REVIEW: Connie Brockway’s THE SONGBIRD’S SEDUCTION, Or Love Among the Crofts

Songbird's_SeductionMiss Bates will expose her uncouth romance-reading ways and admit she’s not keen on Brockway’s books. She read rav-y reviews about As You Desire, dutifully read it, and it left her cold. She read All Through the Night and liked it better, but wasn’t inspired to read more of the oeuvre. Miss Bates suspects that there was something about Brockway’s voice, a privileging of it, a bringing into the forefront of the narrative that made the reader too conscious of it. When The Songbird’s Seduction came along … well, there was a mitigating factor, the Edwardian setting. Surprise, surprise … Brockway’s latest won her over. The novel was charming and funny, and pulled at the heartstrings. The voice was captivating, droll, affectionate towards its hero and heroine’s youthful foibles. The distancing was still there, but it was gentler. Though it may be deemed a light read, frothy and fun, there were also lovely, poignant moments, moments of pain in the characters, whose effervescent mood and carryings-on, embracing of life, willingness to forgive wrong-doing, were endearing. And did Miss Bates mention the laugh-out-loud moments …

The Songbird’s Seduction appears to have a convoluted plot and ensemble cast of madcap characters; it is also a road romance, a delightful one, with an engaging, opposite-attract couple. There’s a poignant, second-chance-at-love, older-couple secondary romance too! It’s the secondary couple who “set up” the novel’s premise. The autumn of 1908 sees heroine, Lucy Eastlake, with her maiden-great-aunts, at their ancestral home, Robin’s Hall, northeast of London, celebrating a windfall. The elder sister, Miss Lavinia Litton, is set to gain two shares of a “tontine” (“an annuity shared by subscribers to a loan, or common fund, the shares increasing as subscribers die until the last survivor enjoys the whole income,” thank you New Oxford American Dictionary). She became part of this potential boon 51 years ago, when she was caught with other Brits, in the Sepoy rebellion. There she met and fell in love with Lord John Barton who, sadly, abandoned her, unable, for “honour’s sake,” to break off his engagement, though he loved her. Now, he wants to give her his share and sends his absent-minded, cerebral, anthropology professor nephew, Ptolemy Archibald Grant, to accompany the two ladies to St. Girons, France, where the fortune awaits them. What Ptolemy doesn’t know is that he’ll get the ebullient nutball, Lucy, operetta singer and fanciful dreamer, into the bargain.

“Archie,” as Lucy calls him, and Lucy herself are appealing characters. Lucy is a girl whose feet barely touch the ground, so imbued is she with the imaginative spirit. Lucy may be going off half-cocked right, left, and centre, but there’s a solid core to her that knows what’s what, knows what’s important and what dross. She was orphaned and tossed from relative to relative until she was taken in, loved unconditionally, and coddled by her two aunts. Lucy’s greatest qualities are the same ability to give unconditional love and loyalty … and even though she’s everything out of the ordinary in Archie’s too orderly world, he can’t resist her beauty, or goodness. Lucy is humble; she sees only the good in the world around her and has a wonderful rapport with everyone she meets, but she has no illusions about who she is. Miss Bates loved this little phrase with which Lucy refers to herself, “I’m more of a lightning bug than a star.” Lucy, in one short, witty, loveable phrase.

To show the power of Lucy’s irrepressible imagination, Miss Bates offers Lucy’s first impression of Professor Ptolemy Archibald Grant: “Perhaps he was just a stuffy professor, a stickler for rules and conformity. No, not with that chin, he wasn’t. He might try to be, but The Chin would have out. That was the chin of an undomesticated ne’er-do-well, a scoundrel and a scallywag. A pirate.” Lucy’s charm lies in how she plays Don Quixote to Archie’s Sancho Panza … even at the HEA, Miss Bates predicted Archie would play straight-man to Lucy in their marriage. Though Lucy tends to see the world through rose-coloured glasses, her orphaned difficulties and intelligence allow her to see into the truth of who Archie really is, not the stuffy professor he’s allowed his sort-of girlfriend to mold him into. His brawn and good looks and wonder over every cultural artifact and grizzled fisherman’s story suggest a spirit of adventure. Lucy’s sees the “pirate” in Archie and she sets out to bring it out in him and win it for herself. You can’t help but like this fey girl; piratical Archie is well deserving of her efforts.

Thanks to various misadventures, the great-aunts leave for France without Lucy and Archie. Archie and Lucy, in order to ensure that the aunties aren’t left too long on their own in France, ignore the warnings of rough seas, and follow them on the next ferry. Lucy’s enthusiastic “plunge” into every new experience has her exclaiming to Archie:

She spun around again, eyes shut as she speared her face into the wind and flung her arms wide. “I’m queen of the sea!” “You’re going to be in the sea any second!” he yelled, just as the ferry dipped into the trough of a huge roller.

Four hours later “I’m going to die.” A sepulchral whisper issued from the form Archie cradled in his arms.

Miss Bates thought this was a hoot! Lucy and the sea: though prepared to love everyone and everything, they don’t exactly get along. Archie, practical, planted so stalwartly and firmly, but oh-so-handsomely with his piratical dark good looks, spends much of the novel in wonder at Lucy, or saving Lucy from herself. But he learns to follow the road, to see the romance in the mundane … he has fun with her. But he, in turn, recognizes her loving ways, her kindness and trust. He loves her, he has to .. he can’t help it. She’s drags him into adventure, exasperates him and leads him down the dark tunnels of his own long-suppressed spontaneous self.

What Lucy finds in Archie is poignant and beautiful. Though the aunties gave her a home and unconditional love, they too are frail and in need of care. In Archie, Lucy finds an anchor, a fulcrum from which she can navigate the world in her own exuberant way:

… in Archie she had finally found her true home, and it wasn’t a place but a companion to share in all the adventures, the mundane and the extraordinary, the struggles and the laughter, the roads and – God help her – if need be, the seas. Home meant shelter and refuge, passion and laughter, but above all being recognized as the person one was, not the person someone else wanted them to be.

Miss Bates found this touching, moving. Being orphaned left Lucy wounded, though not diminished, never that. Lucy’s too buoyant with life, love, and laughter to ever deflate emotionally, to ever see the world as place of thwarting. But her vulnerability is worn on her sleeve. She’d like some support, a safety net. Archie is as deserving of her as she is of him. He bends to her adventure spirit by rediscovering it in himself. And Lucy … she gets her pirate … but also, her gentle, loving, smart professor.

Miss Bates thought Connie Brockway’s novel a delight, in it she found “no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.

Connie Brockway’s The Songbird’s Seduction, published by Montlake Romance, has been available in the usual formats and vendors since September 16 of 2014.

Miss Bates received an e-ARC of The Songbird’s Seduction from Montlake Romance, via Netgalley.

Are you a Brockway fan, dear reader? What appeal does her work hold for you? What are your favourites of her books?

15 thoughts on “REVIEW: Connie Brockway’s THE SONGBIRD’S SEDUCTION, Or Love Among the Crofts

  1. I haven’t read any Brockway books, but this sounds right up my alley. I love the idea that what Lucy really needs is just a little back-up, some support for her adventuring. That’s marvelous.

    And the writing sounds terrific! I just finish Cecilia Grant’s A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong, and loved it, particularly for the delightful writing. I thought Alexis Hall’s There Will Be Phlogiston was going to stay on top as my favorite book for the exquisitely amusing language for a long time, but now it has companions for the title. 🙂

    Thanks for the lovely recommendation of the Brockway. Your review, as always, is terrific!

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    • Yes! Exactly, I liked that a lot: that Lucy is a soul who goes boldly into adventure, even when it backfires on her. She has such great bounce-back agility, emotional, not so physical, at least not at sea 😉 And Ptolemy-Archie is, at first, her perfect foil and then perfect partner: loving and supporting, but not over-protective and domineering. He learns from her as she welcomes his support. Really, Brockway has written a great riff on the ditzy heroine, who’s not as “ditzy” as she appears and has a lot to offer, and from whom the hero can learn. She supports him too: he’s not a great people person, the bane of studious introverts everywhere. There’s a great scene where she talks to the crofters and gets a curmudgeonly fisherman to tell ancient tales while Archie takes notes. He learns how to talk to people from her, to further his anthropological research and indulge in his suppressed urge and great scholarly love for fieldwork.

      This book is a lot of fun! And the writing is a marvelous … there are also some references to Edwardian fashion that made me so totally happy.

      Thank you for the review kudos and happy reading!

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  2. If you would fancy trying another Brockway, this one reminded me of her Bridal Season and Bridal Favors. Charming, funny and frothy, but at the same time, with real depth of feeling. They’re my favourites of hers, way over As You Desire and All Through the Night.

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    • Oh, phew, I feel soooo much better. I thought there was something wrong with my romance-reading soul when I didn’t like As You Desire (it bored me) and All Through the Night (it was okay). I will try those, thank you! Because I really really liked this one … and I laughed!

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    • I was just about to bring The Bridal Season to Miss Bate’s attention (although I DNF’d Bridal Favors. Sometimes Brockway is too cutesy for my tastes. I’ve also DNF’d everyone’s fav My Dearest Enemy twice.)

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      • Yay for the “Bridal” book … I really was charmed by this Songbird. It was a real reading respite. I was bored with the other ones of hers I’ve slogged through to the end. But I’m learning to DNF … I really wanted to DNF As You Desire, but read it in the days when I felt I had to finish a book. Glad those days are over!

