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REVIEW: The Scandalous Countess by Jo Beverley

REVIEW: The Scandalous Countess by Jo Beverley

“Georgia, Countess of Maybury has it all, but then her husband is killed in a duel and she loses her homes, most of her possessions, and her reputation as well. Innocent of all charges, she returns to the beau monde determined to regain all through a second brilliant marriage, but a scarred ex-naval officer threatens to tempt her in a different direction.”

The Scandalous Countess Jo BeverleyDear Ms. Beverley,

I’m always up for a revisit to your 18th century Georgian world of the Mallorens. We recently had a discussion here about series and as I mentioned then, I enjoy seeing a few of the past characters but am also happy that Rothgar and Diana are peripheral, mainly mentioned but not present. Portia and Bryght have more face time and nice to see them again after an absence of a few books. As always I’m in love with little period details such as the mantua maker’s fashion dolls, the water systems of London, and how the grand lived. Plus when Georgie and Dracy visit with his Naval pals, I felt as if I were in Mrs. Miggin’s Pie Shoppe! The Perriam family is powerful and clever and knows how to manage the Polite World in which they move. The Countess of Hernescroft staging the morning after the duel is enough to scare lesser men. As well the reminder is there of their influence when the inquest is managed.

The basic plot here is a mix of beauty and the beast, wealth vs want plus a touch of a stalker thrown in. Georgie might be a difficult heroine for people to love. She is dazzling, flirty, showy, loves to be the center of attention and isn’t good at deflecting men away and towards other women. She has two main gal pals but gets along fine with men and is the kind of woman who seems to prefer them and their company. She just doesn’t DO the faux kiss-kiss “let’s do lunch” kind of thing. Men love her but most women don’t, especially any woman who thinks herself pretty. That plus the catty beau monde – ready for the next juicy scandal – ensures Georgie a rough time when she tries to slip back into Society after her mourning period ends. But the woman also has backbone. Society viewed her marriage as a constant party filled with a luscious London town home, clothes to die for and a handsome husband ready to indulge her. What it didn’t see – and would never see – is that it was also an escape hatch from her parents.

Georgie isn’t fluff. She’s made of sterner stuff than that – she’d have to be with that mother. Georgie might flaunt a few rules but she’s well aware of them. She thinks through a problem, sees angles and outcomes and doesn’t fool herself- she is eager to get to the bottom of who is threatening her and – what really got me pumped – she doesn’t go missish at the thought of the villain going down for what she’s suffered through. When push comes to shove, she takes matters into her own hands and delivers justice. True there’s a little breakdown sobbing before this when she seems intent on blaming herself For All but by the end, she appears to have got over that.

To contrast with beautiful Georgie there is Dracy who was handsome – still is when viewed from the correct profile – but who’s lost his perfect looks to a war injury. I kind of like that initially Georgie admits that she’d hate to lose her beauty – after all, it’s what she’s known for. But she’s got the guts to look him straight on and never flinches from his face. Part of her growth over the course of the book is to realize and admit that looks aren’t everything. Dracy has chutzpa and doesn’t hide his face – not that he’d do it anyway after mainly being in the presence of fellow Navy men who would be used to this. You’ve made Dracy a military man and thankfully included this mindset and appropriate details as part of Dracy’s personality – how he’s a man of action when trying to discover who threatens Georgie and then proactively protects her once the threat is identified. But also he doesn’t know the beau monde as well and needs some lessons in estate management. These little landlubber touches make him seem more rounded as a character.

Georgie’s family presents some realism of the day. Her sister in law is ghastly, her sister viewed marriage as a social contract with no thought of love, and Georgie is a marriage pawn – controlled and commanded by her parents. Her first marriage wasn’t great in the sack but while she still loved Dickon, truly mourned him – I smiled at this too, she also mourned the loss of her freedom, the money and the perks. You sprinkle some chilling examples of other couples who had made social mismatches so Georgie has plenty of time to think about the step she’s taking in marrying a man of lower rank. But then it’s not as if Dracy is a candlestick maker – she still will be a Lady Something even beyond her courtesy title as the daughter of an Earl. Then I gotta love a woman who lights up at the thought of tackling her husband’s clusterf*cked household account books . I also picture Georgie enjoying extreme couponing 18th century style.

While Georgie and Dracy contrast in looks, they are alike in personality which is shown from early on. Dracy initially thinks he wants a quiet life in Devon with a placid wife who knows about getting rid of moths and sleeping pig sickness. But does he really? The Earl of Hernescroft pegs Dracy and his military personality which relishes a challenge and wants to be stimulated. This is mirrored in the easy way Georgie and Dracy get along from the very beginning. They jest and joke and laugh and the falling in love seems so easy yet there’s still the money issues which Georgie is honest with herself about. Until her friends point out she loves a challenge and what could be better than the little fixer-upper Dracy has for her in the wilds of Devon? The Countess of Hernescroft’s reaction to her future son in law’s house is hilarious.

