Friday, July 3, 2015

The Fellingham Minx: A Regency Novella by Lynn Messina

My Experience: B++++
Synopsis:  Miss Evelyn Fellingham does not need to see the admiration in the Earl of Halsey’s eyes to know she is attractive—most men find her violet eyes and porcelain skin irresistible—but she wants to. Yet every attempt to impress him with her playful wit and lively banter ends in sullen silence, for she is too much in awe of the handsome lord to form a coherent sentence. No doubt he thinks she’s a beautiful ninnyhammer. 
Indeed, that’s exactly what the earl thinks, and he dismisses her as yet another simpering society miss. 
Then an out-of-control hobby-horse in Hyde Park knocks her over in front of everyone, including Halsey. The mortified young lady, her cheek bruised and her dress stained, can barely bring herself to raise her eyes from the ground—which is a shame. For if she did, she might finally see the light of admiration begin to glow in the capricious lord’s eye.

It is difficult to turn the spoiled brat of a previous book into a heroine of another, moreso in a novella.  But Ms. Messina pulls it off.  If I was a better person, I'd applaud this fact but frankly, I wanted more!  Of course, I have said that about all the books she's written and I've read, so maybe I will be forgiven. No, never mind, I don't want to be forgiven, I want to be honest and speak my mind, politely of course.....

A fact of kofemug life: I really do not like reading series books as they are written and released.  I much prefer discovering them years later, after all is written and re-released.  I am not in need of being part of the waiting throng, shoring up my fellow readers with vague hopes and banal substitutes in the meantime.  Neither am I so juvenile as I once was [insert embarrassing memories of standing outside the book store waiting for Starlog magazine to hit the shelf] desperate to be the First to read the latest offering. Now and then, I’ll get caught by a book in a series not complete.  At those times I smack my head on the desk a few hundred times and retreat to my keeper file in a petulant orgy of self-comfort.

A fact of real life:  The trend these days is to write [and therefore read] series books.  Finding a standalone book that meets all my plot, time period, and characterization criteria is a challenge, and so, I weed through the series books until I find one that meets most of my internal checklist, very seldom bothering to read the rest.  [Sorry marketing gurus, your ploys can’t always work]  I weep for authors that fear publishing that wonderful story because it isn’t part of a series and they won’t wreck it trying to weave in characters from another book so there it sits, on a hard drive or in a notebook; longing for the light of day and that heartfelt sigh only a reader can bless it with.

Another fact of kofemug life:  I generally avoid novellas, short stories, and prequelettes like I step over sticky gum in the parking lot of the grocery store.  Too often the gimmick of marketing is all that shines through the abbreviated tender tale.  I know it is harder to write and I should give such efforts their due by spending my money and writing enthusiastic reviews but … usually all I end up wanting to say is one of two things.  Either it was too skimpy and screen play like OR [and here is why my second fact of life IS what it is] the characters and story deserved to be more, so much more.  Feeling cheated of a good book with the abridged version makes my kofemug leak on the coaster.  That's, of course, my problem and why I avoid novellas, etc, but now and then ... I am weak, or foolish, or not paying attention and the gum is stuck on my shoe.

In the case of the Fellingham Minx, I was not paying attention.  I saw the word Fellingham and hit Buy with 1-click.  [OK, yes, marketing gurus, sometimes your ploys do work].  I adored Miss Fellingham's Rebellion  Catherine's entire family - even father without the good sense to appreciate what he had - was so utterly real to me with their family fussing and complete loyalty to each other even so, that I proclaimed it to the world.  What we say [and think] to and about a sibling that we would never say about a friend or even rival is the mortar that holds a family together!  I don't mean the one-liner snarky sitcom stuff, save me from that I beg you, I mean the intimate knowledge we *think* we have by virtue of the fact we were spawned and dwelled with someone all our lives and therefore, are an expert on another's thoughts, feelings and character.  It is just so lovely when we realize how wrong we were.

Since the book opened on page one and the action was immediately upon me, I did not even realize a novella was before me.  I was swept up and delighted from the first sentence:

The first Miss Evelyn Fellingham ever heard of a velocipede, the ungainly contraption was running her over in Hyde Park.

Miss Evelyn of the enormous character growth and maturing in the previous book was charmingly uncertain of herself.  Of course, again with the perfect man issues Ms. Messina should be famous for - maybe she is, I don't keep up with that stuff, sorry - the Minx is tongue tied and slightly addled even before she's run down by inconsiderate young man of high spirits.

