Tuesday, February 28, 2017
'The Elusive Miss Ellison' by Carolyn Miller
Pride, prejudice and forgiveness...
Hampton Hall's new owner has the villagers of St. Hampton Heath all aflutter--all except Lavinia Ellison. The reverend's daughter cares for those who are poor and sick, and the seventh Earl of Hawkesbury definitely does not meet that criteria. His refusal to take his responsibilities seriously, or even darken the door of the church, leave her convinced he is as arrogant and reckless as his brother--his brother who stole the most important person in Lavinia's world.
Nicholas Stamford is shadowed by guilt: his own, his brother's, the legacy of war. A perfunctory visit to this dreary part of Gloucestershire wasn't supposed to engage his heart, or his mind. Challenged by Miss Ellison's fascinating blend of Bluestocking opinions, hoydenish behavior, and angelic voice, he finds the impossible becoming possible--he begins to care. But Lavinia's aloof manner, society's opposition and his ancestral obligations prove most frustrating, until scandal forces them to get along.
Can Lavinia and Nicholas look beyond painful pasts and present prejudice to see their future? And what will happen when Lavinia learns a family secret that alters everything she's ever known?
I enjoy it when modern authors who have immersed themselves in this time period choose to write Regency romance novels. Those famous authors who lived around the early 1800s made us love their work, but when we get through it, we look for more. That's why it's easy to appreciate authors like Carolyn Miller, who have taken up their mantle. She's also done something they didn't have to do, which is put in a heap of research to make her story authentic.
Miss Lavinia Ellison is the daughter of the local rector, and she carries a huge burden for the poor of their parish. Nicholas Stamford, the Earl of Hawkesbury, is a newcomer who has inherited his family's manor house, after the death of his uncle. Lavinia and Nicholas share a terrible moment from their long ago past, when a reckless action from his brother caused a terrible tragedy. Although they were both young, bad feeling has festered, and it hangs between them 15 years later, still unaddressed.
It's a novel with plenty of clever conversation, as both main characters jump to conclusions about what they believe the other thinks of them. Since we readers get the benefit of both points of view, we know how matters really stand, but the dialogue makes it clear how easy false assumptions can be latched onto.
The story often puts both heroes in the position to test their characters. Although Lavinia often feels out of her depth, she has the poise and good sense to carry herself well (and Nicholas unintentionally places her in some awkward situations). He in turn, has to figure out his true feelings toward those in supposedly inferior social positions to his own, especially when his disdainful mother arrives on the scene. He comes across with some Darcy-esque sorts of attitudes, but they're softened by the burden of grief and guilt he carries, and terrible memories from serving in the war.
The age old question of whether or not we should please people by observing all the 'right' social maxims comes up, as it's bound to in this time period. You've got to feel bad for Lavinia, whose ideas based on what she feels is noble and true in her heart are shot down by more powerful people. It's a struggle for her to decide when to capitulate and when to hold her ground. Although mean social aspersions come across quite comic to us in a witty Regency novel, we can't forget they were very meaningful and pointed at the time. Most of all I think Lavinia's struggle with the black dog of depression was written really well. Although it wasn't known by either name back in those times, it's easy to see what she's dealing with. I can't help wishing she and Nicholas had addressed that terrible incident from their past more thoroughly than we see them do, but we can imagine that it happened, as it surely must have.
If you're a lover of Regency romances, I'm sure this pretty cover holds a story you'll enjoy. The descriptions of the English countryside and estate gardens are really lovely too. I wasn't certain what a 'ha-ha' was, but when I googled it, I realised I've seen plenty of them, without ever knowing this delightful name :)
Thanks to Kregel Publications and Net Galley for my review copy.