Tag: smith

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.


Review: Aunt Sophie’s Diamonds by Joan Smith (1979) [Trad]

Posted June 30, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

Well, this is a complete riot. It’s old-school, more of a Regency romp than a romance, although the romance side isn’t as neglected as it often is in books of this era (Georgette Heyer has a lot to answer for). This is light-hearted fun with a hero who’s sensible and only a teeny bit arrogant, and a heroine who seems demure and spiritless but absolutely isn’t, together with an array of charmingly wacky side characters.

Here’s the premise: Sophie Tewksbury is finally about to turn up her toes, and her relations gather at her deathbed to speculate about who will get the famous Beresford Diamonds and the rest of her fortune. But the will contains a surprise – the diamonds are to be buried with her, some lesser pieces are to be distributed, and the family are to gather again in a year’s time to hear the rest of her dispositions, which depend on what has happened in the interim. No one knows what that means, but in the meantime, the diamonds are buried in the graveyard, awaiting anyone brave enough to turn up with a spade and tools to break into the steel lining of the coffin.

Our heroine, Claudia, is a bit part player in this drama, for although she’s a niece of Sophie’s, she’s never met her and has no expectations. She’s surprised to inherit an emerald ring. Her cousin Luane, however, is miffed that she wasn’t given the diamond necklace, as she was promised, and determines to dig it up. She enlists Claudia to help her, and also a cousin, Gabriel, whom Luane hopes to marry one day. Another cousin, Jonathon, has inherited the ramshackle house but no money, so he’s also keen to find the diamonds. Claudia’s mother, Marcia, summons her beau, a former ironmonger, who she thinks will have the knowledge to break open the coffin. Ranged against these schemes is a more distant cousin, Sir Hillary Thoreau, a wealthy neighbour and nonesuch (a male incomparable), who watches over them all with amused detachment.

And so the stage is set for a great many graveside encounters at midnight, as one party or another tries to retrieve the diamonds, not to mention a certain amount of courting from the ever-optimistic Jonathon of either Luane or Claudia, as circumstances change. One or other of the cousins, he’s sure, will inherit the rest of the fortune, and he wants to be married to whoever it is, so he can afford to restore the house to its former glory. But it isn’t until the ironmonger beau turns up and looks set to marry Claudia’s mother that he settles on one of them. The ironmonger, now a moneylender, is fabulously rich and he’s bound to leave all that wealth to Claudia, isn’t he? There follows possibly the funniest proposal scene I’ve ever read. The book is worth the read for that alone.

Meanwhile, the urbane and unflappable Sir Hillary is also paying court to Claudia, and thank goodness for a hero who makes his intentions clear from the start, and doesn’t make an out-of-the-blue declaration in the final chapter. Claudia, of course, is oblivious to it all, and even when she does begin to have an inkling, she daren’t allow herself to believe it. She’s lived her whole life in the sort of dull situation where nothing really good ever happens to her, and here’s this dashing, rich, charming and worldly man with his wonderful houses and luxurious life – he can’t really want her, can he? And so there are some minor misunderstandings, but not such as to cause any real difficulties, and the romance ends in fine style.

There are some historical wobbles – my eyebrows rose at the mention of a welding torch (an expression not used before about 1900), but the book dates from the pre-internet era when research involved a trudge to the library, so it’s forgivable. The author seems to be entertainingly unfamiliar with chess. No, each player does not have some white pieces and some black, and I was entirely unconvinced that Claudia would be able to play such an intellectual game without paying much attention to it. You might play backgammon that way, perhaps, but chess involves a lot of deep thought from both players. On the other hand, hurrah for unmarried characters who find themselves potentially having to overnight at an inn, who sensibly ask at the parsonage for beds for the night (I wish more stranded Regency characters would do that instead of being caught out and having to marry in haste). My grumbles are very minor issues, and overall this is a fine read, well-written and with characters who are both charmingly eccentric and perfectly believable. I enjoyed every minute of it. Five stars.


Review: Aurora by Joan Smith (1980) [Trad]

Posted June 12, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a whole heap of fun, with a mystery that kept me engrossed. It’s an old-fashioned Regency, which means the romance is rather perfunctory with the mystery taking centre stage, but it works pretty well. It helps that the hero is an absolute charmer.

