A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bramleigh, by Christina Dudley – A Review

A Very Plain Young Man by Christina Dudley 2014 x 200From the desk of Katie P.:

In most novels, the heroine has some kind of quirk, trait, flaw, or unique quality—physical or otherwise–which the hero (and the reader) falls in love with. She could have a temper (Serena, Bath Tangle) or a limp (Sorrel, Friends and Foes). She might stutter (Horry, The Convenient Marriage) or make judgments too quickly (Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice). She could love to twirl (Marianne, Edenbrooke) or love to take charge (Sophy, The Grand Sophy). She might be stubborn (Margaret Hale, North and South) or love matchmaking (Emma, Emma). She might love to read novels (Catherine, Northanger Abbey) or collect insects and plants (Alice, The Naturalist). The list could go on and on. But the one characteristic not often seen (or ever seen) in a Regency heroine is shortsightedness. In Christina Dudley’s latest continuation of the Hapgoods of Bramleigh series, A Very Plain Young Man, readers meet a rake in need of a bride…and a heroine in need of spectacles.

Frederick Tierney is three things: the heir to two estates, a rake, and an extremely handsome man (which he is very much aware). While in London, he breaks off his relationship with his latest conquest, for the first time getting tired of living the life of a profligate (which disappoints his family), saying false ‘I love you’s’ and being chased after by shallow women. He travels to Somerset for his younger brother’s wedding, and to escape his ex-lover’s clutches, he sends her a letter saying he’s soon to be married.

At the Midsummer Ball, Frederick overhears his sister-in-law’s eldest sister, Miss Elfrida Hapgood, commenting on his looks, but is shocked to hear her analysis that he is a very plain young man. Reluctantly intrigued by her, the only single woman of his acquaintance to have no interest in his opinion or attention, he decides that he has three goals concerning Elfrida: 1. Break her reserve by any means possible 2. Make her find him attractive and 3. Persuade her to become his fiancée.

Elfrida Hapgood is known by her family to be beautiful, calm, stubborn, and near-sighted. Everything farther than a few feet in front of her is blurry, and when she spots the supposedly attractive Frederick Tierney at a distance all she sees is a (very plain) blur. When he volunteers to sit for her sister’s painting and Elfrida gets roped into being another model, she discovers in their close contact that he is the very opposite of a plain young man and not her presupposed idea of a rake. She is mystified as to why he chooses to ignore all the beautiful women throwing themselves at him, instead choosing to spend his days with the Hapgoods.

Frederick’s bright taste in coats and inability to remain serious for any length of time irritates Elfrida, but when he makes it his mission to ruffle Elfrida’s usually unruffled feathers, she discovers that, for good or bad, her feelings for him are much stronger than she thought. When a woman from Frederick’s not so distant past returns, can he convince Elfrida that his life as a rake is over and that he loves only her? And when Elfrida’s cousin offers for her, will she choose security or will she choose love?

A Very Plain Young Man was such a delightful read. While I enjoyed The Naturalist with Alice and Joseph, the second in the series (and especially Elfrida and Frederick) stole my heart. The story and characters were far from predictable, and by the time I read the last page I had filled my Kindle copy with so much highlighting (223 highlighted sections to be exact) that it’s impossible to pick just one favorite quote or section. While this novel can be read by itself I suggest reading The Naturalist first, not because A Very Plain Young Man is not a strong enough novel to stand on its own, but because The Naturalist provides back story and gives the reader more time with the entertaining Hapgoods and Co.

One of my favorite things about A Very Plain Young Man was Christina Dudley’s take on the reformed rake archetype of Regency hero. While staying true to the historical time period’s view of male indiscretions, she created a hero who doesn’t fit the stereotypical “rake” mold. High society accepted affairs and indiscretions (as long as they were handled fairly discreetly), and while Frederick lived this life initially, he felt guilty not only because of Elfrida, but also (and what stands out to me) because of his family.

