Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TBR Challenge 2011: Wendy Makes Fangirls Cry

The Book: With This Ring by Carla Kelly

The Particulars: Traditional Regency romance, Signet, 1997, Out of Print, HTFGFRPO (hard to find and going for ridiculous prices online).

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: When I started reading romance, I was told I had to read Carla Kelly.  So like a diligent little worker bee, I set on the mission to collect some of her titles (most of them out of print, even back then), without paying exorbitant prices.  I believe I got this one in a book swap with a fellow reader? 

The ReviewDanger, Danger Thar Be Spoilers Ahoy!

Lydia Perkins is Cinderella.  Her mother is Romance Novel Land Horrible Mother Of The Year.  Her younger sister, Kitty, is a vacuous, brain-dead, selfish ninny - but golly, she sure is purdy!  Which is why the family is in London - to land Kitty a man.  She's way too much of a "prize" to marry some pimply-faced vicar's son in Devon! 

In a bid to get Kitty noticed, Mama suggests the girls go to St. Barnabas to "minister" to the wounded soldiers, just returned from Toulouse.  And by minister, I mean - stare and gawk.  It's apparently the fashionable thing to do, and geez, you can't expect the high-falutin' members of the ton to get their hands dirty tending to common, coarse soldiers.  I mean, like ewwwww!  It's at the church that Lydia runs up against Major Sam Perkins.

Sam needs a wife.  See, he made one up while he was off at war so that his tight-fisted aunt (who is quite wealthy) would cough up some dough to repair his crumbling estate (our Major happens to be an Earl).  Well, one of his subordinates took to the plan and ran with it.  Seems this fictitious wife wrote regular letters home to dear old Auntie and Mama.  Oh, and they also have a fictitious child.  Having survived the war, Sam's now in a pickle.  It doesn't take a genius to see a marriage of convenience looming dead ahead.

Per usual, Kelly writes with a clear-eyed honesty that reminds me of how well the Regency era can work in a romance when it's done right.  And by "right" - I mean with some actual history attached to it.  I also really appreciate her willingness to give me some of the riff-raff.  I can only read about so many Dukes before my eyes roll back in my head.  And while her hero here is an Earl, he's a blue-collar sort.

I liked Lydia quite a bit.  Her family walks all over her, but I enjoyed her little barbs, her smart-ass commentary, even if it did fly right over her dippy sister's head.  I also liked that she was willing to stand up for what is right, even when it means putting herself in the path of what could be certain doom.  She's forthright, she's hard working, and years of emotional abuse have left her own sense of self-worth worn down to the nub.

What doesn't work so well for me in this story is Sam.  He was certainly dashing and charming enough, for the first half - and then he slides right down hill.  He's been lying to his family, and expects Lydia to go along for the ride - which means living under an assumed name, living a lie, for the rest of her life (or at least until Auntie kicks the bucket).  Oh and since a child was also invented in this farce, that just means they'll have to swing by an orphanage and land themselves a tot.  OK, honestly?!   ::major eyeroll::

As eye-rolling inducing as all that was, that wasn't even the worst of it.  On their way to his home in Northumberland, they're attacked by bandits.  Sam, already wounded from the war, is laid-up when a surgeon needs to tend to him.  While he's still lucid, does Sam tell his lovely wife that they're actually in a town where one of his subordinates lives?  That this man's family would give them lodging - for free.  Not to mention loan them funds until they could access their own?  Oh no, of course not!  So Lydia is out of mind pinching pennies to pay the doctor and innkeeper, even resorting into going into business for herself (as a barber of all things!) and selling her hair!  She even contemplates pawning her wedding ring (which I would have done just on principle).  The author tries to sell this to me by showing that Lydia gains some self-worth.  Lydia now knows that she can do anything she sets her mind to and that her idiot family was wrong about her.  Gee, wasn't that so great of the hero?   "Helping" his wife learn that she has value?  And all the while I'm thinking:

What a Major Asshat.

Sigh.  So what I'm left with is a heroine I rather like and a hero who doesn't deserve her.  I do continue to enjoy Kelly's depiction of this era, along with her snappy dialogue.  But in this case?  The parts never came together in a satisfying whole for me.  Bugger that.

Final Grade = C

Other reviews:
The Romance Reader (5 Hearts or an A)
All About Romance (A)
Jennie's B(ook)log (6 out of 10)
GoodReads (average 4.12 stars)


Phyl said...

LOL, Wendy. I'm a fangirl, but I think yours is a very fair take on this book. It's been years since I read this one; I do remember liking it though.

Sunita said...

You are dead to me now.

Seriously, I have to agree with Phyl. I liked it because I like them all at least a little, but I wasn't crazy about the setup. Great review!

Hannah said...

