The Famous Heroine/The Plumed Bonnet Mass Market Paperback – Oct 25 2011
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About the Author
Mary Balogh is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books, including the acclaimed Slightly and Simply novels and the first five titles in her Huxtable series: First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Seduction, At Last Comes Love, Seducing an Angel, and A Secret Affair. A former teacher, she grew up in Wales and now lives in Canada.
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THE FAMOUS HEROINE is the story of Cora Downes, whose family has money but no blue blood. She "rescues" the nephew of the Duke of Bridgwater from drowning and is taken on by the duke's mother as a project to be introduced to society and married off to someone eligible, but not super blue-blooded. This story is funny, starts off delightfully and I found myself chuckling many times. The hero, Lord Francis Kneller, younger son of a duke, is the suitor rejected by Samantha in LORD CAREW'S BRIDE and he's still nursing a broken heart. He befriends Cora as a favor to his friend Bridgwater and finds her to be a pleasant distraction from his misery and entertaining company.
Now, Francis favors wearing clothes of all the colors of the rainbow, pink, puce, turquoise, vivid green, you name it, dressed up with lace and elaborately-tied cravats, and he's always immaculately coiffed. Cora, who is totally intimidated by most members of the ton, finds herself comfortable in his company. She also mistakes his sexual orientation, so she enjoys him as a friend and not as a possible suitor. It's all good fun, but somewhere past the halfway point of the story, I was beginning to tire of Cora's ineptness in society and Francis's broken heart, so it wasn't a 5-star romance for me, in spite of the good writing and the satisfying ending.
THE PLUMED BONNET is a bit more angsty and I enjoyed it more. It's another upper-class/middle-class romance, but less humorous. Balogh always does a good job of convincing the reader that young, handsome, rich dukes of excellent character existed in Regency England and that romance with a lovely heroine of lesser breeding would have challenges but is perfectly doable (at least by the end of the story). Her Cinderella stories have always appealed to me more than those of other writers using the same theme, perhaps because of her sympathetic characters and the trademark Balogh style of writing.
Our hero here is the Duke of Bridgwater, of the family that sponsored Cora in the first story. He's on the road traveling and meets up with hitchhiking (Imagine that!) heroine Stephanie Gray. Stephanie is respectable but impoverished and had been working as a governess when she was informed that she has inherited property and lots of money. Instead of waiting for the transportation which was to be sent for her, she sets off on her own but mishaps along the way have her penniless and unable to continue her journey to Sindon Park, her inheritance. She even loses her own cloak and bonnet and is forced to wear a borrowed fuchsia cloak and pink bonnet with pink, fuchsia and purple plumes. In her moneyless desperation she is walking to her destination, without even coins to purchase a meal for herself.
Alistair, the duke, spies her walking the road. Well, she's hard to miss in that get-up. He's bored and feeling unsatisfied with his life so, mistaking her for a lady of ill-repute, he decides to spice up his life with her company and offers her a ride. The rest you just have to read. The beginning is a lot of fun, what with the mistaken impressions both have of each other. When circumstances force Alistair to offer marriage to Stephanie, the rest of the book is about the expectations they have for each other, the importance of communication, and the need to be true to who you are. The characters are well-drawn and sympathetic, the writing is excellent and the ending is just about perfect.
Balogh, they are very entertaining. Likeable characters, solid plots, a detailed world,
plus excellent command of language make these novels easy 5's. They continue the story
started in Dark Angel/Lord Carew's Bride. In Dark Angel,
Samantha Newman plays a secondary part, hurt by a villain. In Lord Carew's
Bride, Samantha is the heroine. She marries Lord Carew (shortly after meeting him) and
rejects Lord Kneller (who had pursued her for years). The Duke of Bridgwater
and Kneller (though Kneller certainly was badly hurt by Samantha's rejection) helped
Samantha's match with Carew.
In The Famous Heroine, the Duke of Bridgwater asks Kneller (his close friend)
to help Bridgwater's mother launch a young woman Cora Downes into society. Cora has no
pretensions to any noble lineage, but her father is a very wealthy merchant.
Bridgwater's mother, who is very class conscious, wants to help Cora get an
acceptable marriage, because she "saved" the life of Bridgwater's heir's
heir. "Save" is in quotes because the story of Cora's heroism has gotten ridiculously out of
hand. Ultimately Cora's disregard of convention leads to a forced marriage to
Kneller. Cora likes Kneller, but is convinced for silly reasons, that he will not be able
to father children (and all that goes with it, which though she is unclear on
what it all is, she would prefer to have it than not). Everything works out (of course).
In The Plumed Bonnet, Bridgwater, who is very sophisticated and urbane gets
hoisted by his own petard into a forced marriage with the Stephanie Gray.
