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REVIEW: The Secret Wedding by Jo Beverley

Dear Mrs. Beverley,

book review You keep writing these Georgian novels and I can guarantee I’ll keep reading them. Witty, historically well researched, filled with characters I want to root for. Yep, I’m happy. But why did the release information that accompanied the book say it’s a Regency?

Ten years ago young Lieutenant Christian Hill tries to do the right thing. And ends up in a duel during which he kills his opponent. This causes him to nearly be strung up for murder before fate, in the form of a local tradeswoman who could strike fear into lesser men, intervenes and offers him the chance at life. If he’s willing to marry the ruined young woman he fought for in the first place.

To save himself, Christian agrees but he insists on some form of marriage contract and holds an ace up his sleeve by giving a false name. Since he’s on his way to the Americas to fight, he might be killed anyway and even if he survives he doubts the marriage is legal.

Now it’s a decade later and he’s the heir to his father, an earl due to second son roundabout inheritance. News that someone is asking around the regiment for Jack Hill, the false name he used, leads him to begin to question the letter he got telling him his bride had died. A hasty confab with his childhood friend and foster brother, Thorn, makes him determined to discover if his wife is alive and if the marriage is valid.

Caro Hill has her own reasons for wanting to be sure the letter she got saying Jack Hill had died gloriously in the service of King and country is true. She can’t very well accept a proposal of marriage until she’s sure. But when a man suddenly appears asking for her, she ducks and hides.

In the interim since that dreadful day, her father’s business has prospered and Caro has no intention of letting Jack, if he lives, or Jack’s family, if he doesn’t live, swoop in and take it all due to the laws giving a man total control of his wife’s property.

Until she’s sure about the situation, she decides to beard the lion, go undercover and investigate this man who might be the key to discovering if she’s wife or widow. Meanwhile, Christian decides to enjoy the company of this mysterious woman he meets. Until fate takes another swipe at them and sends them on a road trip across Yorkshire that might end in true love after all.

So we get a road romance x second chance at love x misunderstandings with a dollop of Mallorens tossed in. I can totally understand Caro’s reluctance to hand her inheritance over to Christian or any other man to do with as he wishes. Women of the age – including Diana who is a Countess in her own right – had such little true control over their lives or property.

Also it’s a nice change to have a hero be a little bit poor and have to deal with that in a society where money and show accounts for so much. Christian isn’t dirt poor but he’s got to watch his money. The Hardwicke Act, which serves as a valuable part of the plot, saves Thorn from having to worry about money grubbing misses after his position and wealth.

Christian is a military man so it makes sense that he can quickly summarize the situation after the ring theft and move to get Caro out of danger. That he can adapt a disguise and that he’d have the chutzpah to dive right back into the mob. As he says, Caro isn’t used to such things so her adaptability is a bonus.

The cat stuff is cute but I’m not sure of its purpose beyond cute. Unless it’s to show how country people of the time, without access to the Internet, believed what they were told.

“Fearsome Froggat” with a Yorkshire accent that could grind corn. I loved the regional details here. The differing accents that Caro (in the South) and Christian (in Yorkshire) had trouble understanding and mimicking. How Phyllis uses the Yorkshire distrust of Southerners to keep her servants from gossiping about her friend Caro. Christian’s attempts to remember the name of the town in which the story started were hilarious. Nether Greasebutt, indeed!

Christian and his man Barleyman have a great period relationship. Respect but no chummy BFFs nonsense. Also, the scenes with the Mallorens and their servants – again there’s respect but they are servants and expected to serve. Diana also shows her realistic awareness that even though the Mallorens respect and pay their servants well, some gossiping will go on.

One thing niggled at my mind. Caro had a terrible introduction to physical love. Yet the first time she and Christian are intimate – that doesn’t seem to bother her. It’s only later, while fleeing the mob and Christian attempts to provide a cover for why they’re sitting out behind a building that her memories assail her. And that’s the last we hear of this from her POV. There are a few token references to it from Diana but Caro appears over her experience quite quickly.

Thanks for including even a little time for Christian and Caro to get (re)aquainted after discovering who the other really is before making any lifelong choices. Yes, they are married for good (especially after the consummation) but there were other choices rather than living together. The information about the separation a mensa et thoro. was interesting. I would assume this was a real life option. I also enjoyed how you worked the information about the Hardwicke Act into the story.

