It takes a superior talent indeed to orchestrate a full-fledged Regency farce and synchronize it with the resolution of a powerful emotional conflict. Hats off to Anne Barbour, who pulls off this almost impossible feat with elan and grace.

It seems a harmless masquerade, at first. Her beautiful cousin Winifred needs a chaperon, and Miss Jane Burch needs a well-established friend to help launch the London debut of her two younger sisters. What harm will disguising herself as an unattractive elderly spinster do anyway? Winifred's new guardian, Lord Simon Talent, should be grateful that this troublesome matter is well in hand.

Finding a companion for his new ward is the least of the handsome lord's problems. A rash promise to Winifred's dying brother leaves Simon faced with the prospect of marrying the girl himself, unless he can find a husband for the girl in a matter of weeks. And how can he manage that when all Winifred can think of is a totally improper career on the London stage?

As Simon and Jane are caught up in their charge's implacable determination to stage her own production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, it seems impossible that love will conquer all.

Ms. Barbour's outstanding craftsmanship is a joy to behold, while her appealing characters are sheer delight. Enjoy, enjoy. (July, 221 pp., $3.99)

Reviewed by: 
Melinda Helfer