There is a lot of humor here, which I will not spoil. Stephanie is a
poorly-treated governess, who inherited great wealth with an unpleasant
proviso that she needed to be quickly married part. She had resigned herself
to a life without love or the companionship of marriage, and the forced
nature of the marriage makes her doubt that marriage to Bridgwater will be in
name only. This being a Balogh romance, the doubts are eventually quashed.)
Rating a double novel is difficult. Readers are bound to like one book better than the other. I was surprised at my reaction: usually, I like Balogh's light-hearted stories better than the angst-laden ones.
This time, the disaster-prone, klutzy Cora -- the famous heroine of the title -- grated on my nerves. Perhaps I am getting too old for young, gauche, naive heroines. And her hero was in love with someone else. And he kept "my dear-ing" her in a patronizing way.
I liked "The Plumed Bonnet" better. The heroine was the equivalent of a big lottery winner today. Stephanie walked off her soul-crushing job, met with a series of disasters on the way to claiming her fortune, and eventually had to face some of life's more difficult questions about who she really was and what she was willing to do to please other people. Stephanie had the maturity and insight that Cora might never attain. At best, though, Stephanie's story seemed not to be among Balogh's most interesting tales.
Love, love, love this book. Regencies often feature a misunderstanding between the main characters as they work forward towards a good relationship, and this misunderstanding is a dozy. The heroine assumes that the hero is gay, up to and including their wedding night.
Lord Francis Kneller, the rejected suitor from Lord Carew's Bride, and surely the most charming of Balogh's heroes, agrees to help bring cit Cora Downes, sponsored by the Duchess of Bridgewater after saving her small grandson from drowning, into fashion and in the process becomes embroiled in many of the impetuous Cora's "unfortunate" escapades, many of which simply seem to happen to her.
Filled with delightful farce and humor and people who actually like each other.
Francis' wise decision to be amused by Cora instead of offended by her makes him a happy man. A good object lesson in how we can all make our lives happy by how we decide to respond to what we cannot control in our lives.
I am looking forward to rereading this one in a few years. Right up there with the best of Georgette Heyer.
The first of the two is "The Famous Heroine". This features Lord Francis Kneller probably the most flamboyant member of the ton. He is asked by his friend the Duke of Bridgewater to dance with his Mother's protégée Cora Downes. Cora had saved the Dukes nephew Henry from drowning, so the Dukes mother in gratitude had brought Cora to London for the season to get her a husband. Not a man of rank as Cora was the daughter of a merchant, albeit a very rich one, nevertheless without breeding she could not look to marry a man with a title. Unfortunately Lord Francis compromises Cora and feels honour bound to offer marriage.
I had so looked forward to Lord Francis's story I had really liked his character from the previous book, he was outrageous in his dress wearing all the colours of the rainbow, even his pants were made of leather. In this story he is brokenhearted as Samantha Newman has married the Marquis of Carew, Francis had proposed many times himself to Samantha but she always treated it as a joke,so he spends a good part of the story moping for his lost love. Cora Downes was a difficult character to like IMO, she is described in the blurb as beautiful rich but without breeding, but once you begin reading this story that is not at all the case, the author describes her as too tall, or as tall as a man, in fact she is taller than most men, her face is not beautiful, but it has character she is large, with big feet and hands, a fact which we are repeatedly reminded of throughout the story. She did not come across as very feminine at all, plus her erratic behaviour which at first seemed amusing,soon became tiresome. They seemd a very mismatched couple to me, and I never quite believed in their relationship.
The second story is "The plumed Bonnet". This features the Duke of Bridgewater who is travelling to London, when he spots a woman walking along dressed most outrageously in a pink hat and cape. He offers her a ride to the next village. He suspects that she is either an actress or a woman of easy virtue. The young woman is Stephanie Gray who had just learnt that her Grandfather whom she had never met had left her his estate and fortune, and rather than wait for the carriage they were sending she had set out on foot. But her belongings had been stolen and she was forced to wear the garish hat and cloak, which she had borrowed out of necessity. The Duke of course thinks her whole story is a pack of lies, but wishing to see how far she would go with her story, and finding it amusing,he insists on taking her all the way to her newly inherited estate, believing that once there she would have to admit the truth. Then he would take her to London where he would keep her until he tired of her. But when they arrived at Sindon Park everything she had told him was the truth. Now having been alone with her for three days and nights he insists that they marry.
This was slightly better than the first story inasmuch as there was a lot more emotion, the Duke is a very controlled character years of training to be the Duke had made him a somewhat pompous person, although he did loosen up quite a bit as the story progressed. Stephanie was a likeable character Innocent and sweet.
In both of these stories the loves scenes were totally underwhelming. The male characters in both stories are more interesting and have more depth than the female characters. Overall I was quite disappointed. The first two stories in this series are Dark Angel/Lord Carew's Bride.