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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.

sweet-and-twentyThe 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

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

14 Comments

  1. Suzanne Allain
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 11:42:45

    Sweet and Twenty is a favorite of mine, but I do agree that Matt seemed to take Lillian for granted for a large portion of the book. Still, it was a very funny book, with awesome characters, and it was too cute that Sara’s favorite book, Peter Pepper’s Perfect Day, was soon replaced in her affections by a political pamphlet that her beloved gave her. That truly demonstrates the power of love!

    I know how it is, however, to crave a little more sweet talk between the h/h. This one was acceptable to me, but I’ve disliked a few of Smith’s other books for the same reason. One in particular that I didn’t like was OLIVIA. It seemed like they argued through the entire book only to resolve everything in one page at the end. And a lot of Georgette Heyer’s books are worse, in my opinion. I just read SPRIG MUSLIN and I was very disappointed that the romantic resolution was so short, compared with pages and pages devoted to the hijinks of the other characters.

  2. ms bookjunkie
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 13:23:47

    @Suzanne Allain: Do you have any Joan Smith recommendations for me? There are 66 of her books on Fictionwise and I don’t know where to begin. /shameless opportunistic begging

  3. Suzanne Allain
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 13:46:42

    @ms bookjunkie:

    Don’t worry; I love it when people ask me for recs! In addition to Sweet and Twenty, I would recommend:

    Endure My Heart
    Minuet
    Escapade
    An Affair of the Heart
    La Comtesse
    Delsie
    Rose Trelawney
    Talk of the Town
    Aunt Sophie’s Diamonds
    Lady Hathaway’s House Party
    A Country Wooing

    Keep in mind that these books have zero sexual content and are more comedic in style. So if you like angsty, hot reads then Joan Smith is not the author for you. I love funny books, so she’s my absolute favorite.

    Really, she wrote so many good books, and there are only a handful I didn’t like. It might be easier if I tell you which ones to avoid. :)

    Enjoy!

  4. Jayne
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 13:47:51

    @ms bookjunkie: Jane and I have reviewed a number of her books here. http://dearauthor.com/book-author/joan-smith-2/

    You can add “Imprudent Lady” to my list of favorites. It’s very funny.

  5. Jayne
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 13:51:10

    @Suzanne Allain: Oh God, that book of Sara’s! I thought Lillian was going to choke when she and Sara were talking about reading.

  6. Jayne
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 13:55:16

    @Suzanne Allain: “Aunt Sophie’s Diamonds” is one of my favorites.

  7. Suzanne Allain
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 13:56:18

    @Jayne:

    I loved Imprudent Lady, too, but disliked the sequel. (I can’t remember the title at the moment.) So that colored my view of Imprudent Lady. But you’re right, it is really good. I guess my advice would be to read Imprudent Lady and skip the sequel.

    My mom’s favorite is Lover’s Vows, but I’m not crazy about books with plain heroines. Call me superficial, but I want them to be at least a little attractive. However, Escapade is still on my favorite list even with a plain heroine.

  8. Jayne
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 14:18:06

    @Suzanne Allain: I think the sequel is “Reprise” and I’ve heard from many people over the years to skip it if I know what’s best for me. I’m glad I got the advice before reading it ruined “Lady” for me.

  9. ms bookjunkie
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 15:28:43

    Thanks so much! I love trad Regencies and am always happy to add to my FW wishlist. :)

  10. HollyY
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 16:28:43

    @Suzanne Allain:

    It’s been awhile since I read it but I adored Lady Hathaway’s House Party. Very funny but it does include the “Big Misunderstanding” kind of thing. But it worked for me.

  11. Sandra
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 17:35:00

    “Valerie” has long been one of my favorites of Joan Smith’s. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been released as an e-book. I guess it’s a good thing I still have the Fawcett Crest paperback.

  12. cecilia
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 20:48:55

    I love Joan Smith! She’s great if you’re in the mood for wit and subtle romance. I would add “Reluctant Bride” to the recommendations. It’s quite funny.

  13. Susan
    Aug 29, 2012 @ 21:54:49

    Thanks for doing these reviews, Jayne. I’m a real sucker for the traditional Regencies. They’re the perfect palate cleanser for when I’m taking a break from other genres. I even love the cheesy covers on my old PBs. (They remind me of bad 50s/60s historical B movies.) I have to admit that I went more than a little nuts when Belgrave House started rereleasing many of my favorite authors’ books electronically, and more titles are being (too slowly for me) added. But I’m still keeping my ratty PBs.

  14. Jayne
    Aug 30, 2012 @ 02:36:11

    @Sandra: Actually I was surprised that “Sweet and Twenty” is not an ebook yet. I had to go digging into my old paperbacks to find the battered copy I bought ages ago.

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