REVIEW: Not Quite a Lady by Loretta Chase
Dear Ms. Chase,
Your books have provided me with hours of happy reading over the years. I rejoiced when you began writing the Carsington series and for the most part have enjoyed them all. Not Quite A Lady will easily take its place beside them but the grade will Not Quite be up to Lord Perfect.
Lady Charlotte Hayward has made a career out of not getting married. Which isn’t as easy as it might first appear. She’s the cherished only daughter of a wealthy Marquess, she’s beautiful, charming, friendly, nice to those to whom it’s hard to be nice, good natured and if she’s headed towards the ripe old age of 27, her good points still outweigh this. As a matter of fact, it takes a lot of work for Lady Charlotte to not get caught at not getting married. After all, it’s what the daughters of the ton do. Her doting father is baffled but determined his daughter should know wedded happiness. What he doesn’t know, and what Charlotte and her youthful stepmama have taken great pains to ensure he doesn’t know, is the real reason why Charlotte, who longs for a husband and children, can never have them. You see, Charlotte already has a son. One conceived outside of marriage while she was barely past childhood herself, fathered by a rake who died before it was born. Knowing her wedding night would reveal her indiscretion and bring shame on her family, Charlotte dodges matrimonial candidates like most rakes avoid virginal daughters of good family.
And one rake who’s made a career of avoiding young women of good family is Darius Carsington, youngest son of the Earl of Hargate. Darius’ passion is agricultural learning, dissemination of said learning amongst those of similar interest and enjoying himself with widows and young women of dubious virtue. But when his father calls him into the Inquisition Chamber, Darius, who has no independent source of income, knows his number is up. He is presented with a challenge: he has one year to show a profit from an estate recently purchased by the Earl. The fly in the ointment is that it has been neglected for a decade whilst it was in Chancery being argued over by lawyers. If Darius can’t get the estate to show a profit, he has to marry the bride of his father’s choice. As his father knew it would, Darius’ masculine pride can’t resist.
When she learns that her father has arranged a house party with the sole intention of finding her a husband, Charlotte knows she’s in deep trouble. And after she discovers that the neglected estate which borders her family’s own is now under new management, so to speak, and that the young man is of good family, single and the author of several agricultural pamphlets from which her father can quote from memory, she realizes she has to work fast. Neither is overly impressed with the other at their first meeting but soon each realizes that the other is what they’ve always tried to avoid in the past but which they no longer wish to run from now. But what will they do when Charlotte’s past comes back to haunt her?
First, I’d like to thank you for giving us a heroine with a really major problem in her past and realistic reason why she can’t wed. A bastard child born in early nineteenth century England to the daughter of an aristocrat is so much more of a realistic reason than a heroine who fusses that she won’t be able to ride astride or would be forbidden to study the Elgin marbles.
Then we have the villain. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting what we got with him. I was primed for a common romance plot device, but once again you provided a relief from the standard, surprising and delighting me.
I enjoyed Lizzie’s character and the revelation that it took time for Charlotte to warm up to her stepmama. As pointed out in her conversation with Darius, men didn’t have to get along as women of that era did since women were more restricted to staying home. I can see how a young woman faced with a new stepmama only 9 years older than herself would have some resentment. And how that might have contributed to her Fall from Virtue. The other reasons mention for her going bad are also believable: a smooth talking seducer and a 16 year old virgin slightly mad at father’s remarriage and wanting to show him up and prove something.
But the character who really impressed me is Lord Lithby, Charlotte’s father. After years of reading about nitwit fathers in Romanceland (see especially the f’ing idiot in Gaelen Foley’s The Duke), here’s a real father. I can believe that he doesn’t know what happened given the pains Lizzie and Charlotte went to to hide the fact from him. I can see how bewildered he is that his lovely daughter hasn’t found a husband yet and the hopes he has for her happiness.
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Yet, despite all my praise, I have a few niggles. Charlotte got in BAD trouble earlier from unprotected sex. Now she does it again. And again. I guess this is to show how Twue Love (as the archbishop says in The Princess Bride) swept her (and Darius) away on the wings of passion. I can see it once but not repeated times and not in a house full of servants and workmen who are going all over the place in rooms where servants might not normally go.
Then will Society really accept Charlotte and her children
Finally, did I miss a brother’s book? When did Geoffrey get married? Or is he like the missing Malloren sibling already happily married? Oh well. Not Quite a Lady is a fine wrap up to an overall delightful series. B+
Dear Ms. Chase,
In my letter about your last book, Lord Perfect, I wrote about my enjoyment of your Carsington series, which began with Miss Wonderful and continued in Mr. Impossible and Lord Perfect. Now, in Not Quite A Lady, the Carsington series has reached not only its end, but in my opinion, its pinnacle.
