Friday, June 27, 2014

Inconvenient Trilogy by Audrey Harrison

My Experience:  Three New Books for my Keeper List
Synopsis:  Each Book is a Stand Alone - but you'll want to read them all!

Gorgeous covers, engaging characters, well paced story telling, creative dialog, attention to detail,  plus darling secondary characters with villains that are really rotten earn these books Precious Space on my Keeper's List.  I know I'll read these books again.  [One little quibble was the repeated use of gentile for genteel and several minor grammatical or conversion errors. A gentile is a non-Jew; genteel means polite, refined, respectable.  Every instance made me smile and whisper: Curse you auto correct!]

Very few series books end up with the final book being as good as the first.  In this case, the third book surpassed the first and is actually my favorite [even though it made me snivel].  Each book ends, complete, an entire story.  There is chapter one of the next book offered at the end but they are all available now so you won't have to deal with that gut churning fear exacerbated by eons of time waiting on the next book.

You know that fear, don't you?  It is fed by monthly visits to an author's website where you encounter pet photos, publisher adds, and restless diatribes about annoying reader expectations interfering with The Muse.  All you wanted was news of the next book's release dates, maybe an anecdote or an index of the back list, really that would be enough. You didn't want to take on the author's angst, canary molting issues or publisher's cookies. Worse, by the time the next book is out, your experience is all but ruined when you know Chapter Five's big scene was actually written as a sly payback against a certain segment of not-really-the-right-kind-of-fans discussion/ comments on a topic that had nothing to do with the book....

For this reason, I try and avoid series books [and author's websites] until they're all out ... in this way I'm always behind.  ::shrug::  What can I say, I'm a wimp.  Make a sam-mich or popcorn, grab a beverage of choice, and then click ==>

The Inconvenient Ward - Lord Michael Dunham is bored of Society, bored of fickle women, but above all that, he is afraid. His father suffered from madness and Michael is terrified that he will inherit the same affliction. He scrutinises his every mood swing, his every expression, to see if he can detect any signs that he is developing the symptoms. It blights his life. He has determined that he will never marry, putting a wife through the same that his mother suffered and he certainly will never have children. The disease will die with him.   Miss Elizabeth Rufford is a young lady who is more comfortable managing an estate as far away from Society as she can possibly be. She would rather be planting crops, than dancing a Quadrille, rather be building walls, than playing cards. She did not seek a London season when she came out of the schoolroom and would be happy never to visit the capital. A line in a will force the two together. Lord Dunham is Elizabeth’s guardian whether she likes it or not, and she really does not like it! Bounding into his life in the most outrageous way possible, Elizabeth makes an impact she never intended to. Michael is drawn to the feisty woman and suddenly finds that it is hard to fight one’s demons when Elizabeth Rufford is a part of your life.

Opens in January 1815 with these words: "Lord Dunham was bored. In fact he was bored, bored, bored."  First line made me laugh.  How many times have we read this in Traditional Romances?  Usually it's implied, or tarted up as ennui ::yawn::  In Traditional Romance, this is an air horn proclaiming:  Already fitted for the parson's mousetrap and hasn't a hope in hell of avoiding it!  [maniacal cackle is optional of course, I prefer the Wicked Witch of the West version though it does unnerve my gold fish and children].

Ms. Harrison starts off with the feeling of a romp, despite the subtle mention of madness and a woman wearing breeches.  But before the first chapter concludes you know she's teasing you.  Elizabeth wants to return to the country, to have an estate of her own instead of managing her cousin's since he inherited her father's title, estate and married; the new wife does not like or want to be burdened with Elizabeth.  Michael by virtue of his name has inherited guardianship but after a hilarious initial interview with is new ward, suggests a compromise.  A season in London and if at the end she still wants the estate more than marriage, they will work it out.  Seeing the reasonableness of truly knowing what is out there versus dismissing what she thinks society is, Elizabeth agrees.  She doesn't ram her opinions down his throat.  He doesn't come over arrogant and superior.

They discuss the issues.  They come to an accord.  They laugh together.  I wanted to weep with relief! The book's premise for a heroine in breeches living a man's life as a woman has become more of a cliche than the simpering miss.  Yet Ms. Harrison handled it so well, sensibly, sympathetically, and soothing my fears. I believed in this exceptional heroine.  [I read this book last based on the description of Elizabeth in the blurb.  I am utterly tired of 20th Century women parading through my Regencies and conquering not only society but using ideals that are still not truth even in the 21st Century  /rant off]

Society reacts to Elizabeth's unconventional ways pretty much as would be expected by Regency Readers familiar with history, not the modern tropes.  Eventually, once the gossips are settled with, Elizabeth makes a reasoned argument for not continuing to the end of the season but instead going on to the estate in Yorkshire.  And so they go.  Neither Michael nor Elizabeth fit the typical society mold.  Both appear to be quite comfortable with that, at first glance.  However, they both long for more that has little enough to do with where they live and whether they dance at assemblies or balls.  He's not the staid, boring stiff she expected.  She's not the flighty hoyden he dreaded.  Mutual surprise leads them to friendship, to a tentative trust and, as readers anticipated, infatuation that could be so much more, if only Michael would  allow things to progress.