The two best words I can use to describe Frederick Tierney, Elfrida Hapgood, and the entire novel are ‘enchanting’ and ‘sparkling’. The characters were unique and had depth, and the novel overall was both a witty comedy of manners and a beautiful love story. While considering the pros and cons of A Very Plain Young Man (“Think, Katie, surely there must be at least one negative!”) I can honestly say that I found nothing I disliked about this novel. I highly recommend both books in The Hapgoods of Bramleigh series and look forward to any future Regency romances by Christina Dudley!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bramleigh, by Christina Dudley
BellaVita Press (2014)
Trade paperback (380) pages
ISBN: 978-0983072140

Cover image courtesy of BellaVita Press © 2014; text Katie P. © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen – A Review

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen (2011)From the desk of Katie P.:

Women writers in the 21st century are accepted and praised for their ability to write great literature. Their books are proudly published alongside the books written by men, and literature today is not judged by the gender of the author but by the quality of the content. But it wasn’t always like this. Female authors in the Regency underwent many struggles that are not experienced or understood today. Society in the 1800′s rarely accepted female authors, and it was the exception, not the norm, that guaranteed a woman protection from society after publishing under her own name. So if society frowned upon female authors, then how would an authoress even go about finding and meeting with a publisher? How could she recover from public knowledge of her authorship? What was the consequence of daring to become an author? And what were the pros and cons of remaining anonymous? Julie Klassen answers these questions and more in The Girl in the Gatehouse, a Regency novel filled with romance, intrigue, and a mysterious authoress.

After a terrible indiscretion ruins her in the eyes of polite society, Mariah Aubrey is sent by her father to live in an abandoned gatehouse on the edges of her aunt’s estate, accompanied only by her loyal servant, Miss Dixon.  Ignored by her aunt and scorned by all of her loved ones and past acquaintances, Mariah plans to spend the rest of her days living quietly and going unnoticed by all, supporting herself anonymously by writing novels. But when Captain Matthew Bryant moves in to Windrush Court after the death of her aunt, Mariah discovers that her heart isn’t as closed up as she thought. But could Captain Bryant ever love her if he knew what had happened in her past? When a house party hosted by Captain Bryant includes many guests who are from Mariah’s previous life, can she protect herself from them and keep them from revealing her secrets, past and present?

With a fortune in prize money and the title of Captain, Matthew Bryant leases Windrush Court, with the hopes of eventually buying it and securing his status as a gentleman. With unshakable determination he plans on wooing Isabella Forsythe, the woman who rejected him before he left for the navy. But to Matthew’s bewilderment, his future plans start to lose their excitement as he spends more and more time with the mysterious Miss Aubrey. Her conversation and inner beauty attract him, but with the hoped-for future Mrs. Bryant coming to his house party (who happens to be arriving with her fiancé), Matthew keeps Mariah at a distance, telling himself that surely the woman he loves is the dazzling Miss Forsythe, not the puzzling Miss Aubrey. When the truth comes out, will Matthew discover who it is he truly loves, and will Mariah and Matthew both be able to forgive their own past mistakes in order to save their future?

As with Klassen’s other Regency romances, The Girl in the Gatehouse is filled with many different characters and plot twists that all added to the overall story and the overarching mystery. Untangling the multiple mysteries kept me turning page after page, and all the characters (main and secondary) were so interesting. The Girl in the Gatehouse is reminiscent of Downton Abbey—not in the time period or plot, but because of the in-depth look at all the characters and their back-stories, from the two elderly Merryweather sisters to Mariah Aubrey’s aunt. Rather than the story just being focused on Mariah Aubrey and Captain Bryant, The Girl in the Gatehouse was really about more than ten different characters, whose storylines (and personal mysteries!) all came together at the end to make a delightful and satisfyingly happy ending.

Something that I found very interesting in The Girl in the Gatehouse was the role-reversal of the hero and heroine regarding their placement in the love triangle. As I’m sure many readers have found, many romance books nowadays have a love triangle, and in all the ones I’ve read it is between one woman and two men. The Girl in the Gatehouse is different because it occurs between one man and two women. To be completely honest, it took me awhile to get past this, as I kept thinking that, while Captain Bryant behaved honorably to both, it shouldn’t be fair that he has two women waiting for his decision to see who he preferred. But then, how is this any different than what happens with the typical heroine who has two men dangling after her, just waiting patiently for her to make her choice? Once I got past this role-reversal (and, I admit, the love triangle itself; I’m not a fan of love triangles, no matter if it’s the male of the female doing the choosing), I was able to like Captain Bryant, as he reminded me very much of a certain enigmatic Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

