Civil Contract. Georgette Heyer. 1961/2009. Harlequin. 432 pages.
"The library at Fontley Priory, like most of the principal apartments in the sprawling building, looked to the south-east, commanding a prospect of informal gardens and a plantation of poplars, which acted as a wind-break and screened from view the monotony of the fen beyond."
Okay, so that first sentence doesn't even hint at what the story is about. And it offers little incentive to the reader. Fortunately, most readers need only hear Georgette Heyer's name to know that this may be a gem of a book. For those that aren't the "most" in the readers listed above, I'd like to think I'm doing my part. A Civil Contract is a satisfying read in a very gentle and subtle manner. I enjoyed it. Enjoyed the characters and the subtle complexities of its non-plot. This is a very human novel.
You're probably wondering, but what is it about??? Adam Deveril is a soldier whose father has just died. He's inherited a title--he's now Viscount Lynton--but he's also inherited an overwhelming debt. A debt that is due to negligence, gambling, and mismanagement. He's got a mother (Dowager is how she's referred to in the text), and two sisters Charlotte and Lydia. Charlotte is engaged to be married, so she's not one of his primary concerns. However, his mother and sister are. He's been advised that he should marry for money. He finds the idea repugnant. Especially at first. But even Lydia, his younger sister, knows that sacrifices are called for in this occasion. It is her discussions of how she needs to be marry an older man for his money to "rescue" the family, that has Adam pondering how much he's willing to do for his family.
The family home, Fontley, is at risk. All their property is at risk--most of their holdings are mortgaged already. And only their townhouse and Fontley remain. Adam feels that the honorable thing to do would be to sell everything they can and hope to break even. That is hope they have enough money to settle their debts. Whatever small amount may be left would be settled upon his sister for her dowry. He's not worried so much for himself, for his comfort. He knows that he can go soldiering again and live on his pay if need be.
Of course, this newly-discovered money problem does mean that he cannot marry his first love, his supposed one and only love Julia Oversley. They met when he was injured. She became enamored with a vision of a dashing, heroic soldier. He became enamored of her beauty and charm. The parents consented at the time, though Lord Oversley did feel they weren't well suited for one another. But now that he's poor and soon to be without a home, he knows the only honorable thing is to break the engagement. Oversley does agree with him. Julia's brokenhearted. Adam is melancholy but resolved that he's doing the right thing, the responsible thing.
Enter Jonathan Chawleigh. A very wealthy man, but not "genteel" or gentle bred. Oversley introduces the impoverished Adam to Chawleigh with the hopes that they can solve each other problems. Chawleigh has high hopes for his daughter, his only child, Jenny. He wants to see her marry a proper gentleman, a man with a title, a man with dignity and distinction. A man that is part of the ton. Adam is shocked at first, but the more he considers the idea, the more he comes to feel it would be doing the better thing for his family--his mother and sister. The couple does meet first. And Chawleigh was right, Jenny doesn't overwhelm men with her beauty and charm and grace. She's the opposite of Julia in a way. Shy. Intelligent. Meek. Forgiving. Generous. Unassuming. And practical. Above all else practical. For those that are familiar with it, think Proverbs 31. Jenny is the essence of a Proverbs 31 woman. So after meeting her, while not overwhelmed by her beauty, he sees that they could live together amicably. They'd "suit" each other. Neither is dishonest. She knows that her husband is in love with another woman. He knows that she knows he's in love with another woman. Yet this awkward situation somehow doesn't stay awkward. Not for long. She doesn't demand love. Her only hope--in the beginning--is for respect and dignity.
I loved Jenny. I did. I loved her father Jonathan. The scenes with him are just satisfyingly good. I loved Adam's aunt Lady Nassington. I loved Adam's sister Lydia. So many of the characters were just so wonderfully human, so thoroughly developed. I loved this quiet and gentle but always intelligent novel about marriage and love and family.
I wouldn't say that I liked A Civil Contract better than A Convenient Marriage. But it was so much better than April Lady!
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Saturday, August 28, 2010
The Foundling. Georgette Heyer. 1948/2009. Sourcebooks. 439 pages.
When the young gentlemen strolling through the park with his gun on his shoulder and an elderly spaniel at his heels came within sight of the house it occurred to him that the hour must be farther advanced than he had supposed, for the sun had sunk below the great stone pile, and an autumnal mist was already creeping over the ground.
The Duke of Sale (Gilly) is twenty-four. But. He's never lived his own life, or made his own decisions. He's had an entourage for as long as he can remember. An entourage that is determined to keep him safe, healthy, and comfortable. An entourage that Gilly feels discourages his independence, his individuality. He's never known a day of freedom.
