Tag Archives: courtship

Brave New Earl by Jane Ashford (The Way to a Man’s Heart, #1)

Miss Jean Saunders is a woman with a mission. When she hears how her deceased cousin’s child is being neglected, she finds herself at Furness Hall in Somerset, facing the distraught Benjamin Romulus, Earl of Furness, languishing in the library starring at a portrait of his late wife, unable to deal with the cause of her death, his son Geoffrey. Left to fend for himself, watched over by one of the servants and a young “wanderer” Tom, the five year old has the run of the house. His precocious, inquisitive nature gets him into all sorts of scraps and he appears all but naked before the “newly arrived “guest”, brandishing a tomahawk from his grandfather’s collection of native artifacts. Embarrassed, Benjamin realizes perhaps he hasn’t been paying attention to the details of his son’s life, too wrapped up in his grief to deal with much of anything. When his meddling Uncle Arthur shows up, it’s agreed that Jean will stay for awhile to help Benjamin get back on track, with the first order of business finding an acceptable governess to teach the tot some manners.

Jean, used to rotating from home to home, visiting numerous relations with extended stays, is adept at rolling up his sleeves and helping out. That’s why she is always welcome, but not back to the Phillipsons, Geoffrey’s maternal grandparents, who are relieved that the tyke is staying put and won’t be interfering with their settled lifestyle. Miss Saunders is an interesting character, if not an enigma, to the Earl, whose sensibilities are slowly awakened by her outspoken, witty ways. Jean, wealthy enough not to need a husband, has numerous unresolved issues from her childhood, but she, too, is drawn to the Earl as he slowly comes out of his shell. Romance ensues despite the antics of the little pitcher with big ears who seems to be everywhere and wants to explore everything.

Jane Ashford in Brave New Earl presents us with delightful characters, a tender romance, tons of humor, and room for some of the secondary players to shine in Book 2 of The Way to a Lord’s Heart series, as Arthur Shelton, the Earl of Macklin, continues on his quest to assist other aristocrats wallowing in grief.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and Sourcebooks Casablanca for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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You Never Forget Your First Earl by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, #5)

Geoffrey, Earl of Harrington, is clueless. Being self centered and single minded he doesn’t notice what’s happening in the world around him – not unless it directly impacts him and sometimes not even then.

That explains why he was still courting Lady Charlotte Carpenter when she was publically engaged to Constantine, the Marquis of Kenilworth, whose romance appears in The Marquis and I, Book #4 of the Worthingtons series. Any chance Geoff had while wooing his first choice for a wife disappeared when he took off back home to visit an impatient father, the Marquis of Markham, who insisted on micromanaging his son’s London life. Now Geoffrey has just a few weeks to find a suitable bride, a requirement for his job as an assistant to Sir Charles Stuart. His mate must meet certain requirements if she is to accompany him to Brussels. After all, not only does a diplomat’s wife have responsibilities, she also must be somewhat pleasing to the eye (since Geoffrey wants to enjoy his husbandly duties). After reviewing the “short list” of eligible young ladies he sets out to “meet” them at the next ball where he ends up eyeing Elizabeth Turley, best friends with Charlotte. Elizabeth is actually attracted to the stilted, cocky Earl, even though she feels like she is being interviewed for a position instead of being courted. She doesn’t want to appear too eager or marry someone just for the sake of convenience – either his or hers. Unsure if Harrington will come up to scratch, her brother, Gavin, convinces his friend Lord Littleton to provide some competition. Now Geoffrey has to put some effort into what turns out to be a whirlwind romance. With the help of Grandmama and Cousin Apollonia, he “makes a cake of himself”, but Elizabeth is worth the effort. Their passion in the bedroom is a bonus which makes him even more desperate for the upcoming nuptials.

