Sunday, September 20, 2009

Footsteps in the Dark


Hello, everyone! This is my first post on the Georgette Heyer Challenge blog, and I'm so happy to be here :-) I adore Heyer. I once wrote a post on Historical Tapestry gushing about her, and I continuously gush about her on my blog, too. And comment on other people's blogs when they read her. So I was so thrilled to find this blog and to review on it as well! I'll just post the Heyers I've reviewed on my blog on here, first, and then maybe my favorites... and if I read new-to-me ones, I'll get those up as well. Thanks a lot, Felicia, for setting this up. It is an excellent idea.

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Favorite Line: "A remark more calculated to provoke a peaceful man to homicide I've never yet heard."

It's funny sometimes, how books packed with so much excitement and memorable characters can just sit placidly on your shelf, waiting to be read. Footsteps in the Dark is a thriller mystery of the first order, complete with secret passageways, priest holes, skeletons and a cowled monk. Of all Heyer's historicals, it reminds me most of The Reluctant Widow (one of my favorites!) with its full cast of characters, most of whom are related to each other. The book is full of hilarious one-liners and wonderful character interplay, Heyer's trademark. I find in books like this that I get so wrapped up in the chemistry between characters that the plot becomes secondary. It's unfortunate that character interaction is so hard to review, really, since it is such an integral part of books. In Footsteps in the Dark, the characters (Charles in particular, playing against Peter) all deal splendidly together, and the book is a great romp because of it.

I don't know if the plot itself is very tight, mystery-wise. I am never the sort of reader who tries to figure out the whodunnit before getting to the end of the novel, so I don't keep an eye peeled for clues and red herrings the way that many readers do. I think, in a rural setting, though, there are only so many people who can be the "bad guy," so it isn't too difficult to determine who it will be. This didn't bother me in the least, though, because Heyer's writing is just so hilarious in this book. She has such a knack for witty banter. Though, a slight annoyance in this story was that her clear derision for the police once more shines through. She seems to have had major issues with law enforcement- she doesn't seem to have found them very effectual in her dealings, I guess! But overall, a fun and entertaining read.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Grand Sophy



I am so glad all the hype totally paid off! An absolute delight of a book even though I had quite an interrupted read, by far the longest I've ever taken to finish a Heyer. But Sophy was such a scream and I loved how infuriated Charles was by her. And oh the ducklings and possibly one of the best declarations of love in all the Heyer novels. So very good and satisfying. I'm so glad I kept it for the last.

Mind you, one thing though. The anti-Semitism was bloody awful! I'd been noticing it over all the novels --- the scornful labels of 'Jews' as synonymous with vulture moneylenders --- but was excusing it with a nervous laugh of "haha, it's Heyer doing verisimilitude, it's not her fault, she's not being anti-Semitic, she's just writing people of a certain time and place ... haha haha." But this one just went full force and I pretty much did a Colon trying to climb into his own helmet sort of thing. *Pratchett reference, sorry*

Not only was this the first time we actually met one of these 'Jew' moneylenders but he was characterised as a complete villain and maybe even a cariacature, and the fact that Sophy pulled a gun on him made me go "oh hey now, hold on there, Heyer!" Urgh. It got me wondering whether it wasn't so much a case of Heyer writing people of a certain time and place as a case of Heyer herself being a person of a certain time and place. Ack. My Heyer has clay feet.

But that aside, awesome awesome awesome novel.

Friday, September 18, 2009

April Lady

This is the last of the older Georgette Heyer reviews I wrote for my blog. From now on, reviews I post will be for books I've just finished.
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At the heart of April Lady lies a cautionary tale about how suspicion and resentment can grow when spouses do not communicate with one another. However, there was nothing preachy about this enjoyable novel, told with Georgette Heyer's customary wit.