Here’s the premise: the baron, Lord Raiker, has died, leaving his eldest son to inherit. Now he too has died without an heir, leaving two brothers to inherit. But Kenelm, the elder, vanished years ago, and the old baron’s young second wife sets about having her son Charles declared the new baron. But then a man appears claiming to be Kenelm. The race is on to prove or disprove his claim. Aurora, the unmarried sister of the widow of the eldest son, would very much like him to be Kenelm, because if he is an imposter, he might very well be a murderer, too. And it would never do to fall in love with such a man. But he is so very charming…

Now, it has to be said that the answer to the is-he-or-isn’t-he question is obvious almost from the start, but the twists and turns of the plot are very twisty and turny indeed, so there is constantly doubt being thrown up, not to mention a body exhumed and all sorts of plausible obstacles arising. Even though I was almost certain how it would go, there was always a little niggle of doubt in there. Meanwhile, the man claiming to be Kenelm appears to be enjoying himself hugely, as he gradually draws strait-laced Aurora into his schemes. And did I mention how charming he is? When he persuades her to creep around the manor house attics in the middle of the night, it’s not at all clear whether he really cares about finding whatever piece of evidence is the excuse, or whether he just wants the fun of it. It’s no wonder she falls hard for him.

What did puzzle me somewhat is what he saw in her. He makes his interest obvious almost from the start, but he is also flirting with pretty much anything in a skirt, so she’s not at all sure whether he really likes her, or is just reflexively flirting with her, or whether he’s just using her to help him gain the barony. Aurora never really shows much personality, so what was the great attraction? That was more of a mystery to me than whether the hero was really Lord Raiker or not.

Nevertheless, this is a light-hearted read, very entertaining if you’re not looking for a passionate romance. The flamboyant and rakish hero (did I mention how charming he is? I may have mentioned it once or twice) and his swashbuckling style more than compensate for the rather colourless heroine. Four stars.


Review: Friends and Lovers by Joan Smith (1978) [Trad]

Posted April 25, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This book infuriated me. I think it was meant to be whimsical and amusing, but I just found it weird. I slogged through the first half purely to see how on earth the author was going to bring about a romantic ending for two characters who rarely met and seemed to hate each other with a passion. Somewhere around the midpoint it livened up a bit and became genuinely funny, only to fall flat again at the end. It managed three stars only because I laughed so much at the roof incident. There were few other redeeming features.

Here’s the premise: Wendy Harris… no, let’s pause there, because I hate this name so much. I suppose the author gets away with it since it’s short for Gwendolyn, but the name Wendy was officially invented in 1904 for Peter Pan. Ugh. Anyway, Wendy Harris lives in genteel poverty with her widowed mother in a grace and favour cottage owned by Wendy’s brother-in-law, Lord Menrod (another horrible name; I actually wondered whether the author had originally given him a sensible name, then found out at the last minute there was a real lord by that name and had to change it. But I digress). His lordship insists on them keeping everything in their cottage exactly as it is, with no changes, no matter how inconvenient, since it’s historical. They are all awaiting the arrival from India of Wendy’s orphaned niece and nephew, whom she hopes to raise herself, but Lord Menrod decides he’s going to raise them. Wendy thinks he’s unfit, on account of the string of mistresses, the constant travelling around and the fact that he’s arrogant and tyrannical. Lord Menrod gets interim custody, so Wendy engages an attorney to fight the case.

Now, written out like this, you’d imagine that Wendy… no, I can’t keep writing that. Let’s call her Miss Harris. Anyway, you’d imagine that Miss Harris would be a sympathetic character, a put-upon spinster only wanting the best for her nephew and niece. But no, she’s a pretty horrible person, actually, who’s determined not to give Lord Menrod any credit for proper feeling, or admit that actually the children will be better off with him, on account of the whole rich lord thing. She’s also incredibly rude about Mr Everett, a rich lumber merchant with a vast mansion stuffed with expensive but tasteless Stuff, who is simply an easy-going guy who wants to marry her.

