Tag: smith

Review: Winter Wedding by Joan Smith (1990)

Posted September 16, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a wonderful old-school Regency, over thirty years old now, but still fresh, beautifully written and with a ton of that witty banter that some people regard as the epitome of a good Regency.

Here’s the premise: Clara Christopher is an itinerant poor relation, fetching up at this aunt or that cousin for a few weeks at a time before moving on, and that’s exactly how she likes it. She supposes that she’ll have to settle down eventually, either in marriage, since she’s had a few offers and isn’t yet at her last prayers, or by becoming a paid companion, preferably to someone who also likes to travel about. If she were to marry, she’d like it to be someone like Lord Allingcote, a man she met some years ago, who made her his deeply appreciative flirt for a few days before they parted. Since then, she’s heard of him visiting one or other of her distant relations, but never at the same time as her.

Now she’s helping eccentric Lady Lucker organise a winter wedding for her daughter Prissie. Lady Lucker’s eccentricity runs to pretending to have not two farthings to rub together, so all her effort is expended on getting the most expensive wedding gifts out of her relations, and ensuring that her neighbours provide all the food for the occasion. It’s an enterprise that amuses Clara, being used to managing on not very much herself, so the two get along famously, and Lady Lucker’s skinflint ways and economies form a lot of the humour of the book.

And needless to say (because there wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise), Clara’s Lord Allingcote is one of the guests, and happily he not only remembers her, he seems inclined to carry on the flirtation right where it left off. Or is he even flirting at all? Is it possible that he has remembered Clara in exactly the way she remembers him? But the fly in this ointment is Miss Nel Muldoon, a flighty piece and wealthy orphan whom Allingcote is escorting to London to offload onto a willing couple. Or so he says… but is he in fact betrothed to her? Or about to be? What is going on with him anyway?

The reader is left in just such a muddle as Clara herself, knowing that she’s Allingcote’s target to flirt with, but having no idea of his intentions. And Allingcote isn’t sure of Clara’s feelings, either. And so they circle round each other, getting into deeper and deeper water until the charming Nel forces things to a head. Why is it that every Regency of this era has to feature an elopement? Or if it isn’t that, it’s an abduction of some sort. I know it adds a bit of drama to spice up an otherwise placid tale but just a touch of plausibility wouldn’t go amiss.

Anyway, Nel’s shenanigans are just a backdrop for the banter between the two principals. There’s a lot of sparkle to it, just as there should be, but I particularly loved the ambiguity in it. There really is subtext dripping from every word, so even though the reader can see (or hope, at least) that the words mean one thing, it’s easy to see how they would be misinterpreted, leaving both parties floundering, uncertain of the other’s feelings. In some ways it’s frustrating – I just want to shake them, and tell them to speak openly for once. But this is the Regency, so subtlety is all.

Beautifully written, and enjoyable from start to finish. Five stars.


Review: Talk of the Town by Joan Smith (1979)

Posted July 9, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

This was a total riot, good fun from start to finish. It’s very traditional in style, but given its age that’s only to be expected, and unlike some of that vintage, the romance was quite well developed and not bolted on as an afterthought. And there was not a single kidnapping or elopement or other overblown melodrama.

Here’s the premise: Daphne Ingleside lives a quiet, respectable life in the Wiltshire countryside, but when her disreputable Aunt Effie, now a widow for the second time after being scandalously divorced by her first husband, asks for her company in London, she sees an opportunity for a little fun and a somewhat more lively setting. But this isn’t the conventional Regency with balls and routs and the Marriage Mart. Aunt Effie is too poor and disreputable to be invited anywhere. Daphne doesn’t mind. London is exciting enough, and she doesn’t much care to be paraded around anyway. She’ll have a nice quiet time with her aunt, and find something to fill the time. Perhaps her aunt, with her long and unusual history, could write her memoirs?

And all of a sudden, Aunt Effie’s quiet, retired life becomes rather exciting. As soon as the notice appears in the newspaper that she’s writing her memoirs, old friends start appearing and pressing large sums of money into her hands. Some were people she loaned money to, who never paid it back, but some were vaguer about their reasons. Effie thinks they’re just being kind to an old friend, but Daphne realises at once that they all hope to keep their own names out of the book. She finds it all vastly amusing, and of course the money is a great help to Effie.

