Tag: jones

Review: A Practical Arrangement by Jan Jones

Posted February 9, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

The dramatic finale to the series and we finally uncover the mysterious Flint! I’ve loved the whole series (or two series, since there’s an overarching 8-book Newmarket series, of which this is the last of the Furze House Irregulars series, which comprises books 5-8; got that? No? Just start with The Kydd Inheritance, OK?). This book runs largely concurrently with the previous book, so although it isn’t essential, for full enjoyment it’s better to have read that first.

When Benedict Fitzgilbert’s sister Lilith goes off to have adventures at Newmarket, it leaves him exposed to the worst of London’s matchmaking mamas, and he hasn’t time for all that nonsense. He’s too engrossed in tracking down the notorious Flint, whose criminal empire has long and vicious tentacles. Lilith proposes a solution: a pretend attachment with her friend Julia Congreve. This is a time-honoured Regency plot, but it never grows stale, especially when carried off as well as this.

Now, our two protagonists are seriously mismatched. Benedict is a serious and very focused man, and Julia is a social butterfly, and this is one of those glorious moments when the author properly shows us Julia in her milieu, rather than simply telling us about it and throwing in a couple of balls. Julia really does move through society like a warm knife through butter, putting people at ease, arranging dance partners, making timely introductions and all of it seemingly effortless and perfectly natural. I loved that she is simply aware of everyone in a room, even a ballroom, knowing exactly who is dancing with whom, who is sneaking off to the card room and who is quietly talking to someone behind a pillar. It’s wonderful, and even though we’re later given a reason that partly explains this, it’s still an astonishing talent and I loved it.

The plot? Well, anyone who’s worked their way through the whole series (or two series, depending on how you count) knows pretty much how it’s going to go. And yes, we finally get to find out who Flint is, and how he’s been carrying out his nefarious activities. His identity wasn’t a big surprise, mainly because there were few alternatives by that point, and the dramatic final confrontation was less nerve-wracking than usual because… well, despite the threat of violence, it was obvious it wasn’t going to happen and there would be a last-minute rescue.

As the final book of the series, the romance might be expected to play second fiddle, but it was rather nicely done, with the complication of the fake attachment at the beginning adding a certain does-he-mean-it? complexity to proceedings. But Benedict has nice manners and Julia has been in love with him for years so it all came together rather charmingly. Cue the happy ending, and there’s a multi-character series epilogue for those who like that sort of thing.

A great ending to a terrific series with fantastic characters, lots of mystery and adventure and a perfectly evoked Regency by a brilliant wordsmith. I highly recommend it. Five stars.


Review: A Scholarly Application by Jan Jones

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

I’m a huge fan of Jan Jones, and I really wish she could find the wider audience she deserves for her literate and intelligent (and also emotionally very satisfying) stories. This is the seventh in her Newmarket series, and the third of the Furze House Irregulars, where the stars are the women from all walks of life who gather at a highly unusual establishment. The leading lights this time are bluestocking Lilith Fitzgilbert and antiquarian Edward (Ned) Makepeace.

The premise is a simple one: Ned is setting up a short course to help excavate an ancient ditch and wall on his estate near Newmarket, and Lilith inveigles her way into the gathering. It’s the perfect opportunity, for it also gets her out of town before a scandal breaks – she was caught out sneaking into a life drawing class (with a male model!) by dressing up as a man. Ned isn’t keen on the idea of a woman on the course, thinking she’ll be a hindrance, but is surprised by her at every turn. Not only is she genuinely interested in (and knowledgeable of) the subject, she’s a determinedly practical person who sets about reorganising his rather shambolic life in no time flat.

If there’s a complaint at all, it’s that Lilith is just a little too competent at everything. She’s a talented artist, she’s well educated and well read, she’s an efficient manager of a household and she’s also good in a crisis. Is there anything she isn’t good at? I can’t recall anything. Ned felt a little bit bland for a hero, which is to say I can’t remember anything outstanding about him. He somehow reverses into the romance by starting off thinking Lilith’s going to be a perfect nuisance and gradually coming to appreciate her. However, I far prefer this kind of slow-build romance.

