A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance…but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Anyone who – like me – appreciates Historical Romance that has a firm emphasis on the “Historical” will find a great many things to enjoy in this new audiobook version of Stella Riley’s A Splendid Defiance.  Set during the turbulent years of the English Civil War, the novel tells the true story of the small garrison of around three hundred and fifty men who held the strategically important Royalist stronghold of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire in the face of overwhelming odds, and many of the characters who grace its pages are people who actually existed.

Skilfully interwoven with the story of the castle and its defenders is the glorious (but fictional) slow-burn romance between Justin Ambrose, a cynical, acerbic captain in the King’s army and Abigail Radford, whose brother, Jonas, is a leader of the local community and a die-hard Puritan.  The romance starts very slowly – so anyone who expects the first kiss between the hero and heroine to happen in chapter three is going to be disappointed – but builds steadily throughout and is all the more believable as a result.  Justin and Abigail begin the story as strangers and the author allows their relationship to develop in a manner that feels perfectly realistic, considering he’s a serving army officer with duties to perform and Abby lives a very restrictive life controlled by her harsh zealot of a brother.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers #4) by Stella Riley

Lords of Misrule March 2016

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes a personal crusade.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.
Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

Rating:A

Stella Riley’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series of books set during the English Civil Wars is an absolute treat for those who enjoy well-researched historical fiction AND historical romance. Each book in the series is grounded strongly in historical fact and the stories Ms Riley layers atop her chosen background are cleverly constructed and closely interlinked with the events of the day, often so skilfully that it’s difficult to see the join. As well as immersing the reader into the world of seventeenth century England, she puts a strongly written and sensual romance at the centre of her books, creating attractive, believable protagonists who really seem to act and think like men and women of their times.

Each book can be read as a standalone, although there are a number of recurring characters throughout and given that the historical events are followed chronologically, I’d advise reading them in order. The first book, The Black Madonna opens in 1639, which is when we first meet Eden Maxwell as a hopeful, optimistic young man of twenty or twenty-one. He is desperately in love with the daughter of a neighbouring family, Celia Langley, and determined to marry her in spite of the warnings of friends and family who say she is wrong for him. Sadly for Eden, they are right. Celia is beautiful, vain and selfish and only agreed to marry him because he was so thoroughly besotted with her that she believed he’d be easy to manage and because she liked being so adored.

Eden’s troubles did not end there, however, for when civil war broke out, the Maxwells and the Langleys were on different sides of the conflict and even though Celia was now his wife, her sympathies were with the Royalists. She bore Eden a son, Jude, and some years later, a daughter Eden knows is not his. Celia eventually ran off with a Royalist officer, leaving her children at Eden’s family home of Thorne Ash, while disillusioned and embittered, Eden concentrated on his army career and rarely returns home.

Lords of Misrule opens in late 1653, around four years after the execution of King Charles I and more than a decade after the start of a series of bloody civil wars that divided England and its people. But regicide has not solved any of the problems that beset the country, and in fact things seem to be getting worse. While there were many factors that led to Charles’ trip to the executioner’s block – unpopular taxes, expensive wars and Charles’ insistence on his divine right to rule – England is still in political and social turmoil, so much so that many of Cromwell’s supporters have begun to ask themselves just what exactly they had been fighting for.

Lords of Misrule opens in late 1653, around four years after the execution of King Charles I and more than a decade after the start of a series of bloody civil wars that divided England and its people. But regicide has not solved any of the problems that beset the country, and in fact things seem to be getting worse. While there were many factors that led to Charles’ trip to the executioner’s block – unpopular taxes, expensive wars and Charles’ insistence on his divine right to rule – England is still in political and social turmoil, so much so that many of Cromwell’s supporters have begun to ask themselves just what exactly they had been fighting for.

Colonel Eden Maxwell is one of those people. A highly trained and skilled officer, he has risen through the ranks and is now a trusted member of Cromwell’s inner circle. He is currently working for the Secretary of State, John Thurloe, as an intelligencer and cryptographer, but as the days pass, finds being chained to his desk increasingly frustrating. His repeated requests for a leave of absence have been denied and he is stuck in London buried under the mounds of paper generated by reports of unrest, possible insurrection, royalist plots and a myriad of other dull, fruitless tasks – until he receives information of a more plausible plot against Cromwell’s life (there were several at this point in time). One of the suspected conspirators, Sir Aubrey Durand, leads Eden to the citylorinery run by his widowed sister, and in the course of his investigations into the plot, Eden uncovers far more than he’d initially been looking for.