Until. His cousin Matthew shares his troubles--he is being blackmailed. And the Duke determines to "solve" this family problem all on his own. He'll do it by being nobody. Without "being" the Duke, without being the head of the family. No. He wants to see if he's capable of being a man. Of thinking and acting like a man.
Does he succeed? At over four-hundred pages, you can imagine he does. But this new freedom doesn't come without risks and challenges and mishaps. He'll pick up not one but two strangers along the way. One young man, Tom, who is foolish and prank-loving. And one young woman, Belinda, a foundling, he "rescues" from an "uncle" who doesn't have the best of intentions. Belinda will BELIEVE any man who offers her a purple dress, you see. Or a ring. She's as silly as silly can be. But Belinda is NOT the love interest of Gilly. (I was quite relieved!)
The Foundling is not my favorite Georgette Heyer. It is a bit too long. There were so many potential ending places in the last hundred pages. Places where one more paragraph could have nicely done the job. But. For whatever reason, this ending would not be rushed. I liked it, but didn't love it.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Monday, August 16, 2010
April Lady. Georgette Heyer. 1957/2005. Harlequin. 270 pages.
There was silence in the book-room, not the silence of intimacy but a silence fraught with tension.
April Lady is an enjoyable albeit predictable read. Our hero, Cardross, and our heroine, Nell, have been married over a year when the novel opens.
The book begins with an argument over money. The wife is being scolded by her husband for going over her quarterly allowance. It’s not that he’s not fabulously wealthy. He is. He just wants his wife to be able to account for the money he’s given her, for the unpaid bills that arrive at the house.
After the scolding, Nell is horrified to learn that she missed one bill. It is for a Chantilly lace dress. She can't possibly tell her husband the truth--the bill got buried in a drawer, forgotten. She can't possibly expect her husband to understand this circumstance. Perhaps her brother can help her...
Nell is keeping other secrets from her husband. She is lying about giving money to her brother, Dysart, to cover his gambling debts. She knows she is disobeying her husband by “supporting” her brother like this. But she can’t understand why her husband blames Dysart for being an addict. He should know that Dysart just can’t control himself when it comes to gambling and racing. Being unsure of her husband’s love (and respect), Nell spends much of her time afraid of her husband. She’s afraid to be honest with him, which is all that he is asking of her.
Both husband and wife are deceived. She is certain that he doesn’t love her, that their marriage is one of convenience not love. And he is certain that she doesn’t love him, that she married him for his money. (Her family is always in need of money since her father and brother are gambling addicts.) The reader is the only one who knows the truth: these two do love each other, and have loved each other from the beginning.
Is Nell as silly as she seems? Is Cardross as tyrannical and unforgiving? Will these two ever be completely honest with one another?
While I didn't love the plot of this one--at least as much as other Heyer novels I've read in the past--I did enjoy the characters. Particularly the "minor" characters. Nell has a sister-in-law, Letty, whose troubled love life steals the show, in a way. She's in love with a man, Jeremy Allandale, deemed "unsuitable" by her older brother. (Letty gets one of her many scoldings in the second chapter.) This love affair is "aided" by Letty's cousin, Selina Thorne, a young lady who has read too many novels. This romance provides my favorite scene of the novel!
Dysart, Nell's brother, and Mr. Hethersett, Cardross' cousin who has a way of being in the right place at the right time to aid Nell out of her messes, also add to the novel's charm.
One of the weaknesses of this novel, however, is Cardross. It's hard for the reader to fall in love with Cardross when he's only in a handful of scenes. (He spends most of the novel out of town on a trip.) Especially when most of those scenes show him scolding the women in his life. Are Letty and Nell silly? Yes. But still, that doesn't mean it's fun to read Cardross' condescending scoldings. (Or Dysart's scoldings for that matter!)
Also, I felt the romance between Cardross and Nell to be a little lacking. We're told that it was love at first sight. Yet we rarely see these two in the same room. And when they are in the same room, he's either scolding her or she's awkwardly avoiding him in conversation. These two are uncomfortable in their scenes together. Neither wants to be vulnerable. Neither wants to show too much.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
My answer: Is it strange that I'd want to recommend a 'good' one instead of a 'great' one? Of course, that would all be subjective, wouldn't it?! I think some of her novels are more accessible than others. (For example, some take three or four chapters to introduce--really introduce--the main characters.) I think I would recommend The Black Moth or These Old Shades or The Convenient Marriage.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Publisher: Sourcebooks reissue (August 1, 2010)
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:
Immerse yourself in the resplendent glow of Regency England and the world of Georgette Heyer...