The Girl in the Gatehouse is not the type of mystery novel with poison, kidnapping, or murder—rather, it’s an enjoyable romance that involves many thrilling mysteries, entertaining characters, interesting historical facts, and the fascinating themes of loss, forgiveness, and the meaning of true love.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers (2011)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0764207082

Additional Reviews:

Cover image courtesy of Bethany House Publishers © 2011; text Katie P., Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Valour and Vanity: The Glamourist Histories, Book 4, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Valour and Vanity, by Mary Roninette Kowal (2014)From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

I have thoroughly enjoyed the first three books of the Glamourist History series which has only gotten better as it goes on, but when I read the description of the fourth book I wasn’t positive that improving trend would continue, at least for me. Pirates? The Regency version of a heist film? Those may appeal to many but aren’t my preferred cup of tea.I love that the earlier books incorporate historic events into an alternate Regency world that shimmers with glamour–a magical art of illusion. Napoleon’s wars, the Luddite uprising, and the 1816 climate disruption are integral parts of their narratives, but the new book’s plot synopsis does not hint at a similar use of history. Still, I trust Mary Robinette Kowal’s storytelling skills so there was no way I would miss her latest. I just hoped I would love Valour and Vanity as dearly as the others.

A tip from Lord Byron sends Jane and her husband Vincent to the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre where an ancient but still vibrant lion glamour roars and struts among the rubble. That beautiful lion is forever fixed in place because glamoured images made with traditional methods cannot be moved, but Jane and Vincent hope to perfect a new way of creating glamour by weaving its threads into molten glass which could then be easily transported. To that end they are headed to the island of Murano, famous for its glass-making artistry. They have been on a mostly joyous Continental trip with the rest of Jane’s family, celebrating her sister Melody’s wedding, but Jane is glad she and Vincent will soon be alone because her mother can tend to be high strung. Sure enough Mrs. Ellsworth musters a Mrs. Bennet worthy panic as Jane and Vincent’s ship is about to depart. She’s heard a rumor pirates rove the Gulf of Venice! Pirates!

That, of course, is absurd, as Jane and Vincent know. No pirates patrol this part of the Mediterranean. Which makes it all the more shocking when rakishly dressed buccaneers board their boat, robbing passengers and crew. “It is absurd that my first thought is a desire to keep this from your mother” (25) Vincent says to Jane as he prepares to help the crew defend the ship. But Vincent is knocked out and Jane and Vincent lose all of their money, luggage, and jewelry–even Jane’s wedding ring–and are almost kidnapped for ransom.

They are saved by Signor Sanuto, a kindly Murano banker and a fellow passenger. He pays the pirates off and allows Jane and Vincent to stay in his beautiful palazzo. They were supposed be hosted by Lord Byron, an old school chum of Vincent’s, but he’s skipped town to avoid an irate ex-lover. Sanuto lends them clothing and secures them a line of credit until they can access their funds in England.

This frees Jane and Vincent to begin their mission, but they immediately run into obstacles. After Napoleon’s occupation Murano’s glassmakers are wary and refuse to work with the glamourists, sure their real goal is stealing trade secrets. Again it is Sanuto who steps in, using his clout to persuade one glassmaker to reconsider, but even with Sanuto’s help the terms are limited and expensive.

Still Jane and Vincent make progress toward their goal, and are about to celebrate their success when Sanuto disappears and everything falls apart. Their line of credit dries up, authorities kick them out of Sanuto’s palazzo, someone empties their English bank accounts, and they now owe money all over town. Lord Byron, who had briefly turned up, is again missing leaving Jane and Vincent penniless, homeless criminals, unable to contact family and not allowed to leave until they pay their creditors. Added to that, the one glass ball they had successfully inscribed with glamour is gone. Jane and Vincent are barely managing to eat, but Vincent concocts a reckless and dangerous plan to turn their fortunes around.

Highly suspenseful and almost too exciting, Valour and Vanity held me enthralled, and I loved seeing how Jane and Vincent cope with their difficulties. The only thing lessening my pleasure was foreknowledge of who betrayed them, which was revealed in the original marketing synopsis. I would rather have been surprised.