Lydia Neville was contented in her marriage a man several decades older than herself. On his death, she inherited all his property, including the lorinery, which she continues to run successfully and in spite of the constantly expressed disapproval of his relatives, all of whom invade her home on an almost daily basis to try to persuade her to give it up. But Lydia is no shrinking miss and makes it clear each time that she will do no such thing – although her assurances fall upon deaf ears and do not dissuade them from their latest scheme to marry her off to her late husband’s smarmy cousin.

When Eden visits the lorinery, he is pleasantly surprised to find some of his former comrades working there, for the business employs invalid ex-soldiers who would not otherwise be able to find work, regardless of which side they fought on. He is quite impressed by Lydia – or perhaps “impressed” is the wrong word, although she certainly makes an impression upon him by virtue of her strength of character, quick mind and sharp tongue. But what Eden has learned from the men concerns him. Someone has been making threats against Lydia, and those threats have started to get serious. Although she has tried to dismiss them as the prejudice any woman in business might expect to encounter, deep down she knows this is not the case and that she needs help if she is to be able to get to the bottom of them before anyone is seriously hurt – or worse.

Anyone who has read any of Stella Riley’s other books won’t need me to tell them that her plot is impeccably constructed, her characterisation is superb, her research is detailed and extensive and that she writes the most exquisitely ‘romantic’ romances in which the sexual tension between the hero and heroine is built gradually and subtly. There is no repetitive mental lusting and no insta-lust, just a wonderfully developed relationship between two people who are obviously attracted to each other but who have to function in the real world around them and can’t just drop everything while they moon over the object of their affections.

Ms. Riley’s greatest strength – and she has many – is probably characterisation. She has the knack of creating the most gorgeous heroes, men who are physically attractive, of course, but who are also intelligent, honourable, kind and quick-witted with a dry sense of humour and possessed of the kind of competence and confidence which is extremely sexy. Eden is no exception, and readers who have been waiting for his story for the last couple of decades certainly won’t be disappointed now that he’s the centre of attention. His unhappy marriage and the strain it put on his relationship with his family – especially Jude, who is now a teenager – play an important part in the novel, and I loved watching the gradual reconciliation between father and son. It’s not easy for either of them and Ms. Riley wisely shows that there is still a way to go; but what we are shown is touching and very believable. Lydia is a great heroine, a woman in a man’s world who refuses to bow to outside pressure but who has sense enough to recognise that she needs help and isn’t too proud to accept it. There is one time when she makes an unwise decision – even though she’s been warned against it – that leads to near disaster, but otherwise, she’s strong, independent and very likeable, a good match for Eden, in every way.

There is a very strongly-drawn set of secondary characters in the book, some of whom, like Eden’s younger brother, Toby, and his house-guest, Sir Nicholas Austin, we have met before. Toby is a real scene-stealer – handsome, charming, roguish and forever having to step over the pile of women who fall at his feet – can we have a book about him next, pretty please? Fans of Gabriel Brandon from Garland of Straw will be very pleased to encounter him again as he travels to London to take up a seat in Parliament, and at the continuance of the strong friendship between him and Eden. One of those other many strengths of Ms Riley’s I mentioned is her ability to write thoroughly convincing male friendships; and that talent is showcased here in both Eden’s relationship with Gabriel and in his interactions with Toby, which are often funny and, for want of a better word, very brotherly.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what readers can expect to find in Lords of Misrule. There’s a well-conceived and well-executed mystery, a tender, sensual romance, and a fascinating historical background which never feels like too much information or as though one is being given an history lesson. If you’re tempted to start here, I think you could probably do so with minimal effort, but ultimately, all the books in the series are such damn good reads that I’d suggest starting with The Black Madonna. Before you’re half-way through, you’ll want to turn off your phone, ignore your kids/work/friends, lock yourself away and not come out until you’ve finished them all.

