#100: Love And Lady Lovelace
by Marion Chesney
Published 1982 by Fawcett Coventry
Amaryllis, Lady Lovelace had been wed and widowed twice by the age of 27. The first marriage, right after her father's death, was to provide for her destitute family. The second was for funds to provide her two sisters with a Season so they could marry well (which they did). Both marriages were to quite old men, and though they were real marriages, Amaryllis learned nothing about the joys of lovemaking from either husband, nor did she conceive. Amaryllis's great weak point is that she loves her family; she is blind to their selfishness, and they use her.
After her second husband's death, Amaryllis and her cousin/companion Miss Tabitha Wilkins (Tabby) traveled to Italy, living comfortably and spending freely, as she had the revenues from her second husband's estate, Beaton Malden, which she had left in the hands of her cousin Bertram Warrell. Amaryllis did not know that Bertram's first move was to fire her capable manager, Mr. Worthy, after which he drained the estate of as much money as he could, before getting himself shot to death in a duel brought on by his cheating at cards. Amaryllis arrives home to find things a mess with the servants unpaid, and so many debts that Beaton Malden (which she loves) will have to be sold -- unless she can marry for money again.
Lord Philip Osborne, the younger son of the Duke of Dunster, is one of the few regency heroes not to have become a nabob in India; he has his army pension and a little prize money, and that's all. He has returned to England with his friend Mr. Harry Bagshot, who does have money. Philip decides to wed a wealthy woman; he won't take money from Harry, so marrying well seems the only way.
Philip and Amaryllis meet in London during the Season. Each believes the other to be wealthy and so they marry. After a passionate wedding night, they discover the deception. However, since the wedding was private and the vicar fell over drunk afterwards, Philip says that no one who knows about it will tell, so they should pretend it never happened and go back to their fortune-hunting. What neither realizes is that somewhere along the way, they've fallen in love with each other.
Marion Chesney is one of the two writers who can make me laugh out loud (the other is Janet Evanovich), and she was on form with this one. This book has a rabbit-out-of-the-hat ending, but the hunt balls, spiteful rivals, faux ghosts and endless wine taking are so funny to me that I don't mind at all. (Posted by Janice 2/24/09)
by Mary Kingsley (aka Mary Kruger)
Published 1989 by Zebra
Miss Sabrina Carrick has travelled to England from America, hoping to contact her father's family and find a home with them, but she has a secret -- she is not really Miss Carrick, she is Miss Van Schuyler, as her father did not marry her mother. She had lived with her mother's family until her mother died, at which time they sent her to her father Gerald, an English emigrant turned shopkeeper, and she lived with him until his passing.
She meets her grandmother, Lady Gwendolyn, the Dowager Duchess of Carrick, and the old lady accepts her, grows to love her and gains a new interest in life. Sabrina loves her grandmother back; she has given her a family to belong to. Lady Gwendolyn's grandson Oliver Carrick, the Duke of Bainbridge, however, is no fan of Sabrina; he suspects her of being an adventuress out to cadge money out of his grandmother, and since Sabrina is his ward, he has authority over her. Nevertheless, to ease Sabrina's acceptance, Oliver has agreed with Lady Gwendolyn to give out that he and Sabrina are betrothed.
Under Lady Gwendolyn's aegis, Sabrina makes her come-out in London, and becomes very popular. Also staying with the Carricks are Lady Gwendolyn's niece, Lady Fanny Hailey and her daughter Melanie. Lady Fanny's son Reginald, who has been living on his expectations of inheriting from his grandmother, sees Sabrina as a threat to his plans. Between Oliver's scorn, Reginald's plotting, and competition from a sexy widow, she must tread carefully. Sabrina has fallen in love with Oliver, but she knows a duke would never marry a bastard, and Pieter Tenbroeck, an American agent, threatens to reveal her secret unless she does exactly as he demands -- spy for the American side in the coming war.
This is a longer form Zebra regency from the foil stamped cover days. I thought it an entertaining read, though it could have done with a bit of shortening. Since I agree with Sabrina that an English duke of that era would never marry a bastard (unless she was royal or something), I finished it mostly to see how the author would work this out. I can't agree that the outcome was likely, but at least the author didn't give it a deus ex machina ending. I also noted some probable errors which a knowledgeable editor or regency reader might wonder at. However, I found this author's writing style very pleasant, and it wasn't a book I struggled to finish. I can't really recommend it, but it wasn't a waste of time either. (Posted by Janice 2/21/09)
by Barbara Hazard
Published 1980 by Fawcett
Lady Kathleen Mary Malloy is the only daughter of a widowed Irish earl. She and her five brothers live at Evedon Farm raising fine horses; her own particular pride is a black stallion called Diablo. Lord Robert Marlow and his cousin Giles Brentwood, Duke of Havenhall, have heard of the Evedon horses and have travelled to Ireland to look them over. While at Evedon Farm, they also look over Kathleen.
Robert tells Giles what a stunner Kathleen is, but Giles replies that she doesn't have a lady's accomplishments and ought to marry some sturdy farmer. Kathleen, on the other side of the stable wall, hears Giles's scorn. At first she is furious, but after a while she forms a plan for revenge -- she will go to her grandmother in London, learn the graces of a lady, and show Giles that she is not to be disparaged.
Kathleen talks her father into letting her go, and then talks her grandmother Lady Montgomery into letting her stay. At first Lady Montgomery thinks this strapping amazon can never be brought into fashion, but Kathleen is the image of her daughter, and she is won over. Kathleen does indeed take London society by storm, but Giles (who didn't recognize this transformed beauty at first) is a tougher nut to crack, and his old enemy Lord Ramsdale also has Kathleen in his sights.
Barbara Hazard used to be one of my favorite writers, and I'm sorry she's given up writing; she was always good for an intelligently written read. However this particular book has too many elements that are now too well worn to be really engrossing. It's a pleasant short read but we've been there before. (Posted by Janice 2/18/09)
#97: The Dashing Guardian
by Lucia Curzon (aka Ellen Fitzgerald)
Published 1983 by Berkley/Jove
After Damaris Vardon's parents died when she was a child, she came to live with the family of Lord Harwine as his ward. The three Harwine children (Giles, the eldest, Robbie and Mary) grew up together. Mary married young; Robert joined the army; and Giles stayed with his parents to learn the duties he would one day inherit.
Robbie, home on leave before being posted to Canada, suddenly notices that Damaris has grown up and asks her to marry him. Damaris has always been attracted to him. However Lord Harwine forbids the match on the grounds of immaturity. Robert tells Damaris they will be married somehow before he leaves and asks if he can come to her the night before he leaves. Damaris says yes, not really understanding what's going to happen, and she finds his lovemaking (as far as he gets) rough and rather painful. At that moment Giles bursts in and drags Robert off her and they fight; Robert, in a murderous rage, picks up the fireplace poker to brain Giles, but Damaris (totally naked at this point) throws herself between them and the fight breaks up.
Two years later Giles (who is now Lord Harwine, both parents having died in the interim), willful Mary and Damaris are living together in one unhappy household. Robert went to Canada with his regiment and has been reported missing. Mary's husband also died a few months ago and she is itching to get out there again. Damaris is still wearing mourning for her lost love. Giles is her guardian until she is 25 and doesn't like Mary's plan of setting up house with Damaris somewhere else in London. Damaris is just beginning to learn to like Giles, when Robert returns, scarred but otherwise more than ready to get up to his old tricks.
This is one of the few times I can agree with those readers who hate books with heroines who are too stupid to breathe. I found myself quite impatient with Damaris; not only does she fall for the old "prove your love" routine, it takes her a very long time to realize that not only have her feelings for Giles and Robert changed, but she ought to Do Something -- instead when Robert returns she agrees again to elope with him. Damaris doesn't seem to have many qualities, other than great looks, that would cause a nice guy like Giles to love her. She allows herself to be manipulated by Robert and Mary out of her feeling for them as childhood friends, and she's only very dimly aware of how self-centered each of them is, even after she's given several cogent examples. It's not that this book is badly written; it isn't -- but it's got a heroine I find difficult to relate to, and so I found it rather tedious.
There's also one oddity I noticed -- this book also has an early scene in which Giles sees Damaris totally naked, and it's seldom, or never, referred to again. I would have thought it would have made more of an impression than that. (Posted by Janice 2/15/09)
by Norma Lee Clark
Published 1978 by Fawcett
Miss Hester Wyckham is the youngest of two sisters. Even though Julia was the elder sister, after the death of their mother Hester managed the household. Julia is a silveryhaired sprite and is quite a beauty, with a sweet nature to match, and she and Hester are very close. Hester has always thought herself plain and too tall compared to Julia, and doesn't realize that she too is a very attractive young woman.
Julia is now happily married to Sir Geoffrey Hallam; the one shadow in her life is that she and her husband want a family and she hasn't been able to conceive as yet. Geoffrey invites Hester to stay with them in the country to cheer Julia up. Hester makes sure her scholarly father is well provided for and won't miss her, and looks forward to a wonderful summer in the country with her sister.
Hester is soon introduced into the neighborhood and to her surprise she finds herself pursued by three suitors - their neighbor Philip Boscroft, who makes her laugh; Captain Frampton, who is searching for a wife who will follow the drum; and Lord Markham, a man with a bad reputation in town. Each of these men is determined to marry Hester, but Hester isn't sure she wants to marry anybody, and if she did, only one of her suitors appeals to her -- but one of the others will go to any lengths to wed her.
This book begins as a pleasant romantic comedy of country life and courtships, and then takes a serious turn, which gives the author a chance to show that even in 1978 you couldn't do the Barbara Cartland thing of writing a swoony shrinking violet heroine who can't rescue herself from a bad situation. Without making the men around her seem weak or unbelievable, Hester shows she can handle herself, yet she does it in a way that doesn't make her seem a 21st century boot camp graduate. There is quite a bit of humor in the book along the lines of the witty exchanges we like in Heyer's books.
I see that Ms Clark (who also wrote as Megan O'Connor) died not long ago, but back in the day she was Woody Allen's secretary, and I think she knew a lot more about romantic comedy and what makes men admirable than her boss will ever figure out. (Posted by Janice 2/12/09)
#95: Widow For Hire
by Margaret Westhaven
Published 1990 by Harlequin
Lady Amelia Jeffries-Hodge is called the One-Guinea Widow because her vile husband left her only one guinea in his will. Her marriage was an abusive relationship, as her two loyal servants (her maid Lewes and her footman Higgins) know, and Amelia hates the idea of the details becoming public. Since she was left penniless, and has run out of things to sell, she takes a position as chaperone to a girl about to enter London society.
Amelia will chaperone Miss Calliope Crane, the daughter of a noted scientist, Sir Ethelred Crane. Calliope is not particularly interested in marrying, but Sir Ethelred wants her at least to experience a Season. Amelia is frank with her employer about her circumstances and the possible downside of hiring a woman with scandal in her past, but he likes her immediately. With Lewes and Higgins, she moves into Sir Ethelred's house, to be met with the instant enmity of his cousin, Mrs. Dorinda Winkle, who manages the household.
Before her disastrous marriage, Amelia had loved Jeremy Searle and promised to marry him, and she has never stopped loving him. Jeremy is now Lord Doncastle. He had never learned the truth about Amelia's marriage, or why she seemingly jilted him. In his bitterness he doesn't find the scurrilous gossip about the widow unreasonable -- yet when the London rakes begin speculating about Amelia's availability, it makes him angry. As he sees Amelia again, the details start piling up, and he begins to see that there's another side to the story.
This seemed an odd little book to me -- much of it is light-hearted comedy as Calliope meets London and Sir Ethelred meets his match, but the darkness in Amelia's past - her brutal, hateful husband and her uncaring father - is so dire as to make me wonder what the author was thinking in trying to combine the two. It's not a bad read, and it's pleasantly written, but I was left feeling that that was an awful lot to expect her heroine to Just Get Over -- somewhat akin to telling a vet to just forget about the war. (Posted by Janice 2/8/09)
#94: Friends At Knoll House
by Joan Mellows
ISBN: 0449225305, 0449225301, 0091197007, 9780091197001
Published 1974 by Fawcett Crest
Miss Anne Markham's father blew the family fortune in bad investments, and then blew his brains out, leaving his wife and two daughters unable to live at anywhere near their former standard of living. Mrs. Markham and her younger daughter Selina have been completely unable or unwilling to adjust to their new circumstances, and they make the lives of Anne and their one remaining servant Bessie miserable with their exhausting demands for attention, sympathy, commiseration and services.
Selina works herself up into a hysterical fit, leaves a note that she can't live like this anymore, and runs away. She is found by some people living at Knoll House, a great house of the neighborhood, and brought home again. Selina becomes a great favorite of Lady Frome and her brother, Sir Geoffrey Catesby, a handsome, sensitive, charming gentleman, and is invited to live at Knoll House indefinitely, leaving Anne to cope with her querulous parent and comparative poverty on her own.
The real hero, Mr. Edward Keithley, is also staying at Knoll House. The problem is that all the ladies adore Sir Geoffrey, who is a flake compared to Edward. In a poetic sort of way, Geoffrey cares only for beauty, in nature as well as women, and can't be counted on if beauty fades, but he is so genuinely kind that people don't seem to quite get this. Edward is aware of Geoffrey's true character, but Anne is concerned that her impressionable and self-dramatizing sister Selina is not -- and Selina has fallen for Geoffrey.
There's no sex in this book, no real suspense (you know everybody will get wise to everybody else sooner or later), no melodramatic spies or anything of that sort, yet I found it absorbing from beginning to end. It's written in an older romance style, more like Jane Austen than Jayne Krentz. I thought it had a good sense of 19th century attitudes and behavior as I've read about them in contemporary literature of the period. People who really like the more modern writing styles might find this slow, but I liked it as a change-up and a reminder that a book doesn't have to go over the top to make an impression. (Posted by Janice 2/2/09)
#93: A Managing Female
by Beth Bryan
Published 1991 by Harlequin
Miss Deborah Stormont and her brother Peregrine were very poor after the death of their father; everything, including the family home, had had to be sold. Deborah has sold a plant drawing to an academic and has hopes of making some money by selling more; she is a talented sketch artist.
On their way to Dover where they will embark for France to visit their aunt, Madame D'Auray, they meet Lord Auberon Crichton by the side of the road; his horse has thrown a shoe, and so they take him up in their coach. Beron had been on his way to the home of Sir Rodney Phipps-Hedder to offer for his daughter Gwendolyn. Beron is not in love with Gwen, but it is a suitable match. He notices Deborah's poor clothing and severe hairstyle, and puts her down as an annoyingly managing sort of female.
At Dover, by way of returning their favor, Beron helps them find their ship and get aboard, but he is accidently hit by a bale being loaded and knocked out. There is no one in Dover to leave him with, so Deborah decides to take Beron to France with them. During the journey over they meet Freddie Wimpole, who is on the trail of a prime Muscadet, and he joins their party. As they arrive at Madame D'Auray's estate, Beron trips over Deborah's skirt getting out of the coach, and falls on his bad leg -- another accident to be laid to Deborah's fault.
With Madame D'Auray's help, Deborah acquires a more flattering hairstyle and wardrobe, and Beron puts off visiting Gwendolyn (who is also in France now) to make his formal offer. Without his realizing it, this managing female is slowly becoming much more important to Beron than his intended fiancee.
