Tag: matthews

Review: The Matrimonial Advertisement by Mimi Matthews (2018)

Posted May 14, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was so close to being a five star read – an intriguing premise, fascinating characters, an atmospheric setting and lots of promise for dramatic revelations – what could go wrong? I’ll get to that.

Here’s the premise: Justin Thornhill has managed to hoist himself up from humble beginnings to buy a run-down house in the West Country. All he needs is a wife to help him run the place. Helena Reynolds needs to escape from London, and she’s desperate enough to answer a matrimonial advertisement. She’ll marry a complete stranger if he’ll keep her safe. I find this a fascinating premise. It’s obvious that both these two have dark stories to tell. Justin is an ex-soldier with scars and burns covering his body. Helena has bruises to hide, too. But they accept each other as they are, and they quickly marry.

Instantly, Helena’s past turns up to disrupt them, and Justin’s fears that she’s too grand to be marrying the likes of him are fully realised. But he does what he has agreed to do, and gets rid of the men who would take her back to London and all the horrors she wanted so badly to escape from. I won’t spoil things by going into details about either her past or Justin’s, but suffice it to say that she is being pursued by a very powerful person.

Up to the halfway point, this is a fascinating story, beautifully realised and steeped in atmosphere and mystery. The two main characters are wonderfully real in all their interactions (a bit of a beauty and the beast vibe going on there), and the clifftop abbey and its odd inhabitants suitably gothic. I did wonder if it always rained quite so much in Devon, and maybe they could have just the occasional balmy day, but it was certainly atmospheric.

But the second half, where Helena and Justin go to London and do all sorts of conventional things – balls, morning calls, the theatre – is much less interesting, and at the very end, the biggest problem of all – an outbreak of I’m-not-worthy-itis from Justin, so that he takes off back to Devon and Helena’s not invited. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, even more than a Great Misunderstanding, it’s a hero who simply assumes he knows what’s best for the heroine. Look, selfless heroes everywhere, treat your heroines with a bit of respect, all right? They’re sensible people with hopes and fears and feelings too, so ASK what they want before self-righteously sloping off and leaving them with a broken heart.

But other than that, I don’t have much to grumble about. This is set in the Victorian era, not the more familiar (to me) Regency, so some things that seemed odd to me might be quite legitimate. The talk of annulment, for instance – very much not a thing in the Regency, but maybe it’s fine by the mid-Victorian era. I did wonder that the 6th Earl was so easily declared dead on the say-so of just one person. Usually with titles, the fear of making a mistake kept the title in abeyance unless there was an actual body. And I disapproved hugely of leaving the money that usually supported a title to someone else entirely. Being a peer was an expensive business, and the poor man was supposed to live in a manner appropriate for his station, not in penury. And why was the income from the estate not tied to the entailed land, in the form of rent-paying tenant farmers, as was usual? So I wasn’t quite sure how that worked.

Still, these are trivial points. The book is beautifully written, it feels authentic to its time (and I loved the way Helena’s big skirts were a constant reminder of that) and the two main characters were wonderful. Justin, in particular, is a true hero. Only that stupid last-minute outbreak of unworthiness annoyed me enough to keep it to four stars. And now I’m going straight on to the next book in the series to find out just what did happen to Giles.

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Review: Holiday in Bath by Laura Matthews (1981)

Posted March 2, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Oh dear. Two fairly hard-to-like principals, a very uneven plot, some over-the-top silliness from the heroine, and a rabbit-from-the-hat romance (you know how this one goes: I don’t like you… I don’t like you… oh, I’m in love). I kept reading because… well, I’ll get to that, but boy, was it a slog, sometimes.

Here’s the premise: Trelenny Storwood is the only child of her parents. Cranford Ashwicke is the only son of the neighbours. So naturally they’re expected to marry. Cranford is dutifully courting Trelenny… no, wait a minute. What sort of name is Trelenny? If this was set in Cornwall, I could just about accept it, but in Westmorland? And Cranford isn’t much better. This at a time when half the baptisms in England were for Anne, Elizabeth, Mary or Charlotte (for girls) or John, Edward, William or George (for boys).

