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With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at Romance in the literary world. Contrary to the view held by some, all romances are not the same in books any more than they are in real life. Almost all novels include some element of romance.
One popular sub genre of Romance is the Regency with its attention to manners, fashion, and structured English society. Popular writer Nancy Campbell Allen, best known for her Civil War era novels, has turned her attention to this genre with My Fair Gentleman. Newcomer to the publishing world, Lucinda Whitney introduces readers to Portugal in this modern age in The Secret Life of Daydreaming. Rounding out this trio of February love stories is an American Historical, Abby’s Crossing by Darryl Harris.
MY FAIR GENTLEMAN by Nancy Campbell Allen
My Fair Gentleman is a Regency parody of the much loved story of the flower girl from the slums turned into a lady in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and popularized in the musical version, My Fair Lady. Like Henry Higgins taking on the project of teaching Eliza Doolittle to speak properly and comport herself as a lady, Ivy Carlisle, who secretly writes a newspaper column as Miss Manners, accedes to a dying earl’s wish that she train his rough seaman grandson in the speech and mannerisms of the peerage.
Jack Elliot’s father was disowned by his titled father when he married a woman from a lower class. Following Jack’s father’s death, the ten-year-old became a cabin boy to support his mother and sister, then worked his way up to first mate. He is about to be appointed captain of his own vessel when his grandfather changes his mind and makes the sailor his heir both to his fortune and to the title. Instead of being pleased at his good fortune, Jack wants nothing to do with anything that once belonged to the man he blames for his mother’s poor health and the poverty in which she and his sister live. Only his desire to see them comfortably situated pushes him to accept the inheritance. Along with becoming a wealthy earl, he is compelled to accept Ivy as his tutor and mentor.
Ivy, a second daughter in a prominent family, has learned to control her every action and word to protect her family from the vicious tongues of the ton since her older sister’s elopement with a handsome soldier. Her parents are aloof and proper, cold and distant. Ivy’s closest confidant is her grandmother. At first the new earl is resentful of the arrangement, then he uses it to tease the proper young lady. Their relationship takes a drastic turn when there are repeated attempts on Jack’s life.
Allen creates believable characters who not only use the speech and mannerisms of the time period, but are people with whom readers can identify. They have the same doubts, worries, and concerns as real people. They also rise above their own expectations when they must. She also shows a knowledge of English law during the Regency period and goes beyond the conventions to make the reader question the political correctness of that era and perhaps of the current era as well.
The plot works well, though I would have liked to see the main characters more involved in the resolution concerning the attempts on Jack’s life. The background setting using the streets and docks of London, a town house in the better section of the city, and a country home well away from the smog and sewers of the city show careful research. The main impetus of the story is the romance between Jack and Ivy and though it follows the tried and true romance formula, it holds much of the same magic as the much loved musical of the same theme.
Nancy Campbell Allen is the author of eleven other novels and is probably best known for her Civil War series, Faith of Our Fathers and the spin off novels which followed it. She has a BS degree in Elementary Education from Weber State University. She and her husband live in northern Utah and are the parents of three children.
MY FAIR GENTLEMAN by Nancy Campbell Allen, published by Shadow Mountain, 245 pages, soft cover $15.99 Also available on CD and for e-readers.
THE SECRET LIFE OF DAYDREAMS by Lucinda Whitney
Josh Conrad served an honorable mission, then married in the temple. After four years of he and his wife growing apart instead of together, he finds himself divorced, disillusioned, and no longer active in the Church. As a freelance photographer he spends six years roaming the world until an assignment takes him back to Portugal where he meets a young woman he baptized eleven years earlier, then a teenager. He finds himself drawn to her. She helps him with his project and he helps her with car repairs, her mother, and in several other ways. They both try to avoid allowing their friendship to become something more, but it does anyway and he is forced to evaluate his life and revisit his reasons for leaving the Church.
Sofia Monteiro teaches at a local high school until the government decides to save money by eliminating hundreds of teachers including Sofia. She becomes a waitress to pay her bills. A large portion of her salary is used for her mother’s care. The woman has Alzheimer’s and requires a sitter while Sofia works. Sofia has been accepted into a doctorate program, but with her decreased income and her mother’s worsening condition she is unsure whether she can afford it. Josh is everything she has dreamed of, but with his refusal to go to Church, he can’t enter the temple and she refuses to consider anything less.
Like many first novels, this one has its share of flaws. The title doesn’t really fit, transitions are awkward, there are slow stretches which do nothing to advance the story, it lacks action, too many print lines are crowded on each page, the overuse of Portuguese words and phrases is distracting, and there are far too many copy errors. That said, I’ll add that most of these errors are technical rather than concerning story content.