This light romantic comedy doesn't have much of anything new or unusual about it - excerpt perhaps the Duchesse of Brittany, a purebred Kashmir goat of uncertain temper - but it's a short and sunny read. Worth picking up if you run across it. (Posted by Janice 1/29/09)
#92: The Loves Of Lord Granton
by Marion Chesney
Published 1997 by Fawcett
Miss Frederica Hadley is the fourth daughter of the rector of a Cotsworld village called Barton Sub Edge. Dr. Peter Hadley's living is dependent on Sir Giles Crown; the Crowns are very proud and he is always worried about having his living taken away. Freddi's sisters Mary, Amy and Harriet are in the style of rounded beauty admired in the day, but fey little Freddi is overlooked and still thought of as a child, though she is almost 18. Freddi, however, is much more intelligent than her mama or sisters and has educated herself by reading from the vast library left by the rector who preceded her father.
Viscount Granton (Rupert) is bored. It's hot in London and there's nothing to do that doesn't bore him. He has received an invitation to stay in the country with the Crown family at Townley Hall. Rupert talks his best friend Major Harry Delisle into accompanying him. The daughter of the house, Miss Annabelle Crown, is used to being queen of the neighborhood and is spoiled and snotty.
It's just as hot in the country that summer. The neighborhood fawns over Rupert and he is immediately bored there too; however it's just the sort of pleasant undemanding life Harry enjoys. Harry has met Annabelle and fallen in love instantly, but she has her cap set for Rupert and his title and mocks Harry behind his back for being overweight.
One day Rupert goes for a walk and finds Freddi sitting in a cool glade near a stream. He falls into conversation with her, finding her the most interesting and intriguing person he's met there. They meet many times and Rupert begins to look forward to his conversations with her, even though everyone expects him to offer for Annabelle -- especially Annabelle.
In tone this book is a little less acerbic and a little more romantic than most Chesney titles, but it still has many of the self-centered, spiteful, ignorant and stupid subsidiary characters she does so well. It's still a light romance, but there's a deal of sharp character observation in it too. (Posted by Janice 1/25/09)
#91: What Lucinda Learned
by Beth Bryan
Published 1991 by Harlequin
Miss Lucinda Neville did not want to endure the Marriage Mart of a Season in London; her best friend and neighbor Will Ryland needed to marry a fortune to clear up his feckless father's debts and save Ryland Hall. As Lucinda has a fortune through her mother, she could solve Will's problem -- and he could solve hers; if she went to London as an already promised bride, she could endure the Season without fortune hunters pursuing her. She proposes to Will that they pretend to be engaged, and he reluctantly agrees.
En route to London, Lucinda, a poor traveler, becomes carriage-sick, and because her companion Cousin Ethelreda has the address wrong, they arrive at the wrong house. This particular house belongs to Richard "Beau" Devereux. He, his uncle Ivor and his friend Sir Charles Grantham are about to go into dinner when a party of strangers erupts into his home, and poor Lucinda faints in his arms. Devereux has just finished telling his friends that his family is pressuring him to marry and his Aunt Melpond has one Lady Chloris dePoer, known as the Ice Queen, in her sights as a suitable bride.
It transpires that Will's volatile sister Belle, just back from France, and Sir Charles's sister Patience will all be making their come-outs at the same time, and so all these characters are much thrown together by circumstance. Lucinda falls for Devereux, but believes that he loves Chloris, who may be in love with someone else. Will finds himself attracted to Patience, and Sir Charles wants Belle. How will these couples ever sort themselves out -- and how will I ever keep them straight?
I did enjoy this very slight romantic comedy, but I wouldn't suggest it as one that can be picked up and put down; each time it took me a while to get back into it and I was constantly trying to remember which character was which and who was related to who and how. I could have done with one of those old fashioned character lists they used to put in the front of novels back in the day. (Posted by Janice 1/22/09)
Here is a story that shows a lot of its age, I thought. Many of the scenes have become so stock in trade for Regencies that they are almost a parody on themselves these days. In Bryan's hands the setting is more important than the characters, I am sorry to say, which does not exactly help. Lucinda is your usual not so bright, big eyed ingénue that Barbara Cartland did to death, the hero a cynical rake that falls for the freshness of the heroine, who makes all beauties he has met and loved pale shadows, the stock in trade nice guy best friend of the hero, carrying the second love interest, etc. etc. Bryan is not a bad writer, and the book will do for an evening, but this is not the kind of novel I would recommend to anyone wanting something a little out of the ordinary. (Posted by yvonne 1/22/09)
#90: The Wicked Marquis
by Marnie Ellingson
Published 1983 by Avon
Miss Esme Leonardo is the daughter of an Italian opera singer and an English lady who married, as they say, to disoblige her family. Her parents loved each other dearly and had a marvelous life together, but they have passed away, and so she has come to make her home at Wellspring House with her uncle Frederick (a widower) and her widowed aunt Lady Channing, who has three daughters, Drusilla, Hope and Constance. Esme has little money but is goodhearted, clever and resouceful. Kit, Lady Channing's son, also lives there when he isn't working to improve his small estate, and Esme sees that he is unhappy about something. As Esme and Drusilla are of an age to be brought out, they all remove to London.
Esme has learned that Kit is expected to marry Lydia, the snotty daughter of a wealthy neighbor; their fathers had planned the match long ago because Uncle Frederick wants some land belonging to Lydia's father, which would be included in Lydia's dowry - and Lydia and her family are set on having a title for her. Kit is heir to the Marquis of Locklynde (Jared), who has never married and is now quite old (all of 35 at least). Although Kit is in love with Verena, he feels obligated to follow his uncle's wishes because of everything Uncle Frederick has done for the family.
Esme determines immediately that Kit shall not be saddled with the odious Lydia and begins scheming to prevent the betrothal, first by trying to lure Lydia away from Kit with a higher title, and then by making it appear that Kit will never succeed to the marquesate because the Wicked Marquis will marry and have an heir -- and to that end, she tells Lydia that Jared (whom she has seen but never met) is already betrothed -- to her. Her Big Lie ought to do the trick, as she has sworn Lydia to silence and Jared is thought to be out of town -- but what would happen if Jared should find out? Thanks to Lydia's breaking her promise, he does, and he is not happy about it. Not happy at all.
Here's another book that couldn't be published today -- the hero, Jared, doesn't actually appear until halfway through the book, though he is spoken of, and failing to introduce him right away is now a no-no. Also, in a modern book, even a trad, hero and heroine would be having sex by page 100, not waiting until the last page for their first kiss. Good thing, I say, as the new rules would spoil a charming read. (Posted by Janice 1/18/09)
I first read The Wicked Marquis way back in the 1980's and it's been a favorite read ever since, one of those comfort reads where you know the story and just like to go back to visit with the family. And what a delightful family it is! Even grumpy Uncle Fredrick is more a man of his time than a Bad Man. He really thinks he is doing Kit a favor by marrying him off to Lydia, of who's real character he is completely ignorant. The cousins are all sweet girls and Esme a delightfully practical girl, which, of course, doesn't stop her from doing the most harebrained things in pursuit of the ultimate good for everyone around her. A truly enjoyable read and well worth looking for! (Posted by yvonne 1/18/09)
#89: An Improper Duenna
by Paula Marshall
ISBN: 0263776638 (Also in The Regency Collection, Vol. 1, ISBN 0263817075)
Published 1992 by Mills & Boon
Miss Chloe Transome is a very poor relation, living in the home of her cousins Lord and Lady Marchingham (Charles and Serena), where she serves as duenna to Miss Marianne Temple, Charles's ward, and as general dogsbody and goat for Serena and her friends. Chloe is thought to be plain and too tall, and the starvation wages Serena pays her do not permit her to dress nicely, and that's exactly the way Serena likes it. Ten years ago Chloe had been involved in a great scandal - her fiance had jilted her and run off to Gretna with her sister Mary - and Chloe has been made to feel under obligation to have a home at all. Charles has always liked and respected Chloe, but he cannot shield her completely from Serena's sly little cruelties.
Serena has not been faithful to Charles; since the birth of his heir she has taken whatever lovers she fancied to her bed, and now she has invited Sir Patrick Ramsey to their country estate to continue their affair. Patrick notices the sparks of wit in Chloe and begins to wonder about her.
One night Charles arrives back home too soon, and Patrick escapes Serena's bedroom into a sort of storage room off the balcony, which is the new bedroom Serena assigned Chloe to when other guests arrive. Chloe, starved for attention and affection, and feeling the sands of time running out for her, sees a wonderfully handsome man in her chamber and decides to have an affair with him. Patrick sees Chloe with her hair down and without the ugly wornout clothes and agrees.
Chloe falls very much in love with Patrick, though both continue to behave to each other as if it were a physical affair, no questions asked, no promises made. But when Patrick leaves, he can't forget Chloe, and when Serena finds out that it's the despised Chloe who has supplanted her, there is hell to pay, and only Chloe left to pay it.
I loved this book. It's witty, passionate, elegantly written, with believable characters and a strong hero and heroine. The secondary characters, Charles and Serena, are finely drawn and memorable individuals. It's also true to the attitudes of the period - marriage is permanent, bad behavior is tolerated as long as there is no scandal, and the servants always know everything. Highly recommended. (Posted by Janice 1/15/09)
by Sarah Carlisle
Published 1980 by Fawcett
Max, Lord Edenbury was bored out of his skull. While visiting his good but dull heir and cousin George, he stumbles on a most amazing situation. Accompanying his cousin to George's closest neighbors, the St Wilfred family, he finds a young girl throwing 'things' through an open window. Deeply intrigued, he stops to watch. The girl is Daphne, the younger daughter of the house. He learns to his astonishment that this odd behavior is the latest in a series of schemes to marry off her oldest sister to cousin George. Max thinks this a most excellent idea as well and decides to help Daphne achieve her ambition.
It would be spoiling the fun to give away more of the plot in this book. This is one of the funniest Regencies I've read in a long while and a favorite reread as well. Daphne is an endearing heroine, Max is her perfect foil, and they romp through this story in a most satisfactory fashion. The setting is the English countryside in summertime and the book is as light as a summer breeze. For a quick, easy read and some really good laughs, I recommend this one warmly. (Posted by yvonne 1/11/09)
John Maximilian Adolphus Wade-Hamilton, Lord Edenbury, first sights Miss Daphne St. Wilfred of St. Wilfred Close as she is throwing live mice through the music room window in hopes of startling her older sister Emily into fainting into The Honorable George Wade-Hamilton's arms. Daphy is convinced Emily and George are perfect for each other, but they are woefully slow at making romantic progress and she thinks they need a push. Max, who up til then had been faintly bored at staying with his worthy cousin George, is intrigued and Daphy enlists him in her schemes.
Gerard Gascoigne, a desperate fortune hunter, is staying in the neighborhood with Lady Forbisher; he targets Daphy because she will inherit a large fortune when she marries. Max has Gerard's number immediately, but Daphy is oblivious; she's totally indifferent to this practiced charmer and with her tunnel vision view of things, she's completely focused on her own schemes for George and Emily.
George has a secret that is keeping him from offering for Emily, and Daphy decides it must be something seriously awful. She's seen that repairs to a nearby ancient church tower have been made and something George says makes her think he may be involved in smuggling. Meanwhile her little brother Willie can't get his father to understand that there's a difference between studying astronomy (Willie's passion) and astrology (no St. Wilfred should have anything to do with such stuff).
Well, that's enough about the story points. It's a nicely constructed plot, but the real fun is seeing so-smart-she's-dumb Daphy work out her schemes to help her family. It's a pleasant, funny romantic comedy read of the sort that would be really problematic in real life, since it matches 16 year old Daphy with 28 year old Max. You could almost get arrested for that. It's fun, though, and this is RegencyLand, after all. (Posted by Janice 4/15/09)
#87: A Man Of Her Choosing
by Nina Pykare
Published 1980 by Dell
Miss Linnet Hungerford of Hungerford House and her younger sister Fanny have been the wards of their Uncle Throckmorton, Lord Farrington, since the death of their parents. Uncle Throckmorton has urged them to live abstemiously, and their allowance has diminished such that there is no money to pay their two remaining servants and Linnet has had to swap use of a pasture for winter oats for her beloved mare Sunburst.
Fanny is a perfect golden beauty with a sweet nature; Linnet thinks of herself as a little brown bird in comparison, but she has all the brains and initiative of the two. For herself Linnet wants nothing more than her country life raising horses -- she thinks she never will be interested in men or marriage -- but Fanny longs for a husband to take care of her and give her children. Linnet is determined that she shall find a good husband; a London Season Fanny must have, and so she writes to their guardian.
One day as she is out riding in her boy's clothes, Linnet comes across a wrecked carriage. She asks the gentleman back to the house where his groom can find what he needs to repair it. The gentleman introduces himself as Stephen, Viscount Henry, and Linnet asks him to speak to her guardian as she has received no reply to her letter, which Stephen agrees to do when he is back in London.
In a few days the girls receive a letter from Lord Farrington saying that they are to go to London for the season; when they arrive they learn that their Uncle Throckmorton (who did not live abstemiously himself) had died of an apoplexy some months previously, and Stephen is actually the new Lord Farrington. His aunt will chaperone them and they will stay in his house.
Fanny, who is shy and not very bright, loves all the new gowns, excitements and luxuries of London, but Linnet, who still thinks of herself as unattractive, feels hemmed in by the restrictions of London life for a young lady and often comes to cuffs with Stephen -- partly because of her indecorous conduct and partly because he is clearly attracted to her and she does not yet recognize that she is becoming attracted to him.
This is quite an old fashioned "sweet" romance. Hero Stephen is a bit like Worth in Regency Buck -- someone who has fallen in love with his ward -- but, unlike Heyer's hero, he wasn't held back by a sense of honor or duty or threat to his wards; he was just waiting until Linnet grew up a bit and got to know him. Linnet reminds me of Frederica in that she is blind to all but her sister's happiness. Except that it's more competently written, the whole thing reminds me of Barbara Cartland -- the heroine innocent to the point of being braindead, and the experienced older man who has had his pick of beautiful ladies but apparently prefers spunky ones in boy's clothing. There's a lot of teeth gritting, wrist grabbing and eyes sparking in this one. It's romantic and all that, but there's not a new thought in it, and I prefer my regencies a little more grounded in the real universe. (Posted by Janice 1/7/09)
#86: Lord Tom
by Patricia Wynn
Published 1990 by Harlequin
Captain Johnstone knows he is dying. His daughter Susan had smuggled him out of debtor's prison in England and brought him to France, and she will be stranded there after he passes. So he calls in a favor from Lord Thomas Harleston (Third Baron Harleston), who had served with him during the war, and asks him to get Susan back to her old governess in England. "Susan is not what you'd call bold", her father says, "... but show her some poor unfortunate beggar and she'll raise the Lord Mayor if it'll do him any good."
Harleston keeps his promise, and three weeks later, disguised as her groom Tom, he accompanies a young French widow called Mrs. Faringdon and her slutty temporary maid Peg back to Dover. Susan is still wanted in England for helping her father escape, and she fears Harleston will be in trouble as well if they are found out.
On the way to London from Dover, they come upon a wrecked carriage by the side of the road, with two very shaken old people, Lady Mewhinny and her servant Vigor. Susan and Tom take Lady Mewhinny back to her home and stay over while the wrecked carriage is retrieved and Tom recovers from the fever he caught.
Lady Mewhinny has a cause -- she rescues monkeys abandoned by their owners when they weren't cute anymore, and she houses them in a wing of her house. Her wastrel nephew and his trained mental illness specialist descend on her, with a scheme to have Lady Mewhinny declared insane and get control of her money; they plan to use her monkey refuge as proof of incapacity. When Susan learns of this, nothing can make her leave Lady Mewhinny until she sees the old woman out of danger from these rogues -- and Tom is just as reluctant to leave Susan, with whom he is falling in love, as much for her kind, brave heart as her beauty.
I liked this book for Wynn's usual quiet humor, her decent and honorable hero and heroine, and her quirky "monkey lady" -- there's one line from the redoubtable Lady Mewhinny on page 215 that made me laugh out loud, as the one bit I didn't expect. A very pleasant short read. (Posted by Janice 1/2/09)
#85: A Grand Gesture
by Holly Newman
Published 1989 by Warner
Catherine Shreveton is happy in the country, surrounded by family and busy working with her uncle and their beloved horses. Living with her grandmother, the Dowager Lady Burke, and her widowed mother Mary, Catherine has no interest in fashion or making a debut or getting married. She's her childless uncle's heir and the future of the Burke Stables. Life is easy for Catherine and she expects it to pretty much go on as it does forever.
Not everyone is as happy. Lady Burke wants her shy daughter Mary to remarry and here is the local squire all ready to propose. But the possession of a grown daughter makes Mary resist the squire's efforts, although it's clear to her mother that Mary is deeply in love. Lady Burke wonders how to solve the situation when a letter arrives from London.
The Countess of Seaverness, Catherine's aunt, has taken the notion into her head of making a grand gesture by inviting all four of her nieces to make their come-out under her aegis. The Countess thinks Catherine is plain, destitute and living on the sufferance of her relations, while she's quite beautiful and a great heiress. Catherine doesn't want to go but is made to by her determined family. Rebelling in the only way she can, she decides that her aunt will get the poor, ugly relation she believes she's getting and her snobbish self so rightly deserves, so she dons a disguise, thus putting her foot on a course that will lead her directly into the path of the cynical Marquis of Stefton, her depraved cousin Stephen and his repugnant friend Sir Philip Kirkson.
This is a fun read and although Stefton may be a bit more alpha male than suits everyone's taste and the story in spots smacks of The Taming of the Shrew, it's a well written, quickly paced book. The supporting cast is precious and the bumbling Alicia, her gentle sister, harried servants and long-suffering husband are quite refreshingly outside what's commonly met with in genre romances. For a traditional Regency in the best mode I recommend this one wholeheartedly. (Posted by yvonne 12/30/08)
#84: Sophie's Halloo
by Patricia Wynn
Published 1989 by Harlequin
Miss Sophie Corby is on her way to London with her parents, to have a London season. At a crowded inn along the way, she and her family meet Sir Tony Farnham, who gives up his rooms to them. Sophie likes Tony immediately because he is not particularly interested in hunting, and she says so, which piques his interest.
Sophie's blustering, opinionated father Sir John is hunting-mad, and everything and everyone else in his life is secondary to that passion. One of Sophie's first suitors in London is Mr. Rollo, another hunting-mad man. Sir John thinks Rollo would make a perfect husband for Sophie and he would like to get the business settled as soon as possible so he can get back home - cubbing season is near.
In many ways Tony smoothes Sophie's introduction to town life and she comes to love him, but with her father having forbidden the match, will she be forced to marry the detestable Mr. Rollo, a man made in the same selfish mold as her father?
This is another of Patricia Wynn's gentle comedies of manner with many exact lines which delighted me as I read them. Without any diatribe or overt drama, she shows how Sir John's selfishness has damaged his wife's life and endangers his daughter's happiness. Anything Clarissa Corby might want to purchase must be put off if Sir John wants the money for another hunter; I imagine any notion she had of finding affection, companionship and comfort in her marriage was gone before the ink was dry on her marriage lines. I really detested Sir John not only for the way he treated his family, but for the way he thought nothing of riding a fine mare to her death to follow his hunt. In its non-comedic moments, this book is also about living in a time when it was very risky to challenge or confront an unloving husband - a wife had to manage such as best she could. (Posted by Janice 24/12/08)
#83: Mistletoe And Mischief
by Patricia Wynn
Published 1993 by Harlequin
One snowy evening, during his return from completing a task as a courier at Prinny's request, Charles, Lord Wroxton encounters Miss Louisa Davenport at a Gretna Green inn. Louisa had eloped with Geoffrey because her uncle refused to bring her out, even though she was turned 18, and there are things she wanted to do that a single lady cannot do. Partway to the border she had decided definitely that she did not wish to marry Geoffrey, but Geoffrey did not want this heiress to escape him and insisted they continue. With his judgment perhaps impaired by the tremendous headache and weariness brought on by his courier mission, Charles can still see at once that Louisa is a lady - a damsel in distress - and he would not be a gentleman if he did not help her.
After they are underway, Charles learns to his horror that Louisa must go all the way back to London - a four day journey, and she with no maid or chaperone. But he can't just abandon her; he is honor bound to deliver her safely to her aunt and uncle. At first Charles would like to strangle her for the imbroglio she has landed them both in, and the new scrapes she falls into along the way as well -- but gradually he comes to appreciate how much more comfortable things are with her around, how he looks forward to seeing her each day, and what a good heart she has -- and even that wretched red-gold hair becomes acceptable. Louisa gradually comes to believe that marriage to a man so unlike Geoffrey might be a very good thing indeed.
A very pleasant Christmas cum road trip tale, with a dog, a Christmas pudding, a young thief, suspicious innkeepers, and a stint in gaol, as the marquess gradually loosens up and realizes that the lady who was originally an irritating nuisance is in actuality the love of his life. (Posted by Janice 12/19/08)
#82: Cupid And The Vicar
by Judith Stafford
Published 1991 by Harlequin
The Reverend Daniel Fenton and Marcus Browne, the new Earl of Glenville, have been good friends since their school days; Daniel holds the living on the Glenville estates. He has chosen the clergy not because it's a good job, but because he sincerely wishes to do good.
Marcus has a sister, Cleopatra (Patty), with whom Daniel has been in love for years. Patty loves him too, and would make a perfect vicar's wife. Daniel has been reluctant to offer for Patty, because of the difference in their stations, and when he finally resolves to talk to Marcus about it, Marcus tells him that Patty has had enough poverty in her life and he wishes her to marry befitting her new position. Daniel is brokenhearted and doesn't make his offer.
Daniel has a sister too - Serena. Serena had been living with their other sister Mildred, who had been pressuring her to marry a Mr. Peabody, a coarse and disgusting lech. When Marcus meets Serena, he puts her down as a hoyden who could never be a suitable choice for an earl. First she shows her ankles getting down out of a carter's wagon, and then she falls out of a tree while trying to rescue a kitten. No, she'd never do! She may be beautiful, intelligent and spirited, but Marcus, weighed down by his new responsibilities as earl, believes he needs a model of propriety, and that's certainly not Serena.
Marcus has a younger brother, Augustus (Auggie), home on a repairing lease and clearly trying to evade some problem he is reluctant to discuss with his brother. Marcus and Daniel have another friend, Charlie, who was wounded in the war and could use a stay at a country estate to continue his convalescence.
Marcus thinks Daniel is the best of men, and he would approve a match between Daniel and Patty, but the problem is, Daniel hasn't spoken. Marcus tells Patty that if she can't get Daniel to propose in the next few months, she must return to London for another Season to meet other gentlemen. Patty thinks Serena is just what Marcus needs, but Marcus thinks Serena too hot at hand, and Mr. Peabody has given Serena a strong disinclination to be married to anybody. Serena thinks Patty is just what Daniel needs, and conspires to bring them together, meanwhile thinking up a way to rescue Auggie from his problem.
There's nothing at all melodramatic about this novel; it's just a pleasant, gentle comedy of several nice people sorting themselves out. The author doesn't ignore the unpleasantnesses of the real world and how they affect the characters, but she doesn't get heavy-handed about it. It's an hour read in very pleasant company, and worth looking for. (Posted by Janice 12/15/08)
I really like this book. Stafford is an excellent writer, the tale moves forward at a good pace without being hurried and the characters are well drawn. You really get to feel for them, most of whom are quite likeable normal people, rather like you and me, and marvel at how otherwise intelligent persons can manage to get their love life in a complete tangle. There's quite a nice mix of seriousness and fun in this book, which is a keeper in my opnion. I agree with Janice - definitely worth looking for! (Posted by yvonne 12/15/08)
#81: The Parson's Pleasure
by Patricia Wynn
Published 1988 by Harlequin
The Honourable Miss Claire Oliver lives in the country with her parents, Baron and Lady Oliver. She is their only child, and although the barony is entailed upon a cousin, she has a L30,000 fortune of her own. Both her parents are bright and educated, and have had a very happy marriage. Her father had educated her personally; both parents value her as an intellectual equal.
Claire had a London season but did not meet any men there who interested her. The neighborhood has long expected her to make a match with foolish Lord Babcock, the son of their neighbor Lord Sitch(ville) -- the ville having been newly granted by Prinny -- mostly because Babcock has been going around acting like it is a settled thing without as yet having made any offer for Claire to refuse.
Lady Sally, Claire's mother, has a brother named Robert Willoughby, who has her charm but not her wit or steadiness of character. Uncle Bobby has blown through his fortune and he and his wife and daughter now live in a cottage on the Oliver estate. Lydia, his daughter, is a pattern of the beauty most admired in 1819 - small, plump, fair, frail and not too smart. Claire's own style of beauty - dark, slim, healthy and spirited - is not appreciated by her Aunt Sophia, who fears her niece will never marry unless she emulates the brainless but tightly laced Lydia.
Into this quiet neighborhood there comes a new rector for the parish, Mr. Christopher Bennett, a former army officer. Christopher is the son of a younger son; his cousin John is an earl. The two cousins have always had a bad relationship. The neighborhood expected another faintly hypocritical nonentity as the new rector; what they got was a young man of conscience and energy who, rather than enforcing the status quo, intends to work for change, particularly in the condition of the poor. He'd be perfect for Claire -- but he has no money beyond his modest stipend, and his scruples would prevent him from offering for her.
I loved this short, charming tale with its subtle humor and picture of country life. I think my favorite bit is Lydia being dressed by her mama for the ball, having to lie flat on her face on the carpet while her mama puts one foot on her back and pulls her corset laces tight, or maybe the bit where Aunt Sophia unwisely gives Claire a receipt for a famous cream guaranteed to increase the size of her bust if regularly applied. I also liked its picture of a country churchman who wouldn't necessarily have chosen that path, but intends to make the most of his opportunities to help people - a conscientious man who is a far cry from the materialistic, upwardly mobile Mr. Elton type. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys regencies in the mode of Heyer or Austen. (Posted by Janice 12/11/08)
It's been a while since I've read this book but recalling really liking it - to a point. For me the ending was a tad weak compared to the rest of the story, which is indeed excellent. I would have liked to see all the hard work these two put in to make a happy ending come to fruition rather than the story being solved by a stroke of luck. I so love seeing people get their reward when winning over almost insurmountable obstacles. Otherwise it's a good read and I also warmly recommend this book. (Posted by yvonne 12/11/08)
#80: An Adverse Alliance
by Lucia Curzon (aka Ellen Fitzgerald)
Published 1982 by Berkley/Jove
Miss Anthea Heberdeen lives with her brother Sir Bertram Heberdeen in London. Bertie lost a leg in the war and Anthea has nursed him back to health. During that time Anthea rarely got out of the house for exercise, so she's become a bit plump, and her modiste insists on dressing her in ruffly styles which are all wrong for her.
When he was injured, Bertie had written to his fiancee Dorcas releasing her from their engagement, and Dorcas had not responded, so he considers the relationship at an end, though he still loves her.
On the eve of the Heberdeen Ball, which is to present Anthea, Titus Croydon, Earl of Vane, is urged by his mother Lady Cornelia to attend the ball and meet her, with a view to making her his bride. Titus lost his first wife Giulia and their son in childbirth five years before, and has no wish to remarry, but neither does he wish to see his feckless second cousin Bartholmew inherit his title, so he goes. He had promised his mom to go, but not to meet the girl, so he stays in the library rather than the ballroom. He is surprised and intrigued when he meets Anthea there and learns that she is an intelligent, spirited girl with a lively wit and a talent for impersonation. Anthea has never seen anyone so handsome.
Dorcas and her parents also attend the ball; Dorcas gives out to all that Anthea has spitefully kept her from Bertie's side. Bertie is crazy about Dorcas, and does not know what she's like out of his presence, nor that she hates his sister. Anthea sees that Bertie will marry Dorcas after all, and Dorcas will make her life miserable.
In due course Titus makes his offer to Anthea, she accepts, and they are married. However on their wedding night, after the marriage is consummated, Anthea whispers her love to Titus. Titus is overcome with memories of his first wife, and leaves the next morning. After Anthea had heard the tale of his first marriage from her new sister in law Rosalie, she believed Titus did not love her and had married her solely because his mom made him, so she left, leaving no word of where she was going.
Anthea had gone to her scandalous aunt, Dillys Heberdeen, known in the theater as Dolly Playfaire. Anthea becomes a successful actress under the name of Thea Playfaire. Clive, Marquis of Fearing, wants to become her protector. Spiteful Dorcas, now making Bertie's life miserable as his wife, spills the beans about Anthea's real identity and whereabouts, and mayhem ensues as Titus tries to reclaim his wife and Clive tries to win her as his own bride.
I did not like this Curzon title as much as Queen of Hearts. It was certainly readable, but it seemed to lack energy, and the hero is not a particularly nice man in some respects -- but this is a genre romance and we are supposed to go aw, he did it for loove, so it's all good. The only characters who really came alive for me were that meanspirited sly little bitch Dorcas, always mouthing propriety, yet jealous and spiteful at heart, and her poor wounded husband Bertie, blinded at first by love and gradually coming to know his wife's real character. It's one of those books in which the subsidiary characters take on more life than the protagonists, and it's worth reading only for them. (Posted by Janice 12/2/08)
Note: This book is rather plot heavy in the setup and the above all happens in the opening chapters.
#79: The Rogue And The Runaway
by Mary Jo Putney
Published 1990 by Signet
Maxima Collins is the daughter of a feckless younger son exiled to America and his Mohawk Indian wife, who died some years ago. In America her father was an itinerant book vendor, and Maxie traveled with him and absorbed an excellent education from his books and the people he talked with about them. Eventually her father wanted to see England again and brought her back with him, but he died of an apparent heart seizure shortly after they arrived.
She has since been living with her uncle Cletus, Lord Collingwood, whose two snotty daughters despise her as a "savage". She overhears her uncle and aunt discussing her and saying something about an inheritance and that she must not find out how her father really died. She decides to run away to London to investigate his death, leaving a note saying she's going to her aunt, Lady Desdemona Ross, a noted reformer. Having no money, she decides to walk to London wearing boy's clothing; the long journey on foot is nothing to her after her travels in America. She trips over Lord Robert Andreville in the woods and on impulse he decides to go with her. Robin had been a soldier and spy during the war, and had lost the woman he loved to another man, so he is somewhat at loose ends and ripe for an adventure.
Maxie is pursued by one Dan Simmons, a thug, who says he wants to take her back home, but he was mentioned by the uncle and aunt as somehow involved in whatever they were talking about, and Maxie fears him.