As is usual with the author, the plot spirals into a complex web of shenanigans, all very dramatic, so that the romance is perforce pushed aside until the last moment, but it’s all very entertaining. Another delightful five star read.


Review: A Respectable House by Jan Jones

Posted October 1, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

A fantastic story! Two damaged people brought together by circumstances and learning to trust again, a wonderful, if unconventional, romance and a whole heap of danger threatening, all set during race week at Newmarket. This is book 6 of the Newmarket series and book 2 of the Furze House Irregulars series, and although it helps to have read the earlier books, it isn’t necessary.

Here’s the premise: seven years earlier, Catherine (Kitty) Bowman eloped to marry Simon Eastwick, and quickly discovered she’d made a hideous mistake. Simon is a crook through and through, and caught up with the evil underworld boss known as Flint. Now Simon’s dead, but Kitty’s nightmare isn’t over, because Flint is after her. With the aid of her sister and friends, she escapes London to hide away in Newmarket.

Helping her is cynical rake Nicholas Dacre, living a privileged life as a gentleman but also taking risks uncovering crime. Helping Kitty opens his eyes to a different, much less privileged, world without a multitude of servants at one’s beck and call. And of course Kitty opens his heart, too.

I liked both hero and heroine. Kitty’s resourceful and down-to-earth. Despite her upper-class upbringing, she’s spent years struggling to manage with little money and a cruel, negligent husband and she’s lost any pretensions to gentility. Her story is utterly heart-breaking, but her spirit isn’t broken in the least. Nick’s the dependable man she’s never known, but he has his own tragic history. The way these two circle round to an accommodation is brilliant. It’s unorthodox, but it’s perfect for their characters and histories.

Along the way, there are some lovely minor characters to spice things up. I particularly loved Molly (a respectable house, indeed!) and Kitty’s young daughter. The villain was pretty obvious from an early stage, but the denouement was still deliciously dramatic. My only complaint, and it’s a very minor one, is that there are a huge number of characters from previous books in the series popping up throughout. I couldn’t remember much about them, and would have liked perhaps a sentence or two more about some of them to remind me. However, there’s a full list at the front of the book and my leaky memory didn’t make any difference to my enjoyment of the story.

One word of warning: there’s nothing terribly graphic here but there’s quite a lot of off-screen sex going on outside of marriage, prostitution and some discussion of sexual and physical abuse. This is entirely in keeping with the characters’ connections with London crime rings, but this is not a fluffy traditional Regency of ball gowns and marriage prospects. It is, however, a very realistic look at the darker side of Regency life, a story that’s less often in the spotlight and although parts of it are very moving, it’s not at all a grim, depressing read. I loved every minute of it, the romance is wonderful and Jan Jones’ writing is, as always, word perfect. Five stars.


Review: A Rational Proposal by Jan Jones

Posted September 26, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another one I have mixed views about. On the one hand, the whole villainous villains and their villainous villainy got a bit trying. I like my Regencies firmly ensconced in the drawing room, not mingling with the low-life of the era. On the other hand – boy, can the author write! Every word is so perfectly chosen that I was in constant admiration, and the dialogue between Verity and Charles is nothing short of brilliant, and laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes.

This is billed as both book 5 of the Newmarket series, and book 1 of the Furze House Irregulars, and while I understand the reasons for that, it’s a bit confusing. The plot starts with a will. Verity Bowman inherits a tidy sum, but only if she can demonstrate that she has spent six months in a rational manner. The lawyer assigned the task of judging the rationality of her behaviour is Charles Congreve. Verity is actually a very smart lady, but unconventional and Charles is resigned to a difficult six months. This is compounded by the fact that he’s in love with Verity, but being merely a salaried attorney, not a gentleman, he feels himself to be beneath her.

