Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1966 and my copy seems to be a first edition. If you’re wondering which book to read next from your to be read stacks and you just can’t make up your mind – as I often can’t, then a Georgette Heyer book will always hit the spot – I find.
The setting is Bath where unmarried sisters Abigail and Selina Wendover share the custody of their seventeen year old niece Fanny. Fanny’s parents are dead but have left her very well off when she comes of age, meaning that she’s a prey to all fortune-hunters – a type of beast which haunts the streets of Bath.
Stacy Calverleigh also inherited a large fortune but he has run through it all with his serious gambling habit and in no time at all he’s targetting Fanny for her money, and she very quickly believes she’s in love with him. But her Aunt Abigail knows of Stacy Calverleigh’s reputation and is determined to protect Fanny from him.
This brings Abigail into the society of Stacy’s Uncle Miles. He is the Black Sheep of his family and was sent out of the way to India to find his fortune (or fail) twenty years ago. Miles Calverleigh has just returned from India for good but he isn’t interested in his nephew, he’s enamoured of Abigail. But she believes Miles is a bad lot, she knows that he was expelled from Eton before being packed off to India, so she’s not interested in him.
If you’ve already read Georgette Heyer’s books you’ll know that there’s a lot of witty dialogue involved. The blurb on the inside dustcover says:
Black Sheep is one of Miss Heyer’s lighter-hearted romances, with a charming heroine and a most intriguing hero – mysterious, good humoured, cynical, outrageous and in the end irresistible.
This is my first year of participating in the 2019 European Reading Challenge which is hosted by Gilion @ Rose City Reader
This is my wrap up post but I never did get around to posting any of these review links at Rose City Reader. I’ve enjoyed doing this challenge although I joined up fairly late in the year, with the aim of getting me out of my usual reading comfort zone. In fact I think I got mixed up between this challenge and something else as I had it in my mind that the books should have been originally written in another language – but I was wrong about that. Anyway, it’s just a bit of fun so – here goes.
I managed to add eight more books to the many waiting in my TBR queue while we were away in Wales and East Sussex a few weeks ago. I bought All the Books of my Life by Sheila Kaye-Smith in a secondhand bookshop in Rye which is owned by a lovely Irish woman – who of course had no problem understanding our accent. I dread to think what trouble she must have had over the forty years or so that she has lived in Rye. I must admit that I had never heard of Sheila Kaye-Smith but she seems to have been local to East Sussex and ‘world famous’ in her neighbourhood.
I already have a few Monica Dickens books to read, I read some in the 1970s but none since then. The Room Upstairs seems to be quite different though – with the setting being America. I’m not going to pass up on a chance to buy a Heyer or even a Persephone which Doreen by Barbara Noble is, and I recall the Raffles series when it was on TV back in the year dot so I thought I’d give The Amateur Cracksman a go. The other three that I bought are Penguin Crimes which seem to be getting more and more thin on the ground.
All the Books of My Life by Sheila Kaye-Smith
The Room Upstairs by Monica Dickens
False Colours by Georgette Heyer
Doreen by Barbara Noble
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung
and three Penguin Crime books
Poison in Jest by John Dickson Carr
Comes the Blind Fury by Douglas Rutherford
The crimson in the purple by Holly Roth
An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1937, but mine is a modern paperback with an introduction by Rosemary Sutcliff and also an author’s note at the beginning in which Heyer says that she had always wanted to write a book about the Battle of Waterloo but the spectre of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair had loomed over her. Thankfully she got over her reticence. Before beginning to read An Infamous Army I had a squint at the back pages to see if there was a bibliography – and indeed there is. Heyer had done her homework, and it shows. I have to say that Highland brigades feature a lot, which I don’t remember from when I ‘did’ the battle at school, but I have no doubt that she was right and the Scottish regiments were thrown in there first. There’s a lot of battle and a fair amount of gore, but before we get there we meet Lady Barbara Childe.
Lady Barbara is a young widow who had married a man much older than herself, for money no doubt. But now she’s footloose and fancy free and spends her time breaking young men’s hearts, even to the stage of one of them destroying himself. So when Charles Audley becomes smitten by her all of his friends and family warn him against Babs. Of course Charles thinks he can tame her, and for a while he almost does before everything falls apart and he apparently becomes yet another of Lady Barbara’s victims. We all know what’s going to happen, after all, it is a Regency romance.
