A Garden Folly: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern – A Review

The Regency Romance Reading Challenge (2013)This is my fourth selection in the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013, our celebration of Regency romance author Candice Hern. We will be reading all of her traditional Regencies over the next nine months, discussing her characters, plots and Regency history. You can still join the reading challenge until July 1, 2013. Participants, please leave comments and or links to your reviews for this month in the comment section of this post.

My Review:

In landscape design, a garden folly is a structure whose only objective is to deceive. They have no purpose other than as ornament—to delight the eye and draw one to their door to evoke a romantic scene or time. How apt that author Candice Hern chose to name her Regency romance A Garden Folly, since her main characters are follies themselves.

Set at the Kent grand country estate of the Duke of Carlisle, two impoverished sisters impersonate aristocrats to entrap rich husbands, while the wealthy and titled owner of the dukedom, and the continuing custodian and creator of its grand landscape, hides behind the mantle of head gardener to avert interaction with Society. Both hero and heroine have serious trust issues. How they will overcome their personal challenges is a serpentine path that teasingly twists, turns, and surprises the reader until the last page.

Catherine and Susannah Forsythe are down on their luck. Living in genteel poverty in the wrong side of London with Aunt Hetty was not what they had expected at this time in their lives. Their father, Sir Benjamin Forsythe, squandered their family fortune before he died two years ago, but they still have beauty and wits in their corner. A surprise invitation from Aunt Hetty’s childhood friend, the Duchess of Carlisle, for her annual summer house party at Chissingworth may be their only chance to catch rich husbands. Determined to pull off the deception that they are wealthy young ladies, Catherine, with the help of their servant McDougal, magically acquire all the tools needed to disguise their poverty: clothes, carriage, jewels and servants. Now they must set their caps for the right man, steering clear of the wrongs sorts: “penniless younger sons, clerics, or half-pay officers.” Arriving in style, the deception begins.

Stephen Archibald Frederick Charles Godfrey Manwaring, Duke of Carlisle, is a serious gardener and devout bachelor. At two and thirty he has managed to avoid marriage and his mother’s annual summer garden party, devised to introduce him to marriageable young ladies, for years. Since the enigmatic duke has succeeded eluding polite Society most of his life, he has been tagged an eccentric half-wit. He has, however, devoted his life to the management of his estate’s landscapes, collecting rare plants and avoiding love. Catherine, also a great admirer of rare plants is thrilled at the chance to be in the country again and happily strolls the gardens to drink in the verdant countryside and profuse flora of the magnificently landscaped Chissingworth gardens. When the young duke and young the masquerading fortune hunter collide in the garden, he is roughly dressed and she mistakes him for the head gardener. She is a passionate admirer of rare flowers, especially hybrids, which are his favorites too—so he lets the deception continue. They agree to meet again the next morning, and thus begins his infatuation with a new rare flower named Catherine. She, on the other hand, is deep into discovering the “right” husband for her beautiful but dim sister Sukey and herself, and with the help of McDougal, who runs recon to determine who among the 60 guests are listed on the top 50 bachelors under 40 in Britain, is totally oblivious to who she is actually meeting every morning to tour the gardens. Also among the guests is Stephen’s friend Miles, the Earl of Strickland, a recent widow who takes a shine to Catherine. There are many other eligible bachelors to pursue until nearsighted Susannah goes after the wrong green-coated man and all of the weight of finding a rich husband falls on Catherine. As she and the head gardener become more than friends, and an earl is courting her, Catherine must decide if she should marry for love or money.

The British are indisputably passionate gardeners. Setting A Garden Folly at a country estate at the height of August, the peak blooming season, allowed the author to take us on a fabulous journey through the gardens as they would have appeared in Regency times:

“With this in mind, she wandered through the surprisingly informal arrangement of gardens. In the dressed grounds nearest the house, high, clipped shrubbery hedges of sweetbrier, box, and hawthorn surrounded each garden. Moving through the enclosed hedges was akin to walking through the various rooms of a house, each room different from the last. One was awash in bright colors of summer, the gravel paths bordered with stocks, pinks, double rocket, sweet Williams and asters. The morning sun fell upon spires of delphinium sparkling with dew. Her artist’s eye was drawn to the glitter of the moisture on the indigo and royal peaks, and she paused to seat herself on a nearby stone bench. She pulled a pencil and a scrap of paper from her pocket and roughly sketched the familiar blossoms.” p. 36

Image of the book cover of A Garden Folly, by Candice Hern © Candice Hern 2012Hern is renowned for her Regency research and descriptions in her novels. Usually we are treated to vintage clothing fabrics and home interiors, but in this case we are delightfully entertained with flora and folly. The landscape as an artist’s canvas can be formed and molded and admired. So can people, and I was not only struck by our journey through the gardens of a vast country estate, but through the transformation of the characters.