Not Quite a Lady begins with a prologue in which the seventeen year old Lady Charlotte Hayward gives birth to an infant who may be too weak to survive. The child, who is illegitimate, is spirited away in secret to adoptive parents, and Lady Charlotte, who was seduced and then abandoned by a heartless rake before making her debut in society, vows never to love again.
Ten years later, Darius Carsington is the despair of his illustrious family. The youngest son of the Earl and Countess of Hargate, Darius has always had to fight not to be overshadowed by his older brothers. At twenty-eight, Darius has established himself as a scholar, a member of the Philosophical Society and an author of agricultural pamphlets. He has also distinguished himself in an activity that has met with his family's disapproval: heartless raking.
Darius is careful to avoid seducing innocents, so he has never been caught in a scandal, but what bothers the other Carsingtons is the cold and unemotional way in which Darius' love life proceeds. To Darius Logic is all, and Reason must always triumph over Emotion. It doesn't bother him that he can't recollect the eye color of his latest paramour, but it drives his father crazy.
Therefore, the Earl of Hargate challenges Darius to take over Beechwood, a dilapidated property that borders Charlotte's father's estate in Cheshire. If Darius can make Beechwood profitable within a year, he need never marry. But if not, his father will find him a wealthy wife so that like his brothers, Darius will have a source of income. Darius is determined to make Beechwood profitable and sets out for Cheshire right away.
Now twenty-seven, Charlotte is still unmarried despite her beauty, wealth, and high birth. In her fear that any man she married would discover that she is not a virgin, and that she has given birth to a child, Charlotte has never allowed herself to fall in love, and has found ways to unobtrusively steer men away. Charlotte's father is unaware of his daughter's past, which his wife Lizzy helped Charlotte conceal. He is determined to see his daughter happy and he tells Charlotte that he will invite potential suitors to their home for a house party in a month's time.
Charlotte is distraught on hearing this, but as always, she conceals her feelings out of her need to be a perfect daughter. Guilt drives Charlotte never to give anyone a moment's trouble –" that is, until she meets Darius Carsington. Beechwood is Charlotte's place of escape, and it is there that she and Darius have their first encounter, after Charlotte nearly falls into a pond and Darius rescues her. In her emotional turmoil, Charlotte forgets to be the perfect daughter. Her looks and prickliness intrigue Darius, and when he learns she's not married, so does the mystery of her unwed state.
Darius, can usually “spot a virgin at fifty paces” and is therefore surprised and not a little alarmed by his attraction to Charlotte. Over and over he reminds himself that virgins mean marriage, and are to be avoided at all costs, but for once, Logic and Reason desert him.
If Darius is alarmed, then Charlotte is, beneath her seemingly calm surface, turbulent. For Darius awakens feelings that she thought long dead, feelings that she has vowed to suppress, and the more these emotions come to life, the more endangered Charlotte feels.
Like the other Carsington books, Not Quite a Lady is steeped in charm and wit, and again, the dialogue is terrific. But unlike those earlier books, this one also deals with more emotional and serious subject matter. It goes deeper, while still retaining a light touch, and what I loved about it most was this marriage of humorous and tragic elements. Sweetness and sadness intermingle beautifully here and the result is a poignant story of a man's discovery of his heart and a woman's healing and her path to peace.
I'm not ashamed to say that I cried like a five year old when I reached the section in which Charlotte's past was revealed. Because of the book's early lighter chapters, its emotional ending snuck up on me, and I was surprised that it packed as much power as it did. It is rare these days for a book to drain me so completely, and I mean that in the best way, since I love an emotional catharsis. The last paragraph or two were sublime, note perfect, and I closed the book with a sigh of satisfaction.
I want to add that the things that bothered Jayne did not bother me in the least; much to the contrary, I liked and appreciated them. Explaining why would get into spoiler terrain, so I will save that for another forum.
A couple of other things did bother me, however. I would have liked to see Darius reevaluate his past raking after he learned what happened to Charlotte. I also thought it was a bit of an inconsistency that Charlotte's stepmother, who was said to be extremely perceptive, did not perceive the depth of Charlotte's grief over the child she gave away. A major plot turning point relies on a coincidence, as well, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and go with it.
I want to thank you for having the courage to write about a different kind of heroine, one who is less than perfect, and whose past is less than spotless. After years of reading books in which virgins were predominant and most of the non-virgins were widows or women who are sexually traumatized, I feel that the tide is finally turning and we are seeing a wider variety of heroines, something that I couldn't be happier about.
I'm also grateful, and excited, that you undertook to tell such an emotional story. While I have enjoyed your wonderfully witty lighter books, this one was an even richer emotional experience for me, and I thank you for that, too.
As it is only April, I don't know yet what my favorite book published in 2007 will be, but I'm certain that Not Quite a Lady will be somewhere near the list of my favorites from this already very rich year. For now, it is at the very top, and I give it a high A-.