Lord Menrod is also a pretty unpleasant character in the early part of the book, being just as tyrannical as described. It’s only when the children arrive and he is forced to spend more time at the Harris’s cottage that he begins to mellow a bit. In fact, he becomes the most sensible character in the book, still determined to have the children, but prepared to adjust his lifestyle accordingly. And he never tries to cut the Harris ladies out of their lives. In fact, he is all sweet reason, if a little grumpy when Miss Harris continues to be obnoxious.

He also discovers for himself all the deficiencies of the Cottage That Must Not Be Changed, with unusable fire irons, a dangerously dark stair, a smoking chimney and a decaying thatch roof. By the time he’s burned himself, been smoked out of the house and fallen through the roof (a glorious scene!), he’s become rather a fun character, especially when he lounges around the cottage all day to avoid a persistent lady admirer.

The ending is sadly typical of this era, that is, there are one or two oblique hints of a change of heart on his part, a reference to hate and love being two sides to the same coin, after which he sweeps her into his manly arms and kisses her, whereupon she says: oh, all right then. The end. Very, very annoying. I confess, though, that the biggest problem I had throughout the book (apart from obnoxious Miss Harris, who never does redeem herself – run away, Lord M!) is that I never worked out Lord M’s age. He’s described in such terms early on that I imagined he must be an elderly man, or at least middle aged, but it only gradually dawned on me that he’s possibly only meant to be thirty-something. It’s quite an adjustment to make.

So this really didn’t work at all for me. Nevertheless, if you don’t mind the old-fashioned and rather dry approach to romance that was standard at the time, and are brighter than I was in working out Lord M’s age, it’s a well-written tale with some fun characters (I particularly liked Mr Everett and the mother, and the children were amusing too; oh, and Lady Whotsit who was pursuing Lord M; and the attorney was funny; in fact, in retrospect it seems far more fun than it was when I was reading it). But for me it’s only three stars.


Review: A Country Wooing by Joan Smith (1987) [Trad]

Posted February 25, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was lovely. Having just struggled, with steam coming out of my ears, through a more difficult book, this one slipped down as easily as ice cream. Strawberry, maybe… or salted caramel… Sorry, got distracted there for a moment. There’s not a lot of drama here, so anyone looking for adventure or angst or passion might find it a tad tame, but for me it was a simple story, well-told, and just what I needed.

Here’s the premise: Alex, the Earl of Penholme, returns from the Peninsular war to take up his inheritance after his older brother Charles fell off his horse and broke his neck. Interestedly awaiting him is neighbour and friend Anne Wickfield, living in reduced circumstances with her widowed mother. She has no very fond memories of Alex, the least friendly of the family, and a poor contrast with dashing, handsome, charming Charles, who had long since won Anne’s heart. She’s surprised, therefore, when Alex is unusually attentive to his old friends, and to Anne in particular.

The hero and heroine here are my favourite kinds – not melodramatic, not high-flown society types, not over the top, just nice, normal people, the sort you might meet every day. They’re both just practical, get-on-with-it types. At first, Anne can’t make Alex out at all – why is he paying her so much attention? What does it mean that he’s brought a ring back from Spain for her? She decides it’s arrogance. Now that he’s come into a fine inheritance and is something of a catch, he’s showing off a bit. It takes her a while to come round to the idea that, actually, he wants to marry her.

And this makes Alex one of the best types of hero – the one who fell in love with the heroine years ago, remained agonised but silent watching her fall in love with his older brother, dreamt of her during his soldiering and when his brother died, came home with a glad heart to finally claim his bride. I love me a faithful man, who stays true to his lady through thick and thin. But his faithfulness is put to the test when he discovers, piece by horrifying piece, the true extent of the debts his brother has left him, and realises that he can’t possibly dig himself out of the hole. Or marry impoverished Anne, either. But there is a possibility of salvation if he marries one of the neighbouring daughters of a cit worth a million pounds. Fortunately, this is no Civil Contract, Heyer’s wonderful marriage of convenience tale, but the way the conundrum is resolved forms the latter part of the book, and very satisfying and logical it is too.

