Montlake Romance, $12.95, ISBN 978-1477824894
Historical Romance, 2014
In 1857, Lavinia Litton was an 18-year old outspoken lady sent by her father to India, in hopes that the high male to female ratio among the British there would finally find her a husband. Instead, she found herself as one of the few British trapped within the Patnimba hill station as the Sepoy Mutiny broke out. During the siege, these people rescued a stranger who handed them a bag of rubies as a token of gratitude. He had to set out again, and if he didn’t return, these strangers who saved him could divide up the rubies among themselves. Eventually, these folks decided on an arrangement: those who survived the siege would wait 50 years, while the rubies were kept in a bank account under all their names in France. After 50 years, if the original owner didn’t claim them, the rubies would be divided among those who were still alive then.
Today, 1908. Lavinia and her sister Bernice are starring in their own version of Grey Gardens, living as reclusive spinsters even as their home falls to pieces around them. Their grand-niece Lucy Eastlake is no Little Edie, however. A vivacious beauty whose career as an operatta singer may finally seem to be on an upswing, Lucy willingly puts her career on hold when she hears that Lavinia is very ill from influenza. When the story opens, Lavinia has recovered and she is back to her old prim and proper self, but Lucy realizes that her great-aunts’ finances are in shambles and something has to be done. But what?
Providence arrives in the form of a letter summoning Lavinia to France, for the release of her share of the rubies to her. Lucy is ecstatic. The money would go a long way in restoring the only home her great-aunts have, and she can then go back to the stage. She will accompany Lavinia and Bernice to France, of course.
In the meantime, another survivor of the siege, now a British lord, summons his grandson Ptolemy Archibald Grant to his side. He and Lavinia shared a brief moment when they thought that they were the only two people in the whole world who understood one another back during the siege, but they never acted on their feelings or even told the other person what they feel, so they parted ways after they were rescued. He eventually married the woman he was betrothed to long before he met Lavinia, and it is only recently that he became a widower. He thinks about Lavinia, about what could have been back then if he had said this or done that… but his gout causes him to send his grandson in his stead to accompany Lavinia to France.
A little carelessness forces Lavinia and Bernie to board the ferry from London in the company of Lucy’s cross-dressing actor friend (not that these ladies are aware that the scandalous broad accompanying them is a man, of course) while Lucy has to take the next ferry. The next ferry sees her and Archie sharing some close quarters together. That’s before the storm hits, subsequently forcing the ferry to stop by an island for repairs. The entire entourage is now split into two, with the two older ladies having an adventure to remember, while Lucy and Archie bicker, argue, laugh, and eventually throw caution to the winds all the way into a mad, mad affair. Lucy calls that man Archie, much the man’s dismay, and decides that the cute but ridiculously prim, proper, and even pompous fellow should be shown how to live a little bit more. She teases him, flirts with him, only to discover that he was once a rebellious guy whose wilder natures had been suppressed by expectations pressed onto him by other people, including his grandfather, as he grew up. What would happen if she released that genie from the bottle?
The Songbird’s Seduction is a very funny story. Really! I find myself smiling as I initially turn the pages, and I end up laughing out loud at several instances as the story progresses. The whole story is brimming with buoyant cheekiness and even spirited abandon that I feel like I’m on an exhilarating roller coaster ride, laughing like a crazy woman, instead of merely turning the pages. This book is so fun to get lost in, and the whole day seems so much brighter after that.
The romance between Lucy and Archie is lightweight, though, because they are all about having fun together instead of staring longingly at one another and getting matching tattoos. To be honest, I’m sure that they are right for one another. Lucy is selfish, reckless, and impulsive, while Archie is generally self-absorbed and a bit of a user too, tolerating other people’s company because they do everything for him. The woman he wanted to marry before he met Lucy, for example – she manages his life, does his paperwork, et cetera while he spends his time in la-la-land, and he ditches her when he decides that Lucy heat up his blood more. There is nothing wrong about these sorts of people, if you ask me – in fact, I like the imperfections of these characters, as they make these characters more interesting to me. But I’m not sure about the compatibility of these two.
I mean, sure, nerd guys may be cute because they seem to play so hard to get. But take it from someone who’s married to a nerd guy: they aren’t playing hard to get, mostly. It’s just what they are. I always half-joke that our marriage lasted past the first five years because I’m a nerd gal. And we nerds can be so self-absorbed and selfish sometimes that we may not even notice that the other person is behaving the same way. Lots of drama were avoided that way. Lucy, however, seems like the type who analyzes feelings and emotions while at the same time reaching out for what she wants because she thinks she deserves it. I admire that attitude, but this aspect of her personality would also leave her vulnerable to those moments when Archie can’t help being what he is – a cute guy who is used to getting others to make his life comfortable for him while he indulges his own whims.
I do laugh, though, in the end, when the author has Lucy wondering how Archie would make a living when he’s withdrawn his application to be a professor to be with her, and Archie says bluntly that he is so rich that he doesn’t need to work. I admire such honesty in a romance novel – all that money may actually help make this mismatched couple get through their first five years after all. On the other hand, I am disappointed that the author chooses to play by rule here when she has Lucy being the virgin instead of Archie. Lucy is the stage person, Archie is the one who is so clueless about women that he probably has no idea what to do with his pee-pee without a thesis to show him – and yet, when it comes to the bedroom, it’s the same old played-out dynamics at work, even if a role reversal would have made sense here and, therefore, would have been welcomed by me with confetti and fireworks.
A big part of me will always wish that the story has focused more on Lavinia and Bernie. Both are fabulous characters, and the too-brief moments of their breaking out of their shells when they are out of their comfort zone are such a joy to read. By the time Lavinia comes face to face with her long-lost love, she handles it with such class and fabulous aplomb that I actually wish that this book is about her and her sister instead of being merely a romance novel. I like Lucy and Archie, but these two ladies are the most interesting characters in this story, and watching them discover aspects of themselves that they never know they have is great.
I also love how the author uses Lavinia’s aborted love affair in Patnimba as a parallel to Lucy’s own love affair this time around. Both times, the men consider themselves engaged to other women – but unlike Lavinia, Lucy refuses to play the martyr to honor and all that rot. She will fight to have Archie, even if it means playing dirty. The contrast between these two women could have been handled in a cheesy manner, but the author pulls this off very well. The contrast between these two women actually helps to strengthen their characterization here, without making one look like a fool compared to the other. Here, there is strong undercurrent of celebration of the sisterhood of women, differences and all, that is usually found in women’s fiction.
Even the poor woman who did all the work to make Archie’s life comfortable until he meets Lucy, while being a caricature in her own right, doesn’t seem like a badly done foil for Lucy. If anything, Archie ends up looking like the cad in that one! I’m fine with Archie coming off as a cad, though. He’s not perfect, but neither is Lucy. The romance here is wild, self-absorbed, gloriously selfish – and I can definitely relate to and go along with the premise.
The Songbird’s Seduction is light when it comes to baggage, but it certainly packs a big wallop of fun and exuberance, the author capturing very well the impulsiveness and recklessness that define wild, glorious passion. There are also unexpectedly poignant and hard-hitting moments when I least expect the blow to fall. So yes, I won’t consider this one a great romance novel, due to the aforementioned lightweight romance, but damn it, it’s certainly a glorious read about those insane feelings about just letting go and being completely mad, damn the consequences, for passion, for love, whatever – just take the plunge and do it, tomorrow can take a hike. It’s a wild ride, alright.