Lady Ross descends on Lord Collingwood demanding to see her niece Maxie, to be told about the note she left. She trails Maxie and finds that she's with Robin, so she goes to see Giles, Robin's brother. Giles (the Marquess of Wolverton) is a widower with no intention of remarrying because his first marriage was unhappy -- but he is surprised to see that the forthright Lady Ross is younger than he had heard and quite attractive as well. As the aunt and the thawing widower pursue the rogue and the runaway toward London, a charming dual romance emerges.
I've always loved this particular regency. I like the dual romances, the unusual heroine and the adventurous journey. I'm a sucker for road trips and heroines who are -- I hate to say it -- feisty, and this book has both. The author later rewrote this as Angel Rogue, but to my mind, this is the superior version; it has more energy, more texture and more life to it than the rewrite. This copy has a very pretty Alan Kass cover as well -- nice colors. It is well worth seeking out. (Posted by Janice 11/29/08)
#78: The Reluctant Heiress
by Marlene Suson
Published 1985 by Fawcett Crest
Miss Diana Landale is heiress to an enormous fortune left her by her grandfather, but she can't touch a penny of it until she is married, and even then it will be in her husband's control. Her father gives her hardly anything to run the household on, yet she has managed to make it a comfortable and tasteful residence. Her mother died some years ago, and her father is about to remarry a nasty conniving little bitch who hates her. Diana's only sources of solace are her painting and her music. Because her mother warned her forcibly against fortune hunters, knowing she would be besieged by them, Diana has taken to making herself as unattractive as possible whenever one is around.
Alexander Hadleigh, Duke of Stratford, must marry a fortune. Between his father's gambling and his excess generosity to his convenients, he has little money left and his ducal seat Mistelay has been stripped of its treasures and is falling to ruin. He is invited to the Landales for a house party to make his offer. Diana does her best to fool him that she is a dull, talentless drab, but he sees through her masquerade, and learns that the talented harpist and painter whose work he admires hides behind a deliberately ugly facade. One of Diana's treasures is a bust of Hamlet done by an unknown sculptor, and Alex is astonished to find it there - because he is that unknown sculptor.
Diana does not want to marry Alex; his proposal was phrased very arrogantly, and he's never courted her nor told her that he loves her. He has shown her that she responds to him sexually, but she sees that as another arrogant attempt to bully her into marriage. When she was very young, she had fallen in love with a Frenchman named Antoine, but her parents had broken them up; they knew Antoine was a fortune hunter and a bad man, but she was never told the particulars.
Faced with having to marry Alex against her will, Diana runs away to meet Antoine, but Alex finds her and they are caught in a compromising position, and so the marriage goes through privately. Alex does not consummate the marriage after the ceremony, which reinforces Diana's belief that it was all just about the money -- and that's very painful for Diana, because she has begun to fall in love with him.
This is a novel of the BigBig Misunderstanding, the sort of thing that depends on a chain of circumstances in which everybody keeps their secrets longer than they reasonably should. If Diana's parents hadn't concealed the truth about Antoines's greed, she wouldn't have relied on him. If Alex had just once said "I love you" to Diana, she wouldn't have wanted to escape him. Even when Diana speaks truthfully to Alex, he doesn't believe her because the evidence seems against her. If anybody talked to anybody about anything as things came up, there would have been no book. However, even though it doesn't pass my common sense test, it was an entertaining read. (Posted by Janice 11/25/08)
#77: Queen Of Hearts
by Lucia Curzon (aka Ellen Fitzgerald)
Published 1982 by Berkeley/Jove
The Honorable Miss Christina Corderay, an heiress, lived with her father Lord Corderay, companioned by Miss Henrietta Noyes. Her mother had died at her birth, and all her life her father had run her down, saying she was clumsy, too tall (5' 8"), not pretty like her mama, and had caused her death. She was a complete innocent, and terribly lonely, and therefore a sitting duck for fortune hunter Charles Ferrier. Charles eloped with her to Gretna Green, where they were married over the anvil. He then rushed her back to the inn and consummated the marriage immediately by beating and raping her. Charlie needed it to be a legal marriage before her father (whom he assumed would pursue them) caught up with them. Christina realizes then that her father was right, it was all just about the money. Her father finds them and challenges Charles to a duel; he and Charles are both killed, Charles with the name of his young and pregnant mistress Lily on his lips.
Therefore as the book opens, Christina's experience of adult men up close has been limited to denigration and betrayal, and in the three years since Charlie's death she has become something of a heartbreaker herself. Only her companion and friend Hetty and her neighbor Sir Milon Roche, a childhood friend, know the truth about what happened and what sort of man Charlie really was.
Charlie's older brother Sir Quentin has returned from the American wars. He is very much like Charlie in appearance, but very different in character. However he believes the tale his mother told of the heartless wicked widow, and knows nothing of Charlie's real nature, let alone his mistress and illegitimate son. When he sees the rich and lovely Mrs. Ferrier living it up in London, pursued by so many men that she has a reputation as a heartbreaker, he decides that he will bring down the Queen of Hearts and avenge his brother.
This is a novel about missing facts. Quentin does not know that kind Christina found Charlie's abandoned and impoverished mistress in a workhouse and gave her the Dower House to live in with her young son, nor that Christina herself has never had a lover because of her bad experience with Charlie. Christina does not know that Quentin is different from Charlie, whom he had loved but not known. I enjoyed seeing these two idiots get it all sorted out, and I liked that Hetty got her guy in the end as well. (Posted by Janice 11/22/08)
#76: A Cousinly Connexion
by Sheila Simonson
Published 1989 by Warner Books
At 24 Miss Jane Ash lives a reasonably contented life with her father and brothers. When she was 16 she had fallen for a young naval ensign named Wincanton, but her father had not approved the match. When Wincanton returns some years later, wealthy with prize money and still wanting Jane, she refuses him -- having seen him without the haze of infatuation, she realizes she didn't like him at all! However her father now thinks it's time she married and Wincanton would be a fine match.
Disaster strikes the household of Jane's aunt Louisa, Lady Meriden, her father's sister. Jane's aunt is the second Lady Meriden. From his first marriage Lord Meriden had three sons - Harry, Julian and Vincent. Lord Meriden had a large family from his second marriage as well - Felix (blinded by a childhood illness), Maria and Drusilla (approaching marriageable age), the subteen terrible twins Horatio and Arthur, and baby Thomas.
Julian was sent off to be raised by his grandfather, eventually joined the army and was severely wounded in both legs at Waterloo. Harry, raised to be the heir, got himself killed in a duel, and his father died a week afterwards of an apoplexy (and leaving things in bad shape financially), so that now Major Julian Stretton is very unexpectedly the new Lord Meriden. None of Julian's stepsiblings knows him and Lady Meriden, who really has been somewhat ill ever since the birth of her last child, but is also a very silly self-centered woman at the best of times, is convinced that the new Lord Meriden will cast them all out, etc. Jane volunteers to visit her aunt and get them all sorted out, thereby also evading pressure from her father to marry Wincanton.
When Jane arrives, she finds the entire household revolves around doing whatever will not upset Lady Meriden -- Vincent, a town beau, has never been encouraged to do something with his life, or told how things really stand; Felix has been left untaught; Drusilla is headstrong; Maria is terrified of upsetting her mother; and the twins are an uncontrollable force of nature. Jane copes as best she can, keeping the household running through its daily crises, but unable to change much. All await the arrival of the new Lord Meriden, but it's a long time before he arrives (they haven't been told, and haven't bothered to find out, that Julian has been too ill to come immediately and is in fact forcing himself through a prolonged and painful rehab). Julian's experience as an officer has taught him how to deal with any situation with practicality, tact and effectiveness, and soon some amazing changes in the younger Strettons begin to appear -- but can this honorable but "unromantical" young man ever leave off worrying about his new family long enough to bring himself to ask for what *he* wants?
I really liked this book. I am a sucker for family dynamics stories, and this is a corker. Simonson realizes that even though people's outside demeanor may be improved, their essential characters remain the same (Drusilla plots for Julian to marry Jane, not for their happiness, but because it would serve her). Julian is a terrific hero -- uncomplaining, honorable, decent and straightforward in shouldering the burden of being head of a family that barely remembers who he is and knows nothing of what he's been through. Jane is one of those funny but practical heroines Heyer and Austen did so well. This one is worth looking for. (Posted by Janice 11/19/08)
Janice has come across one of my all time favorite Regencies! I've read Cousinly Connexion so many times it's hard for me to review it. I like the atmosphere in this book and consider it a very nice place to visit. The pace may seem slow but fits with the slower pace of life two centuries ago, which adds to the impression of reality; of have been transported to another time and place. Jane is a quiet heroine, not ever melodramatizing herself, spirited without being feisty and Julian is her perfect foil. The supporting cast is also well rounded, we really get to know everyone fairly well and although they get plenty of room they are not allowed to dominate the story. However, they are essential to the story as well, as without her impossible aunt and cousins Jane wouldn't be there in the first place.
I agree with Janice that Julian is a great hero, one of the best Regency heroes I've come across. This is a man, not some petulant child in a man's body. His fortitude under adversity, his great sense of humor and practical nature makes Julian, however unromantic, one of those men that make great husbands but few women are lucky enough to find. This book gets top marks from me as well and is definitely a worthy addition to any Regency library! (Posted by yvonne 11/19/08)
#75: Rogue's Masquerade
by Margaret Summerville
Published 1981 by Avon
Because his father the Duke of Welham is notoriously frugal, Hugh Ballanville, Ninth Marquis of Renwick, has travelled to London via the common stage to attend his cousin's wedding, and to look for a bride himself. He has arrived with dust covering his rough travelling clothes and is met at the coaching inn by Jeremy Smallbone, his cousin's groom. He tells Jeremy he'd like to handle the ribbons, since he's been cooped up inside the coach for so long. Renwick has never visited London before, and as he is remarking on the traffic, a high-perch phaeton carrying two young ladies hurtles around the corner straight at them. Renwick pulls up short to avoid an accident, and the ladies' phaeton smashes into an old woman's fruit stall, wrecking her cart and scattering all her fruit.
The phaeton is being driven by a young lady who views the furious Renwick with icy disdain as he (quite rightly) tells her off for her wild driving. The young lady driving sees a handsome but rough looking young man with a touch of the north in his accent, and is incensed that a mere servant should speak to her that way. She tosses a few coins at the fruit vendor and she and her companion drive off. Jeremy tells Renwick who the ladies are -- Lady Georgina Suttondale and her cousin Miss Penelope Amesbury -- his cousin Victor's fiancee.
Georgie's brother, the stuffy Earl of Rumbridge, does not like her spending so much time with Penelope, as she has a set of (in his view) disreputable artistic friends. Georgie believes manners and birth don't necessarily go together, and she says she could fool her brother and pass off a footman -- like the ruffian she met in the street yesterday -- as a prince; one of Penelope's friends says she couldn't, and a wager is born. Penelope and Georgie do not know that Renwick is a marquis; he prevents Victor from telling them and agrees to go along with their bet. To them he will pose as Smallbone's nephew Sam Botts. Georgie begins teaching "Sam" the manners of a ton gentleman, and finds herself more and more drawn to him -- ruffian or no.
This is a light, amusing romance, with engaging characters and a nice appearance by Prinny at the end to wrap things up. There's nothing particularly dramatic about it and no great point is made, but it's entertaining and well written. I was left wondering, however, if Georgie was ever really sorry about her wild driving and the harm she could have done to the horses and the people on the street. (Posted by Janice 10/29/08)
#74: Tarrington Chase
by Sylvia Thorpe
Published 1968 by Fawcett
Miss Perdita Chase is the daughter of a country vicar, now deceased, as are her mother and her brother, who died at Trafalgar with Nelson. After their deaths she was taken in by a distant cousin in London, but there she was treated as a poor relation and unpaid servant, as well as being stalked by her cousin's disgusting lech of a husband -- so she has decided to become a governess. As the story opens, she is arriving at her first post, at Tarrington Chase in the Welsh Marshes. On the way there, a rainstorm comes up and the groom tries to escape the weather by taking a shortcut through lands belonging to Jason Hawkesworth, but he intercepts them and refuses to let them cross his property, because he and old Lady Tarrington are old enemies. Perdita notes his unusual tawny colored eyes.
Lady Tarrington is the fearsome widow of Sir Humphrey Tarrington. Her own son and his wife are deceased, and his two children, Melissa, a sulky girl of about twelve, and the young baronet Sir Stephen, a boy of nine, will be Perdita's charges. Perdita is to have a three months' trial. When Lady Tarrington learns of the encounter with Jason, she is beyond furious and forbids Perdita to have any further contact with him or to allow her charges to do so, upon pain of immediate dismissal. Perdita sees that the boy's eyes are the same unusual color as Jason's.
Little Stephen also has a resident tutor, Edward Eastly, who is some sort of distant cousin, and though he is also nominally an employee, he is dressed as a man of fashion and Lady Tarrington calls him by his first name.
Perdita soon learns the reason behind the hatred between Jason and Lady Tarrington - Jason is her husband's illegitimate son, and Sir Humphrey had installed his mistress and her son in the village. After Sir Humphrey's death, Lady Tarrington aroused such enmity against them in the village that Jason left for India, and his mother eventually took her own life. Now Jason has returned, having made his fortune in India, with his mysterious Indian servant Mahdu, and has purchased Mays Court, the property next door -- to the incandescent fury of the old lady.
When several attempts are made to dispose of little Sir Stephen, Lady Tarrington blames Jason, despite there being no evidence that he was responsible, and quite a bit of evidence that the boy might have died if he had not been at hand. Perdita is placed in an impossible position -- about to lose her desperately needed job because she alone believes in Jason's innocence.
The identity of the would-be murderer is so apparent from the beginning that this doesn't really qualify as a mystery; the puzzle is not who dunnit but why. This is old fashioned story telling, with more of a gothic than a romance flavor. Characters are somewhat sketchy and we don't get to know them terribly well. It's more like watching a movie than reading a novel - more external than internal. On that level, it's enjoyable enough, but nothing to go back to once one knows what happened. (Posted by Janice 10/17/08)
I have read this book as well and consider Sylvia Thorpe an exceptionally good storyteller. That said, this is a romance in the old fashioned way. We don't get to know too much about the hero although enough to know he's a suitable match for Perdita. I've actually read this book more than once; the first time to find out wherefore and why, as Janice said, and the second time to put all the pieces together as there's a wealth of details here. I also agree that this isn't a true Gothic although it tries to be, the identity of the only possible villain too apparent to fool anyone. An interesting enough Cinderella story to while away an evening with. (Posted by yvonne 10/17/08)
#73: A Place For Alfreda
by Elizabeth Chater
Published 1987 by Fawcett
The Earl of Dorn desired a male heir to foil his cousin Benedict. When his wife Penelope died bearing a girl child, he took the male child of his mistress Carlotta and switched them. He sent the infant girl Alfreda to Nanny Green, his old governess, to be raised in rural obscurity under the name of Alfreda Green. Despite his vicious lifestyle and gambling excesses he maintained an allowance to Mrs. Green, as well as a house for Carlotta, in exchange for their silence.
Freddi was educated well and raised correctly, but without much affection. Nevertheless she grieved when Nanny Green died. After her death, with the allowance stopped, Freddi was wondering what to do when a letter from a London solicitor named North arrived, with a stage ticket, a room reservation in London, and instructions to go to the solicitor's office. On the way to London Freddi meets Mark Savage at an inn, and when he mocks her as a bluestocking for reading Aristotle at table, she throws ale in his face.
