Sunday, April 23, 2023

An Excellent Traditional Romance in the Style of Georgette Heyer

 The Country Gentleman by Dinah Dean received a rave review on a social media site which intrigued me enough that I bought it.

I’m a cranky critic and I’d give it six stars if book ratings went that high. It’s that good.

What did I love about it?

This is a traditional Regency romance set in a village among gentry and common folk. No titles, no fabulous balls, and no sex. A Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen sort of novel, with some wit, deft characterization, and a smooth, clear style.   

Excellent writing in addition to the style: no grammatical infelicities, no typos that I noticed (except one or two introduced by the scanning process (the book was originally published in 1986).

Ms. Dean’s grasp of the period goes well beyond the average. The characters are not 20th or 21st century people in costume; their attitudes and behavior feel right for the period. They eat what people actually did eat at the time (not a chocolate or a scone in sight, because bon-bons and scones as we know them did not yet exist).  She knows that while in the Regency “Corinthian” referred to a sporting gentleman, earlier it meant something quite different (“a very impudent, harden’d, brazen-fac’d fellow”, from a 1699 dictionary of cant terms).

Her descriptions of Woodham and the surrounding countryside are so rich and convincing that the background is almost another character.    

If you enjoy romance in the Georgette Heyer manner, you should not miss this book. I’m going to go on a Dinah Dean reading binge.

PS: I don't know if I ever posted a link to my (very occasional) newsletter. If you're interested in Georgian trivia, news about my upcoming releases, special offers, etc., here it is: https://18thcenturyromance.com/subscribe-to-my-newsletter-2/



Saturday, February 11, 2023

Review: The Nightingale Girls: 5 stars

 I bought the e-book of The Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas because it was on sale for $0.99. A novel about nursing students in 1930s England sounded potentially interesting and sometimes I discover my new favorite author when I read a bargain book. 

This was one of those times. I finished that one and bought the next several. I’ve now read nine of the eleven in the series and the only reason I’m taking a breather is that I have stuff to do—like working on my own tenth novel.

The books in Ms. Douglas’s Nightingale series, while sharing a common thread (the Nightingale teaching hospital and its students and employees) are all distinctly different and they’re all fascinating. They feel authentic, with good historical background and detail. The characters are well-developed and believable. There are plot twists. There are elements of horror: chiefly in the medical care as described. There’s romance. There’s good writing. I’m smitten with admiration.  

This is not Cherry Ames, Student Nurse but it’s not steamy, either. It is, however, a really good read. Five stars.     

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Sex and the Single Georgian

 2/4/2023

A Trusty Maid by George Hay, 1877


Today I'm a guest on Rachel Brimble's blog, https://rachelbrimble.blogspot.com/2023/02/its-guest-author-saturday-please.html, discussing a subject near and dear to my heart: sex and the single Georgian. The painting above, although painted in the late 19th century, is a fair depiction of that staple of fiction, the maid who connives to help her mistress meet her beau. 

And no, there's nothing in Sex and the Single Georgian to offend even your starchy great-grandmother.  




Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A fun, heartwarming read

 The first thing that caught my eye about The Real Me Because of You by M.J. Apple was the title. Very few novels have memorable names so I immediately gave Ms. Apple a point for creativity. Then I started to read and discovered a sympathetic first-person heroine and her believably unhelpful family. 

Toxic families in books are fun. Readers who never experienced toxic relatives can enjoy the horror and those who have suffered can enjoy the eventual triumph of the downtrodden. Then there’s the third group: those who give thanks that at least their family isn’t THAT bad. Already The Real Me Because of You was looking good.

Isa’s employment situation also resonates with anyone who works to pay the rent while longing for the career of her dreams. She teaches math at a private school when her real interest and talent lie in acting in and directing musicals. Then there’s her high school crush, Ryan, illegitimate son of a British diplomat, who’s turning into her grown-up crush, and the spoiled, rich, mean girl. Who could resist? 

It’s a fun, heartwarming read.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Introducing Victoria and Violet by Rachel Brimble

 Today I'm hosting Rachel Brimble, author of twenty-nine novels, most recently, Victoria and Violet

Introducing Victoria & Violet…

My latest book, Victoria & Violet, is the first novel in my brand-new Royal Maids series and I am super proud of it because it is the first book in which I have included real people and real events alongside the fictional. To do this has been an ambition of mine ever since my first book was published in 2007 so having achieved it feels like a very big deal.

Best of all, readers and reviewers are loving it, too!

Although Queen Victoria, Lord Melbourne, the Duchess of Kent, Lehzen and others feature in the book, the story really revolves around the lives and burgeoning romance of fictional housemaid Violet Parker and fictional assistant to Lord Melbourne, James Greene. These two characters were a joy to create, and their electricity was immediate which made a usually hard job all the easier!

Their paths have crossed a few times before the book opens, but the interest is firmly in James’s court (so to speak!), rather than Violet’s who has far more important and life-changing things on her mind than romance, such as escaping the clutches of her overbearing mother and forging a life of her own. Of course, it is not as though Violet would ever consider James a possible suitor considering his superior status…yet he really is most persistent!

All too soon, James and Violet are thrown together over and over again as their roles become ever more important to Victoria and Lord Melbourne. Amid a court that travels from the gardens of Windsor Castle to the corridors of Buckingham Palace to the wedding of the Queen herself, Victoria & Violet takes you on an adventure of drama, intrigue and romance that I hope has you quickly turning the pages!

Why not give it a try?

Happy reading,

Rachel x

It should be a dream come true to serve the Queen of England…

When Violet Parker is told she will be Queen Victoria’s personal housemaid, she cannot believe her good fortune. She finally has the chance to escape her overbearing mother, a servant to the Duchess of Kent.

