Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Exceptional Read: Lord Ramsay's Return by Elisabeth Fairchild

I define an Exceptional Read as a well written book that shakes me up, emotionally or mentally. It stops me in my tracks for some reason; challenges me to consider things that really - in my ordinary existence -  make no difference. An Exceptional Read challenges my thoughts, emotions, and spirit. I'm convinced, even if only for the span of the book, it should matter to Every Being in the Universe.  There are qualifiers to exceptional reads.  The label I apply depends on my mental engagement and my emotional response.  Your mileage may vary.

My Experience: A-
Synopsis:  Prudish Prudence Stanhope tests the wisdom of her name seeking to cure headaches with the magical massage of the King’s official “body shampooer.” What she finds in the hands of the notorious Rash Ramsay, just returned from the Orient, is a seductive cure for heartbreak.

As a first experience of Ms. Fairchild's writing I was delightfully intrigued by the sample chapters and totally bowled over by all that followed.  Overall, the story is solid, the pacing excellent, the dialog sumptuously suited to the characters, and atmosphere -- ooh it is luscious.  Secondary characters are well drawn and essential to the tale without stealing the thunder or devolving to cut outs.  Ms. Fairchild's  writing involves all the senses, all of them, wow.  Some readers might find this distracting if they are used to staccato descriptions and rapid fire dialog mingled with introspection all of which seems to have a specific formula based on current marketing trends that I, as a mere reader, have yet to figure out.

[I believe there must be an algebraic equation out there that defines these parameters and many a ragged writer sits at her word processor trying to make the story fit the factors until she decides - screw this, I'm gonna go scrub the toilet]

No spoilers below the cut ...

Lord Ramsay's Return has an engrossing narrative, internal thoughts that fully but not repetitiously explore conflict and show growth.  There is angst slathered with good common sense, liberally basted with period appropriate stiff upper lip, plus there is more than enough humor to make you chuckle out loud. [Beware the fork of retribution!]  There is a Big Misunderstanding near the end of the book but considering circumstances, I did not feel manipulated.  The sensual tension is very well done without once referring to anyone's member or velvet sheath, or those words you see on bathroom walls.  Also, I love that Ms. Fairchild used Brighton as the setting.  The very name of the place is loverly and the history interesting.  Based on her narrative, I was actually able to find all the locations she describes on an old map, now that is an author worth reading!  Despite the meticulous attention to detail regarding the setting, this is a character driven novel.  Those are my favorite.

Prudence is not a prude, but she has been left alone, lonely much too long.  Her dignity is beautifully expressed.  Serious and studious, she longs to reach out and experience life as an adventure.  Quite how to do that as a poor relation is an obstacle she hasn't overcome.  She is hungry for intelligent and thought provoking conversation, starving for affection, eager to share the stored up love with someone worthy.  She isn't an adorable character, but she is a well-defined woman.  I could not only empathize with her, I could understand her struggles and eye-opening moments as well as I could her slow awakening to the possibilities of love.

Charles was a hero worthy of the upper case letter.  A man of personal integrity with a sense of humor.  Rashly, in the judgement of others, he ventured out in the world to try and recoup losses the family had sustained over time, leaving what wherewithal remained in his brother's hands.  He returned a more thoughtful man with cargo and hopes.  Brother gambled away the last lint ball but Charles refused to allow this obstacle to ruin his life, regardless of the judgement of siblings or gossips.  He embraced the fact there was time to recover ... until he got to know Prudence.  Then he struggled to hold on to his peace, patience, and plans.

These two are not insiders of the ton, not jaded or frantic or even particularly well dressed.  Charles has been gone too long to fit in and now he is trying to recover his fortune by means of Trade [gasp]. Prudence was acceptable to even numbers and then fade quietly in to the background like the good governess she is.  They are both embarking on a new journey, facing drastic changes in their lives, as a result of betrayal of trust.  That they should meet at just this time surprises them.  That they cautiously move closer, expose themselves in moments was what made this romance exceptional romance for me.

Secondary characters, Rue and his wife, Grace, intrigued me. I enjoyed their presence in the story very much.  They are just the right amount of chaperons and encouragement without being preachy, obnoxious, or covertly interfering.  I was hoping to read more of their back story in the first book.  To spare you the hope, I'll spoil you with the fact they were a side story there, with glimpses that were briefer and most unsatisfying when I wanted to know more.  I suppose since there are other sibling stories out there, they won't ever have a novel of their own.  Too bad, I think it would have been as wonderful as this one.  Perhaps that's just as well, we can imagine it on our own and it will, of course, be perfect.

As a caution, I think many readers that come upon this book with only the perspective of the last 10 years of historical romance will be as bewildered as Prudence was by Charles.  So used to lust at first sight, all disagreements settled by a quickie in the carriage, the pull and tug of antagonism that masquerades as the opposites attract myth have dulled us to the subtleties of wooing, of learning to move from two to one flesh that, ironically enough, must involve more than the physical.  This is the type of love I want for my daughters, for my sons, for everyone that yearns to be more than a cut out of societal expectations droning through the motions of life.

I had two quibbles which did not jeopardize the status as an exceptional read.  One was the improper use of title as last name. They would not be the Ramsay brothers if he was Lord Ramsay, it jarred me repeatedly.  Two was the speed of the romance.  I actually was on the second read through before I realized how quickly the romance developed.  Combined these knocked my experience to a B.

I balance the quibbles and cautions and move the experience to an A- based on two things.  One we were not tormented with an epilogue which makes me a happy reader. Two, Ms. Fairchild accomplished what only Jo Goodman has previously achieved, she had me re-reading the book in less than 24 hours because I just wasn't ready to let go....

Note: this book was originally published in 1996; reissued in 2012.  This review should be on my Back in the Day page but Ms. Fairchild has recently written an addition to the series, so I'm ncluding this one here 

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