The Jane Austen Society

By Natalie Jenner

And the society itself sounded like a band of misfits with negligible expertise and no head for business: a country doctor, an old maid, a schoolmarm, a bachelor farmer, a fey auctioneer, a conflict-averse solicitor, a scullery maid, and one Hollywood movie star.

I really really like this one. I started it on Audible read by Richard Armitage and finished it on Kindle. As many have pointed out, it has a lot in common with a book that really spoke to me, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. England recovering from the devastation of WWII…an outsider welcomed into a small community of the like-minded… gentle romances…bookish conversations. It also reminded me of the work of the 20th-century English novelist, D. E. Stevenson. And this one has a Hollywood Movie Star and Jane Austen!

Winding through the story of the diverse group of society members are shades of some of the plots and characters from Jane Austen’s novels. Particularly PersuasionEmma, and a cad straight out of Sense and Sensibility. Or is it Mansfield Park? Or Pride and Prejudice? Or Northanger Abbey?)
The novel is character-driven, but the characters would probably not be all that interesting to many people. But I felt like I was drawn in and a part of their small world. I cared about them and their sufferings, secrets, and fates. I was invested in their mission to save Jane Austen’s house and the library, which was full of secret priceless treasures revealed thanks to a scholarly teenage housemaid. I was anxious and concerned because their chances of success looked pretty slim at times. Then we are given hope in a surprise twist I did not see coming.

Like many, I struggled to understand “the vote” of the society regarding how to advise one of their members. But I think it had something to do with this perspective from Mimi, the Hollywood star.

“…we are lucky if we get to live in places where so many people care—the trick is understanding why they care. Here, what I love, is that you care because you have a history together. You have known each other’s parents and grandparents…In Hollywood, it’s quite the opposite. Everyone comes there to start new and makes up a history—…Anyway, in a town where no one even knows your real name, let alone where you come from, what is tethering you to anything? What is there to keep you on the ground?

But I still didn’t like it, agree with it, or really fully understand it.

It won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with Jane Austen that in this book, so closely aligned with that great author, it all works out in the end. And I will add that the epilogue was everything an epilogue should be. Even though this is a fictional treatment of a real Society, the Knight Family, their home, and Chawton, it was loosely tethered enough to reality that I learned a lot.
And I agree with Adeline about Emma.
**4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

August 19, 2022

Crimson Lake (Crimson Lake #1)

by Candice Fox

I bunked the pedophile trend in every possible way, and that frightened people. The Australian public had convinced themselves that they knew what child sexual predators looked and sounded and smelled like. They thought they had a handle on things. And then along comes Ted Conkaffey. A wholly new, and more sophisticated, breed of monster.

This is the first entry of a trilogy. I vetted the series carefully since there wasn’t a guaranteed “happy ending.” By which I mean, in a book that is not a romantic comedy or chick lit, that justice is done and closure is achieved. The little I read about it satisfied me that this would be a good bet.

Ted Conkaffy’s life is virtually destroyed by a false accusation of brutally raping a thirteen-year-old girl. He was imprisoned for 8 months until the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. To everyone, including his now ex-wife, this means he was guilty but got off on a technicality. He has to flee Sydney from the constant hounding by the press and the public for his own mental and physical health and also to protect his ex-wife and their baby daughter. Literally everybody hates him.

He settles in a very small town a few miles north of Cairns and, on the advice of his attorney, contacts Amanda Pharrell for employment. Amanda is a brilliant private investigator and Ted was a detective before he lost his job so he is well-qualified to work as a P.I. Unfortunately, no one is qualified to work with Amanda. She is an eccentric piece of work with some mental health issues who spent 8 years in the pen after being convicted as a teenager of stabbing a friend to death. She’s kind of impossible to describe, so I’ll stop there. I was very engaged with both of the main characters and their fates. They were interesting and likable. While working on their first case together, we also learn about their pasts and the crimes which brought them down. We know that Ted is innocent, but are not so sure about Amanda especially since she confessed and happily (really!) served her time.

