Tag: laporte

Review: Penelope and the Wicked Duke by Sofi Laporte (2021)

Posted July 25, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A real curate’s egg of a book, that starts off brilliantly, sags into implausibility in the middle and then goes off the rails altogether at the end. There’s a charming and very enjoyable romance lurking tantalisingly just out of reach here, but despite the oddball stuff, there’s a lot to like about it.

Here’s the premise: Penelope Reid (or Pen) has been waiting for years for her guardian to arrive and reclaim her from Miss Hilversham’s Seminary for Young Ladies, where he dumped her some years ago and then vanished. Tired of waiting, she escapes into the night, dressed in men’s clothes, and makes her way to London to find him. He’s not at the address where she expected to find him, so she takes cheap lodgings nearby and sets out to dream up a plan B. By chance, she bumps into (very literally) a passing viscount, Lord Alworth, whose close encounter with Pen suggests to him that she’s only masquerading as a boy. He’s so intrigued, he sets out to follow her and find out what she’s up to. She gives him the brush-off, but then he meets her again trying to get into White’s, the famous gentlemen’s club, in the hope of tracking down her guardian. Still intrigued, he not only takes her inside, he arranges membership for her.

So far, so howlingly implausible, but then realism isn’t exactly what this series is about. The basic premise is that the four heroines all made a wish at a wishing well, and one of them made the wish that all four should marry dukes. Three of them have now done so, and Pen is the fourth. She was so uninterested in marrying a duke that she dived into the well to retrieve the coin. She’s been in love with her guardian, the elusive Marcus Smith, ever since he saved her life in India and brought her back to Britain. He’s the only one she wants to marry, and he’s not a duke. So there’s a magical/fairytale theme running through the whole series, which makes it hard to quibble over any lack of realism or astonishing turns of fortune. That’s just the framework the author has constructed.

This part of the book is terrific. Alworth is a lovely hero, the typical jaded man-about-town, a dandy and dilettante, whose interest is piqued by Pen and her story. He sets himself to help her find her guardian, and before too long he learns the truth – that the enigmatic Marcus Smith is actually the wicked Duke of Rochford. Pen isn’t deterred, so the hunt is on to track down the duke and confront him. The verbal sparring between Alworth and Pen is brilliant, and very funny. At one point I actually laughed till I cried.

Meanwhile, Pen is getting into trouble at every verse end, including insulting someone and being challenged to a duel (and rescued by Alworth), and then being challenged again (and rescued by an Indian friend). In fact, Pen gets into so much trouble, and refuses to confide in Alworth, or trust him, that frankly I wondered just why he stuck around. Pen deserved to be left to stew in her own stupidity.

This middle section is very strange, because Pen does eventually tell Alworth some of her story, and he does make it clear that he knows she’s female, but they go on pretending that she’s a bloke, and I wasn’t at all clear whether Pen had any grip on reality or was just so wrapped up in her own little world that nothing else mattered. Anyway, this is where I began to lose patience somewhat.

And then there were glimmerings of Alworth stepping in, not merely to help Pen along, but to address the tricky problem that he’s fallen in love with Pen, who is *still* pretending she’s a bloke. So when a mysterious sponsor sets Pen up with a chaperon and some posh frocks to do the season, I hoped that she was going to see the light and make the sensible decision. You know, the really, really tricky choice between the guardian who dumped her in school years ago and never went back, and is *still* ignoring her, or the nice, charming, handsome, rich, honourable man who’s been helping her every step of the way.

But, no. Everything comes to a head at a big society ball, and really, that should have been it, make your choice, happy ending ahoy, but I guess that wasn’t enough drama, because there’s a whole bunch more Pen stupidity before she finally sees the light. Argh!

I get what the author was trying to do here, and perhaps for some people Pen’s clinging desperately to the fiction of her caring guardian makes it easy to accept her difficulty in knowing what she wants, but for me it just didn’t work. Pen was not likeable enough for me to have much sympathy for her. She was just a destructive whirlwind, hurling herself into all sorts of situations without a thought, and dragging other people into her messes. And her guardian was just too horrible for words (even at the ball! What was he thinking??!!). So ultimately, although I loved Alworth and the early part of the book was sublimely funny and refreshingly different, in the end it veered too far from realism for my comfort. Three stars.


Review: Birdie and the Beastly Duke by Sofi Laporte (2021)

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

Well, here’s a thing – a Sofi Laporte book that didn’t have me squealing with delight. I’ve enjoyed both the previous books, so what went wrong with this one? Nothing in the writing, that’s for sure. Again the author creates an original and entertaining story out of seemingly tired old tropes. But for me it veered too far off the track of a conventional Regency and into the realm of straight-up slapstick Gothic. Not my favourite thing. But if you’re in the market for Laporte’s unique take on beauty (sort of) and the beast, this may very well hit the spot.

