What I've Read Recently . . .Libby's London Merchant by Carla Kelly
Libby's London Merchant & Miss Chartley's Guided Tour by Carla Kelly -- Regency Romances
This is a hard book to review. It's very different from your typical Regency plot. For one thing, it deals with PTSD, survivor's guilt and alcoholism. A good chunk of the novel is taken up with helping someone withdraw from alcohol. It makes the tone of the novel more serious than I usually like. Then, there's a love triangle. A very unexpected love triangle because both the gentlemen are likeable and I wanted them both to succeed and be happy. Yet my heart was pulling Libby towards one of the men. I felt that only one was the perfect choice for her. When she made her decision, I felt so bad for the other gentleman though. The characters are so well developed, they feel real. Their pain, their joy, their feelings are all so real.
There are a number of historical inaccuracies in this book. Since it was written in 1991, Carla Kelly points out that her editor in 2001 caught one mistake but it was too late for a rewrite. I caught several mistakes: edible chocolate like that was not invented until the late 19th century. This is the mistake her editor caught. It didn't really affect the story overall though. The second mistake is dumbwaiters are an American invention that didn't exist yet in 1816. And then, Mary Had a Little Lamb was written by Sarah Josepha Hale, a New England woman in 1830 so there's no way that would be a frame of reference for Libby and Joseph. Finally, the inaccurate modern language annoyed me to no end. It seems like Carla Kelly spent all her research efforts on the larger issues and not the day to day ordinary things that Georgette Heyer so excelled at.
This is my first Carla Kelly novel. It's not what I expected and I probably won't read more of her novels because I prefer light, bright and sparkling for bedtime reading. If you like stories with well written, ordinary characters who think and feel deeply you will enjoy her writing. Here you will not find fireworks or grand sweeping passion but a quiet, coming together of two souls and minds.
The rest of my review is a spoiler for the plot so read at your own risk!
I really liked Libby. She felt very real to me and her struggles were true struggles for the time period. Her struggle to understand who she loves is also more realistic than the usual Regency novel. I loved both the men in the story. The good doctor is a paragon. He's very well versed in medical knowledge (more than I think is realistic for the period but I don't know for sure), he's compassionate, he's caring, he's sweet and hard not to love. Sure he's not sexy but love is based on more than physical attraction. The downside is, he's never home but I think a woman who really loved him would accept that and wait for him and help make him comfortable when he does come home. I'm not a fan of the little woman ideal but in this case, it's what he needs and Libby can provide. She's also the perfect nurse for him. She doesn't hesitate to help so maybe they can go around together.
I knew all along she loved Anthony. She protested too much and she was so perfect for him; always picking up after him, helping him and laughing WITH him instead of AT him. Yet at the same time, I was rooting for Nez. I went back and forth in my opinion of who she should choose. If I were in her position, I would have accepted Anthony in the first place. He's kind and caring and will make an excellent husband. She would be next door to her mother and have a home of her own. Then, enter Nez, a needy soul. Oh how I felt for him! Deep down he was a caring man who was wounded by the death and destruction of war. He was too sensitive to go off to war. He feels guilty for surviving but as Libby points out, a good commanding officer keeps track of his men and does everything he can to help him. So, Nez lost points for that in the beginning. Then he turned into a real ass after he discovered the truth about Libby. I would have slapped him for that if I were her. Yet... when he went off with a broken heart, I felt for him. He picked up some of the points he lost when he grew up a bit and returned home to do his duty. Then in the end, he lost points for not doing anything to help in a crisis and trying to keep Libby from helping. I knew right then and there what Libby's decision would be. Her reasoning was a bit awkward though. It didn't really fit the story. It seemed like she had many good reasons not to accept Nez without that last one.
I wanted Nez to have a happily ever after. This 2-in-1 volume contains an excerpt of Nez's story and I was going to order it but then realized after reading the reviews, it wasn't for me. I'm glad he finally gets his HEA.
The other two main men in the story were also really well developed. I liked young Joseph, how could you not? I felt bad for him because all he really wanted was to help. Libby's mother seems like a strong and sensible woman. I wish she was in the story more.
The Squire was a nasty villain. He's not a stereotypical villain though. He's a complicated man with deep rooted issues. I assumed he was one of those people who was uncomfortable around people with disabilities. I couldn't understand his anger towards Joseph. The reason behind his actions was a real surprise and very gut wrenching. As if this story needed more drama and tears! I think Lydia is the real villain in the story. She's so ditzy she's cruel. I would have slapped her and pulled her hair long before now if I had to live with her. Eustace is despicable and I can't believe sweet, sensitive Nez is friends with that insensitive, rude, disgusting dandy.
I don't understand inheritance law and whatever but once the grandfather was dead, I would think that the Uncle would be able to help the family more. He's such a weak man. It's no wonder Lydia is shallow.
Ms. Kelly really knows how to put her characters and her readers through the emotional wringer. The story starts off lightly and predictably enough. I especially like the characters who appear in the first part of the novel. I felt bad for Omega (stupid name. Her brother is called Alpha!) but felt she handled her disappointment with grace and class. She remains an admirable woman becoming a teacher at a second-rate school. She's on her way to a new job at a better school, another aspect of her character I admire. She knows what she wants and how to get it. Though she doesn't have a fortune of her own, she doesn't fret about it. It is what it is. She has a scandal or two in her past and she's accepted it and moved on. I like her pragmatism. Yet, she still loves the hero which I think is a little silly. I like the little boy. I usually don't like children but he's charming and not annoying. I also really love Angela. She's so funny yet such a tragic character. I can't imagine the horrors behind her practical soldier's nature. She and Hugh add a lot of sweet moments to the story.
Then, when the heroine meets the hero again, the story takes a dramatic turn. For me, the story he told didn't make a lot of sense. First it made me sick to my stomach (warning: this story is a bit graphic) and then I knew immediately what had happened. I don't see why the hero didn't realize it sooner! What he believes might have happened just wasn't possible. The villain takes advantage of the hero's good nature but it's just so OBVIOUS. However, the reader knows about the villain's character before the hero really understands what the villain is like. The mystery kept me turning the pages to figure out how it would all come up in the end. The romance also kept me guessing a bit. I wasn't sure what would happen in the very end.
The characters get to know each other quickly but realistically. I think the actual staging of the action is very unrealistic and she would be compromised big time. The romance builds nicely. It's a sweet building of two people who care about each other very much. The hero's feelings are worthy of swooning. He's so noble and perfect. The love scene comes at the right moment or could have come a little earlier but the plot was still in process so it couldn't go in the logical place. It is a bit graphic though. It needs to be for obvious plot reasons but still, I didn't like it. It could have been implied.
As with Libby's London Merchant, there are some modern Americanisms that creep in. I didn't spot any major historical inaccuracies but I'm not familiar with the topics covered in this novel.
The mystery is very graphic and made me sick to my stomach. I'm sure it's realistic for the time period which is very sad. It shows a different side to Regency society than the sparkling, light world of Georgette Heyer. I wouldn't recommend this book to sensitive or young readers. This is a story that is best appreciated by mature readers, maybe those who can relate to Omega.