Despite the occasional flashes of humor and the wry first-person voice, this was pretty dark. Ted’s lawyer is the only one who believes in him as the novel begins, and we never even meet him. Besides Amanda, who really doesn’t care either way, through most of the book he only gains one other ally. By the end he has one more, and we gain some measure of hope for Ted’s eventual exoneration. He is abused by the police, hounded by violent vigilantes and the tabloid press, and hated by old friends and complete strangers. When we think we see some light at the end of the tunnel it is quickly dashed. I just couldn’t stand it.

I didn’t find the case that Ted and Amanda were working on particularly interesting and the solution, I thought, was implausible. The pace was interrupted by the insertion of a nutcase’s fan letters to the author whose disappearance Ted and Amanda are investigating. They were necessary to the mystery, but were repetitive and got boring. In addition, I still don’t understand why Ted was not exonerated by law enforcement before his life was ruined. The evidence, though strong, was circumstantial, and forensics of his person and his vehicle should have shown he couldn’t possibly be guilty of the horrific crime. It’s never laid out how this could possibly have happened, and Ted is too passive and accepting of the situation. And the case against Amanda was just as weak.

The writing was engaging and entertaining, and it is an exciting book with very likable protagonists. There were just too many aspects that didn’t make sense, and that frustration brought my rating down.**3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 3, 2022

The Identicals

By Elin Hilderbrand

I listened to this on audio because I wanted to give this author a shot but my time is always a consideration. I’m always looking for a shining star and her name is always popping up, especially in the summertime, and most people seem to really love her. I chose this one because twin stories always seem to be stuffed with possibilities. Two twins, Tabitha and Harper were separated as children when their parents divorced. Harper won rock paper scissors and stayed with her easygoing fun father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha had to go with her cold controlling mother to Nantucket. Tabitha’s unreasonable resentment of Harper getting to stay with the Dad laid the groundwork for their estrangement. It was taken to another level when Tabitha (again) blamed Harper for a personal tragedy that was not her fault. Though only 11 miles apart, they had not seen each other for 15 years when Billy the father dies and the two sisters, their mother, and Tabitha’s out-of-control teenage daughter meet for his funeral.

Frankly, soon after the drama of the funeral, I was all set to give up on this, which would have been a first for me for an audiobook. Since I always listen while doing something else, it is just so easy to go along with them even if the book isn’t that enjoyable. There was not one likable main character. And the sisters in particular were both pretty contemptible. Harper was an immature, irresponsible underachiever who thinks nothing of carrying on an affair with a married man while two-timing him with another guy who is serious about her. Tabitha is such a bitter woman and “piss-poor parent” to teenage Ainsley, that I really questioned whether she cared about her own daughter at all. Ainsley is a mean girl whose teenage angst was just exhausting.

But soon after the funeral, They decide to change places. Harper will go to Nantucket to look after Ainsley and the family dress shop, and Tabitha will take care of renovating and selling Billy’s ramshackle house on the Vineyard. I thought that maybe this would be the turning point in the story that would result in healing their relationship and the evolution of their characters. In some ways, it did eventually but not before the sisters continued to reveal their awfulness, especially Tabitha. With both of them, every time I started to gain some liking and even respect, they disappointed me. Especially Tabitha. It was very frustrating. The difference between them was that although Harper made awful decisions she was essentially good-hearted and sensible. But towards the end, she did something so heartless that I couldn’t forgive her. Tabitha was just awful. The love interests were weak as well. I don’t even want to get started with those guys. There was one decent man introduced who was a possibility for a while for either of the sisters, but he got kicked to the curb and disappeared. The most positive thread was Ainsley finally maturing and getting herself together after being a horror throughout most of the book. This was thanks to the one nice and admirable character who needed a lot more pages and a story of her own.

The one really enjoyable part of this book was the last chapter in which everything was tied up into a happy ending (no accountability here!) and told from the perspective of Harper’s pet dog, who was the other unobjectionable character in this book.

Hilderbrand is a good writer and most of the book was pretty engaging. I might try another one someday. Surely not all of her protagonists are so flawed. **not quite 3 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 24, 2022

Good Girl, Bad Blood: A Sequel to A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

by Holly Jackson

I did not enjoy this as much as the first one. Pip is drawn in very reluctantly to another dangerous mystery when Jamie, the older brother of one of her friends, Connor, goes missing. In the first book, Pip goes to some dark places in solving the mystery of who really killed Andie Bell and clearing the name of her boyfriend Ravi’s brother. But when the police won’t do anything because Jamie is an adult and he is low on the risk assessment scale, Pip feels she has no choice. Also, she is in a unique position. She knows her podcast would be a powerful tool to get the word out to find Jamie.