Here’s the premise: Birdie, or more formally the Honourable Roberta Talbot, is fed up with taking care of her feckless family. She’s on her way to a position as a governess in order to support them, but when she bumps into a girl travelling to an unwanted marriage, she can’t help but envy her. Marriage! That would suit Birdie down to the ground, even an unknown elderly gentleman living in the wilds of Scotland. Whereas the girl would just love to be a governess and escape her fate. And so they switch places…

Off Birdie goes, and from here on, everything is over the top Gothic. The mysterious coachman, the desolate castle perched on a cliff, the elderly (and very deaf) retainer who is the only servant, and the mysterious Captain Gabriel Eversleigh himself, who turns out to be not so elderly, but with his face disfigured by war wounds. Oh yes, and he’s now a duke, but you probably guessed that from the title. The marriage takes place, whereupon the bridegroom immediately gives Birdie a purse full of money and tells her to take herself off back to civilisation. He’s done his duty by her, as was promised to her father (or rather the father of the girl Birdie has swapped places with), and now he just wants to be left alone.

Birdie doesn’t want to go back to civilisation, however. She wants a marriage, even one as peculiar as this, and so she sets about getting servants, cleaning up the castle, starting a school for the village children and, all the while, getting under Gabriel’s skin and drawing him back into the real world. All of this is par for the course with this kind of story, but naturally Laporte puts her own delightful spin on it, and it’s all very funny.

I liked Birdie very much. She’s resourceful and practical and not in the least the delicate flower that well-brought-up Regency ladies are supposed to be. I liked Gabriel, too, when he finally emerged from his shell, but I’m not a big fan of a man (a duke!) who thinks he’ll just hide away in his tower and the world can go hang. He sounds like a good leader of his troops in the army and felt a great responsibility for them, so why could he not apply the same sense of duty to the villagers who depended on him? The ending tied up a lot of loose ends rather cleverly, and Gabriel finally does the right thing without prompting. And kudos to the author for getting the legalities of their marriage absolutely right.

Anyone reading this just for the romance would probably love it. I have a requirement that the author’s evocation of the Regency has to convince me, even if it’s not totally accurate. None of us lived in those times, after all, so who can say what is historically accurate? Every author creates a slightly different version of the era, and that’s all to the good. This was too unreal for me to believe in, however, which keeps it to three stars for me. Anyone less picky than me would probably love it, and it is certainly great fun. I already have the next (and possibly final) book in the series, so I’ll read that and hope it works better for me.


Review: Arabella and the Reluctant Duke by Sofi Laporte (2021) [Trad]

Posted October 3, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Sofi Laporte is an interesting addition to the company of Regency authors. Her work is refreshingly different and very funny. It’s not a wildly authentic evocation of the Regency, but so well written that I forgive it.

Here’s the premise: Lady Arabella Astley, the sister of the Duke of Ashmore, has run away from her home, all the way to Cornwall in answer to an advertisement for a governess, calling herself Miss Weston. It’s not immediately clear why she felt the need to do this, since there’s no lead in and the first chapter opens with Arabella being interviewed, after a fashion, by the fourteen year old daughter of the house. But it doesn’t really matter, since the three children are delightfully eccentric (and very funny), and then Arabella meets their father… Philip Merivale is a blacksmith and inventor, prone to working shirtless, and devilishly handsome. The family lives in ramshackle style in a cottage, and Arabella finds herself forced to help with the household chores – even cooking! When she’s never even been in a kitchen before! It’s all very educational for a duke’s sister, and Arabella shows her independence and determination in spades when it’s her day to cook. Philip immediately works out that she’s of noble blood, but his secret takes longer to reveal itself.

Given the title, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Philip is the very unwilling heir to a dukedom. He is the Earl of Threthewick (which is a horrible name, by the way, and impossible to pronounce). I’m not sure why he’s an earl, since a duke’s heir apparent has the rank of a marquess, but let that pass. His son should have a title too (he has the rank of an earl), but let that pass, too. Anyway, Philip has fallen out with his grandfather, the duke, for understandable reasons, and likes to pretend that he’s just a humble blacksmith and the dukedom is nothing to do with him. Which just makes him daft, frankly. He’s going to be the duke one day, whether he likes it or not, and his son after him, and the fact that his son has to point that out to him shows which of the two is the most sensible.

But then, Arabella’s not exactly the most sensible person ever, either. Running away to Cornwall without even so much as a change of clothes and not thinking that her very loving brother might be frantic with worry is also pretty daft. I can admire her pluck, and her brother is definitely over-protective, but still, a little more planning wouldn’t have gone amiss. And then, when she discovers exactly who Philip is, and realises that he’s been berating her for keeping the secret of her noble origins from him, when he’s been doing exactly the same, she doesn’t storm back to the cottage and yell at him, as any normal person would do. She doesn’t tackle him about it at all, she just carries on as if nothing very much had happened. Which doesn’t make much sense to me. I was looking forward to the explosion and it just didn’t happen.