A couple of quibbles. One is a title error – the younger sons of an earl are not Lord anything, they’re Honourables. The heir has a courtesy title, but nothing for the other sons. The other is the names of the younger Penholme children. The eldest four are Charles, Alex, Rosalie and Robin – perfectly unexceptionable. The younger four are Willie, Bung, Loo and Babe. Whatever was the author thinking? I suppose it may be intended to show the closeness of the family by giving them pet names, but it just made me shudder.

But otherwise, the story is near perfect. The development of the romance and in particular Anne’s slowly growing realisation that she fell in love with a spectacularly selfish man, and his brother is worth ten of him, is lovely. The side characters are delightful, too, with a special mention for Mr Anglin, the cit, who has echoes of Jonathan Chawley from Heyer’s Civil Contract, but is also unequivocally himself. I also liked the very tiny vignette of his wife at the end, where we see the terror of a middle-class woman being pushed, against her will, into a much higher level of society. She has neither the self-confidence of her husband nor the education of her daughters, and hates it all, but of course is powerless to do anything about it. I’d like to have seen more of her.
A wonderful story, beautifully written. Highly recommended. Five stars.


Review: Imprudent Lady by Joan Smith (1978) [Trad]

Posted January 5, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A curious one. On the one hand, this has the liveliest banter between hero and heroine I’ve ever come across – they really are a good match for each other! On the other hand, our hero and heroine are both complete idiots in some ways, he because he fails to recognise that he’s falling in love, and she because she’s constantly overstepping the bounds of propriety, even when she should know better.

Here’s the premise: Prudence Mallow is the impoverished daughter of a deceased clergyman, living a quiet life in London with her widowed mother and her eccentric Uncle Clarence. A chance opportunity to earn a little money copying the work of authors gives her the idea of writing her own novels, which slowly begin to find success and she starts to mingle with other writers. One of them is the handsome rake, Lord Dammler, whose improbably adventurous poems of his world travels have made him the toast of London.

Having a common publisher, naturally the two are thrown together and… well, that’s it, really. Lord Dammler decides he likes Prudence’s books and the lady herself, and starts squiring her about town in his carriage and taking her to balls and the like. And this is where I take issue with both of them, because this is highly improper behaviour. She has a mother who should be chaperoning her at all times, unless she’s in an open carriage, and she absolutely shouldn’t ever be attending a ball with only an unrelated male as her escort. No way. Not even as a twenty-four year old spinster who wears a cap.

Now, to some extent this is all part of the plot. Dammler thinks she’s older and more worldly-wise than she is, and Prue’s throwaway lines, entirely in innocence, are misinterpreted as either great wit or double entendres or both, so she gets something of a reputation as a bit of an original. However, Dammler is better versed in the beau monde than she is, and should be protecting her from these traps. Instead, he treats her very much as he would a male friend, talking about subjects that no single lady should ever be exposed to, and although he sometimes recognises this, it never stops him. And Prue’s mother and uncle seem to unwittingly conspire to push her out into this racy literary and social whirl.

I’m going to be honest, I never really liked Dammler very much. I have no idea how old he’s supposed to be, although I got the impression that he’s still quite young, not far off Prue’s age, but he seems very immature for a man who’s been right round the world, and is a marquis, to boot. He seems to think it’s fine to drive around with Prue during the day, and then spend the evening with his multitude of paramours. Not only is he unbothered by Prue seeing him with his lightskirts, he even tells her about them. Not really hero behaviour. There’s a very silly (and predictable) incident at an inn, where he behaves badly and storms off in a huff like a rebellious teenager. And then at the end, when he’s finally seen the light, having told all and sundry that he’s going to marry Prue, the one person he neglects to tell is Prue herself. So there are several perfectly stupid chapters when he’s swanning around Bath trying to demonstrate that he’s a reformed character while she’s mystified as to why he’s behaving quite out of character.

I think this is meant to be a kind of Georgette Heyer-lite, but it never quite worked that way for me, despite the sly little references (restorative pork jelly, anyone?). Given that Prue is clearly based on Jane Austen and Dammler is a sort of Byron-alike, there are references a-plenty for aficianados, but combined with the references to Almack’s and the various patronesses, a bit-part for the Duke of Clarence, drives in the park and so on, it all felt a bit tired and old-fashioned.