Anyway, Cranford is courting Trelenny, even though he thinks she’s a hoyden and every time he meets her, he ends up correcting her behaviour. As for Trelenny, she just thinks he’s dull, not to mention old (at twenty-eight!). They snipe at each other constantly, more like brother and sister than a courting couple, so although Cranford has officially asked permission to pay his addresses, he hasn’t officially asked her yet because he’s pretty sure she’ll refuse.

So the big question is – why on earth is he even bothering with this courtship, when neither of them is very keen on the other? I confess, that’s the question that pulled me along through the swamps of implausibility that bogged down much of this book. We don’t get an answer until almost the end, when there’s a rush of revelations, some of which actually made some sense. But by then it was a bit too late to redeem things.

Here’s one of the more problematic elements, for me. Quite early in the book, Cranford pays a visit to a very classy brothel, where he has dinner, plays some cards and then beds his favourite lady. He seems to have a very cosy relationship with her, is fond of her and regrets that he isn’t rich enough to keep her as his mistress. She tells him not to worry because she’d rather work at the (very classy) brothel and have friends around her. Which is all very cosy and all, but what is the hero of a Regency romance doing in a brothel anyway? Nor is this a final farewell before he settles down to marriage and faithfulness. So yuk to that.

Then there’s the uncle who turns up and immediately starts pawing Trelenny (and her mother!), and neither of them makes a fuss because the father has heart trouble and the stress might make him pop off. So instead, they take off for Bath with Cranford, something that Trelenny has been angling for for a while, having had a very curtailed rural life and quite understandably wanting to see a bit of life before she settles down to domestic bliss. Or marriage to dull Cranford.

But then on the journey there’s an outbreak of stupidity on Trelenny’s part that almost broke the silly-o-meter. It involves her dressing up in men’s clothes, roaming the streets at night and eventually getting roaring drunk, and all because she’s too silly to say no. There’s an eloping couple involved, and although they do have a small part to play later, I’m going to say that I think the whole point of this whole episode was so that Cranford had to undress the drunk-unconscious Trelenny and get her into her nightgown and into bed. Yuk to that, too.

Bath gets quite interesting, because Trelenny discovers to her dismay that it’s not at all like her dreams and really, it’s all a bit hit and miss, just like every other part of real life. This was really nicely done. Meanwhile Cranford is being pursued with vigour by a former squeeze, and he actually does the right thing here and rejects her, but for the wrong reason (because he’s got his little friend in the brothel if he wants that sort of thing). So yuk again. And he’s also hanging out with an old friend, Lady Jane, who seems to Trelenny’s eyes to be a much better match for him, so she’s convinced that she’s lost him for good.

I’ll spare you the details of the rest of it. Naturally it all comes right in the end, and reasons are given for the various misunderstandings and motivations, but I was really past caring at that point. There were some nice lines – Bath is described as a ‘mushroomy watering hole’, for instance, but there are a number of Americanisms, like stoop, visit with and ‘on High Street’ (Brits would say ‘on the High Street’). I never warmed to Cranford and his dodgy moral compass, but I quite grew to like Trelenny in the end, even if she was made to veer between utter stupidity and common sense to suit the purposes of the plot. Ultimately there were too many yuks and the plot was too uneven for me to give this more than three stars.

 

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Review: In My Lady’s Chamber by Laura Matthews (Elizabeth Neff Walker) (1981)

Posted February 13, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’ve read several Laura Matthews books, and I’ve enjoyed them all, something that’s not usual in authors of this era, where the catalogue tends to be spotty. But this was a perfectly judged blend of a second-chance romance with a happy family setting and a treasure hunt thrown in for good measure. There’s a half-hearted villain but his villainy never really amounts to much. This is just good old-fashioned fun, with some unusually good writing underneath.

Here’s the premise: Theodosia Tremere is the daughter of a clergyman, who almost married Viscount Steyne some years previously. Her father having died, she’s now taken up a position as governess to the charming Heythrop family, headed by Lady Eastwick. Her husband is abroad, so the family is headed by her eldest son, twenty-year-old Edward, who is finding his new responsibilities difficult. There are two younger brothers and three daughters, and all of them are delightful. It’s unusual and very refreshing to encounter a completely happy family in a Regency, and also one where the governess is not only treated with respect by the family, but has pupils who are lively but not mischievous. For the summer, Theodosia has a plan to get all the children out and about by instituting a search for the long-lost family treasure.

