REVIEW: Sweet and Twenty by Joan Smith
“When the unexpected death of Sir Gerald Monteith placed his wife Melanie and daughter Sara in financial trouble, their only hope was to quickly find a husband for Sara. They thought it would be easy, for she was as beautiful as could be. They hoped her beauty would make up for her lack of brains. The problem was, they didn’t know how to look for a man. Then Aunt Martha and cousin Lillian swept into town and took over the search. Lillian, too, was available for marriage. Soon the crafty Aunt Martha discovered that the handsome and wealthy Anthony Fellows was running for Parliament. None of them knew a Tory from a Whig. But that didn’t stop Aunt Martha. Suddenly, the ladies were involved in a spirited campaign. With so many men around campaigning, they reasoned, husbands could not be far away …. “
Dear Ms. Smith,
I picked this older book to read because it’s often mentioned as one of your better ones. Having finished it now, I’m not sure I’d rank it up with my favorites but it does have an interesting twist on the usual Regency plot that makes it perfect for this time of year in the U.S. What comes every four years? Leap year, the Olympics and the U.S. presidential election.
The blurb is not entirely accurate as both Aunt Martha and Lillian are well aware of the differences between Whigs and Tories since they hail from Yorkshire which was the scene of later Luddite uprisings. It is mainly due to their interest in politics that the ladies of their household involve themselves in the campaign so much. Unfortunately for Fellows’s party appointed whipper-in, his own candidate often seems adrift about what his standing on the main issues is supposed to be. Matthew Hudson might have invented “head-desking” after the experience he has trying to get bird brained Fellows elected. His cause is not helped by the fact that Sara, in spite of all of her Aunt Martha’s urging and scheming, is more interested in Fellows’s opponent and often surreptitiously ends up helping the Tory campaign.
Aunt Martha is a delightful character and I had fun reading the scenes with her in them. She’s a take-charge mover and shaker who frankly frightens her vapid sister-in-law Melanie. Martha even seems to scare Matthew a little and she puts her niece in fear of all the big words Martha – and Lillian – use. Sara might be lovely but she’s a brainless as her mother. And since no effort was made by her parents to make her less bird witted, some of the subtle digs made at her expense in order to show Lillian to better advantage seemed a little cruel. Fellows, with his puffed up air, is a little easier to find amusing. Due to his anxiousness to appear more educated than he was, I did get to brush up my few Latin phrases.
The scenes of the shenanigans Hudson and his opposite go to in order to sway the good people of Crockett – both those who have the vote and those who can influence the ones who do – are delicious and mostly funny. They’re also eye opening for Lillian who is at first horrified at the lengths, and depths, to which people will go to win an election. As time progresses, Lillian begins to show quite a flair for dirty campaigning which I found to be both funny but also sad. Her disillusionment might have been inevitable yet I wish it had been mourned as well. Matthew Hudson does offer her marriage without any involvement in future politicking however from the way the book ends, I foresee Lillian being unable to help herself when it comes to winning an election.
As much as I enjoyed watching the dirty tricks and shifts in the campaigning, it did rather take over what I wanted to see more of and that was romance. I found myself getting as impatient and upset with Hudson’s antics as did Lillian. Sure, I could tell he was getting more and more interested and fixed on her and I did like their spirited debates and arguments. Lillian is so sure that beautiful Sara will catch Hudson’s eye yet he shows his worth in choosing a woman with whom he can talk and who is his intellectual equal. But I’m spoiled and I want it all. I still wanted just a little more sweetness to balance the savory. His marriage proposal will show the world how much he values her but for her sake, I wanted a touch more of a romantic wooing. B