Everything seems to be going well until Elizabeth overhears Geoff talking with his father. She’s devastated to hear her new husband agree that she has all the qualifications necessary to be an excellent hostess, without any mention of the love they had just proclaimed in their wedding vows. So for the rest of You Never Forget Your First Earl by Ella Quinn, Elizabeth decides to withhold her affection from an oblivious husband who is baffled about what he’s done to offend his bride. However, neither has much time to contemplate their marital difficulties since there’s a war gong on, so the two must temporarily drop their differences and rise to the occasion. With a battle as a backdrop, their squabbles seem insignificant and the ultimate resolution, while overly dramatic, does provide a satisfying conclusion.

I have mixed feelings about this Regency Romance from The Worthingtons series (#5). Parts of it were fun (especially when Harrington and Littleton were fighting over Elizabeth), some parts dragged (too much repetition with both protagonists agonizing over their relationship), and some parts were filled with minutia. These little details, which would ordinarily have been annoying, were at times fascinating, as Elizabeth packed up an entire household complete with horses, conveyances, and servants and traveled to Belgium.

Then there’s that one-sided “spat”, where Elizabeth freaked out when Geoffrey didn’t proclaim he had feelings for her on that day she inadvertently eavesdropped. However, if she had thought about it, the idea of love was not something a son would necessarily confide in his dad, especially a domineering man like the Marquis. Her anger should have been directed on the fact that her competency was considered her best feature, as if she were a hired servant.

Elizabeth didn’t need to fret about her abilities because she was a whizz at any task thrown her way. Her talents went beyond her organizational skills, and included the ability to take charge during times of stress and then, mere hours later, appear beautiful and composed at a ball. All this at the tender age of eighteen – a little far fetched, to say the least.

For fans of The Marriage Game series, Geoffrey runs into Septimius Trevor at the solicitor’s office who asks him to touch base with Colonel Lord Hawkesworth while he is in Brussels and remind him to write home more often. While Quinn explores a few details about the battlefront, that is not her main focus, although the anger of the French locals at the interference of the British in overthrowing Napoleon, is well represented.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley who providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Three Weeks to Wed by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, Book #1)

The Earl of Worthington is a friend of Marcus and Sebastian from Ella Quinn’s The Marriage Game Series. After seeing how happy both men are in their marriage and the fact that their wives are expecting, Mattheus decides that it’s time that he, too, settle down. After being forced to stop at a nearby inn to escape a severe storm, he meets a lovely lady who seems to fit his intellectual needs, and after exchanging a kiss (obviously her first) he becomes even more mesmerized. When this same woman knocks on his door after hours and they spend an amorous night, he is determined to make this former virgin his bride. Yet the following morning she has disappeared and the innkeeper refuses to admit she ever existed. He unsuccessfully searches and ends up sketching her likeness in the hopes of getting his friends to identify the mystery woman.

Matt is right, Grace Carpenter is a lady of quality. She, too, was forced to stop for the night due to the same storm, even though she didn’t have much further to travel. When Worthington arrives, she was more than happy to share the parlor and spend an evening with a gentleman she has been in love with since her first season in London. Unable to wed due to the burden of a large set of siblings under her charge, she decides to experiment with one night of passion before retreating from society. Unfortunately, once is not enough and she pines for the love she has finally found and now must give up.

Little do the pair realize they have mutual friends and when Grace accompanies her younger sister, Charlotte, to London for her first season, she has a difficult time hiding her identity from her one night stand, who unfortunately resides directly across the street. It doesn’t take long for Matt to track her down and become irretrievably entangled in the lives of the Carpenter Family. He, too, has siblings of similar ages, including Louise who is also being introduced to society. Altogether the children (eleven in all), 2 Great Danes, a stepmother, a couple of cousins, aunts and uncles, and various employees, become entangled as the two lovebirds sort out the obstacles to their happiness. Marcus and Phoebe as well as Rutherford and Anna, are active participant in the antics with other familiar characters from the Marriage Game Series making an appearance, including the meddling dowagers who like to play Cupid.