Into this pleasant setting comes the sort-of villain, Uncle James, who, having run through his own money and finding his debts rather pressing, is planning to marry a rich widow. As a way of convincing her that he’s serious, he invites the widow’s brother to view his estate, to prove that he’s not just a fortune hunter. As his estate adjoins the Heythrop family’s estate, and his own is run down, he and his guest stay with the Heythrops. And by happy coincidence, the guest happens to be Theodosia’s former suitor, Viscount Steyne.

Seasoned Regency readers will know the way the romance will go — a certain amount of initial hostility, followed by a gradual thawing and realisation that yes, they really can start again and make it stick this time. There were some wonderful conversations between the two, with real emotion roiling through them, especially in Steyne (I love it when the hero is the one doing the bulk of the agonising). In books of this age, the romance is often a bit staid, not to say downright perfunctory, but not so here. There’s enough angst here that it could have been dropped straight into a modern novel (and although I’m not in general a fan of too much angst, here I mean it as a compliment).

The treasure hunt (and the villainy) is just a lot of fun, and if the solution to the mystery was too easily found in the end, I can’t quite see how else it could have been done, so I won’t quibble. There are not so many Americanisms as in some of the author’s work (the inevitable gotten, and fall instead of autumn, but I didn’t notice anything else). My only big question-mark is over the amount of time the hero spent in the heroine’s bedroom, in some cases uninvited, and in one case refusing to leave. It was treated as a comedy interlude, so she nipped into the dressing room to put her nightie on and then climbed into bed, then punctured his vanity totally by falling asleep! Even so, it raised my eyebrows somewhat. I wondered whether this was the meaning of the title (which is singularly inappropriate otherwise).

But these minor grumbles aside, I really loved this book, loved both Steyne and Theodosia (whom he rather charmingly calls Doe) and can’t give it less than five stars.

 

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Review: A Fine Gentleman by Laura Matthews (1999)

Posted February 13, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Oh, I loved this book so much. A heroine with gumption and a sparky (ie not bland) character. The fairly conventional grumpy hero who melts relatively quickly. And things that go bump in the night. What’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: Impoverished distant relation Caroline Carruthers is invited to be a temporary companion to the widowed Lady Hartville. Her son, Lord Hartville, the grumpy hero, is very well aware that his mother wants him to marry Caroline, but he finds her too meek and insipid. Besides, he’s quite happy to be a bachelor. But then a child of about five years of age appears at the estate and calls him ‘papa’. He’s quite sure the child isn’t his, but Caroline seems determined to hold him to his supposed obligations. And then Caroline’s frivolous younger brother appears, together with his worldly and very attractive friend Markingham, and strange things start to happen.

Let’s deal with the ‘mystery’ first. The parentage of the child is the big mystery of the book, but the resolution really isn’t that difficult to guess. The problem with a book of this era is that the cast of characters is very limited, so there aren’t very many possible villains to choose from. I spotted the culprit within seconds, so it isn’t difficult. Nevertheless, the author milks the suspense for all it’s worth.

The romance is also never in doubt. There’s some lovely back-and-forth dialogue between hero and heroine, which isn’t frivolous enough to be called banter, but also isn’t intense enough to be unsettling. They are drawn to each other, not quite from the start, but certainly from around the midpoint of the book when the open hostility morphs into something else altogether. There are some lovely set-piece scenes (like the storm, for instance) which develop the relationship nicely. I was less enamoured of the line that she has a voluptuous body and a certain innate awareness of sexuality that serves to move things along. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the scenes where she is less than properly attired, and exposed to his appreciative eye. Yes, he’s a gentleman and the hero, but still, I would have preferred it if he’d shown more restraint at those times.

The resolution is both predictable and very satisfactory, and (unlike many books of this era) there’s a proper ending to the romance, too. There are a number of Americanisms which distressed me (gotten; wooden walkways outside village shop; ready-made dresses in village shop; straightaway (straight bit of road); cream in the tea; allergic (not used before 1908)). I also wondered greatly at the number of indigent relations that Lord Hartville is supporting (I think the number thirty-two was mentioned at one point). If he was giving each of them the five hundred pounds mentioned for one pair, he’d be flat broke in five minutes. It’s far more usual to hand out fifty quid a time, and even that would mount up. Despite all that, I enjoyed the book enough to give it five stars.