Into this entertaining situation comes the very unentertaining Richard, the Duke of St Felix, sent by his sister to keep her husband’s name out of the book. But he’s an arrogant so and so, and Daphne can’t resist crossing swords with him, winding him up thoroughly. He leaves believing they are hardened blackmailers, and becomes determined to best the sharp-tongued little termagant. Somehow, he finds reason after reason to return to Aunt Effie’s shabby little apartment to spar with Daphne, and somehow, little by little, Daphne and Effie are edged back into society again, to be befriended by Beau Brummell and the Prince of Wales, no less. Their success is assured… or so it would seem. But their position is precarious, and one slip could see them fall from grace again.

From then onwards, nothing quite goes as expected (at least, not as I expected, anyway). But the romance develops beautifully. It’s always problematic for an author who’s set up the two main characters to be at each other’s throats – enemies to lovers is surely the most difficult trope to pull off, because how can two people who hate each other so much ever end up in love? It defies credibility, yet Joan Smith manages it beautifully, without any trickery, as Daphne and Richard gradually come to realise how things are. Daphne is a little bit too eccentric at times, and perhaps too determined to defy convention just to spite her ‘enemy’, but Richard is steadfast and true, and quite determined to see Daphne and her disreputable aunt restored to society, come what may.

For those who dislike Americanisms, you might want to avoid this one, littered as it is with ‘gotten’ and ‘fall’ and others too numerous to mention, but I was enjoying myself too much to mind. It’s highly recommended for banter aficianados, though, for the spirited exchanges between the two protagonists are glorious. Joan Smith can be a bit variable, but I found this to be one of her more successful efforts. Five stars.


Waltzing Widow by Joan Smith (1991)

Posted April 11, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

My second Joan Smith on the trot and I’m finding that my palate soon becomes jaded. They are very samey, and for those looking solely for the froth of a light-hearted Heyer-esque romp, this is just the ticket, but after a while I begin to long for a bit of character development. In this one, the misunderstandings all became a bit too tangled and I just wanted it all to stop.

Here’s the premise: Lucy Percy was almost taken in by a fortune hunter during the season in London. To allow herself time to recover, she and her aunt rent a cottage in the countryside. To deter unwanted suitors, Lucy pretends to be married and her widowed aunt pretends to be a spinster, and of course this is going to lead to huge problems. It so happens that the cottage is owned by a baron, Lord Bigelow, who decides that Lucy is just his sort of lady – what a pity she’s married. She instantly decides that being married is a hindrance to her ultimate objective, which is to find a husband of the non-fortune-hunting variety, so she summarily bumps off her supposed husband and makes herself a widow. Lord Bigelow is thrilled, and thinks it’s just a misunderstanding that he thought her husband was alive.

Meanwhile, Lord Bigelow’s uncle, the Earl of Avedon, is much more suspicious, and thinks Lucy is herself a fortune hunter. He’s a bit confused, because both she and the aunt are clearly well-bred, but he’s quite sure she’s a retired courtesan or actress, out to snabble a rich husband. He sets out on a campaign to get rid of Lucy and her aunt by forcing them out of the cottage. Being the principal landowner in the district, he decides to do some road ‘improvements’ around their cottage, effectively cutting them off from food supplies and company. Lucy isn’t about to surrender so tamely, however, so she and her aunt ingeniously work around the problem (and frankly, it’s hard to see how digging up the road would stop the butcher’s boy, say, from walking over the fields to deliver their leg of lamb; everybody walked everywhere in those days).

And so it goes on, the two of them fighting tooth and nail, she always having the upper hand and he, the prim and proper gentleman, finally unravelling in spectacular style. As always with Joan Smith, the romance takes a back seat to all the banter and shenanigans, and there isn’t even a particularly romantic denouement at the end. And as I mentioned before, the whole thing became tediously complicated. I eventually gave up trying to work out who knew what, and whether it was true or not. It was just too much work. Lots of fun between the complications, though, and although it wasn’t altogether to my taste, I enjoyed it well enough for four stars.


Country Flirt by Joan Smith (1987)

Posted April 11, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a barrel of laughs, and although the hero and heroine get themselves into a rare old muddle through sheer stupidity, and some of the characters are a bit over the top, it’s all so funny that it doesn’t really matter.

Here’s the premise: Samantha Bright has been buried in the country her whole life, and has reached the ripe old age of twenty-six without finding a husband. Part of the problem is that she’s been in love with her neighbour Lord Monteith for years, even though he treats her with negligent familiarity, calling her his country flirt – when he’s even at home, that is, which isn’t often. One day Monteith will marry, he supposes, but not yet, and until then he’s enjoying himself thoroughly, while Sam is languishing into spinsterhood. But into this stasis comes Monteith’s uncle, Lord Howard, who returns home from India with a million pounds in his pocket, determined to marry and sets his sights on Sam. Which of course serves to focus Monteith’s attention properly on her for the first time.

From here on, the plot follows a fairly predictable path. There are some side distractions, like Mrs Armstrong, the retired courtesan that Howard wants to set up as his mistress, but she’s angling for marriage, and Clifford Sutton, the low-key friend and possible suitor of Monteith’s mother, who is herself a central character, constantly manipulating everyone around her in the most outrageous fashion. But Lord Howard is the character who dominates the stage in every scene, completely upstaging the two principals, who seem drab and spiritless by comparison.

I confess to being puzzled by the titles. It’s never mentioned what Monteith’s exact rank is, but since his uncle is Lord Howard, he can only be a duke or a marquess, and since nobody your-graces him, he must be a marquess. Which is pretty high up the pecking order, but no one ever refers to it, or treats the family with the sort of deference that a marquessate would usually engender. Nothing wrong with that, it just struck me as odd. There was one historical misstep – not impossible but something that would have been frowned upon. I don’t want to be too spoilerish, so I’ll just say – marriage to deceased wife’s sister.

This is not the book to read if you want deep character development or oodles of angst, with emotion spilt all over the page. It’s written in the classic tradition of Heyer-esque Regency romps, all froth and silliness, no unseemly lusting, and the headline romance is wrapped up on the last page with the hero sweeping the heroine into his manly arms for a thorough kissing. Although to be fair, there is a sort of an epilogue here.

It’s also not the book to read if you’re a stickler for period-accuracy language, and don’t get me started on the punctuation. If this book has ever seen a proofreader, he or she should be fired immediately. Much of it reads as if it was transcribed from a printed version by optical character recognition, and then simply published. Not good enough. But it’s very funny, and I can forgive a book a great deal if it makes me laugh. The conversations between Sam and Monty, especially in the beginning, before he gets all grumpy and jealous, are hilarious. But there are just too many misunderstandings, and too many errors to give it more than four stars.


Review: Reluctant Bride by Joan Smith (2012)

Posted March 4, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is not the book for anyone who is a stickler for historical language or plot plausibility. It is, however, wildly funny, and although I rolled my eyes at something or other on every third page, along would come another laugh out loud moment, and so I just kept on reading. It’s outrageously silly, but it doesn’t matter a bit.

Here’s the premise (such as it is): Lizzie Bladen and her Aunt Maisie are struggling to keep their heads above water at their impoverished and heavily mortgaged family home, while Lizzie’s younger brother Jeremy is away at Oxford. Lizzie decides she’ll have to sell her dowry, a historic and valuable diamond necklace. On route to her uncle, who has offered to buy it, their carriage is overturned by a fast-driving baronet, Sir Edmund Blount, and in the confusion the necklace is stolen. Lizzie and Edmund are at odds instantly, but he chivalrously decides to help them recover the necklace, and thereby sets in train a glorious sequence of ever more unlikely escapades as they chase around the country in pursuit of a wall-eyed man in a green coat who is the chief suspect.

So far, so promising, but the real fly in the ointment for me was that the book I read immediately before this was another Joan Smith effort, called Love’s Way. And here’s the kicker – its plot is almost identical to this one. The heroine (and her aunt!) are in dire financial straits, thrown together with an antagonistic hero with whom the heroine feuds in melodramatic fashion throughout the book. And although this book at least has some indication that the hero is actually falling for the heroine, she never admits to it, and (just like the previous book) there’s no romantic ending just a shrug and I-suppose-we’d-better-get-married air of resignation. So although I enjoyed the whole thing quite a lot, it was rather spoilt for me by the repetition.

