To Swoon and to Spar

In the past couple of years, I’ve been loving Martha Waters‘s Regency Vows series. Following To Have and to Hoax, To Love and to Loathe, and To Marry and to Meddle, the newest book is To Swoon and to Spar. It follows our beloved Penvale and a new character, Jane. They’re pushed into a marriage neither wants, and to rid herself of this nuisance of a husband, Jane does the only logical thing: She stages a fake haunting of their house to scare him off. But will she be scared if, instead, they actually both catch feelings for each other? I never knew I needed a mashup between rom-com and haunted house, but it turns out I did, and you probably do, too.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Atria for providing me with an ARC of this book!


Penvale has spent the last twenty years working towards getting his childhood home back, building up the funds he needs to buy it back from his uncle. He’s excited to learn his uncle is finally willing to sell, but there’s a catch: Penvale has to marry his uncle’s ward, Jane. She’s a prickly sort of girl, but although neither Penvale nor Jane is all that enthused about this union, they agree to it. Jane’s secret plan, though, is to scare Penvale off by making him believe their home is haunted. Too bad he’s such a practical, unsuperstitious sort. And as ill-suited as the two seem, could it be that they’re actually a match made in heaven? Amidst ghoulish sounds and bumps in the middle of the night, Penvale and Jane will learn whether they can love the one they’re with or if the whole charade is enough to drive them apart for good.


To Swoon and to Spar is the most unexpected and unconventional historical romance I’ve read, and yet it somehow really works. It is, admittedly, a rather silly setup. But I do love haunted houses (horror is my other favorite genre), and making a charade of it while two fools fall in love? It’s priceless. This could be seen as a spoof on the gothic romance—another genre I love—and it’s just delightful from start to end.

In the first three books of the series, we got to know Penvale to a degree. The older brother of Diana, he was always mostly fixated on buying backing their family home. He’s tenacious and will stop at nothing, so it’s no wonder he agrees to marry a virtual stranger just to get it back. In To Swoon and to Spar, though, I enjoyed getting to know him on a deeper level. He’s so practical, methodical, and intelligent, yet also thoughtful and caring. He’s kind of perfect, and I get serious Virgo vibes from him. (My husband is a Virgo, too!)

Jane is a new character, and she may not make the best first impression. She hides behind a shield of sarcasm and verbal barbs, but deep down, she’s just shy and socially awkward. As a person who is also very shy, I loved getting to spend so much time with a character who’s as hopeless at social interactions as I am. (Though I must say, my shyness usually comes out in the form of being polite and unassuming, but otherwise quiet. I’m not rude and hostile like Jane!)

For a while, it’s hard to see how a romance between these two could work. They seem so disinterested in each other, and on Jane’s part, she’s starting at haunt-you-to-leave-me-alone levels. I was doubtful that I’d reach the point of rooting for their relationship. As it turns out, I was wrong on that front. It’s a very gradual journey, but at some point, I could see Penvale and Jane starting to connect and make sense together. Their romance is a super slow burn, an apathetic strangers-to-maybe-friends-to-lovers. But indeed, they do reach a level of connection that is sweet, even if they’re afraid to admit the truth.

One of the cutest moments in To Swoon and to Spar is when Jane convinces Penvale to read a novel for the first time in his life. (Thus far, he’s only read a ton of books on agriculture and homeownership and whatnot.) When she catches him reading Persuasion and crying over all the feels it inspired? Adorable. Jane expresses her care for Penvale in the form of recommending books and encouraging him to get spectacles; he expresses his affection for her by adjusting his plans to suit her shyness and need for solitude. It’s the little things that start adding up that bring them closer together.

The characters from the first three novels play less of an integral role, but their brief presence is still as comical and banter-filled as ever. To Swoon and to Spar only takes place the winter and spring following those books’ events, and already we’re seeing how their relationships are evolving. So sweet! I can’t wait to see all the couples together again in the last book of the series.

Final Thoughts

To Swoon and to Spar is an unusual little romance, but I got a kick out of the elaborately faked hauntings and loved both Penvale and Jane as characters. It’s a fun subversion of the gothic romance and a love letter to shy, bookish people everywhere. I greatly enjoyed this book, and I can hardly wait for the fifth and final novel of the series, due next year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Get the Book

You can buy To Swoon and to Spar here – it’s available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

To Swoon and to Spar by Martha Waters
SeriesRegency Vows (#4)
GenreHistorical Romance
Number of Pages336
Format I Readebook (NetGalley)
Original Publication DateApril 11, 2023

Official Summary

The Regency Vows series that is “sure to delight Bridgerton fans” (USA TODAY) returns with this story about a viscount and his irascible new wife who hopes to chase her husband from their shared home so that she can finally get some peace and quiet—only to find that his company is not as onerous as she thought.

Viscount Penvale has been working for years to buy back his ancestral home, Trethwick Abbey, from his estranged uncle. And so he’s thrilled when his uncle announces that he is ready to sell but with one major caveat—Penvale must marry his uncle’s ward, Jane Spencer.

When the two meet in London, neither is terribly impressed. Nevertheless, they agree to a marriage in name only and return to the estate. There, Jane enlists her housekeeper for a scheme: to stage a haunting so that Penvale will return to London, leaving her to do as she pleases at Trethwick Abbey. But Penvale is not as easily scared as his uncle and as their time together increases, Jane realizes that she might not mind her husband’s company all that much.

With her trademark “arch sense of humor and a marvelously witty voice” (Entertainment Weekly), Martha Waters crafts another delightful romp for all historical romance fans.

About the Author

Martha Waters - c 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 earned a master’s degree in library science.

She is the author of the historical rom-coms To Have and to Hoax, To Love and to Loathe, To Marry and to Meddle, and To Swoon and to Spar (coming in spring 2023); her books have received starred reviews, and frequently appear on lists of most anticipated romances.

By day, she works as a children’s librarian in coastal Maine, and loves sundresses, gin cocktails, and traveling.

More Reviews of Martha Waters’s Books

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.…

Rate this:

To Love and to Loathe

In the past two years, I’ve slowly been dipping my toes into historical romances, and now more than ever, I’m finding that I really like…

Rate this:

To Marry and to Meddle

After adoring everything about To Love and to Loathe last summer, I was eager to continue Martha Waters’s Regency Vows series. I finally read its predecessor, To Have…

Rate this:

More Historical Romances Like This

Never Fall for Your Fiancée

Lately I’ve been getting more and more into historical romances (though I’m still pretty new to the genre). One book that caught my eye a…

Rate this:

A Love by Design

In the last couple of years, the Secret Scientists of London series by Elizabeth Everett has emerged as a standout among historical romances. These are…

Rate this:

Mr. Malcolm’s List

Two years ago, Suzanne Allain released her novel Mr. Malcolm’s List. I’ve been planning to read it since then, but now that the movie adaptation…

Rate this:


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: