Libby’s London Merchant and One Good Turn are connected novels and more lovely, consistent, sincere stories from Carla Kelly. Clearly, I am going to read and find something to enjoy in every Regency romance novel in her catalog. This time, my attention was again captured by Kelly’s consistent strengths and minor imperfections (the enjoyable prose; the successful historical setting; her belief in the inherent goodness of people and its power to improve lives; her fascination with military history; and, her ability to create truly dastardly villains and then redeem them too easily), as well as the very first time I read a romance and wasn’t sure which man the heroine was going to end up with. Spoilers necessarily follow.
Libby’s London Merchant
Opening with a duke in disguise who appears to be enjoyably dissipated, but turns out to be both less and more than he seems, Libby’s London Merchant sets the stage for a fun story about masked identities and then performs a shift that is logical for the characters and unprecedented for me in a historical romance. A true love story takes place quietly in the background while the genre-typical one takes place in the foreground.
Stunningly beautiful, victim of circumstance Libby Ames knows, “she would likely spin out her days in the service of others, too genteel for one half or her family, and not genteel enough for the other, the disinherited daughter of an impoverished son”. Her doweried cousin has just left for Brighton with the rest of the family and Libby remains behind to care for the house and her challenged brother.
When a chocolate merchant has a nasty carriage accident while, “swearing a mighty oath learned from a sea captain and saved for such a moment as this,” in Libby’s driveway, she becomes his de facto nurse. The local doctor, Anthony Cook, recognizes that the invalid’s larger problem is alcoholism and sets out to address it as best he can, in addition to the accident wounds. Anthony is madly in love with Libby and the duke falls for her as well. The latter is to be expected in a book like this. The former is a complication that slowly rises up to supplant the trope these books are usually built on. There was a not inconsiderable period of time during which I wasn’t actually sure to whom Libby’s heart and hand would go. Kudos to you, Carla Kelly, that’s quite a feat. One on hand, there is the charming, handsome, war hero, and aristocrat and on the other, “the doctor’s whole face seemed to beam out benevolence and a quiet capability that spoke louder than words. For no real reason, the duke felt a sudden twinge of envy as he regarded this massive, rumpled, good man.”
The duke heals, the doctor’s cruel father rails, and Tony bides his time. He is clumsy in Libby’s presence and as he is slowly able to grow more comfortable around her, she sees beyond the suits that need pressing and awkwardness to the good man underneath. She goes back and forth a bit before the logical and historically believable ending.
One Good Turn
“The lady I love threw me over for a stout, nearsighted bumbler with a medical degree! And I’m rich, handsome, and sober, possessing a Waterloo medal, and an estate with at least three peacocks.”
One year after having been spurned by Libby , Nez remains sober and consistent in his efforts to “become kinder”, but he still has putz tendencies to fight against. A bit of a flibbertigibbet, although a sincere one, he takes two steps forward, one step back as he refashions himself into an honourable man and works performs his own kind of Regency rehab program while coming to terms with his war experiences. He had no business being in a relationship in Libby’s London Merchant, but he is ready now.
Enter Liria Valencia, a poor Spanish woman and her son, war survivors both. When his butler and niece are both struck with chicken pox, Nez hires Liria to care for them and then keeps moving her along towards a job as his housekeeper and trying to keep her away from a job at the local mill. Their shared war experiences and Nez’s every effort to “become kinder” work to create a family and new beginning for them both.
One Good Turn, despite Kelly’s sincerity and good intentions, didn’t really work for me. It was pleasing to see Nez turn into a better person and for Liria to be freed from some of her demons, but it didn’t make me want to revisit any scenes the way the Libby’s London Merchant did. That book had me popping in to re-read chapters for about a week after I finished it.