As Freddi is walking to the Inns of Court to meet with the solicitor (not having enough money to pay for a hack), she assists an old lady who had slipped and almost fallen coming out of an upper class house. Freddi assumes from her clothing that the old lady is a servant. When Freddi meets with the solicitor and his son, they tell her that they have found proof that she is the Earl's legitimate daughter and heir. Because they value justice above loyalty to their client, they want to help her, but they fear that she will be in danger if the Earl is threatened by this scandal -- and his son Roger by the loss of his inheritance. Roger is known in his neighborhood as a vicious bully; he has already tried to win a bet with Mark's younger brother Jeremy by damaging his vehicle.
The lady Freddi had helped has been waiting in the other room for the outcome of this interview. She is not a servant -- she's the eccentric Dowager Duchess of Calthorp, Freddi's maternal grandmother, and the first family Freddi has ever known. Between them all they hatch a plot to bring Freddi into society safely, so that the Dorns won't find her until the case against them is complete. The Duchess will give out that she needs a young companion, and Freddi will be disguised -- her distinctive red hair will be dyed, and her distinctive blue eyes will be hidden by spectacles. But Freddi doesn't want wealth or position -- all she's really wanted all her life is a place where she belongs. Can she find that with Mark, a man who appears to disdain her?
This is a short trad regency, in the old style, heavy on plot and incident -- the sort of thing you keep reading to find out what happened, and then easily forget. I found it entertaining enough, though not as good as Miss Cayley's Unicorn; the author's stylistic quirks began to annoy me after a while. I can't urge anyone to seek it out, but it's a pleasant read if you run across it. (Posted by Janice 10/14/08)
#72: Regency Star
by Claudette Williams
Published 1985 by Fawcett
Regency Star is a sequel to Lord Wildfire; its hero Sir Edward Danton was the rival in the previous book. This story begins at the moment the previous book ends, with Sir Edward standing on the road to Rye after his failed abduction of Lady Satin, and wondering if she was right when she said he was more in love with having his way than he ever was with her. He decides to go on to Brighton, and makes a stop for the night at the Mermaid Inn in Rye, intending to get thoroughly drunk and forget it all with his best friend Jules Stamford.
Miss Star Berkley is the 20 year old sister of the 22 year old Squire. Her brother Vern faced a mountain of debt when he inherited, and has turned to shady doings with a thug named Farley for money to rescue his lands and eventually give Star the London Season he wants for her. Just now he is very sick with fever, and can't keep his appointment with Farley at the Mermaid Inn, so Star disguises herself as a boy and takes the message herself. She hopes in the dim light to pass as Vern, but she runs into Sir Edward in the hall, and he pulls a button with a distinctive emblem off her coat. When Sir Edward is formally introduced to Miss Berkley at her home, he recognizes that emblem on her wall is the same as on the button, and is determined on finding out exactly what's going on. Meanwhile he comes to believe that his best friend Jules is in love with Star -- and if he tries to stand in Jules's way, he will be betraying their friendship.
This book centers on Sir Edward completing the maturation process that began when Lady Satin escaped him and he had to face his own motives in pursuing her. There is a subsidiary romance between Star's best friend Georgie and Edward's best friend Jules. There's a kidnap and thuggery plot, but it's subsidiary to the characters sorting themselves out. It would be helpful to read Lord Wildfire first (if you got through a heroine named Lady Satin, you won't balk at one named Star), but it's not really necessary, as none of its characters except Sir Edward recur in this book. I liked it and would recommend it if you're in the mood for a light, undemanding one hour read. (Posted by Janice 10/10/08)
#71: The Three Graces
by Jane Ashford
Published 1982 by Signet
The three Misses Hartington - Aglaia, Thalia and Euphrosyne - have lived with their eccentric cat-loving Aunt Elvira since their parents died. Each girl is lovely and each has a special talent - Aggie is good tempered, Thalia is a scholar, and Euphie is a gifted pianist. Their aunt has never had any interest in marrying or even going into society, and though she has treated the girls kindly in her way, she doesn't understand that their feelings differ. When Aunt Elvira dies suddenly, the girls are shocked to learn that she made only token provision for them in her will. She left the bulk of her fortune to her cats, with her BFF as trustee, and gave the girls only 1/3 each of L500 -- and the kitten of each girl's choice.
With no other prospects, the girls are forced to separate to find positions. Aggie, the eldest at 19, goes as a nursery governess to Mrs James Wellfleet. While there Aggie meets Robert Dudley, a childhood friend who once teased her over her name, calling her "Uglea"; she finds that now that he's grown up, he's not so repellent anymore.
Thalia, the middle sister, goes as a teacher at the Chadbourne School, where she meets James Elguard. James intends a career in the church, and is enchanted to find a girl who shares his intellectual interests, but their romance hits a snag when Lady Agnes Crewe, a spiteful pupil and the school's "mean girl", spreads scandalous gossip about Thalia.
Euphie, the youngest sister at 17, goes as a lady's companion to Lady Fanshawe in London. Her son, Giles, Earl of Westdeane, is London's most eligible bachelor and hotly pursued by all the matchmaking mamas. He too loves music, though he does not perform, and he finds Euphie a refreshing change from the insipid or conniving debs thrust into his path.
The book has a section for each girl's experiences, and a fourth section when they are all brought together again in London. When they are seen together there for the first time, they become known as The Three Graces.
I found it a pleasant, relaxing read, with some mild humor, mostly due to the kittens. There are one or two memorable subsidiary characters. I particularly liked shy Mary Deming, who hungers for books and literature and is bullied by the dreadful Lady Agnes, and I liked her courage in speaking up for Thalia against her enemy. There aren't any huge melodramatic issues in this book; the girls are not abused in their employment or in danger from murderous potential heirs or any of that. It's mostly just about the eternal problem of finding the right husband. The book is not written in the snappy, florid style currently in favor, there's no sex in it, and on the whole it couldn't be sold today, and that's a shame because it's really quite enjoyable - a nice spring day's read. (Posted by Janice 10/5/08)
It's been a while since I read this story and like Janice I enjoyed it. Jane Ashford is an excellent writer and her prose is a joy to read. However, I thought the book a bit too short for the stories of all three girls as it left very little room for developing each character, hence it reads more like a collection of short stories than one solid novel. I believe this book would have been better if it had been somewhat longer although the stories are too intertwined to make three separate books in a series. It is still a fun read and if you feel like something light and fluffy, this would certainly fit the bill. (Posted by yvonne 10/5/08)
#70: Miss Cayley's Unicorn
by Elizabeth Chater
Published 1988 by Fawcett
Miss Georgina Cayley lives with her widowed father, Squire Cayley. The Squire is a brutal, coarse man; he gives Gina little to run the house on and his servants are all terrified of him. He has as a guest one Captain Ruthbane, who made his money as a slaver -- a man as rough and cruel as her father, if not more so. Her father informs Gina that she is to be married to Ruthbane in three days. Gina cries out No! and her father strikes her to the floor, knocking her out and bruising her face badly. It's far from the first time he has hit her. The servants help her to her room and there she plans an escape. Her father has had all her clothes taken away, but her maid Meggie brings her an old dress of Cook's (Cook finds out and adds a cloak and hat), the other servants give her a few coins, and Gina leaves home in the driving rain, intending to go to London and find some sort of place there.
Earl Delatorr (Stephen) is the product of a dysfunctional marriage. His beautiful mother has numerous lovers, and his father has his own arrangements. While escorting his mother to a ball, she nearly traps Stephen into making an announcement of his engagement to a girl she has chosen, as this will help her regain her respectability in exchange for the girl's mother entry into society. In another incident afterwards Stephen is manipulated by a woman into a challenge with his best friend.
Stephen rebels and leaves London that night, riding alone on his one-man stallion Lucifer. Drenched in the same rainstorm Gina is out in, by the time he finds a small inn he has caught a fever. The inn's owners are afraid he has some sort of plague and want to get rid of him without getting into trouble, so they bundle him into an old caravan, with some food and water. They hitch Lucifer to it somehow but they don't rob Stephen; they take only enough coins to cover the caravan and the food. The caravan is painted with various mythological designs, the chief one being a scene of a unicorn being lured by a virgin, with armed men waiting in the background to capture it. To Stephen this is a metaphor for what women do to men, and he compares himself to the innocent unicorn lured in and trapped by a woman.
Stephen is sick, abandoned in the woods, when Gina comes across him. At the same time her father and the captain catch up with her trail. Gina hides under the caravan; Stephen sees what brutes the two men are and does not tell on her. The exertion brings on his fever again, but Gina says with him and finds Dr. Tredgar to help him.
It seems that a marriage between Stephen and Gina will solve the problems of both -- Gina will be safely out of reach of her father and her brutal suitor, and Stephen will have put an end to his mother's matchmaking plans. Only the kindly doctor thinks something even more valuable may eventually come of it all.
I've never read a regency in which a heroine suffered so much physical abuse -- she gets cold-cocked by her father, roughed up by her pirate suitor, her arm gets broken in an accident, all on top of a lifetime of beatings from her father -- yet is so little affected by it. She's terrified of her father, she's injured over and over, yet she doesn't seem to feel much rancor or self-pity about it, she just makes the best of things and remains a nice person. It's a nice contrast to Stephen, who has everything seemingly, yet who feels very much sorry for himself over his mother's manipulations and some of the situations he finds himself in. Despite all the drama and physical abuse, this book has a great deal of light-hearted humor as well. If the heroine had been less optimistic (however improbable that may be in her circumstances), the humor wouldn't have worked. I thought a nice balance was struck and I enjoyed it. (Posted by Janice 10/2/08)
#69: Lord Wildfire
by Claudette Williams
Published 1984 by Fawcett
Lady Satin is the willful daughter of the Earl of Waverly, who is constantly having to speak to her about scrapes she's gotten herself into, the latest being that she has authored a novel called Passion's Seed. Her father is worried that her identity will get out and she will be socially ruined a la Lady Caroline Lamb -- although he is financially overextended and the money from the book came in very handy. Satin isn't worried because she has used a male pseudonym; she tells her father Caro ruined herself not by writing a novel but by her pursuit of Byron. She then goes off under the escort of a beau, Count Otto Stauffenberg, to view the Catch-me-who-can engine. The Count causes a runaway spill and Satin meets "Lord Wildfire" in the aftermath.
The Ninth Duke of Morland is called Nick by his friends and Lord Wildfire because of his exploits on the battlefield and off it with women. He has recently come into the title at his father's death. Nick loved his father, as did his best friend, Lord Charles Liverpool, and had been in no hurry to inherit, nor is he in any hurry to marry and produce an heir. Since his father's death he has left the army and roistered about for a bit. He is attracted to and intrigued by Satin but has no intention of marrying anybody at this time.
Lord Edward Danton is also strongly attracted to Satin; in fact she's become a bit of an obsession. He knows he must marry her to have her, but Satin refuses him. He tells her that she will come to love him eventually, and tries to blackmail her into marrying him by threatening to reveal that she is the author of Passion's Seed, which would ruin her and her family socially. Even he recognizes, however, that he is motivated more by a desire to have his way than by any deep feeling for Satin.
I enjoyed this slight tale rather more than I thought I would. Silly names, silly plot, but it was reasonably well written and had a bit of energy to it, and I liked the characters, especially Satin's sensible cousin Cory. Danton's story is concluded in Regency Star, and I liked this book enough to order that. (Posted by Janice 9/30/08)
#68: The Indomitable Miss Harris
by Amanda Scott
Published 1983 by Signet
The Marquis of Landover is trustee of Miss Gillian Harris's fortune and that of her brother Sir Avery since their parents' deaths. Avery is actually Gillian's guardian but Landover holds the purse strings. Gillian and Avery come to London and live with Gillian's chaperone Mrs. Amelia Periwinkle, but Avery overspends and Gillian gets into some mild scrapes, and Landover hears gossip about her. He calls her on the carpet and closes her household, forcing her, her brother and the chaperone to live with him under his control. (Very Regency Buck.)
Gillian is out and about in London and is acquainted with all the jet set notables of the day - Alvanley, Brummel, the de Lievens. In particular she strikes up a friendship with 17 year old Princess Charlotte. Landover is enormously wealthy and a crony of Prinny's, for whom he has bought expensive art objects. Landover does not want Gillian involved in the royal family's difficulties, particularly not on the wrong side, but Gillian wants to continue the friendship with Charlotte. They quarrel frequently about it. Gillian is falling in love with her trustee, but believes he wants Lady Henrietta, an old friend, as his wife.
I hate to say it, but I found this a very boring book. It is half guidebook to London and half history lesson. Characters chat away about historical events (which were current to them) in what I think is a very unnatural fashion; people who talked that way at a party now would soon find themselves in the corner without an audience. Gillian's involvement with the Princess seems contrived (which it must be, since Charlotte is a historical figure and Gillian is fictional). Anything in the way of a love story or plot stops dead, dead, dead with these contrived set pieces, and there's no suspense in the Charlotte part of the plot, since we all know what happened to her.
This is one of Scott's earliest books and I think we can all be thankful that eventually she got over the research dumping and concentrated on her own characters instead. I can't recommend it. (Posted by Janice 9/26/08)
#67: Secrets Of The Heart
by Mary Balogh
Published 1988 by Signet
Miss Sarah Fifield lived with her aunt and uncle Bowen after the death of her parents, and took their last name. She grew up with a step-cousin, Win Bowen, a handsome and plausible young man who developed a sexual obsession for Sarah. Win blackmailed her into submitting to him by telling her that her younger brother Gray (a developmentally disabled boy) had caused the death of another boy and could hang for it if Win testified that he had witnessed the incident. Sarah said nothing because she thought no one would believe her. Her aunt idolized Win and her uncle was ill with consumption; Sarah could not turn to them. It did not matter to Win that she protested and fought; he would tell her that a woman like her must be enjoying it.
Sarah married George Montagu, Duke of Cranwell, hoping she had found a safe haven. George was impressed by her beauty, her intelligence, and her quiet demeanor - not realizing that some of it was due to the low self-esteem and fear of men that Win had induced in her. George was enraged when on their wedding night he found she was not a virgin. He called her a whore, divorced her and left her a small settlement, enough for the lease on a remote cottage, where she had been living until lately. After the divorce Win (now Viscount Laing) did everything in his power to force her to come to him as his mistress, even taking the last little money she had, but she refused. Just as Sarah was becoming desperate, she received a letter from Lady Murdoch, a distant connection, inviting her to make a home with her.
Sarah, who had gone back to her original surname of Fifield, would have preferred to be a paid companion to Lady Murdoch, but the old lady insists on treating her as a granddaughter. Sarah still says nothing because she does not expect to be believed, and fears the old scandal will erupt again. Until Lady Murdoch, she has had no one who would stand her friend. But Lady Murdoch insists on taking her to Bath, bringing her back into society -- and back into contact with her ex-husband George and Win, her abuser.