Violet hopes to explore who she is and what the world has to offer without her mother’s schemes overshadowing her every thought and action.

Then she meets James Greene, assistant to the queen’s chief political adviser, Lord Melbourne. From entirely different backgrounds and social class, Violet and James should have neither need nor desire to speak to one another, yet through their service, their paths cross and their lives merge—as do their feelings.

Only Victoria’s court is not always the place for romance, but rather secrets, scandals, and conspiracies…

BUY: https://geni.us/u0GmS5

Rachel lives in a small town near Bath, England. She is the author of 29 novels including the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy, the Shop Girl series (Aria Fiction) and the Templeton Cove Stories (Harlequin). Her latest novel, Victoria & Violet is the first book in her new Royal Maids series with the Wild Rose Press and released 17th October 2022.

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association as well as the Historical Novel Society and has thousands of social media followers all over the world.

To sign up for her newsletter (a guaranteed giveaway every month!), click here: https://bit.ly/3zyH7dt

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Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Georgian Gingerbread

 

Winter is a good time to make gingerbread. The eighteenth century had two kinds: hard or “card” gingerbread, what we call a cookie (or biscuit in the U.K.), and a cake. I recently made the latter for our local Jane Austen group tea in celebration of Jane’s 247th birthday, using the recipe below. It makes our gingerbread look and taste anemic.

 Mrs. MacIver’s recipe from Cookery and Pastry, published 1783 and 1789, is strongly flavored, moist and dense. I made half a batch because two and a half pounds of flour would make far more than I needed for an 8 x 8 inch pan. I’ll give the amounts I used and cooking directions after the recipe. Be warned: you’ll need a scale.

 At the time this recipe was published, the letter “s” was often represented by something that looks like an “f”. No, I don’t know why. After a while, you get used to it.

 And cake pans were not a “thing” yet. Cakes were baked in a frame or hoop. I didn’t have a hoop so I sprayed my pan generously with cooking spray. When the cake was baked and cool, it turned out of the pan easily.

 To make fine Gingerbread . Take two pounds and a half of flour ; mix an ounce of beat ginger with it , and half a pound of brown fugar ; cut three quarters of a pound of orange peel and citron not too fmall ; mix all thefe together ; take a mutchkin and a half (1 ½  English pint) of good treacle , and melt it on the fire ; beat five eggs ; wet the flour with the treacle and eggs ; weigh half a pound of fresh butter , Scots weight ; melt it and pour it in amongst your other materials and cast them all well together ; butter a frame , and put it in the oven .

This gingerbread won't fire without frames . if it rifes in blifters when it is in the oven , run a fork through it . It makes very fine plain bread without the fruit , with a few caraway feeds . All these cakes must be fired in an oven neither too hot nor too cold . The way to know when the cakes are fired enough , is to run a clean knife down the middle of them ; if the knife comes out dry , they are enough ; if the leaft of it ┼┐ticks to the knife , put it into the oven again. Susanna MacIver, Cookery and Pastry, 1783, 1789

 Ingredients

 Flour: 20 ounces

Brown sugar: 4 oz.

Ginger: ½ oz.

Citron and (candied) orange peel but I used only citron): 6 oz. (the fruit is optional; you can use a few caraway seeds instead)

Treacle: 1 ½ cup (molasses; I used blackstrap molasses)

Eggs: about 3 ½ to 4  oz. of eggs*

Butter: 4 oz.

 *Eggs were smaller at the time. The recipe for pound cake called for a pound of eggs, which works out to eggs weighing about 1.33 ounces each. Ten percent of their weight is shell, so allow for that in the total.

 Directions:

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (176.667 Celsius).

 Combine the flour, sugar, ginger, and citron, or caraway seeds if you substitute those).

 Melt the butter and let it cool before adding it to the molasses and beaten eggs.

 Add the butter/molasses/eggs to the flour mixture and mix them thoroughly. If you have a kitchen maid with a strong arm, she can do it. I used a KitchenAid stand mixer. The batter will be thick.

 Spray the 8 x 8 inch pan (or a comparable size) with cooking spray. Dump the batter in and spread it around to fill the pan.

 Bake for approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Test with a toothpick or skewer. If it comes out with batter on it, cook a little longer and re-test.

 Let it cool and turn it out of the pan. Cut in small pieces. It’s quite rich and I liked it a lot.

 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Georgian Cats


 

As some of my readers may have guessed from the cover of A Peculiar Enchantment, I am extremely fond of cats. When I began writing Adelaide’s story, making a cat her only friend and confidante was irresistible, and my favorite cat, Meret, served as the inspiration for Tabby. Meret, like Adelaide’s Tabby, sucks on my chin.


 Most historical fiction set in the Georgian period concentrates on dogs and horses as the characters’ animal companions, giving the impression that cats were held in low esteem. But they were not without their human friends. 

Many paintings of domestic scenes include felines: cats with their prey, kittens being dressed by little girls, children playing with cats. Edward Bird depicted a woman taking tea with her cat, who is on the table and appears to have a saucer of milk. 

A 1747 - 1748 painting by J-B Perronneau shows a lady (possibly Marie Antoinette) holding a large blue (i.e. gray, like a Russian Blue cat) in her arms. 


Sometimes the portrait is of the cat, like Jean-Jacques Bachelier's 1761 painting of an Angora cat. 



 

James Boswell, in his Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) described Dr. Johnson’s fondness for one of his cats:

I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature…I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson's breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I  observed he was a fine cat, saying, “Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;” and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.” This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave…of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. "Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats." And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, “But Hodge shan't be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.”

 The good doctor’s remarks to Hodge sound eerily like any modern cat devotee’s conversation when no other human is present. 

 Meret, please don’t suck on my chin while I’m typing.