Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-7548-4
Historical Romance, 2013
The Last Debutante is the closure to Julia London’s The Secrets of Hadley Green series, and it’s rather odd in that, by having the heroine move outside of Hadley Green for this story, the plot here is self-contained and therefore it stands alone very well. No messy secondary characters hogging in baggage from previous books or chewing the scenery. However, the drama late in the story provides closure for this series, and up to that point, there is nothing in the story to prepare new readers that the drama is coming. The author provides some background information, but the exposition is so awkwardly forced into the story at that point that the reader may be too busy scratching her head to appreciate the author’s effort.
Since you’re already here, read my review of the first book in the series. That way, if you are new to the series, you won’t be taken aback that much when you come across that part, heh. Oh, and this reminds me: the previous books in this series are actually quite dark and sober. This one, however, is more of a romantic comedy. So adjust your expectations accordingly if you decide to read those books after this one!
Daria Babcock is the only unmarried young lady in Hadley Green when this story begins. While a part of me wonders whether this is because she is somehow unattractive or flawed, she refuses to entertain these doubts and soldiers on with her nose held high. I like her already. Daria is frustrated with her life because her parents refuse to let her spend time in London, where she believes she may have a better opportunity to meet a nice guy that she can settle down with. Her parents, you see, want to live the simple life in Hadley Green, but Daria is frustrated that she may end up going nowhere and unable to do anything to change her life if she continues to be stuck in Hadley Green.
An opportunity arises when her grandmother, holed up in Scotland for reasons Daria is not aware of, needs money. Daria volunteers to visit Mamie, with a chaperone of course. The chaperone has her own ideas, and soon decamps for adventures of her own, leaving Daria to stumble into her personal rabbit hole. Mamie lives in a cottage in the wilderness, and when Daria arrives, there is a big naked stranger in the house, apparently wounded by a gunshot. He seems to be unable to remember what happened to him and Mamie is suspiciously evasive when Daria asks questions. What is going on?
She finds out soon enough when Jamie Campbell soon recovers and, now that he is strong enough to get out of that place, reveals that he’s been pretending to be amnesiac all along so that Mamie wouldn’t be tempted to shoot him again. Yes, Daria’s grandmother shot him. In the back. He went to confront her on the allegations that she cheated his uncle Hamish, who isn’t quite right in the head, out of a thousand pounds. Realizing that he won’t get answers or the money back from Mamie, he decides to take Daria hostage. He’s the laird of Clan Campbell, you see, and it’s perfectly within his rights to do this. Daria is not pleased with this, but she isn’t without her own tricks. If she can’t escape from him easily, she’d weaken him from within. She’d work at charming her way through his people!
This is a romantic comedy that reminds me of those old-school Highland romances Julie Garwood used to write before she discovered that she could make more money by having her heroes hold guns instead of swords. Daria is a refreshing twist of the usual feisty heroine stereotype in that, while she has her own insecurities, she refuses to let them or anyone around her take her down and hold her back. She also doesn’t blindly defend or excuse the people she cares for if she feels that they have done something that is beyond the pale. Daria is a delight to follow because she manages to be spunky and perky without being annoying.
Jamie is a more familiar hero, but I like that he manages to do his alpha male thing without being unnecessarily cruel, stubborn, or obtuse. He comes off more like a determined man who wants to keep his clan together and see to the welfare of his people in a time when things are changing and the old ways are dying. He has pretty good chemistry with Daria, although their romance has a by-the-numbers feel to it. Still, it is always nice to have a romance that is pleasant and fun without any ridiculous drama. The secondary characters all have their place here too, with their own personalities and shticks, and they never feel like walking advertisements for future books.
All things considered, The Last Debutante is a fun read. It may not be deep or complicated, but it does its job and entertains me very well, so it’s all good in the end. I have read the previous books in the series, however, so the last few chapters aren’t “What on earth?” material to me as much as they may be for readers new to the series. If you are new to the series, therefore, take my verdict of this book with a bit more salt than usual.