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Thursday, 29 July 2021

Book review: A Dangerous Deal by Philippa Jane Keyworth

 

A marriage of convenience that turns into an emotional rollercoaster on the path to love

The scenario

The unconventional Lady Rachel Denby longs for independence from the men who have ruled her life. Having been pushed by her dictatorial father into marriage with an elderly man, Rachel is left a childless widow and will do anything to avoid returning to her father’s house. She proposes a marriage deal to Julius, Viscount Arleigh, who needs to marry quickly to secure his inheritance. Once this is settled, they will part and live separate lives, and he will make generous provision for Rachel. Neither of them expects the friendship that grows between them or the feelings that bubble up, threatening to destroy their deal.

A Dangerous Deal is a delightful, well-crafted Georgian romance. It is the sequel to Fool Me Twice and the second book in the Ladies of Worth series. It continues the story of many of the characters, but works as a standalone romance.

What I really liked

I really enjoyed watching the transformation of the characters. At the start, I didn’t have much sympathy with either hero or heroine, but they reveal more of themselves as the story progresses and I was drawn in as their unlikely romance evolves. There are some really heart wrenching moments which made me desperate to get to the happy ever after.

I loved all the little historical details, such as the different dress styles worn, a reference to Richardson’s Pamela (a 1740 novel), and a description of Prior Park in Bath, home of Ralph Allen. (You can read about Ralph Allen here.)

There are some excellent backup characters, including Rachel’s sister, the nosy Lady Rebecca, and their somewhat eccentric Aunt Etheridge. I liked the description of the gossipy Lady Goring – “all paste and rouge”.

Legal separation

A key part of the plot in A Dangerous Deal is the agreement to separate once Arleigh has won his inheritance. Would legal separation have worked in this situation?

Divorce in Georgian England was a rare thing. It was expensive, as it could only be brought about by an Act of Parliament and was by no means guaranteed as not all petitions for divorce were accepted. It was expected that a legal separation would already be in place and in cases of adultery (criminal conversation), that the husband would have sued for damages in the civil courts.

Legal separation was under the jurisdiction of the church courts. Either husband or wife could sue for separation on the basis of life-threatening cruelty or adultery, but it was still expensive. Women who were granted separation could live apart from their husbands, often supported by an allowance from their husband set by the court. Usually the wife still lost custody of the children.

However, a legal separation like this would have been unnecessary as the proposed separation was part of a deal, and both parties agreed to it. I don’t think there would be anything to stop the Arleighs setting up separate establishments by a private legal settlement without going through the courts.


A word about titles

Titles are tricky. It’s difficult to get them right, but Keyworth does a good job.

Lord Arleigh is referred to as Viscount Arleigh. This is alright as a viscount can take his title from place or family name, and in neither case is the  preposition ‘of’ used.

Arleigh’s mother is known as the Dowager Lady Arleigh after his marriage to distinguish her from his wife, Lady Arleigh. His sisters are correctly designated Honourable.

Lady Rachel Denby is the daughter of an earl. Her father is called Lord Fairing. Most earls take their titles from a place but there are some who use their family name and in this instance, you don’t use the ‘of’, so this is correct.

Rachel’s first husband was called Sir Denby, though it is unclear whether he was a baronet or a knight. Either way, he was a commoner and so she retains her title as the daughter of an earl with her husband’s surname.

However, her husband should be referred to as Sir Christian name, and Denby is his surname. But as I don’t think his Christian name is mentioned, I guess he could be called Sir Denby Denby – unusual but possible – in which case this would be okay.

When Lady Rachel Denby marries Arleigh, she takes her new husband’s title and becomes Lady Arleigh.

You can read more about titles here and here.

Dates and POVs

I love knowing exactly when the author has set the novel I’m reading rather than having to guess at it from the detail. Although I knew this was a Georgian romance, it wasn’t until quite near the end that there is a dated letter which sets the date as 1776. I would have liked to see this information at the start.

Unusually for a romance, Keyworth uses multiple points of view, not just those of the hero and heroine. It slows the development of the story a little, but I think this is more than outweighed by the interest that the side stories add to the book.

