To Have and to Hoax

Last summer, I committed an offense to book series that I rarely do: I skipped the first book and decided to start with the second. This was no innocent accident; I did it knowingly. Indeed, I started Martha Waters‘s Regency Vows series with its second installment, To Love and to Loathe. And I regret nothing, because there was no loathing going on there: I loved that book! But now, several months later and with only a few weeks left before the third novel arrives, I decided it was time to go back and read the first book. Reader, I don’t know why I ever skipped over To Have and to Hoax, because it was delightful. Somewhat exasperating, but wholly delightful.


To Have and to Hoax opens in 1812, when Lady Violet Grey is in her first Season. She meets Lord James Audley, the second son of a marquess, and the two fall in love nearly at first sight. Within months the two lovebirds are happily married. But fast forward five years, and the once picture perfect couple has been more or less estranged for four years. One year into their marriage, they had a big fight, and they’ve barely spoken since. After James survives what could have been a fatal fall, Violet becomes enraged at his flippancy and decides to play a prank on her husband: She’ll convince him she has consumption. The two end up in a game that neither can win as they keep adding in new hijinks instead of finally talking out their issues. But all this time together starts to remind them that maybe they do still love each other after all…

Before reading To Have and to Hoax, I knew some people found the main characters to be too much, their years-long argument to be excessive, and I was prepared to be similarly annoyed by them. But I’d enjoyed To Love and to Loathe so much that I figured it was unlikely that I would actually dislike this book. So I went in cautious but optimistic.

It is true that Violet and James are rather ridiculous, and neither is a perfect person. They both have major flaws: Violet is too quick to anger, too impatient, too unwilling to apologize; James jumps to conclusions too easily, has serious trust issues, and holds onto grudges too tightly. Both Violet and James can behave immaturely, too readily believe the worst of each other, and overall feel unlikable. And yet, despite their generally bad behavior, I found myself liking them anyway. I could see the good within them and sense the regret they hid, and that made them feel realistic and not completely lost to each other. They both have a lot of growing up to do, and slowly but surely, they each start to evolve.

Something that stood out in To Love and to Loathe and which is on display here, too, is the fun and hilarious conversations the characters have with each other. Nearly every discussion, no matter the characters involved, includes witty banter, silly observations, playful jabs, and light jokes. The whole thing is a riot, and Martha Waters is a queen of dialogue. She also has a generally charming and fun writing style that fits the time yet is also a tad sarcastic and frivolous. It’s perfect for the characters and world she’s created here.

Moreover, I truly enjoyed the barely planned out pranks Violet and James play on each other. Violet’s faked illness may not be that convincing, but James’s continued participation in the charade certainly results in some funny scenes. I loved the scene when he’s acting like a doting husband whose wife is genuinely ill. When James decides to flirt with another woman right in front of Violet, it is awkwardly hilarious. And then the dancing scene at the ball – so satisfying! I might not condone James and Violet’s continued evasion of conversation via thinly veiled pranks, but they do make for some entertaining reading. Really, I smiled and laughed my way through the whole novel, even as I was rolling my eyes at these two hopeless characters.

All throughout To Have and to Hoax, it’s clear that Violet and James are flawed people, but the love is still in there, somewhere. There may be one argument too many, and the whole four-year issue goes seem to be blown way out of proportion – really, it shouldn’t have lasted more than a week or two, in my opinion – yet as ridiculous as these characters and their marriage are, I was rooting for them. I appreciate how the book weaves in some realistic themes relating to family matters and the message it ultimately ends with. Convoluted as it is, James and Violet come out of it better.

One final thing I love about To Have and to Hoax is how thoroughly involved the other characters are in James and Violet’s story. Most romance series I’ve read keep the couples a tad more separated, but in the Regency Vows series, the main characters from each book are wholly involved in each others’ lives. Indeed, in this first installment, the protagonists of the next two novels were not only fully developed as characters, their respective love stories were also strongly set up. They also kept telling Violet and James how stupid they were being, which I appreciated. Not that Violet and James listened, unfortunately. But in any case, it brings me great joy to see all of the characters interacting and playing important roles in each others’ lives. It’s very cute, but it also makes me that much more excited to read the rest of the books in the series. I’m already emotionally invested and ready for their books!

Final Thoughts

To Have and to Hoax is fun, ridiculous, and over-the-top, but if you can let loose and suspend all seriousness, it’s a delightful read. It’s also a self-aware novel, with plenty of side characters saying what we’re all thinking: just have a conversation already! James and Violet might not be a perfect couple, and they may push the limits of your patience, yet they’re hilarious and charming enough to keep you invested.

This and To Love and to Loathe have both been light-hearted, joyous reads. I’m excited to read the third Regency Vows novel, To Marry and to Meddle, starring Emily Turner and Julian Belfry. I have an ARC of it now, and I’ll put out my review shortly before its April 5th release date – stay tuned!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

You can buy To Have and to Hoax here.

Please note that the above link is an Amazon affiliate link and I may earn a commission on any purchases you make.

To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters
SeriesRegency Vows (#1)
GenreHistorical Romance
Number of Pages357
Format I ReadPaperback
Original Publication DateApril 7, 2020

Official Summary

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?

About the Author

Martha Waters - c Ryan Chamberlain

Credit: Ryan Chamberlain

Martha Waters was born and raised in sunny South Florida, where she spent her childhood reading lots of British children’s books and scribbling away in notebooks. She studied history and international studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she also obtained her master’s degree in library science. She is the author of the historical rom-coms To Have and to HoaxTo Love and to Loathe, and To Marry and to Meddle (scheduled for publication in 2022). By day, she works as a children’s librarian in coastal Maine, and loves sundresses, gin cocktails, and traveling.

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