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REVIEW: The Admiral’s Penniless Bride by Carla Kelly

Dear Mrs. Kelly,

I see a book by you and I’m like Pavlov’s dogs – minus the barking. And the book then automatically goes on my list of “this will be read soon, if not sooner.” And though each one might not always climb the heights of my best reads for that year, you seldom fail to entertain me or move me.

The Admiral's Penniless Bride by Carla Kelly Sally Sophie Paul is literally hanging on by her last threadbare thread. Widowed five years ago when false accusations against her husband drove him to suicide, she’s eked out a living as a ladies companion until, having spent her penultimate coin traveling to Plymouth, she finds her new job eliminated by the death of the elderly client.

Retired Admiral Sir Charles Bright is desperate when he notices the quiet woman in the corner of the Drake. His years of reading his crew and the idiots at the Admiralty have taught him to be a good judge of character and this woman obviously needs his help as much as he needs hers. Unbidden and unwanted, his two older sisters have decided to take on his marriage as a project – whether he wants to get spliced or not – and the woman to whom he proposed in a marriage of convenience hasn’t shown up. So perhaps this young woman will do.

At first, an incredulous Sally declines the Admiral’s proposal but when there are no jobs to be had and the workhouse looms, she finally agrees. And what starts out as a business arrangement swiftly becomes much more. Each feels amazed that it appears love will bloom where neither expected it but just as they’re accepting their good fortune, a secret Sophie has kept threatens not only their marriage but also Charles reputation.

One thing I must comment on, and I know that this isn’t your fault, is the cover. Charles suffered an injury early in his Naval career which is featured throughout the story yet it’s not pictured correctly. If the cover had been flipped, then yeah it’s fine but usually Harlequin is better about stuff like this. Okay, that’s out of the way.

Charles and Sophie are such dear people, such caring people, such responsible people that it’s a delight to watch them find each other and do good, both in their own household and in the neighborhood. They save orphans from abuse, they rescue people from the workhouse and former sailors from begging on the streets. They visit those who were never visited and bring closure to one who grieved over a lost son for years. They’re practically perfect. And just a touch unbelievable in their perfection.

But then Charles does get to throw a wonderful, thunderous rage when Sophie’s secret comes to light. And based on what he knows at the time, I can totally understand his reaction. However, literally overnight, he Sees the Light, totally believes Sophie’s version of events and contritely tries to regroup and attempt a do-over. Bully for Sophie that she sticks to her guns and follows what she told him she’d do in her letter. Until Charles finally gets his act together and they reconcile. But I guess that’s why it’s called unconditional love – you forgive and forget without question.

You do throw a slight change into the book by having what can be considered “an insider” end up being the villain of the piece. And it is nice to see an older hero and (somewhat older) heroine be featured. I also liked the fact that there is no magical justice meted out for the wrong of five years ago. Life sucks sometimes and here is an example.

But oh my, the crying in this book. If someone isn’t tearing up, crying, or sobbing then they’re sobbing in someone’s arms. I lost count. It got to the point where I was waiting for the blubbering to commence. If the whole household ever gets weepy at the same time, there won’t be enough handkerchiefs in the entire county of Devonshire to mop up the tears. Somehow, I just don’t see a bookful of English – and one French – characters getting this publicly emotional, to this extent, in 1816.

So though I enjoyed how amazing Charles and Sophie are and how much they come to love each other and can see them happily sitting out on their terrace watching the sea, I do have some issues with the book. I liked it, it is what I’ve come to – more or less – expect from you but it has a “same old” feel to it. Long time fans will no doubt lap it up as quickly as I did but they shouldn’t look for anything truly new or different in the tone or style. B-

~Jayne

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| Sony| eHarlequin

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

24 Comments

  1. Janine
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 15:34:18

    But oh my, the crying in this book. If someone isn't tearing up, crying, or sobbing then they're sobbing in someone's arms. I lost count. It got to the point where I was waiting for the blubbering to commence. If the whole household ever gets weepy at the same time, there won't be enough handkerchiefs in the entire county of Devonshire to mop up the tears. Somehow, I just don't see a bookful of English – and one French – characters getting this publicly emotional, to this extent, in 1816.