There is one element of the story that I found very funny, but purists might take exception to. Sir Edmund, having been a contented bachelor for a number of years, and having no intention ever to marry, has developed the habit of seeking out female company of a certain type when he’s travelling. He doesn’t stray from the moral code when he’s at home where he’s a respectable figure and wants to keep his reputation, but when he’s away from home he likes a bit of how’s-your-father. This leads to some very funny moments when he’s trying to arrange something, or is actually about to embark upon it, when Lizzie interrupts. Naturally, he gets quite cross about this.

In fact, Edmund’s moods are one of the most entertaining aspects of the book, for they veer about quite dramatically in response to whatever is going forward, and whether he sees it as positive or negative, and although Aunt Maisie soon sees what he’s about, Lizzie never does, and fails to notice that Edmund’s moods are increasingly concerned with her attitude to him.

It’s all great fun, despite being ridiculously implausible, but the sense of deja vu keeps it to four stars for me.


Review: Love’s Way by Joan Smith (1982)

Posted March 4, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a complete riot. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but oh boy, was it funny! The hero and heroine were at odds throughout the book, so they threw everything at each other, verbally, and it was glorious.

Here’s the premise: Chloe Barwick is struggling to manage the run-down family estate since her younger brother, Edward, who should be in charge, is obsessed with becoming a poet instead. While he is dreaming up lurid verses and hobnobbing with the Lake District’s resident poets, she’s left to cope with making the sheep raising pay, and trying to scrape together enough money to pay the mortgage every quarter. Aunt Nora, who lives with them, isn’t much help, either. The neighbours, drunken Lord Carnforth and his seemingly innocent daughter Emily are even worse off, living in absolute squalor. So when Emily starts calling on a daily basis and hanging around the interesting Edward, a marriage is out of the question. Edward must marry money to rescue the estate. Chloe herself could rescue them, of course, if only she’d marry Tom Carrick and his five thousand a year. It’s a pity she can’t stand him.

Into this stasis appears the explosive person of Jack Gamble, Lord Carnforth’s nephew, the traditional black sheep, so beloved of Regencies, who’s just returned from India with a fortune in his pocket (another very traditional trope). He immediately sets up Chloe’s back by frightening Emily into running away to Chloe and Edward’s house, from where Jack, in a towering rage, removes her, sets her up with a chaperone and sets about turning her into a pampered rich lady. She seems to enjoy the attention and he seems to be seriously wooing her, and even offers for her, before beginning to discover that behind the barbed tongue, Chloe has a lot of sterling qualities and is far more interesting than ingenue Emily.

This sets up a nice merry-go-round of romances. Will Emily accept Jack’s offer? Will Edward care if she does? Will Chloe see the good in Jack or end up with uninteresting Tom Carrick and his five thousand pounds? The book is a vintage era Regency, so the romance is desperately short on emotion (I don’t think the hero and heroine ever actually come out and say they love each other). Instead, it’s high on the froth of banter and light-heartedly swapping from one potential mate to another, almost as if it doesn’t quite matter. And when they decide that, no, they won’t marry that person after all, it’s a simple matter of saying so. This is not consistent with any Regency code of conduct that I know.

In the background is the villain of the piece, who, in a light-hearted and jovial way, is determined to turn this corner of the Lake District into a vulgar theme park, with every possible tasteless attraction. The Barwick’s house is so run-down that he thinks he’ll just buy it when they inevitably default on the mortgage, knock it down and build a road through it. This part of the story wasn’t so interesting that I wanted to read every last detail of the plans, but it was definitely more interesting than the endless descriptions of the scenery and how to run a sheep farm. All this might have been more convincing without the mention of skunks harassing the sheep and cardinals singing melodically in the beech tree. Nor was I impressed by Edward deciding to organise a fox hunt in the middle of summer (I’m sure the farmers would be thrilled to have the hunt rampaging through their fields and trampling crops and scaring the sheep – save it for the winter months, please).