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The Accidental Bride by Jane Feather (audiobook) – Narrated by Jenny Sterlin

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For four years, Cato, the Marquis of Granville, had been just another man — the uninteresting, somewhat intimidating husband of Phoebe’s older sister. But then her sister died, and Phoebe seemed a reasonable substitute. Her forced engagement to him should have been quite a cold-blooded arrangement… except that one day Phoebe looked at Granville — really looked at him — and saw what she’d never seen before: he was darkly, breathtakingly attractive.

Once she’d noticed, she couldn’t seem to stop noticing, and suddenly Phoebe was disastrously in love. It would be nothing short of torture to be married to Granville, knowing he didn’t love her and never would. After all, Phoebe was not the kind of woman men fell in love with — Phoebe with her untidy hair, her rumpled clothes, and her fingers forever ink-stained from the poetry she wrote.

When running away does not solve her problems, Phoebe decides to try something a little different — something that involves a little change in wardrobe, a daring new attitude, and a bit of brazen seduction.

Granville is about to discover that his awkward Phoebe is woman enough even for him….

Rating: B for narration; B- for content

Originally published in 1999, The Accidental Bride is the middle book in a trilogy set during the English Civil War, which features three rather unconventional young women all finding their way to true love. Before I start this review, however, I have to say that there are a number of things about this particular book which might prove problematic for some listeners, so I’m going to get them out of the way.

1. The hero is almost twice the heroine’s age – she’s eighteen, he’s thirty-five.

2. The hero is a widower three times over, so the heroine is wife number four.

3. His most recent wife was the heroine’s older sister. (I looked this one up, because at one time a marriage between a man and his dead wife’s sister was illegal in England, but it doesn’t seem to have been so in 1645).

4. The hero’s fifteen year old daughter (by wife number two) is the heroine’s best friend.

None of those things bother me particularly, and I can say that in spite of a few reservations about plot and characterisation, I enjoyed the audiobook overall.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A 2014 Retrospective

I was going to write a “favourite books of 2014” or “best books of 2014” post or something of that nature, but then realised that I’ve written and contributed to a number of those, so I’m doing something different here.

cat_asleep_on_bookSo instead, I’m stealing an idea from the lovely Wendy the Super Librarian and have been looking through my Goodreads Stats to see how my ratings panned out across the year. Because I review a large number of new and current releases, the majority of the books I read in 2014 were published in 2014, but I managed to squeeze in a few others. And because Goodreads counts print/ebooks and audiobooks of the same title as two different books, while my total for the year was 231, it’s probably closer to 180 different books.

Looking through my stats (and if I’ve counted correctly!) the majority of my reading and listening fell within the 4/5 star bracket, which is pretty good going.

I gave 34 books and 19 audiobooks 5 stars (some will have been 4.5 stars rounded up) A/A-
I gave 63 books and 32 audiobooks 4 stars (some will have been 4.5 stars rounded down) B+/B
I gave 43 books and 15 audiobooks 3 stars (some will have been 3.5 stars rounded down) B-/C+/C
I gave 14 books and 2 audiobooks 2 stars C-/D+/D
I gave 3 books and two audiobooks 1 star (one of the books was a DNF, as was one of the audiobooks, because the narration was utterly dire.)

Putting together the list of books to which I gave a 5 star/A rating, it’s interesting to see that I’ve rated as many audio books at that level as I have printed books. Obviously, when rating an audiobook, I take the narration into account too – and if you look closely, you’ll see there are three names that crop up repeatedly as the narrators on those audiobooks; Nicholas Boulton, Rosalyn Landor and Kate Reading, who are, quite simply, three of the best narrators around when it comes to historical romance. In many cases, these are audiobooks where I may have rated the story at a A- or B+, but the narration is so good that the overall rating is bumped up. Of course, even the best narrator can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so even in those audios where the story isn’t quite at the five star level, it’s not going to be a dud!

The reviews are linked to the titles below the images.