Three Weeks to Wed is a wonderful introduction to the Worthington series which runs in between debutanrsbooks 2 and 3 of the Marriage Game Series. In fact, by the time Robert romances Sabrina, Matt and Grace have already been wed. While there is a bit of excitement when a no good uncle turns up looking for his inheritance, most of the tale revolves around an introduction to all the characters and the details surrounding the preparations necessary for launching two young ladies into society. I personally enjoyed reading about the shopping excursions, designer gowns, and elaborate repasts, as well as the antics of a group of lively children. The entire courtship takes place over a three week period, prior to the official start to the season which begins in Book 2 of the series. Luckily the couple decide to quickly wed because they go at it like rabbits, every chance they get, more lustful than romantic. However, having a head start on the family situation and the peccadilloes of the numerous characters should make the remainder of the series more enjoyable. Quinn has created a universe where, as a fly on the wall, the reader can vicariously enter The Ton of Regency England. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Everyone in Brooklyn was a Dodgers fan at Ebbots Field, at least until the team moved to Los Angeles. If you lived in this borough of New York City from 1951 to 1952 you probably attended Brooklyn College (my father did) and spent time at Coney Island eating a hot dog at Nathan’s. The sand was hot, the ocean cold, the beach was so crowded you had to stake out a good spot, but it was home.

In Brooklyn you lived in a building, often in tiny apartments, saving up money to move where you could have a plot of land of your own. (Actually our apartment was large, inherited from my grandmother who was the original tenant – gotta love that rent control). Having a house with a yard was a dream which every child carried in their heart (and we had to move to a suburb in Buffalo to get that house).

Despite being a large, crowded city, the neighborhoods kept life intimate. You knew the people in your building and the vendors in the local shops, mainly family owned. Yet in between was the busyness of Brooklyn which carried a flavor not found in the surrounding small towns in upstate New York.

Being a diverse metropolis, the rules were a little different. While the various ethnic groups congregated amongst themselves, the shopping centers had to be open to all, whether Irish, Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, or Black, especially here where so many immigrants settled after making the trip across the Atlantic.

This is the city where I was born (at the Caledonia Hospital on Caton Ave). It’s not necessarily the exact place described in Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, but my childhood occurred a few years later. (My grandparents were also born in Brooklyn, but their folks came over from Eastern Europe at an earlier, even more desperate time in the late 1800s). Yet, the feel is recognizable.

Enter Eilis Lacey, an Irish immigrant from the small town of Enniscorthy, who is sponsored by Father Flood in her move to his Irish Parish. He sets up a room for her in an Irish Boarding House with 5 other Irish girls, and arranges for a job as a salesgirl at Bartocci’s, a local department store. Then when Eilis gets homesick, he signs her up for night classes at Brooklyn College to earn her certificate as a bookkeeper, a subject she studied back in Ireland. She meets a nice boy at the Friday Night Dances at the Parish and her life seems perfect, but “stuff” happens.

Eilis is the type of person who goes along to get along. She’s from an era and a culture where women don’t have much of a say in their lives. They are obedient children who marry, keep house, and have children of their own. Ellis seems to go with the flow, unable to speak up when events spin out of control forcing her on a path which she isn’t sure is the right one for her. Her first job back in Ireland is at a local grocery store and the owner simply sends for her, unasked, when she discovers Ellis has a talent for figures. Rose, Ellis’ older sister, arranges for her to travel to America, and “surprises” her with the “fait accompli”. Her behavior at the rooming house is dictated by the owner, and her free time is guided by her housemates. It takes feigning an illness to get out of the Friday night dance, since Ellis doesn’t have the courage to outright refuse to go. Even her beau decides when their relationship should go to the next level and she just guesses that this is okay, although in her heart she is unsure. Fate seems to be her guideposts, and the tide of life sweeps her along its path to the next steps on the most convenient road.

I’m not judging, since her life doesn’t seem to be a hardship, one just wonders what “might have been” and the author even gives us a taste of that before he pulls the rug out from under the reader and has circumstances steer Ellis’ direction back on track.

A delightful and easy read on a bygone era in a beloved (for me) spot. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

What makes Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson so special is not the story, although the plot is full of subtle wit and unforseeable plot twists, but the rich and quirky characterizations of the personalities living in the small town outside London, England.