I have read this novel half a dozen times over the years, and each time I find myself angry all over again at Sarah's treatment by her cousin and the impossible position she was in, between the blackmail of her cousin, the prideful idiot groom who did not ask *why*, and the attitudes of the day, which would have condemned her despite her victimization. It's a romance, so hearts are changed, and it all comes right in the end -- but some of this book is so intense as to these issues that I would not recommend it to everyone. (Posted by Janice 9/20/08)
#66: Her Ladyship's Companion
by Joanna Watkins Bourne
Published 1983 by Avon
Miss Melissa Rivenwood was found on a country rector's doorstep, with no clue to her identity save that she knew a few words of French. The very kind Reverend Mr. Rivenwood adopted her and raised her as his daughter. However, after his death, her Uncle Gregory, his heir, explained to her that the provisions in her father's will could not possibly apply to an adopted child, and kept all the money. He sent her to school to a London girls' seminary run by Mrs. Brody and at 19, she is now the French mistress there. Mrs. Brody is cordially hated by all her underpaid employees, whom she keeps in place by refusing to give them references, but only Melissa has gone so far as to find another position and leave -- knowing that she has burned all her bridges behind her.
Her new position is that of companion to Lady Dorothy, the Dowager Countess of Harforth. Her passage to Vinton Manor in Cornwall is paid. Because she is travelling alone and her clothes are poor, she is accosted at an inn by a drunk. The drunk mistakes her for a serving wench, but his companions, Sir Adrian Hawkhurst and Mr. Giles Tarsin, hear her cultured speech and realize she is not one of the "fair game" sort. Giles pulls the drunk off her and escorts her safely to her room. (Presumably if she had been a maid, it would have been okay for the gentlemen to rape her.)
The next day, as she waits for her interview with Lady Dorothy, she is disagreeably surprised to find that Giles lives there and is in charge. Lady Dorothy's grandson Robbie, the seventh Earl of Keptford, is a 7 year old child; Giles is his uncle and trustee. Lady Dorothy herself has a heart condition, though she's a tough old bird. Also living in the house are Miss Anna Merringham, a completely spoiled 17 year old girl; Harold Bosforth (Lady Dorothy's own illegitimate son), Sir Adrian; and Edgar, Giles's secretary.
Lady Dorothy runs the household and Melissa's job will be to assist her with its management, as well as be a companion to her.
Not long after arriving, Melissa learns several disturbing facts about life at Vinton Manor. She learns that the previous governess, Miss Coburn, died after a fall from the cliffs, and that there has been an "accidental" fire which nearly killed Robbie. Although Robbie is only 7, he is an intelligent child and he knows what he saw - the door to his bedroom was jammed shut and he could not get it open to escape. Complications ensue which cause Melissa to suspect that the incidents which have endangered Robbie were not accidents, and the evidence seems to point to his Uncle Giles as the culprit - the man who has been after Melissa as a mistress from the start, and to whom she is herself strongly attracted.
I found this book very entertaining. It is a cracking good gothic-flavored mystery of the old fashioned sort. Melissa is a strong, courageous, tart-tongued heroine, and I suspect that in another fifty years she'll be just the sort of "ruler" that Lady Dorothy is. Robbie is quite mature for his age, but at least he's not the twee sort; he is a sensible little kid and will grow up to be quite a man.
Giles is most problematic for me, because of the old double standard thing: It was not OK to insult and assault a woman of the upper classes (not just because she had other males to defend her but because by being of that class she was a better person - so much for all that equality before God stuff) -- but lower class women, or women caught alone, were fair game. Giles uses the I-will-grab-her-and-kiss-her-into-submission-to-my-manly-sexiness, using her own body's responses against her - this is so common in romances, yet to me that's so close to bullying as to be despicable - and Melissa is angry at this treatment as well. To their credit, when the men around her realize that she is not a conniving slut, they treat her with respect, and at some point Giles determines that she is Worthy of His Name and decides to offer her marriage instead of carte blanche. Melissa had been on the point of accepting his offer to be his mistress, and she accepts his marriage proposal. I was kind of hoping she'd kick him in the balls for his condescension, but by this time she's in love with him too, and it is the 19th century - there would be no blowing back off to London and finding a good job and a man who treats her right from the beginning. Melissa stays willingly, but I was left wondering if a tiny part of that was still that, in that time and her circumstances, she really has nowhere else to go.
Joanna Watkins Bourne is the same Joanna Bourne who wrote the recent The Spymaster's Lady. I wonder what she was doing all those years in between. I wish she'd been writing regencies all along. (Posted by Janice 9/17/08)
#65: The Determined Bachelor
by Judith Harkness
Published 1981 by Signet
Sir Basil Ives is a confirmed bachelor and somewhat of a misogynist. He was raised in an all-male household -- made comfortable by women, of course, but they were all servants and so he didn't socialize with them. He is good looking, charming and a skillful diplomat, serving as Ambassador to France and at home in the Tuilleries -- correct but quick to get frosty when crossed. Despite having a very intelligent older married woman friend in Lady Cardovan, he still believes that women have nothing in their heads but fashion and trivial matters.
Basil is unexpectedly saddled with the guardianship of a young girl of about nine years, Miss Nicole Lessington, and, at a loss as to what to do with her, he consults Lady Cardovan. She agrees to help him by interviewing potential governesses for the child. She chooses Miss Anne Calder, a young woman of 27 whose father is a clergyman with a large family to provide for. Anne has no specific experience but she has helped teach and raise her younger siblings and Lady Cardovan likes her. Anne befriends Nicole and helps the poor lonely thing express her grief over her papa's death.
Anne, however, is a young lady with secrets. Without actually having lied to anyone, she has given the impression that her family is a good deal less well off than it is, and she has concealed her real purpose for wishing to come to London - she is an authoress whose first novel is about to be published, and, as she's in need of material for the second, she thinks observing the fashionable world will furnish her with just what she needs. She even begins a new book, to be called The Determined Bachelor, using Basil as a model, but she begins to realize that she cannot satirize him; she has come to respect him too much and may even be falling in love with him.
This is a book which wouldn't be published as a mass market paperback today. There's no sex, a lot of it consists of people standing around talking to each other, its humor is subtle and dry, and its hero is a mere Baronet. It is written in a style very reminiscent of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and it was very much to my taste. I think it might do well as an ebook or as a trade paperback; neither of those formats is so rigid in its genre specifications. I recommend it - but mostly to those who sometimes enjoy a more formal writing style, as I do. (Posted by Janice 9/7/08)
#64: The Silver Shilling
by Georgina Grey
Published 1982 by Fawcett
This is a Georgian, not a regency. However the author Georgina Grey, aka Mary Ann Roby, has written both Georgians and regencies, and, to my mind, the manners and atmosphere don't differ that much.
Miss Caroline Warren's Uncle Albert, Lord Hibbert, is trustee of the funds left her by her father. He is a dear but impractical man and has already lost quite a bit of her money through unsuccessful speculations. Now he is investing her money in an eidophusikon, a sort of mechanical special effects generator being made by Mr. Theodosis Read. It is to be displayed in a theater in Charing Cross and will perform wondrous effects along the lines of the rival Merlin's Cave. Uncle Albert is so taken with the scheme that he has brought Miss Pauline Read, the inventor's daughter, home to stay with them; her father has asked as a favor that she be introduced into society so that she may find a husband.
However, Pauline has already fallen in love with her father's chief assistant, Mr. Randolph Terrell, the younger brother of Lord Terrell. Randolph is a gifted artist of these beautiful mechanical marvels.
Caroline's aunt has urged her to convince her uncle that this is a bad speculation, but the most Caroline can bring herself to do (especially given that she has no legal right to control her own funds as long as her uncle is trustee), so that she can see how her money is being used, is to ask that she and Pauline be allowed to spend their mornings at Read's house. The scheme eats money, even alarming Caroline's banker and man of business, and nobody seems to be paying any attention to such practical matters as bills to be paid.
Lord Terrell is interested in the success of the scheme also; he suspects that his brother is being used and/or fleeced, and he is suspicious about Caroline's involvement too. He makes Caroline a bet that Read's enterprise will fail - the stakes, a silver shilling.
I enjoyed the dry humor in this book very much - the cat, the aunt, the descriptions of the "marvels". The author makes the customs of the Georgian era seem somewhat freer; the girls, singly or together, go about London in hackney cabs without accompaniment by servants or chaperones. A lady must be careful in her dealings with the men who control her money, but there's no sense that her taking an informed interest is horribly improper in itself, or impossible. Other than that, and the difference in fashions, it could be a regency, as it's about the kind of inventor/artist who built the machines that Frederica's younger brother wanted so passionately to see when he visited London. (Posted by Janice 8/4/08)
#63: Miss Pennington's Choice
by Megan Daniel
Published 1988 by Charter Books (Berkley)
Miss Georgianna Pennington is the daughter of a widowed diplomat. Since her mother's death several years ago, she has accompanied her father everywhere, running his household and being his closest companion. She loves her father and her life with him and has therefore been in no hurry to marry herself, but when she learns that her father has fallen in love with a thoroughly likeable widow, Suzanne Patterson, and that there will be no marriage for them until she finds someone herself, she resolves to find a husband as soon as possible.
Suzanne is already acquainted with the Trevelyan twins -- The Hon. Robert Trevelyan (Robin), an Oxford scholar, and Alexander (Alec), the Earl of Kitteridge. Robin is quite sober and serious, while Alec is fashionable and fun-loving. Robin has gone out of his way to make a separate life for himself because he loves his wealthier, titled brother and doesn't want ever to be in the position of envying him for anything, and in doing so Robin has quashed the lighter qualities that he shares with Alec.
Robin has known a young lady named Miss Evelina Everbright for some time, and they are good friends; they rub along well together and Robin has even been thinking she might make him a suitable wife (as has Evelina's mama). Evelina appears to great disadvantage in the fussy pink and yellow fashionable gowns her mother has chosen for her. Evelina is an outspoken young lady, good with horses, who hasn't had the heart to weather her mother's vapors if she should protest these idiotic clothing choices, as she tells herself she's not interested in catching a husband anyway, so what does it matter if she looks a dowd in public?
It is the summer of the Congress of Vienna, and Georgie's father goes there as part of his duties, as does a great part of the fashionable world, including the Trevelyan twins, Evelina and the dog Talley. On a whim Alec has made Robin a bet that they can swap places and fool everyone. After realizing that he has become so dull that people can easily tell him from Alec, Robin agrees to go along. Robin will dress more fashionably and try to be less "bookish", and Alex (quite intelligent but no scholar) will wear Robin's more sober colors and try not to screw up.
Alec finds Evelina much more interesting than he would ever have thought, and Evelina dredges up the will to oppose her mother and dress to please Alec's undoubted good taste. By the time Robin and Georgie realize their attraction, Robin is thoroughly mired in his deception and increasingly at a loss as to what will happen when it comes to an end. How can he possibly tell Georgie that he's usually been pretending to be Alec ever since they met?
The first thing I noticed about this book is the wildly inappropriate cover painting. I expect it is supposed to be Robin and Georgie at a masquerade ball they attend in Vienna, but the clothes! At the ball Georgie was a Russian Firebird in a red and gold feathered costume and headdress, and Robin was dressed all in blue satin with lace and a curled black Cavalier wig. On the cover the lady is wearing a spaghetti strap fringed red gown with headband straight out of the 1920s, and the gentleman is wearing a black and gold brocade outfit that looks to me like Renaissance pajamas, and he has no wig. It certainly doesn't look "regency"!
Despite the cover, I found this a pleasant read. Twins switching places is not exactly a new plot idea, but there are no new plot ideas anyway, and this one is well handled. The author gives a lot of attention to the changes in each that the identity switch produces, and to Georgie's feelings once she realizes that something's wrong somewhere. Lots of regency flavor without being a research dump. This is lighter than other Megan Daniels titles I've read; I would recommend it as a good summer read. (Posted by Janice 9/1/08)
#62: Out Of The Common Way
by Melissa Lynn Jones
Published 1993 by Fawcett Crest
Miss Cecilia Linscombe has been helping at a military hospital in Torres Vedras; she had been following the drum with her father James. On a dimly lit staircase, Major Trelwyn mistook her for a camp follower and kissed her. He asked her to meet him for dinner and spend the night with him. Cecilia sent her Briard dog Marpessa instead, and disguised herself as a young man to watch from the shadows. The major laughed and gave the dog dinner - but he knew she was there, though he thought she was a young man.
When Cecilia's father was killed in action, she returned to England to the home of her uncle, Sir Andrew Linscombe. He intended her to serve as an unpaid drudge and children's nurse, so she escaped to the home of an old friend, Miss Jane Shelton. Miss Shelton sends her to her friend, an attorney named Dockery, and he and his wife send her as companion to the Dowager Duchess of Kelthorpe. Cecilia uses the name of Langley to avoid her uncle, as she is underage (19) and legally he could force her to return to him.
The Dowager has been hiding an infirmity - she is deaf. Cecilia helps her continue to conceal her difficulty by cueing her when others are present. Because her own family treated her so badly, Cecilia believes that if her grandson marries the wrong woman, he will exile his grandmother from Kelthorpe House in London, so she meddles.
The Dowager's grandson Stephen arrives home and turns out to be the major that Cecilia had played her trick on in Portugal. It turns out that the three older ladies have been conspiring to bring about a marriage between Cecilia and Stephen.
Written in an odd, somewhat affected style, but the characters are very likeable. Melissa Lynn Jones has only a few books under that name, all from 1993. Wonder what happened. (Posted by Janice 8/30/08)
It's been a while since I read this book and over all I considered it an enjoyable read. There are som inconsistencies in it, a little too much of Cinderella to suit me, and some scenes that feel rather contrived. That said, the story is amusing at times, Marpessa certainly stole the show for me and there's every hope the couple can live happily ever after. (Posted by yvonne 8/30/08)
#61: The Unsuitable Chaperone
by Corinna Cunliffe
Published 1988 by Signet
Lady Laura Firle, at 25, has been widowed for two years. She loved her husband Charles, with whom she had two children, John and Lavinia, and even though the worst of her grief is over, she has had no thoughts of remarrying until now, when she begins to think of it more in terms of providing a good stepfather to her children than a husband/lover of her own.
Through all her marriage Tarne, the Earl of Endsleigh, was her best friend and Charles's, and since Charles's death he has been the one she turned to for advice and companionship. Tarne, with his broken nose and his tendency toward seasickness, is charming, comforting, safe, and very much taken for granted. Tarne has been in love with her since they first met, but she chose Charles, and he accepted that. But now that Laura is available again, it's a different matter.
Laura has been asked to chaperone her niece, Miss Persephone Raines, through her first London Season. Laura has sent her kids to their Wealdon grandparents for the summer and so she is free to take Persephone about and introduce her into society. Laura thinks Persephone might make Tarne a good wife, and does not see hints that Persephone is more interested in the brother of a young friend of hers.
Early in the Season Laura unexpectedly receives two proposals of marriage. One is from Sir William Watkins, a retired naval officer of unexceptionable moral character, who could give her children good principles. The other is from Lord Peter Burnthorpe, a charming but ever broke gamester, who could teach them to enjoy life. She asks Tarne for his advice as to which of them, if either, she should choose. Tarne tells her to give it some time, and in the meantime hatches a plot with Persephone to pique Laura's interest by making her a bit jealous. Laura goes on thinking Tarne and Persephone are interested in each other, blind to all hints that they aren't.
Burnthorpe inveigles Laura into a bet that she can drive from Lambeth to Brighton in better time than Captain Wombwell, for a stake of L500. Laura takes the bet despite her loyal groom Hobbs's disapproval. Laura knows very well that all her suitors, especially Tarne, would disapprove, so she keeps the bet a secret. But one of her horses casts a shoe en route and she meets Terry O'Donoghue, an old acquaintance who has taken up robbing travelers. She gets him to loan her his horse and they continue on to Brighton, winning the bet for Laura, but posing new problems, as Terry is known to be wanted for murder in Ireland.
