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The Great Roxhythe

by Georgette Heyer

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

“I doubt it.” My lord smiled insufferably.

Spoilerish second quote. Sorry I can’t figure out how to do spoiler tags on WordPress

Roxhythe laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Chris, you are distraught because you are rudderless. Come back to me!”

“No-no! I cannot! Less than ever now. I-I think I shall go out of my mind soon!”

“Chris, you were so happy with me. Come back!”

“Ah. so happy! It could never be the same again. Do not try to persuade me! I must go- right away , where I shall not see you.”

“Even though I beg you to stay?”

“Yes- even then, my lord. Don’t try to persuade me! It is hard enough as it is.” 

both quotes encapsulate why this book is pretty much unreadable for me. As a tip, that Georgette Heyer as a naïve 20/21 year old when she unintentionally wrote this gay romance! Other than the spoilered quote above, this wasn’t funny the second time around. Georgette Heyer’s brother has described his sister as so square she was practically cubed. GH definitely didn’t intend for this novel to be a gay romance!

I don’t think that books about royal intrigues are for me. This book was wwwaaayyy too talky-talky for me! No action happens for very long stretches.

Christopher Dart, who takes a position as Roxhythe’s secretary, is an attractive character at the start, but by the end his rigid morals & behaving like a lovesick teenager start to pall. I would say by the time Chris makes his final appearance in the book he is around 32/33 which in those days would have been considered middle aged. It just doesn’t ring true for me at all.

This book only gets an extra half star for a reasonably good beginning and because My Lord John and Helen are so much worse. Don’t bother looking for my review for those two – I read them before I joined Goodreads and I am never going to read them again!

Even if you are a Heyer completist I would skip this one.

Fire

by Deborah Challinor

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m having trouble assigning a rating to this book, as for around the first three quarters of it I had a few problems with Challinor’s writing style. This is an adult book, but the use of language & the pacing (but not the subject matter – there is a lot of sex & talk about sex) was like a 1950s YA novel – think Beverly Cleary. This did make the start rather a dreary read – even though, as a Kiwi who grew up in Auckland, I’m just loving the ‘local’ touches. The fictitious Dunbar & Jones department St is on Wyndham St, one couple go on their first date to the Civic Theatre. I love the Civic! My favourite New Zealand building.

Civic Theatre

The inside of the Civic is pure magic.

The book really does improve as it goes on. The Pakeha (European) land grab at Orakei – shameful. I did not know the history of that – & I grew up not far away from there. The book was inspired by the real life fire at Ballantyne’s (which was in Christchurch) was edge of the seat stuff, so while writing this review I decided I was going to go with 4★, but be aware particularly if you are not a New Zealander Dear Reader, you may not regard it so high.

Warleggan

by Winston Graham

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I didn’t enjoy this Poldark title as much as I enjoyed the three earlier ones. I certainly didn’t have any trouble putting it aside for other reads.

The main reason was that Ross, always a complex character, does become a contemptible villain at one stage. His actions & his lack of care for how Demelza feels about them are appalling. Graham shies away from having Demelza take a similar (though not the same) course of action.

Some may have problems with Elizabeth’s actions, but I do find them consistent with what has happened to her in the course of this series.

But after events which made me wonder if I could even face continuing with this series (I already own Books 5 & 6) Ross does in part redeem himself & brings  back together two of my favourite characters from these novels.  This let me finish the book with a smile on my face.

I will continue the series but may leave The Black Moon till next year.

Jeremy Poldark

by Winston Graham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Do you think that Ross is settled down after all his trouble?”

“I always feel,” Dwight said, “That Ross is like a volcano. He may be quiet forever – or erupt tomorrow.”

A very good summary of Ross’s character!

This is the third book in a row in this series, & once again it is a 5★ read for me. Once again the book is a mixture of romance, adventure, humour (in the most unexpected places) & Ross’s prickly, difficult character.

& the good doctor (Dwight Enys) looks to be once again heading for an unsuitable romance. I can’t wait to start Vol 4.

One thing that baffles me. This book was originally titled Venture Once More – a far better title than Jeremy Poldark, given that Jeremy doesn’t make his appearance until the end of the book. 

Mysterious are the ways of the publishing world!

Demelza

by Winston Graham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is my first completed book of 2022, & it could well be my best fiction read of the year -I loved it that much!

This book continues Ross & Demelza’s journey, & while I don’t think the beginning was a strong as Ross Poldark, from around the 40% mark it becomes a very powerful book. While Ross is a very complex character, Demelza is simple in the best possible meaning of the word – when something feels right to her that is what she does – then, thinks about the consequences later.

But all the characters, whatever their way of life, are well realised & easy for me to remember.

Graham writes beautifully;

He was not a man who spoke his innermost feelings easily, but now he saw himself powerless to help her, and only words of his and not actions would give her aid. ‘Nothing else matters but you,’ he said. ‘Remember that. All my relatives and friends – and Elizabeth, and this house and the mine… I’d throw them in the dust and you know it – you know it. If you don’t know it, then all these months I’ve failed and no words I can give you now will make it otherwise. I love you, Demelza and we’ve had such happiness. And we’re going to have it again. Take hold of that, my sweet. Hold it and keep it, for no one else can.’

Of course this being Ross, there are hidden layers…

I won’t be able to wait too long to continue this saga. &, in a piece of rare good fortune, I went to an op (charity) shop looking for the next two books (Jeremy Poldark & Warleggan) – & there they were.

Should have bought a Lotto ticket!

Cold Harbour Gentlemen

by Ann Lee

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The author (aka Abigail Bok) is one of my oldest friends on Goodreads.