But An Infamous Army is so much more than that – as you would expect from Heyer. Fashion features for the men as much as for the women but it isn’t all fol-de-rols as there’s a lot about the horror of war and the futility. Wellington is appalled at the loss of so many of his friends and generals at Waterloo at a time when the leaders didn’t sit safely in castles miles behind the front as they did in subsequent wars.
I have read Vanity Fair and was quite surprised that so many people went to the battle as tourists, with wives and would be wives following the army and the whole lead up to the battle being more like a grand holiday which ended with a big bang. I suspect that Heyer might have got closer to the atmosphere of the many pre-battle balls than Thackeray did.
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1950 and it’s a hoot. Sophy’s father Sir Horace who is a widower takes Sophy to live with his sister Lady Ombersley while he has some work to do in South America. As Sophy is twenty years old she’s overdue for being introduced to society and Lady Ombersley promises her brother that she will arrange some balls for Sophy, along with her own daughter Cecilia who is just slightly younger. Lady Ombersley has a large family to cope with but the children are nothing compared with the problems that Lord Ombersley brings her. He’s a compulsive gambler and has piles of debts. Luckily the family home is entailed and although he tried to break the entail he wasn’t successful. He has handed the running of the family finances to his eldest son and heir Charles who is weighted down with cares before his time.
When Sophy arrives she’s not the shrinking violet they expected. She’s determined to do exactly what she wants – and to the devil with conventions. She’s a gifted horsewoman and in no time she has bought a carriage and pair of horses which would be the equivalent of a woman buying something like a V8 Ferrari nowadays. Her cousin Charles is appalled by her behaviour.
Sophy couldn’t be more different from the strait-laced Miss Wraxton that Charles is engaged to marry. She’s joyless and a nasty gossip and definitely not the right match for Charles, but that’s main theme of The Grand Sophy, everyone seems destined to be with the wrong partner, until Sophy gets to work on them all.
As you would expect this book is full of humour and the last chapters are more akin to a farce – but such fun!!
At the moment I’m reading Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy and really enjoying it. I’m not quite half-way through it but I really had to laugh when on page 165 I read:
Lord Ombersely, who had gone away after dinner, now reappeared, accompanied by an elderly and immensely corpulent man in whom no one had the least difficulty in recognizing a member of the Royal Family, He was, in fact, the Duke of York, that one of Farmer George’s sons who most nearly resembled him. He had the same protuberant blue eye and beaky nose, the same puffy cheeks and pouting mouth, but he was a much larger man than his father. He appeared to be in imminent danger of bursting out of his tightly stretched pantaloons, he wheezed when he spoke, but he was plainly a genial prince, ready to be pleased, standing on very little ceremony, and chatting affably to anyone who was presented to him. Both Cecilia and Sophy had this honour. His Royal Highness’s appreciation of Cecilia’s beauty was quite as broadly expressed as Mr. Wraxton’s had been, and no one could doubt that had he met her in some less public spot it would not have been many minutes before the ducal arm would have been around her waist.
A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1961 and it’s quite different from her other books as there’s really not much in the way of humour in it, no witty repartee between couples. There’s a lot of history in it, but it’s never dry. Apparently Georgette Heyer hated this book and she had a very tough time writing it. The problem was that her mother was seriously ill and in fact dying while she was writing it, so it would have been strange if she had been able to write in her normal fashion. I’d like to be able to tell her how much I enjoyed it though, in fact I think it’s my favourite so far, despite the fact that I so enjoy her more usual witty dialogue.
A Civil Contract features Adam, Lord Lynton, a young man who has only just come into his title after the death of his father. His father had been a spendthrift, womaniser and a gambler and has left nothing but debts. The only way out of the mess his father has left him with is to sell the family estate. Adam’s mother is dead against that and he isn’t keen on it himself.
Adam’s lawyer knows a way out of the problem – he suggests to Adam that he can arrange a marriage between him and the daughter of a very wealthy businessman whose ambition is for his only child to marry into the aristocracy.
