Miss Whittier Makes a List, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, and Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly

Miss Whittier Makes a List was loaned to me by Rochelle at the same time as she sent over The Other Guy’s Bride by Connie Brockway. I was grateful for the loan and even more grateful that Carla Kelly’s writing was good. Miss Whittier Makes a List was the best of these three historical romances and it inspired me to buy two more. They were the most enjoyable read from a new-to-me author I have had in quite some time.  The books were a change for me in terms of the sensuality, or lack thereof. There are variations of sexual activity for every taste in the romance genre and I have read everything from vanilla sex to thisclosetoerotica to vanilla kink, but not novels limited to one or two kisses. Carla Kelly falls into this last category, referred to as  “just kisses” by the romancerati, but even these were not explicit. Anything beyond kissing that takes place in these novels is either fade-to-black or gleaned by straining through oblique references; nonetheless, she manages to politely convey impolite desires.

Miss Whittier Makes a List 1994

Hannah Whittier sets out on a trip from Boston to Charleston to visit family and, her parents hope, meet a nice Quaker man to marry. Waylaid by a British naval ship and then shipwrecked by French privateers, she is found and taken on board by that same British crew and their intriguing captain, Daniel Sparks. Unfortunately, the ship is not bound for Charleston and Hannah must go along for the ride in the hopes of eventually being able to make her way home. Before her sundry nautical catastrophes, Hannah made a list of desirable qualities in a husband. Word gets out.

I’m not big on grand adventure romance novels, but this one was just fantastic and I have added it to my recommendations list. Daniel and Hannah are an interesting pair who seem to be opposites but are, of course, an excellent match each for the other. I must warn prospective readers though that Miss Whittier Makes a List’s main characters have an age difference that while historically realistic may be discomfiting to readers.

Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand 1994

No surprises and none expected in this marriage of convenience novel. Mrs. Roxanna Drew is a young widow in her late twenties with two plot moppets to raise. For several months, she has continued to live in the house provided with her husband’s living as a vicar. It is time for her to move out and move on. Her brother-in-law swoops in with an opportunistic and offensive offer which Roxie rightfully declines. Desperate, she makes the bold move of renting the dilapidated dower house on a local estate. The absentee landlord, Earl Fletcher of Heroguy, arrives making a survey of his property. He has just returned from several years fighting Napoleon and has a cloud over his head owing to a divorce that would be scandalous even by 1994, or 2013, standards. The evil brother-in-law returns twirling his moustache and threatening Roxie’s children. Fletcher and Roxie marry and they fall in love, but not necessarily in that order.

Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand is by the numbers, but it was well-written and the main characters were charming, even the plot moppets. Fletcher is one of the most adorably besotted heroes I have ever read. He falls quickly and he falls hard. Roxie takes her time and is surprised to find herself in the position of wife of again so soon after losing her husband.

Reforming Lord Ragsdale 1995

Reforming Lord Ragsdale has the honour of being Carla Kelly’s highest rated book on Amazon. Given that it is 18 years  old, romances go out of print quickly, and Ms. Kelly’s fans took the trouble to review the book when the e-version became available, it seemed a good bet.

The plot of Reforming Lord Ragsdale follows the reformation of a rake, except that he isn’t very rakish really, just a bit of a drinker who stops easily, gets a proverbial wake up call (or two), and moves on as an eager and willing upstanding gentleman. But that’s not the problem with the book. The problem with the book is the patently ridiculous plot and character relationships. Ragsdale was part of the reprehensible ongoing British effort to crush the Irish and lost his father and an eye in battle. He blames himself for his father, he blames the Irish for his eye. Ragsdale hates the Irish in a way which is both excessive and denies the comparable hostility that would have been born them by many at the time.

Enter Emma Costello, an Irish servant newly arrived in England from the United States with the son and daughter of the family that purchased her into indentured servitude. The son offers her ownership papers as a bet in a card game and Ragsdale intervenes to pay the debt and take charge of Emma. She quickly takes charge of him, acting as his personal secretary and éminence grise. Emma works to reform Ragsdale, tidy up his business affairs, and make him suitable for marriage to an appropriately vapid society woman. It’s not a new plot. It’s a silly version of it. Emma is female, an indentured servant, Roman Catholic, and Irish. This pairing and employment isn’t just unlikely, it’s impossible. I would have swallowed the story, if Emma became his mistress and Ragsdale abandoned the idea of marriage in defiance of social conventions, but there is no way he would have married her. I won’t even go into the timeline issues or the other ways in which the plot strains credulity.

Carla Kelly’s besetting sin is that the stories end rather too neatly. I think of it as tying everything up with a bow. It is just not believable, especially of her well-crafted villains in Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand and Reforming Lord Ragsdale. Nonetheless, I will probably read more Carla Kelly. I am desperate for a back catalogue to work through and her e-publisher is setting the pricing at the right level to keep me interested. (Are you listening publishers? $2.99 or less and you will get my money.) If you decide to seek Carla Kelly out, please be warned that she also writes historical romances for the Mormon market and you might want to avoid those.

My summary of Carla Kelly’s catalogue can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.


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