An Unconventional Countess by Jenni Fletcher – a Regency romance with a cliffhanger!

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This is a Regency romance with one immediate twist; at least two of the female characters always says what they think and follow their beliefs, whatever the consequences. It makes the men around them think and react in interesting ways. This being essentially a romance novel there is an attraction for a man who perhaps breaks the mould or at least expectations. The hero of this book is a real naval hero, veteran of Trafalgar, and show stoppingly handsome. To make him entertaining and interesting, he has a troubled background, and is painfully self aware. Anna is a very strong character, who is running her own business, looking after her widowed mother, and has some bitter experience of aristocratic men. This is a novel where anticipation and surprises are the dominant feature, as well as firmly held views on the different levels of society. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this lovely book.

 

As the story begins two men are drawn towards a biscuit shop, a highly successful and fashionable shop in Bath, which is full of those drawn not only by the promised healing properties of the spa water, but also the social scene. Both men are convinced that the two young women they have seen through a shop window are beautiful; but both have their own reaction. The younger and more naive Henrietta attracts Ralph who has few scruples about young women, whereas the good hearted Samuel Delaney is instantly attracted by Anna, who is less than impressed by aristocratic men. Anna is resourceful and protective of Henrietta, which attracts  Samuel, as indeed her personality intrigues him. She encounters his grandparents, who are a seemingly ill matched in their obsessions, but who love each other deeply. Lady Jarrow is determined to help her much loved grandson, as well as rescue an old friend. As she makes firm suggestions or decrees about people’s lives, she takes a firm line with everyone in quite a funny way. 

 

There is a party, a departure from Bath, and some very detailed exploration of how two characters with seemingly little in common find a deep mutual attraction. They have many challenges to face and events beyond their control occur. 

 

This is the sort of book which I wanted to read quickly to find out what happens. It is a gentle and uplifting read, with a lot to recommend it for many readers. I really enjoyed the strong female lead character who is decisive if occasionally misguided. Lady Jarrow is a fantastic creation, who deeply loves and wants the best for others, despite the fact that she hides it behind an obsession with horses and riding. Samuel is a man with hidden depths, a brave naval officer who realises that he must respond to those he loves. Anna is capable of great love, intelligent and loyal. I really enjoyed this book which is comfortable with its setting as the research is never overwhelming but accurate. I really recommend this book to readers of historical romance, especially in the Regency period, and also those who enjoy a good uplifting story.   

Rags – to – Riches Wife by Catherine Tinley – An historical Romance with several surprises

 

This is a Regency historical romance with several twists. Jane Bailey is a lady’s maid, proud of her service to Lady Marianne Kingsford who featured in an earlier book by Tinley. Robert Kendal is a young man who effectively runs his elderly uncle’s estate. The two are thrown together in difficult and bewildering circumstances, and in this novel there are several twists and turns. The life of a servant is well reflected in this clever novel in which an educated and proud young woman is placed in a household in a way that she never expected. The development of a romance is a main part of the narrative, but also the element of a fish out of water, a daily realisation that roles are reversed. 

 

There is a lot of research evident in this novel, as the roles of servants, especially lady’s maid, is painstakingly explored. The life of a maid is far more complex than usually supposed, consisting of dressing and undressing her mistress through the changes of clothes suitable for the time of day, caring for her clothes by way of washing, mending and refurbishing, and making sure all her needs were met. The physical side of the work is well demonstrated as Jane’s hands take some time to recover from the washing and other irritants. The insecurity of employment of those in service is emphasised as even Jane, with her special link to Marianne, goes in fear of doing something to lose her post, or otherwise being put out of a job. There is also an interesting element of remembering an attack that  has affected Jane’s life, and may have an effect on her future ability to enjoy a relationship. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this multi layered book.

 

The book opens in 1800 with the death of Jane’s father. For Jane and her mother it begins a difficult time of poverty and the fortunate finding of a position in a wealthy household. After a point at which everything seems to be uncertain, even dangerous, their loyalty is rewarded. Jane’s mother is in charge as a housekeeper, while Jane becomes the personal maid for the mistress of a well off house. Meanwhile Robert is being dispatched to find the young woman with only the vaguest of instructions. It is not as easy as he expects, and there is additionally a very detailed and significant account of the journey they undertake together. Their arrival at the House involves encountering some of the characters that live there, as well as Jane’s confusion as to her status.

 

I found this a very readable book with a sure touch in revealing character, attraction, status anxiety and much more. The importance of the distinction between servants and those that they serve is well demonstrated. Jane’s insecurity is more about her concern for her role than her undoubted attraction to Robert. However, their growing relationship is beautifully drawn, and there are many surprises to be enjoyed on the way. This is a most enjoyable read and a fine example of a well researched historical romance novel.   

The Earl’s Runaway Governess by Catherine Tinley – a wonderful historical romance

A romantic historical novel can be exciting and challenging, as well as comforting and enjoyable. Tinley’s novel is a great example of intelligent historical romanticism, where the characters are distinct, their motives as complex as they would be in life, and the plot is satisfactorily engaging. This novel not only draws the reader in, but maintains interest and has an ending that means the last part of the book is compelling. As a long term admirer of Georgette Heyer, I am reasonably well read in this type of book, and really enjoyed this beautifully written novel. I was therefore very happy to be asked to read and review this novel by an experienced and confident writer.

