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

A Hopeless Romantic

By Harriet Evans

I don’t really mind when heroines are unlikable at first. I enjoy a good redemption story. Laura starts out as not seeming very bright, despite having an interesting job which she is good at. Her fatal flaw is her self-deluded history of making every guy she is attracted to into a fairy tale hero and believing him to be the one true love of her life. Again and again. This is partly thanks to her aspiration of modeling her beloved confidant and grandmother Mary’s extremely happy second marriage. When her latest relationship with an engaged man predictably implodes and rains humiliation upon her, she is rightly ashamed of herself. Suspended from her job, she retreats to the bosom of her sweet family and joins them on vacation. She has finally been shocked into gaining insight and clarity into her past romantic foolishness and decides to turn over a new leaf. Step one:

She moved over to the bookshelf. Laura gulped. This was harder than she’d expected…Firm. Strong. Away with childish things….into the box went all her Nancy Mitford books. In went all her Mills & Boon romances. She hesitated over her Jane Austen collection. Surely that was proper English literature, she shouldn’t be throwing it away! You never read them for academic enjoyment, Laura Foster,…you read them because they make you swoon and sigh and have striding men wearing breeches in them. In they go. Finally, she reached up the top shelf of her bookcase. With shaking hands, she picked up her Georgette Heyer collection. She knew it had to be done, but, by God, it hurt. Tears came into her eyes. One by one, she dropped each book in the box, watched as they slammed onto each other, the pale colors of the old paperback covers gleaming up out of the box at her. It was torture.

Fate is cruel, however. No sooner does she turn over a new leaf, and is keeping herself fully grounded in reality, she meets a nice handsome estate manager with whom she has an instant rapport and attraction. And horrors! It is soon revealed that he is an incredibly wealthy and powerful nobleman, and, in fact, the third most eligible bachelor in all of England(after Harry and William). In fact, he is the embodiment of every girl’s romantic fantasy and fairy-tale hero. He is even has a damaged past. Will Laura fall into her old ways? Is she destined for heartbreak? Or has she learned her lesson too well, and thrown away the one chance with the man who really is the true love of her life? I found the last part of the book very romantic

In addition to the primary romance, there is a hint of a secondary romance or two, a few heart-tugging scenes, many very endearing and complex secondary characters, Family drama (more funny than serious), and Laura’s not always successful efforts to rehabilitate her relations with her friends, family, and job. These are hampered by her going too far in the other direction and becoming cynical and closed off. It won’t be a spoiler to reveal that she finally achieves balance. She does go back to Heyer’s Regency Buck, but assures her friend that she is also reading Trainspotting. As a Georgette Heyer devotee, I was delighted by the references to her.

She saw herself for once without pretense, not as a girl from some book in a crinoline, dipping low in a curtsey at a ball..or a new person who..brooked no argument, who let no one enter her life, who did not suffer weakness or fools. She was just—–herself.

I knew this book had a sequel when I started reading it. I am looking forward to spending more time with the delightful and not so delightful characters in this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

April 2, 2019

The Winter Bride

By Anne Gracie

For a modern Regency romance, this one was not half bad. I don’t remember why I picked this one up, especially since I had thought another book by this author was so absurd that I gave it one star and skipped through most of it in 2 hours. I think it was because someone on my Georgette Heyer Facebook group compared the hero of this one, Freddy, to Freddy of Cotillion Indeed the hero was the best thing about this book and did bear a passing resemblance to one of my favorite heroes.

Unfortunately, I am just about over romance novels that don’t bring anything more to the table than the romance. Here we have two protagonists who are dead set against getting married agreeing to a fake betrothal to keep people off their backs. This one suffers because the journey to the inevitable finally falling in love part and the entirely obvious from the beginning deep dark secret that the heroine harbors is pretty tedious.

But there were some bright spots. One was the heroine’s takedown and telling off of Freddy’s cruel and blind parents.

Damaris couldn’t believe it. Had they never reflected on what they’d done? “You two treated him like an assassin, when he was just a little boy who liked to play cricket with his brother. Twelve years old, and you pushed him out of the family…What kind of parents are you? You lost one son, but you threw the other away.”

And it was not just one short scene either. She wins every point quite a few times.

The other was Freddy’s refreshing reaction to Damaris’ drama of finally confessing why she can never marry.

“Well, I’m shocked,” said Freddy in as shocked a manner as he could conjure up. “Deeply shocked,” he repeated. “May I serve you some of this apple tart? It looks and smells delicious, doesn’t it?” “Apple tart?” she repeated blankly. “Didn’t you hear what I said?”

Poor Damaris. She sure got the wind taken out of her sails.

Anne Gracie is not a bad writer, but there is no wit despite the light pleasant easy tone. There are too many eye-rolling moments and cliches in character development and plot. She is very repetitive. The cutesy term “muffin” for ingenues trying to trap Freddy into marriage is repeated like 40 times in a book just a little over 300 pages long. It was distracting and annoying.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

April 17, 2019

Noble Satyr

by Lucinda Brant

Despite the Duke’s reputation with women, which was very true, her father judged him to be a man of principle and honor. As duke and head of his family, Roxton took his responsibilities to family and retainers very seriously. Her father added with a shrewd laugh that the nobleman’s blackened shell covered a multitude of decencies.

