Review 1420: The Talisman Ring

Having greatly enjoyed a play based on The Talisman Ring, I thought it was about time I reread the original. So, I pulled out my old, tattered paperback copy (copyrighted 1964) and read it again.

Sylvester Lavenham is dying and wishes to assure that his granddaughter is taken care of. So, he proposes a marriage to his nephew, Sir Tristram Shield. The granddaughter, Eustacie de Vauban, is young, French, and volatile. She agrees to marry Sir Tristram, but having romantic tendencies, she is taken aback by his matter-of-face nature. Changing her mind, she decides to steal away at dead of night to London with the aim of becoming a governess.

Unfortunately, she is taken by smugglers who are trying to escape some excisemen. To her delight, she finds that the leader is her cousin Ludovic Lavenham, famously wanted for murdering a man who refused to return his talisman ring, which he pledged while gaming. During their escape, Ludovic is shot, and Eustacie takes him to a local inn for help.

Here’s the poster from the play.

Of course, Ludovic is not guilty of murder and several characters join forces to prove his innocence. But if you think Ludovic and Eustacie are the romantic lead characters of this novel, you don’t know Heyer. For at the inn, they encounter Sarah Thane, an older young woman with a quick sense of humor.

The Talisman Ring is a typical Heyer romantic comedy, with a complicated, ridiculous plot, one brave but foolhardy hero, a vivacious heroine, and a likable older couple to anchor the romance. It’s lots of fun, as Heyer’s novels usually are.

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Review 1341: The 1965 Club! Frederica

Cover for FredericaThe Marquis of Alverstoke is known for his elegance, athletic skill, and selfishness. He never does anything that causes the least inconvenience for himself. So, when his sister, Lady Buxted, tries to persuade him to give a coming out ball for her daughter Jane, he does not hesitate to refuse. Mrs. Dauntry, his heir’s mother, hears a rumor about the ball and asks Alverstoke to include her daughter Chloë.

Then Miss Merriville comes to call. Frederica Merriville is a distant connection of Alverstoke’s who has come to London hoping to introduce her beautiful sister, Charis, to society with the object of making her a comfortable marriage. Since she has no acquaintance in London, she hopes Alverstoke can help her.

Alverstoke has little interest in helping Frederica until he sees Charis. Then he decides to throw a ball for Jane and Chloë out of maliciousness toward his sister, making it a condition that Lady Buxted sponsor Frederica and Charis. He knows that she will be furious when she meets the beautiful Charis.

Soon, Alverstoke finds himself embroiled in the affairs of the active Merriville family, which includes two younger boys—Jessamy, a serious sixteen-year-old, and Freddy, a scamp at twelve. After a few weeks and several scrapes, Alverstoke realizes he hasn’t been bored in ages.

Frederica is one of the delightful novels by Georgette Heyer, a writer full of wit and a recognized expert in the period. As is frequently the case with Heyer, I found it funny and touching with a cast of amusing and likable characters.

This was a book I read for the 1965 Club. Here are some previous reviews that also qualify for the club:

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Day 1252: The Sapphire Widow

Cover for The Sapphire WidowI was tempted to read something by Dinah Jefferies after reading some positive reviews by bloggers and finding her settings in Southeast Asia intriguing. The Sapphire Widow is set in Ceylon in 1935.

Louisa is a wealthy woman, she believes happily married to Elliot. They have gone through some difficulties with his gambling and her inability to have a child, but all seems to be going well finally. They have recently purchased a failed publishing concern and plan to convert it into an emporium. Then Elliot dies in a car crash when he is supposed to be somewhere else.

Louisa begins to make unpleasant surprises about Elliot. He has debts she didn’t know about. Worse, he has a mistress who has borne his son. There is more to come.

