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Lady Abby’s Grand Tour by Lisa Brooks

Lady Abby's Grand Tour*

Excellent Premise — Delivery Fails Miserably

When I first saw the Table of Contents, I thought this late Regency romance was going to be a fun ride. Who could resist chapter titles such as “Fops Aplenty” or “Back to the Baying Hounds”? Of course, I had initially been intrigued by the title. Back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, women didn’t go on Grand Tour’s of the continent like young men did. (BTW, as this late Regency, there are no worries about Napoleon.)

Unfortunately, I was just about immediately turned off by the story itself once I started reading it, on at least four fronts: a childish heroine, a data dump start, little and poorly written dialogue, and overblown narrative writing.

Abby Westerhall (the heroine) is the rather spoiled and somewhat conceited daughter of a minor baron. She is apparently bored with all the men in England after three seasons and further determines she will not marry until she sees some of the world. Her mother acquiesces and takes her on a Grand Tour including France and Italy–in part because she hopes exposure to a greater world will show her daughter her own limitations.

For the first 6% or so, the book is all narrative prose; I think there might have been a line of dialogue that was referenced but not shown in a scene. The prose is heavy for a romance and laced with strange words (some of which I couldn’t find defined on the internet). The voice of the narrator is strangely distant as it looks into the minds and follows the actions of the characters–what I would call an omniscient viewpoint gone wrong. There are screens and screens of telling (not truly showing) about Abby’s background, her world, and her run-ins with men she believes are beneath her notice.

What dialogue there is after that highly narrative first 6% is very stilted; no character speaks naturally. For Abby, imagine a breathy Regency England version of Scarlett O’Hara. It was grating to read “oh, mother!” or “maman” constantly. Fiddle-dee-dee. The text, too, was rife with grammatical and punctuation errors–rampant with far too many commas in places but missing crucial ones as well.

The premise had HUGE promise. I love the idea of a young Regency lady having a Grand Tour like the young men of the time often did. In the hands of a skilled author, the concept of this book would have been a breath of fresh air in a genre that is often afflicted with sameness. Unfortunately, that promise was not delivered.

I received a free advance copy of this book, but this–obviously–did not affect my review.

The Earl’s Envy by Madeleine St. James

The Earl's Envy*

A Very Strange Guest at a Regency House Party

What an odd little book! I was at first taken in by a good description of the London docks in Regency England and was intrigued at the idea of having a heroine whose family was decidedly middle class and on the skids. Beatrice and her merchant ship owner father live on the bad side of town in a squalid little house. But then it got weird…

After that opening, we are abruptly taken to a carriage ride heading to a house party in the country. Beatrice is accompanying her best friend, Marina, a newly minted viscountess, and her husband. Beatrice is meant to be a guest of her friend’s, but for whatever reason, Beatrice feels like she must “pay her way” during the party and offers her services in the kitchen to the housekeeper when that lady shows Beatrice to her room. Huh? The housekeeper only questions her abilities, not her desire to do so. The lord of the manor doesn’t really seem to question this either, and Beatrice becomes the caretaker for the ailing dowager countess…all while the party is going on. Honestly, it feels like a plot device to ingratiate Beatrice into the earl’s inner circle; if the author wanted Beatrice to become the dowager’s caretaker … there had to be a more realistic way.

Beatrice demands a room in the servants’ quarters (not the guest wing where she had been put); she turns down the offer of proper servant’s clothing because she prefers to wear her threadbare clothes, not wanting to feel beholden to the earl for clothing(?!). She goes so far as to work in the kitchen as well as take care of the earl’s mother, pushing herself to the physical brink. Oh, my! What guest at a Regency house party would do this? Too, I would think her friend would be a little miffed that Beatrice would choose to be a servant of the house instead of enjoying her time with her as a guest–as intended. (Interestingly, Marina didn’t seem to really notice until two weeks into the house party when she mentions to Beatrice that she hasn’t seen her much!)

Oddness, oddness!

Besides this aspect of the plot, there were other oddities as well. At one point, Beatrice is referred to as a Lady … yes, with a capital “L.” A marquess suddenly shows up as a rather intimate friend of the earl at the 30% mark–and a couple of weeks into the house party. He was just called “the Marquess,” so I couldn’t pair him up with any other character. It was eventually revealed. Another oddity that made my eyebrows shoot up to the ceiling was when the earl told Beatrice (about his mother’s ailments): “Her symptoms are very severe and fatal at times, but there are good days.” Again, oh, my! How does one have occasionally fatal symptoms? Reminded me of the Rowan Atkinson sketch called “Fatal Beatings.”

At the quarter mark (often Act 1 in stories), a sinister element was added to the mix that really wasn’t led up to properly; it wasn’t a natural turning point of the main romantic plot either. And I never did figure out how the title of the book was relevant.

All in all, this story was just odd. I actually kept reading it just to see what other strange things would happen.

I received a free advance copy of this book, but–obviously–this did not affect my review

Tempting His Mistress by Samantha Holt

Tempting His Mistress*

Delightfully Written Victorian Romance

What a delightful romp through Victorian England at the hands of an author who knows how to hit all the right marks that we expect in this subgenre.

Lilly is recently orphaned, the daughter of a businessman and his mistress. At a house party, she deliberately sets out to find out if her cousin’s supposition about Lord Hawksley is true–that he murdered her father after losing money in a business deal. Of course, they both feel an attraction (though it is done with style!). She attempts to learn more about the man and is coming to believe he may not be responsible for her father’s murder–and then he blindsides her by asking to be his mistress! Then the fun really begins…

I found Lilly to be smart and just a little bit sassy, the same attributes that attract Lord Hawksley. She desperately wants to find out the truth…and she desperately wants to despise the marquess for what she believes he did. But she has a hard time doing either; their conversations are a delight as they are often at cross purposes. Lord Hawksley (Evan) can’t quite understand his fascination with her, and he tries to rid himself of it. But he finds he cannot. After his younger brother suggests HE might make her his mistress, Evan decides that if she is to be anyone’s mistress, she will be his. Of course, Lilly is shocked and hurt by such an offer. You’ll have to read the book to find out how that turns out.

I’m a big fan of Victorian romance, and it has been a while since I’ve read a straight-up one. Within a few pages, I felt like a capable captain was steering the boat writer and just wanted to enjoy the journey.

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout, but this did not affect my review.

The Legend of Lady McLaoch by Becky Banks

The Legend of Lady McLaoch*

Promising Start that Failed to Deliver

I so wanted to like this book! I adore all manner of Scottish books, fiction and nonfiction. It had a promising start with not one but two out-of-time-sequence chapters. The first was very strong, of a dying young woman in long-ago Scotland cursing her father and her family for generations because of how he had made her suffer. The next prologue (can a book have 2 prologues?) was a rather intense battle scene that took place 3 years before the main text’s time frame.

Once contemporary, the book starts with Cole (and the rest of her family) finding out that they are not really Bakers but Minarys, her grandfather having taken the former name of his mother’s second husband (not Grandpa’s biological father). Grandpapa dies before revealing anything else. After graduating from college, Cole decides to research more about the name, and this brings her to the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

I only like to give a tease about the first part of the book. Aside from the set-up above, the first 25% of the book had little action; yes, Cole meets the current laird, Rowan MacLaoch (one of the fighters in the prologue battle scene), whose history is bound up with that of her family’s. In that first 25%, she learns about her family altered history and meets the laird twice (thinking him a caretaker of the castle, not the laird). That’s it. In a book that promises “mystery” and “quest,” I found it a very slow and boring start.

I found Cole to be rude and disrespectful, not “feisty” as the description promised; I could just never warm up to her as a character. Some of Cole’s reactions to people in Scotland just seemed bizarre. Her mother seemed a stock character of a middle-aged Southern lady, and some of the Scottish people seemed to stereotypes of what one would think of those living in that country; these secondary characters fell flat. The book’s formatting was annoying; just one skinny space of paragraph indentation and no padding between paragraphs made the narrative appear like giant blocks.

I received an advance review copy for free, but–obviously–that did not affect my review.

A Compromised Compromise by Timothy Underwood

A Compromised Compromise*

Strong, Funny Start … Fizzled in the Last Half

When I started reading this book, I found it witty, lightly written, and with insight into the conflicting emotions of both Darcy and Elizabeth. Darcy’s adamant refusal to disbelieve Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet purposefully set up the compromise carried on through half the book, though–really–it was utterly ridiculous for him to think such a thing. However, it was fun to watch him torture himself (and sometimes others) about this.

The plot train went off the rails after Elizabeth asks Darcy the night before their wedding about whether he would choose her…if he was free to.

********** SPOILERS ***********

His answer sets of a nonsensical plot line. She sets off with a little money and not much of a plan. Mr. Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam don’t appear to care that Elizabeth has left–no one seems to be really concerned about her safety. Really? A lone woman…who knows where…on her own…in Regency England? Stretches credibility too far.

Various mostly boring things happen until ODC are reunited at the end. Mr. Bennet refuses his consent, and D&E are off to Gretna Green. The book ends abruptly when Georgiana finds them on the road to Scotland, wanting to participate in the wedding.

****** END SPOILERS *******

This book started off so strong with witty Elizabeth and stubborn Darcy that it had the potential to be one of the better JAFF variations. Its resolution, however, made little sense, lacked suspense & conflict, and ended abruptly.

Darcy’s Angel by Jennifer Kay

Darcy's Angel**

Complex Young Mr. Darcy … and a Silly Elizabeth

This is a very different take on Pride & Prejudice fan fiction. It takes place almost entirely in London, five years earlier than in canon. Due to illness at Longbourn, 15-year-old Elizabeth and 13-year-old Kitty are shipped off to an old friend of their father’s in London. Darcy and Georgiana have just recently arrived in London, too, unable to face Pemberley after their father’s death. The main text takes place over the course of a year and a half. The Bennet girls become friends with Georgiana and so enter Darcy’s sphere.

Because the book takes place over such a long period of time, with sometimes months where we don’t see what is happening, it sometimes felt like there were dropped threads that took a while to pick up again. For instance, Major Fitzwilliam is planning to meet with Elizabeth to determine if Elizabeth is OK for Darcy and Georgiana to chum around with. At the end of a Darcy scene, it looks like he is just about to do it. Yet, the next scene isn’t that; he actually doesn’t meet her until much later…and we didn’t get to see any intensive interview (which could have been great fun).

Eavesdropping was used too often as an important plot point.

I really liked this younger Darcy. His vulnerability at the passing of his father and his delicate handling of Georgiana were sweet and poignant. He had odd little quirks, like drumming his fingers on anything when nervous, that made him more endearing. As a reader, I felt like I got under Darcy’s skin and could see his world from his perspective. A great characterization of Darcy.

I was not so enamored of Elizabeth. Early on especially, she seemed to have silly moments to rival Lydia’s! I have seen other JAFF with a young Elizabeth where she had a wisdom and grace beyond her years. Not so here! I actually found her continuous childishness annoying. I secretly hoped at times that the complex young Mr. Darcy would find someone more worthy of him! She did improve after her Wickham moment, where she became more like the Elizabeth we all know and love. For the last 10% of the book, I found her a sympathetic character…but not really before.

I quite enjoyed the epilogue, which had a couple of interesting surprises.

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The asterisks (*) by the book title denote the source of the book copy.

One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy.

Two stars = I borrowed it through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Three stars = I’ve purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

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