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Julia London

The Last Debutante by Julia London

The Last Debutante by Julia London

Dear Ms. London,

I have read all the books in your The Secrets of Hadley Green series. (OK, I didn’t read the Christmas novella.) I seem to enjoy every other one. The first, The Year of Living Scandalously, failed to grab my attention. I liked the second, The Revenge of Lord Eberlin (my review is here) and actively disliked the third, The Seduction of Lady X. This one, The Last Debutante, is a lighter read than the two that preceded it. I enjoyed it despite the fact it’s set in romancelandia Scotland and the hero speaks romancelandia Scottish–all “wee” and “donna“–which usually are buzz-kills for me.

Daria Babcock lives with her exceedingly devoted-to-one-another parents in Hadley Green where she is the last one in her set without a studly husband. Daria, who had three unsuccessful seasons in Hadley Green, is somewhat depressed.

She would like to be married, to be a mother, a wife, to have some purpose other than to attend teas.

The Last Debutante by Julia LondonOne day, after attending a tea, Daria comes home to find her usually ebullient parents acting subdued. When Daria asks why her mother tells her that her grandmother Mamie is yet again in need of money and that her father must travel to Scotland to give it to her. Daria, bored and lonely, announces that she will go in her father’s place. Her parents say no, then say yes, Daria sails to Scotland with her friend Charity (the sister of Lord Eberlin), and, after Charity pretty much abandons her, Daria finds herself stranded in the “middle of nowhere” in the Highlands. She hikes up a tiny trail to her grandmother’s crofter’s cottage where she finds not her grandmother but an unconscious “completely naked man.”

Daria’s breath deserted her. She stood rooted to the floor, her gaze locked on him, a tremor of fear building in the pit of her belly. He was … a very big man. All of him was big. Daria had seen a little boy without his breeches, but she’d never seen a fully grown man in all his splendor. She’d had no idea that boys turned into this.

The robust specimen in question is Jamie Campbell, the laird of the Dundavie Campbells. Jamie had come to query Mamie whom he has been told beguiled a thousand pounds out of his slightly senile Uncle Hamish. Mamie shot him in the side with her blunderbuss and is now drugging him with valerian.

Daria can’t fathom why her grandmother would have a wounded naked man in her home but when Mamie returns to the cottage and Daria demands an explanation, Mamie’s makes no sense. Mamie claims she found the man, already shot, lying in the woods, and brought him home out of the goodness of her heart.

As soon as Jamie is able, he explains to Daria who he is and how he came to be shot. Mamie doesn’t deny shooting him but she still hasn’t a believable reason for doing so. Jamie is more than a wee bit miffed. He wants Mamie to be punished and to repay his clan’s thousand pounds. Daria promises to do the latter if he will give way on the former. When Jamie’s men arrive to rescue him, Jamie announces that Daria will be returning with him to Dundavie. When an outraged Daria protests, Jamie explains.

“You have made your argument for it yourself, lass. Your desire is that I do no harm to your grandmamma. My desire is that we handle this matter by applying the rules of Highland justice. Plainly put, if your grandmamma wants to see you returned to Enland, she will repay the money she took from Uncle Hamish.”

This silly set-up is just that: a set-up to get Daria placed in the midst of a quirky Scottish village ruled by Jamie. I forgave its silliness because, once Daria is ensconced in Dundavie, surrounded by Jamie’s clan, The Last Debutante becomes a lot of fun.

The best thing in this novel is not the romance (which is fine) nor is it the historically dubious setting. The best thing is the cast of characters living in Dundavie. There’s Jamie’s brother Geordie who, after having his throat slashed in a stupid fight, is now mute and must communicate by writing on a slate. Despite being an atrocious speller, Ian determinedly comments on everything his brother does and is often hilarious. There’s prescient, perpetually cranky Bethia who is assigned act as a maid to Daria and who gloomily predicts Daria’s happy future. There’s Jamie’s cousin and bodyguard Duff who constantly corrects Daria’s English misapprehensions about Scottish life. Daria falls for Jamie’s people who in turn come to see her as far more than the nickname they’ve given her: Ransom.

