Reading an historical romance for a reading challenge is rather like a Busman’s Holiday for yours truly; the only difficulty being which one to pick from the YOOOGE number I have sitting on my TBR pile. In the end, I closed my eyes, metaphorically stuck a pin in the Paperback Pile of Doom that sits by the side of the bed, and ended up with A Brilliant Mismatch by Elizabeth Mansfield, which was originally published in 1991.
Lady Moira Pattinger is, at twenty-six, the eldest of four sisters and the only one of them to remain unmarried. That is not by design, however. She has in fact been betrothed twice… and jilted twice, each time in favour of one of her sisters thanks to the interference of her father, who offered each suitor a substantial sum of money to give up Moira and marry one of her sisters. Discovering that her latest beau has been “diverted” to her youngest sister by the same means is the last straw. Furious at what she believes are her father’s attempts to keep her from marrying so that she can continue to serve as both housekeeper and secretary, Moira confronts him in a rage and tells him that she intends to go out in the morning and marry the very first man she sees.
The Honourable Oliver Sherrard, brother of the Earl of Lydbury, is a happy-go-lucky, good-natured sort of chap who, having spent most of his twenty-three years doing what other people want, has decided it’s time for him to have a bit of an adventure. As a second son, he is going to have to make his own way in the world, but before he does that, he plans to undertake an extended walking-tour, taking with him only what he can carry in his backpack, the clothes on his back, a sturdy pair of boots and enough money to see him through.
He makes good progress on the first day and stops for the night at a less than salubrious inn, where the fact that he pays for his board and lodging with a gold coin attracts the wrong sort of attention. The next day, he is set upon, robbed and left for dead by the side of the road. Badly beaten, bruised and concussed, he eventually comes to and makes his way to the nearest building in order to shelter from the rain. He collapses, coming round hours later to see the most beautiful young woman he has ever seen staring at him and – here’s where he knows he must be dreaming – asking him to marry her.
Moira has Oliver conveyed to the house and sends for the doctor. Oliver is badly concussed and confined to bed for a couple of weeks, during which time he makes the acquaintance of Moira’s very pregnant sister and her husband, Horatio – with whom he strikes up a firm friendship – Moira’s youngest sister and her beau and Moira herself, to whom he is very much attracted. Recalling the promise he made to his brother before he left home not to do anything to disgrace the family name. Oliver introduces himself as Mr Thomas Oliver and makes no real attempt to correct the family’s assumption that he is some sort of labourer.
When he is well enough, Moira outlines her plan, which is not to actually get married, but to use the threat of marrying so unsuitably to force her father’s hand so that he will allow her to go to London in order to find a more appropriate husband. Realising, from his conversations with Horatio, that there is more to Moira’s situation than meets the eye, Oliver nonetheless agrees to go along with the scheme, all the time wondering how on earth he is going to stop himself falling head-over-heels with the lovely, bewitching young woman who clearly sees him as beneath her, in spite of her friendliness towards him.
The book is a fast-paced, quick read, but a satisfying one nonetheless. The star-turn is Oliver, who is an uncomplicated, honourable, kind and witty young man who bears with the veiled – and not-so-veiled – insults to his supposed low station with good-natured cheer, and whose sunny disposition gradually permeates through the entire household. His natural charm very quickly wins to his side the various members of Moira’s family, even her sister Bertie who was initially horrified at the idea of her sister’s marrying a supposed gardener. That’s not to say he’s perfect or a Mary-Stu; he isn’t above wanting to return the hurt Moira’s rejection inflicts upon him, and he is somewhat unpleasant to her towards the end of the book. But on the whole he’s a real sweetheart, and impossible to dislike.
Moira is a little more problematical, as for much of the book she’s selfish and single-minded in her determination to get the better of her father, and doesn’t much care that she’s using Oliver to do it. That said, I didn’t actively dislike her because she’s not mean-spirited and clearly enjoys Oliver’s company; and in fact, I almost felt sorry for her once or twice towards the end when she believes she has lost him for good.