There's a Fiendish Plot authored by Elizabeth's sister-in-law, Miranda, and her brother, George.  Elizabeth's cousin, Herbert is a willing minion of fiends, but Michael is on to them right from the start.  Despite kidnapping, harrowing rescue and genuine tenderness, there are still misunderstandings.  Yes, they talk but they're not on the same page.  I found it believable in this case.  Elizabeth was used to rejection and to carrying on as if it didn't matter.  Michael foolishly let things be when he realized she mistook his words because it seemed kinder. I didn't find myself impatient as Michael's sister became but that's because I knew it would all work out in the end.

Michael smiled at his sister, “Violet, Edward, I’m glad you’re here. Elizabeth has compromised me. I think we need a special licence, in order to marry quickly. The sooner the better, before I’m completely ruined.”

I liked this book, mostly for the delightful friendship that develops between Elizabeth and Michael.  They were exceptionally well attuned and not willing to let go of that, even if it hurt.

The Inconvenient Wife - Charlotte Webster thought she was eloping with the love of her life. She did not expect it to be a ploy. Held in a house of ill repute, there is little time to act to try and escape and few options to consider. Lord Halkyn is a peer much in demand, but an expert at avoiding marriage. He has always had fixed ideas on love-it causes too many problems to be worth the trouble. He did consider marriage to one lady once, but it would have been a business transaction. Unfortunately for him, the lady in question had wanted to marry for love and refused him. Rather than ridicule her, his opinion of her increased and he began to wonder if there was something in the nonsense that was love after all. When visiting his favourite house of ill repute, run by a Baron, he is accosted by a woman. He is begged for help in escaping from the house. Whether it was the real fear in her voice, or whether it was the devil in him, he helped her. Suddenly his life was to become far more complicated. Protecting an innocent, employing the services of Bow Street and racing across country, all situations that he could never have anticipated when he was first sought out by Miss Charlotte Webster. His life was never going to be the same again. 

**~~ Spoilers Below ~~** 
You have been warned
**~~ Spoilers Below ~~** 

The second book began with a more serious note but the humor was still there in the banter and the surreal situation.  Lord Halkyn is a rake that is already on that restless path wanting more from life, but he's not sure what.  He's observed friends in lurv and at the elderly age of twenty-four, he thinks maybe, possibly there's more to life than Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women.  Whether that's for him or not, well, that remains to be seen.  Charlotte is very young in experience, and as happens, she'll do foolish things while maturing.  Dismissing Charlotte's ideas and plans to become a governess or work in a mill, Stephen comes up with a plan, with the help of his faithful butler, Walter [a character I adored!].

I have just thought of a perfect solution,” Stephen said smugly. “One that will give you the protection of not only one Lord of the realm, but two. He won’t be happy about it though, which is even better.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner, Elizabeth would be perfect, or Lady Dunham as she is now.” Stephen said. Elizabeth would lend her support to the situation; she was the only genuinely decent person he knew." [yes, this is the Elizabeth and Michael, Lord & Lady Dunham from the previous book]

They set off on a road trip with all the requisite retainers, luggage and banter.  Of course, Charlotte is welcome with open arms and is immediately taken to the hearts of Dunham's, one and all.  Stephen and Charlotte develop an amusing friendship.  She enjoys the lighthearted flirting and he finds it remarkable that someone just out of the schoolroom is actually able to do more than swipe her fan, simper and contemplate his fortune.  It is not a case of opposites attract - no young woman thinking to elope with a footman is a demure miss; then again, no genuine rake gives a fig for the plight of the innocent OR debauched. [that's a myth that sells many glossy books and fuels many happy fantasies, but what-evah]. Elizabeth, observing the growing affection in Charlotte, interferes; telling her all about Stephen's cynical views of marriage.  Sensibly, Charlotte begins avoiding Stephen, hurting him and herself and bewildering everyone around them.

Tired of being treated like a poisonous snake, Stephen confronts Charlotte.  It doesn't go well or perhaps I should say it goes Too Well.  Uncle arrives, ready to forgive and forget, so long as Lord Halkyn does the honorable thing.  Charlotte is appalled:  “Uncle if you force this on Lord Halkyn, we are no better than Baron Kersal."  Stephen bounces through a range of emotion that would exhaust a method actor.  His final conclusion is basically, what the hey, I have to marry sometime [denial, it's not just a river in Egypt].  Of course he totally hashes the proposal and Charlotte refuses.