At first Major Pettigrew seems kind of opinionated and stuffy, but his relationship with Mrs. Allie, the shop keeper of Pakistanee descent, softens his attitude, and making him endearing to the reader. We find ourselves rooting for the Major as he attempts to surreptitiously woo the widow while remaining a perfect gentleman.

To make the enjoyment even more complete, add in a couple of obnoxious, money grubbing in laws, a son who pursues prestige over tradition, a Lord willing to sell out the entire village in order to maintain his decadent lifestyle, a crass, egocentric American Industrialist whose annoying behavior threatens to ruin every gathering he attends, and a woman’s group who between gossiping sessions run many of the social events expounded upon in the novel.

In short, the Major finds himself having difficulty dealing with the death of his brother and Mrs. Allie, the local shop keeper, who happens to be in the right place at the right time, is able to comfort the man. There is a spark between the two and as they both deal with their own personal challenges involving the embarrassing indiscretions of various family members, they find a moments relief and even joy in each other’s company.

A major focal point in the tale is the story of the two matched rifles, Churchills, which were presented to the Major’s grandfather by an Indian Maharaja, as a reward for protecting his daughter from harm by some rebels. While the Major expected to inherit the pair, his father gave one to his brother with the expectation the two would be reunited upon one of their deaths. No such stipulation was written into the will and much to his horror, his sister in law is mentally spending the money to be earned by selling the family heirloom(s). The Churchills seem to drive the plot forward, somehow relating to the various interactions of the characters throughout the plot.

While there is a bit of action, along with a few plot twists, most of the story focuses upon the life of the Major as he pursues his interests (such as plotting the ways he can keep both Churchills) while trying to advance his relationship with the alluring Mrs. Allee. His clever, deprecating remarks to the questionable comments of his fellow townspeople result in numerous laugh out loud moments, a personal barometer of a book destined to be a favorite. The contentious relationship between father and son also inexplicably brings a smile to my face as despite their different viewpoints on life, they reluctantly share a love which goes beyond kinship. Kudos to Simonson for a superb debut novel as well as to Peter Altschuler who was the spectacular reader of the audiotape.

My five star rating shouldn’t be a surprise and I hope the movie version lives up to the cleverness of the author’s original text.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa translated by Archibald Colquhoun

What pushes a piece of literature from a mere book into a work of art? Is it the ability to construct a significant moment in time transporting us to another era? Is it the exquisitely expressive language making the surroundings come alive? Or is it the richness of the characters spawning a three dimensional persona which transcends the words on the page?

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa is a novel which demonstrates all of the above and more. Perhaps it’s because the story is based on the life of Lampedusa’s Great Grandfather as well as the Palace outside his home of Palmero which was bombed during World War II. Perhaps it’s because The Leopard explores the ramifications of the reunification of Italy, focusing on Garibaldi who overthrew the monarchy and was then himself overthrown. Perhaps it’s because the author had lived through two world wars and was full of memories of a different time when being an aristocrat represented a noble dignity which was revered by the common folk.

In any case, Lampedusa spent the last few years of his life creating a piece of literature which was eventually considered one of the greatest Italian novels of the twentieth century, winning the Premio Strega in 1959. Unfortunately, these accolades came too late, since he was unsuccessful in finding anyone willing to publish this book during his lifetime.

Don Fabrizio is a Sicilian Prince from Salina watching the aristocratic way of life fading away during a series of political upheavals in 1865. A dreamer, forced to focus on his day to day responsibilities, he finds refuge in watching the stars and studying mathematics, a past time disdained by the common man but excused in someone so distinguished and revered. The Prince has been brought up with refined sensibilities, polite to a fault, and observing all the niceties of nobility, attributes he finds lacking in his own sons. It’s his charismatic nephew, Tancredi Falconari, who has the qualities to carry on the tradition. Fabrizio, at the age of forty five, looks back on his life contemplating the past and reliving the glory days via the romance between Tancredi and the bewitching Angelica Sedara. When Angelica kisses the middle-aged Don on the check and calls him uncle, he gladly gives her a piece of his heart.