Nell is a 19-year-old bride, madly in love with her husband, Lord Cardross. She fears, however, that this worldly, much older gentleman married her only because he needed a wife and found Nell more amiable than other ladies of the ton. She cannot forget her mother's admonitions not to hang on Giles and to look the other way should he take a mistress. So she holds him at arm's length ...

Giles is head-over-heels in love with Nell but suspects she only married him for his vast fortune. After all, he brought the dibs into tune again for her impoverished father and brother (i.e. got them out of debt). His suspicions grow after Nell overspends her quarterly allowance and seems to be concealing something from him. So he holds her at arm's length ...

Nell finds herself in debt partly because she lent her brother Dysart, a chronic gambler, 300 pounds, something which her husband had asked her not to do. She believes Giles has settled all of her bills, but she forgets one tucked at the back of a drawer: 300 pounds for a lavish court dress. Ashamed and fearful of Giles's reaction, she asks her brother to raise the money for her. Of course, complications ensue.

The reader is aware all along Giles would forgive his bride if only she told him the whole truth. But she is young, lacks confidence and is terrified of losing any affection he may hold for her. Nell could have been a tiresome character, but in Heyer's hands I found myself rooting for her. Toward the end of the novel, she finds her confidence and strength, which was a joy to see.

Two subplots concern Letty, Giles's flighty, naive half-sister, who is determined to marry a young man of no fortune and position, and Dysart, a well-meaning rouge who has fallen into bad company. Heyer deftly resolved these plot threads with a great deal of sparkling humor. Dysart, in fact, helps Nell out of her difficulties in ways she never expected.

Once again, Heyer's characterizations were one of the best things about the novel. Even when the characters exasperated me, I sympathized with them. They were all likable despite their many flaws. Heyer's characters are so vivid, they seem to live on after I have reached the final page.

My favorite minor character was a cousin of Letty's who helped her and her beau meet and make plans behind Giles's back. The cousin, Selina, imagined herself as the heroine of a Gothic novel, complete with melodramatic dialogue. Her scenes were laugh-out-loud funny (even my husband thought so when I read one aloud to him.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Arabella

It’s official: I love Georgette Heyer. I just finished another of her Regency romances, Arabella, and was once again enchanted by her lovingly drawn characters, witty and entertaining plots, brilliant dialogue and painstaking depictions of Regency life. I even enjoyed getting on the computer every couple of chapters to look up Heyer's many colorful, often baffling, Regency expressions (although I grumbled good-naturedly to my husband about it.)

Heyer’s Cinderella story concerns the London debut of Arabella, the beautiful daughter of a Yorkshire vicar of modest means. Arabella’s titled godmother has agreed to sponsor her during the Season, and if Arabella can attract a proposal from a well-to-do bachelor, she might be able to give her seven siblings a more comfortable start in life. I could not help loving Arabella from the very first chapter. She was just so ADORABLE, with her naivety, lack of town polish and habit of getting herself into scrapes whenever her anger was aroused.

Arabella’s carriage breaks down en route to London outside of a hunting lodge belonging to Mr. Beaumaris, the “Nonpareil,” as he is known in society circles. Mr. Beaumaris is the man everyone in London imitates (he starts a dandelion craze when he wears one in his buttonhole for three days straight.) He is THE arbiter of fashion and good taste, able to launch a debutante into a brilliant Season simply by smiling at her, or to make her a wallflower if he turns his back. He is also fabulously wealthy, quite jaded and very, very bored.

When Arabella overhears Mr. Beaumaris speculating she is another scheming girl after him for his wealth, she invents a wild story (with the help of too many glasses of champagne) that she is herself a great heiress and thus uninterested in his fortune. When she arrives in London, she finds to her dismay the story has spread, and she must fight off fortune-hunting suitors of her own. Simultaneously, Mr. Beaumaris decides to amuse himself by paying a great deal of attention to Arabella, thus making her the toast of the town.