From the fascinating slang, the elegant fashions, the precise ways the bon ton ate, drank, danced, and flirted, to the shocking real life scandals of the day, Georgette Heyer's Regency World takes you behind the scenes of Heyer's captivating novels.
As much fun to read as Heyer's own novels, beautifully illustrated, and meticulously researched, Jennifer Kloester's essential guide brings the world of the Regency to life for Heyer fans and Jane Austen fans alike.
At first glance, readers may get excited that this could be a piece of literature focused on something regarding Georgette Heyer. This is definitely not a biography of Heyer, but more of an inside look at the culture of the Regency period in which famed author Georgette Heyer wrote of. From the styles of clothes and the dances that were acceptable to the period, to references to Heyer's novels and to the Prince Regent, this is an intelligent look at the Regency period that gives the novels of Jane Austen and Heyer a lot more context.
I am a huge fan of Georgette Heyer for the way that her writing style makes me laugh and for the silly situations that Heyer put her characters in. I have only read one Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice) and about six or seven of Heyer's Regencies. Heyer is touted as the Queen of Regency, and I would not disagree there. This reissue of Georgette Heyer's Regency World is a wonderful companion to Heyer's Regencies and I appreciate the amount of research the author must have done in order to put something like this together. Not entirely entertaining such as a Heyer regency, this goes into encyclopedia-like detail about anything and everything Regency related and what it was like to be gentleman or a lady at that time, and I must say, I would much prefer to be a gentleman. The life of a lady was a lot more restricted, unless of course she was lucky enough to become a widow and then she could enjoy herself (after a responsible period of mourning, of course!). Yet, what was amazing to me was that wives were also 'allowed' to have affairs once she provided her husband with an heir. And never expect a man to be faithful.. why, that is unheard of!! I found much of the information written to be very interesting and enlightening, especially the references to the actual people of the Regency period such as Beau Brummel and the Royal family, and the medicinal habits which make me cringe.
Once upon a time I was whimsically wishing that I were a grand lady riding in a phaeton in Hyde Park during promenade hour, but after reading this tell-all of the Regency Period, I am pretty much happy to have my own voice as a married woman as I am definitely demanding fidelity from my husband! I cannot imagine what it must be like to witness the privileged folks out dancing and partying their lives away, while the common folks struggled to put bread on their table. And all one had to do to be privileged was to be born in that family, and there was zero requirement to be intelligent or charitable or to have a job. The job of the privileged was to honor the code, unwritten and written, of the privileged.
"It was acceptable to offer one's snuff-box to the company but not to ask for a pinch of snuff from anyone else."This was an interesting read for me as a casual Regency fan, though I suspect that those more familiar with the period may find this work old news, though there are quaint line drawings which also add some life to the text. Absolutely everything was covered, from the fashions to the carriages to the houses to the dances.. I will set this book right up on the Heyer bookshelf and may even have to refer to its glossary and Who's Who section for my next Heyer read; if you are a Heyer reader this should go along with your Regencies as well. You can get the zoom in/preview feature of this work on Amazon here by clicking on the image of the book.
"During the Season it was essential to be seen in Hyde Park during the Promenade hour of 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm."
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
Venetia. Georgette Heyer. 1958/2009. Harlequin. 368 pages.
Venetia. Georgette Heyer. Read by Richard Armitage. 2010. Naxos AudioBooks. Abridged. 4 hours, 48 minutes.
"A fox got in amongst the hens last night, and ravished our best layer," remarked Miss Lanyon. "A great-grandmother, too! You'd think he would be ashamed!" Receiving no answer, she continued in an altered voice: "Indeed, you would! It is a great deal too bad. What is to be done?"I love Georgette Heyer. I do. I just love her. Most of her books leave me feeling happy, satisfied. Some more than others. But still, it is always difficult for me to name one book as my favorite. Or even two or three books as my favorites. Just when I think I've found it--the perfect Heyer--I read another and change my mind again. Such is the case with Venetia. I absolutely loved this one.
Venetia is a woman (25) living with her younger brother, Aubrey (17), and being courted by two equally unsatisfying gentlemen of the neighborhood, Edward Yardley and Oswald Denny. The Lanyon siblings do have an older brother, Conway. But he is in the army, and he hasn't been at Undershaw in years. Venetia and Aubrey do not miss him at all. Life is fairly routine for the two. Until. Lord Damerel ("The Wicked Baron") returns to his estate.