This is a successful homage, I believe, to Georgette Heyer’s great and beloved These Old Shades. Many elements of the plot are different, but the main characters are very comparable. The Duke of Roxton is not as omnipotent and invulnerable as Avon. But this threw some interesting and enjoyable aspects into his relationship with the Leonie character, played by Antonia. If you’ve ever wished for a peek behind Leonie’s and Avon’s bedroom door, a more intimate look at how their relationship and marriage might have played out, this is the book for you. Don’t expect a lot of clinical detail in the love-making, but for me, it was just enough.

Lucinda Brant is a very good writer and she apparently specializes in the Georgian time period which I think she captured beautifully. There is lots of detail and authenticity in her descriptions of the fashions, manners, culture and historical personages. It is not a great book overall like These Old Shades is but in many ways, such as the deeper dive into family and more sinister and threatening evil schemers (and the resulting suspense and tension), it improved upon the original. Lightning please don’t strike me. I am looking forward to reading the next novel in the series someday soon.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March 12, 2020

The Parfit Knight

By Stella Riley

I hate to give such a well reviewed and beloved book 2 1/2 stars, but I was sadly quite disappointed in this one. I have a soft spot for loosely connected series, and I had high hopes for this first one as an introduction. It just didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s better on audio.

The book owes much to Georgette Heyer’s work. Of course, Heyer is the queen and in some way most authors who write romances set in this time period owe much to her. But this was way too much. The plot is very derivative and the characters are caricatures. Rosalind is a version of Venetia except blind. She is beautiful unaffected, forthright, and likes to banter. Her blindness is not a problem. It did not affect her well-adjusted and cheerful demeanor a bit. She’s so brave. Amberley is like Damerel except he is blond and laughs hysterically. A Lot. It’s kind of an idiosyncrasy of his showing off what we are told is his quirky sense of humor. Their relationship is similar to Damerel’s and Venetia’s too. They are in a world of their own away from London society, and they are soulmates immediately. Rosalind is lonely and friendless except for her servants and Dominic understands what she needs and fills that role. 10 minutes after they meet, he even kisses her on the lips, much to my consternation. When he reads a scary novel to her they sit next to each other on the couch and hold hands. Ack. He encourages her to walk outside and have a snowball fight. Awww. Once their meeting of the minds and hearts is established, of course they must be parted. Like in Venetia, our hero has an attack of conscience and they part ways. Rosalind is left confused and hurt and ends up in London having a season.

Other parts seem to be lifted from These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub . Amberley shoots a highwayman and leaves him in the road like Vidal. But since he is actually a nice decent guy and not a savage, he does see that the corpse is cleaned up off the road. Oh. They are both named Dominic. His mother is just like Leonie. Rosalind’s brother Phillip and Amberley’s main antagonist owes a lot to Frederick Comyn. Except Phillip wreaks a lot more havoc and is really clueless, not just pompous and conventional. But I really can’t blame him too badly as everyone lies to him by omission and commission. Without him, there wouldn’t have been any melodrama. Everyone has the villain’s number except him, so the villain would be powerless without him being a tool. Rockcliffe, Amberley’s omniscient friend, is another Duke of Avon. There are echoes of lots of other scenes we’ve seen before in Heyer, like instead of the Heyer dog that won’t mind his manners, we have a parrot who curses. But I won’t belabor the point.

The one character that really caught my interest was Isabelle, who was her brother’s fiance and sister to the evil villain. She also was one character who seemed to be an original creation. She had some unexpected facets and was not a pale substitute for a Heyer creation. My only problem with her was that she was too sensible and likable to end up with Phillip.

I hope Stella Riley intended this to be a homage to Heyer. If she did, it was a good homage. She lifted plots and characters, but couldn’t manage the sparkling wit, and the deft and original characterizations, not to mention the smooth weaving of historical detail and culture into the background. But I think I would have preferred to just re-read a Georgette Heyer novel. I’ll round up though, because strange as it may seem, I’m kind of curious to see what she does with the Duke of Avon in new set of circumstances. **2 1/2 out of 5 stars**

June 1, 2021

High Society in the Regency Period 1788-1830

By Venetia Murray

My interest in this entertaining history stems from my love for Georgette Heyer and some of her followers’ novels. It really illuminates that the Regency world of Georgette Heyer was indeed her version of that period of history: a much gentler, sanitized, and proper version. So many things in her portrayal of that time were very accurate, but it was the aspects of those times that she skirted around, ignored, or romanticized that interested me much more.

The most surprising thing I learned was how the ton wore their emotions on their sleeve. Apparently, it was not uncommon for men to publicly burst into tears and weep and wail when they were frustrated or angry. Venetia Murray supports this with numerous references in letters and other contemporary accounts. It is pretty obvious that Georgette imbued the Regency period with the “stiff upper lip” values of her generation.

