round off the Confirmed Bachelors series. The distinguishing characteristic of this one is the setting – most of the book is well beyond the usual run of Regency backdrops, being set on the shores of Lake Garda, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be somewhere so unusual. If you’ve been to Italy it will bring back memories, and if you haven’t, you’ll be able to imagine it.

Here’s the premise: Alexander, the Marquess of Eagleton, travels to Italy with his baby daughter to reunite with a lost part of his family. Nell is escaping from her family. Both of them will have to come to terms with their past histories in order to forge a future together. And right there is my sole grumble with this book – there is a LOT of backstory to be explained. Both hero and heroine have deeply tortured pasts and even the minor characters have their own tragedies and family feuds to overcome.

It all serves to make the story a bit top heavy, and the early chapters in particular are bogged down in explanations. Sometimes it almost felt that I’d missed an earlier book (and actually part of Lord Eagleton’s may have been in Ormsley). Personally, I prefer all the history to be dripped in gently rather than as a torrent, but it does serve to underscore just why these two are so slow to trust, and why they’re liable to lash out at each other. There are a lot of missteps along the way as they snipe at each other, and then completely fail to make allowances.

But once the story gets going, it becomes compelling reading, and not just for the romance. The Italian setting is a big part of the magic of the book, especially the lake itself, the grape harvest and later the lovely city of Verona. It’s painted with an artist’s eye for detail, such as the door knockers, the amphitheatre and the odd fact that boats tend to ply the lake at night (why, I wonder?). [Edit: the author tells me it’s because the wind changes direction at night; what a charming detail!]

While some elements of the past are laid to rest with surprising ease, the last few chapters see some startling and dramatic developments which I definitely did not see coming. One thing I particularly enjoyed in this book is that several of the apparently villainous characters turned out to be far more complex that they seemed at first sight. I love it when a little twist makes the reader see a character in a completely different light. This is how people really are, not the rigid black and white so often seen in fiction.

Needless to say, everything is resolved satisfactorily at the end, and hero and heroine reach their happy ending in resounding style. This is another fine work by the author, and only the weight of all that backstory keeps it to fours stars for me.


Review: Derriford by Jenny Hambly (2022)

Posted October 20, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

A new Jenny Hambly book is always a treat and this one is no exception. A lady-averse hero, a spinster resigned to her unwedded state and some intriguing mysteries to solve – what’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: Miss Mary Coker is thirty years old, and even her father thinks (and says!) that she’s past her last prayers, as far as getting a husband is concerned. She’s outshone by her beautiful younger sister, and her father is too tight-fisted to pay for her to have a proper season. She’s not downhearted, however, and when a new neighbour, Lord Derriford, moves into the long neglected house next door, she’s quite happy to help him refurbish it without having any designs on him. For his part, the viscount is more than happy to have the refurbishment done as swiftly as possible. He’s been left the house on condition that he lives in it while it’s renovated, and – the part he dreads – that he accepts every invitation offered while he’s there. Derry’s difficulty is that he’s only comfortable in male company, and becomes bumblingly tongue-tied with females. But Mary is a composed and understanding girl who immediately sets him at his ease, and Derry begins to realise that not all females are terrifying creatures who reduce him to jelly.

If this were all, the book would barely make a novella, but happily there is a large cast of side characters, some of whom have their own romantic entanglements going on, and there’s also a mystery to be resolved and a couple of villains, which give Derry (and his lady!) the chance to shine. I confess to becoming a little fogged with the multitude of characters and the details of the family history that formed the backdrop to the mystery, but I eventually sorted out the characters and just went with the flow for the mystery, which worked fine.

I have to say that I absolutely adored Derry. He’s such a lovely character, who comes across as a bit of an idiot in mixed company when the presence of ladies ties his tongue in knots, but he’s brilliantly adept in other ways, a really complex character. In some ways he reminded me of Heyer’s Freddy Standen, from Cotillion, but it’s more the odd turn of phrase and the way he says ‘dashed’ a lot, rather than his actual character. Mary is lovely, too, so practical and accepting of life, and yet resourceful, too. I can’t imagine what her family will do when she marries, because she’s absolutely the mainstay of the household.

Some highlights: Mary sewing stars into the cushions, Derry hanging on to the wilting flowers, Derry and the wasp, Sir Reginald showing his true feelings, Lord Winterbourne (who is a bit of a buffoon early on) stepping up to become a hero when he needed to. Lovely moments, and of course the final proposal scene which turned out to be funny and tender and so, so satisfying all at the same time.

Another wonderful read from Jenny Hambly, beautifully written, with fully realised and believable characters and an authentic evocation of the Regency. Five stars.


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.