The two meet when she is trespassing on his land. He has no idea who she is. But she has a fairly good idea who he is. Especially after he kisses her! Yes, he kisses her.
"Who are you?" he demanded abruptly. "I took you for a village maiden--probably one of my tenants."He intends to know her better while he's in the neighborhood. Venetia doesn't need a Lady Denny to tell her that would be unwise. But. When her brother, Aubrey, has a riding accident and is saved by none other than Damerel...well, she can't help getting to know him much, much better. And soon they become great friends. Of course, it's a friendship with always a hint of something more...
"Did you indeed? Well, if that is the way you mean to conduct yourself amongst the village maidens you won't win much liking here!"
"No, no, the danger is that I might win too much!" he retorted. "Who are you? Or should I first present myself to you? I'm Damerel, you know."
"Yes, so I supposed, at the outset of our delightful acquaintance. Later, of course, I was sure of it."
"Oh, oh--! My reputation, Iago, my reputation!" he exclaimed laughing again. "Fair Fatality, you are the most unusual female I have encountered in all my thirty-eight years!"
"You can't think how deeply flattered I am!" she assured him. "I daresay my head would be quite turned if I didn't suspect that amongst so many a dozen or so may have slipped from your memory."
"More like a hundred! Am I never to learn your name? I shall, you know, whether you tell me or no!" (33)
Lord Damerel isn't the only newcomer to the neighborhood. Soon Venetia and Aubrey welcome TWO very unexpected house guests. Conway has gotten married--her name is Charlotte. And Charlotte and her mother have come to stay at Undershaw. And the mother is quite the character. How long can Venetia stand to share a home with such a woman? Venetia begins to think about her options...and wishing it was more socially acceptable for her to set up her own home.
What did I love about this one? Everything! I loved the characters. I loved the main characters: Venetia, Aubrey, and Lord Damerel. I loved the minor characters too! Edward Yardley, Oswald Denny, Charlotte Lanyon, Mrs. Scorrier, etc. I loved the dialogue--the conversations. They were so well done! So exciting. Whether Venetia was having a heated argument with Mrs. Scorrier or flirting with Lord Damerel, there was just something about this one. So many memorable scenes. I think it would make a WONDERFUL movie.
The romance. Venetia and Lord Damerel make a great couple. There is such chemistry from the start! Every scene with these two is satisfying! It was a joy reading this one.
He released her hands, but only to pull her into his arms. "When you smile at me like that, it's all holiday with me! O God, I love you to the edge of madness, Venetia, but I'm not mad yet--not so mad that I don't know how disastrous it might be to you--to us both! You don't realize what an advantage I should be taking of your innocence!" He broke off suddenly, jerking up his head as the door opening on to the passage from the ante-room slammed. (221)Venetia is a Georgette Heyer romance that does not follow her usual pattern.
The audiobook! Wow, wow, wow! I LOVED listening to Venetia. I did read the book first, so I would be familiar with the story, the characters. But then I listened to this one. And it was so very satisfying! I didn't think it was possible for me to love Lord Damerel more than I already did...but hearing the part read by Richard Armitage...wow!!! He does such a wonderful job with all the characters!
In other news:
The Convenient Marriage is the next Georgette Heyer audiobook to be narrated by Richard Armitage. It releases in August 2010.
In August, Austenprose will be celebrating Georgette Heyer! The month long celebration includes: "thirty-four book reviews of her romance novels, guest blogs, interviews of Heyer enthusiast from the blog-o-sphere, academia and publishing and tons of great giveaways." The schedule can be found here.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
The Toll Gate. Georgette Heyer. 1954. Harlequin. 304 pages.
The Sixth Earl of Saltash glanced round the immense dining-table, and was conscious of a glow of satisfaction.
Georgette Heyer can have some rather off-topic openings, in my humble opinion, often it isn't until the second, third, or even fourth chapter until the reader can discern who the main characters are. Her books often start with a large cast of characters, focus in on a handful towards the middle, and then begin to gradually expand back into a larger cast as all the small details begin to create a bigger picture.
The Toll Gate was an enjoyable Heyer experience for many reasons. It is part love story, part mystery. The main character is a retired soldier (still young), a Captain John (Jack) Staple. He's one of many family members called to celebrate the engagement of the "Sixth Earl of Saltash" in the first chapter. However, not being the sociable sort--at least not among his family--he departs the weekend-celebration early. His destination is to ride to visit his friend, a Mr. Babbacombe. But having a rather later start than he'd planned originally, AND having taken a shortcut off the main road AND having been delayed/confused by the storms, he soon finds himself lost.