As in previous books, we see the power that Rothgar wields and his noblesse oblige by taking Caro under his protection while in York even though he doesn’t really know her. For once we see that all things are not (quite) possible for a Malloren. Caro and Christian are married and there’s nothing under the law that can be done about it. But Rothgar can throw his weight around, as at ball, and in polite society by spreading information that they wish to be disseminated. I think Christian and Caro will be glad of his friends-in-law comment.

I love that Christian jokes that Caro is staying with him because she loves his family. I love his family. We can see that he’s been raised right (while he was at home and not with Thorn) and that they raised Thorn right (disciplining him for sheep incident whether he’s a Duke or not) while he was with them.

But we can also see how he would think he’s being slightly smothered since he was with Thorn for so long. And it’s so true about his comment that in the military, others respected his privacy which he doesn’t have at home. Ditto how he is chagrined that the family prayed for him each night while he was fighting in America while he didn’t spare them much time in his thoughts. Well, he was in his late teens and thought it all a lark.

I like the scene with Christian and his father discussing the secret wedding and how his father 1) sees the good deed that Christian did, 2) doesn’t berate him for what can’t be changed 3) doesn’t load guilt on Christian’s head for losing the chance to bring money into the family and 4) applauds Christian for doing the right thing in regard to Caro’s money.

I had to laugh at Christian and his mother talking about marriage and life. There’s nothing like hearing your mother talk about sex to shake your day. The scene later when Caro and Christian meet with them and are basically told – in a polite English manner – to go start trying to have children was funny too.

SPOILER WARNING – in case the spoiler cloak doesn’t work.

The mess with Ellen was rather sudden and too convenient with the Silcocks vendetta – all that multi year conspiracy. But Rothgar and Diana’s solution to the problem seems like something a powerful noble would do in that age. Ellen gets some kind of sentence but doesn’t go to jail or risk being hung for attempted murder. In their case, I agree with Caro that I’d be damned before paying any money to the Fowl Flock for Christian’s bet.

All in all, I enjoyed “The Secret Wedding” very much. The focus of the story stays on Christian and Caro but with a brief glimpse of some previous characters as well as a slight preview of Thorn. I can’t wait to see who snags him. And we get a new saying, “With the Hills, things always turn out for the best.” B

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookstore or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

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.

21 Comments

  1. liz m
    Apr 20, 2009 @ 16:04:58

    I loved this book. I was lucky enough to get an arc and I’ve been suggesting it to everyone I can think of. (But I do agree with the spoiler.)

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  2. Jayne
    Apr 20, 2009 @ 17:37:51

    Liz, I snagged our arc copy as well but will probably go buy one just for the lovely cover art. I’m so shallow!

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  3. GrowlyCub
    Apr 20, 2009 @ 17:42:49

    Has anybody found this at Walmart? I’ve now checked several stores in 3 different states (after ours didn’t have it on several occasions when I checked) and it sure seems they don’t carry it in stores. Last time I looked it wasn’t even available online at Walmart.com. Anybody know what’s up with that? (P.S. the reason I shop Walmart is because they are the only ‘booksellers’ in town and I got curious when I happened to be in one out of town and they didn’t have it either, so I started checking while traveling).

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  4. jmc
    Apr 20, 2009 @ 18:33:27

    GrowlyCub, I don’t know about Walmart, but I found it in Target.

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  5. Brenna
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 06:00:39

    You’ve summed up exactly all the things I love about this book. I too loved Christian’s family and how well his parents brought them up despite their large number (twelve children). I loved Christian’s reaction when he heard the bed creaking in the next room and remembered that it was his mother’s bedroom and that his parents were still “doing” it. As for the Mallorens, it was nice to know that Rothgar was “allowed” to conduct some of Diana’s business in the North only because she cannot attend to them due to her advanced state of pregnancy.

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  6. Jayne
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 06:26:57

    As for the Mallorens, it was nice to know that Rothgar was “allowed” to conduct some of Diana's business in the North only because she cannot attend to them due to her advanced state of pregnancy.

    Ha! That was funny. And poor Rothgar is going to be a father and grandfather almost at the same time. I can just see him pacing the floors at both places.

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  7. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 09:54:27

    I just started this and I’m loving it (no surprise as Jo’s books always hit the right spot for me).

    You keep writing these Georgian novels and I can guarantee I'll keep reading them. Witty, historically well researched, filled with characters I want to root for. Yep, I'm happy. But why did the release information that accompanied the book say it's a Regency?

    I had the same issue with my books. When I pointed it out to my editor she laughed and told me she’d pay a mint to watch me try and explain the difference to marketing (who wouldn’t give a hoot). The NY houses say it’s the same pool of readers, and that most of them don’t know or care about the difference between Georgian and “Regency” (which is just a subset of Georgian anyway).

    For those of us who have an actual fetish for 18th century settings, we just have to look a little closer when we shop.

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  8. Susan/DC
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 10:58:12

    It’s only a minor quibble, but the back cover got both the era and Christian’s age wrong. The cover says he was 17, but the first chapter says he was almost 17, which in my numerical system makes him 16. In addition, throughout the book people say “but you were only 16″. Not a big difference, but an easy fact to check and one wonders why they didn’t.

    One thing I liked about this book was that each of them went on with their lives after the wedding. Admittedly this was made easier because they each thought the other dead, but I’ve read far too many books where the hero has an actual life and the heroine spends the intervening period mooning about her knight in shining armor. It’s especially aggravating when she doesn’t actually know him but rightly or wrongly projects all things bright and beautiful onto him. I want to shake her and tell her to Get A Life.

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  9. MB
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 16:01:19

    I really liked this book. Jo Beverley’s books are usually wonderful and I liked this one better than some of her others.

    Interesting review! Especially your take on Caro’s first (negative) and second (positive) sexual experiences. There was a 10 year (+/-) gap between them, so I could understand how she would feel frustrated as a woman and might want to experience it again in a ‘safe’ and playful environment where she had some control. So this didn’t bother me much. I thought it was healthy. But when chased by the mob afterward? That would be scary! And would bring back thoughts of that first terrifying encounter.

    I really enjoyed Christian’s family, especially his parents.

    I have to say that Beverley’s Georgian novels feel more ‘historically authentic’ to me than many other historical romances I read.

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  10. Jayne
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 18:07:17

    I had the same issue with my books. When I pointed it out to my editor she laughed and told me she'd pay a mint to watch me try and explain the difference to marketing (who wouldn't give a hoot). The NY houses say it's the same pool of readers, and that most of them don't know or care about the difference between Georgian and “Regency” (which is just a subset of Georgian anyway).

    For those of us who have an actual fetish for 18th century settings, we just have to look a little closer when we shop.

    Grrrr. I guess to marketing, we’re all bon bon eating housewives who bleat like sheep and happily read anything we think is a historical. As to looking closer, that’s why I love it when the first thing on page 1 is the date of the novel. No guessing then!

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  11. Jayne
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 18:09:56

    but I've read far too many books where the hero has an actual life and the heroine spends the intervening period mooning about her knight in shining armor. It's especially aggravating when she doesn't actually know him but rightly or wrongly projects all things bright and beautiful onto him. I want to shake her and tell her to Get A Life.

    Good point.

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  12. Jayne
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 18:12:53

    I have to say that Beverley's Georgian novels feel more ‘historically authentic' to me than many other historical romances I read.

    I love reading her website to see all the trips she makes and pictures she takes of period places, buildings and “things” for her books. When she describes an inn in a small Yorkshire town, you know she’s got it right because she’s been to one.

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  13. GrowlyCub
    Apr 21, 2009 @ 20:43:52

    I read this today as an e-book since I couldn’t find a paper copy anywhere nearby.

    I liked it better than the last one, but overall it was just a nice read and nothing that will stay with me.

    I am curious about Ithorne’s story, though I’m not exactly enthralled with the premise for all three books. There’s too much outside action and not enough internal stuff going on for my taste.

    I think it would have been a much more interesting story to read about them moving in together and trying to figure out how to have a good marriage rather than gallivanting about not knowing who they were.

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  14. Jo Beverley
    Apr 22, 2009 @ 10:10:32

    Thanks for the lovely review, Jayne. I’m delighted that you enjoyed the book.

    Susan, I have to exonerate the production department at NAL for the age error. They do the covers way ahead — we’re just beginning to work on The Secret Duke — and I decided to put Christian’s age back a year at the last moment. I’d forgotten about the detail on the cover, but IIRC my decision was based on a combination of the wedding date changing because of the Hardwicke Act implementation, plus sixteen just feels more definitively young than seventeen.

    Cheers,

    Jo

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  15. Kaetrin
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 00:45:44

    I’ve just finished this book. I wanted to read it before I read your review.

    Like you Jayne, I would give this book a solid B. I really enjoyed it, as I do all Jo Beverley books.

    It was lovely to catch up with Bey and Diana again – and for them to stay consistent with their previously revealed characters – eg, Bey had a good reason for being in Yorkshire and it was at Diana’s request – Diana’s independence was one of the major themes of Devilish and Bey had always been supportive of it. It was also pretty special that we even got a love scene with them in! Squee!

    (What’s the bet that the babies are born during Thorn’s book) Can’t wait!

    As much as I really enjoyed this book, there were some little things which bothered me toward the end.

    1. I didn’t understand how Christian went from being betrayed and enraged when Caro’s identity was revealed to all “let’s work it out”. I felt that emotional journey wasn’t really covered, unlike Caro’s.

    2. The little snippet about “a brother in debt” and then the supposition of who it must be and how he’d got there was just not enough information for me. I wanted to know who and what, or, if it wasnt’ really important why put it there. (I suppose that it may be explained in the third book if Thorn turns out to marry one of the sisters… but no – now that Caro’s married to Christian and they’ve sorted out the money, it won’t be necessary so…).

    3. Just near the end, Caro expresses internal doubt that she belongs in this world, effectively that she’s “countess material” and that wasn’t addressed any further – I would have like to have understood how she resolved those doubts.

    4. I thought the ending just a little rushed – I would really have liked another few pages of them sorting it out (but maybe that’s just me being greedy!).

    That said, I did really enjoy the “road trip” feel of the book and the humour too – there were some laugh out loud moments for me – especially involving Christian’s embarrassment over his family. And I loved the detail about the Hardwicke Act and cutlery.

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  16. Jayne
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 04:08:33

    I’ll address points 3 and 4.

    3) I think Christian’s family is so low-key and down to earth that Caro felt she fit in there. Also, there was some line about how she could use her business sense to get the Earldom back on its financial feet and running smoothly. I kind of took that as the way she was going to “fit in.”

    4) me too. They got some days during the trip down to the family estate which is more than some books would show but at that point in the book, what else could really have extended the story without seeming tacked on and superfluous?

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  17. Kaetrin
    Apr 27, 2009 @ 16:41:33

    I know what I mean but I’m not sure I can express it accurately.

    I know that in a romance novel the HEA is guaranteed but I would have liked more than just that “guarantee” to get me to the finish line. So much great work went into the first 7/8 (or more) of the book and right at the end, it seemed, to me at least, that I was supposed to accept the HEA on faith rather than by it being shown to me in the story. (see I knew this wouldn’t come out right!) I mean, I knew they would work it out, I just wanted to see more of how they did it. Christian was feeling betrayed. Especially by Caro’s accusation at the ball – how did he move past that? How did Caro come to trust Christian’s fidelity, both in terms of sex and also of money (both issues genuinely set up in the book). I know that she did but how? She asked him if he’d be faithful and he said yes but if that’s all it took, well she could have asked earlier (and there wouldn’t have been much of a story). Something changed and for me, the few “they talked about all manner of things” in the coach paragraphs didn’t expose it quite enough.

    It may have been as simple as a few lines/paragraphs about her observations of his character with both knowing each other’s true identity, how he interacted with his family, linking his upbringing with what she knew of him already, etc – it didn’t have to be long, but there were a just a few links missing, IMO. (I mean, that’s how I think she got there, but I felt I had to fill in the blanks myself).

    That makes it sound like this bothered me a lot more than it did. I did really enjoy this book. I suppose these little things made the difference between an A and a B grading, for me at least.

    And also, with due credit to Jo Beverley, I find this a common thing in many romance novels (perhaps other genres too if I read them!) – the endings are a little rushed. So, maybe after all, it is just me!

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  18. Jayne
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 05:40:35

    kaetrin, I see what you’re saying and totally agree with it. Which makes me wonder why endings for so many books feel rushed. Do most readers not care to read the longer scenes which would satisfy us? Do authors see the finish line as they’re writing and just want to get the darn book completed? Do editors need to cut word counts and think this is a good spot to do so? Inquiring minds….

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  19. MB
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 09:42:16

    I certainly would vote for making the endings longer and more satisfying. They do seem to be cutting them too short often. (Not just in this particular book, but in many of those I read.)

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  20. Kaetrin
    Apr 28, 2009 @ 17:07:39

    Yes! I’d like to know the answers to the questions Jayne posed too. What do others think?

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  21. breitling
    Sep 22, 2009 @ 01:34:07

    Do authors see the finish line as they're writing and just want to get the darn book completed? Do editors need to cut word counts and think this is a good spot to do so? Inquiring minds….

    ReplyReply

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