Tag Archives: Carla Kelly

The Wedding Journey by Carla Kelly

The Wedding Journey is another lovely and highly recommendable Carla Kelly Regency romance about genuinely kind and likable people falling in love against the backdrop of war. I really enjoyed it at the same time as I realised that I have read too many of her novels too close together. All of Kelly’s best elements can be found here, as well as her one besetting sin minor shortcoming.

Profoundly shy, Doctor Jesse Randall has loved Nell Mason for years. She and her family have followed the drum at the behest of her gormless father and working in the hospital tent is Nell’s contribution to their income. In debt to a moustache-twirling bastard of a villain, Nell’s father plans to offer her up in  payment for gambling debts once Nell’s mother – and the protection she affords – is gone. When his long-suffering wife dies, Jesse steps in to marry Nell and prevent her sacrifice on the altar of matrimony, or at least offer a significantly better altar. It is a bittersweet gesture for him given his feelings. The moustache-twirling bastard “accidentally” leaves the medical personnel behind when his troop retreats, so newly wedded and even more recently abandoned, Jesse, Nell, and their small band of misfits make their way through rural Spain back to safety behind British lines. Along the way, they encounter rapscallions, batty aristocrats, and villagers just trying to survive living on an ever-shifting battle front. The moustache-twirling bastard has left damage in his wake that creates even more challenges for the group. Jesse and Nell find time, along with the urgent clarifying reality of their situation, to come together as a couple and in appreciation of each other.

There are two problems with The Wedding Journey. The first is mine as I feel like I have read versions of this book by Kelly already: A nice soldier is thrown together with an unassuming young woman and the two must make their way to a new location. There is nothing wrong with this trope. Nothing. Kelly writes gratifyingly sincere prose without being overly sweet and adds enough danger and harrowing detail to bring everything together well. It’s a great formula and I am not complaining. That would be like saying, “Lisa Kleypas, could you please do something about all those deliciously sardonic men?”, or “Julia Quinn, could you ease up on the wit?”.  Carla Kelly writes a specific kind of romance and she does so beautifully. I just need to stash her books lower on my To Be Read pile.

The second problem with The Wedding Journey, and let me just pause to replace “problem” with “quibble”, is that Carla Kelly might be too nice. She has a tendency to wrap things up very neatly.

“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”

Yes, thank you, Mr. Wilde, I am aware of that, but while I have no objection to moustache-twirling bastards receiving comeuppance, the redemption of others and some deus ex machina Kelly indulges in were over the line. She creates such a convincing and honest world for her characters that it actually works against the story when things are neatly resolved at the end of the book.

Oh, one last thing: I would have liked just a few more pages of epilogue with the characters once they were safe and sound, mostly because I liked them so much that I wanted to have time with them enjoying domestic bliss.

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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With This Ring by Carla Kelly

Here I am with a review of a novel published in 1997, but a good romance remains so and is always worth a look. eBooks are a boon to people looking for stories they would otherwise be unable to get their hands on. With This Ring was recommended by a friend and while it didn’t completely work for me, overall I have found all of Kelly’s Regency romances worth a read, if only for her faith in humanity and a writing style which makes the reader feel settled securely in the story’s time period.

This is the second Carla Kelly book I’ve read, the first being the truly lovely The Lady’s Companion, in which a financially beholden young woman decides to break with her family and Society to strike out on her own. I always enjoy a nice raised middle finger to snobs and convention, but then who doesn’t? After visiting a makeshift military hospital on a lark with her sister, Lydia Perkins goes back day after day to help the wounded as best she can. Lydia finds both a purpose and a kindred spirit in looking after Major Sam Reed’s men. When the Major proposes a marriage of convenience to satisfy a series of outrageous falsehoods about having a wife he has told in his letters home, Lydia is flattered but refuses until her awful mother belittles her for what Lydia decides will be the last time. Running away to quickly marry the still recuperating Sam, the two settle down to get their story straight before facing his familial inquisition.

Because she has been alternately overlooked and demoralized by her family, Lydia may be a good person, but she has no self-confidence. Sam decides, as the reader learns later, that she must learn believe in herself, so he engineers a situation for her to appreciate her own value. I wouldn’t have minded his “stand on your own” hokum, if he had not withheld crucial information which a. created an extremely stressful situation for Lydia, and b. things had not then gone almost perfectly for her. It was all too bibbity-bobbity-boo for me.

Like another Kelly book, The Admiral’s Penniless Bride, I enjoyed most of the novel and was disappointed by the ending. Kelly is one of those authors whose I books I would rather read even with a letdown than forgo altogether. I have worked my way through her highest rated books and will likely make my way through the rest of her Regency romance catalogue as well.

With This Ring did have one shocking element that I want to mention as its inclusion was baffling to me. Sam has told his family that he and his trumped-up wife have a child. To give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative (H/T WS Gilbert), they visit a foundling home and adopt/buy a random baby girl. They purchase an orphan to sell the lie. Granted she’ll have a better life as a result, but they BUY A BABY! I was all astonishment.

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.

The Sisters Trilogy: Marrying the Captain, The Surgeon’s Lady, & Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly

Title Discrimination Aid:
Marrying the Captain: He’s sick, she’s pretty.
Marrying the Royal Marine: He’s pretty, she’s sick.
The Surgeon’s Lady: Everyone’s sick, she’s pretty, his bedside manner is excellent.