I listened to this on audio and am not sure that’s the best way to “read” a murder mystery where you want to sift through clues, pause and reflect, and backtrack at times. The narration was good and I did enjoy the multiple actors and sound effects. I was kept interested by the question of what happened to Jamie and why. And if he was still alive. It did not look good for him, for sure. I felt like one of the reveals came out of nowhere with no foundation being laid. Even if the reader wasn’t played fair with, it was entertainingly shocking and it did make sense, I thought. Once we were given the information out of nowhere. Besides that, a few things affected my enjoyment of this one. Jamie’s character was presented in such a way that I really didn’t care about him that much. Pip’s reactions to some happenings were a little problematic for me. And towards the end, the emotion was overwrought. Her behavior was probably realistic but, sometimes, when you put it all on the page, there’s nothing left for the reader to feel.

A lot of the threads have a satisfactory optimistic conclusion, but some of them do not. The fate of the rapist Max Hastings, who was indirectly responsible for some of the tragedy in the first book is one of the ones that do not. Pip does something risky and badass to deliver her own justice, but I do not like comeuppances left to my imagination. I want retribution, pain, and suffering! Perhaps in the next book? Perhaps not. Pip seems like she is not in a good place and things with her seem destined to get worse before they get better. If they do. I was left a little pessimistic about Pip and humanity in general. The first two were enough for me, I think. **3 out of 5 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

June 19, 2022

The Bodyguard

by Katherine Center

I listened to this on audio, and it was an entertaining romantic comedy. Our heroine is a female bodyguard hired to protect an A-list movie star (male, of course) from a female stalker/corgi breeder/sweater knitter. It was fun and funny with lots of both comedy and snark. There was some drama-our heroine, Hannah, has some self-esteem issues which she tends to over-compensate for and the hero, Jack Stapleton, is estranged from his brother due to the tragic death, blamed on Jack, of their youngest brother. Hannah is put in charge of Jack’s security while he is visiting the family ranch. His mother is recovering from a bout with cancer, and not wanting to put undue stress on her, it is decided that Hannah will pose as his girlfriend rather than his “executive protection agent”. It was a cute concept. Let the romance begin.

Written in first person, the book was narrated by Patti Murin who, with her tomboy-ish tone was perfectly cast as Hannah. I love Katharine Center’s authorial voice, as I did with the other book I read by her, Things You Save in a Fire, about a female firefighter. She has a real talent for establishing an intimate, “best-friends” relationship with the reader which puts you right in the midst of things. The heroines in the two books are similar, in that they both are a little too anxious to prove their badassery. Hannah started off very cantankerous to the point that I was a little put off at first. Once she settled into her role at the family ranch she calmed down, and we are taken up with Jack’s relationship with his family and what was going on there. Not to mention Hannah’s reluctant attachment to the Stapleton family. And Jack, of course.

This was a straight-up rom-com. Nothing more and nothing less. For the com part, we are treated to a lot of funny banter, and fish out of water scenarios. We have some pretty entertaining cheating ex-boyfriend and beautiful mean ex-girlfriend action added to the mix. As for the rom part, it’s never smooth sailing (it can’t be, can it?) but the roadblocks to the relationship between Jack and Hannah were entirely of her own making. Her determination to not believe in Jack, who was perfectly lovely by the way, didn’t sit too well with me. Especially as Hannah goes to great pains to tell us what a genius she is at reading people. Her obtuseness almost leads to catastrophe.

The final wrap-up made up for the quibbles I had as a whole. Katherine Center really knows how to end a book. There was one part that was even quite moving but it involved a very peripheral character we barely know. So. The Ballad of Jack and Hannah was an entertaining story but didn’t go very deep. No thrills or chills for me, but that’s OK. It accomplished what I think it aspired to. It was fun. I can’t blame it for not being what it wasn’t even trying for.
3 1/2 stars I’ll round up thanks to the ending.