The author draws a series of swift but clear portraits of the secondary characters, all of whom have their own distinct personalities, and I enjoyed the family dynamic she creates. Lord Pattinger, seen through Moira’s eyes at first, is hard-hearted and calculating; but is gradually revealed, through his interactions with others, not to be either of those things – and his final utterance made me smile.
The only thing about the story that doesn’t ring true is the way in which Moira and Oliver are allowed to spend time together in his room behind closed doors after he’s recovered, but otherwise, A Brilliant Mismatch is a well-written story that, while mostly lighthearted, has something to say about the class divide and that old adage about not judging a book by its cover.
A number of Ms Mansfield’s books have now been made available digitally, but unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. But second-hand copies are cheap and easy to find, and if you like Regency trads, then this is one you might want to seek out. Grade: B (sensuality – kisses)
– Caz Owens
I read across just about all romance subgenres now, but I started with a great love of historicals and romantic suspense, and I still read plenty of both of these. I’ve read several Regency and Victorian historicals lately, so I purposely went looking for another setting in my TBR pile. I eventually came up with Paula Marshall’s 2009 book, Jack Compton’s Luck. I have enjoyed some of Marshall’s Regency trads published by Harlequin Historicals, including Lord Hadleigh’s Rebellion, which I reviewed for AAR. This novel, set in 1920s England, revisits descendants of some of Marshall’s Regency characters but the book stands alone.
Jack Compton returned from the Great War to find himself and his circumstances greatly changed, as did many a man at that time. When many of us think of the 1920s, we think of flappers, music, and parties, but for Jack, responsibility weighs heavily on him. He comes from a landed family, but their estates are greatly diminished and Jack must work hard in fighting to keep what little bit remains.
His older brother, Sir William Compton(Will), actually holds the title, but he is an invalid due to war wounds, so Jack runs his business affairs. Another former soldier serves as butler, assistant and nurse to Jack’s brother, and together the three make up a household that is a tad rough around the edges.
Jack’s brother convinces him to take a little break and go to London with a cousin. There Jack finds himself captivated at first sight by Lacey Chancellor, a wealthy heiress from the United States. Jack’s cousin pushes him to make Lacey’s acquaintance on the grounds that marrying money could save Jack’s family from ruin. Jack’s older brother later makes similar suggestions, but even though Jack acknowledges the realities of his financial situation, he doesn’t want to be a fortune hunter.
When he first meets Lacey, he finds her both intelligent and very fun. I actually enjoyed these early scenes because the two really do seem to click, and one can tell that Jack not only likes Lacey but he likes who he becomes when he is around her. Good stuff.
However, as one would expect, there are complications. The first comes in the form of Aunt Sue, Lacey’s chaperone. She overhears Jack and his cousin discussing Lacey’s wealth at a party and immediately marks Jack a a fortune hunter. It takes some time for Jack to figure out what is happening and even longer for him to prove that he has honorable motives, but this is the more easily fixed of the various problems.
More serious is the issue of estate finances. One can sympathize with Will’s precarious health and his difficult situation. In some ways, he shows a fair amount of fortitude in dealing with his weakness. However, he can also be quite weak at times. Money management is definitely his weak spot. Fairly early on in the book, it comes out that Will has gotten himself deeply in debt to an unscrupulous lender and has kept this hidden from Jack. Naturally, Jack finds out when the family is on the brink of ruin and it falls to him to try to keep them from going completely under. But without marrying Lacey for money, of course.
While the “marrying for money” drum gets beaten a bit much and the villain of the piece turns out to be not just evil but eeeeevil, I did enjoy the book overall. It’s not the strongest historical of Marshall’s that I’ve read, but it is enjoyable. The large cast of friends and relatives, together with the sometimes intricate plotting kept me cruising through the story. Nothing earth-shattering and it’s not free of flaws, but I suspect many readers will come out of Jack Compton’s Luck with a smile on their faces. Grade: B
– Lynn Spencer