He comes to a toll-house late at night. He finds it manned by a young boy. A very young boy--a frightened child--named Ben. He learns that Ben's father, Bream is the last name, the official keeper of the gate is away. He told his son that he'd be back in a few hours, but then never returned.
Jack--a rather tall and brave and strong man--has pity on this boy and agrees to stay with him (and protect him) until his father returns.
So, Jack adopts Bream's station and becomes the temporary keeper of the toll-gate. He meets quite a few people. But the thing that changes his life forever is that he meets the tall and splendid Miss Stornaway. She is the Squire's daughter--his only child--but the property is being entailed away. Henry Stornaway--the lady's cousin--will inherit it all when the old man dies. An event that seems all too close at hand for the spirited and one-of-a-kind heroine.
And then the mystery starts to unfold...
I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the character development. And the story was interesting. This was more adventure, more mystery than romance. If you're looking for wooing scenes in parlours and parks, parties, and country dances then this isn't the Heyer for you.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Sprig Muslin. Georgette Heyer. 1956/2009. Harlequin. 288 pages.
Mrs. Wetherby was delighted to receive a morning call from her only surviving brother, but for the first half hour of his visit she was granted no opportunity to do more than exchange a few commonplaces with him over the heads of her vociferous offspring.
Sprig Muslin is an enjoyable Georgette Heyer novel. It's easily accessible, which isn't always the case, and it's a quick action-packed read. What kind of action? Well, more comedy than drama. And by action, I don't mean explosions.
The hero of Sprig Muslin is Sir Gareth Ludlow. Gareth is the brother who is visiting his sister, Mrs. Wetherby. He's there to say that he's going to propose marriage to a woman, Lady Hester. It's all planned out. He's gotten the father's permission, etc. But his sister is shocked. Her brother could have anybody, anybody. Why would he seek out a spinster (she's in her late twenties) who's so boring? (From his sister's position that is. Gareth doesn't find her boring at all. He finds her smart.) His sister thinks the match is unfair. Unfair to him. She knows that her brother has never quite recovered from the death of his fiancee seven years (is it seven?) before. But he's convinced that the time is right, that the girl is right.
However, somewhere along the way--on his way to visit the girls' family on their estate in the country--he happens to "rescue" a young damsel in distress, Amanda. Amanda "Smith." Her stories and tall tales outnumber the hairs on her head. He knows she's under seventeen. He knows that she is running away from home. But he doesn't know who she belongs to...(her name, her home, her situation, etc.) or what to do with her. She's determined to find employment--a chambermaid, a maid, a dairy maid, a governess, etc. All this in an attempt to prove she's "mature" and ready to get married to her soldier-love, Neil.
So he takes her with him. He brings this strange girl with a mind all her own with him on his journey to propose to Lady Hester. Her family is more than a little confused and unsettled about the affair. They think it is an affair--that he's brought his mistress along with him. A Mr. Fabian Theale is Hester's uncle, I believe. It is his notion that the young miss is Ludlow's mistress. That she is that sort sort of "lady." That she is his for the taking if he can steal her right out from under Gareth.
Amanda doesn't know much about Theale except that he's old and a bit fat. But she does see him as serving her immediate needs. She needs transportation and a way to sneak out of this new situation. And Theale is more than willing to oblige. Of course, he hasn't any idea that she's good at manipulating and bamboozling those around her. A girl fond of novels. A girl with a vivid imagination. A silly, very gullible, unthinking girl.
He does propose. And she does listen to him calmly. But she knows that he is not in love with her. And while for many spinsters of that age, the thought of marrying anyone, of having a chance to have a home of their own and children of their own, might tempt them to marry for convenience or companionship...she's not ready to settle for that yet. She doesn't want to be a convenient companion. She knows he likes her. As a friend. As a listener. As a sympathetic, angelic companion. But he doesn't love her. Doesn't want her. Doesn't need her as a soul mate, as a lover.
The morning after the proposal, Sir Gareth wakes up to find that Amanda has given him the slip. That she is off with Theale. And he knows that Theale is not a proper companion for a young girl. That he's a very improper one. So off he goes to give them chase. He must "rescue" Amanda.
Amanda doesn't need rescuing so much from others as from herself. She's prone to getting in and out and in and out and in and out of trouble and messes galore. And no one is EVER going to boss her around.
This is a funny, fast-paced, never-ending chase to the altar. But just who will end up saying I do....
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews