Dear Ms. Rodale:
I have not read the previous three books in this series but the recent sale by HarperCollins piqued my interest. I had a review copy in my files and decided to give it a chance. The premise behind the series is that newspaper owner Derek Knightly hired four women and dubbed them the Writing Girls. Annabelle Swift is the advice columnist who lives in the garret of her older brother’s house and suffers heaps of abuse by her sister in law. She is, in some aspects, a cinder girl.
She sleeps in the attic, makes clothes out of leftover remnants, takes care of the children, and even helped the Cook with meal preparation. Annabelle has loved Derek since the first that she laid eyes on him “three years, six months, three weeks, and two days ago.” (A mantra repeated throughout the book)
The initial emotional conflict is one of unrequited love. Annabelle’s feelings for Derek have gone unnoticed since they met. Deciding that she must do something, she writes a column asking for readers to give her advice on how to attract her love. Her asking for advice becomes the talk of London as gentlemen in coffee shops and women in their parlor rooms gossip about the best way to attract a man. She begins with lowering her bodice which apparently works because Derek does notice her abundant charms and then roundly chastises himself for doing so.
Derek’s newspaper business is in jeopardy given that a rival newspaper’s reporter was found to have been impersonating a physician and thus breaking the confidence of every Londoner. The House of Lords is investigating this issue and one prominent Lord has put it to Derek that he can preserve his newspaper should Derek agree to marry the Lord’s sister who was suspiciously absent from the previous Season.
The unrequited love story rests upon Derek, a newspaper man, to be wholly unobservant of those around him. He doesn’t even read the initial column penned by Annabelle. He certainly isn’t observant enough to perceive that she has longed after him for over three years. He remains blind to her feelings until Annabelle engages in the amazing transformation of actually letting down her hair, lowering her bodices, and casting sultry glances in his direction. Suddenly Derek looks anew at Annabelle. Apparently once she is attractive enough, he becomes interested but, of course, he should not be interested because he has to marry someone else to ostensibly save his livelihood.
Derek’s character arc is complicated by the fact that he is a bastard and while his father loved him and his mother more than his own family Derek, being obtuse, doesn’t understand why his legitimate siblings don’t welcome him into the embrace of the family. Derek never came off as very bright to me and his oblivousness to other people’s feelings and motivations made little sense for a man who was “obsessed when it came to his newspaper business.”
This book brings nothing new to the table and the text evinces a very specific writing style. Annabelle, in particular, tended to think in dramatic exclamations.
Annabelle lay in her bed, dying, another victim of unrequited love. It was tragic, tragic! In her slim fingers she held a letter from Knightly, blotted with her tears.
It was fun to see Annabelle grow from shy spinster to toast of the Ton, a sort of celebrity; but it would have been nice to be shown exactly why Annabelle wanted Derek so much when he ignored her, was curt to her when he did see her, and spent time courting another woman. Particularly after Annabelle began to gain attention from other men who found her desirable, her entrenched position on Derek was sometimes a headscratcher.
This is a serviceable and light historical with a tendency to melodrama and ridiculousness. (I.e. climbing a tree outside Derek’s bedroom window dressed in breeches was bound to ruin even a Writing Girl, if caught). While Annabelle is likeable, it wasn’t enough to encourage me to read the previous three books in the series. C