But you know, none of this mattered tuppence, because the book is *funny*. It’s written in first person for Chloe (‘I went…’ instead of ‘she went…’), and that means the reader is right inside Chloe’s gloriously witty, curmudgeonly and downright cynical head. It’s wonderful stuff, and if I would have liked a little bit less of the theme park villainy and a little more emotion, I can accept that the book is very much of its era, where the characters are slightly cartoonish and not the fully rounded type we expect nowadays. Despite the skunks and cardinals, the sheer enjoyment of the banter makes this a five star read for me.


Review: Lovers’ Quarrels by Joan Smith (1975)

Posted January 21, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is one of those rollicking, lighthearted Regency romps that requires the reader to leave absolutely all rational thought in a cupboard somewhere and simply roll with it. Sometimes, if the characters are charming enough I can do that, but there was just too much unlikability here for me to manage it.

Here’s the premise: Jane Halsey and sister Belle are living in near destitution with an aunt in an obscure corner of London. The only way to rescue themselves from ever-worsening poverty is for one of them to marry a rich husband, but how can they ever meet a likely candidate, when they know no one and go nowhere? But one day, they have a stroke of luck – they attract the attention of bonkers Lord Romeo, the younger son of a duke, who’s grown up in Greece and become enamoured of all things Greek. He spies Jane and immediately recognises her as Athene, and wants to paint her, naked if possible, and then marry her.

Jane has no interest in Romeo for herself, but he’d suit Belle perfectly, so the sisters fall in with Romeo’s plans. But along with Romeo comes his big brother, the Marquis of Renfrew and heir to the dukedom, who thinks clever, managing Jane is just the wife to keep Romeo under control. He tags along to encourage Romeo’s suit, but ends up attracting the attention of Jane herself, who thinks he’s pursuing her.

Now, this is where I lost patience with our heroine. Jane’s supposed to be a smart cookie, but why on earth does she imagine for one moment that she, the daughter of a mere baronet, currently homeless and virtually dowerless, would be the object of a future duke? She casually calls him Renfrew, as if she’d known him all her life, assuming he’ll dance with her and being thoroughly presumptuous and encroaching and obnoxious. Knowing that Romeo has set his sights on her, she must surely see that his brother can hardly be courting her as well. So I disliked her pretty thoroughly at this point, and cringed every time she made another assumption.

As for Renfrew, even though he suspects that she’s forming an attachment to him, he does nothing about it, and certainly fails to convey to her that his only interest is in fostering Romeo’s suit. He convinces himself he’s mistaken, and carries on quietly falling in love with her himself. And then things get even sillier, and build to one of the most ridiculous finales I’ve ever read.

Now, this wasn’t a bad read, exactly. It’s as well written as Joan Smith’s books always are, and there are certainly moments of laugh-out-loud fun. But the oddball charm of Romeo in Babe palls in its repetition here, where his oblivious straightforwardness turns into something much more devious, the main pairing of Jane and Renfrew entirely lack charm, the humour of comedy sidekick Munch fell flat and the ending was just too unbelievable. Joan Smith is always a bit hit or miss for me, and this one was definitely a miss. Not unreadable, but only three stars. If you like the sound of Romeo, read Babe instead, a much more fun book.


Review: Babe by Joan Smith (1980)

Posted January 21, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was a lot of fun, in a riotously confrontational sort of way. The heroine is spirited in the way of children who only have to be told not to do something but they instantly start working out ways to do it anyway. So there are plenty of scrapes to be wriggled out of, and a hero who veers between being furiously angry with her and actively condoning her wilfulness.