Uncle is on his high horse with a poker up the you-know-what.  Not quite before he can launch into a diatribe on the evils of women, Lord D offers to welcome Charlotte as a guest and friend for his wife, suggesting that after Charlotte is introduced to local gentry, Halkyn's marriage proposal will be irrelevant.  Uncle is only too glad to be rid of the Trial of Charlotte!  Lord D sensing his wife's imminent explosion concerning guardians and trials hustles the man out the door.
Could he have treated Charlotte any worse?” 
“He did have a way about him didn’t he?” Michael said ruefully. 
“That poor girl, no wonder she was susceptible to the charms of the footman, anyone would be preferable to going back home to an uncle like that!” Elizabeth fumed. “And what about Stephen, could he have offered for her hand in any worse way?” 
“Probably, but he would have had to try extremely hard,” Michael replied."

Stephen returns to town in a snit. But as he vowed, contacts Bow Street and hires an Officer, determined to see Baron Kersal gets his.  He and the Officer make a contact at Kersal's Den of Iniquity and then leaving it in the Officer's hands, Stephen returns to his townhouse to drown in brandy and brooding. [o yegadz!]  Meanwhile, back on the estate there are matchmaking plots and balls and experimental kisses that all amount to:  Time went by like it always does.  Just as Lord D's sister, Violet is about to whisk Charlotte off to London for a real season, a letter arrives informing one and all that the Fiendish George from the previous book did not get transported to Australia as expected but is, in fact, searching for Elizabeth so he may take his revenge.  Everyone circles the wagons and when word reaches Stephen, he sobers up and heads for the estate, with the Bow Street Officer, Mr. Peters.

When the Fiend throws Charlotte from a moving carriage, she is injured and looses the last few months of memory.  I almost groaned, but remembering how Ms. Harrison had turned other common tropes on their side and made them not only enjoyable but believable, I carried on.  As expected, she pulled it off, turning cliche in to plausible with the strength of her characters.  Stephen fusses with Elizabeth in a remarkable confrontation that had me fist pumping the air.  Charlotte doesn't put up with nonsense from anyone; by the same token, she isn't rude or ill mannered and when she takes exception, she does so for a reason, not just to argue.  Everyone keeps intefering but neither Stephen nor Charlotte allow this to be the decisive factor in their reasoning.  They listened to counsel and then made their own decisions.  [Hot Dawg, what a refreshing change].

There were other troubles to face along the way to her remembering those months and Stephen but in the end, it did work out.
"I’m afraid that if you refuse me I will never love another person as long as I live.” Stephen took a deep breath. “I have turned into the sort of besotted fool that I used to ridicule and I want to remain in this state until my dying day.  Will you have me Charlotte?” 
“Yes,” Charlotte responded, almost throwing herself into his arms. “I will have you with all your faults, grumpiness and stubbornness!” 
“I knew you were my perfect wife, none of this romance rubbish from my tiger,” Stephen said sweeping her into his arms and kissing her.

The growth of Charlotte and Stephen made this book for me.  The secondary characters lived up to the Traditional atmosphere and Ms. Harrison's use of humor tweaked my own. I read this book first because I loved the sample pages.  They did not let me down!

The Inconvenient CompanionThese four are destined to be thrown together in a way that will turn all of their lives upside down. None will come away unscathed from the encounter. 
Martha Farfield was companion and housekeeper to Lady Dunham. Her life would be complete if it was not for the interference of Lord Dunham’s man of business, Charles Anderton. At every opportunity he undermines her and causes annoyance, Martha cannot control her anger when in his company. Charles Anderton is smitten by Martha Fairfield, well he was when they first met. He blundered his first encounters with her and now she openly dislikes him. Every time he tries to help, he just creates further problems for them both. He needs to ease the tension, but has no idea how. 
Laura Atkinson is on the run. She was a prostitute for Baron Kersal and knew about his illegal activity. When the Baron’s trial collapses and the others involved in the scheme start to go missing, Laura realises her life is in danger. She seeks out the only man that she has ever trusted, the only man she thinks can keep her safe. Alfred Peters is a Bow Street Officer. He is alone in the world and although not happy with his lot, knows that in his employment, the casualty rate is quite high. He is resigned to keeping himself to himself. There was once one woman……..but wishing just means less concentration, which is foolish in the extreme. 

**~~ Spoilers Below ~~** 
You have been warned
**~~ Spoilers Below ~~** 

I love books with more than one story in them, especially romances, best when it's not some novella that is a glorified epilogue.  That the main characters are not titled, in positions of power, wealth or former villains is like a hot fudge Sunday on a summer evening, perfect.  This is a full length novel with complete, entwined stories.  I love it best of the three and will never read the epilogue again.