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  3. I’m putting this on my to-be-considered list! I’m trying to ease up on my buying, but you’ve got me intrigued—by the characters and the setting.

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    • I think it’s most deserving of consideration. Really, I guffawed, teared up … and loved all the characters. No bad guys here either, no high drama; your villains are a few stick-in-the-muds. Love to hear what you think of it if you do decide to read it. 🙂

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  4. Belated happy new year!

    I’m up and down with Brockway – some of her books I really, really love and others I could barely finish. I do keep buying her books because when her book works for me, it’s such a pleasurable read. However, I would definitely recommend staying from her two contemporary novels — her historicals (especially her Victorian and Edwardian ones) are much stronger.

    Unlike you I really enjoyed “As You Desire” (but I read it when it first came out — at the time it was only Egyptian-set romance besides Elizabeth Peters’ romantic mysteries that I had read). I also really enjoyed the Bridal duology as well and would second Rosario’s recommendation.

    Brockway tends to write these emotionally large endings where her heroes perform grand gestures and make extravagant statements about their love for the heroine. If the rest of the book has worked — then the ends are really satisfying. It’s reminiscent of an older style of romantic historical writing (think Rafael Sabatini). But if I’ve become tired of the often overly convoluted (and sometimes slipshod) plotting or annoyed with the characters, then end feels melodramatic and stagey.

    This one — The Songbird’s Seduction” I’m m’eh about — I think part of the problem is that I thought she was trying too hard to make this a screwball 30s comedy set in the Edwardian period. From the hero’s name (Archibald Grant – Archibald Leach/Cary Grant) to whole scenes that were reworked homages to “Bringing up Baby”, “It Happened One Night,” etc., it was just too much. There was a real string-of-pearls feeling to the plot for me because of the call-outs and reworked scenes.

    Now that I think about it — I wonder if she was trying also to capture the sensibility of those crazy 60s British black comedies that were set in Edwardian period (e.g., “The Wrong Box” which also has tontine plotline).

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    • And the happiest of new years to you and yours! Health, good books, happiness, inspiration .. all good things coming your way in 2015!

      I think you have a fascinating analysis of Brockway here and obviously know her work much better than I do. I especially appreciated what you said about her plots. I will keep the Bridal books in mind … Egypt-set historicals though, I hope you’ve read Loretta Chase’s Egyptian-set Mr. Impossible because historical comedic romance doesn’t get better than that, IMHO! 🙂

      I see what you mean about Songbird’s Seduction and it’s totally true that she was looking at Bringing Up Baby and such … but that worked for me because it felt like an homage, and because I love those movies soooo much that any echo to them and I’m a goner. I thought it also had a touch of Mapp and Lucia, as well as I Capture the Castle and Stella Gibbons books. I also remember thinking as I was reading it that it wouldn’t have been as easy to get the lightheartedness of this going if it followed The Great War … even while the twenties may have roared, they were undercut by grief and the millions dead in the trenches. “Those crazy 60s British black comedies” “set in the Edwardian period” sound fascinating. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any.

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      • Yes I’ve read the Chase — and loved it. But it came out well after “As You Desire” and most of the Elizabeth Peter novels. (Like Brockway, I find Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody series a mixed bag, some I really, really love, some not so much. She also wrote contemporary romantic suspense novels that don’t get as much attention and one of my favourites of those is “The Jackel’s Head” set in modern-day Egypt – well modern when Peter wrote the book in the 60s.)

        And yes I love those movies too and that for me was the problem, I just became distracted by the homages and I think them a bit too overt. And I started wondering why did she pick this scene or that? And why was the hero so clearly supposed to be a particular movie star and heroine not equally tagged?

        As for Brit comedies the two I can think of off the top of my head are “The Wrong Box” and “The Assassination Bureau, Ltd.” But I know that there are more. I don’t know if Brockway has seen any of these (while I do know that she loves Cary Grant and 30s rom coms), but I do wonder if she has seen “The Wrong Box” especially because as I said it is tontine plot (and the reason I knew what a tontine was before I read Brockway).These movies are, however, far more black comedies than the screwball ones.

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        • I think that Chase is my favourite, I love it even more than Lord of Scoundrels. I have oodles of Peters in the TBR, so I should try her out one of these days. I looked up The Jackel’s Head and it looks really cool. I also have The Master of Blacktower and Greygallows in my TBR, which she wrote under the Barbara Michaels name.

          Thank you for the Brit comedy recs, though I’m now without TV, Netflix, etc. I don’t watch films the way I used, seeing a new one or two every week. Now, all I want to do is read! Or listen, I do love audiobooks.

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