 

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Review: A Very Proper Widow by Laura Matthews (1982)

Posted January 14, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

Another odd book from Laura Matthews. I enjoyed it well enough, but the quirky side characters were unredeemably awful, I didn’t particularly like either of the two main characters and the intrusive sexual element felt jarring.

Here’s the premise: Vanessa Damery has been a widow for two years, with two small children to raise and her husband’s much-neglected estate to manage, with no help from her fellow trustee. In addition, she’s been inundated with a variety of her husband’s relations and assorted hangers-on, which her kind-hearted parents tell her it’s her Christian duty to support. Into this difficult situation belatedly arrives the missing trustee, Lord Alvescot, very much aware of his condescension in doing so, and quite prepared to find everything in disarray at the hands of a mere woman. And just why are her expenses so high, anyway? His arrival is marred by a collision with the recklessly driven curricle of one of the hangers-on, his expected suitably large bedroom isn’t available, and in the poky room he’s assigned, a flimsy chair promptly collapses under his weight. Not an auspicious start.

I have to say, for anyone who’s a fan of curmudgeonly heroes, Alvescot is a spectacular example of the breed. He dislikes and distrusts everyone, is universally hostile and thoroughly charmless, and then there’s his aristocratic arrogance. But then Vanessa is edgy with him, too, not rude precisely but certainly prepared to give as good as she gets. Meanwhile, the hangers-on are as dismal a bunch as one can imagine, and it’s hard to see why she keeps supporting them, let alone have them living under her roof. In the whole household, only the children and the land steward are nice, normal, friendly people.

I was a little surprised that Vanessa was left so alone to take care of everything. Her husband’s relations are just spongers, not one of them having the commonsense to make themselves useful, or help in any way, apart from the one proposing vastly extravagant menus. And did she have no relations of her own who might have helped out? It would have been very unusual in those days for a woman to be managing an estate of any size. Normally the trustees would all be male. But there is a very poignant moment when she has to take the authoritative role, not one she’s ever been trained for and which goes against all her instincts, but she does it, and ends up shaking afterwards. That felt very real, to me, and was the point where I felt real sympathy for her.

The romance has a lot of ground to cover to get from mutual hostility to happy ending, and frankly I never found it very convincing. He gradually comes to see that she’s doing a good job with both the estate and the children under difficult circumstances, and inch by inch he begins to want to relieve her of some of the burdens. And of course, if he’d been remotely doing his job as fellow trustee from the start, she wouldn’t have had nearly so much to contend with. What she sees in him is less obvious. He starts off disliking her quite intensely, and when that starts to change into something else, he starts touching her. Now, holding her hand at a moment of stress is one thing, but he rests his hand on her shoulder at one point and starts playing with her hair, during an otherwise rational conversation, and frankly that just felt creepy to me. Then he kisses her and goes away without a word, leaving her uncertain, and sends her only businesslike letters. Foolish man.

Needless to say, the two do sort themselves out eventually, as well as seeing off the hangers-on, and the final night-time shenanigans with one particular lady are almost worth the price of admission alone, and single-handedly dragged the book from a grudging three stars up to four. I’ve mentioned the sex, which is not particularly graphic but didn’t add much to the story, although to be fair, with a widow, there ought to be some acknowledgement of it, and particularly whether the first marriage was satisfactory or not. For pedants out there, be warned that there’s a good sprinkling of Americanisms, especially ‘gotten’, but generally this felt very Heyeresque in tone. Despite the criticisms, I still enjoyed the read, and if this is a bit different from the usual Regency fare, I’m always happy to wander away from the familiar roads.

 

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Review: Lord Greywell’s Dilemma by Laura Matthews (1983)

Posted January 14, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

An odd book that I enjoyed, but it had some worrying elements, not least a surprising amount of sexual content for a book of this age, plus a wife dallying with a man other than her husband. But an interesting read, nonetheless.

