A groggy, caffeine-heavy morning for me after a night reading into the wee hours, thanks to Lauren Willig’s Gothic romance, historical mystery The English Wife. The novel opens in January 1899 in Cold Spring NY, at “Illyria,” Bay and Annabelle Van Duyvil’s country estate. Bay and Annabelle’s hermetic existence has thus far been the bane of Bay’s appearances-are-all mother, Alva. Formidable, humorless Alva is ever flanked by Janie, her mousy, silent daughter and Anne, the mouthy, flamboyant niece she took in. To Alva’s great society-loving heart, Bay and Annabelle are finally celebrating the opening of their magnificent estate by holding a costume ball for New York’s best, brightest, and finest. Until now, Bay and Annabelle’s life has been a mystery. Rumours of eccentricities and infidelities swirl around them, about them … maybe because they keep to themselves and, at least on the surface, appear to live an idyllic existence with twins Sebastian and Viola. Bay and Annabelle don’t seem to give a fig about what the “best people” think, rendering them endlessly fascinating to the society pages and ensuring Alva Van Duyvil’s frustrated, officious meddling. Continue reading
What happens to your identity when everything you’ve known about your family is a lie? This is Lauren Willig’s premise for The Other Daughter. It opens as a cross between Mary Stewart and Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Heroine Rachel Woodley’s life has the air of impoverished 19th century governess as she cares for the Comte de Brillac’s three daughters in the French countryside. An urgent telegram summons her to England. Rachel, however, is too late: her mother is dead of influenza, the funeral wreaths bought, adorned, and withered. At 25, Rachel is bereft of mother and father and destitute; her only hope, a secretarial course and immediate employment. Troubles come in battalias when their landlord in the obscure village of Netherwell evicts her. As Rachel packs her mother’s things, she makes a remarkable discovery – a Tattler photograph of Lady Olivia Standish and her father, the Earl of Ardmore, the man Rachel knew as Edward Woodley, the father she thought dead when she was four. Is the title’s “other daughter” Olivia, wealthy, polished, privileged, or Rachel, Ardmore’s by-blow? To lose job, mother, home … and discover you’re the illegitimate daughter of a man you’d adored and thought dead, alive, well, and callously indifferent to the wife and daughter he deceived and abandoned, what does it do to a girl? Can an author, other than Brontë, deprive her heroine of everything stable and loving and throw her into a surreal sense of dislocated self: Willig certainly has. Continue reading
Small-town contemporary romance is ubiquitous. Miss Bates reads her fair share, especially when it’s by Donna Alward, or Virginia Kantra, who write wonderful contemporary small-town romance in their Jewell Cove and Dare Island series. Sarah Morgan’s Puffin Island series now takes its place next to Alward’s and Kantra’s. Morgan’s first title, First Time In Forever, doesn’t break any molds. It’s typical in characterization, narration, and setting. Miss Bates is interested in the small-town romance as a vision of utopia; she’d argue the hero’s/heroine’s role is complemented by the small town utopian ethos, even so far as to say some of the HEA work is done by its denizens. Our hero and heroine need help and the small-town comes through for them.
For now, Miss Bates sticks to plot and character basics. Emily Donovan arrives at coastal Maine’s Puffin Island a desperate woman, seeking sanctuary and anonymity, the anxious, uncertain, and recent guardian of a niece, six-year-old Lizzy. She meets boating/sailing club owner, tall, dark, and handsome Ryan Cooper, when he knocks on her door offering help, friendship, and smouldering sexy looks. Their encounter breaks open two people wary of love, commitment, and family. Their closed-off selves, cautious and doubtful, are healed as much by the virtues/values of small-town life as falling in love. Emily, in particular, experiences a conversion to small-town living. Ryan, by virtue of having been home for four years, is one of her guides. While he may be advanced in his journey, he needs to take the final steps to finalize/entrench his place on Puffin Island and those steps entail overcoming his commitment-aversion. Continue reading