Disclaimer: This review was written several years ago for a blog that I used to keep, but that I am in the process of deleting.
Okay, you’ve caught me–i love historical romances, and i have since approximately October 2003 when i accidentally bought Mesmerized by Candace Camp. For the longest time, she was the only historical author that i would read, however, the Smart Bitches changed that with the review of The Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Despite learning of less cliched historical romance novels, Camp’s books are still automatic buys for me.
Last month, the release of A Lady Never Tells started the Willowmere Series, which features the 4 American Bascombe sisters (only one of which is a featured heroine) and their British cousins (The Earl of Stewkesbury, his brother Fitz–hero in book #2–, and his step brother Sir Royce–hero in book #1).
In A Lady Never Tells, we are introduced to Mary (the heroine), Rose, Lily, and Camelia Bascombe, who have fled the United States after their mother’s death (their evil step father tried to sell Rose into marriage) and have arrived in England to search for their grandfather the Earl of Stewkesbury, who had disowned their mother Flora when she married the younger son of a lower aristocrat.
Trouble seems to follow the sisters, as when they disembark from the ship that brought them to England a thief makes off with their case (with all of their documents they had planned to use to prove who they were to the Earl). Like any American girl (stereotype, much?), Mary, Rose, and Cam take off after the thief. Watching this scene is Sir Royce Winslow and Gordon Harrington (a foppish sort that likes to partake in hideously colored clothes, too much alcohol, women, and gambling). Calmly, Sir Royce trips the assailant and gets the case back, and escorts the sisters to an inn (even paying for their stay). Before leaving he takes as payment a kiss from Mary, who while surprised enjoys the kiss.
The next day, Mary takes off in search of her grandfather, and in the process gets thrown out of the Earl’s home after she insists that she is his granddaughter. After getting lost, she returns to the inn to find Sir Royce visiting with her sisters. With very little reluctance, she tells him what she was doing and who she is. Although skeptical at first, Royce agrees to take the sisters to the Earl, claiming a relationship with the man. So, they make the trip to the Earl’s estate, where they learn that the Earl is not their grandfather Reginald (he died a year earlier), but their cousin Oliver Talbot, who looks over their papers and declares them his cousins, making himself their guardian.
While there are some hilarious scenes, including one in which Oliver has invited the Aunts (sisters to the girls’ mother) to meet the new members of the family (the girls joke about having to defend their family farm from raiding Indians when confronted by Aunt Euphronia’s distaste at learning that they know how the use a gun), A Lady Never Tells in lacking in respect to Camp’s other books. The romance is brushed aside and the mystery aspect (the girls keep being attacked) falls flat. My biggest criticism is that there was very little from Sir Royce’s point of view. For instance, he seems to hold some antipathy towards Oliver that is never explored (or even really addressed) and his relationship with the icy Lady Sabrina is given very little explanation (apparently, she broke his heart by choosing to marry an older titled gentleman over him, souring him on women because, by God, they must all be exactly like the Ice Queen).
My one hope is that when Oliver’s book An Affair Without End is released (March 2011) it will address the relationship between Oliver and Sir Royce.
In A Gentleman Always Remembers Oliver Talbot has hired Mrs. Eve Hawthorne, a young widow whose husband had served in the British military, to be a chaperone for his cousins, Lily and Camellia (since both Mary and Rose–this was a subplot in the first book–have gotten married). Instead of simply sending a carriage for her, Oliver asks his younger brother, Fitz, to meet the woman, whom they both assume is a middle-age matron. On his way to escort Mrs. Hawthorne to Willowmere, the seat of the Talbot family in the Lake District, he comes across a beautiful woman playing in the water with a young child, so he stops to flirt with this naiad (a water nymph), and he even kisses her (all before introducing himself–after which she flees from him). Not long after, he arrives at the vicarage, where Eve lives, only to learn that his naiad was the very woman he was there to see.
Eve, worried that she has given Fitz the wrong impression, and that he will tell his brother that she is an inappropriate chaperone for the Bascombe sisters, dons a dowdy dress and a matronly bun before meeting him at the vicarage. Quickly, she realizes that he is not going to tell her sanctimonious step mother (all these evil step parents are making me wonder what kind of family Ms. Camp comes from, but i digress) about their previous encounter. After Fitz leaves, Eve’s Stepmother warns her to stay away from Fitz because he is a complete rake that enjoys having affairs with widows because there are less entanglements involved with them than with never-married girls. This, despite coming from said stepmother, causes Eve to swear off any possible affair with Fitz. However, this is not a stance that she can easily maintain. She soon realizes that Fitz, while an inveterate flirt, does care about her, and they have their next lustful encounter at the wedding reception for Sir Royce and Mary, after which she then swears to stay away from him again.
When Oliver has to return to London, Fitz is left in charge of the estate and the Bascombe sisters, and Eve’s job gets even harder when Fitz invites his friend Neville Carr (a man with an “understanding”) to stay with them. (Neville catches Lily’s eye and the two are determined to be together despite the fact that he is engaged to be engaged to Lady Priscilla Symington.) Also, complicating Eve’s life are a series of letters that she receives regarding a watch she believes was given to her by her late husband. (For most of the book she is determined not to tell Fitz about the letters despite the fact that a man tried to break into the estate more than once.)
This book is much better than the first in the series, as the romance was much better explored and the mystery was actually a bit of a mystery (not the who, but the why). There were also a couple of entertaining sub-plots including a French balloonist with a broken leg that ends up staying at Willowmere while he recuperates and young Gordon Harrington (seen briefly in the first book), who has fled to the estate because of a problem with a “lightskirt” (read prostitute).
What I liked most about this book was how “real” the romance felt. Almost immediately after becoming involved with Eve, Fitz begins to become a better man (taking on more responsibility than the former rake had ever imagined). Towards the end, there is a definite homey feeling when the couple are described as spending each night together (in Eve’s bed because it was further from the rest of the guests, which at this point included Neville Carr, the Frenchman, Gordon Harrington, Lady Symington, and Priscilla Symington). This is something that I have rarely encountered in an historical (probably because the hero and heroine rarely share a residence). Adding to this feeling is the fact that they are both responsible for most of the guests (and even some of the servants that have contracted the Measles, which was deadly in 1824).
There were some problems with the story, though. First of all, throughout the book, I was waiting for Oliver’s reaction to Fitz and Eve’s relationship and the changes in Fitz’s demeanor. This, however, was not explored (although the scene in which he returns is absolutely hilarious–it involves 2 marriage proposals and a fight between Fitz and Neville over Lily’s honor). The second problem was that there were a few too many anachronisms for my taste. For example, when Fitz learns of the letters and the fact that the person sending them wants Eve to give him/her the watch, he calls the perpetrator an “extorter”. While in a contemporary romance this would most likely be an accurate description, in an historical it is absolutely false (Under the Common Law, such actions would only be considered extortion if the perpetrator was a government official abusing his power). Camp also writes that an accomplice had attempted to burglarize the household, but this is also false. Under the Common Law, for a crime to be considered a burglary it must be committed at night. Neither time that he entered the house was during the night, so he could not be charged with burglary–breaking and entering would have been the proper charge.
Despite these anachronisms, A Gentleman Always Remembers is a fun trip into the past, and I look forward to the final book in the series, which will feature Oliver and Lady Vivian Carlyle (a friend of the family’s that was introduced in the first book).