    I’ve enjoyed some of Kelly’s books very much — One Good Turn and Miss Whittier Makes a List especially — but I do sometimes find her writing too sentimental for my taste.

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  2. Joanne
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 16:41:42

    I thought that if Sally had shaken off her halo and fought back a little when her secret was revealed she could have been more interesting. I would have had more respect for this woman who had gone through so much if she hadn’t been so willing to go, and never darken his door again.!

    Kelly is still an auto-buy for me but this had all the ingredients for a great book and I think it missed. I like Ms Kelly’s work but this one was just an okay read.

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  3. SonomaLass
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 16:44:26

    This was only the second Carla Kelly book I read; maybe that’s why I found it fresher than you did. I have since read one more, and I have to agree that her characters (while interesting and unique in some ways) are very “good.” I’m interested to see if that gets worse in her upcoming LDS inspirational, or if it somehow fits better there.

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  4. Jayne
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 17:09:42

    @Joanne: I love her books, I have from the first one I ever read and will happily admit I’m a fan girl. But agree that this one is just an okay read – from her. However I still feel it’s better than a lot of what’s out there.

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  5. Jayne
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 17:23:55

    @SonomaLass: I’m looking forward to this new book as well since it’s a Western and I loved her anthology “Here’s to the Ladies.”

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  6. LG
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 17:44:51

    The “goodness” got to be a little too much for me – if they had hired just one more down-on-their-luck servant, or one more neighbor to have a tearful encounter with, I think it would have taken me at least another month to get through the book. As it was, Twenty (I can’t remember what they renamed her) had enough problems for three people.

    I did really like a lot of Sophie and Charles conversations – they were a lot of fun. They helped put this book on the good side of “okay” for me. I probably would have enjoyed the book even more if it had felt like there was, well, more romance.

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  7. Sunita
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 17:47:18

    Jayne, I’m so glad you reviewed this. My take was almost exactly the same. I found the setup a bit incredible, but I guess they were both looking for deliverance. But I also thought she should have told him the big secret sooner. Like you, I’m a huge fangirl and will definitely check out her upcoming inspirational, but this one didn’t work for me.

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  8. cecilia250
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 18:09:47

    I really liked this book on the whole, though I agree that the protagonists were a little too saintly. I have to admit that I I kind of expect/like that about Carla Kelly’s books.

    One thing that bothered me was the name change from Sally to Sophie though. It would take me months if not years to get used to someone calling me by my middle name, and she seemed to get used to it almost immediately. And I’m not sure I really understood why they would change her first name at all. It just seemed a bit random.

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  9. LG
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 18:13:20

    @cecilia250: I didn’t even remember the name change until I started trying to write up a blog post about the book and realized the name used on the back of the book wasn’t what I had thought her name was. The two “S” names apparently made the switch pretty much seamless for me, I guess.

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  10. becca
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 18:31:59

    I’ve never read a Carla Kelly book before, but for the price (kindle: $3.89) how can I pass it up? I’m definitely still in a Regency mood, and I’m running out of Jo Beverley. Thanks for the review!

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  11. Keishon
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 00:29:53

    I don’t know Jayne. I agree you with regarding the Pavlov's dog statement sans barking (of course) because I most certainly bought this one but I didn’t finish her last one. Her best is the still first one in this series for me. Will give it a shot and hope for the best.

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  12. Jayne
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 05:21:34

    @cecilia250:

    I really liked this book on the whole, though I agree that the protagonists were a little too saintly. I have to admit that I I kind of expect/like that about Carla Kelly's books.

    I agree that I expect this from her books and, at times, it’s a nice change if I’ve just read a book with an asshat main character in it. But sometimes the saintliness is glopped on a little thickly.

    But having said that, I’m not sure how I’d react to characters from Kelly who were too different than this. I do miss characters like Nez, Lord Ragsdale and Captain Sparks who showed their asses a little before being reformed by their heroines.

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  13. Eileen
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 05:32:29

    I read this book after it was mentioned on the Smart Bitches about the cover not matching the physical condition of the hero. It is the first Carla Kelly book I’ve read. I really enjoyed it. My own personal grade was a B.

    I agree somewhat about the characters being almost too good, but I enjoyed reading those parts where they were helping others. It was nice even if it is unrealistic. I wish more people in real life were so generous and kind hearted.

    I also liked that the characters were a bit older than usual. As I get older (I’m 39), I don’t want to always read about a 23-year-old heroine.

    I liked this book enough to look for more books by this author.

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  14. Laura Florand
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 08:11:10

    I really have to try her. You keep saying how good she is. I definitely love “nice guy” heros. Thanks for the review, Jayne! What is the one you would recommend as a starting point? The first in this series?

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  15. Jayne
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 08:55:13

    @Laura Florand: This one isn’t really part of any series – that I’m aware of. I would suggest starting with “Marrying the Captain” which is the first book in the trilogy that also contains “The Surgeon’s Lady” and “Marrying the Royal Marine.” It’s also going to be easier to find then some of her older backlist.

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  16. Jayne
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 08:59:22

    @Eileen:

    I liked this book enough to look for more books by this author.

    Yippee. A new convert to Kelly. She has lots of backlist books for you to try. There’s the trilogy listed in the comment above which should be easier to find and several I love from an era before ebooks which might be slightly harder but are well worth the effort.

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  17. JoannaV
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 11:31:23

    I really enjoyed this book, as I do all of Carla Kelly’s work. I really enjoyed seeing older characters for a change – they seemed like they had really lived through a lot. I hadn’t thought much about them being too saintly, but you have a point. And I at times wanted to smack the heroine for not telling him her secret earlier but then you’d have less story.

    I think my favorite part though was the descriptions of the house he bought for the view of the sea but with wildly inappropriate decor. We know there were debauched aristocrats and this showed just how bad you could be if you had enough money and privilege!

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  18. Joy
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 20:09:07

    But oh my, the crying in this book. If someone isn't tearing up, crying, or sobbing then they're sobbing in someone's arms. I lost count. It got to the point where I was waiting for the blubbering to commence. If the whole household ever gets weepy at the same time, there won't be enough handkerchiefs in the entire county of Devonshire to mop up the tears. Somehow, I just don't see a bookful of English – and one French – characters getting this publicly emotional, to this extent, in 1816.

    The British stiff upper lip was a Victorian phenomenon. This was the age of Byron and Romanticism. The English of this age could be admired for their Sensibility (what we would today call sensitivity) as well as Sense…and the stiff upper lip was mostly an upper-class thing as well.

    I didn’t actually notice the sentimentality so much, and this was also my favorite of the recent books Kelly has written, which just goes to show how tastes can vary. I personally found The Surgeon’s Lady depressing on several levels.

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  19. DM
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 21:05:56

    I’ve bought and enjoyed her books before. The prose is solid, and I usually find her characters nicely observed, so much so that I don’t mind them being a little too sweet for my taste. Romance heroines are often described as sensible, but rarely to do they act sensibly. I think that’s why Kelly’s books are usually such a treat for me.

    But I had trouble with this particular book, because of the way the hero and heroine reacted to the explicitly sexual art in the house he’d bought. I found that I couldn’t empathize with people who knocked down statues, painted over frescoes, and burned books, because they were sexual in nature.

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  20. cecilia250
    Jan 30, 2011 @ 10:45:55

    @DM: I kind of got the impression that it wasn’t so much that it was just because it was sexual but that it was bad art. (In my personal opinion, not everything has to be treated like it’s a masterpiece for the ages.)

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  21. Joy
    Jan 30, 2011 @ 17:42:01

    I just got that they didn’t want to live in a porn palace and some of that stuff wasn’t precisely movable and they didn’t care to look for a buyer.

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  22. DM
    Jan 30, 2011 @ 19:07:03

    I went with it when they painted over the frescoes and knocked down the statues. It was the book burning that did me in. I just can’t square the idea of “hero” and a guy who burns all the books in his library because they contain nooky.

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  23. Fran
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 23:53:44

    Absolutely love Ms Kelly’s books. Loved this one. Does anyone know if Ms Kelly is still making the Dear Reader epilog email available to Beau Crusoe as I have finished the book and the email address on the web is no longer working. Ta Fran

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  24. Jayne
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 07:11:21

    @Fran: I don’t know if it’s elsewhere on the Internet but I just emailed you the Dear Reader epilogue. Let me know if you didn’t get it.

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