Here’s the premise: Elspeth Parksone is 26 and determined not to marry. Her mother died ten years ago, and ever since then her father has been merrily fathering bastards on every willing girl in the neighbourhood. Elspeth takes the opposing path of becoming ever more puritanical, taking care of the bastards and devoting her life to good works about the parish. Having accidentally encountered her father in flagrante delicto with a local wench, and misunderstanding the groans of passion, the horrified Elspeth has decided that marriage is not for her. Meanwhile, David, Viscount Greywell, has just lost his beloved wife in childbirth and his son is sickly and not expected to live. When a mutual friend suggests that what he needs is a wife used to dealing with infants, and he knows just the person…

So Lord Greywell arrives to take a look at Elspeth, and after some manoeuvring, they reach an accommodation and marry. He immediately takes off for Vienna and the political negotiations going on there, leaving Elspeth to take care of the child, the household and the estate.

I confess that this is precisely the sort of situation that fascinates me. Modern marriages are almost exclusively based on romantic love, but the Regency was full of pragmatic marriages which were more a business arrangement than anything else. In this case, Elspeth only agrees to it on the understanding that it will be a marriage of convenience only, and she won’t have to participate in any of that nasty man/woman intimacy that so repels her. Lord Greywell is still too grief-stricken over his wife to care much. So long as his son and heir survives, nothing more will be demanded of his wife.

Their first few days together are a master-study in the difficulties inherent in such arrangements. He finds himself constantly comparing her with his late wife, unfavourably. She is constantly bumping up against the traditions of the household, and wondering what she can change and what will annoy her new husband too much. Their interactions are edgy and sometimes downright hostile, and yet they are both smart enough to understand and make allowances for the other. There’s a continual process of adjustment between them, but it’s not clear at first whether this will end in a rapprochement or whether it will descend to outright war.

But then Lord Greywell goes off to be a diplomat, and their only communication is by letter, a very unsatisfactory means of communication for two people with so wide a gulf between them. He fades out of the picture somewhat at this point, and Elspeth is left to her own devices, stymied somewhat by the conventions of the neighbourhood from carrying out her usual charitable projects, and at somewhat of a loose end. Into this void comes Francis Treyford, the effete son of neighbours and a poet, who falls into a kind of infatuation with Elspeth, writing her impassioned poetry and generally hanging around her. And with her husband away, she is vulnerable to his attentions.

I confess to a certain queasiness about her behaviour at this point. I can understand a roving eye before a couple get together, and even something a bit more physical than that, but once there’s a definite pairing, the two should not be looking elsewhere, and certainly not doing anything more than looking. Elspeth and Francis get beyond kisses into something that would certainly have ended up in infidelity, except that Elspeth draws back at the crucial moment. The interlude serves to awaken her to the possibilities of physical intimacy, however, so when her husband returns, she is far more open to the idea than she was, and this smooths the path to the final rapprochement between the two.

I can respect this as an interesting choice by the author, and perhaps in the real world a wife in this situation, effectively abandoned by her husband, feeling lonely and unwanted, might indeed be vulnerable to another man. But frankly, I wonder how likely it would be that a well brought up Regency woman, especially one as buttoned up as Elspeth, would proceed quite so far down the path to an affair. And as a reader I would much rather it had been her husband who opened her eyes to the possibilities of marital intimacy. For that reason, I feel I can only give this four stars. The subject of sex pervades the whole book, and there’s a mildly graphic interlude towards the end. In addition, there are a number of Americanisms (gotten, write him instead of write to him, etc) which also detracted from my enjoyment. A great pity.

 

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Review: The Lady Next Door by Laura Matthews (1981)

Posted November 15, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

A glorious read, and the first book in a while that I couldn’t bear to put down. Sensible characters who know their own mind from the start, not one but three (and a bit) romances to enjoy, and a hero who (praise be!) isn’t browbeaten by his harridan of a mother, but deals with her absolutely firmly and immovably. I get so tired of noblemen who crumble at the first sign of disapproval from Mama, so bonus points for that. And not a misunderstanding or an elopement or a kidnapping in sight. Wonderful.

