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REVIEW:  Marriage of Mercy by Carla Kelly

REVIEW: Marriage of Mercy by Carla Kelly

Dear Ms. Kelly,

Somehow I got the setting/era for your latest novel, “Marriage of Mercy” completely turned around in my head, thinking that it was going to be set on the American Western Frontier. Then when I went back to the eHarlequin website to recheck the back blurb, I realized that whoever wrote it didn’t actually read the book. There goes me being lazy and borrowing it… Reading it is like a nice sized plate of fresh, warm just baked chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk. It’s comfort food that makes you feel good but not something that can be eaten – or read – all the time. Still the sweetness of the book is a nice break from doom, gloom and small, mean people.

Marriage of Mercy by Carla KellyAfter the death of her financially unwise Baronet father, impoverished Grace Curtis assesses her situation, finds it almost hopeless and makes a decision that will change her life. With no relatives to fall back on and the estate lost to debt, she takes a deep breath and approaches the only people she believes might be willing to help her – Adam Wilson, the town baker and his wife. She’ll work for them, first paying off the family debt the kindly couple allowed to build, and then if her work is satisfactory she’ll stay on for wages. Ten years later Grace has accepted her total fall from Society and her, probably permanent, unmarried state but she’s also gained self satisfaction and discovered that she loves to invent new goodies to tempt the customers of the store.

One such customer ends up changing her life again. Before the will of the Marquis of Quarl is read, Mr. Selway the estate solicitor requests that Grace be there. She – and the quarrelsome new Marquis – are astounded to learn that the elderly man Grace had befriended has left her use of the dower house for her lifetime in addition to the yearly payment of £30. All she has to do is act as the paroler of the dead Marquis’s illegitimate son, fathered when Quarl was in the army and stationed in NYC during the late Rebellion of the Colonies. Captain Daniel Duncan and his crew were taken as prisoners of war when a British warship had the weather gauge and captured the USS Orontes. Since then, they’ve been held in the deplorable Dartmoor prison.

More as a favor to her deceased friend, Grace agrees. She and Mr. Selway arrive there and are horrified at the conditions they find. Grace is also shocked to discover Duncan is at death’s door. His last act is to quietly urge her to take another man in his place. Helpless to turn down his plea, the choice is made when the rest of the crew unselfishly push sailing master Rob Inman at her. Rob doesn’t have the willpower – and barely the physical strength – to resist and the two find themselves inmates of the dower house. For in order to fulfill the terms of the parole, “Duncan” must remain with Grace at all times. Should they be separated or he do a runner, at worst he can be shot on sight or at best returned to Dartmoor.

Rob’s American independence annoys Grace and his unwillingness to kowtow to the new Marquis pisses off the nobleman who sets a tough to watch the two day and night for any sidesteps from the terms of the parole. Can Grace rein in Rob who chafes at having to stay in a country at war with his? Can Rob settle down for the remainder of a war that is still very much in doubt now that Britain and France have ceased hostilities and the towering might of the British military can be focused on the upstart Americans? And what can these two people, separated by country and class, do about their growing feelings for each other?

I was talking with a friend recently and telling her I’d just finished your book. My friend asked if you’d written your usual hero and heroine and I replied that you had and that this is what I’ve accepted that I’ll get from you: the usual kind main characters and tons of good hearted people coming out of the woodwork. Even Sailor Billy, the Duke of Clarence, gets teary eyed. That seems to be a sign of goodness in your characters – people who cry easily. Usually your villain’s bark is worse than his bite but this time the villain actually took a chunk out even though he was thwarted, when all was said and done.

There are lots of historical facts worked into story but so nicely that I was hardly aware of the history lesson. Imagine a world with no donuts ::shudders::. But they’re not hard to make so I was left to wonder why would the Squire – who also fell in love with them when he was stationed in NYC during the late war – not have had his cook attempt some? The least said about the conditions at Dartmoor the better. I think, however, that the Marquis of Quarl should properly have been addressed as Lord Quarl instead of Lord Thomson – his family name. All the cloak and dagger stuff at end got sort of twisty arounded. I had an inkling but didn’t sniff out the whole of it. One thing confused me. Why wouldn’t Rob have recognized someone’s accent? Because Americans are so bad at recognizing a real English accent?

Grace – and why did so many people take to calling her Gracie so quickly after meeting her? – is kind hearted, practical, shoulder to the wheel type of person. As Rob says, she makes sure things get done and done correctly. She and Rob are truly two of a kind and meant for each other – both plan, work hard and have had experience being in desperate circumstances – which brings out the “git ‘er done” work ethic and survival mode in each. Sometimes your heroes and heroines are a touch saintly but while these two are minted gold for the most part, they do indulge in a snit and temper spat or two. Grace gets irritated that Rob is so independent while he chafes at her following the letter of the parole. But that’s who they are and they come to admire it in each other even as they’re falling quietly, and they think hopelessly, in love. Rob sees her impresario personality and it calls to him – and vice versa. Nantucket best watch out for their bread innovations. B



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REVIEW: Coming Home for Christmas (Anthology) by Carla Kelly

REVIEW: Coming Home for Christmas (Anthology) by Carla Kelly

Dear Mrs. Kelly,

I know that when I start a Carla Kelly book, I’ll get a certain number of things. An honorable hero, an unflappable heroine, some idiot secondary characters who may bluster and threaten to cause the hero and heroine some problems but who usually are mainly all hot air and dismissed as the pompous stuffed shirts they are and a gentle love story of two people finding each other – often where they least expected. As this is a linked anthology, here I get this in triplicate which makes sense since all three stories involve the military and we know how much the military, the world over and throughout time, loves its paperwork.

Coming Home for Christmas (anthology) by Carla Kelly1812 Alta California and stranded Navy surgeon Thomas Wilkie wishes he were home in Scotland rather than in the Spanish held San Diego. Here by the fortunes of war and left here as a bargaining chip when his remaining shipmates finally head north to where they hope to eventually find passage home to England via the Americans in Oregon, he tends the people of the Presideo and surrounding area since he’s the only medical man between there and Tucson. When lovely Laura Maria Ortize de la Garza finds herself ostracized due to her father’s embezzling, Thomas also finds himself in the unlikely position of savior and new husband. Can this unlikely pair discover lasting love from such a beginning?

In 1855 Crimea, widowed Lillian Wilkie Nicholls trusted what she was told – namely that this war would be over in 6 weeks. Two years later she’s still Doing Good in a hospital in Anatolia as she and wards full of wounded soldiers await their return to England. With her is American military observer Major Trey Wharton who has somehow ended up as the administrator of the hospital and who, along with Lily, doesn’t suffer fools or nitwit English surgeons gladly. Their year long friendship will be ending soon – as quickly as the wheels can turn in a military environment. Or will they find the courage to speak up before it’s too late?

1877 Fort Laramie finds Army surgeon Wilkie Nicholls Wharton far from his parents in Philadelphia but finally headed home for Christmas and his long delayed marriage to a fellow Main Line Philadelphian. His hopes for a quiet journey are dashed when he’s asked to keep an eye on lovely Frannie Coughlin who’s also headed East and then has to take responsibility for transporting Nora Powell home from her 13 years of Indian captivity to whatever relatives she still has left in Iowa. Then, just as he thinks he might still get some of his medical journals read, yet another female joins them on the train and precipitates Wilkie and Frannie’s discovery of what they really want this Christmas season.

Paying homage to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone denizens, in your novels the women are strong, the men are honorable, and the children are usually cute without being annoying. The “villains” are generally just thickheads and idiots who might have a higher rank but who are usually dismissible from the main action by the hero and heroine who are as incapable of intentionally hurting anyone as they are unable to turn their backs on anyone in need. It’s more fantasy than reality but it’s a lovely fantasy to sit down to and drift into for a while as I forget just how awful the latest blaring news headline is. These are people as I would love us all to be.

I enjoyed the way the stories are varied in time and location with a mix of ages, nationalities and – let’s hear it for – experience. Lily Nicholls, who misses the comforts of marriage, and Frannie Coughlin, who earlier anticipated a marriage that never happened, are frank about their wants which delights their heroes no end. One thing I wish had been expanded was the substory of the young woman being returned to white society despite her wishes. There could be a whole book in this. The delightfully devious Sultan was a fun character and Father Hilario an example of pure compassion.

When I finish reading one of your books, I might feel as if I’d had one too many pieces of sugar sweet sheet cake but I also feel happy. These are people I’d like to meet in real life – real salt of the earth sorts.The time just flew while I read about them. And thank you so much for picking varied backgrounds for the characters and locations in which to set your stories here. I still enjoy reading Regency set anthologies but something different every now and then is a real treat. B for each novella.


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