Thank-You to Net Galley and Macmillan Audio for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

June 4, 2022

One-Hit Wonder

by Lisa Jewell

I wanted to give Lisa Jewell another try after the first book I read by her. Like the previous novel, I was intrigued by the concept behind this one.

Ana, a bonafide card-carrying ugly duckling is 25 years old. She is repressed and bullied by everyone around her, especially her abusive psycho mother. She thinks she is ugly because she is tall, thin, and has a big nose. Her beautiful and dynamic half-sister, whom she barely knew, has died suddenly and she must go to New York to put her affairs in order. Bee was a wild child and ex-pop star whose celebrity faded quickly. A One-Hit wonder in fact.

When Ana gets to New York she is saddened and disturbed to see how Bee lived and died. She falls in with her two best and apparently only friends, Lol and Flint. Together, they are determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Bee. It is soon apparent that Bee had been living a double life with many secrets. In the course of her investigations, and away from her mother, Ana blossoms into a swan, finds inner strength, confidence, and self-esteem, and falls in love. By the end, there is plenty of redemption, happiness, and hope for the future for our main character, Ana, and others we meet along the way. But the happiness and hope that is found are in the ashes of Bee’s tragedy.

I liked Ana but didn’t love her. She was kind and good. I guess I can’t blame her for being a doormat to her mother and others, because the primary focus of the book is how she gets herself up off the floor. However, her constant poormouthing herself and failing to see her striking beauty that is obvious to everyone else was irritating. I listened to this on audio, and I liked the reader’s characterizations of everyone except two other main characters: Lol (short for Lolita, we are finally told) and Flint. The accent and voice tone was over the top with these two, and actually gave me a bad impression of them throughout most of the book. Flint’s character really turned me off and his voice just exacerbated my initial dislike. I just didn’t see how he could be the love interest but there wasn’t anyone else. As the book went on, and we learn more about him, my feelings did change, but it was slow going.

The gradual solving of the mystery and anticipation of closure on several fronts were what kept me going with this one. There were some interesting characters, particularly the difficult mystery boy and the cruel neurotic mother. The final outcomes with these two came too easily and were too pat for me.  As welcome as they were. The author had to put a pin in an ugly problem looming on the horizon to get to a satisfactory conclusion. Not that I didn’t appreciate it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 19, 2022

Katherine’s Marriage

by D. E. Stevenson

Katherine’s Marriage was a good and worthy sequel to Katherine Wentworth, picking right up with Katherine and Alec on their honeymoon. In a cave. A very nice cave, but still. I really wouldn’t recommend this book if you haven’t read the first one and loved it as I did. The first couple of chapters kind of got on my last nerve with Alec and “the brownie.” When all was said and done, the only interest for me was continuing my acquaintance with characters that had so engaged me. And unfortunately, Katherine, at times, is a bit of a wet noodle here in contrast to the first book.

After their blissful honeymoon, in which we meet the laird, MacAslan, and his daughter, Phil, which apparently feature in one or two other books by D.E. Stevenson, the newlyweds are confronted with a few challenges. First of All, Alec’s neurotic and manipulative sister, who they thought had been neatly dispatched to Europe and then Australia, returns like Carrie from the Grave. She is horrified that her brother is married when she expected to return to her place in his house dominating his life. Unlike Katherine, who seems to have lost some of her charm and personality, Zilla hasn’t changed a bit. She returns in all her dark and hateful glory. How she is dealt with yields some entertaining chapters and tense moments. No sooner than that is solved than Simon, Katherine’s usually lovely 16-year-old stepson suffers a personality transplant similar to what happened in the first book. When we get to the bottom of that, the third and last crisis rears its head: Sir Mortimer Wentworth, Simon’s tyrannical grandfather with an anger management problem, summons Simon to scary Limbourne. He is not on his deathbed, but has had a health scare, which has caused him to re-evaluate his relationships for ill or good. There are some shenanigans with a new will, which is always good value in a rich English aristocratic family story.