I thoroughly enjoyed my yearly visit to the Mallorens and watching Georgie and Dracy work out their differences while delighting in their similarities. Still the business of uncovering the vendetta plot had better hold the reader’s attention or they’ll be bored with this one. In the end, Georgie and Dracy are matched in what counts – love, commonality, boldness, laughter and friendship. B



REVIEW: An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley

REVIEW: An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley

Dear Mrs. Beverley,

When I hear the name “Malloren,” I go to point like a champion gun dog. I’m there, poised and ready to read. But, after my disappointment that your last book didn’t work better for me, I opened this one mentally chanting, “please, please, please.” My prayers paid off as I enjoyed this book with it’s realistic view of the challenges 18th century women endured.

An Unlikely Countess by Jo BeverleyPrudence Youlgrave (love the name, BTW) allowed her anger to get her into a situation one dark night in Northallerton, Yorkshire. But luckily a knight errant charged, albeit drunkenly, to her rescue. In the aftermath of being escorted home as quietly as Prudence could make him act – the neighbors will talk you know – Catesby Burgoyne, second son and disappointment of the Burgoyne family, learns about why Prudence is living in near poverty.

After losing their home, she and her mother scrimped to allow her brother to train as a solicitor. Her mother recently died and now Prudence is waiting for said brother to come for her as he’s soon to be married to a prosperous merchant’s daughter. But he hasn’t come, hasn’t written, hasn’t made any move to rescue his sister. Catesby and Prudence part with fervent well wishes for her on his part but as a near penniless man he’s in no condition to offer more.

Tired of waiting, Prudence decides to take charge and head to her brother’s new house when she discovers he’s not even invited her to the wedding. She and her new sister-in-law take each other’s measure and come to an agreement that Prudence will be presented to Darlington society to find a husband. Prudence’s desires are modest – a home of her own, a man she can respect and children – but when only one man offers for her, she takes a deep breath, tries to ignore her inner longing for a man like the dashing Catesby and agrees to wed the older widower.

Meanwhile, Catesby’s fortunes have changed dramatically since the death of his older brother the Earl of Malzard. Though he’s never wanted the Earldom and its attendant duties, he is fiercely glad to be home again despite the fact that he knows his mother and widowed sister-in-law are just waiting for him to screw up. Escaping from the pressures for a day, he travels to Darlington where he discovers that Prudence is to be married that morning. But as he watches the wedding unfold, he knows it’s a disaster in the making. That inner voice which served him well as an Army officer pipes up and he objects right on cue when the vicar asks, “Does anyone know of any reasons….?”

But now the fat is in the fire and Catesby and Prudence must wed to maintain the fiction Catesby wove to support his actions and to keep her reputation from being ruined. After Catesby brings his most unsuitable Countess home, they have to learn about each other, face his scandalized family and dodge the attentions of a thwarted man bent on revenge.

Despite the fact that I love the fashions of the mid 18th century, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to be born then. Compared to the opportunities and freedoms I have, the position of women then could be ghastly. Under the control of men for almost their entire lives, their happiness depended on whether or not those men were saints or sinners. Denied the chances available to men, they were forced to make their way as best they could arrange it. The story upon which you based part of this book is heartbreaking. Thank goodness Prudence gets a fate better than that at your pen.

I like both Prudence and Catesby. They are strong characters in a world which expected little from them and thought less. Prudence, as a woman, is supposed to be meek and allow her brother to run her life but instead she supports herself and tries to make her own pathway to a life she wants. Catesby, the ‘nail that sticks up’ in the Army, inherits a position he never wanted but is doing his best to see to those who depend on him. And not throw over the traces too much. As these two discover more about each other, they find a fellow comrade-in-arms and support.

But they’re also not perfect. Prudence really isn’t initially suited to step into the shoes of a Countess and flounders a bit before finding her feet. I like the way you impart information about what the position entails, the day to day running of the house, the servant heirarchy and the fact that simply marrying a peer was only the beginning of Prudence’s duties which were as demanding of her as Catesby’s were of him.

Catesby has never been trained to be an Earl and though he’s got the aristocratic bearing, he’s still learning about field drainage, crop rotation plus a 1001 other things. He does take advantage of his perks though when the occasion calls for it. I like that he’s honest with Prudence about certain situations her actions cause even as he shows his decency towards the people involved.

The romance proceeds slowly despite the short time span of the book. I didn’t feel it was rushed and it makes sense given the fact that though these two feel a deep immediate connection, they still really don’t know each other well and have another issued hanging over their heads given what Prudence’s first fiance alledges. There’s a delightful lack of stupid mental lusting though you make it clear that they each find the other very attractive and are looking forward to consumating their marriage. And when the “I love yous” are said, they are timely and believable.

As for the villains of the piece, the bloodthirsty wench in me agreed with Prudence and Diana, Countess of Aradale, that I wanted to see that man go down. The revenge Catesby engineers might not have done the man in but, as he says, losing power and wealth were far worse for that person than death. The other malcontents of the story might not ever change their baseline opinions of Prudence and Catesby but their guns are spiked and perhaps one of them might eventually come around.

I closed the book with a happy smile on my face and a feeling that all’s right in the Malloren World. Prudence might still need a bit of time to settle into her new life and Cate probably still needs to brush up on his agricultural knowledge but with the two of them standing side by side, they’ll do just fine. B+


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