14 Feb 2017

New Release- A Viscount's Proposal by Melanie Dickerson

Regency Spies of London #2 
February 7th 2017, Waterfall Press,  290 Pages 
Print, ebook and audio 

Leorah Langdon has no patience for Regency society’s shallow hypocrisy and unnecessary rules, especially for women. She’s determined to defy convention by marrying for grand passion instead of settling for a loveless union like her parents—or wedding a stuffy, pompous gentleman like Edward, the Viscount Withinghall. But when a chance meeting in the countryside leads to Leorah and Withinghall being discovered in his overturned carriage—alone and after dark—the ensuing gossip may force them together.

Withinghall has his reasons for clinging to propriety; his father perished in a duel with his mistress’s husband, and Edward must avoid scandal himself if he wants to become prime minister. He certainly has no time for a reckless hoyden like Miss Langdon. But soon the two discover that Withinghall’s coach “accident” was no such thing: the vehicle was sabotaged.

Can the culprit be brought to justice? Strong-willed Leorah and duty-driven Withinghall will have to work together if they have any hope of saving her reputation, his political career—and his life.

I enjoyed The Viscount’s Proposal more than the last book in this series. It did stand out as something of an oddball in a series entitled Regency Spies of London as there was almost nothing related to espionage. I’m not saying that was a bad thing, but just to warn readers expecting a Spy Story.
It was much more of a Romance, with a backdrop relating to politics and social movements in early 19th century Britain. Many parts were reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice. Leorah’s statement about marrying for passion was very similar to what Lizzie Bennet said in the aforementioned work, for instance.

I did have some reservations about her character. I don’t mind unconventional strong characters, even rebels to a certain extent. Provided it’s in a just cause, but, whilst it was possible to sympathise with her stance against hypocrisy, I did not feel Leorah’s attitude was not entirely commendable. She railed against ‘arbitrary rules’ like not being allowed to gallop her horse through Hyde Park. That’s not an ‘arbitrary rule’- it’s entirely logical.
At another point, Leorah said she should not have to obey any rule that was not in the Bible. On that basis one might as well argue that Christians should not have to adhere to speed limits in residential areas, or pay parking fines. When one starts picking and choosing which rules one want to obey, where does one draw the line?

There were a few elements common to her writing which were not so good, like the characterisation of all marriages of convenience as unhappy. I mean we told about 20 times that Leorah did not want to be stuck in a loveless marriage, and other details were repeated far too often as well.
I had originally given this novel a higher rating, but I have now reconsidered this in light of how the character’s behaviour relates to the maxim that ‘Love does not insist on its own way'. It seemed to me that Leorah spent much of the book doing just that. Everything had to be her way, her ideal husband had to let her pursue her hobbies and interests. It was all about her wishes and conditions, and in the end the hero Edward had to change to become more like what she wanted.

A passage in the end that was illustrative of this was him apologising for calling out her shortcomings at the beginning. All semblance of humility or acknowledgement of her own faults was quashed, so that Leorah was basically told she had not been in the wrong for her sometimes downright rude and arrogant behaviour.
There was a similar incident in the author's last book, when the hero apologised for calling out the heroine's blatant selfishness and recklessness, and she did not have to change at all. Why should the woman never be in the wrong, where is the ‘give and take’ in the relationship?

Otherwise though, this good story in a lot of ways, with a lot of historical detail and a slower development of the relationship between the characters. Plenty of romantic tension, and a few witty exchanges made for some great scenes. One other strong point was that there were less obvious Americanisms in this novel then a lot others like it. There were still some, but they weren’t as blatant. Overall it was a cleverly written and imaginative Romantic story, without too much mush. Readers of the Regency genre will be very satisfied. I had borrowed this on Amazon Prime because it was not on Netgalley, but I would certainly consider purchasing it for myself and I look forward to the next in the series.

2 Feb 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill- Julie Klassen

Tales From Ivy Hill #1 
Bethany House, December 6th 2016, 445 Pages
Print, ebook and audio 

On a rise overlooking the Wiltshire countryside stands the village of Ivy Hill. Its coaching inn, The Bell, is its lifeblood--along with the coach lines that stop there daily, bringing news, mail, travelers, and much-needed trade.

Jane Bell lives on the edge of the inn property. She had been a genteel lady until she married the charming innkeeper who promised she would never have to work in his family's inn. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane finds herself The Bell's owner, and worse, she has three months to pay a large loan or lose the place.

Feeling reluctant and ill-equipped, Jane is tempted to abandon her husband's legacy and return to her former life of ease. However, she soon realizes there is more at stake than her comfort. But who can she trust to help her? Her resentful mother-in-law? Her husband's brother, who wanted the inn for himself? Or the handsome newcomer with secret plans of his own . . . ?

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane struggles to win over naysayers and turn the place around. Can Jane bring new life to the inn, and to her heart as well?

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill was a little different from some of Julie Klassen’s previous novels (at least the ones I have read), officially, that was because it’s the first novel in what is going to be her first series, set in a fictional Berkshire village. The author states that she was inspired by Historical village and family sagas like Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford as well as other, more recent, literary equivalents.

I’m an established Klassen fan anyway, so I always make a grab for her latest novel (although I have also been catching up on her older titles recently). Some are better that others. Some focus on some central mystery or threat to the characters. Others are more focused on Romance. The Innkeeper has Romance, but it’s based more on the lives of three unattached women in a small village in the 1820s. Another reviewer said that it has a strong emphasis on women in business, and I tend to agree.
There is a strong element of social criticism, with one of the ladies, Rachel, the unmarried daughter of the Lord of the Manor about to lose her home because of an entail. Rachel though is a relatively minor character, the friend of the protagonist, Jane Bell, who struggles to keep the Coaching Inn that had been in her late husband’s family for generations open.

Both she and her mother in law Thora are strong characters with the odds against them (mostly because of their sex). Thora thinks she can do a better job, and does not want to let go of her independence as a widow by accepting the advances of a lifelong friend. Jane learns that he Inn risks closure because of a loan her husband had taken out, and mismanagement. The cast of minor characters proved to be an interesting bunch, including the Scottish coachman (rumoured to have been a former boxer), a gentlemanly hotel magnate who may have a romantic interest in Jane, and a tempestuous, straight talking cook. Oh, and an eccentric Church sexton who claims to talk to the resident mice. All that was lacking was a village gossip of some description, or interfering melodramatic relative who could have added a lot to the story. As a whole though, all the characters created an entertaining sample of everyday Regency life and adding touches of human drama and human interest to the story.

Readers may wish to note that, compared to other novels by this author, this one was rather slow paced. It’s not that nothing happens, it’s just that its more character driven than plot driven, which is true of a lot of the stories which inspired it. I didn’t mind that at all, as I like Elizabeth Gaskell’s stories, among others, but others might find it frustrating. Personally, I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next two stories, in which I believe some of the neglected characters get more attention.

I requested a copy of this book from the publisher (and their UK distributor). I was not required to review it, and all opinions expressed are my own.
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