There's a lot of plot going on in this book - enough incidents for several tales, and on that level it's very enteraining. On the level of emotional reality however, I don't quite buy Laura's blindness where Tarne is concerned. It's not a case of Laura still being sunk in her grief for her husband; she has already come back to life emotionally. She knows she isn't happy with her two suitors, and she knows she is happy when Tarne is around, yet she goes on kidding herself that friendship is all she feels -- without wondering why Tarne is hanging around either. Tarne himself is unbelievably circumspect in his dealings with Laura, even before she married his friend Charles, never making any overt move toward her. Both these characters are presented as above average in intelligence and regency "street smarts", yet neither of them, especially Laura, really acts like it. It's the sort of thing that happens in romances but not in real life. (Posted by Janice 8/18/08)
I really enjoyed this story. Cunliffe's book is one that has survived several of my pruning efforts to keep my Regency collection within bounds. Laura and Tarne are likable characters that I don't mind spending time with. The children's are kept to a minimum, which I like as I'm not that fond of kids in romances acting too cute for words and often upstaging the adults. There are no really nasty people here and Conliffe even give excuses for her less than endearing characters, who are not evil but more like real people with their good and bad points.
I do agree with Janice that the book seems to drag a bit, or rather, that the main story line seems to drag as there's so much else going on it's hard for Laura and Tarne to get a word in edgewise! It's not a bad read but if you want intense romance this is not for you. Can people as smart be as dense as Laura outside a novel? Well, yes! In my personal experience we all make a bit of fools of ourselves in the romance department. I am not certain I agree Tarne is too diffident. I can see where you rather be with the adored object as a friend, however heartbreaking, rather than chance it and be denied even friendship. I thought a less forward hero a nice change of pace after all the most handsome ever, charm oozes out of every pore rake hero that's way, way too common in Regencies. (Posted by yvonne 8/18/08)
What I found unconvincing was the "Laura never knew" stuff. Women know when a man wants them, even if they're already involved with another man. There's a vibe. The author doesn't tell us that Laura was aware but suppressed the knowledge of Tarne's interest - she says Laura never knew. Baloney
As for Tarne, he must have superhuman control never to have given a smidgen of a clue to his feelings - in all those years, not a word, not a look, not a touch? Oh puleez. Nobody can keep up an act at that level 24/7/365.
And what about Charles? Didn't he notice either? Another unbelievable assertion. Tarne was living in their house and they were together constantly. Someone should have noticed something at some point. At the very least Tarne shouldn't have wanted to, or been allowed to, go on staying there indefinitely. Even though I believe that both partners in the marriage would not have been unfaithful, it's still too awkward a situation.
I would have believed this story more if Tarne had gone off on his own after the marriage and not come back again until Laura was a widow, or if he had gotten married himself in the interim.
I found the inclusion of the children to be a convenient plot element, rather than an organic part of the story. It is certainly reasonable that after several years of marriage between two healthy young adults, there would be children. It also gives the widow a reason to consider suitors in the light of what is best for her children.
I did feel, however, that Laura was a bit of an unnatural mother, or the author was sloppy. She sent her kids to the grandparents for the summer, which is fine, but she doesn't seem to miss them much when they're gone. Most mothers I know are more attached than that. They'd be wondering, writing, going there themselves from time to time (it's apparently no more than a 6 or 7 hour drive). But Laura is kind of out of sight, out of mind with them, and the children themselves aren't individualized characters.
It's tempting to try to align this with what we know about the author - she was in her 60s when she wrote it, divorced, and her son grown by then. Maybe this seemed reasonable behavior to her, or perhaps it seemed behavior considered reasonable in the 1800s which we would not find reasonable now. If the latter she should have addressed that.
I wouldn't say the book dragged. If anything,it's too busy - as Joe Bob Briggs used to say, too much plot getting in the way of the story. My feeling about the book is that it was entertaining enough on the plot level as I was reading it, but it's not got solid characterizations and is therefore not something I would probably ever reread. (Posted by Janice 8/20/08)
#60: Hand Of Fortune
by Corinna Cunliffe
Published 1985 by Signet
Miss Henrietta St. John had lived at Rutherford Place with her father, a noted horse breeder; her mother had died when she was a child. After his death, her uncle acted as her trustee, but he gambled away her fortune, and now everything must be sold to pay debts, including Henrietta's own mare Gavotte and the pride of Rutherford Place, a 3 year old stallion called Hypericum. Only Damper, the head groom, and Henrietta can ride Hypericum, and only Henrietta can call forth the best from the colt.
Henrietta's man of business quickly finds a potential buyer in Lord Drogo Hintlesham, a young man who had made a fortune in India and is looking for a property where he can raise horses. As Henrietta is showing Hypericum to him, something just comes over her and she asks that Drogo keep on Damper and Damper's nephew Henry as stableboy, as Henry is the only person to ride Hypericum in the Derby. Henrietta talks Damper and Mrs. Damper into helping her with the masquerade. The few other servants left who might have given her away are retiring or going to other positions after the sale; she lives with the Dampers and works as hard as any stable lad. Drogo likes the lad and does not see through the masquerade. Drogo would not have liked her nearly as well had he known she was female, as a prior bad experience has left him soured on women.
Soon Hypericum is in primo shape for the race -- so primo that one night Dirk Lee and his brother, "borrow" him. Dirk is in love with Sabrina Boswell, but her father Jamal has set one task after another for Dirk to complete before he will consent to the marriage. The last task set is that Dirk's horse must beat Jamal's mare Kooshti Baw in a race. Henrietta sees them steal the horse and follows, but they catch her. Dirk promises that when Hypericum has won the race, which he surely will, she can take the horse back. Henrietta likes Dirk and his gypsy family, and Dirk adds to her job skills by teaching her how to snag chickens out of a farmer's henhouse with a whip and without a sound. Henrietta & Hypericum win the race for them, Dirk marries his Sabrina, and all is well, until the morning after the wedding when they find that Jamal has stolen Hypericum. By the time they find the horse again, it is too late; the Derby has been run and won by Sailor. Henrietta returns to Rutherford Place with the horse, to learn that Drogo has lost his wagers and he's not happy to find that Henry is Henrietta either.
Henrietta goes to live with her selfish cousin Emmalina Pemberton and Emmalina's whiny daughter Edwina, where she is, of course, treated like a poor relation and (worst of all) forced to wear puce in public. When Drogo can't even defeat her at chicken snatching, he says something unfortunate which hurts and angers Henrietta. She is rescued from life with her cousin by La Comtesse de la Plie, a friend of her mother's, a wealthy widow who takes delight in outfitting Henrietta and taking her about in London as she deserves. Henrietta develops quite a following, and Drogo develops a two bottle thirst.
In one such foxed episode, he bets Sailor's owner that Hypericum can beat him over the Derby course, overlooking the fact that only two people can ride the horse. When he sobers up, Drogo goes home and tells Damper to lose the weight, but Damper refuses, pointing out that he would lose too much strength and anyway Hypericum only really shows his stuff when Henrietta rides him. Now Drogo is really stuck, because he has realized that he wants to marry Henrietta, but she might think he's only proposing because he wants to win the race.
I liked this book; it was an absorbing read. The name Drogo Hintlesham made me giggle at first, but I told myself to get a grip; Drogo was Frodo's dad's name so it's probably one of those traditional English names that sounds hilarious to an American but perfectly ordinary to an English person. (The author is English.) There is probably some place called Hintlesham, or something like it, and it's a lot better than the names some American writers come up with. The author knows horses, she knows English country life, and she knows the regency setting well enough to fool me, at least. The gypsies were nice folks too, once you could get over the fact that they stole a horse and abducted its lad, and the improbability of their actually giving such a horse back instead of keeping it. But I liked the characters and it all sort of made sense to me.
Oddly, this author is not listed in my Byron, though the Good Ton site says she did two other regencies for Signet during the 80s, Play of Hearts and The Unsuitable Chaperone. (Posted by Janice 8/12/08)
Note by yvonne: I have a copy of The Unsuitable Chaperone so of a certainty Cunliffe wrote several Regencies.
#59: The Earl's Intrigue
by Elizabeth Todd aka Alicia Rasley
Published 1984 by Signet
"Miss Ariana Kent" was taken to France when a very small child, when her pretty, charming mother Marissa fled her cold and harsh husband for her lover Denis. When the Terror set in, Denis left them and Ariana's mother was forced to go out every day to try to find food. One day she went out and did not return. Denis found Ariana, then about five years of age, and sent her back to Northumberland to her father, but her father hated her as a reminder of her mother's infidelity. He kept her until she was fourteen, when he gave her a few coins and turned her out of the house, telling her to find some other man to keep her, like her mother.
Forced to support herself, Ariana took to the boards. When the story opens, she has been left behind in Bristol because she was too sick with a fever to move on with her troupe. When she recovers, she tries to follow them to York, but her small store of money won't stretch that far and she finds herself thrown off the coach in Newbury. Desperate, she tries to pilfer some money to continue her journey, at which time Tony Caine, the Earl of Caernan, catches her red-handed. Ariana, who has managed to maintain her virtue despite her occupation and her beauty, appeals strongly to him.
As it happens, however, Tony is in more need of an actress than a mistress. He has been tasked with unmasking a traitor. The suspect is one Lord Shelby, and Tony wants someone in the house to spy for him. He has limited access even though he is engaged to Shelby's daughter Claire. He proposes that Ariana pretend to be Mlle Therese Montaigne, the niece of a man thought to be held in France, who has come to London seeking information about his whereabouts and safety. The real Therese had died not long before. Tony offers her L100 to stay with the Shelbys and spy for him -- but Ariana bumps him up to L300, enough for her to live on for several years, she thinks, if she's careful.
Ariana's masquerade is a smashing success; the ton just love the romantic "Mlle Montaigne" and Tony's sister Sylvia befriends her -- but there are unexpected ramifications to her stay in the Shelby household. Madame Shelby has bigger plans for her icy daughter Claire than marriage to a mere Earl, Shelby is found to be a contact of the mysterious Le Renard, Ariana learns that her father, who could expose her, is coming to London, Tony becomes increasingly curious about her real identity, and he finds that his feelings are changing -- he still wants Ariana as much as ever, but shall she be mistress or wife?
Until I looked this book up in Byron, I didn't know that Alicia Rasley had ever written under another name. Normally I'm not much for spy plots, or the piggish aspect to 18th century gentlemen which held that some women might be good enough to f*** but never good enough to marry. However I found myself caught up in this tale and willing to overlook some of its somewhat contrived plot aspects. A good read, with a lot of texture of the era without getting buried in tedious minutiae, though with one point that still bothers me, but it's very minor. (Posted by Janice 8/7/08)
#58: Your Obedient Servant
by Elsie Gage
Published 1985 by Signet
Laura Adams was raised by foster parents who taught her good values. After her mother died, Lady Eleanor Danville took her in as a servant, but taught and educated her above her station. However, when Laura grows up, her beauty attracts men, and, as a servant, she has no defense against them, especially after her benefactress Lady Danville dies. She is neither fish nor fowl - with manners and education above a house servant's station, yet without the unclouded birth to be considered gentry.
The rakish son of a neighboring family, Nicholas Venner, becomes so obsessed with her that he has his servant Anton abduct her; he throws the blame on Lord Greystan, another man who had also stalked her. Nicholas is spoiled and used to having his way, but he has the code of a gentleman to some degree. He thinks to make her his voluntary mistress but she resists him and he comes to see that she is different. Laura herself doesn't find him beyond redemption. (A setup for Book 2 if there had been one.) She escapes the house where Nicholas is holding her and, with the aid of a kindly shopgirl, Drusilla, she finds her way back to Danville's manor. Lady Eleanor's son Evelyn, Earl of Danville, has been searching for her, not only as a matter of honor because she was under his protection as a Danville servant, but because he has fallen in love with her. Evelyn knows the true circumstances of Laura's birth, told to him by his mother on her deathbed.
Unusual, old-fashioned storytelling. Evelyn is more of an Earl than a hero, with much the autocratic manner of Rochester in Jane Eyre, yet he is willing to marry a girl he knows to be illegitimate. Laura's captivity is reminiscent of Clarissa, but despite her apparent gentleness and submissiveness, she's not the passive-aggressive type that Clarissa was; she fights to escape and live on her own terms. The happy ending is not very realistic, but I'm glad she endured and got one. (Posted by Janice 07/28/08)
#57: The Silver Nightingale
by Sylvia Thorpe
ISBN: 0449233790, 0552105775 (more imprints)
Published 1974 by Fawcett Crest
Miss Sarah Lorymer is "the plain one" in her family. All her brothers and sisters are stunningly attractive blondes, but she is small and darkhaired and has always been told that she is lacking in looks. Sarah had fallen hopelessly in love with Lord Justin Chayle. When he asked to marry her, she was stunned, as was her family. She knew he couldn't love her as he barely knew her, and they were never alone during their courtship, so they never got any better acquainted.
Sarah is thought to be calm and unemotional, but she has quite a temper when roused. She learns that Justin has a mistress, Mrs. Maitland, who is all that she is not. Her mother tells her that her husband will not want any unseemly displays of emotion from her. She gives the spiteful Mrs. Maitland the cut direct at a ball, and Justin is furious because she has created a public scene. Sarah tries to dissolve the engagement but she knows her family will not back her up, and Justin refuses to release her (again, the public scandal). So she decides to flee with her maid to her grandmother Lady Marlby, who is fond of her and dislikes Justin's family.
On the way they are caught in a snowstorm and forced to put up at the Rose in Hand, a small family-run inn. Justin catches up with them and is stranded too, along with the passengers in a public stage which has foundered nearby. Justin recognizes one of the passengers, Chloe Frensham, as an actress and cortesan. Another passenger, Mr. Bodicote, tells Justin he is a Bow Street Runner, on the trail of a thief who stole a music box with a silver nightingale inside it. Later Sarah finds the Runner's body stuffed in a closet and almost faints with fright.
Sylvia Thorpe's regencies are very old fashioned and probably couldn't be published today. They are plot driven; characters are not much individualized. The reader is in the heroine's thoughts to some degree, but not the hero's. Hero and heroine don't have sex, and the author tries to have them speak as people might have done in that era, rather than in a more modern "accessible" style. Sarah does not take as active a role as a modern heroine would; there is a sense that there are things women can't do and a man is needed to sort things out. The most daring thing Sarah does is leave London for her grandmother's, and when she is scolded for it, she seems to feel that Justin isn't wrong. This heroine shows her quality by hanging on and enduring, rather than taking direct action to resolve things. I don't think you'd find a heroine written in 2008 feeling faint at the sight of a dead body either. This is an entertaining short read when you just want something with a plot -- something you can read and forget and not be sorry that you have forgotten. (Posted by Janice 07/24/08)
I think I liked The Silver Nightingale more than Janice and didn't find it as forgettable. The story is a blend of romance and suspens, somewhat Gothic one might say, as is the case with most of Sylvia Thorpe's novels. I wish we got to know the hero better but we are left on the outside looking in, pretty much as Sarah herself. We know him by his actions to be a honorable man and not unsuitable as hero material, but this lack of insight in the hero's thought process is probably what dates this story the most. It's an enjoyable read, the mystery is fairly well laid out and the characters well rounded. It's not a bad place to be stranded in during a snowstorm, this inn. High points for plot development and interesting characters, yet the lack of a true romantic story draws down the overall score of this well written novel. (Posted by yvonne 07/24/08)
#56: The Absent Wife
by Sandra Heath
Published 1987 by Signet
Since the death of her father, Miss Roslyn Meredith has lived with her uncle, Owen Meredith, a noted artist specializing in portraits for the ton. One night at dinner with Lord and Lady Elgin, the conversation turns to the mystery surrounding two missing dinner guests, Lord and Lady Atherton. Vanessa, wife of Lord James Atherton, has gone missing - seen leaving in a carriage some time ago and not seen since. Roslyn had seen James at the theater and thought him very attractive, without knowing who he was.