The climax of the plot is not the Leopard’s death at the age of seventy +, but the ball he attends where he sees his former lovers, now old like him, and laments his lost youth. Hiding away in the library, Tancredi and Angelica find him and drag him back to the party where he, an excellent dancer, has one waltz with his beautiful niece-to-be, becoming the focus of attention for a roomful of admirers who spontaneously break into applause. Not wanting to be a third wheel, he resists their pleas to join them for supper and instead stands in the corner watching their mutual devotion while eating a decadent dessert. In the movie, starring an all Italian cast (except for lead actor, Burt Lancaster), this scene is the major focus of the film.

In the end all that’s left are his elderly three daughters trying to hang on to what remains of their family dignity via the private religious services in the family chapel. Connecting their bittersweet past to “modern times” is the pelt of their long deceased papa’s favorite dog, Bendico. In order to move forward, leaving unrequited grievances behind, this symbol must be discarded. After all, it’s all about things “changing in order that they may remain the same”.

This book is so rich in imagery and content that my remarks fail to do it justice. Amazingly, Archibald Colquhoun captures the melancholy essence of Lampedusa’s words in his translation. In fact, the reader would never guess that the original was not written in English. While there isn’t a lot of action, the strong presence of the characters, especially The Prince, carries the plot. Five stars.

Suitors and Saboteurs by Cindy Anstey

Three families, linked by the childhood friendship of the mothers, have made it their practice to spend their summers together by hosting various “house parties” at each of their estates in Kent. This summer, one of the three has died over the winter months, but the tradition continues. There is the Chively family including daughter Imogene and son Percy plus a St John’s water dog, Jasper. The kindly Beeswanger’s have a daughter Emily along with younger daughters (Hardly) Harriet and Pauline. The third family, minus “Aunt Clara” consists of Mr. Tabard and his son Jake.

Emily and Imogene have just experienced their first “season” with The Ton. This summer, potential beau Ernest Steeple has been invited to join the party, bringing along his younger brother Benjamin. The steadfast Ernest has been taken with the quiet charm of the shy Imogene who’s headstrong father would like nothing better than to see his daughter wed to this eligible young suitor. However, it’s the charismatic Ben who makes an impression with his attentions to all the women, grabbed onto by a hopeful Emily who fancies herself in love. Imogene, by contrast, needs time to be sure that Ernest is the one for her. While she enjoys his company, she’s not sure if that quite qualifies as a love match.

Ernest’s goal is to ascertain if he can get Imogene to say yes to a marriage proposal. Ben, an apprentice architect, has a different sort of problem, he cannot draw a straight line. Normally this would not be an issue, but when building structures it is necessary to be able to accurately complete sketches. Imogene has the talent he lacks and her art work is full of the outdoors including the numerous ruins which are scattered throughout the countryside. Noting that Imogene is giving art lessons to Harriet, Ben confesses his need for her expertise as an instructor to help him hone his currently nonexistent skills. She happily agrees to be of assistance and the foursome spend the summer days whiling away the hours enjoying country life. Unfortunately, “accidents” keep occurring, each one becoming more dire. Somehow Ben seems to be the target of these continuing mishaps and since nobody could be that clumsy, sabotage is suspected. Yet who and why is someone trying to injure this young man? Answers need to be found and decisions made which will effect the future for everyone concerned.

While the premise for Suitors and Saboteurs by Cindy Anstey sounds promising the delivery left a lot to be desired. The mundane details (full of unnecessary minutia which doesn’t advance the plot) along with the stilted boring dialogue made reading this Regency Romance an interminable act of tedium, despite the occasional delivery of a few clever conversations thrown into the mix. About 100 pages too long, Anstey should have focused on the mystery eliminating irrelevant, nonessential points and needless repetition which bogged down the storyline. Please don’t compare this one to works by Jane Austen – not even close and an insult to a beloved author. We don’t want the intended audience of young adults who read this book to think that this is the best the genre has to offer.

A generous three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.