But the romance… ah, the romance! I can forgive all sorts of questionable plot deviousness for a romance like this. Arabella’s journey from oh-my-goodness-a-man-without-a-shirt to despairing love is beautifully drawn, and there were some wonderful moments along the way. Philip’s journey is a little more uneven, and I wanted to slap him upside the head sometimes for not acknowledging what he was feeling, but then a ducal heir who can convince himself that he’s nothing but a humble blacksmith is not a man of great self-knowledge or introspection. At least he got there in the end, if a little bit late and overly melodramatic.

I mentioned above that this is not a particularly convincing version of the Regency. Every author creates his or her own evocation of the era, of course, and since none of us lived through it, they’re all equally valid. But this one feels a little bit off, to me. Arabella teaches Philip how to behave amongst his peers and at formal dinners, and while this is all very funny, it’s more Victorian than Regency. The serving of each separate dish as a course (soup, fish, meat, etc) by footmen, the array of cutlery (oyster forks! When oysters were so abundant and cheap that they were exclusively a dish of the poor until late in the Victorian era; the upper classes only cooked with them), the raised pinkie when drinking tea – please, no! There are also a lot of Americanisms in the writing, so if this bothers you, Laporte is best avoided. But this is one of those cases where I was enjoying the story so much that I merely smiled at these little bumps in the smooth path of my reading.

If you’re not too bothered about these minor details, this is a fun read, with two lovely characters falling very believably in love, a fine array of entertaining minor characters and a nice glimpse at the married life of the couple from the previous book. Four stars.


Review: Lucy and the Duke of Secrets by Sofi Laporte (2021) [Trad]

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

I tripped over this while bouncing around Amazon, looking for a modern Regency that isn’t predictable and/or boring. And oh boy, is this ever NOT predictable or boring! What it is, though, is funny – and not just witty or chuckle-worthy, but laugh till you cry funny. I’d like twenty more just like this, please.

Here’s the premise: penniless Lucy Bell is on her way to visit a schoolfriend, who happens to be the sister to a duke. A duke, moreover, whom Lucy hates with a passion because he got her thrown out of her school where she was entirely happy, and was then left to fend for herself. Which didn’t work out too well, because Lucy is a one-woman tornado, who sows chaos and confusion and catastrophe all around her. Even a simple journey falls apart, for she finds herself stranded some miles from Ashmore Hall, where her friend lives, with night falling and no money for an inn.

But happily, there’s a man loading up a wagon with plants who seems to be going the right way. Surely he’ll give her a lift? At first, he refuses in the most abrupt way, but eventually he relents, and Lucy chatters away to him happily, while he grumps away beside her. She discovers that he’s a gardener at Ashmore Hall, and his name is Henry. He’s handsome, too, which can’t hurt, and she finds she rather likes him, despite the grumping (the blurb describes him as charming, but he really isn’t; tolerant of her mishaps, perhaps, but grumbling constantly). For various wacky reasons (see previous remarks about Lucy the one-woman tornado), they end up spending the night together in a farmer’s barn, and telling stories and (eventually) kissing.

The next morning, she arrives at Ashmore Hall, and after only the minor mishap of being mistaken for a servant and spending the morning cleaning fireplaces and dusting, she is reunited with her friend, Lady Arabella. Henry, meanwhile, disappears about his gardener’s tasks, she supposes. Lucy has arrived just as a house party is getting under way, to finagle the betrothals of the duke to a cold fish aristocrat, and Arabella to a beautiful but soulless lord. Reluctantly, Lucy is drawn into the house party, where she is shocked to discover that Henry, the grumpily charming and very kissable gardener, is actually the icily cold and rigidly polite Duke of Ashmore, who fails even to acknowledge their previous acquaintance. The reader is slightly less shocked by this discovery, since it is given away in the book’s blurb, so I’m not revealing spoilers here.

From then onwards, Lucy unleashes her disruptive force all over the duke’s household, but particularly at the duke himself. I won’t spoil the surprise by revealing everything she does, but it’s gloriously funny, and culminates in a humdinger of a row between the two of them, at midnight, and in full view of half the household. It’s absolutely wonderful, and when the dowager duchess describes it as a lover’s quarrel, she’s absolutely right, because it crackles with that kind of tension. Lucy’s problem is that she’s in love with Henry the gardener, with whom she feels she could actually aspire to marriage, but still hates the duke, who is obnoxious towards her at every verse end. And Henry’s problem is that old chestnut, a hero who doesn’t realise he’s in love at all. Silly man.

And then everything turns soggy. A certain amount of misunderstanding or keeping of secrets I can accept, but there comes a point in any book where the protagonists, if they are sensible, sit down and talk things through. They don’t continue to not tell each other vital pieces of information, and they don’t, under any circumstances, do noble, self-sacrificing things for the other’s good. Nor do they withhold exciting news when they have it, or leave the object of their affection stewing in misery. So although it comes right in the end, I wasn’t happy about it at all.

Sofi Laporte seems to be a new author, and I for one will certainly be reading more of her work. If this is a debut, it’s a brilliantly accomplished one. I’d have given it five stars, despite the implausibility of some of it, but that soggy ending and a high level of editing errors keeps it to four.