5 star books:

 


Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne
Douglas: Lord of Heartache by Grace Burrowes
The Captive and The Traitor by Grace Burrowes
Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler
Vixen in Velvet by Loretta Chase
At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran
Mr (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart
Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
The King’s Falcon by Stella Riley
It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain
Shadow Lover by Anne Stuart
The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

5 star Audiobooks:


The Escape by Mary Balogh & Rosalyn Landor
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne & Kirsten Potter
The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne & Kirsten Potter
Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Lord of Scoundrels Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare & Carolyn Morris
Arabella by Georgette Heyer & Phyllida Nash
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer & Georgina Sutton
The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer & Daniel Philpott
Venetia by Georgette Heyer & Phillida Nash
The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton
Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton
The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan & Rosalyn Landor
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan & Rosalyn Landor
It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain & Michelle Ford
Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James & Mary Jane Wells
His at Night by Sherry Thomas & Kate Reading<
The Mask of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig & Kate Reading

Honourable Mentions:

– go to books and audios I’ve rated at 4.5 stars/A-/B+, but which I’ve rounded up to five because while there might have been something that niggled at me, it was a damn good book and felt closer to 5 stars than 4. Or just a book that, despite a few flaws, I really enjoyed.


The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen
The Laird by Grace Burrowes
The MacGregor’s Lady by Grace Burrowes & Roger Hampton
Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Firelight by Kristen Callihan & Moira Quirk
When the Duke Was Wicked by Lorraine Heath
The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber
Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
Strangers at the Altar by Marguerite Kaye
Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden
Till We Next Meet by Karen Ranney
Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn
The Devil’s Waltz by Anne Stuart
The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

I think it’s fair to say I had a pretty good year, reading-wise, with a high proportion of books I’d describe as good or better, and not too many “meh” or dire ones. (Although where would we be without the odd turkey to snark about?)

The first crop of 2015 releases looks promising; I’m taking part in a few challenges next year as well, which I’ll post about soon so I can keep track and I’m looking forward to my next year of reading, listening and reviewing.

How did you do last year?

Dangerous Works by Caroline Warfield

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A little Greek is one thing; the art of love is another. Only one man has ever tried to teach Lady Georgiana Hayden both. She learned very young to keep her heart safe. She learned to keep loneliness at bay through work. If it takes a scandalous affair to teach her what she needs to complete her work, she will risk it. If the man in question chooses not to teach her, she will use any means at her disposal to change his mind. She is determined to give voice to the ancient women whose poetry has long been neglected.

Some scars cut deeper than others. Major Andrew Holden returns to Cambridge a battle-scarred hero. He dared to love Georgiana once and suffered swift retribution from her powerful family. The encounter cost him eleven years of his life. Determined to avoid her, he seeks work to heal his soul and make his scholarly father proud. The work she offers risks his career, his peace of mind, and (worst of all) his heart. Can he protect himself from a woman who almost destroyed him? Does he want to?

Even poetry is dangerous when you partner with the love of your life. In Regency, Cambridge, it can lead a lady quickly past improper to positively scandalous.

Rating: C-

In her youth, Lady Georgiana Hayden, eldest daughter of the Duke of Sudbury, displayed a disturbing – and unladylike – penchant for scholarship, wishing to learn Latin and Greek in order to be able to further her interest in ancient poetry. The only person ever to have taken her seriously is Andrew Mallet, the son of the local schoolmaster. Four years her junior, and far below her station, Andrew was an intelligent and educated young man who helped Georgiana with her rudimentary translations from ancient Greek, and fostered her interests. Along the way, the young couple formed an attachment for each other, but then Andrew joined the army – completely out of the blue – and departed immediately to join his regiment in India.

Georgina now lives alone (with a companion) in Cambridge, and has spent the last decade or so collecting and collating the poetry of obscure, female poets from Ancient Greece, and researching into their history and backgrounds. Aged thirty-five and a confirmed spinster, she has made this project her life’s work, and desperately wants to be able to translate the poetry and fragments she has unearthed, but is frustrated because her background knowledge is not extensive enough, and her grasp of the language is not sufficiently comprehensive.

Knowing that Andrew Mallet also resides in Cambridge, Georgiana’s thoughts keep turning in his direction. He could help with her work, but they have not seen each other since his precipitate departure all those years ago. Her attempts to engage him in social situations fail, but when he is incapacitated following an operation on his hip (which was badly injured at Waterloo), she sees her chance to make him indebted to her by providing various little “extras” to help his recovery and make his life easier.