Here’s the premise: Lady Barbara Manfred (or Babe to her close friends) has been on the town for six years, and has sailed perilously close to the wind in that time. Her reputation is tarnished, but her impeccable bloodline and fortune still make her acceptable to society, if only just. But the relation she’s been living with is too rackety by half, and is about to remarry and bolt for the continent, so it’s time for the more respectable side of the family to take her in hand and save her from ruining her reputation altogether. Lord Clivedon decides he’ll be the one to do it, with the aid of some of his starchy female relations. The first placement is with the strict and religious aunt, and it isn’t long before Babe is kicking against the traces and getting herself into hot water. But it isn’t until the arrival of the gloriously bonkers Lord Romeo that things go really off the rails…

One of the great mantras for authors is: there must be conflict. That’s true, because when there’s too little conflict, the story becomes boring. But too much conflict can be almost as bad. Both Babe and Lord Clivedon are flighty and volatile, and there’s just no knowing how they will react to any given situation. But gradually, as the story progresses, it begins to become clear that Babe wants to spark a reaction in Lord Clivedon, and he, for his part, is perfectly amenable to her high jinks, and even encourages her, when he’s involved. There’s a wonderful scene when they are stranded at a country inn after a carriage malfunction, happily drinking champagne and playing piquet and smoking cigars (yes, even Babe!), and obviously perfectly suited to each other. Naturally, there are plenty more scrapes to be sorted out before they reach their happy ever after, and most of them involve Lord Romeo.

He’s the sort of brilliantly-conceived side character that readers remember long after the main story has sunk into the darker recesses of memory. He’s a duke’s younger son who was prone to illness as a child, so was sent to Greece to live in healthy sunshine. Whilst there, he’s imbibed a lot of classical aesthetics, a taste for ouzo and a wildly self-centred and child-like view of the world that can’t be diverted. He sees in Babe a Greek goddess of old, decides to paint her, and then that he loves her and will marry her. No matter how many times she tells him this isn’t going to happen, he persists in the idea and nothing, absolutely nothing deters him. I’m not going to spoil the surprise by saying any more about that. Suffice to say, there are some wonderfully funny moments in the latter part of the book. I particularly liked Lord Clivedon’s dealings with his long-suffering secretary.

There are a few anachronisms in the book – words like girlfriend, for instance, and week-end, which are very not-Regency. There’s also the issue of guardianship for Babe. Given that she’s twenty-three and therefore of age, she doesn’t even need a guardian, only trustees to manage her fortune until she’s allowed to have control of it (twenty-five, in this case). Even if she had still needed a guardian, only a father can specify one in his will, and the role can’t be transferred or inherited or changed in any way. If the appointed guardian dies or walks away, someone else could apply to the Court of Chancery to be appointed, but in this case, none of that was necessary. However, the whole premise of the book is that Lord Clivedon becomes Babe’s guardian and takes charge of her life, so there’s not much point in quibbling.

Otherwise, the writing is as competent as usual with Joan Smith. This is a light, fairly frivolous story which I enjoyed very much. Only the guardianship issue keeps it to four stars.


Review: Dame Durden’s Daughter by Joan Smith (1978)

Posted January 12, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

I’ve had this sitting on my Kindle for a while, but I was reluctant to start it, for some reason. My experiences with Joan Smith have been variable, to put it mildly, ranging from five stars to bailing out after a couple of chapters. This one seemed like it might fall into the oddball category, and so it does, but it’s also wildly funny, with some glorious exchanges between the two principals.

Here’s the premise: Edith Durden has been raised by a mother who lives largely in the past, feeling that their Saxon roots are far superior to the upstart ducal family living nearby. Dame Durden is convinced that a local clergyman, Dr Thorne, whose blood is as pure as her own, is the only proper husband for Edith. Meanwhile, the old duke has died, and the new duke, his rakehell only son, Helver, returns from a long sojourn abroad to take up the reins of his estate. He’s at first disgruntled to find that he must actually apply himself to the work, and then surprised to find that he enjoys it. The other surprise is that his childhood playmate, Eddie Durden, is now a rather attractive young woman, but it isn’t until she becomes engaged to Dr Thorne that Helver begins to take her seriously.

So here we have the classic betrothed-to-the-wrong-man scenario, the heroine knowing perfectly well that she loves Helver, but since he only seems to see her as a friend, and she has to marry someone, she settles for the rather dreary clergyman, convincing herself that at least she will be part of the village, instead of sequestered away with her mother, and therefore she’ll be able to do some good for the parishioners.