But as he gets to know this innocent, charming girl from the country, Mr. Beaumaris is surprised to find himself falling for Arabella. He is utterly enchanted by her refreshing honesty, her strong character and her determination to do what she knows is right, no matter what society might think. Before long, he is going to any lengths to win her esteem: for example, taking in and finding a trade for an ill-favored chimney sweep’s apprentice whom Arabella rescues from an abusive master. (Her incandescent rage when she confronts the cruel sweep and frightens him into giving up the boy is a joy to behold.)

One of the great delights of this novel was experiencing Mr. Beaumaris’s transformation from a complete cynic into a man in love, traced humorously through monologues directed at his dog, Ulysses (another charity case Arabella foists on him). The scenes between the dignified Mr. Beaumaris and the scruffy mutt were some of the best in the novel.

Arabella, meanwhile, develops her own feelings for Mr. Beaumaris, enjoying his company much more than that of any of her tiresomely persistent suitors. But how can his attention to her be any more to him than a diverting game? And how can she ever confess to him she is not rich at all? Arabella’s brother Bertram becomes the means toward solving her problems when he visits London with well-heeled friends and spends as if he too were affluent, and Arabella must devise a scheme to keep him out of debtor’s prison.

Arabella was a very satisfying read that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I wish Heyer had written a sequel, as I would love to see other adventures befall these delightful characters. I can’t think of any higher praise I could give to a novel.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Charity Girl

I enjoyed The Grand Sophy so much, I had to try another novel by Georgette Heyer. Charity Girl, the story of a penniless orphan and her would-be rescuer, did not disappoint. It wasn't as good as The Grand Sophy but was still an enjoyable read, populated by idiosyncratic characters and filled with tantalizing details about Regency life.

It's to Heyer's credit she managed to take a formulaic premise for a novel and make something out of it, while springing a few surprises on the reader along the way.

Viscount Ashley Desford, known as a man-about-town but who has kind intentions and a good heart, encounters Charity (Cherry) Steane on the road to London. Cherry is running away from her cruel aunt and cousins, who have treated her as a drudge. She hopes her irascible grandfather will have pity on her and give her a home long enough for her to find some way to earn her own keep.

Ashley gives the young woman a ride to London, but when they find her grandfather has left town, all sorts of comic complications arise. Ashley must decide how to give Cherry some sort of respectable future while guarding her reputation, and his own, from gossip, as their unchaperoned journey has given rise to rumors he has less than honorable intentions toward her. Adding to his troubles is the fact that Cherry is the daughter of a disreputable man treated as a pariah by those in high society.

While Ashley searches for Cherry's grandfather, he leaves Cherry in the care of his dearest friend, Henrietta Silverdale. Henrietta's hypochondriac mother and a pair of jealous servants bring new dilemmas to Cherry and Ashley's lives. Everything comes to a head when Cherry's father, thought dead, re-enters her life with schemes to wring money or a marriage proposal out of Ashley. But all ends well, of course, with two characters discovering a long-delayed happily-ever-after.
Heyer has a gift for creating engaging, believable characters whose voices I can hear while I read and who make me chuckle with their all-too-human foibles. Her light, engaging prose carries me easily through her stories and into a bygone world of handsome gentlemen, fashionable ladies and genteel manners.

I just wish I had some sort of Regency glossary to consult while I read. Charity Girl was peppered with period slang I could only sometimes decipher from context. It was especially frustrating during conversations between young, single gentlemen speaking of their amorous adventures. I felt like a child listening in on an adult conversation I could only half understand!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sprig Muslin


I liked Sprig Muslin far better than Charity Girl and Lady Of Quality even though it featured the same trope of hero rescuing young pretty thing and then foisting her upon the goodwill of his heroine.

This one featured a young pretty thing I rather liked cos she had all the will and character and way more intelligence the others lacked. She was quite hilariously determined and even more so when we finally meet the guy she's so determined to reach. Bloody awesome twist of characterisation. Not to mention the instantly obvious fact that our heroine could learn some of that defiance while the pretty young thing could learn some meekness in return.