I like Jamie and Daria individually and as a couple. Daria is smart, independent, and resourceful. When the book begins, she’s a rather spoiled girl determined to become more than what Hadley Green offers her. In the Scottish highlands, far away from the rules of early 1800′s England, she becomes an interesting woman with the brains and insight needed to be the lady of Dundavie. Jamie who at first seems like a stereotypical alpha Laird is really a thoughtful, compassionate caretaker who works hard to protect he people he is responsible for. Each brings out the best in the other. Their relationship is less sexual than in those in the other Hadley Green books and that’s a good thing. Jamie and Daria fall in love through conversation; the passion between them matters but it’s not the thing that draws then binds them together.

I have never liked the plot that snakes through all the Hadley Green books. It involves stolen jewels and an evil vanished earl. In this (I think) final book of the series, that plot is resolved and it’s no more interesting here than it was in the other novels. Mamie’s reasons for needing money and shooting Jamie are a part of it as are, rather horribly, the reason Daria’s parents are so devoted to each other. Everything is explained and the good people of Hadley Green live happily ever after and the bad people don’t. My response to this tidy finish is a big yawn.

Despite its silly premise and plot, The Last Debutante is entertaining. I read it while in Florida where I took my two youngest for their Spring Break. It made a great vacation read: funny, slightly sexy, sweet, and utterly undemanding. I give it a “beach read” B-.

Sincerely,

Dabney

REVIEW: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin by Julia London

REVIEW: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin by Julia London

Dear Ms. London—

I really enjoyed your latest novel, The Revenge of Lord Eberlin. Recently, thanks to the many thoughtful and well-written reviews here at Dear Author, I’ve been reading books out of what I think of as my comfort zone. And it’s been great. I loved Heat, disliked Beautiful Disaster, and am reading my first M/M romance. But my first love in romance is the historical and this entry into your The Secrets of Hadley Green series was a great reading date. It’s completely traditional, uses tropes common to historical romance, and even has an epilogue, a currently en vogue plot device I usually deplore. It’s set in one of those common and oft annoying British small towns full of judgmental old women and lavish estates kept running smoothly by a servant class completely satisfied with their lowered status in life. I loved it.

The Revenge of Lord Eberlin by Julia LondonI’ve read the first book in the series, The Year of Living Scandalously, and thought it pretty good. That book begins when the heroine of this book, Lily Boudine, is eight. Lily, an orphan, lives with her uncle and aunt, at Ashwood, a palatial estate in the small West Sussex town of Hadley Green. It is the summer of 1793 and the night of the annual Ashwood gala. Lily sees two things that night that change the lives of many. The first is a couple whom she can’t quite make out embracing in the shadows on the stairs. The second, which she sees just a few minutes later, is a horse trotting away into the night. Lily recognizes the horse; it’s that of Mr. Scott, the woodcarver who has spent many an hour at Ashwood carving the detailed dual staircase that dominates the mansion’s main entry. She wonders why he would have been at Ashwood—the gala is for the Quality and Joseph Scott is certainly not that.

In the morning, Lily awakes to commotion. A dreadful theft has happened. Sometime during the night, someone pilfered the Ashwood jewels, a set of large priceless rubies given to the first Lord Ashwood by Edward the IV for the former’s loyalty during the War of the Roses. As Lily watches her beloved governess be questioned unsympathetically, she blurts out, “I think I know who took them.” She tells of seeing Mr. Scott riding away and, within days, Mr. Scott is hanged for the crime.

The Revenge of Lord Eberlin also begins in a summer, this one in 1808. For the first time in fifteen years, Tobin Scott, now 28, the eldest son of Joseph Scott, has returned to Hadley Green. The past years were harsh ones for the Scotts. His father’s execution destroyed his family; his mother and youngest brother died within a year of his father’s death, ruined by filth and poverty in the slums of London. Unable to provide for his younger sister Charity, Tobin took her to a church run poorhouse where she found work as a chamber maid. Tobin himself was impressed into service on a ship as a cook’s helper and, for ten years, sailed the world, never knowing whether or not his sister lived.

Tobin, though, like all heroes, is a survivor and now has all the trappings of success. He’s Lord Eberlin—he bought the title from a beleaguered Dane—and has unlimited wealth earned as an arms trader. He’s rescued Charity (and her illegitimate daughter) from a life of cleaning the refuse of others. He has everything he’s ever wanted except for the one thing he desires most: revenge on the house of Ashwood, currently headed by Lily Boudine.

