If you love regency romances (or historical romances in general) and romantic comedies, then you’ll enjoy To Have and To Hoax, the debut novel from Martha Waters. To Have and To Hoax will be available tomorrow, April 7, 2020!
To Have and To Hoax follows Violet and James Audley, a once passionate couple that has lived in relative silence for four long years. Five years ago, Violet and James married after getting caught in a seemingly compromising position at a ball during Violet’s first Season. While their marriage was hasty, the connection the two felt was real, and their marriage became known as one of the few love matches in the town. Their marital bliss lasted for a while until, four years ago, they had the fight to end all fights. Since then, they’ve barely spoken to each other, preferring to pass the time in cold silence and feigned indifference.
Then, Violet receives a letter informing her that James has been thrown from his horse and knocked unconscious. Rushing to be by his side, she runs into him while on her way, finding him very much alive and conscious. After that, Violet decides that she’s had enough of being a footnote in her husband’s life and pretends to take ill—seriously ill. James catches on quickly and hatches a plan to retaliate, setting their game into motion.
Despite how little of a connection I felt with Violet and James, I found To Have and To Hoax charming and fun. I liked Violet and James together and I even liked both characters on their own (you gotta love a woman who loves her some scandalous poetry). Still, I found it hard to understand or sympathize with the situation they found themselves in. I think if it had been only a matter of months of silence I would’ve had a much easier time but four years felt ridiculous.
I also would’ve enjoyed it if they’d been more playful. It’s hard not to compare this to You Deserve Each Other (find my review for that here!) and I was trying my hardest not to—they’re sufficiently different that I think the comparison is unfair—but I found myself wanting more of the playful banter and escalation that was in YDEO. Violet and James kept referring to the connection the two once shared, how they missed their inside jokes and banter:
For a fleeting moment, James caught her glance, the lines around his eyes crinkling slightly in amusement. In that instant, it was as though the past four years had never happened, as though they were still in the habit of sharing private jokes, of allowing their eyes to meet across a crowded room and reveling in the knowledge that they understood one another better than anyone else.
But I largely had to take the two of them at their word for it; it was only towards the end that I got to see that side of them, to see the friendship underlying their love.
My issues with Violet and James aside, I enjoyed this story. I think, in large part, that’s owing to Martha Waters. While I didn’t connect with the story, I loved her writing style which was quick and clever while also era-appropriate.
James had never realized that the word illustrative could contain such a wealth of illicit meaning. It was a rather—dare he say it?—illustrative moment.
I smiled to myself while reading this on more than one occasion. I was impressed by Waters’ ability to deliver stylistic conventions of regency romances—ornate descriptions, sweeping declarations—with a modern flair, resulting in a book that neither felt too dated or stuffy nor insincere as a regency romance.
I didn’t love this book, but I definitely enjoyed it and I think that if you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily need a lot of banter in your romances, you’ll enjoy it too.
- “She would not have said they were happy, not by a mile, and yet calling it mere unhappiness seemed an oversimplification. As if the word couldn’t quite encompass the multifaceted complexity of their existence these days. She felt, at times, in a state of suspense, waiting for their marriage to resolve itself one way or another—for them to go back to their old ways or to move on entirely, take up lovers, resign themselves to a future of politesse but never passion.”
- “If nothing else, today [James] had managed to cause his butler to express an emotion, however briefly—any self-respecting Englishman could feel proud of such an accomplishment.”
- “‘If Switzerland is good enough for a goat, it’s good enough for you,’ [James] declared grandly.”
- “‘I’d rather spend my days arguing with you than in calm conversation with anyone else in the world.'”
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has not impacted or influenced my opinions.