So Verity and Charles and her mother go up to London, for reasons that escape me, at which point the cast of characters explodes, including quite a few from previous books as well as new ones, and frankly there were some I never quite got straight. Plus there were various sub-plots and subterfuges and I gave up trying to work out what they were really trying to do, as opposed to what they told people they were doing, and let it all wash over me. There was something to do with a Big Meanie who was doing Bad Things, and various Lesser Meanies, and a great deal about lowlifes and prisons and tarts with a heart of gold, and so on and so forth. I just let the author’s delicious wordsmithery swoosh around me, and didn’t worry too much about it.

The ending got quite tense, but naturally it all came out right in the end. And then, just when you think it’s all over, there came a proposal scene of such awesomeness that I’ve had to reread it several times since.

This is obviously a bridging novel between the Newmarket series and the Furze House series, so there are many references to earlier events, as well as a lot of setup for forthcoming books. As such, some elements are a little awkward. But the main characters are delightful, there’s a sweet little romance for Verity’s mother and the prose is mind-blowingly good, so this gets four stars despite the muddly bits. If your brain copes better with muddly bits (aka complex plottery) than mine, you’ll get on fine with it.


Review: An Unconventional Act by Jan Jones

Posted September 26, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I enjoyed it enormously and found myself picking up my Kindle to sneak in an extra chapter when I should have been doing other things, always a sign of a book that has its claws in deep. On the other hand, it veered from implausible but let’s go along with it right over the edge into eye-rollingly incredible at times. The villain was too villainous, the danger too ever-present, the hero too heroic, the heroine too resourceful and the dramatic climax too melodramatic for words. And don’t mention the oh-so-convenient key.

The premise: our heroine, Jenny Castle, is running away from her wicked cousin who’s just inherited the estate and is determined to have the full value from it, including Jenny’s share, by fair means or foul. She seeks refuge with the travelling theatre company seen in a previous book, run by Adam Prettyman. Adam’s wife, Mary, has recently died, leaving him with two young children and a heap of financial worries. Jenny has been sent by a mutual friend to help out with both problems, by governessing the children and keeping the company’s accounts. For various unlikely reasons, Jenny, Adam and the children end up sharing sleeping quarters.

So far, so implausible, but whatever. I don’t mind some artistic licence in the initial setup, and it does make it screamingly obvious where the romance is going to come from. Jenny and Adam are cautious of each other, but as time goes by they learn to trust each other. She’s clever with the numbers (of course she is) and brilliant with the kids (of course she is), and he’s brilliant about organising the plays and the logistics of packing up and moving around. I’d guess he’s dyslexic (or the number equivalent) since he’s hopeless with numbers but so good about 3D spatial stuff.

But it wouldn’t be a Regency romance if two people who liked each other a bit just rolled along the road to matrimony. Oh no, there have to be Serious Obstacles. In her case, it’s the whole being-chased-by-the-wicked-cousin thing, which she’s neglected to mention. In his case, it’s a past history of uncontrolled temper and violence, which he’s also neglected to mention. So they have to work through their differences and Reveal All before they can move forward.

Now, none of this is uninteresting, but it also isn’t a particularly original story and the characters aren’t quite strong enough to lift the ordinary story that extra notch upwards to make it extraordinary. Jenny is a perfectly nice, sensible and courageous woman. Adam is a normal sort of bloke. Both of them have talents. Neither of them is interesting enough to be unforgettable.

One opportunity to raise the book a level was wasted, in my view. There’s a significant sub-plot involving slavery, and the book is set at a date when slavery was illegal in Britain and slave trading was illegal in the British Empire. Nevertheless, slavery itself was still widespread in many places and many British families drew their wealth from slave-worked plantations. So although Britain was edging into the complete abolition of slavery, the question was still controversial. It would have been interesting, I think, to have heard something of the views prevailing at the time, that is, some explanation of why slavery was considered so necessary. Even a line or two to suggest that there was more than one opinion would have been good. But instead, the modern view is assumed to be the only right one, any other opinion is shocking, and the reader is left to wonder what real Regency people actually thought, and why they did what they did.