Catherine was determined that she and her sister marry for money to save and protect their family. During Regency times that was not uncommon, but her mercenary motives eventually catch up with her as she reveals her true motives to the head gardener/Stephen as a fortune hunter of the worst sort. As her “veneer of perfection” to Stephen crumbles, he sees her fierce determination to bag a fortune—a large fortune—and is disgusted. Her heartless calculation repulses him and reinforces his trust issues. He is certain that no one can love him and not his title. He will not reveal that he is duke until he has secured her affection as a commoner; she will not let herself love a man who cannot provide for her in a grand style. Two people who have been forced by circumstances to be “follies,” destined for heartbreak.

I can’t honestly say that I admired Catherine and Stephen’s motives, nor their personalities, but by the end things do evolve and their facades change. How we are taken down the garden path is a delightful excursion. This garden geek was not only entranced by the picturesque views and swooning fragrance of an English garden, but by the transformation of the characters by love. A Garden Folly was the perfect antidote to a dark winter of rain and snow. A refreshing journey of discovery and delight.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Garden Folly: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (236) pages
ISBN: 978-1479165766

A Grand Giveaway

Author Candice Hern has generously offered one print copy or one digital copy of A Garden Folly to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Winner to be announced on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Print book shipment to US addresses only. Digital copy delivery internationally. Good luck!

Book cover image courtesy © Candice Hern 2012; text © 2013 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

44 thoughts on “A Garden Folly: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern – A Review

  1. They weren’t “posing” as aristocrats, because they were simply poor ones. I agree that Catherine sometimes seems cold and almost unlikeable, but Hern overcomes that, and everybody gets the HEA that they deserve. I am enjoying re-reading all these Regencies that I read before. Hern has always been a favorite

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  2. I have never read any Candice Hern so this was a fascinating introduction. I loved the title and I also loved the excerpt. I could almost smell the flowers! Gosh what a long name the Duke of Carlisle has! Lol Enjoyed your review very much, Laurel Ann!

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  3. Loved this one! It was such great fun watching the characters overcome their “follies” and give way to truth and love. I especially enjoyed poor Sukey and her foibles as a result of reluctance to wear her glasses. And how would they ever have gotten along without McDougal!

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  4. I enjoyed this story with it’s beautiful setting with all the enchanting and various gardens and talk of growing rare flowers immensely! I think the charming though self-doubting Duke with the very long name who was such a lover of flowers, and able to appreciate the freshness of Catherine may be my favorite character. But nearly everyone was delightful, from the kind and clever McDougal to the warm hearted Countess… who really wanted more than anything to see her son happy again! Under the circumstances, I even admired Catherine’s “fortune hunting”, as she was looking after the welfare of her aunt and dear but less clever older sister, as well as her own distaste of poverty. That she was able to overcome and see the wisdom in lowering her monetary standards to listen to her heart… and her sister’s wise council, and also her consideration of the Lord who had proposed to her, was estimable, I felt, and I loved the joke on her played by the Duke at the end! It made me happy to think of her dear Aunt and sister able to also live there with her in that beautiful place! A truly happy ending, indeed!! Thank you, Candice!

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    • I wish you had put a spoiler alert at the top of your comment. You’ve given away the ending now. I will still read the book since I ordered it on my Kindle last night, but telling the ending before some of us have read it was a disappointment.

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      • Karen, I think you will still enjoy A Garden Folly, even with this slight spoiler. There are so many details that Carol and I did not reveal, and she only alludes to the ending, there are more surprising details, so please don’t be dissuaded from reading it. I was great fun!

        A few things that I could not elaborate on in my review because of length limits that you might enjoy: the clothing and jewelry that McDougal borrows from his cousins rich employers in London so the ladies will look the part was a great plot device. I thought I knew where this could lead at the Chissingworth party with over 60 of the Ton in attendance and it did. Very funny. And did you catch the last name of the duke mentioned in my review? It is an unusual name, and nice nod to our favorite author. I also laughed at the similarity of names of the estate Chissingworth to Sissinghurst, the very famous gardens owned and designed by Vita Sackville-West in Kent. I love it when authors play off the real and imagined world.

        Cheers, LA

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        • Laurel Ann, thanks for pointing out the other details. I have finished the book and am reading the companion book about Sir Miles at his own estate. The story picks up with Miles’ concern as he put it in Garden Folly. There’s an older, pushy sister who has stepped in to settle his concern and then the fun ensues. This one is called The Best Intentions and I recommend it to all of you. Laurel Ann, is this book also in the challenge? One more thing: what book are we reading next?

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      • I apologize, kfield for spoiling the ending… I’m new at this and not always sure how to respond… I’ll be more brief and circumspect after this! I’m glad you did read the book any way! (I tend to like to know that there is to be a happy ending before reading a book, which I should know is not the usual feeling!) So sorry!!

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  5. I love to watch the slow unfolding of a relationship, when people have no expectation of having one… as opposed to when people are angling for approval. This sounds really good.

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  6. I really enjoyed this book. The characters were so lively and funny. Their relationship was based on common interests and love of the gardens. I have finished all but the last of the 9 for this challenge but aren’t there more? Thanks for introducing me to these books

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  7. Thank you, Laurel Ann, for putting us on to this wonderful author! Thus far, I’ve read two of her short stories, two of her novels and LOVE her style. Your sparkling review is informative, rouses my curiosity, but without revealing too much. I’ve just downloaded A Garden Folly onto my overloaded Kindle and dear readers: the Amazon price is currently excellent.

