Book Review: To Have and To Hoax

Martha Waters

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

published: 5th May 2020
spoilers? tried to avoid


In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.

Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.

Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.

Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?

With charm, wit, and heart in spades, To Have and To Hoax is a fresh and eminently entertaining romantic comedy—perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Julia Quinn.

I’d rather spend my days arguing with you than in calm conversation with anyone else in the world.

Galley provided by publisher

CWs: child neglect

Romance is one of those genres where I can sit and devour a good book within a few hours, and that was definitely what I did with To Have and To Hoax. It’s a second chance romance (of sorts), full of the right amounts of angst and frustration and pining that you want from one of those.

The story follows an estranged married couple. After James is injured falling from his horse, only to be right as rain when Violet rushes to his side, she decides to feign an illness to get back at him. Of course, this leads to one-upmanship as each tries to irritate the other more. Meanwhile, they are both realising that maybe they don’t hate each other as much as they believed.

Possibly my favourite aspect of this book is that, while the misunderstanding that causes their estrangement is fundamentally based on a lack of communication and is thus somewhat stupid, the narrative never frames it as anything but stupid. Every character besides James and Violet tries to tell them that this could all be solved by having it out and explaining themselves, but it’s their pride that gets in the way. Which makes it a breath of fresh air from those books which use stupid miscommunications as a plot device and never recognise that they are actually stupid. (It’s a pet peeve…) I also loved that, because they’re so stubborn and prideful, the process of them actually realising for themselves they need to talk is a fairly slow one (even if that did at times frustrate me. But it was a good frustration).

It definitely helped throughout that I loved James and Violet. You get both their POVs, so you get both sides of the story (always good when it’s one like this). And, yeah, James was a little less justified in my mind for being angry (though obviously there were good reasons for that), but you still felt sorry for the both of them. Not to mention that, for once in this genre it feels like, James wasn’t a deeply objectionable jerk at any point (except from Violet’s POV, but you know the sort I mean). That definitely helped with the sympathising with him. (Also, apart from two great main characters, the side characters are all excellent too, and I really really need books for the hinted-at romances now.)

If there was one tiny thing I liked not so much here, it was that, at times, their relationship development seemed to take two steps forward then one step back. They would seem to make some progress, then they would start arguing again. But, while it did frustrate me, especially near the end, it was also mostly understandable, given that their issues were based on a lack of trust. It was just that final case of it that bugged me the most.

So if you’re looking for a funny, but also angst-filled second chance romance, then this book is the one for you.

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