So – very different from Heyer’s more usual romantic relationships and the upshot is a more realistic progress of the development of a marriage.
Sometimes music accompanies me in my mind as I read a book and with this one it was Mama Cass’s It’s Getting Better. Completely inappropriate for a Gerorgian setting I know but the sentiment is the same. It occurs to me that you have to be of a certain age to remember Mama Cass though!
The Toll-Gate by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1955 and my copy is a Book Club hardback from that date. This is more of a mystery/adventure book and is quite light on the romance – which is fine by me.
Captain John Staples has recently left the army after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, he had a bit of a reputation for being crazy amongst his fellow officers and he’s finding civilian life a bit boring, especially when he has to go to a family wedding in Derbyshire. The women in his extended family seem keen to find a wife for him, but they’re disappointed when he leaves the wedding early.
Looking for an inn to spend the night in John – or Jack as he’s generally known to his friends – gets lost and eventually reaches a roadside toll-gate which is being ‘manned’ by Ben a young and scared boy all on his own. It transpires that Ben’s father has gone missing and Ben fears the worst. Jack decides that he must find out what is going on.
This is a good light read with likeable characters and a plethora of Regency slang.
You might think that a toll-gate dates a book immediately to a certain era but it’s only a couple of years since we had to stump up all of 40 pence in the dead of night on a rural road somewhere around the English midlands. In fact not that long ago I saw such a house and business for sale in the Guardian, you would have to be a keen home body though as you would never be able to leave the place!
I’ve often seen copies of King Albert’s Book but as they’re over 100 years old they’re quite often in bad shape with torn pages, missing illustrations (they’re sort of tipped in) or drawn on. The book was sold in aid of the Belgian refugees at the beginning of World War 1 and published by The Daily Telegraph in conjunction with The Daily Sketch and The Glasgow Herald so there are quite a lot of them about. Basically it contains words of support for the Belgian people from many of the great and good of the day. There are illustrations by Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham to name a couple, pieces of music written by Elgar and Debussy and others. I bought it for all of £3. Beside it was a copy of Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book which I’ve never seen before. Again, this was sold for charity, but was published in 1908. She was apparently a keen photographer so it’s full of paper copies of many of her photos, tipped in as if they were in a photo album. There are a lot of family groups – the Empress of Russia appears a lot, but there are also photos of fjords and other places she visited and ships, including The Nimrod which was Captain Shackleton on his way to the South Pole in 1907. Another three quid – what a snip!
The Glory of the Garden – snippets from Country Life magazine over the years.
The Strongest Weapon by Notburga Tilt (an Austrian Resistance member in WW2 – signed.)
Dunbar’s Cove by Borden Deal. I’ve never even heard of this book but it seems to be well liked on Goodreads. I’m shocked to see that a copy with the dust jacket just like mine is on sale on Amazon for over £220. Mine cost £1.
Now comes a clutch of crime fiction.
The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
Penhallow by Georgette Heyer (I’ve already read this one but I didn’t have a copy)
The Doomed Five by Carolyn Wells
Lastly some children’s books.
The House in Cornwall by Noel Streatfeild
The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter
The Sprig of Broom by Barbara Willard
These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Three of those are Puffin books and I have a feeling that I might just have inadvertently started a bit of a collection as I think I bought a couple a few weeks ago.
Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1941.
I’ve read almost all of Georgette Heyer’s mystery novels now and I’ve enjoyed them all although some more than others. I like the witty dialogue, especially between couples. Envious Casca is set at Christmas and features Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard as the investigator who is called in when a member of the household of Lexham, a large Tudor house, is discovered dead in a locked room. To begin with it’s thought that the death is from natural causes but it isn’t long before the truth is discovered.
The house is full of members of the Herriard family who are gathered together for Christmas, and a few of their friends. They’re a very argumentative bunch and Nathaniel, the owner of the Lexham estate holds the purse strings.
Despite the fact that the murder was a long time a-coming I really enjoyed this one. It was fairly predictable, the culprit was easy to spot AND none of the characters are particularly likeable, so by rights I should have disliked the book a lot, but the mystery lies in how the murder was carried out and that kept my interest. Heyer obviously meant it to be like that, especially given the title of the book. The characters are a quirky bunch so it all added up to a good read.