This novel seemed all too predictable for me. It was clear to me from the beginning that Elliot would prove to be a bad guy, and his secrets are easy to guess. But there are more fundamental problems with this novel than a little predictability, which might be expected from the genre.

link to NetgalleyFor one thing, the characters aren’t very interesting, and Jefferies does nothing to make them so. Readers are supposed to automatically have sympathy for Louisa just because of her situation, not because they have learned to like her. Also, athough I have complained about historical novels that don’t have a sense of place or daily life, that’s not exactly the problem here. The setting is described evocatively, but daily life is presented in minute and boring detail. Not only is this one of those novels that describes almost everything Louisa is wearing, but it can take a whole paragraph just to get her into the bathtub. Dialogue is commonplace and without spark. I struggled to keep reading this novel and finally decided to stop even though I had finished two thirds of it.

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Day 1236: A Most Extraordinary Pursuit

Cover for A Most Extraordinary PursuitHaving read Juliana Gray’s second Emmaline Truelove novel, A Strange Scottish Shore, a few months ago, I decided to read the first. Juliana Gray, by the way, is a pen name for Beatriz Williams, known for her historical romances.

It is February 1906, and Emmaline is finishing up the details for the funeral of her employer, the Duke of Olympia, when the Duchess sends for her. It seems that Maximillian Haywood, the heir to the dukedom, has not been heard from in months. He was off working at the newly discovered archaeological site of the palace of Knossos, but he has not sent in his expected report or responded to any messages. The duchess asks Emmaline to go find him, accompanied by Lord Silverton, a renowned womanizer but apparently also some sort of government agent.

As Emmaline sets off on her journey aboard the duke’s steamship, she finds herself re-evaluating her first impression of Lord Silverton as a simpleton. She also can’t deny he has his charms. Unfortunately, nor can most of the women they meet.

This is a fun adventure story with a bit of a twist—time travel! You’ll like the practical, redoubtable heroine, Emmaline, and the charming Lord Silverton and will probably have a good time along with them on their journey.

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Day 1170: The Black Opal

Cover for The Black OpalWhen I was a teenager, I enjoyed Victoria Holt’s gothic historical romance novels. At some point, however, I felt that she was just churning books out, so I quit reading them. When I ran across The Black Opal in a used book sale, I decided to see what I think of her now.

Carmel was found as a baby under an azalea bush at Commonwood House, owned by the Marlines. She is believed to be a gypsy child. Although Mrs. Marline wanted to send her to a foundling home, Dr. Marline insisted on keeping her. So, she stayed in the nursery with the Marline children, although she was not treated like the others.

Mrs. Marline’s brother, Toby, captain of a sailing vessel, is one of the few people who are nice to Carmel. Another is Miss Carson, the governess. Things begin to improve for Carmel when she meets Lucian and the other children at the Grange, a neighboring estate.

But Mrs. Marline dies, and Carmel is thrilled to learn she is going on a voyage with Uncle Toby to Australia. On the voyage, she learns something about her parentage. When they arrive there, they get news that the Marline household is broken up. There is nowhere for Carmel to return to, so she stays with Uncle Toby’s wife.

Ten years later, Carmel returns to England. There she finds that more was involved in Mrs. Marline’s death than she knew. There was a tragedy, and Carmel believes an injustice was done. She decides to find out what really happened.

I remember Holt’s books as being fairly tightly plotted, but that was not the case with this novel. It is all over the place. Although the earlier scenes when Carmel is a child are necessary to the story, the scenes in Australia seem unnecessary, as if they are needed for padding. Characters are poorly developed, and some characters seem to fill no particular function.

Maybe some of Holt’s earlier novels are better. It’s hard for me to say at this distance of years. But there are better gothic romance novels around. This one seemed to be about 100 pages of novel expanded out to nearly 400.

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Day 838: The Forgotten Room

Cover for The Forgotten RoomThe Forgotten Room is a romance novel, which is not my genre, but it has enough of a focus on family secrets to keep my interest. The novel relates the stories of three romances, set at different times in the same mansion in New York. Written by three romance authors, I suspect that each one wrote one of the stories.