The book ends on a happy hopeful note albeit a bit abruptly with a bit of an interesting drama left on the horizon. We also wonder what the future holds for Simon and Phil. And what about the Limoge jug in the first chapters? And what about Lance and Anthea? I would have read a third book. At the end of the story, Katherine is pillow-talking with Alec, “We’ve been married for sixteen weeks; I wonder what we shall feel like when we’ve been married for sixteen years.” It’s a rhetorical question. With a couple this nice, sensible, and devoted to each other, there is no doubt whatsoever. **3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 4, 2022

Katherine Wentworth

by D. E. Stevenson

I realised that I was worn out in body and spirit with the strain of struggling along by myself, coping with the children and trying to make ends meet on an inadequate income. I had prided myself upon my independence and somehow or other I had managed . . . but now I began to wonder whether independence was so important. Perhaps one could pay too highly for it. Here, in this peaceful spot, with Mrs. MacRam to provide a firm cushion to lean upon, I gradually began to feel like a different creature. I felt years younger, with a returning zest for life—as one sometimes does when convalescent after a long illness. Colours looked brighter, food tasted delicious and every day was a pleasure.

Well, it’s a tie. This book is tied for my favorite D. E. Stevenson so far with Miss Buncle’s Book or the 4th in the Miss Buncle series, The Four Graces. But this is very different from the Buncle books. While those were clever and gentle satires of English country life and just funny, there wasn’t much funny or quirky about this one. It is a lovely family drama reminiscent of Rosamunde Pilcher’s best. It is about both the consequences of freedom and independence versus being “chained up” and, sort of conversely, the importance love and sharing one’s burdens.

Katherine Wentworth is a 27-year-old widow raising her 16-year-old stepson, Simon, and her two own young twins. Although a very happy “whole family” they struggle financially. We learn that her beloved late husband, Gerald, was from a very wealthy titled family but was cast off when he refused to fall in with his father’s plans for his future and made his own way after going to Oxford and later becoming a professor. To add to those sins, as a young man, he married an Italian girl who later died in childbirth. Katherine has had nothing to do with his family and vice versa. Meanwhile, she meets a former school acquaintance, the neurotic shallow Zilla who has a very nice and attractive brother. Despite being independently wealthy, Alec works as a successful lawyer much to his sister’s frustration. She is very possessive and manipulative and wants him constantly at her beck and call. In spite of Zilla, Alec and Katherine become good friends. At the end of Part One, Zilla offers Katherine, who sorely needs a care-free vacation, her remote cottage in the highlands of Scotland for the summer. And much to my wonderment, as I went into this book cold, Simon is contacted by his grandfather and summoned to his father’s family’s estate, Limbourne. It seems the heir is dead, and the estate and title will eventually pass to Simon. As Simon says, He wants to make sure I “don’t eat peas with my knife.”

**Some Spoilers**

Part two takes place at Limbourne. Simon refuses to go without his “Mums,” Katharine. Although they are welcomed courteously and treated well on the surface, Katherine and Simon know it is not for their own sakes, but because they have no other choice. The estate is entailed and Simon will inherit it no matter how the family feels about it. Yet, because Simon is an awesome kid, the tyrannical and intimidating grandfather genuinely likes and approves of Simon. Katharine is afraid. There is something not quite right with the family at Limbourne. There is something vaguely sinister and uncomfortable about the place.

Like everything else at Limbourne, the rose-garden was a model of tidiness. There were grass paths between the beds—paths of velvet smoothness—and there was not a weed to be seen. I thought suddenly of my daughter and her remark: ‘Funny sort of garden with no daisies!’ She would think this a very funny sort of garden, there was no doubt of that. The roses grew in orderly array, each little bush perfect in shape, bearing perfect blooms. I asked Medlam how he managed to attain such perfection and he explained that there was a nursery behind the beech hedge so that any bush which was not perfect could be replaced. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it, ma’am?’ said Medlam, looking round with complacency. ‘It’s the best rose-garden in the county.’ It was beautiful of course—roses are always beautiful—but to my mind it was too tidy and neat. The roses did not look happy; perhaps they were aware that if they failed in their duty to their owner they would be rooted out, thrown on the rubbish heap, and replaced by another rose-bush from the nursery garden behind the tall beech hedge…. He escorted me through a gate in the hedge. Here there were more roses, dozens and dozens of little bushes, their exquisite flowers filling the air with fragrance. There were red and white and pink and yellow roses in prodigal confusion. ‘I’m afraid it isn’t very tidy, ma’am,’ said Medlam apologetically. ‘It isn’t really for show, you see. We just plants them here temporary until they’re wanted.’ ‘I like it,’ I said. ‘The roses here look natural and happy and their scent is far sweeter.’ Medlam did not deign to reply to this piece of nonsense.