Warm, but not immoral

Several years ago, I decided to stop reading what I call “bodice rippers” – romances where the couple end up in bed before getting married and sometimes even before one or both of them is in love. I realised it was unhelpful for me to be feeding my brain the lie that sex outside marriage is more exciting or to be reading too much detail of what that perfect sex looked like.

A Dangerous Deal is probably the raciest novel I have read since making that decision, but it ticks all the right boxes for me. Yes, there are references to sex, but they are not crude, and it is only married couples who go to bed together, with the bedroom door firmly shut behind them. Not a book I’d recommend to an under-18 for this reason, but if you like an emotional romance with a bit of warmth in a moral context, I think you’ll find this right up your street.

Clean/sweet/Christian?

Heat level medium, but see paragraph above.

No violence. Some mild swearing, but nothing stronger than damn.

One mention of the sovereignty of God in a speech by Lady Etheridge.

A well-crafted Georgian romance packed with emotion. I can’t wait for Lady Rebecca’s story. 

5 stars Highly recommended

Friday, 23 July 2021

Book review: Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker

Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker

An engaging enemies-to-lovers romance set at a house party

The scenario

Amelia Moore’s stepfather is about to die and when that happens, Amelia and her sister Clara will be destitute. An invitation to Lakeshire Park, the home of Sir Ronald Demsworth, is their last chance to avoid penury. Sir Ronald admired Clara during their London season, and Amelia will do anything to secure this match for her sister. Unfortunately, Peter Wood and his sister Georgiana are at the same house party. And Peter is just as determined to secure the match with Sir Ronald for his sister.

What I really liked

It is a while since I read a house party romance and I enjoyed the informality of the setting compared with the London season and the banter between the hero and heroine. There are a number of quotable lines and Walker wove historical details throughout the story, such as the mention of Brighton Pavilion, an officer on half pay, and the importance of gloves.

I felt the tension building as the book moved towards the climax and I really liked the final plot twist.  Although I knew the hero and heroine had to get together (it is a romance, after all), Walker kept me guessing as to quite how the situation was going to be resolved.

Quote from Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker

A cheer for the baronet

It was nice to see Sir Ronald Demsworth very properly referred to as Sir Ronald. It makes me shudder when I come across Sir Surname instead of the correct Sir Christian name like Walker used. His mother is also correctly called Lady Demsworth. She doesn’t need to be referred to as the Dowager Lady Demsworth because Sir Ronald is unmarried.

The timing

I am a big fan of knowing when a book is set rather than trying to guess and Walker states clearly at the start that Lakeshire Park is set in 1820. It was an interesting year to pick as the Regency ended in January with the death of George III and fashions during the early months of the season would have been influenced by the court being in mourning. However, I am happy to assume that the Moores went to London after Easter and were largely unaffected by this.

It would have helped me to know which month we were in when the book opens as well. I tried to work it out, but struggled. By my reckoning, three weeks after the season ended would probably put the house party in July or the beginning of August, depending on when Amelia and her sister left London. This doesn’t quite tally with the blackberry picking which I would have expected to be a little later, at the end of the summer, in late August or September.

Daylight

I have noticed that many Regency authors struggle with the hours of daylight in the UK. In southern England in late August, the sun rises around 6am and sets around 8pm.

This means that the light would not be fading before a 6 o’clock dinnertime.

It also means that Clara would have had to get up extremely early to see the sunrise in Brighton! I have no geographical sense whatsoever, but my husband tells me it would also be impossible to see a sunrise over the Channel from Brighton in the summer.

Word choice

Walker has some unusual word choices which sent me scurrying for my etymological dictionary, but for the most part, they were spot on, and broadened my historical vocabulary. I’m not convinced about beachgoers, though. Georgians didn’t really ‘go’ to the beach. They walked along the promenade, enjoying the sea air, and went sea bathing – which was more dipping than swimming. You can read more about sea bathing in the Regency here. 

I was particularly interested to discover that the word ‘fall’ for autumn which we don’t use here in the UK, used to be used in England too! That was a revelation to me.

