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Thursday, 26 August 2021

Book review: A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

Front cover of A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter 

An easy-to-read Regency romance with intriguing servants, undercover spies, and secret letters

The scenario

Lady Miranda Hawthorne wants to be courted for who she is and not because her brother is a Duke. She pours out her frustration in letters to her brother’s old friend, the Duke of Marshington, who disappeared some years before. Of course, she never intends to send them. But her brother’s new valet, the intriguing Marlow, does not know never to send her blue letters and mistakenly sends one. Miranda is embarrassed when she gets a reply, but the fact that Marlow knew where to send it makes her suspect there are things her brother is not telling her, and that his valet is not all that he seems.

What I really liked

I found Hunter’s style easy to read and enjoyed being introduced to the Hawthorne family with their strong family loyalties. My favourite part was Miranda’s secret letters to the Duke of Marshington written on blue paper and I thought they added an exciting aspect to the plot. I felt the faith elements were woven into the story in a natural way. I also loved Marshington’s array of interesting servants, particularly Jess.

If you have read some of my other reviews, you may have learned that I love to know when a book is set, and Hunter tells us that the prologue is set in 1800 and the main part of the action takes place in 1812.

Quote from A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

Ice skating on the Serpentine

Hunter makes a brief reference to skating on the Serpentine. During severe winters in Regency England, the Serpentine River in Hyde Park often froze over and attracted people from all walks of life to come and skate. The skaters were mostly men, but there were occasional newspaper reports of women on the ice. 

You can read more about Regency ice skating here.

What was Bedlam?

At one point, Miranda thinks she is going mad, and she talks of taking herself off to Bedlam. You may be familiar with the word bedlam, meaning a scene of confusion, but you may not realise that it comes from Bedlam – a psychiatric hospital in London.

The Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem was originally a priory, and was given by Henry VIII to the city of London for the cure of lunatics. It was also known as the Bethlem Hospital and colloquially as Bedlam. Hence the term Bedlamite, meaning an insane person, which my online etymological dictionary says dates from 1620s. It was notorious for allowing visitors to ogle at the mad inhabitants, but this practice was later stopped.

A few Americanisms

As a Brit, I am used to coping with American spelling and terminology, but there are a few things I struggle with. The floor level is one that gets me every time. Our ground floor is an American first floor, but once I remember this, I can still picture the scene. However, I don’t often come across phrases that I don’t understand and confess I had to run to Google to tell me what gobs, shuck and conniptions meant.

One word that didn’t work for me in the Regency England setting was school. Brits don’t use the word school to refer to university. Eton and Harrow are schools; Oxford and Cambridge are universities. I felt that Oxford should have been referred to as university, not school, particularly in speech.

There were one or two historical details that I queried, and I did not feel that the spy element of the story was resolved to my entire satisfaction. But none of these things undermined the great storytelling and for me, that is the key thing.

I loved this book and look forward to reading more by Kristi Ann Hunter.

Quote from A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

Clean and sweet?

Heat level low – just kissing.

Christian characters with prayers and faith references but no sermons.

No swearing.

Some mild violence, but no gruesome details.

5 stars Highly recommended

Rachel Knowles author
Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian historical romance set in the time of Jane Austen. She has been sharing her research and reviews on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

 Find out more about Rachel's books and sign up for her newsletter here.

Monday, 9 August 2021

Book review: Promised by Leah Garriott

Ebook cover of Promised by Leah Garriott on wooden plate with flowers

A captivating Regency tale of how a heartbroken woman dares to love again

The scenario

After discovering the faithlessness of the man she was engaged to marry, Margaret Brinton promises herself that she will never risk her heart again. She attends a matchmaking party, determined to find someone she could never love to marry, and finds the perfect candidate in the rakish Mr Northam. But his cousin Gregory, Lord Williams, a sought-after baron, is determined to prevent the match. And it seems he will go to any lengths, even arranging to marry Margaret himself. Despite her promises, Margaret finds herself drawn to Gregory, but dare she risk her heart again?

What I really liked

The book starts at a matchmaking party, and though I was sceptical about whether such parties would have happened, it was written in such a way that made me believe it could have. I was hooked from the first chapter.

I really liked the characterisation of some of the minor characters – the repulsive Mr Lundall, and the outspoken Mrs Hargreaves.

The historical setting

I loved the fact that Garriott told me the book was set in 1812. For me, it would have been even better to know the month as well so I could fix the story in relation to the London season. 

Quote from Promised by Leah Garriott

When was the waltz introduced?

The introduction of the waltz is mentioned in the book as having been introduced a few months earlier in London. I think I would hesitate to be so definite about this date as I’ve come across a variety of different suggestions as to when the waltz began to be danced in London. Some of this uncertainty arises from the gap between the date of the waltz becoming known and it being learned, and a further gap before it became acceptable.

The waltz was popular in Vienna by the 1780s, and may have come to England as early as the 1790s, but it seems it was not danced until sometime around 1811–14. I have come across one mention of a ball in the Argyll rooms in 1811 at which waltzes were performed. Lady Caroline Lamb talks of practising waltzes at Melbourne House at the time when Child Harold came out, in March 1812, and Lord Byron wrote a poem about waltzing that year which was published in 1813. The diarist Thomas Raikes set the date as 1813 in his reminiscences.

Did a lady have to accept when she was asked to dance?

There is a nice reference to ballroom etiquette with regard to the consequences of refusing to dance with a gentleman.

According to books on ballroom etiquette, if a gentleman who had been properly introduced asked a lady to dance, she was obliged to accept unless she had a previous engagement. If she refused regardless, she was announcing her intention of not dancing for the rest of the evening.

You can read more about ballroom etiquette here.

How did you address a rector?

A few times, clergymen are referred to as Parson Surname and once addressed as Reverend Surname. This made me wonder about the correct way to address a rector. According to Black’s Titles and Forms of Address (1955), the formal way to address a rector was as the Reverend Mr Surname or the Reverend Initials Surname.

But what about informally? I am tempted to use Jane Austen as my guide here as her father and two of her brothers were clergymen. In her novels, she always refers to clergymen by their names and not by any reference to their position as rectors eg Mr Elton in Emma and Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

Clean and sweet?

No religious content or violence.

Heat level is low – just kisses.

Very mild swearing – nothing worse than egad.

5 stars Highly recommended