Marianne Grant must leave her home where she has been carefully brought up to expect a continued, comfortable life and an advantageous marriage. However, on the death of her  loving parents a few months before, she has fallen under the guardianship of her stepbrother Harry whose feckless and spendthrift ways and drunken house parties have changed her life. This sad situation culminates in an attempt on her virtue by Harry, only foiled by the devotion of the housekeeper Mrs. Bailey. She departs in great secrecy taking minimal money and her mother’s jewels, and travels, for the first time alone, to London hoping to get employment. To her relief she is sent to a country house as governess to Lady Cecily, the twelve year old daughter of the impractical newly widowed Lady Kingwood. As Marianne has adopted the alias of Anne Bolton, when she meets the new Earl of Kingswood, Ash, he is at first uninterested in a plainly dressed employee. He is trying to come to terms with his new status as an Earl at the death of his cousin John, and the sad state of the house and estate, while seeking to forget his youthful attraction to “Fanny”, now Dowager Lady Kingswood. It soon becomes obvious that Anne is the only one who can manage and organise the household, and she becomes happily involved. She is living a new life, but she cannot escape her past completely. She also worries about her relationship with Ash; while she is undoubtedly attracted to him, and they have good humoured conversations, neither of them is certain of the other. While Anne finds many positives in her new identity, she still doubts how long it can last for. Ash is more than a fixed hero figure, as he still makes assumptions that bring their own problems.

This is a lovely romance, but there is a hard level underneath as one character reveals many undesirable elements and there seems to be no escape. The research into the carriages and types of business relating to travel is impeccable. The clothes are beautifully described and well suited to the state of the characters as they develop throughout the book. In short, this book has all the ingredients for an excellent historical romance and I can thoroughly recommend it as a brilliant read of its type, with just the correct amount of tension for a relaxing read.

 

I think that this is often where novel reading can be a great help when life is difficult. I have been known to read Jane Austen in times of great stress, but when you run out of those, Georgette Heyer and her modern followers can be a big help. However good a literary novel can be in all its modern challenging ideas and convention breaking themes, there will always be a place for genuinely wonderful historical fiction like this, so well done Catherine and I shall certainly be looking for more of your books!

The Cornish Lady by Nicola Pryce – a surprisingly complex historical novel

A relaxing read set in grand houses and glorious gardens, this is a historical novel of some delicacy with a driving narrative. As Angelica Lilly moves through society and some less than fashionable haunts, the author carefully brings in details of social history, herbal remedies and other aspects of life in the late eighteenth century. This is more than a romantic novel with a historical setting; the main character is a woman who is desperate to make a difference in her world, suspicious of her father, concerned about her brother, imaginative and resourceful. As befits such a novel, she is attractive to many men, wealthy and working alike. Clothes, letters, naval matters and other Austen- era themes make this a readable, always interesting and significant book. I was pleased to be sent a copy to read and review.

In the opening of this book we quickly learn many things about Angelica. She is a wealthy and self willed young woman, who organises an illicit trip to the theatre unknown to her father who is departing with a lady who seems determined to marry him. She is unusually close to the servants in her father’s household which she has run for a number of years, after the death of her beloved mother who started out as a poor actress. Her brother Edgar unexpectedly turns up at the house in the company of the untrustworthy Jacob Boswell, and she wonders if his influence explains why her brother seems so different. As she visits the theatre in disguise she becomes more involved, and is mistaken for an actress with unfortunate results. She cleverly escapes, and encounters the attractive Henry Trevelyan, who proves to be not what he seems. As she visits her friend Amelia ( an unfortunate choice of initial given the main character’s name) she encounters a rich titled man who shows great interest in her, and against a background of various families, social life and civil unrest she makes discoveries which make her rethink many of her assumptions, and begins to realise what she wants from life.

With some nods to the subject matter of some Austen novels and the social themes of Graham’s Poldark, this is a book which could have slipped into a standard romantic historical regency novel. This is a more complex and mature work however, as the concentration is definitely on the female protagonist, who refuses to be swept up easily by the wealthy and eligible suitor without more consideration. I am a fan of the straightforward romance, so was appreciative of the greater scope of this book which features a woman who is resourceful in every sense, rushes to assumptions, and has a character with real depth. There is a lot of research and crucially atmosphere of the time in this book, and it offers a complex read without needing to resort to alternative time periods and other themes. The character of Angelica is well developed, as are several of the other female characters, and the novel offers many interesting perspectives and references to the period. I recommend it as a good read, cleverly constructed and with more substance than would first appear.

 

On Friday we went to the Foundling Museum in London. An institution established in the eighteenth century by Thomas Coram and supported by such as the artist Hogarth and composer Handel, there are some fascinating things to see in settings which were accessible (hurray!) . An institution which took in children who could not be cared for by their mothers, there are some moving things to be seen such as the dozens of tokens left by mothers as they left their babies. The exhibition of Bedrooms of London is just amazing and surprising.