When he’s well, she asks him to help her with her work, and grudgingly he agrees. What Georgiana doesn’t know, however, is that his disinclination to help her doesn’t come from dislike or any other ill-feeling; it’s because he’s still in love with her and knows it will test his fortitude to be constantly in her presence.

Andrew and Georgiana rekindle their romance through their “work” – and honestly, I really did get tired of the frequency with which that word appeared. But this is in fact one of the problems I have with the story; it comes across as being all about the “work”, with the romance relegated to second place.

The author has addressed some interesting issues, and has some good points to make, but what I read were the bare bones of a story which needed to be fully fleshed out. While there was enough to keep me interested, it was quite dry overall, and the romance was rather lifeless. The protagonists were separated years previously through the machinations of Georgiana’s family, yet this is something she only comes to suspect once Andrew comes back into her life. They are obviously still harbouring feelings for each other, but while the scenes in which they collaborate on exploring the meanings of the poems are well done, with Andrew gently leading Georgiana to broaden her thinking in order to gain a better understanding, the romance feels underdeveloped. The reader doesn’t really get to know either character outside of “the work”, and by extension, the characters don’t really have a “getting to know you” phase, either. It’s true they knew each other years ago, but there’s no sense of their getting to know the people they are now, outside of their intellectual collaboration.

Andrew is a one-dimensional character at best. The author attempts to make him more interesting by making him a scarred war-hero, but otherwise, he’s fairly bland. Georgiana is more rounded out, and the harshness of her upbringing can certainly be said to be responsible for the way she reacts in certain circumstances. Any attempt to (as she sees it) interfere with her life or take away her choices (such as, for example, when Andrew, unable to see her at her family home, decides to go ahead with publication of the book they have been working on), causes her to blow up first and ask questions after, but I couldn’t help but think that at thirty-five she should have perhaps developed the maturity to enable her to take a step back and realise that perhaps what Andrew was doing meant he had her best interests at heart – not that he was trying to run her life.

She makes this assumption on several occasions, and each time, it feels like an obvious device, being used to inject tension into a story which was badly in need of some. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. The best part of the romance comes towards the end when Georgiana sees the error of her ways and realises that a relationship has to be a two-way street, and that she has to allow Andrew to give – of himself as well as materially.

I noticed a few errors in the copy I had – for example, Andrew’s last name is Mallet, yet at one point, he’s called Holden. Originally, the age gap between him and Georgiana is given as two years, and later, it’s become four. I was also confused by the timeline – if Georgiana is thirty-five and Andrew thirty-one, he was away for eleven years, meaning he was twenty when he left. Yet we’re told he was fifteen when he first began to help Georgina with her ancient Greek. Given what we know about her family, I find it difficult to believe they’d have been able to keep their relationship secret for five years. There were also some issues with the formatting in the copy I had; ordinary paragraph spacing was used throughout, and there were no indications of scene or POV changes, which was confusing.

I believe this is a début novel and it’s not at all bad – but Ms Warfield needs to work on her characterisation and concentrate more on the development of the romance in future stories.

Fair Shine the Day by Sylvia Thorpe

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Wayward, rebellious, beautiful – loving…

Charity had always been so. And there was no one she loved more than her friend and neighbor, young Darrell Conyngton, heir to the vast Conyngton estate. They had grown up together. Darrell had often told her she was as dear to him as a sister. Charity, not aware of the secret hidden in her heart, convinced herself she loved him only as a brother.

Then Charity’s villainous cousin Jonas, whose jealousy of Darrell began to consume him, swore vengeance on them both.

Later when civil war came to England and Darrell left for battle, only Charity was left to care for his family. Now she was all that stood between Jonas’ madness and the man whose love she longed for…

Rating: B

A quick, but entertaining read, Fair Shine the Day is the first book in a series of four which centre around the Conyngton family at the time of the English Civil War and Restoration.

According to the paperback copy I have, the book was originally published in 1964 (it’s almost as old as I am!), so of course it’s squeaky clean (the hero and heroine don’t even get to smooch) and is about a hundred pages shorter than it would perhaps have been had it been written today. That’s not altogether a bad thing, as there is nothing here that is superfluous to the story, although there were a few times I felt that things moved rather TOO quickly and where I felt that perhaps the emotional impact of events could have been explored further.

