Signet, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-20461-1
Historical Romance, 2001 (Reissue)
I confess that I have been very unfair to virtuous heroines of Regency London. I have encountered so many addle-pated dumb ninnies whose actions and thoughts I could see coming a thousand miles away that I start to think that all Regency women have put too much mercury in their facial cream and completely gone braindead. Then comes Carla Kelly and I remember how I actually love the Regency era.
Libby’s London Merchant is cute and quaint. The heroine Elizabeth “Libby” Ames may be a virtuous dame, but she has brains too. There’s the usual cheerful younger relative, this time a cousin, the earnest young brother, the pompous Squire, the drunk/rake war hero hero… yes, yes, been there done that. But it’s still a fresh read because the author gives her characters and stories enough tweaks and depths to make them stand out.
Benedict Nesbitt, the hero, is some sort of Duke, is in a hangover-induced romp in the bedroom with his buddy Eustace Wiltmore (don’t ask) when he makes this promise to go undercover to the country to check out Eustace’s intended bride. Eustace wants a report – how pretty, how buxom, how docile, you know, what a man is interested in a woman – and Nesbitt will fake a road accident and gets himself admitted into the house for some snooping.
Eustace’s intended is Libby’s cousin. Cousin, however, has gone on a holiday, leaving Libby alone in the house except for the old coot of the staff and her brother Joseph. Then comes a handsome “Mr Duke”, a candy merchant, who apparently suffers from a carriage accident, and Libby finds herself going “O-er!” at that man.
Libby is a smart one. She isn’t married yet not because she is too busy wailing over her financial circumstances or too busy running all over the country healing people who step all over her. She is just poor and her father is a tobacco merchant, so that’s it – nobody who’s anybody will even want to marry her.
Except the bumbling but earnest Dr Anthony Cook.
But Libby, the practical one, just have to fall for the drunkard rake Nesbitt instead.
Yes, I like Libby, and Nesbitt will be tolerable if the story does a little bit more to make him more than that charming man in the bed. But Dr Cook – oh my. What a nice man. What a sweet, earnest, and kind man who says such pretty words. I really get rather annoyed at the way he is given the short stick in this story. Ms Kelly lets Cook keep his dignity by the end – thank you – but in essence, he is used by both Nesbitt and Libby to work out their feelings for each other. Poor Dr Cook – awww.
Okay, okay, I confess that Libby’s London Merchant is a very good read. Characterization is above average, none of that stale Regency token characters hogging the limelight here. The plot moves along fine, except that as it progresses, my darling Anthony gets more and more shafted. It is a testament to Ms Kelly’s writing skill that I actually believe…
Okay, there is a wonderful conclusion that wraps up the story of Cook, Nesbitt, and Libby. But you know what? I’m still peeved about how Cook is treated.
Up next, Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour. Our heroine Omega Chartley (could be worse, her brother’s named Alpha). Someone should give Daddy Chartley a knock in the head. Come on, Omega? What is this, an episode of Transformers or RoboTech? What’s wrong with Epsilon, Psi, or Theta?
Ommie was dumped a few years ago. No euphemisms could hide the fact that she was left high and dry at the altar at what was supposed to be the wedding of the year. Today, she is a schoolteacher – her daddy’s monies does a nosedive soon after the altar solo performance – and here she is, taking her much-needed holiday-cum-move to a new post thing for the first time.
But our heroine immediately postpones her holiday when she sees a Bow Street Runner harassing a little boy. The boy, James, is escaping a nasty guardian and he is running to his uncle’s place. Ommie just cannot help but to become his accomplice and fellow road-tripper. They soon find themselves with a few more buddies and all of them end up at the home of James’s uncle, one Matthew Bering.
Now, I’ve described half the book already. Somewhere along the way, I have high hopes that Ommie will hook up with that soldier buddy of hers – he is a nice guy after all. And there is no other male in sight. Then comes Matt, surly and detached and all von Trappy. He has an excuse, of course, for that, as well as an excuse for jilting Ommie. They always do have an excuse, eh, those men? So as Ommie warbles “The hills are alive…”, as she wonders why Matt won’t play-play happily with James like she does with the boy, as she wanders around the house wondering why Matt won’t play nice, I think fondly of the male soldier, who by now seems to have taken up position as the unofficial Bering houseboy or something.
Later there will be somebody trying to poison everybody, and Matt will cry as much as manly men could allow themselves to as he asks Ommie to marry him, and James will go “Yay!” as he finds a new happy family, and I just wonder why the author puts Matt so late in the story, makes the man so surly and so… so… predictable, and only puts the emotional stuff at the end so little, so measly.
Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour is pretty good read, but as a romance, it concentrates too much on Ommie and Jamey’s Happy Road Trip for too long for its own good.
The first one gets four oogies, the second one three, so on the whole this 2-in-1 reissue gets three oogies and a half. Oh what the heck, I’d be nice and round that up to four oogies.