What saves it is two things. Firstly, the banter is superb, both very clever and genuinely funny. And secondly, there’s good old Uncle Clarence. For a side character, he has the sort of towering comic role played by Jonathan Chawleigh in A Civil Contract, in other words, a character who dominates every scene he’s in. And of course this is Joan Smith, so it’s all beautifully written and creates a very believable Regency setting. Since, despite all my grumbles, I read it avidly, I’m going to be generous and round up to four stars.

I have to say though that books of this age (it’s more than forty years old) are a bit of a gamble, and this is not just Joan Smith, it’s true of the entire genre in that era. Sometimes, even when they’re stars of their time, they feel slightly out of kilter to my modern ears. But interesting reads, nonetheless.


Review: Escapade by Joan Smith (1977) [Trad]

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

After a couple of reads that just didn’t do it for me, I was relieved to come back to Joan Smith for this delightfully frothy traditional Regency. It’s very old school, of course, being over 40 years old now, but that just emphasises how far tastes have shifted. There’s no existential angst or any of those new-fangled feminist opinions that modern heroines are so fond of. No, this is all about the season and Almack’s and the proper pursuit of every respectable young lady, which is Finding Oneself A Suitable Husband.
Here’s the premise: Ella Fairmont is no longer a debutante, but her aunt hasn’t given up hope, so here she is indulging in another round of London’s Marriage Mart. To make the exercise more palatable, Ella amuses herself by retailing all the society gossip in a snippy little newspaper column, where she poses as ‘Miss Prattle’. The principal object of her vitriolic pen is Patrick, Duke of Clare (although we’re never given a reason why she dislikes him so much). But then the Duke invites Ella and her Aunt Sara to a house party at his country residence in Dorset…

I’ve read a similar tale more than once before, but even if I hadn’t, it would be easy enough to see how things are going to go, and it’s true that there are few surprises. But that’s not what a book like this is all about. If you want shocking twists, go and read a thriller. With a Regency, it’s all about the journey, not the destination, and the journey here is delightful.

First of all, there are a whole array of very silly side characters. The Duke, foolish man, has invited along three of the leading contenders for his hand, for he happens to be one of the most eligible bachelors in the kingdom. Lady Honor is the high-ranking one, without a word to say for herself, utterly confident that the duke is hers by right. Miss Sheridan is the beautiful one, who can think of nothing but her appearance. And Miss Prentiss is the one with a multitude of accomplishments, none of which she has much aptitude for. There are three male friends, too, to make up the numbers and squabble gently over the ladies’ hands, but they blurred together in my mind and I can’t even remember their names.

An honourable mention must go to the duke’s mother, a lovely, sensible lady who’s entirely supportive of her son, and completely different from the usual trope of the harridan dowager duchess. Then there’s Aunt Sara, who’s a bit of a live wire and has some of the best lines in the book.

But the starring roles go to Ella and Patrick, who start off deep in indifference, start to discover that the other is actually more interesting that they’d suspected and needless to say, end up very much in love. Given the date of the book, this is a fairly restrained affair, devoid of real passion, and mostly their growing interest manifests itself in the rising level of banter between them. They are soon on first-name terms, and arousing a certain amount of jealousy in the others.

The duke’s journey to love is steady and rather touching. Once his interest is piqued, he turns his attention on Ella and singles her out very conspicuously. For some reason, never properly explained, everyone assumes he’s just stringing her along, or flirting, or otherwise just amusing himself, but since he doesn’t have a reputation as a rake, it’s hard to see why they would think that. And towards the end, when she seems to blow hot and cold, he pursues her quite determinedly and charmingly.

Ella, however, is harder to fathom. Why did she dislike him so determinedly at first, enough to make him the principal recipient of all her most acid comments in the gossip column? Why, when she starts to realise that he’s actually not as bad as she’d thought, does she not ease off a bit? And why, why why, when she’s written something completely wrong and malicious about him, doesn’t she do the sensible thing and confess? I do get a bit cross with heroines (and heroes) who just refuse to talk things through. And another why – why, for the love of mike, when he proposes to her, albeit in a completely wacky way, doesn’t she at least wonder if he might be serious? And again, talk to the poor man. Give him a chance to explain himself. But I suppose if all heroes and heroines were sensible, rational beings, their stories would be about 20 pages long.