The story opens in 1641 and England is on the cusp of a tumultuous upheaval. But far away from London, king and Parliament, life in the village of Conyngton St. John in Devon carries on almost unaware of the storm that is about to break and oblivious to the fact that things are about to change forever.

Thirteen year-old Charity Shenfield is spirited, generous of heart and rather wayward, an orphan who lives in the household of her uncle and aunt at the Moat House, near the village. Charity is the poor relation in a household where she is tolerated for the sake of duty and is treated more like a servant than a family member. Fortunately for her, however, Lady Conyngton is very fond of her, and Charity has found affection at the manor house where she is frequently invited and where she has formed a strong friendship with the Conyngton’s only son, Darrell, whom she looks upon as an older brother.

The novel is split into two parts and the first sees Charity growing from a girl into a young woman of sixteen and dealing with far more hardship and tragedy that any young person her age should have to. For in 1642, the country is plunged into Civil War and Darrell and his father leave their beloved home to fight for king and country.

Darrell leaves behind his young, pregnant wife, Alison, entrusting her to Charity’s care, knowing that she has the strength of character his wife lacks. As well as attempting to run a large household and coping with Alison’s frequent hysterics, Charity also has to contend with the fact that her cousin Jonas, who has long hated Darrell, has turned his back on his family’s natural allegiance to the crown and thrown in his lot with the Puritans. Jonas is cruel and vindictive, despises Charity and does whatever he can to make life difficult for her. His hatred of Darrell and the Conyngtons is implacable and when he is afforded the opportunity to do them immeasurable harm, he takes it.

The second half of the book begins four years later, when Charity is twenty, the King has finally fallen into Parliament’s hands, and hostilities have ceased. This is where the emotional weight of the book lies, as Darrell (or Sir Darrell, now, as his father died in battle) who has not been home in all that time, finally returns a changed man, bowed down by grief and a wealth of sorrow and helplessness. Charity has looked forward to seeing her oldest friend again, to having someone to share her huge burdens, but Darrell is not the same man she knew. Her disappointment at the depths of his despair is palpable, but she can’t let him give up – she tries hard to bring him back to a sense of responsibility for his land and the people living there, all of whom have made huge sacrifices.

I really enjoyed the story and will definitely be reading the next in the series, as, while Fair Shine the Day can stand alone, Darrell and Charity’s story is not finished and continues into the next book, Spring Will Come Again.

Ms Thorpe imbues her story with a real sense of period, the dialogue has an authentic feel to it and her historical research is clearly excellent. There is a certain degree of “telling” rather than “showing”, when she elaborates on the progress of the war, for example, but she is succinct, to the point and very informative without turning the story into an impromptu history lesson.

Charity is the most well-drawn character in the book, but there is a very well-developed cast of secondary characters, too, such as her cousins Sarah and the nasty Jonas. Like many of the older romances I’ve read, however, the hero is almost a secondary character and we don’t get to know him nearly as well as the heroine. Of course, Darrell is away for most of part one of the story, and off screen for large chunks of part two, but the lack of exploration of his character and the fact that the reader doesn’t get to see anything from his point-of-view are two things that are markedly different from the way so many books are structured now. Most of today’s historical romances are hero-centric (or at least equally weighted between hero and heroine) whereas I get the impression that older books tended to focus more on the heroine, which does make the heroes seem somewhat two-dimensional.

But as I’ve said, the story will continue in the next book, so it may be that Darrell will come more to the fore, now he has returned home and determined to fight for what’s his.

All in all, this was a good introduction to an author I hadn’t come across before, and was definitely enjoyable enough to make me want to read more of her books. They aren’t available electronically, but fortunately – and unlike so many other older titles I’d like to read – second-hand copies are fairly readily available in the UK, so I won’t have to break the bank in order to obtain them.

THE KING’S FALCON

Being a massive fan of Stella Riley’s work, I’m delighted to see that, having spent the last couple of years revising her previously published books, she’s now at work on an new novel – the third book in her series set in and around the English Civil War, which will be called The King’s Falcon.

No ETA as yet, but she’s put the first two chapters up at her website 🙂

THE KING'S FALCON.