But, the book’s pleasures are many. Though partially in ruins post-Napoleon, the beauty of Murano’s island city shines through the pages and vivid scenes of its daily life satisfied my history lust. Most charming is the wonderful cast of characters who help with Vincent’s plan. These include a pious but determined group of nuns, a resourceful puppeteer, and the colorful Lord Byron himself, whose wild daring and loyalty to his friends knows no bounds.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Valour and Vanity: The Glamourist Histories, Book 4, by May Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2014)
Hardcover (416) pages
ISBN: 978-0765334169

Read Our Previous Reviews of The Galmourist Histories 

Cover image courtesy of Tor Books © 2014; text Jennifer Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley – A Review

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley (2013)From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Traditional Regency Romance has had its ebb and flow in popularity over the years. This subgenre of romance novels was made famous by English writer Georgette Heyer with its roots deeply entwined in Jane Austen’s novels of manners and courtship. By 2005, trends were shifting and readers preferred the freedom of the Regency Historical which allowed more intimate relationships and daring plots. In the past few years I have seen resurgence in popularity of the Traditional Regency Romance and credit authors Candice Hern, Carla Kelly, Julie Klassen, Julianne Donaldson and Sarah M. Eden for its renaissance. Now, I am very pleased to add one more author to my list of favorites, Christina Dudley.

I first became aware of Dudley’s talent when I read The Beresfords, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. She had successfully transformed Austen’s dark horse into an interesting and thoughtful contemporary novel receiving such accolades as “brilliant,” “masterful,” and “endearing” from reviewers. Truly amazing. Imagine my delight when I discovered that her next novel, The Naturalist, would be a Traditional Regency, and, it was the first book in a series!

While many modern Regencies revolve around the Ton (London Society) and aristocrats, The Naturalist is set in the wilds of Somerset among the landed gentry, harkening to Austen’s fondness for three or four families in a country village. Joseph Tierney, a budding naturalist, has arrived at Pattergees the estate of Lord Marton on assignment with the Royal Society to conduct an exhaustive natural study of the realm. Lady Marlton and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Birdlow, are more interested in studying HIM and soon realize that the neighboring families will think Mr. Tierney is “the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.” They immediately set about discrediting the competition including neighbors Elfrida and Alice Hapgood. Mr. Tierney, who has no designs upon marrying anyone, only wishes to find an assistant to help him discover and collect the local flora and fauna.

Alice Hapgood, also a budding naturalist, is hiding her passion for the out-of-doors from her disapproving father by disguise and stealth. When shortly after his arrival Mr. Tierney encounters a local lad poaching trout on Lord Marlton’s property, he is none the wiser, thinking he/she would make the perfect assistant for his project. Alice immediately thinks he would make the perfect husband! Spinning the persona of Arthur Baddely she deftly shows Mr. Tierney all the treasures of woodland and meadow while learning all she can from him. Their friendship soon grows until a cousin of the Birdlows publically exposes her as an imposter, scandalizing the community and forcing Mr. Tierney’s hand. As a gentleman he is honor bound to save her reputation by marrying her even though it means putting aside his dream of become a naturalist. To support a wife he must return to his family in Buckinghamshire and become a clergyman, the profession and living that he previously refused. Ashamed and humiliated, Alice does not want to be forced into marrying anyone, especially the man she loves.

A literary feast for any Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fan, The Naturalist is a wonderful escape into the verdant countryside and the lives of two young lovers of nature who learn that truth and respect are the most important foundations of any relationship. The final outcome of their romance is never in question, but their winding path of discovery for science, and their hearts, is a memorable journey. Dudley’s plot was so reverent to the Traditional Regency genre filled with original, quirky characters, witty repartee, layered secrets, blundering misunderstandings, and laugh-out-loud humor. I just cringed as heroine Alice dug herself deeper and deeper into her deception of lies to impersonate Arthur. You just knew it was going to backfire on her at some point, and when it does, the reaction of the two main characters, their families and the community was not a surprise, but how Dudley worked both of their inner struggles and points of view around to the happy conclusion was very clever.

My only quibbles are totally selfish. I saw a resemblance of the Hapgood family, with their four daughters and no male heir, to the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice. Why no fifth sister? Maybe we will meet a pedantic Hapgood cousin in the future? I also craved more time with the hero and heroine as themselves, and also as Tierney and Baddely. The contrast of their personalities together in the ballroom or in a woodland forest was well crafted and worthy of further development.