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  8. I love Regency stories and the garden theme of A Garden Folly sounds very engaging. Thanks for a chance to win it!

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  9. I have never read anything by Candice Hern, but I love Regency romance such as Georgette Heyer’s novels, so I’m sure I will enjoy this one. It sounds delightful. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  10. I’m really enjoying this regency romance challenge! I have never read Ms. Hern’s novels till this challenge and her book are wonderful. There light, romantic and with the right amount of angst.

    This story is about 2 sisters(Catherine & Susannah) of a gentleman baron who are left destitute on his death. They’re living with an Aunt who is barely getting by and with no income for the three, life looks bleak. Then a turn of fate, Aunt Hattie runs into an old friend who invite her and her nieces to her summer home for a month(A Garden Party). This friend is a Duchess with a recluse son who everyone thinks is odd. He certainly would not be at the summer garden party. But lots of eligible men and ladies will be there and Catherine is not going to pass up an opportunity for her older beautiful sister not to find an eligible wealthy unmarried man to marry. With a plan in place they head for the Duchess’ summer home Chissingworth. But thing start to go very wrong.

    I loved Catherine, she was bright, intelligent and very naïve. And the electrifying repartee between her and the hero was wonderful. Just loved this story. It was fun, light easy read. I read this book in a day and I’m not sure if I can wait to read the 2nd book in this series. Don’t know if I can wait till next month!!

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  11. I love stories set in this time period and my favorite characters are those who require a huge amount of growth so that is why this book intrigues me. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve a soft spot for gardens.

    Thanks for sharing your review thoughts and for the giveaway opportunity.

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  12. As usual, I fell in love with Hern’s characters. It was nice to see the different perspectives of the characters . Sometimes it helps to see that not is what we first perceived.

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  13. I truly enjoyed this book. I like the way the characters fall in love with each other in these Regency story line.

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  14. I was reading through the post & smiling. A GARDEN FOLLY sounds like a book I will thoroughly enjoy & then come back for more.

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  15. Having never read any Candice Hern books I would be interested in starting particularly as this is one of my favourite times in English history

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  16. I love Candice Hern. Her knowledge of the Regency Era is impressive. I read and enjoyed The Best Intentions am looking forward to reading a Garden Folly.

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  17. I find the fact that they apparently grow to care for each other while hiding their true selves interesting. I would love to read this!

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  18. What intrigues me is how Catherine goes to great lengths to secure a rich husband but reveal her motives to Stephen who she thinks is below her in rank. Why not keep quiet about it and let fate takes its course. Unless it is nagging her conscious and she feels the need to share it with him.

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  19. Lovely review, Laurel Ann. I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but I can’t wait. I am intrigued with your description of Catherine and Stephen’s relationship.

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  20. This is a really good review as I long to dip into this book and get reading. I really enjoy gardening and I love reading so combining the two sounds like a winning combination for me. I am intrigued as how the author can change Catherine and the Duke/ gardener and help them find out what is important in their lives and what they truly desire in a partner..

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  21. A Garden Folly would be an escape for me since life always beckons. I also garden and would share this engaging past time.

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  22. Their growing infatuation and the gardening seem to me very similar. Love this interesting intersecting of lives and beauty of nature.

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  23. A well-researched book piques my interest, being a history nerd. Thanks for this review… I will definitely look for it at the library!

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  24. Thanks, everyone, for all the kind words about A GARDEN FOLLY. For those who’ve read it, I’m glad you enjoyed it! For those who haven’t yet read it, I hope you’ll give it a try. I had so much fun researching this one. You should see all the books I collected on the history of English gardens!

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  25. This wonderful author is a new one for me! The premise of her book and the two sister’s sounds very enticing and I would love to see how the story line
    works out! Many thanks, Cindi
    jchoppes[at]hotmail[dot]com

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  26. this was another fun book but I have to admit I really didn’t like how the Duke revealed who he was. I thought it was rather meanspirited of him.

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  27. I have read the review and am intrigue enough about the two sisters to want to read it.
    W. Lesso

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  28. Pingback: Giveaway Winner Announced for A Garden Folly | Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

  29. I really enjoyed this one. It was just great fun to watch this story line unfold. And it seemed realistic — it truly could have happened this way. Sorry I missed the deadline for commenting.

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  30. Pingback: Announcing the Regency Romance Reading Challenge 2013: Featuring Candice Hern | Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

  31. Pingback: The Best Intentions: A Regency Romance, by Candice Hern – A Review | Austenprose - A Jane Austen Blog

  32. I was a bit concerned, at first, that the story line was going in the direction of predictability. Not. The Duke is quite the recluse – watching him open up against his initial wishes was great and made him quite believable. Catherine, the object of his unintended affections, has her own misgivings about marriage, let alone courtship. I appreciated how the author took two characters from being back-to-back, so to speak, to very face-to-face. And I agree, the Duke’s method of revealing himself to Catherine hinted at a bit of a dark streak – all he thought about was himself and his revenge, with no appreciation for the social consequences for the woman he professes to love. Hmmm…..

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