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 Review: Danger, 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
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)