A Metaphor for Limbourne and its denizens

His grandfather wants to keep Simon at Limbourne and under his power. Simon has a good head on his shoulders and is devoted to Katharine and his half-siblings but will he be seduced by the wealth and advantages his Grandfather offers?


Part 3 takes place at the rustic cottage in Scotland where Katherine is spending the summer with her 2 young children. She has reluctantly left Simon on his own to spend another week with his newfound family. He is happy and excited to do so. Much to her surprise, Alec has come to stay nearby as well, and she is not sure how she feels about that. One night, without warning, Simon shows up ahead of time and he is behaving strangely and disturbingly. He claims everything is fine but Katherine knows better. What the hell happened? **End Spoilers**


This was so good. I loved the lovely Katherine and her family with their strength and wholesomeness matched up against their wealthy and outwardly nice but inwardly corrupted relatives. The inevitable romance turned surprisingly tender and touching. I sighed. I am just starting the sequel now and am anxious to read if we visit Limbourne again. Can this family be saved? This book ends on a hopeful note. Maybe?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

April 22, 2022

Frederica

by Georgette Heyer

The Marquis believed himself to be hardened against flattery. He thought that he had experienced every variety, but he discovered that he was mistaken: the blatantly worshipful look in the eyes of a twelve-year-old, anxiously raised to his, was new to him, and it pierced his defences. He was capable of giving the coolest of set-downs to any gushing female; and the advances of toadeaters he met with the most blistering of snubs; but even as he realised how intolerably bored he would be in Soho he found himself quite unable to snub his latest and most youthful admirer. It would be like kicking a confiding puppy.

In rereading Frederica (on audio) I did something I don’t often do which is read two books by the same author in a row. But, since my experience with the narration of These Old Shades was less than the best, when I saw The unabridged Frederica in my audible library, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take another whack at one of my most beloved authors. Besides, this book always reminds me of springtime with its settings and outdoor adventures: a family dog harassing cows in the park unaware of proper canine London manners, a runaway bicycle, scientific excursions, balls and parties, and of course a runaway hot-air balloon. Thankfully the narration of Clifford Norgate was “bang up to the mark” with even his female characters escaping the affected tones too many male readers give their females.

Although no longer available on audible, I had downloaded this to my phone at one time so I still had access to it. Hopefully, the unabridged versions will be available again eventually in the United States as they are in the U.K. This one was an excellent interpretation. Mr. Norgate’s voicing of the Marquis of Alverstoke had nuance and subtlety and lived up to my imagination of his tone and expression. His inner dialogue trying to suss out his true feelings for the redoubtable Frederica gave a fresh insight into Heyer’s words. Some of the most amusing and memorable scenes (The Baluchistan Hound Incident and the dampening effect of “Restorative Pork Jelly” on incipient declarations of love) were “complete to a shade.”

Frederica Merriville has come to London so her beautiful and impossibly sweet and gentle younger sister can have her season and hopefully find an eligible match so she can be comfortably settled. She has audaciously reached out to her very distant cousin Alverstoke whom she has never met for assistance in getting her launched into society. He has no intention of doing any such thing, but once he meets the unusually frank and unaffected Frederica, her two young brothers, and Charis, a “diamond of first water” he thinks it might be an amusing joke on his two tiresome sisters, who have been needling him to give balls for their unimpressive daughters. He will do so but only if Charis is introduced at their sides. They are surprised but thrilled at his change of mind as their brother Vernon is a very rich and important figure in the topmost ranks of society. The Marquis has served them the lesson they deserve when they meet the lovely Charis, who totally outshines every girl in London and certainly her two plain cousins. But he’s not shot of the little family yet.

Charis soon becomes the darling of society, and her 24 year old “on the shelf” sister Frederica is well-received as well. Meanwhile, Felix and Jeremy, Frederica’s young brothers, take a liking to “Cousin Alverstoke” and he starts to become much more involved with the lively family than he ever intended. As he is drawn into their escapades, the perpetually bored Alverstoke is for once, not bored. Of course, Charis falls in love with a totally unsuitable but handsome blockhead, and Frederica struggles mightily to not be a bother to the formidable Marquis. But far from being intimidated, she finds herself constantly in need of his help and advice. The marquis, meanwhile, is falling deeply in love with this girl who treats him like an indulgent and kind uncle much to his bemusement.