Now if this was all, this would be just another light-hearted Regency romance, nothing special. Fortunately, after a slightly sluggish start, it kicks into a glorious high gear of comedy. The banter between Patrick and Ella is sparkling, with just an edge of hostility, but there’s also a lot of fun in the house party itself, when Ella comes up with some outrageous schemes for the guests to entertain themselves, although I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what they are.

Needless to say, there are some hiccups on the road to true love, resolved in the last few pages by the hero sweeping the heroine into his manly arms for a thorough kissing. I strongly disapproved of his arrogance (he never for one moment doubts that she’ll marry him) and I wanted him to grovel just a little bit to win her over, but that was very much the norm for that era.

A beautifully written book, with a few very minor historical errors that only extreme pedants like me would even notice, with a charming hero, a spirited and intelligent heroine and a shed-load of laugh-out-loud humour. I loved it. Five stars.


Review: ‘Cousin Cecilia’ by Joan Smith [Trad]

Posted March 15, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a lovely traditional Regency, focused on social niceties and marriage prospects and not much else. Anyone looking for high action or sex scenes or intrigue should look elsewhere. But for anyone who’s a fan of Georgette Heyer, this is a good substitute.

The premise is that the heroine, the eponymous Cecilia, is unmarried herself but an expert matchmaker, brought in to ensure that her cousins’ suitors get to the point of a declaration. She finds they’ve been led astray by recently returned widower Lord Wickham, so she sets out to charm him in order to arrange matters to her satisfaction. So far so good, and of course it’s no surprise that the initial flirtation between the two turns to something else.

With all Regencies of this type, there are two aspects that both have to work well for the book to be an overall success. One is the romp element, the side plots and minor characters and mishaps that drive the story forward, provide the amusement and throw the main characters into increasingly difficult encounters. This side of the story is fairly lightweight, but the characters are well-sketched and the mishaps are suitably entertaining. Cecilia’s efforts to bring her three provincial charges to a proper degree of self-esteem are nicely done, and I liked that the girls tended to lapse as soon as her back was turned. I liked, too, the very confined setting. Although the book ends up in London at the height of the season, most of it is set in one small town, and this aspect reminded me of Pride and Prejudice.

The romance is quite nicely developed, a slow-burn rather than insta-love or (worse) nothing at all until the last chapter. But here we see how a society flirtation gradually deepens and turns to serious love. However, I had a real problem with the character of Lord Wickham. He’s framed at the start as the villain of the piece, a worldly and dissolute man who leads the young suitors of the cousins by taking them to gambling dens and entertaining them to drunken parties at his home. He’s a very aloof, unfriendly man, we’re told, who never socialises and is rarely seen.

And naturally, the first time our heroine ventures out of the house, who should she bump into but this reclusive man, walking about town like anyone else, and perfectly willing to be sociable and charming, and even requesting permission to call upon her the next day. Just like any regular fellow. This pattern is repeated endlessly. Far from being a dissolute man leading the youngsters astray, he turns out to be a quiet and well educated, not to say learned, man, and it’s not really clear to me why he ever had a bad reputation. This is a theme of quite a few Regencies, in fact, that the supposed rake or black sheep turns out to be perfectly respectable after all.

And so the romance gets under way, and, given that both parties are intelligent, articulate people of independent means and both free to marry, it becomes increasingly difficult to contrive reasons why they shouldn’t progress smoothly to the altar. So the author falls back on the time-honoured strategy – the misunderstanding. He thinks she’s looking only for a practical marriage of convenience. She’s insulted by his unromantic proposal. And then they go to London and things get very silly indeed. I know Regencies are required to have a degree of silliness, with the two lovers at cross-purposes, but this was far too long-drawn-out for my taste.

However, overall the story was an enjoyable traditional Regency, historically sound and with characters who were believably of the era. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and only the above-mentioned flakiness in the plot keeps it to fours stars.