In 1892, Olive Van Allen is employed in the house as a servant, but she is there under false pretenses. The owner of the house, a nouveau-riche businessman named Pratt, hired her father as an architect for the house but then ruined him by refusing to pay him. Olive hopes to find paperwork to prove Pratt owed her father money, but she is distracted by falling madly in love with one of the sons of the house, the artistic Harry Pratt, and stealing meetings with him in his attic studio.

In 1920, Lucy Young takes a job as a secretary at the office of Cromwell, Polk, and Moore, a law office that handles the affairs of the Pratt family. She also takes a room in a boarding house that used to be the Pratt mansion. In addition to the desire for advancement, Lucy hopes to discover in the Pratt papers the connection between the Pratts and her mother and perhaps learn why her mother whispered “Harry” on her death bed. Lucy is also soon torn between two men, her boss, Philip Schuyler, and a handsome art dealer from Charleston, South Carolina, John Ravenel.

In 1944, Kate Schuyler is a doctor serving in a hospital that used to be the Pratt mansion. She gives one of her patients, Captain Cooper Ravenel, her own room in the top of the hospital because the hospital is overcrowded. But she is surprised when Captain Ravenel seems to recognize her and calls her Victorine.

The pleasures in this novel came from trying to figure out how these people are related and what happens to Kate’s mother and grandmother. The tension is supposed to come from whether Kate will be parted from Captain Ravenel, who is engaged to be married to someone else. There’s not much doubt about that, though, and it’s more interesting to find out what secrets kept the other lovers apart.

link to NetgalleyUnfortunately, Olive’s story is based on something a few words could have cleared up and the spitefulness of Prunella Pratt, Harry’s sister. Lucy’s is a little more understandable. What I found unlikely was Prunella’s conversion at the end of the novel to an old lady who regrets her actions and encourages Kate to follow her heart. Yeah.

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Day 772: The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Cover for The Haunting of Maddy ClareBest Book of the Week!
The Haunting of Maddy Clare has been on my reading list for a while. I’ve finally read it, and my first reaction is to immediately look for another book by Simone St. James. It’s not often I encounter a good ghost story. This one is really good.

It’s just after World War I, and Sarah Piper has been living a safe but impoverished and lonely life in London taking temporary secretarial jobs, when her agency sends her to Alastair Gellis. Gellis has an unusual request. He is a wealthy young man who can afford to turn his interests into employment, and his interest is in ghosts.

Alastair’s regular assistant is away, and he has been summoned to the site of a haunting. Sarah’s job is to assist him in recording evidence of a ghost.

Maddy and Alastair travel to Falmouth House and an interview with Mrs. Clare, an elderly woman. She explains that Maddy came to her doorstep years ago as a child. She had been beaten and was barely dressed and covered with mud. She could hardly speak. The Clares took her in and tried to find her people, with no success. She was obviously of the servant class, so they employed her as a maid. She was with them for several years, always frightened and never leaving the house. Then one day she hanged herself in the barn.

Maddy haunts the barn, and Mrs. Clare wants Alastair to get her to leave. She already tried an exorcism, with terrible results. But Mrs. Clare says that Maddy hated men, which is why she asked Alastair to bring a woman.

Sarah learns she is expected to go into the barn accompanied only by a wire recorder and a camera. She finds the experience terrifying. Although she does not see Maddy, Maddy plants images in her mind and asks Sarah to find someone. What she wants is not clear, but Sarah decides to continue.

Shortly thereafter, Alastair’s partner Matthew Ryder arrives. Although he is badly scarred from the war, Sarah is immediately attracted to him. Matthew, on the other hand, thinks Sarah is too fragile for the work and should be dismissed. In the meantime, Sarah has sensed a threatening presence in the village.

This novel drags you in from its first sentences. It also tells a deliciously creepy yet heart-rending story about why Maddy is haunting the barn. If you like ghost stories and enjoy some romance in  your historical fiction as well, you’ll like this novel.

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