Young Harry Steer is being pushed hard, as his father wants him to rise in the world. The endless cramming makes Harry long for adventure – or even for the outdoors! A chance meeting takes Harry along a path that could not only ruin his own life – it could take his family down with him. A smuggler’s life appears glamorous & well paid at first – but everything comes at a cost.

Ms Lee has completely immersed herself in the the world of Darking (now known as Dorking) and has even created a website for this world.https://www.darkinghundred.com/  I really enjoyed this adventure, which picked up a lot in the final third. Saying that the ending was a little improbable,  but no matter! Enjoy this rollicking tale!

Gentian Hill

by Elizabeth Goudge

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When I started this book I was instantly enchanted – forty pages flew by just like that!

Set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, this book has another of Goudge’s magical children. Stella & her dead mother are washed ashore and Stella is adopted by good farming folk. When Anthony/Zachary comes into her life, he proves to be the other half of her, but they are too young to make any formal commitment to each other. I’m not totally convinced with the plot developments that Goudge uses to work around this, (and ascribing favourable physical characteristics to being of noble birth!) but I did quite definitely enjoy the journey and spending the time with nice people.

An added bonus was the Christmas content – I loved reading about an English traditional Christmas. What a lucky chance that I was reading at this time of year!

Check to Your King

by Robin Hyde

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m trying to decide how I feel about this book – it certainly slowed down my reading pace (that & having the house reroofed – the sound of concrete tiles being removed & crashing to the ground made it hard to concentrate on anything!)

Robin Hyde is considered one of the greats in NZ literature. Born Iris Guiver Wilkinson, she was a free spirit, beautiful, bright & independent, sadly for her, she was born ahead of her time. Her bio on Goodreads is a c&p. It finishes abruptly (mid word!) in 1929 and she didn’t commit suicide (aged only 33) until 1939. So much to try to fit in. Not to elf: I really should fix the Goodreads bio up.

Here is her Wikipedia bio;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hyde

In the beginning, I was surprised and charmed by the light, whimsical tone in the tale of the self styled Baron de Thierry, probably the most bat shit crazy err…eccentric of all of NZ’s pioneers. Part English, part French, believed to be born in the Dutch republic, de Thierry tried to establish his own sovereign state in early 19th century New Zealand. Missionary Bruce Kendall and two Maori Chiefs did the equivalent of selling de Thierry the Brooklyn Bridge when they sold him 40,000 acres of land.

This picture of de Thierry when young and idealistic. I like the way he is shown surrounded by clouds. It does seem very appropriate. Later pictures show him as looking old and disillusioned. He ended his days as a piano teacher in Auckland.

This is a very short summary of de Thierry’s life. Believe me, there is a lot more to it than that.

Like I said, I was charmed in the beginning. The style reminded me of Nancy Mitford’s Madame de Pompadour which was written around twenty years later. Unlike Mitford’s book (which really draws the reader in) in parts I really struggled with this book, which veered between being a history and historical fiction. It is only 288 pages long, but it took me a month to complete.

I want to read more Hyde, but I may continue with her most famous novel, The Godwits Fly just to make sure her style is for me.

Ross Poldark

by Winston Graham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely loved this book.

All the characters were so alive, so three dimensional. I had no trouble keeping even quite minor characters sorted out. After (part) reading The Mirror & the Light finding that my aging memory can still keep track of large character casts if the book is compelling enough is quite a relief! The book contains everything – major setbacks, romance, tragedy, family life and humour. It is not surprising that two different TV series have been made from the Poldark saga.

The three main female characters Demelza, Verity & Elizabeth were what I particularly loved. They are all nice people but none of them are saints. I particularly like the joy that Demelza brings to the page, skipping around with huge bunches of wild flowers, yet also working so hard.

As well as giving us compelling characters, Graham does some of the best writing of a blighted romance I have ever read.

She pushed the bolt across the door and sat abruptly in the first chair. Her romance was over; even though she rebelled against the fact, she knew that it was so. She felt faint and sick and desperately tired of being alive. If death could come quietly and peacefully she would accept it, would sink into it as one sank into a bed wanting only sleep and self-forgetfulness.

So beautiful and tender. & unlike many male writers, Graham doesn’t disdain to give us clothing descriptions. It is a criticism often levelled at Georgette Heyer, but I enjoy it as part of the historical novel experience.

I now also own parts 2-6 in this series. I can’t wait to read Demelza i hope that all of these books hold my interest – I think it will depend how much detail there is about tin mining, which to be honest, doesn’t interest me at all!

Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Not an easy book to read or review.

Jean Rhys was inspired (some may even say obsessed) by Bertha Mason (in this book mostly called Antoinette Cosway.) from Jane Eyre. I reread Jane Eyre in preparation for this read, as this novella is considered a prequel. In my case as I mention in my review of Jane Eyre this was definitely needed, as I believe when I read Jane Eyre in the past that I read an abridged or heavily censored edition. For someone who has read a “full” edition & who has a decent memory, a recent read probably isn’t necessary – & it won’t help!. To be honest, even with a recent read, I was still confused! I found that helps reflect the confusion in both Antoinette & Rochester’s minds. & I felt the heat, the lushness – & the rage Rochester feels when he thinks he is being manipulated by everyone including his family back in England.

Rochester believes he is in a corrupt & decadent society…

..& he is both young & immature.

I found it better to relax into the beauty of the writing & not try to pick at faults. I know this isn’t my usual way, & I could do that because the novella is so short.

Reading the notes & introduction of my copy this particular novella had a very chequered history. It was started many years earlier by Ms Rhys, partially destroyed and then heavily rewritten by Rhys. This may explain the incoherence. I was captured by this book, but anyone reading the reviews on Goodreads will realise it is not for everyone.