This sounds more negative than I intended, but actually all these points are relatively trivial. The author’s talent shines through, and although I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the previous book, it was still a fine read, and a good four stars.


Review: Fortunate Wager by Jan Jones

Posted September 22, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Book 3 of the Newmarket series, and this is the first that really does depend on the horse racing town for both setting and plot. It’s a corker of a story, and after some slight wobbles in book 2, this one is right back on form – a believable hero and heroine, a plot that doesn’t stretch credulity to snapping point and a delightful romance.

The plot is basically Pride and Prejudice – a snooty rich guy who insults the heroine early on and then spends the rest of the book becoming worthy of her. That’s OK, because probably 50% of Regencies are Pride and Prejudice thinly disguised and most of the rest are Persuasion. The snooty rich guy is Lord Alexander Rothwell, the second son of a duke, who has conveniently inherited an estate of his own, which neatly sidesteps the usual dilemma of younger sons, that of having no money besides what Papa dishes out. Usually they have to find some kind of employment, but not here.

Lord Alexander – yes, let’s deal with his name upfront, because it’s the only error I came across in the whole book. His name is Lord Alexander Rothwell, and he would be addressed as Lord Alexander by most people, or my lord/your lordship by servants and the like. Close friend might call him Rothwell. Very close friends from childhood might call him Alexander or Alex. But nobody familiar with the aristocracy would ever call him Lord Rothwell. Ever. The author missed a trick there: she could have had the social-climbing goldsmith get it wrong, while everyone else gets it right.

Lord Alexander is a grumpy old sod, and rude into the bargain, and to be honest, I didn’t much like him at first. Even when his miserable history began to be revealed, which was supposed to make him a sympathetic character, I still didn’t like him. And it takes him a long, long time to see what’s right under his nose and begin to do the right thing.

The heroine, Caroline Fortune, on the other hand, is an utter delight. She’s that awkward middle daughter, plain and gawky and bookish, and more interested in horses than people. She’s also refreshingly straightforward, and eschews polite white lies in favour of the unvarnished truth. Needless to say, she likes riding horses astride and dressed as a boy, behaviour that would get her instantly ostracised if discovered. But she’s also kind and sensible and willing to be polite in society if she has to. I liked her a lot.

The plot is fairly thin – a drunken bet between Lord Alexander and Caroline’s brother Harry, which involves them training a mean-tempered horse of Lord A’s and winning a race with him. It turns out the horse gets spooked by loud male voices, so guess who has to tame it and then ride it in the race? Never saw that one coming…

There’s also some shady business going on which sees Lord A getting bopped on the head by a mysterious assailant, and Caroline has to nurse him back to health, thus leading neatly to some close encounters between hero and heroine of the kissing and groping variety. There’s no actual sex in the book, but the temperature rises to dangerous levels from time to time.

There’s a lot about this book that would normally irritate me to death – the obnoxious hero, for instance, and the feisty, independent heroine dressing up in breeches to ride astride, but the writing is just so good, I was carried along with it. I loved the minor characters, too (especially the duchess!), and there is so much wit in it that I was chortling all the way through. I even got used to the hero being called Lord Rothwell after a while. Nothing terribly unexpected happens, and the villain was obvious from ten miles away, but this was a delightful read and I enjoyed almost every moment of it. Five stars.


Review: Fair Deception by Jan Jones

Posted September 22, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another great read in the series. This works well as a stand-alone but the early chapters would be an easier read coming straight after book 1, The Kydd Inheritance, or maybe it’s just me that forgets who’s who in no time flat. It doesn’t quite have the glorious humour of that book, and I found the hero just a tad too volatile for my taste, but the way the author weaves multiple strands of plot together into an entertaining braid is masterful.