The story presents a fresh, new setting and Whitney describes Portugal as only someone intimately aware of that country’s charms, terrain, customs, and history might. She makes the reader aware of the mixture of respect for the past and the inclusion of today’s modern conveniences in a country most people know little about. The book is worth reading for the setting and background alone, but there are other aspects that are equally noteworthy.
The characters are realistic with both strengths and weaknesses. Sofia depends heavily on her faith even though she struggles with some severe burdens. She’s independent, sometimes says more than she should, but remains true to her convictions and accepts responsibility. She’s also a good friend. Josh is strong, kind, and talented. He accepts responsibility, perhaps more than he should, for his previous failures. He has spent six years avoiding thinking of his past instead of coming to terms with it or examining his beliefs concerning God and the Church. The secondary characters add a great deal to the story and are portrayed exceptionally well.
The plot line is predictable, but this is after all, a romance. Yet it’s more than a romance. It’s a story about second chances. It’s about faith, loyalty, true friendship, and hope. It’s about overcoming adversity and never giving up.
Lucinda Whitney was born and raised in Portugal though she and her husband with their four children now live in northern Utah. She has a master’s degree from the University of Minho (Portugal). She served a Temple Square Visitors Center Mission.
THE SECRET LIFE OF DAYDREAMS by Lucinda Whitney, published by Lange House Press, 244 pages, softcover $13.99 Also available for e-readers.
ABBY’S CROSSING by Darryl Harris
Isaac is a good man, though stubborn and opinionated. He’s also in love with the young widow Abby who lost her husband in a tragic attack by renegade Indians. In a hurry to get to the endowment house in Salt Lake to marry her, he makes a tragic mistake in which Abby, her friend Winny, and Abby’s six-year-old adopted son, Yahnai, are almost killed at a river crossing. Isaac’s leg is broken and the group is rescued by rough teamsters led by a Confederate deserter, Scooter.
Scooter prevents one of his men from shooting Isaac’s horses and the bedraggled party makes their way back to Franklin where the freighters also plan to camp for the night before resuming their journey north to the gold rush town of Bannack. This incident sets in play a determination to get revenge by the teamster who was reprimanded for his behavior at the crossing, a strong attraction between Abby and Scooter, and Abby’s doubts concerning marriage to Isaac, a man twice her age.
When Abby’s young husband was killed, Chief Sagwitch attempted to make amends by giving her a young Indian boy to raise with the stipulation the child was to be returned to the Indian tribe for a few weeks each winter. Several years have gone by and she experiences deep reservations about the boy leaving for his annual visit to his people. Her fears are proved valid when Colonel Patrick Connor arrives in Franklin determined to teach the Indians a lesson, resulting in the horrendous Bear River massacre.
The child’s body is not found and Abby hopes he somehow escaped. She hears a rumor that Yahnai was taken north and sets out to find him. Separately Isaac and Scooter attempt to help her. Both are unaware a third man with greatly different motivation is also making the search his business.
The Bear River massacre section of this story is told well with no excuses made for a man who allowed the rape and murder of Indian women and children in an unwarranted brutal attack which almost wiped out an Indian winter encampment. The author also does well in describing the greed and filth of a makeshift town dedicated to an obsession for gold. The rough elements of frontier life in the 1860s is well done.
Some of the characters in this story feel more real than others. The men are portrayed better than Abby in both their speech and actions. Abby is strong willed and outspoken, but at times is simply childish. For a character who is supposed to be strong, courageous, and competent, her mental trances and impulsive outbursts don’t fit. The story would be stronger had the author stuck to fewer points of view and made the prominent point of view male. Many potential readers, particularly males, may be discouraged from picking up the book because of the wooden figure in a Southern belle skirt showing just the lower portion of her head on the cover. (What’s with all the recent chopped head book covers?) Though the romance element is important to this story, the historical elements are the most compelling.
I liked this story in spite of the flaws I’ve mentioned and recommend it to history buffs, male and female. It covers some interesting aspects of the settlement of the west including the interactions between Mormon settlements, the Indians, the portions of the US Army sent West instead of into the North/South conflict, the gold rushers, freighters, and even the Civil War deserters. It is an exciting story with some great action.
Darryl Harris is the author of six other historical novels. He grew up in southeastern Idaho, served a mission to South Korea, and graduated from Brigham Young University. He is the founder of an Idaho Falls, Idaho, specialty magazine publishing company. He is married and the father of five children. He is a former president of the Korea Seoul Mission.
ABBY’S CROSSING by Darryl Harris, published by Covenant Communications, 279 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available on CD and for e-readers.