Here’s the premise: Marianne Findlay comes from a good family, but eight years ago her reputation was destroyed by the actions of the Countess of Latteridge. Now she’s struggling to make ends meet by taking in lodgers in the dilapidated York house she’s fortuitously inherited, with her grumpy spinster aunt for company. One of the lodgers has decided that he would like to marry her, owing to the rather fine house she now owns, and the other is busy trying not to blow up said house with his experiments, but Marianne can deal with them. Slowly, she’s finding her feet in society again, albeit at a much lower level than before, and Aunt Effie has hopes that a match can be made with nice Dr Thorne, who seems to enjoy Marianne’s company. But now there’s trouble brewing, for their York refuge happens to be next door to the Earl of Latteridge’s house, and the whole family, including his mother, is about to take up residence for the autumn and winter season.

Marianne can’t avoid the family entirely, and she soon finds that the earl’s younger brother, Harry, is an enthusiastic charming young man, enthralled by the creations of her inventor lodger. Even the earl, when he arrives, is a pleasant and sensible man, not at all the disapproving and haughty peer she’d expected. His sister, too, is lovely and quite unbothered by Marianne’s supposedly disreputable past. So things are humming along nicely, until the Countess of Latteridge discovers Marianne’s presence next door and sets about making her displeasure widely known.

There’s nothing terribly surprising about how the plot unravels, but the Earl of Latteridge is very much the perfect hero, who sees Marianne as his future wife almost from the start and sets about making it happen with single-minded determination, and won’t allow anything or anyone to get in his way, least of all his mother. The two have a couple of glorious scenes where he simply exerts his authority firmly and she has no choice but to surrender. Highly enjoyable! I love me a hero who does the right thing at once with no dithering. The rest of the assemblage of characters are perhaps a little too good-natured to be realistic, but it makes a change from the usual black-hearted villainy that seems to be a staple of Regencies. Marianne was perhaps a little bland for my taste, but it’s a small quibble. The romance is entertaining, especially as the earl finally wins his lady by overcoming her objections one by one – very cleverly done.

An unusual premise but a highly entertaining read, set in York for a change and actually set at some unspecified Georgian period, so not a Regency at all, but apart from a few details of dress and the lodger’s inventions, there’s not a great deal of difference. I’ve only read one other book by this author, The Nomad Harp, and I enjoyed that, too. I’ll have to look for more of the author’s books. Five stars.

 

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Review: ‘The Nomad Harp’ by Laura Matthews [Trad]

Posted December 17, 2016 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is the first of my birthday Regencies (a selection from 1980 to the present bought with my gift cards), the earliest, written in 1980. The author is new to me, and I found it an enjoyable read, with some humour and a nicely drawn romance.

The premise: a career naval officer finds himself unexpectedly inheriting a viscountcy. He feels obliged to retire from the navy to manage his estates, but there’s a wrinkle: he’s betrothed to a woman he scarcely knows, attracted by her virtuoso playing of the harp. When he goes to visit, he finds her unimpressed by his elevation in rank. She had accepted his offer only because he would be away at sea a great deal, which would allow her to maintain her independent lifestyle. She breaks off the engagement after discovering that he’s falling for a much more suitable young lady.

But naturally, that isn’t the end of things. The story devolves into the usual Regency mix-ups and misunderstandings, albeit more believable than is sometimes the case, with an array of minor characters to liven things up. But it’s the main characters which make or break a story like this, and here I had my doubts. Lord Pontley himself is a fairly straightlaced sort of chap, too dour to be obvious hero material, and I confess to not entirely understanding his motives for dealing with the suitable young lady he finds himself engaged to. Indeed, for a serious sort of chap, he gets engaged for the most frivolous of reasons. Still, I rather liked him.

The heroine, Glenna Forbes, I found less likable. For a supposedly forthright and independent-minded young lady, she was a terrible ditherer. It’s conventional in fiction that when a character proposes a plan that the reader can clearly see is going to happen, there’s still a certain amount of argument round and about before it’s agreed to. Here, Glenna protested against perfectly reasonable proposals for far, far too long. I really wanted to slap her upside the head. And some of the things she does are just plain silly (like the whole companion scheme, for instance). The only purpose that I could see was so that she would find out about Lord Pontley’s feelings for the suitable young lady.

Despite all that, however, I found the book very enjoyable. I love a Regency where the romance builds slowly over the whole book, and this is particularly credible example. The minor characters are terrific, the historical accuracy is good and there’s enough humour to leaven the mixture. Four stars.

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