Here’s the premise: Susanna Fair is scraping a living as a stage entertainer, barely even qualifying as a legitimate actress, in London. That’s bad enough, but she has a problem in Mr Rafe Warwick, who has laid a bet that he will bed her before too long, a bet he’s determined to win by any means necessary. To the rescue comes Christopher (Kit) Kydd, owner of the impoverished Kydd Court and he also has a problem. He needs money to restore his home, but he doesn’t want to marry an heiress and condemn himself to a loveless marriage. He has a wealthy aunt who has money to spare – but only if he can convince her he’s not in the least ramshackle. Maybe if he had a fake fiancee, he could convince her?

So the actress who needs to get out of town fast and the man in need of someone to play the role of his betrothed form an unlikely alliance. As with all fake betrothal tropes, it’s obvious how everything will end up, but along the way there’s a number of people to be convinced by the deception, a travelling theatre group, the reappearance by the villain and a great many misunderstandings between hero and heroine before matters are resolved.

Much of the misunderstanding arises because the heroine neglects to tell the hero some small but highly significant details about herself, and every time the hero discovers he’s been misled (again) he blows a fuse and throws a tantrum. I would have liked him a lot better if he’d shown a bit more restraint, but I suppose it wouldn’t have been so dramatic. There are no sex scenes but there’s a great deal of barely repressed sexual tension and passionate kissing, and both hero and heroine get weak-kneed at the mere sight of each other very early in the book. It’s not exactly insta-lust, but it’s certainly insta-desire and it seems about as realistic as these things usually are (ie not very).

One technical issue: a very minor plot point involves a marriage between minors which was declared invalid because they didn’t have the permission of parents/guardians. But it’s my understanding that this only applies with marriage by licence (special or common). In this case, since the banns were read in the usual way, the marriage would almost certainly have been perfectly legal.

The multiple plot threads get very entangled by the end, but naturally all is resolved in a suitable way and everybody gets what he or she wants (except the villain, naturally). I didn’t find this quite as gloriously entertaining as the first book, but it was still terrific fun and a good four stars.


Review: ‘The Kydd Inheritance’ by Jan Jones

Posted May 23, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Here’s the premise: Nell’s father has died suddenly, her brother has disappeared and is believed dead on his way home from India, and her mother is away with the fairies much of the time. Meanwhile, her uncle is mismanaging the estate, the money for Nell’s season has vanished and the only suitor is one she wouldn’t dream of accepting. And then a mysterious stranger arrives, and starts behaving in an odd manner. What’s a girl to do? Why, resort to deception and subterfuge, that’s what.

I don’t remember now why I picked up this book. Maybe I read about it somewhere, or tripped over it on Amazon as I bounced around the ‘also boughts’ from one book to another. Something drew my eye, but for the first few chapters, I couldn’t for the life of me see why. The situation was not terribly original, the mystery didn’t seem to be too difficult to work out, and I could see pretty much how things were going to go. There were flashes of something more hidden beneath the surface, but it didn’t set me on fire.

But then everything shifted up a gear, as if the author had suddenly got into her stride, and the thing exploded into the most glorious fun. There are moments in this book that will stay with me for ever, such as ‘Cousin Jane’ going out for the evening – positively delicious. The dialogue sparkles in best Georgette Heyer-style, the minor characters are delightfully eccentric and the principals are wonderful. The romance comes slowly to the boil, in quite the best way, the hero is swoon-worthy and the heroine is feisty and intelligent without being too modern.

For sticklers for historical accuracy (like me), this seemed to me to be resoundingly well researched, and with a writing style that effectively captures the era without tripping up the modern reader. The only off note was the heroine setting off to do her ‘marketing’. As a Brit, I’ve never encountered this expression, and find it hard to believe that any gently-brought-up young lady would actually go food shopping (that’s what servants were for). The heroine also seems to make a lot of her own clothes, but I suppose she had been reduced to a poverty-stricken state.

The climax is less silly and more plausible than in many other Regencies (translation: it was pretty silly, in a lot of ways, but by this point in the book I was sufficiently invested that I didn’t mind). And then the book ended in the best possible way – with the villain routed, a thoroughly believable HEA, a big kiss and me with a huge grin on my face. Highly recommended. Five stars.