I liked Edith very much, and unlike in many such tales, she isn’t forced to marry by the machinations of her evil mother. Her mother, in fact, while being wildly eccentric and having one foot very firmly planted in the Tudor era, is nevertheless a perfectly kind and loving mother, who wants the best for her daughter. Given the lack of likely marriage prospects, she weighs up the two possibilities and discounts Helver at once because despite the good looks and charm, he’s far too wild to be marriage material. Besides, he shows not the slightest romantic interest in Edith. So Dame Durden pushes her daughter very gently towards the terribly respectable and upright Dr Thorne. It’s only after the betrothal, when she’s thrown into his company a lot more, that she realises what a dreadful loveless marriage it would be.

Helver is a fascinating character. Being the only child of his elderly parents, and discovering that every minor infraction convinces them that he’s akin to the devil himself, he not unnaturally decided he might as well not bother even trying to be good. It soon becomes clear that although he has been pretty wild, much of his reputation has been exaggerated and his devilry consists mainly of wandering around Europe wherever the whim takes him, and bedding willing women. All of which he cheerfully describes to Edith, regarding her as an honorary bloke, perhaps. But despite a certain selfish streak born of idleness, when he’s forced to accept his ducal responsibilities, he proves to have a good heart, more willing to see to the modest needs of his tenants than his own family.

There are no surprises in the way the story ends, but the question of how that point will be reached is very much up in the air. Helver is late to the realisation that he loves Edith, but since he is sure she also loves him, he’s determined to see off the obnoxious Dr Thorne and win his bride. But the wild streak in him means that the reader can’t be quite sure just how he’ll do it. It’s mentioned more than once that he’s capable of kidnapping her and whisking her away to Gretna, and so a thread of uncertainty runs through the final chapters. Will he just get impatient, or has he finally grown up enough to tackle the problem with intelligence? I won’t spoil the surprise by answering the question, but I highly recommend reading the book to find out, and, perhaps an even bigger inducement, to enjoy the wonderful banter between the two principals. Brilliantly written, refreshingly different and only a very small scattering of Americanisms to jolt the unwary reader back to the 21st century. Five stars.


Review: An Infamous Proposal by Joan Smith (1996) [Trad]

Posted September 26, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was an absolute riot. Not a perfect read, on account of a bunch of wildly anachronistic word choices, but the characters were hugely entertaining, the plot was delightfully wacky and the slow adjustment of ideas by the protagonists was well done.

Here’s the premise: Emma is just twenty-two, but having married at seventeen and being now widowed and emerging from mourning, she feels she’s not really of an age to be thoroughly independent. Her papa thinks so too, and is threatening to impose dragonish Aunt Hildegarde on her as a much stricter chaperon than laid-back, novel-reading Miss Foxworth. This is an emergency – what she needs, and at once, is another husband, or at least a quick betrothal to a compliant man, to deter the dreaded aunt. And who could be more perfect than her husband’s old friend and neighbour, Nick, Lord Hansard, who has always flirted with her and has been so attentive while she was in mourning? He’s perfectly biddable, so he can be brought up to scratch, can’t he? But when he doesn’t take the hint and propose, Emma rushes into a proposal herself, only to be shocked and mortified when he refuses her.

Nick is a kindly soul, however, and although he rather disapproves of Emma, thinking she’s far too flighty, he does agree with her that she needs a husband. Therefore he decides to help her on her way to a second marriage by introducing her to suitable gentlemen. Just how suitable (or otherwise!) they turn out to be forms the bulk of the plot, and all the while, Nick is gradually realising that Emma is not as air-headed as she appears, and Emma is realising that Nick is even more perfect for her than she’d thought.

This is one of those books where the romance builds gradually. There’s no great revelation, just two people growing increasingly convinced that the possible suitors aren’t suitable at all, when compared with the more obvious match right under their noses. Since we get the point of view of both Nick and Emma, we see in fascinating details how they each begin with a rather disparaging opinion of the other, and slowly come to appreciate each other. And all the while, the suitors are providing the comedy. Cousin James, in particular, is a hoot, swearing that he’ll be a reliable and faithful husband… but not quite yet, please.

The whole book is a delight, beautifully written and neither too implausible nor too silly (although it wouldn’t be so funny if it wasn’t a little bit silly). I loved every minute of it (yes, even the outrageously anachronistic words – sicced, anyone? In a Regency?). Five stars.