Isabel: A Regency Romance (Families of Dorset Book 2), by Martha Keyes — A Review    

From the desk of Katie Patchell:

First love or second love? Sometimes we (and our heroes and heroines) end up with our first loves–these are often the “salad days” stories of childhood and college sweethearts. But sometimes the field is won not by the person we or our heroes/heroines love first, but the person loved last. In Isabel, Martha Keyes’ second novel in her ‘Families of Dorset’ series, readers encounter a thoughtful, romantic take on the question of first love vs. second love. 

A Meeting by Mischance

Isabel Cosgrove has been told (practically since birth) that beauty is what matters to the world–particularly her sister, Cecilia’s, kind of beauty. As the plain, smart daughter of the family, Isabel has learned to value herself and others by different standards than society’s often-shallow scale. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to acquire a rich, handsome husband; fortunately, Isabel doesn’t care. Yet she can’t help feeling wistful when she sees the gorgeous, capricious Julia Darling on the arm of Isabel’s childhood hero: Charles Galbraith, who long years ago saved Isabel from the bullying of her sister, Cecilia. Thinking she will only see him at a distance, Isabel is stunned to meet Charles in her home late one night. It seems that her father has offered her hand in marriage to redeem a debt, and Charles–given the option between flashy Cecilia to plain Isabella–picks Izzy.

“It is true that I hold Isabel in great esteem,” he said. And it was true. “She is unlike anyone I know–selfless, caring, loyal.”

“Well,” said Julia in a clipped voice, “she sounds a terrible bore, just as I suspected.”

Charles’s half-smile appeared as he stared at the ground they were treading. “Quite the contrary. She has an unexpectedly keen sense of humor.” (Chapter 19)

An Addicting Partnership

Angry at Julia Darling’s recent change in affection to a wealthier man, Charles chooses to become betrothed to a woman with features and a character the exact opposite: Isabella. When his anger wears off and his sense of humor returns, he’s pleasantly surprised that Izzy doesn’t expect him to uphold his honor and marry her. In fact, she would rather laugh off the whole thing. On discovering Charles’ love for Julia, Izzy offers an alternative to canceling their betrothal: to pretend to be married to appease her father and to make Julia jealous. While on this mission, Charles and Isabella encounter more dangers than expected. The rescue of a young pregnant woman from her abusive mother becomes a quest to protect her from her vengeful seducer…who happens to be the same wealthy man pursuing Julia Darling. The only thing Isabella and Charles know for certain as each day brings new discoveries is that their partnership has become a powerful, magnetic bond. But is it strong enough to risk their futures for?

“What do you want, Isabel?” he said in a gentle voice, his eyes searching hers. “You. Forget everyone else. What is it that your heart wants?” He let out a shaky laugh. “Have you even considered that through all of this mess?” (Chapter 29)

Twists and Turns 

Martha Keyes has done it again. Isabel was a novel filled with stunning surprises. I previously reviewed Wyndcross for Austenprose, which is Keyes’ first title in the ‘Families of Dorset’ series. One similarity between these two 5-star books is that the plot is delightfully difficult to predict. Yet I appreciate that, despite the twists and turns, the characters never lose their sense of normalcy. Keyes’ skill at writing electric conversations and beautiful descriptions made everything–from the orange glow of fire against the sky to the characters’ unique turns of phrase–effortlessly easy to imagine. The world-building is deftly done, with the smallest detail catching the light at the very best moment (such as Mrs. Cosgrove’s militant approach to an invader in her house in one of my favorite scenes). 

“Oh, what are novels but suggestions for how to live our lives in a more thrilling way?” (Chapter 7)

Familiar Yet Unique 

Despite the established trope of “fake betrothal turned real,” Isabel is a story with so many new and exciting things to offer. It’s complete with unpredictable suspense, delicious slow-burn romance, sweet friendships, moments of laughter, words of wisdom, and a realistic villainess/villain duo. And the leads! Admittedly, I did fall a bit in love with Charles…but I choose to believe it was because he was an endearing mix of imperfect and perfect, as all humans are. Isabel as well was admirably unique in her strengths and weaknesses, which the author shows honestly and compassionately. Finding out how Izzy and Charles handled difficult (even dangerous!) situations was just as interesting as their romantic journey.

In Conclusion 

Charles, Isabel, Hetty, Mr. Safford, and Mary – these are all beloved characters for me now. It’s thanks to Martha Keyes that I could spend a few hours in their delightful company. Within this novel dwells an ensemble of characters you’ll want to get to know. Isabel was a flawless, lovely tale, one that I cannot wait to experience again very soon.

5 out of 5 Stars 




  • May 04—Cecilia: A Regency Romance (Families of Dorset Book 3)
  • July 06—Hazelhurst: A Regency Romance (Families of Dorset Book 4) 


  • Isabel: A Regency Romance (Families of Dorset Book 2), by Martha Keyes
  • Paradigm Press (August 8, 2019)
  • Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (262) pages
  • ISBN: 978-1082250675
  • Genre: Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Inspirational Fiction


We purchased our review copy for our own enjoyment. Austenprose Is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Paradigm Press © 2019; text Katie Patchell © 2022,

Hello Dear Readers,

Have you read any of the novels in the Families of Dorset series, or by Martha Keyes?

If you enjoy clean historical romance with witty dialogue, engaging plots, and endearing characters, Austenprose highly recommends them. 

Drop us a line below and share your thoughts on this review and what you are currently reading! We would love to hear from you!

Laurel Ann Nattress, editor

5 thoughts on “Isabel: A Regency Romance (Families of Dorset Book 2), by Martha Keyes — A Review    

Add yours

  1. I like the fact that the heroine is the less attractive sister but am confused how the premise would work; not sure how you could you pretend to be married in those times, without it leading to a ruined reputation. I suppose I will have to read the book to find out how it works :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Since this is book 2 in a series, I checked Amazon to see if anyone mentioned the need to read these in order. That wasn’t mentioned in any of the wildly different reviews I read. Some didn’t even sound like the same book. The blurb is nothing like the review you wrote. That’s so frustrating. I’ll often put a book in a wish list and never actually read it because I check a few reviews before I decide to spend the time reading.

    Your review makes this very compelling. Martha Keyes has been on my radar but I haven’t read her yet. She has written a story for a Timeless Regency Collection, which I’ve always been glad I spent the time reading. Isobel sounds like a heroine I can always get behind. The plain, quiet, more intelligent one. Although I don’t deliberately seek them, good writing and realistic characters and situations are more important to me than being squeaky clean.

    Liked by 1 person

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