Gluttony is another thing that GH did touch on in passing, but is explored in detail here. 2 or 3 or more enormous steaks at one sitting, conservatively, for example. The obsession with sauces and gastronomy and gourmet meals was amazing. Menus with literally over a hundred dishes. The extravagance and the waste in all areas of daily life. The over-indulgence in drink. Murray writes that it was common, indeed, fashionable for certain segments of male high society to be drunk, or tipsy all day long. High society as a whole were bored or idle all of the time. Meals were often the highlight of their day and would last for hours and hours.

And the immorality, of course. Discreet or not, married lovers and mistresses were not shunned and neither were courtesans. They were known and accepted in the highest levels of society.
It is much easier to understand and be sympathetic to the Victorian mindset as being a reaction and rejection of the ways of Regency England after reading this book.

The choices of illustration are curious. All of the plates are caricatures, cartoons, and drawings. I wish she had chosen more realistic portraits of some of the interesting people she discussed.

Yes, Georgette Heyer did romanticize and ignore some certain truths about high society while being very historically true in most things. Frankly, I’m glad she did!**4 out of 5 stars**

June 20, 2017

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World

by Jennifer Kloester

Terrifically entertaining and interesting guide to the Regency World of Georgette Heyer. Kloester goes into just enough depth on such topics as Clothing, Sport, The Wars, A typical day in a bachelor’s or a Debutante’s life, The Royal Family, etc. to both enlighten the Heyer fan, and to remind them of what they already know. It’s not for the serious historian or sociologist. She keeps it light and entertaining. As she goes from topic to topic, she adeptly and smoothly weaves in illustrations and examples from Heyer’s own novels. There are line drawings throughout on, for example, carriages, bonnets, underclothes, architecture, the leading figures of the day. One of the highlights are her appendices. The one on the cant or slang of the day is particularly entertaining and handy. I started out intending to just skip around and read the parts that particularly interested me, but I ended up reading the whole thing, cover to cover. **5 out of 5 stars**

June 13, 2017

The Toll-Gate

by Georgette Heyer

Secret Caves! Hidden Gold! Treasure Chests! Stolen Gold in Treasure Chests hidden in a Secret Cave! No, it’s not The Hardy Boys or Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, it’s The Toll Gate by Georgette Heyer. And let’s add in a Bow-street Runner, a Highwayman, a bed-ridden grumpy grandfather to a Damsel in Distress*, and a kind, strong, and brave ex-soldier looking to solve a mystery, capture some bad guys, and save both a scared little boy and that previously mentioned damsel. What we have here is a rousing adventure story that actually would appeal to The Hardy Boys audience. (Do boys and girls still read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew? Or is it just baby boomers trying to re-capture their childhood?)

The romance is of secondary importance to the adventure and the humorous supporting characters. There is no development of the relationship or the typical learning to get past mutual antagonism or misunderstanding. This is not a social comedy. It is love at first sight for them both and they are married within, I think, a week, if that. Not an argument or conflict to be had. It is a very simple and uncomplicated love story.

I listened to this on audio read by Daniel Hill. He did a fine job and added to the excitement of the story. I also appreciated the fact that he didn’t give Nell phony girly girl inflections (much) as many male readers seem compelled to do with women characters. He does well with the thieves cant and obscure idiom of the rougher classes of the times. It’s kind of like a secret language which is as likely to frustrate a reader as enthrall them. I honestly think Heyer decided to write a novel that she could throw in every abstruse piece of vernacular she could find in her authentic language playbook.***3 1/2 stars**

* the Damsel is in Distress but she doesn’t think so and is fully capable of saving herself from a fate worse than death. But Jack, our knight in shining armor, does rescue her from an uncertain future and probable poverty and hardship. Much to the reader’s relief. Because Nell is great.

April 28, 2021

Faro’s Daughter

By Georgette Heyer

I really enjoyed Laura Paton’s reading of Faro’s Daughter. Except for not incorporating Lucius Kennet’s Irish accent, it was perfect. A very funny novel with many of Heyer’s stock characters which although not unique to this work, does not make them any less enjoyable. Quintessential Mark I hero, Ravenscar; Callow and besotted young noble, Mablethorpe, whose developing love for the weak-minded but sweet ingénue, Phoebe makes a man of him; Spoiled and selfish brother, Kit; and, not one, but two, mustache-twirling villains. Only our heroine, Deb Grantham, seems to be unique to this novel. She is of the highest integrity, kindhearted and generous, practical, brave, and wise. She even has a flair for broad comedy. Even so, she behaves so nonsensically and stupidly at times, and is so unfair to our hero, that it is downright frustrating. Of course, if she didn’t go on her headlong quest for revenge against Max Ravenscar, there would be no plot. You see, he had the unbelievable temerity to insult her by offering her money to release her young nephew from her thrall. There is no reason for him to know she is a stellar character who would never stoop to entrap a young nobleman into marriage. But instead of setting him straight, she overreacts and does everything in her power to make him believe she is just as black as she has painted herself. She is somewhat similar to Venetia (she has a very hot temper as well), but without her innocence and sheltered background. She does run a gaming hell, after all. **4 out of 5 stars**

April 26, 2017