For me, the sentence structure was a little different from what I would have expected at times, and I found this a bit distracting.

Riding habit from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
Riding habit
from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
 A few little niggles

I am sure other readers will get lost in the romance of the story and won’t be bothered by such things, but there were a number of times when I questioned the probability of what was happening. Of course, it is fiction, and so anything can happen, but some things are less believable than others, particularly in a historical context, by someone like me, who knows the period well.  

One of the things that concerned me was Amelia riding bareback.  A little research informed me that it is possible to ride bareback in a side-saddle position, but it requires great balance, and this seemed an incredible feat for Amelia, who has not had much chance to ride since she was a girl.

There were also a few points of etiquette that didn’t sit right with me. For example, I could not believe that Lady Demsworth would have been so rude as to rise from the table before one of her guests had finished eating their dessert.

Improbabilities aside, by the end of the story, I was thoroughly invested in the characters and desperate to see how the situation could possibly resolve.

Clean and sweet?

No religious content or violence.

Heat level is low – nothing more than kisses.

Mild swearing – nothing worse than deuced, gads and blast

A sweet enemies-to-lovers romance with engaging banter and a clever final plot twist that took me by surprise.  

4 stars Highly recommended

Monday, 28 June 2021

Book review: Georgana's Secret by Arlem Hawks

Front cover of Georgana's Secret by Arlem Hawks over background of the sea

A gripping story of courage and kindness, and love on the high seas during the Napoleonic wars.

The scenario

Georgana's Secret is not your typical Regency romance. It is set on a man-of-war during the Napoleonic wars, and the sea-loving Lieutenant Dominic Peyton doesn’t even realise that the downtrodden cabin boy George who arouses his compassion is actually a girl. And not just any girl – the captain’s daughter, Georgana Woodall, who has come to sea in disguise to escape her grandmother’s cruelty.

What I really liked

When I posted on Instagram that I was reading Georgana’s Secret, several people told me I would love it. And they were right. Once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop.

I found Hawks’s style engaging, and quite a few lines worthy of highlighting (ah, the beauty of Kindle).

I really enjoyed the way the friendship between Peyton and Georgana took root and blossomed as a result of Peyton’s kindness.  


Monsieur Larrey

There was a nice historical reference to Napoleon’s surgeon, Dominque Jean Larrey (1766–1842). He was the surgeon in charge of author Fanny Burney’s mastectomy. I was not surprised to discover amongst his other achievements the introduction of a medical technique similar to that described by Hawks.

Regency names

I struggled a bit with the name Georgana at first. I’ve come across plenty of references to the name Georgiana in the Regency era, and a few to Georgina, but I’ve never come across this variation before. Although any name could have been used, I prefer Regency characters to be called names that we know were used. However, in this instance, it was a minor point as Georgana sounds possible and did not grate on me like using a name that belongs to a later century.

Naval history

Although I know lots about the Regency period, I am not familiar with naval terminology or what the Admiralty decreed at all. It sounded right, but I had no idea whether it was. However, a brief examination of the words I didn’t know suggests that Hawks has done her research and has used the terms correctly.

A glossary of naval terms for the ignorant, like me, who like to learn from what I am reading, would have been a welcome addition.

I was interested to look up details of the Admiralty ban on women on board ship, given that in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Admiral Croft’s wife makes no secret of the fact that she had accompanied her husband at sea. As Hawks suggests, it appears that though the rule existed, it was up to the officer in command of the vessel as to whether he enforced it.

Just a thought

My only comment about the story was that, perhaps, the conclusion was a little rushed (but maybe that was because I didn’t want it to end). I would have liked to see a little more heart searching by the characters before things were resolved.

Clean and sweet?

No religious content bar a few mild references to prayer.

There is some violence (Britain was at war, after all) but no gruesome detail.

Heat level is low - nothing more than kisses and low-level longing.

No swearing.

A well-written Regency era romantic adventure set at sea. As long as you’re prepared for battles rather than balls, it won’t disappoint you.

5 stars Highly recommended