This is a bright and delightful book. Georgette Heyer was at the height of her powers and Frederica is one of her most charming and likable heroines. Alverstoke is one of her most well-drawn and witty romantic leads and their interactions are high points. Felix and Jeremy are two very different brothers but are both irrepressible and fun. Even Alverstoke’s quiet and efficient secretary, Charles Trevor, shines and even plays a surprising heroic role during a final crisis. My favorite Heyer novels take place in London during the season where conversation, descriptions, and settings sparkle, and the ability to navigate the tricky conventions and manners of society put futures on the line. And you might even meet real historical figures like the Prince Regent, Beau Brummel, Gentleman Jackson, or Sally Jersey and her cohorts. This one has the extra attraction of a warm and happy family at its center.

Frederica, The Marquis of Alverstoke, and the Beautiful Charis

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 21, 2022

These Old Shades

“Dear Edward has given Fanny a chocolate-coloured coach with pale blue cushions. The wheat is picked out in blue.” He held the sheet at arm’s length. “It seems strange, but no doubt Fanny is right. I have not been in England for such a time…Ah, I beg her pardon. You will be relieved to hear, my dear Hugh, that the wheat still grows as it ever did. The wheels are picked out in blue.”

–The Duke of Avon, reading a letter aloud from his sister Fanny

This was a reread on Audible of a book I’ve read so many times I know a lot of it by heart, even though it’s probably been more than 2 decades since my last reading. The quote above, I remember, was when I read the book for the first time, my emotions went from enjoyment and anticipation to sheer delight. Although the incurably romantic and fun story still holds up, it suffers from the narration. Cornelius Garrett does not do well interpreting the suave, omniscient, and mordant Duke of Avon. Justin Alistair is an iconic character in the romance world, upon which many many subsequent romantic heroes by many other authors has been based over the years. I don’t think Mr. Garrett understood his character. He plays him in a voice that is too high-pitched and is sometimes bombastic and querulous. There is little nuance and little comic timing. In my own mind, I hear Avon’s voice as somewhat affected but not effeminate. I hear the unhurried, dry, and quiet tones of the late great Alan Rickman. Cornelius Garrett is no Alan Rickman.

That off my chest, although I was entertained, and enjoyed revisiting one of my old-time favorites, I wasn’t as charmed and admiring of Leonie this time around. Her devotion to “Monseigneur” and her impish spirited antics (“Egad, you wildcat!”) after restored to her true female self were a little much. But the plot, the dialogue, and all of the other characters, including Justin Alastair, as written, if not played, were as entertaining as always. It is no wonder that so many aspects of the book have been so copied, even to this day, almost 100 years later.

Two oft-criticized aspects of the book are the age gap between Justin and Leonie (40 vs. 20) and the other is the emphasis of birth over breeding in the determination of character. As far as the age gap, I do not have a problem with it. It is not all that much more than Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, or Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Bogie was 45 and Bacall was 20 when they met. Cary Grant was 59 and Audrey Hepburn was 25 years younger when they starred together in Charade. As far as the importance of genetics in the determination of character, the criticism hits home a bit more strongly. Genetics is certainly a factor, but it doesn’t trump everything. Despite 20 years of being raised as a peasant, we are told Leonie never exhibits any coarseness. And conversely, in regards to the peasant with whom she was exchanged at birth, despite being raised as an aristocrat, he is awkward in society and wants nothing more than to be a farmer. Of course in my early readings of this book, I didn’t think a thing about it. And you know, some difference between the two can be explained by the behavior of both sets of parents who knew the truth. But I mustn’t digress.

These Old Shades is a most entertaining read. It has it all: romance, wit, comedy, adventure, suspense, cheer-worthy moments, triumph, and emotion. I love the descriptions of the fashions and toilettes, the glitterati, both fictional and real, and the settings. Although it’s too much to ask any book to recapture the joy it may have first brought once upon a time, it’s good to revisit books that once brought that joy. **5 stars, of course.**

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 2, 2022