And just when it looked like our heroine had been taken out of the narrative, Heyer deftly brought her back in a hurt/comfort context and I cheered. Damned satisfying resolution both in terms of romance as well as hysterical awesomeness.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Grand Sophy

Hello, I'm Felicia, and I looooove Georgette Heyer! I read my first Heyer, The Grand Sophy, last December and have not looked back. I will be sharing my reviews of Heyer novels here. So far, I have enjoyed every one I have read.

In the next several days, I'll be posting the Heyer reviews I've already written for my own blog, Scaling Mount TBR. I'll start with The Grand Sophy.

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Georgette Heyer's Regency romance, The Grand Sophy, a novel bubbling over with mirth, was just what I needed to shake me out of my recent reading doldrums. I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent in the company of the irrepressible heroine, Sophy Stanton-Lacy, and her relatives and acquaintances.

I had never before read a Heyer novel, as I typically shy away from anything labeled a "romance." (This one even had the Harlequin logo on the cover!) But after seeing glowing reviews of her novels posted at Historical Tapestry and other blogs, I decided to give her a try, and I'm so glad I did! Her prose was witty and sparkling, her plot deftly spun and her characters mostly endearing. (Those who were not at least made me chuckle!)

A pall of gloom has settled over the Ombersley household. Charles Rivenhall, the eldest son, has used a large inheritance to bring his family from the brink of financial ruin (caused by his father's gambling debts). Consumed with worry over the future of his siblings, he has become joyless and humorless and - worse - has gotten himself engaged to Miss Eugenia Wraxton, an intolerably prim and proper young lady who never hesitates to let others know of her breeding and virtue.

As if that weren't enough, Charles's sister, Cecilia, is infatuated with a handsome poet who writes very bad verse and is a dead bore, to boot. Her romantic notions have blinded her to the virtues of a much worthier man who not only has money and position, but truly loves her. And younger son, Hubert, has gotten himself into financial trouble, which he naively hopes to rectify by betting on horses.

Into this mess storms cousin Sophy, with her unconventional forthrightness, boundless energy and determination to set everything to rights. Arriving for an extended stay after her father goes to Brazil on a diplomatic mission, Sophy immediately takes the measure of each family member. She has a kind heart, a keen intelligence and a gift for manipulation, and she uses these traits to nudge her relatives toward what she knows will make them happy (even if they have not realized it themselves). Charles is offended by her unconventional ways and frequently clashes with her, but Sophy refuses to back down, and despite his claims of intense dislike for her, a spark soon ignites between the two.

Sophy always stays one step ahead of Charles as he desperately tries to rein her in, but in the end, she finally meets her match in him. All is resolved in a perfectly choreographed scene, with each major character arriving at an Elizabethan country manor and pairing off with the right person.

Heyer sketched the personality of her characters with crackling dialogue. I could hear their voices in my head and predict how each character would react in different situations. The plot moved at a brisk pace and never got bogged down. I always enjoyed returning to Sophy's world and discovering what she would do next. If Heyer's other novels are half as much fun to read as this one, I will have found a writer to treasure.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Talisman Ring



I wasn't sure whether The Talisman Ring was a mystery or a romance when I picked it up but it proved to be quite a delightful read and I particularly loved how everyone was more or less of equal stature, no main leads with supporting characters but more of an ensemble. I was a bit nervous about the young excitable French thing being my only female protagonist so the arrival of Miss Thane with all her humour and intelligence was such a relief. And she only turned out to be a scream of a heroine.

Loved her, loved the way she humanised her hero, loved her totally singleminded brother. And was particularly pleased to see how the rather chilling villain was rendered almost sympathetic by the end. The love stories were handled with enough subtlety of detail and absurdity of humour within the greater context of the mystery to make me fall in love with Heyer all over again. She is Teh Awesome. Truly.