I wonder if the other HTFGFRPO Carla Kelly title will be digitized soon with the Harlequin Treasury series. But undeserving heros are the worse. Maybe I'll give this one a miss.

Megan Frampton said...

I, too, am a Kelly fangirl from way back, but I do remember rolling my eyes at the whole hair-cutting thing. My favorite of hers is Reforming Lord Ragsdale.

Wendy said...

Phyl: The set-up here bordered on "farce" for me - which admittedly, are harder sells for me.

Sunita: LOL! I was rolling with it pretty well until the orphanage visit.

Hannah: Even though I wasn't wild about this one, I'm glad I read it. Mostly because Kelly handles the Regency era so well - it's hard not to like her work on that basic level.

I read somewhere (on the AAR boards I think) that her new publisher is looking to bringing some of her oldies into the digital age. Looking at her blog (which is linked to in the review) Marian's Christmas Wish is due out in September. That's one I need to see if I have....

Wendy said...

Megan: And that's one of hers I don't have.

I'm hoping she is able to get some of her backlist reissued - because while I'm interested in reading them all, I just refuse on principle to pay ridiculous prices for USED mass market paperbacks. It grates on my frugal midwestern-ness ;)

Kieshon said...

Oh wow, a C! I have this one but never could finish it. Keeping it for posterity. Thank you for this review, yes, thank you, thank you and thank you.

Keishon said...

Mispelled my own freaking name by typing so fast - it is *Keishon* *sigh* off to read now (slinking away)

A Library Girl said...

The only book by Carla Kelly I've read so far is The Admiral's Penniless Bride, which didn't do much for me as far as the romance went and gave me a slight overdose of goodness, but I liked watching the hero and heroine get to know each other. I'll have to see if I can find another book by her.

Heh, HTFGFRPO. I'll have to use that sometime - I just bought a couple books in a series because I realized the first book was now selling for 5 times the original price and I wanted the books I didn't have before they also went down that road. OOP can be a real pain sometimes.

FD said...

Mmmm. Carla Kelly. Yeah, the thing I like about her is the way she has of weaving in authentic details and the dialogue which is often funny and human. She doesn't back off've the dilemmas and traumas of the day and the conflict is generally internal and character driven, or where external is plausible.

However, I'm a wee bit careful - she gives her characters actual flaws, but the heroes moreso than the heroines - they have a tendency towards to martydom. And sometimes those flaws are a bit more than I can stomach; the Badajoz book, One Good Turn gave me actual nightmares.

Samanthadelayed said...

For some reason I love those old Signet Regency covers. I have been hoarding them recently and may actually get around to reading them all someday!

I haven't read Carla Kelly yet, but I know she is a favorite amongst the regency crowd. I have a few of her HQHs in my TBR pile.

Alie said...

I agree with you that there are probably too many ducal titles out there, but nothing entices me more than a good Duke romance :)

Kristie (J) said...

Based on the fact that so many readers rave about Ms. Kelly, I have quite a number of her books. But like your copy of Connor's Way, Jackson Rule and oh so many other books of yours, my Carla Kelly books are still in my TBR pile. I really do need to try at least one of them one of these days.

Just like I know you are going to read Connor's Way

heh, heh, heh

Wendy said...

Keishon: You have no idea how happy I was to see Jennie's review from 2008! Oh yeah, someone else who didn't love it! Maybe I'm not such a freak after all! LOL

Library Girl: I love "the hunt" when it comes to used, out of print, books - but I just refuse on principle to pay over $10 for an old, spine creased mmpb. I just can't do it.

FD: That's exactly it for me - I like that she doesn't ignore the more unseemlier side of the Regency era. I like cotton candy fluff as much as the next girl, but I can't take a steady diet of it either.

Samantha: Towards the end of the line, the covers started to blur together for me - but the older ones? From like the 1980s? Those always seem to catch my eye.

Alie: LOL! Well if people didn't love those Dukes, no doubt there wouldn't be so many of them popping up in Romance Novel Land!

Kristie: I don't know about you - but I have to be in the right sort of mood for a trad. Which is why so many of my Kelly's have languished for so long.

And I'm going to read Connor's Way! Uh.....eventually :)

nath said...

So far, I've read one book by Ms Kelly and hasn't been blown away. but then, that's me, so perhaps not the best reference.

Okay, well this one, I'm putting on my list of not to try to find LOL.

Jeff Rivera said...

I think I would give Ms. Kelly a thumbs up for this one.

Gail Dayton said...

Sneaking in to say that I've liked most of Kelly's books I've read so far--though I haven't managed yet to finish the recent-ish one with "captain" in the title. However, don't know that this is one I'm going to go look up...

Also...Yeah, I'm late to the party, but I did post a TBR challenge review. My grandkids were here during the official week for posting, and I forgot to do it ahead of time.