I love a back catalogue to make my way through and Carla Kelly does not disappoint. The Sisters Trilogy focuses on the three born-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-blanket daughters of Earl Ratcliff. Each of the women – Nana, Laura, and Polly – finds herself involved with a member of the Royal Marines during the Napoleonic Wars. Not just a bonnet and corset layered over a contemporary story (not that there is anything wrong with that), Kelly’s books have strong historical elements and make the reader feel genuinely immersed in a specific time and place. I even looked up “Regency navy sailor’s quarters”, “Royal Marine“, and assorted similar terms in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the heroes’ lives. Never say romance novels don’t teach one anything.

Marrying the Captain:

Nana Brandon has no dowry and does not expect to marry. Years ago, her otherwise absent and disinterested father tried to sell her to the highest bidder to pay his debts. Literally walking away from everything she knew, she returned to her grandmother and has lived with her since. Content, although admittedly often hungry, helping to run a failing seaside inn, it’s about five years into the fight with Napoleon and Nana’s town has a constant turnover of sailors as their town is the one into which ships sail for dry dock repairs and revictualling; nonetheless, they are not doing well until Captain Oliver Worthy is sent their way. Suffering from a common sailor’s complaint (no, not an STD, a throat infection), Oliver needs a place to stay and recover while he drags himself back and forth to the repair yard.

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The Admiral’s Penniless Bride by Carla Kelly

As an author, Carla Kelly shows belief in people’s innate goodness, even when her characters are being buffeted about by the unpleasantness of the world. This faith in humanity creates an undercurrent of true kindness in all of her works which I really enjoy and appreciate. Things may go wrong, and for the heroine of The Admiral’s Penniless Bride events have been truly soul-crushing, but there is always hope.

The title does not mince words. Sally Paul is genuinely penniless when the book opens. Associated with a scandal not of her own making, she has lived hand-to-mouth working as a paid companion to the old and infirm for five years . Governesses’ children grow up, Sally’s elderly employers pass away. When her new charge shuffles off this mortal coil before Sally has even knocked on her door, her situation changes from desperate to drastic. Unpaid, she departs and uses the last of her coins to buy a cup of tea to nurse and keep warm in the town pub. Sally has nowhere to go and less means of getting there.

Newly retired, Admiral Sir Charles Bright gave his youth to his king and country fighting Napoleon. Spending literally years of his life at sea, he is, at 45 years old, now adrift on dry land. He has purchased a dilapidated and salaciously-appointed home for its marvelous sea view, but other than avoiding his sisters’ determination to marry him off right quick, he is at a loose end. When he sees Sally sitting in the pub, he notices both “a lovely neck” and that she is clearly underfed and in dire straights.  He arranges to feed her and joins her for the meal. They hit it off and he proposes a marriage of convenience. He has been left at the altar that very day and has a special license ready to go, so how about it? Sally says no.

Charles finds Sally again, this time getting ready to sleep in a local church, and repeats his polite suggestion of wedding as an excellent option for them both. Realising this is her only choice other than the workhouse, Sally agrees. However, the new Mrs. Bright avoids and then shrinks from revealing to Charles the truth behind her current circumstances. In between the marriage of convenience that becomes very convenient indeed and her forced revelation, things go very well. Charles and Sally build their own community by embracing the overlooked and abused souls around town. It’s an act of kindness from people who understand that life can be cruel.

Up to the breaking point, I really enjoyed The Admiral’s Penniless Bride. The easy rapport established between Charles and Sally was lovely without being saccharine and the reader could appreciate how their individual experiences fit them together so well. Unfortunately, the plot took its anticipated left turn and the disappointing denouement derailed the book. Charles reacts strongly to Sally’s betrayal and while it was a good plotting decision to have events turn out as they did, I was disappointed by Charles’ conduct and the way his actions were excused to bring on the happy ending.

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.

The Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly

I use the word “lovely” too much in everyday conversation. I try to be more creative and thesaurusy in these reviews, but lovely really is the best word for this novel. Carla Kelly writes sweet, gentle, sincere Regency romances and The Lady’s Companion is no exception. Kelly does not reinvent the wheel*. She follows her romance tropes and brings everything to a happy, satisfying ending. I have read four of her books in rapid succession, thank you Rochelle, and I have another one waiting on my Kindle. Unlike Kelly’s novels that I reviewed previously, this book goes beyond “just kisses”, while maintaining its oblique decorum in the love scenes.

Originally published in 1996, The Lady’s Companion is the story of Susan Hampton, a genteelly impoverished lady whose marital and future hopes have been dashed on the rocks of her wastrel father’s gambling addiction. Where, oh where, would romance novels be without shiftless male relatives casually ruining women’s lives? After moving in with her aunt, Susan recognises that unless she does something, and right quick, she will disappear into the role of servile relative for the rest of her days. She finds an employment agency and gets hired as a companion to Lady Bushnell in the Cotswolds.

Lady Bushnell is not happy to have yet another unnecessary companion and Susan must find a way to make herself useful. The farm is being managed by Lady Bushnell’s bailiff, David Wiggins. He served as a sergeant under Lord Bushnell in the Napoleonic Wars and has a debt of honour to the family. David is what The Dowager Julien would describe as a “nice-nice man”, gentle, kind, and loyal. Susan is out of his reach socially, but since David doesn’t care about such nonsense and Susan has no use for the so-called social superiority that ruined her, they have a chance to carve out a life for themselves on their own terms and defy the conventions that would seek to limit them. Everything proceeds towards the happy ending at a calm and reasonable pace, free of melodrama, but not of challenges. Kelly’s writing is not only strong when showing Susan and David’s growing relationship, but also wonderfully evocative in terms of the setting and time period.

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.

*Actually, she does sometimes, such as with Libby’s London Merchant and
Beau Crusoe.

 

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.

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