Tag: kelly

Review: Mrs Drew Plays Her Hand: Carla Kelly (1994) [Trad]

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

This is the kind of emotionally manipulative book that just drives me crazy. Everything is designed to put the characters (and therefore the reader) through the wringer, dragged out interminably and amped up to the max. It’s exhausting, and I just wanted it to end and put me out of my misery.

To start with, we have a freshly widowed wife mourning her (apparently perfect) vicar husband. She spends her time (when she’s not struggling to survive on half a loaf and two rashers of bacon) walking soulfully through the landscape. There are two sickly-cute children, also mourning. There are no dogs (I think the author missed a trick there), but there is a trusty old retainer and a helpful bailiff for local colour. Oh, and a relative who’s pressurising the widow into sex because in a book like this the villain has to be grotesquely villainous. Into this pantomime setting comes our hero, a grouchy marquess who’s off women for the duration because he had the wife from hell who slept with half of London and had to be divorced. And now she’s remarried and socially acceptable, somehow, and he’s still ostracised because he shamed his family by putting his divorce publicly through the House of Lords (that was the only way to get a divorce in those days, but let that pass).

And for a while everything is lovely and they all frolic about playing happy families, until the pantomime villain pops up again with an order authorising him to take the two cute children away because the widow is bonkers, or something. And so the grouchy marquess and the widow rush off through the midwinter snow to get married in Gretna and get frostbite and rush back again so the children won’t be taken away, and it’s only going to be a marriage of convenience even though they’re head over heels in love with each other and having sex to boot, and none of this made any sense to me. And then the marquess goes away and stays away and the widow and the cute children mooch about birthing triplet lambs (I’m not making this up) and at that point I just lost the will to live.

Here’s the thing: if the characters had an ounce of common sense, they’d have just packed up and gone into hiding to escape the villain’s machinations until the courts reopened, at which point the marquess would have said, “Marquess! I win,” and that would have been the end of it. Because that was pretty much how things went in those days. Or they could have, you know, actually talked to each other and discovered the whole being in love thing and got married sensibly. That would have worked, too. But no, they had to be miserable for months on end, entirely pointlessly, and don’t even get me started on the flu outbreak. Because yes, of course there was a flu outbreak, so the widow was forced to do all the farm work on the estate single-handed. Or something.

Now, I have to be honest, and say that a lot of people consider this the love story to end all love stories, and I can kind of see where they’re coming from. It is quite intense (and we know that because we’re privy to all the main characters’ inner thoughts). It’s also well written. The characters are very likable, except for the one villain. There are some historical errors and Americanisms (we don’t have cookies, folks), but I was so incensed I barely noticed.

I’ve given this three stars because it’s not a bad book in any objective sense, quite the reverse, it’s just written in a style that rubs me the wrong way. Or maybe I’m just grouchier than the marquess today, who knows. I quite enjoyed the author’s Reforming Lord Ragdale, so I’m not writing her off at all. But this one was a dud for me.


Review: ‘Reforming Lord Ragsdale’ by Carla Kelly

Posted January 21, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

There’s a lot to like about this, and also a lot of big irritations. There were moments when I couldn’t see how I would give it more than three stars, and there were brief moments of five star brilliance, so I’ve settled on four stars as a compromise. But it’s lumpy, very lumpy.

The premise is that dissolute Lord Ragsdale has his troublesome American cousins foisted on him, and if this were a Georgette Heyer book, the cousins would be up to all sorts of shenanigans, and world-weary and permanently drunk Lord Ragsdale would be cured of his ennui by sorting out their messes. But this is a very different story. The cousins are shunted offstage and the focal character is their indentured servant, Emma. She it is who forces the marquess to sign a contract: she will reform him from head to toe, and when he is respectably married, he will release he from her indenture. So far, so ludicrously implausible, but whatever.

For those who like their historical romance to have a little actual history (yes, radical, I know), this is your book. Emma is a victim of the Irish troubles of the turn of the century (eighteenth to nineteenth century, that is) who comes from a wealthy family which was captured, tortured, killed and otherwise split apart by the English, whom she hates with a passion. Lord Ragsdale lost an eye and his father in the same battle against Irish rebels, and he hates them with a passion. So of course these two are going to learn tolerance and understanding, and fall in love with each other. Of course.

So far so interesting, and I have no quarrel with the historical aspects. I liked the depth of characterisation which brought these two to life, and I loved their banter, which often made me laugh out loud. The other characters were mere ciphers, plot devices to throw our hero and heroine together, but that’s fine.

So what was so annoying? Firstly, the writing style. There’s some very irritating naming, which uses Lord Ragsdale, John Staples and Cousin John interchangeably, often in the same paragraph. There’s the fact that we’re shown the thoughts of both main characters, which (arguably) gives them greater depth but also is a lazy way of telling us what they’re feeling. Some reviewers really liked this aspect, but I didn’t. I found it jarring, and I would have preferred to be shown their feelings sometimes, for variety.

Another complaint is that Lord Ragsdale must be the easiest person ever to reform. Emma has the booze locked away and hey presto, he’s sober. He never slips, and even when he goes out for the evening and could drink as much as he wants, he comes home sober. All of which is pretty unbelievable. Then there’s the visit to his long-neglected estates in Norfolk, where we find a bunch of rosy-cheeked and friendly peasants, his lordship follows Emma’s instructions to the letter and hey presto, everyone is happy and nothing goes wrong. In fact, this is the recurring theme of the book, that nothing goes wrong, as Lord Ragsdale continues on his merrily reformed way.

And then there’s the romance itself. Oh dear oh dear. For two supposedly intelligent people, they are incredibly dense not to realise that they’re falling in love. When the peasants in Norfolk assume they’re married, that should have made them stop and think, but when they’re kissing and cuddling, with her sitting on his knee, and he then sets off to propose to some silly chit of a girl he doesn’t even like — words fail me.

And the ending… well, I suppose one could say it was a suitably sweeping romantic conclusion to the story, but I kept thinking — what about his mother and his abandoned fiancee and his rosy-cheeked peasants and all his obligations? Shouldn’t he feel some compunction about dropping everything and effectively running away? But somehow, every time the irritation grew to monstrous proportions, there would be an outbreak of Emma’s tart remarks and his lordship’s dry wit and all would be well. And sometimes, cheesy though parts of it were, it brought me to tears. So there’s that. Four stars.