James had married Vanessa, one of the most beautiful women of her day, for love, but he quickly found that she did not have a character to match her beauty. She was involved with Benedict Courtenay, his tool to get to the Atherton money. There are whispers and rumors all over London, and James has become rude and reclusive, further fueling the scandal.
At the dinner Uncle Owen reveals that he is planning a trip to Greece to paint and sketch, which he has always longed to do, and Roslyn travels there with him. Lord Byron, who is staying in Greece also, urges them to visit Ayios Georghios. It happens that Lord Atherton is there too, and they meet at the house of the governor where they are all staying. Lord Byron had been offended by Vanessa's snarky comments about his poetry, and thinks to get his revenge by throwing Roslyn and James together.
James and Roslyn are attracted, but Roslyn finds him difficult to like; he is in such a foul mood against all women that he is very rude. However, after an incident in which he almost rides her down by accident, his behavior toward her changes. Roslyn is by this time head over heels - for a married man.
I was prepared for this books's plot to take the easy way out to remove Vanessa as the roadblock to the couple's future, but I was a bit surprised to find that it didn't work out in any melodramatic way - in fact, it worked out pretty much as it might in real life. I liked that the author didn't make her couple patterns of perfection - Roslyn knows she mustn't let herself become James's adulterous mistress, but she doesn't seem to have any qualms about wanting him even though he's married - and James has a terrible temper, riding around ventre a terre and nearly killing Roslyn with his carelessness. I found myself rooting for them to behave well and stick to their principles.
The other point I enjoyed about this book is that it's firmly grounded in the regency. The author has real historical figures in it, but they're not just walk-ons; they are part of the story. The whole thing was very enjoyable and I would recommend it. (Posted by Janice 07/22/08)
#55: The Intrepid Miss Haydon
by Alice Chetwynd Ley
Published 1983 by Fawcett Crest
Miss Corinna Haydon fell hard for a fortune hunter, Fabian Grenville, who dumped her for richer game, and she is having a hard time getting over him. Her sister Lydia is married to Navy Lieutenant John Beresford, and John's older brother Richard, the heir, has been acting as a sort of mentor and guide to the Haydon family since their fathers died. Richard has always cared for Corinna but she treats him as a friend and brother in law only.
In March 1803, although Napoleon was in power in France, it was considered safe for English citizens to travel there. John has wanted to visit a French lieutenant who had become a friend during the war, and it is decided that the trip would be good for all of them, especially as a distraction for Corinna. Unfortunately it turns out not to be very safe after all, as Napoleon orders all English males into prison .
Somehow they all get back to England. Somehow after that Grenville is involved with spy smuggling, and is shot to death by someone who was intending to shoot Corinna. Richard and a French friend shoot the shooter.
Richard still believes that Corinna loved Grenville, but she had long ago found that it was nothing but a crush and that the real man was not at all what she had thought he was. Richard still doesn't speak until Corinna stamps her foot and tells him that she has told him all her private thoughts about it, and it's time he said something. Richard snaps and kisses her. End of story.
I have to admit that I skimmed and skipped to the end. Nothing in this tale held my attention - the characters weren't interesting, it wasn't particularly pleasing stylistically, and it just never engaged my interest. Corinna is supposed to be charmingly outspoken and a bit hot at hand, but she mostly sounded spoiled and petulant to me. I give the author points for knowing some history, and for not having characters behave anachronistically, but that's all. This book has committed the worst sin of all for a romance -- it's dull. (Posted by Janice 7/12/08)
#54: A Radical Arrangement
by Jane Ashford
Published 1983 by Signet
Miss Margaret Mayfield is the daughter of extremely conservative Tory parents. She has never been exposed to any ideas other than those held by her parents and their Devon neighborhood circle, and if she had ever had any notion of thinking for herself, her strongminded mama would have quashed it. A marriage to a young man of the proper political stripe has already been arranged for her. Her mama has filled her head with propriety and correct behavior, without ever telling her anything about real life or emotions.
In particular her mama has filled her with warnings about a neighbor, Sir Justin Keighley -- she has told her daughter that he is a rake and a libertine and that she must avoid him at all costs. Justin's worst sin, of course, is that he is "a radical"; he is a Whig, and though the ‘rents must invite him to dinner once a year, they do not otherwise receive him, and they certainly don't want him having anything to do with Margaret.
Margaret is thin, shy, naive, ignorant and listless. She doesn't realize it, but under her parents' treatment, she's bored to death. During the annual dinner party, a scandalous incident occurs, and Margaret's father insists Justin offer for her. Margaret is truly frightened of Justin, due to her mama's lectures, and runs away on horseback rather than be forced into marriage with him - not knowing that Justin has already refused to wed her. Her mama, scenting an opportunity to force a match through anyway, goes to Justin and tells him it is his obligation to go after Margaret and bring her back. Justin catches up with her, and Margaret in her fear accidentally shoots him.
As Justin is lying in the road bleeding, Margaret, for the first time in her life, has to rise to an occasion and think how to help him. She finds shelter for them at a local inn in Penzance, owned by the Appleby family, and tells the Applebys that they are brother and sister and had been set upon by highwaymen. Margaret is now away from her parents' control, and, as she nurses Justin, and gets to know him and his political views, she begins to grow a backbone at last, learning that she must know her own mind and follow her own judgment -- and enjoying the freedom that brings.
There are no unlikeable characters in this book (except perhaps the tony doctor); Margaret's parents are limited in their views and easily angered, but they do love her, even though her father in particular is baffled by the changes in her. At one point Justin takes Margaret to visit poor people and she is appalled by what she sees; she had had no idea things were that bad, or that her parents could be so wrong. None of the characters are perfect either; Justin is a radical, on the side of the poor, yet he is also of the upper class, so when he wants to borrow a little sailboat belonging to the Applebys' young son, Jem, he takes it without even thinking of telling Jem, let alone asking his permission. I liked this as a coming of age story; by current standards, it's a bit old fashioned in the telling, but all the better for it. (Posted by Janice 6/23/08)
Janice has hit on one of my favorite stories! If any book is the product of its environment, this one is. It's clear that the author really loves the Penzance area and has probably spent some time there. The social commentary, carried out in discussions between Justin and Margaret, as well as the aforementioned visits to the poor, allows for an interesting contrast between the privileged lives of the main characters and the average person around them. The book also contains a host of well rounded secondary characters, which increases the reader's enjoyment.
This is a summer read in the very best sense. Sunshine permeates the pages, spilling over into late summer days and the budding love between the radical and strong Justin for the young and shy Margaret, who suddenly shows that she is - contrarily to both their expectations - his perfect match! (Posted by yvonne 6/23/08)
#53: The Lady's Companion
by Carla Kelly
Published 1996 by Signet
Miss Susan Hampton is the daughter of Sir Rodney Hampton, a weak, feckless gamester father; her mother died when she was young. She never had nice clothes or a London season; her father gambled away every possession, including the family estate Hampton Hill, and in a final act of cruelty, he stole her mother's pearls and lost them at play. Sir Rodney has the true addict's belief that he will win everything back and then he will give Susan the dowry and season she should have had. With everything gone, Susan and her father are forced to move in with his class-conscious and meanspirited sister Louisa. Sir Rodney accepts the arrangement, but when Aunt Louisa tries to make a drudge of Susan, she realizes that if she remains there Aunt Louisa will eventually erase her personality.
Susan goes to an employment agency run by Joel Steinman, a one armed Waterloo veteran, and his Mamele. They find her a position as lady's companion to Lady Bushnell. Susan's proposed employer is the widow of a Waterloo hero; she followed the drum with her husband, daughter and son. Her husband and daughter were lost on the journey over the Pyrenees, and her son died at Waterloo. Her son's widow is on the point of remarrying Colonel March, another veteran; she is worried that her mother in law, the widow of Colonel Lord Bushnell, a national hero, may be in failing health and may not be receiving appropriate care at Quilling Manor in the country.
Quilling is in charge of the bailiff, David Wiggins, a sometime sergeant major, orphan and thief devoted to the Colonel and his widow. He fought at La Haye Sainte and brought back a handful of grain from that field before it was turned into a hell of blood and mud. He dreams of creating a new variety of wheat - Waterloo wheat - by crossing it with English varieties - creating hope for the future out of tragedy and death.
As soon as Susan meets the elder Lady Bushnell, the widow fires her. Lady Bushnell is fiercely independent and does not want a companion who might tattle on her to her daughter in law. With nowhere to go, Susan despairs, until David unexpectedly offers to marry her, but Lady Bushnell relents.
Susan has no experience, but she determines to be the best lady's companion possible. She sees that Lady Bushnell's eyes are failing her and offers to read to her - Jane Austen's Emma. She also offers to read Lady Bushnell's old letters from her husband and children - they are beyond precious to the old lady for the memories they contain. Susan also comes to know David better, and eventually he tells her all the secrets of that tragic day at Waterloo.
I am so impressed by Carla Kelly's characters. Susan, David, Joel and Lady Bushnell accept adversity and contend with it; they scorn pity, they work hard without complaint, and they are way too proud to be turned into victims. Her world is like a pioneer world - a world of scarcity in which tiny things - a look, a gesture, a letter, a single glove, a handful of grain - can assume enormous importance. I especially love the character of the green-eyed proud old Lady Bushnell, who rode with Wellington's army and was as true and brave a soldier as any of them.
Rating: Total classic. (Posted by Janice 6/16/08)
#52: The Abducted Heiress
by Jasmine Cresswell
Published 1980 by Harlequin, audiobook available also.
Swedish - Ödesdigert Arv, ISBN 990129391X
French - Une Saison à Londres, ISBN 2862598399
Miss Georgiana Thayne has lived with her uncle and aunt since the death of her father some years previously. Although her uncle, Lord Thayne, has kept the lands portion of her inheritance in good heart, he has been using her money to fund his lifestyle. Lord Thayne's wife Lady Elizabeth (the brains of the family) has long planned to keep Georgie's fortune in the family by marrying her to her stupid and self-centered son Frederick (he takes after dad). To that end she has prevented Georgie from having a London season or meeting any other eligible gentlemen, and has in general made her life hellish.
For her part, Georgie is revolted by the whole idea of marrying Freddie. She has been putting off the evil day by pretending to be slow, inattentive, and perhaps not quite all there. She has also been downplaying her looks by dressing unattractively and looking as lumpy & frumpy as possible.
When the Marquis of Benham, Georgie's co-trustee with her uncle Thayne, returns to England and begins looking over his trusteeship, Lady Elizabeth accelerates her plans and lets the imminent betrothal be known. Georgie, desperate, confers with her only friend, her old governess Miss Harris, but before they can devise a plan, Georgie is kidnapped by Julian, Marquis of Graydon. She is struck by the notion that if Freddie were anything like her kidnapper, it wouldn't be such an awful fate to marry him.
Julian takes Georgie to his nearby estate. He tells her that he will return her to the Thaynes after a few days alone with him there. He will not harm her, but she will be ruined, and he will threaten to publish her ruin unless Lady Elizabeth agrees to undo the harm she did him over the death of his first wife, who was her sister. The scandal fostered by her was so great that he had to leave the country; as a gentleman he could not make the true events known then. He tells Georgie that since no one but he and the Thaynes will know, she won't suffer any harm. But Georgie turns the tables on him by staging a scene in front of her Uncle Benham, claiming that she loves Julian but he has betrayed her and now must be made to marry her. Georgie sees it as a way of evading marriage to Freddie.
Benham takes Georgie to London to his sister Lady Vaubon, where she is a great success. But Lady Elizabeth hasn't given up her plans to get Georgie's money, and the budding relationship between Julian and Georgie is in danger of failing - until Lady Vaubon takes a hand.
Lady Vaubon is by far the most interesting character in the book - a large, indolent lady who seems never to notice anything or to exert herself, yet whose intelligence is very acute; she reads philosophy instead of novels but carefully hides the fact.
Lady Vaubon, to Georgie when she despairs of securing Julian's affections: "You are young, single, rich, attractive, and -- since you came to me -- well dressed. I was relatively poor, plain, and cursed with more brains than most girls could dream about in their worst nightmares. If I could manage to find two perfectly acceptable husbands, I cannot see why you anticipate any difficulty in bringing Graydon to heel."
I liked this tale very much and would recommend it as a "very trad" light trad regency. Jasmine Cresswell apparently wrote several trad regencies before she took up contemporary suspense; I hope they're all equally entertaining. (Posted by Janice 6/12/08)
#51: The Mysterious Heir
by Edith Layton
Published 1984 by Signet
Miss Elizabeth DeLisle and her widowed mother live with live with her uncle. Due to unsuccessful investments, her uncle is barely making ends meet, so Elizabeth, a lady born and bred, works making and selling hats in a shop in Tuxford.
Morgan, the Earl of Auden, is a widower; after his disastrous marriage to Kitty, he has no desire at all to provide an heir in the usual way, by marrying again. He has come up to London from Lyonshall because he has learned that a certain James Everett Courtney has been running up bills in London, claiming to be his heir. Morgan decides to put this fraud to an end by officially naming an heir, from among three candidates -- Anthony Courtney (Elizabeth's radical cousin), Richard Courtney (a desperately penniless young gentleman) and Owen Courtney (the child of the widowed Lady Isabel, who wouldn't mind becoming the next Countess herself).
Anthony is notorious in his neighborhood with his radical speeches in favor of Napoleon and revolution in England. Elizabeth accompanies him to Lyonshall to make sure he behaves himself and doesn't spoil his chances. Their uncle sells every little possession he can to furnish them with a suitable wardrobe so that they won't appear as the poor relations they actually are, and Elizabeth conceals the fact that she works in a shop.
The house party is augmented by Lord Beverly, Morgan's BFF, and Lord Kingston, an old friend. Isabel sets her cap at Morgan, and at a memorable tea party, lets the neighborhood ladies (including one notoriously spiteful gossip) know exactly what Elizabeth's true status is -- instead of starving like a proper genteel lady, she works to help her family. Meanwhile Morgan puts his plans in motion to expose the fraudulent heir, but leaves his feelings for Elizabeth unstated, leading her to believe that she's fallen in love by herself.
I like Edith Layton's books very much. Even when there appears to be a whacking great error in the premise (although Morgan could name an heir to unentailed property, he could not name an heir to the title; that would have to be determined by law, and all the characters would have known that), I can let it pass, probably because I like her characters and her distinctive writing style. I thought this was great fun, even though it must take place in an alternate universe England with different inheritance rules. (Posted by Janice 5/20/08)
The opinions expressed in these reviews are solely those of the named reviewer. No free books, money, curricles with matched pairs, Godiva chocolates, hot guys' phone numbers or any other form of consideration has been received in connection with these reviews from any author, publisher or other entity anywhere in the universe. Whatsoever. - But if any hot guys should happen to read this, feel free to make us an offer!