I liked Tobin. He is, for much of the book, a complete and utter dick. He’s unethical, cold, manipulative, and cares little for the destruction he leaves in his wake. Even were he not seeking to ruin Ashwood, he’d still be a pitiless, bitter man. He is so damaged by his past he hasn’t the ability to feel or value joy, empathy, and compassion. He’s like the Grinch, but worse; rather than having a heart two sizes too small, Tobin hasn’t one at all. And yet, you make him exceedingly alluring. To begin with, he’s smart and interesting—his plans to destroy Ashwood are well-thought out and intricately planned. His complete lack of shame allows him to say whatever the hell he wants and much of what he says is great fun to read. He’s also sexy as hell.

When Tobin returns to Hadley Green, he buys and then pours oodles of his ill-gotten gains into building an estate to rival any in England. His home, Tiber Park, has every luxury imaginable. In contrast, Ashwood is on the brink of bankruptcy and Lily, though a countess, is sinking into poverty. In fact, Lily’s life pretty much sucks.

Lily’s childhood was, in general, a sad one. Her parents died when she was little, and although she was happy during the few years she spent at Ashwood, after she accused Tobin’s father, she was sent to Ireland and never again saw her beloved aunt, Lady Ashwood. While in Ireland, she lived with her cousins, one of whom, Keira, is the heroine of The Year of Living Scandalously. Kiera spent several months at Ashwood, prior to Lily’s arrival there, pretending to be Lily (this made sense—readers who wonder at this simply need to read the first book), and now the villagers of Hadley Green distrust Lily and, in general shun her. Her only close friend is a charming child, Lucy, who is leaving Lily for Ireland to live with Kiera and her husband. Lily is lonely, terrified she’ll fail all those who depend on Ashwood for their livelihoods, and helpless to stop Tobin’s ruination of all she has. I liked her as well. She too is smart; but where Tobin cares for nothing, Lily cares not only for those around her, but for herself. She longs for love, children, joy, and passion with a fervor that, given she has so little of those in her life, is heart-breaking.

When Lily realizes Lord Eberlin is actually Tobin, the boy with whom she played as a child and whose father was hung on her word, she is horrified to learn the tragedies her accusation caused. But she, sanely, sees what she did as a confused eight year old doesn’t give Tobin the right to annihilate either her or her home. She tells him his revenge is unfair and he tells her he doesn’t care, but, he’ll give her a chance at redemption. He’ll stop his ruination of Ashwood if she’ll let him completely ruin her.

“Shall I say it plainly?’ he murmured. “I propose to have your virtue… or I will have Ashwood. The choice is yours.”

Like I said, your hero’s a dick.

But he is, to Lily, an arousing dick and she, after giving it some thought, agrees to his proposition. She, of course, hopes to somehow dally with him without giving up her virginity, but, you make it clear, from their first kiss, she will find that damned difficult to do. I loved the heat between Lily and Tobin. You make the desire they feel for one another palpable. This is a book that made my heart race and my skin tingle. You write wonderfully sensuous love scenes. Each time they touch, Lily, Tobin–and I–long for the two to become lovers.

In some ways, the expected happens. As Lily and Tobin spend time together, he slowly–very slowly–regains his humanity and his heart. He and Lily are hampered by the past and both work to free themselves–Lily from her guilt and Tobin from his black bitterness. When, by the book’s end, Tobin is again able to care and Lily is given the love she’s longed for, it’s lovely.

I don’t mean to imply, however, the book is without aspects unusual in historical romance. Unlike many small towns found in Regency romance, the people of Hadley Green aren’t especially likable. Many are petty, selfish, and annoying. They behaved horribly to Tobin’s family when his father hung and are nasty to Lily despite all her efforts on their behalf. Lily loves Lucy and suffers for that love. And, no matter what choice Lily and Tobin make, a match between the two will never be one that does anything but lower Lily in the eyes of her peers. Tobin never truly pays the piper for his sins and his sister, Charity, never finds peace. These deviations make the book stand out in a genre where saccharine convention is too often the norm.

The only part of the book I found lacking is the tale of those rubies. We are only two novels into the series; already, this plot line is wearing thin. This book offers little new or exciting information about the mysteries of the past. It’s clear Mr. Scott was not the thief and that someone, somewhere, has those damn jewels. Their whereabouts leaves me unconcerned and I’ve a hard time imagining an entire series built around their pursuit.

All in all, though, The Revenge of Lord Eberlin was a terrific read. I love a well-written, sexy, moving Regency romance and you, Ms. London, have written just that.  It’s almost perfect and thus, I give it a strong B+.

Thank you,

Dabney

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