I confess, there was a twinge of fear that we were about to see a love triangle plot. I so didn't want to endure that.  With trepidation, I sneaked a peak to make sure the final kiss was without signs of the brought up to snuff by jealousy cwap thereby allowing tension to be banished.  And this is how I discovered my purchase was a novella.  Swinging back to the front of the book, I was on the title page and emitted a most unladylike groan that drew the attention of my family.  They're used to such things and resumed their lives without concern.  How could they not?

Since I was already hooked, already invested enough in characters to sneak a peak, I forged ahead.  I am not sorry that I did.  Deftly as she handled the hoydens of Harlow and the late bloomer of Fellingham, Ms. Messina gave us a generous glimpse into the life, heart and mind of one of those simpering misses littering the ball rooms and romances.  Of course, we, as women of intelligence and fortitude, already knew there was more to the widgeons, but it is always nice to have our suspicions confirmed.  The shameful way such chits have been handled in romantic fiction the last century or so is almost entirely made up for in this novella.  If there is One, there must be more, right?

The late blooming hero, the Earl of Halsey, [nice to see the shoe on the other gender for a change] was a perfect counter balance to Evelyn's straight and beautiful stroll through the societal strictures that led to the altar.  She was not afraid of marriage, not horrified to be on display or the least embarrassed about taking the measure of the bachelors on offer. She was exactly and precisely what she was prepared to be and made no apology for that, even to herself.  Though her sister cautioned and teased her about a propensity for high drama, it really was without merit in this brief book.  IF you haven't read the first one, I suspect you might think sister Catherine is sniping at her sister, but she wasn't.

Unfortunately, like me, Halsey wanted more.  He couldn't quite believe he was perfection in two Hessians, poor dear.

He couldn't be right all the time. As much as he liked to believe he was infallible, he realized it was
simply a statistical impossibility....  After seven seasons in London, Halsey had come by his disgust of simpering misses honestly, having been entertained— a term only loosely applied— by them on many occasions. With his pleasing countenance and plump wallet, he was what the gossips called an eligible parti and had therefore been pursued up and down the Thames by matchmaking mamas and their simpering charges for years.

Like Evelyn, he wasn't ashamed of his requirements or the route one took to the altar, he just wished it didn't have to be so tedious.  His comprehension and compassion for the simpering misses did not mean he was willing to endure them for a lifetime.  And of course, there was his chivalrous crush on Catherine that was a yardstick impossible to measure up to.  Evelyn was aware of this, even if Halsey wasn't, but that wasn't the problem, o no, it was simpler than that, truly.  In the end, of course, Evelyn was infinitely more fascinating to Halsey than, uh what was her sister's name again?

Overall, this tiny tale lived up to my expectations.  The writing was crisp, full bodied and every word relevant. The lovely omniscient narrator was back - commentary and allusion in perfect tone if a bit rushed.  The coming and goings of former characters not too intrusive, though a little of the Harlow Hoyden goes a long way.  The Fellingham family was in fine form, sisters arm in arm and future mother-in-laws quite as expected.  I felt the former hero was given short shift [ha!] but it was a novella.  Evelyn and Halsey's romance was generously handled even if the months before were all off page.  Considering the brief timeline involved it was the focus of the story and remained so right to the end, just as it should.

I should stop right there but I won't.  This would have been an A experience for me if it had been a full length novel.  I won't apologize for needing more or for hoping that Just Once in this decade the transformation of a simpering miss to worthy heroine would be given the credit and fuller attention it deserves.  Ms. Messina gives me hope that day is coming and until then, I shall comfort myself with this loving salute to the simpering miss!   The marriage mart existed and how authors and readers adore mocking it and those thrust in to the limelight mostly to stumble, end up on the walls or married to an brute because it was what the catty little twit "deserved"....

And yet, we know, generations later, that there were many successful, generally tolerable unions with off spring, holidays and even, occasionally, love blossoming as the years advanced.  Despite the over worked themes of rakes and married women pursuing them; there were still people that held to their vows, fretted about the daily doings in their households and shared laughter at the end of the evening because they were not only blessed they were content.

Reading Ms. Messina's recent Regencies I am reminded of my hunger for more of the marriage and love is a GOOD thing, not a curse or a mockery, theme / plot / story.  Maybe it is a symptom of my biddy-hood that I feel this way, or maybe it is just that like the rakes and dukes spewing forth with brutal regularity, I am jaded by what has become the same ole thaing.  Since she boldly encourages her heroines and heroes to want more, I feel in good company.

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