From the desk of Katie Patchell:
Espionage. Matchmaking Mamas. Pretend Romances. Ladybugs!
Who would have thought that these four things are closely related? Yet these tantalizing details (and much more!) can be found in April’s latest Regency novel involving spies and traitors to the English crown, conniving young heiresses, dashing rescues, and one very independent, insect-loving heroine. In Cindy Anstey’s debut, Love, Lies and Spies, readers are whisked away from the chill and rain-streaked windows of early spring to the shores of Devon, crowded streets of London, and glittering, secret-filled ballrooms of Regency England.
Love, Lies and Spies opens onto a scene of danger and a dramatic cliffhanger—a quite literal moment of cliff-hanging peril, underwent by the brave (and very embarrassed) heroine, Juliana Telford. Up until her buggy overturned and she found herself dangling far above the English Channel, Miss Telford had managed to avoid potential scandal. For eighteen years she had grown up with only her scientist father for company, running the estate and filling her spare hours with her favorite pursuit: studying the ladybug. But her growing dread that she’ll die before completing her plans is calmed at the hope-boosting sound of approaching footsteps.
A head appeared. A rather handsome head. He had dark, almost black, hair and clear blue eyes and, if one were to notice such things at a time like this, a friendly, lopsided smile.
“Need some assistance?” the head asked with a hint of sarcasm and the tone of a…
“Are you a gentleman?” Juliana inquired politely.
The head looked startled, frowned slightly, and then raised an eyebrow before answering. “Yes, indeed, I am—“
“Please, I do not wish to be rescued by a gentleman. Could you find me a farmer or a shopkeep—anyone not of the gentry—and then do me the great favor of forgetting you saw me?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I do not want to be rude, but this is a most embarrassing predicament—“
“I would probably use the word dangerous instead.”
“Yes, well, you would, being a man. But I, on the other hand, being a young woman doing her best not to call attention to herself and bring shame upon her family, would call it otherwise.” (3)
Spencer Northam, a spy for the War Office, is intrigued by the clever, hapless woman he saved from near-death…despite the fact that she may be the British traitor he’s spent months hunting for. But what was supposed to remain a chance meeting between strangers quickly becomes the beginning of a friendship and conspiracy. Never ones to use conventional means to achieve the desired outcome, Spencer and Juliana begin a pretend romance to bring his best friend and her beautiful, conniving houseguest together, and in the process, avoid unwanted matches themselves. As the stakes get higher and the line between true and false blurs, Spencer and Juliana’s race to publish a book and catch a traitor becomes complicated by a new problem: falling in love.
Love, Lies and Spies kept me up until 1 AM. I couldn’t put this book down (literally—I even took it with me on my trips to the kitchen for a rejuvenating, “must stay awake” snack). On the very first page, readers are introduced to a truly remarkable, eccentric (in the best way) heroine, one who retains her wit despite being about to fall to her death. When page three shows Juliana refusing a man’s help simply because he’s a gentleman, I knew I was hooked.
For starters, Spencer and Juliana are a delightful pair. Both are independent and neither wants to marry, so of course watching them move from reluctant rescuer and rescuee, to friends and co-conspirators, to even more reluctant lovers, made their romance just that much more satisfying. The villains were as nasty, conniving, and petty as often found in real life, but Spencer and Juliana’s cleverness, bravery, and self-reliance—and a large dose of common sense—made this a more realistic and mature book than many young adult novels on the shelves. I also loved Spencer and Juliana’s sidekicks—Lord Bobbington and Carrie—who reminded me very much of the type of loveable best friends found in Georgette Heyer’s novels.
Almost everyone in Love, Lies and Spies has their own hidden agenda and cover story. I got caught up in the swirl of the story as each character struggled to tangle and untangle the truth from the lie. This was especially true with Spencer and all those involved in the mystery of the traitor, and one of the best things about this novel is all of the revealed agendas and surprising revelations towards the end.
The top of my ARC copy is almost double in size due to all of the dog-eared pages marking the quotes that I’d love to include…if it wasn’t for the constraints of space and Very Big Spoilers. Love, Lies and Spies has it all: rollicking adventure, corky dialogue (my new favorite descriptive word, thanks to Cindy Anstey), thrilling peril and espionage, dastardly villains, memorable sidekicks, splendid romance, and oh yes, a perfectly paired hero and heroine. Enjoy spring of 2016’s latest Regency!
5 out of 5 Stars
Love, Lies and Spies, by Cindy Anstey
Swoon Reads (2016)
Paperback & eBook (368) pages
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.”
Cover image courtesy of Swoon Reads © 2016; text Katie Patchell © 2016, Austenprose.com