If you read one Traditional Regency this year let it be The Naturalist – and save a place on your to-be-read list for the next in the series, A Very Plain Young Man: Book Two of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, releasing this spring.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Naturalist: Book One of The Hapgoods of Bromleigh, by Christina Dudley
BellaVita Press (2013)
Trade paperback (286) pages
ISBN: 978-0983072133

Additional Reviews: 

Cover image courtesy of BellaVita Press © 2013; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com

Without a Summer: Glamourist Histories #3, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Without a Summer Mary Robinette Kowal 2013 x 200From the desk of Jennifer Haggerty:

When the second book in a series is even better than the first, the third book will be highly anticipated and eagerly sought. If that is not a truth universally acknowledged it is at least true for me, which is why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Mary Robinette Kowal’s Without a Summer, the third in her Glamourist History novels set in an alternate Regency World imbued with the loveliest of magics.

The first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, contains many elements of a Jane Austen novel–charming cads, lovesick girls, silly mothers, stern suitors, devoted sisters–but also incorporates glamour, a magic art of illusion used to enhance and beautify works of art. Shades of Milk and Honey ends in marriage like Austen’s novels, but Glamour in a Glass, the second book, takes things a bit further because the story of Jane and Vincent continues as they honeymoon in Belgium and this time history gets skillfully worked into the plot. Napoleon is on the march after escaping from Elba, leading Jane and Vincent to devise practical uses for glamour so the British military can defeat his forces. The inclusion of history, the experimental uses of glamour, and the pleasure of watching Jane and Vincent grow as artisans, as individuals, and as a married couple, make Glamour in a Glass a stronger book than its predecessor. I hopefully expected Without a Summer would continue those developments.

Without a Summer opens shortly after Glamour in a Glass ends. Jane and Vincent are recuperating at her family’s home when they receive a commission to create a glamural, or mural that blends art and magic, for an Irish aristocrat living in London. Jane’s beautiful younger sister Melody features prominently in the first book and she returns here, but instead of her usual glow she looks distressingly listless. The reason soon becomes clear–though Melody has more than her share of charm and is of an age to attract suitors, their local society is devoid of any appealing or eligible bachelors. The solution is to take Melody with them to London where she can enjoy the Season while Jane and Vincent work their art.

But London is in crisis. Though the wars with Napoleon are over, roiling protests and unsettled weather greet Jane, Vincent, and Melody as they arrive in the city. Luddites who have lost weaving jobs to power looms are demonstrating in the streets (actual history) and so are the impoverished young boys who work as cold mongers (alternate history). These cold mongers practice a rudimentary magic that chills food, but it’s 1816–the year without a summer–so their services are not needed and cold mongers are accused of ruining crops by causing late season snowfalls, inciting angry mobs to violence against them.

Jane knows mob thinking is dangerous superstition and prejudice and is determined to protect the young cold mongers in whatever way she can, but trying circumstances in her personal life make it difficult for Jane to school her own emotions. First, her sister Melody appears to be falling for an unsuitable man–the Irish Catholic son of their employer. Jane believes his religion is a problem, she doubts his intentions could be honorable, and she suspects he’s helping to instigate those deadly riots. With mixed feelings she begins scheming to keep them apart.

A second matter presents an even bigger challenge to Jane’s happiness. Vincent’s father Lord Verbury casually, cruelly, and intentionally reveals a liaison in Vincent’s youth that takes away Jane’s ease in her marriage. While Jane “had no wish to allow Lord Verbury to control her actions” (140) and she doesn’t blame Vincent for something that happened so long ago, Vincent’s father has effectively poisoned her feelings and Jane is unsure how to recover.

With lovely writing, replete characterization, and inspired world building, Without a Summer is every bit as wonderful as I hoped. Historical facts and personalities (including the Prince Regent who behaves quite badly) are once again woven into the alternate history of the plot–1816 really was “the year without summer,” caused by ash from an Indonesian volcano (though no one in England knew that at the time) and the Luddite riots were all too real. In their quest to protect the cold mongers Jane and Vincent continue to innovate with glamour, and it’s both moving and fulfilling to see the afterword of an Austen-like courtship as the couple faces difficulties and matures. While Lord Verbury is a one dimensional villain, that deficiency is more than made up for by the blossoming of Jane’s sister Melody, who grows far beyond the beautiful but frivolous young girl she was in the first book.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Without a Summer: Glamourist Histories #3, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2014)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0765334176

Additional Reviews:

Read our previous reviews in the series:

Cover image courtesy of Tor Books © 2013; text Jenny Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com