In this book, we find out more about secondary characters from the two previous books.  They've been there, in the background.  Showing up, helping immeasurably and providing common sense or a huff of frustration which ever was needed most.

I liked Martha, she was practical and able. Likewise, Charles was both amusing and predictable.  They didn't seem to amount to more than the brief flashes of depth you caught a glimpse of as the stories of Lord and Lady Dunham and Lord and Lady Halkyn progressed.  As their lives are fleshed out, you realize there has been an undercurrent of irritation between them, even when they joined forces.  I was a bit bewildered at first, but as the story developed, I felt my confusion pass.

Their story had a frustrating feel to it.  Clashes caused by misunderstanding that were repetitiously irritating.  I don't like sniping. I avoid like the plague people walking around with chips on their shoulders insisting others are chiseling at them.  For more of the story than less, I didn't like these two even though I did like them before. Looking in the mirror, I asked myself if I'd have been more compassionate if he'd been a Lord and she a Lady.  Fact is, I wouldn't have bothered to read their story at all if that had been the case.  It was their background and station in life that granted them the hand wave I wouldn't give nobility.  What a snob I am!

However, they both held on to my interest - separately - until they could establish my affection, together.  It was a rocky road but they kept on doing their jobs, being kind to others and even apologized to each other when appropriate.  That each apology made things worse wasn't amusing in this book, it was heart breaking.  When they finally make peace and consummate understanding ... I was not only smiling but vastly relieved.  Learning to love isn't always easy, learning to be a friend and allowing another to be yours can be even harder.  After reading the easy development of friendship in the previous two books, it was hard to see these two struggle for the same thing.  Finding their way, I don't think they will so easily lose it again.

Laura and Alfred touched me in the second book, right from the moment they met.  I was eager for their story, so hopeful for them despite the odds.  She was so much more than a victim of birth and Baron Kersal.  Her spirit was battered but her outlook realistic.  She was not bitter or falsely optimistic.  She was a genuine heroine IMHO.

Alfred was a complex character, worthy of brooding hero award, and yet, he had this quirky sense of humor and a desire to be everything he could be.  He had a traumatic past, that he spent years atoning for and like Laura, a realistic outlook.  In his case it had become just a bit too rigid to allow for the possibility the world was not the dark place he knew.  Laura shined light and warmth on that place.  He wanted to embrace that and yet ... he was so afraid. I cannot write more of Laura and Alfred without spoiling the story.  I want to - I really, Really, really want to, but I won't.

[Anyone interested in reading a Spoiler-Full Review and/or discussing Alfred and Laura's story click the link. You've been warned ==> Spoilers Be Here]

The entwined lives with the coming and going of Important Folks made this a Keeper for me.  The Villain is surprising and chilling, the characters consistent, the ending bittersweet and yes, I sniveled.  I've already re-read the book and expect to do so again.  Ms. Harrison surprised me.  She so thoroughly mastered the balance of amusing friendship and loving commitment with humor and a bit of tomfoolery plus the action packed moments that this book caught me off guard.  Exploring the characters that were "ordinary people" in times that seem extraordinary to us; she held me as firmly as her lighter prose.  I plan to seek out more of her work, as soon as my budget recovers.

My only quibble is the epilogue.  Epilogues are like that.  Readers love them or hate them, I don't think there is a middle of the road.  For me, it is a rare, oh so rare, epilogue that I thank the author for.  Mostly, I prefer to spend time imagining just what happily ever after means for those characters I've come to love.  The years I've pondered Laurie and Amy, Jo and Mr. Bhear, Meg and John ... the conversations and discussions, and yes arguments I've had regarding Mr. Thornton and Margaret, Aouda and Phileas Fogg have been enjoyable and ironically blessed me with life long friends as well.

We're such a rushed world now, an hour's reading time is a luxury, two hours to discuss a book is an indulgence we must schedule. Authors face demands for epilogues and provide them because in general, readers have become less able to cuddle our own imaginations; to allow words and characters to work their magic on us.  Of course, I could be wrong and it could all be about controlling creative copyrights :sigh:  THIS is what happened, keep your imagination out of MY world!  I refuse to believe it has gotten that bad, yet.

I recommend all three of these books, separately, in order or out of order.  I think you'll enjoy the Traditional Feel as well as the Rational Differences.  Totally character driven, the details, dialog, and atmosphere are still exemplary making these books worth your time.

1 comment:

  1. Theses sound like treasures 8D
    Talk about fleshing out the characters! Secondaries getting a book of their own? Talk about unheard of o.o tempted to look these none up for my self.