Caroline Linden, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-540-66241-5
Historical Romance, 2016
A Fashionable Affair was initially published as part of the anthology Dressed to Kiss, and the $6.99 I listed above is the price of the trade paperback version I had to buy because, you know, Amazon hates the idea of its Kindle authors that are unaffiliated with big publishers selling digital titles to third world people such as myself. Trade paperback is okay, though, because third world country folks can always afford to pay more (plus shipping) for a novella. But that’s not Caroline Linden’s fault, so I’m not holding this against her, be rest assured.
Felicity Dawkins’s mother was a French lady who fled the guillotine party in France to end up in England. Eventually she married, had Felicity and her brother Henry, and opened a dress shop. Madame Follette’s, that was a big success. Well, once upon a time. Now, fashion trends have moved on with the times, but Felicity’s mother Sophie-Louise stubbornly refuses to incorporate any of the more contemporary elements in her designs. Just you all wait, this ghastly trend will move on too, and people will love Madame Follette again!
Felicity, now as good a seamstress as her mother (she is that woman’s student, after all), knows better. With the exodus of their wealthy titled clients to other dress shops, the shop is bleeding money, and Henry warns her that it won’t be long before their suppliers will raise a fuss. When the story opens, the two siblings manage to persuade Sophie-Louise to take a year off and let Felicity steer the business back into track. But it’s not long before another complication arises.
Evan Hewes, the Earl of Carmarthen, has big plans. He will buy up all the properties on Vine Street, demolish the old buildings, and build upon them a more modern commercial hub. Hs team has managed to get all but one of the current tenants to sell their properties to him. Guess which tenant is the stubborn. Actually, Sophie-Louise is the one who refuses to sell; when Felicity learns of Evan’s offer after he comes visit the store personally, she is more practical than her mother. She knows that Evan can’t go ahead with the development without her getting her mother to sell the store (it’s a structural thing, let’s just say that he can’t tear the neighboring lots down without bringing down Madame Follette’s too). Still, she can help persuade her mother if Evan helps her locate a suitable place for her to continue her business in in the meantime (for a rent of thirty pounds or less, please), and help with the moving too.
Of course, they spend more time together and the rest is love.
This story offers some interesting glimpses into the running of a dress shop as well as the cost of doing so, and there is a novelty value in such a rarely used backdrop. But it is still a novella at the end of the day, so the usual limitations to the depths of the relationship and characterization apply. Because of these limitations, poor Felicity’s character is greatly shortchanged in order for the author to show me what a wonderful catch Evan is.
These two characters start out with a know-it-all attitude that see them getting off on the wrong foot, but Evan shows a lovely ability to learn from his mistakes, adapt, change, and compromise. Also, he’s conveniently loaded, so he showers Felicity with all the lovely things his money can buy: a new store for her in Bond Street (which also means a new start), keeping her mother’s past from haunting them, and more. Of course, he’s also hot, don’t forget that, and he has a lovely way with romantic actions and proclamations that are as alluring as his willingness to throw money around. If they sell guys like him in stores, I’d go into one and take seven, one for each day of the week, and maybe another two as spares, just in case one breaks down from overuse.
Unfortunately, this means that it is up to Felicity to be mulish and silly in the face of such relentless generosity in order to keep the story going. Our heroine starts out pretty smart, but as the story progresses, she is just there. She is trying to make a living, but without any hint of self-awareness, she holds Evan’s need to make a profit in his business endeavors against him. Our heroine falls into the always stupid “Progress is bad! Making money is bad!” trap, making her a big hypocrite in the end because she’s the happiest benefactor of the very things she claims to despise. She also doesn’t do anything after getting Evan to agree to getting her a new store – she turns into a defeatist, nagging shrill that ends up getting all the nicest things in the world without earning them. It is Evan who does everything to give her her happy ending. This will always be a huge disappointment to me because the author has set Felicity up to be a smarter creature than this.
Still, A Fashionably Affair is a breezy, lighthearted way to kill some time, and the hero is really too adorable. If you think you can overlook a disappointing heroine who doesn’t earn her happy ending, this one may be worth a look.