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REVIEW:  Paradise Row by Paula Allardyce

REVIEW: Paradise Row by Paula Allardyce

NOTE: This was orignally published under the title “The Respectable Miss Parkington-Smith.

London, 1750

“Vibrant, titian-haired Cassandra Shelbrooke adored her husband Francis. Not only had he taken her from the stage and made her mistress of his elegant home in Hanover Square, but he pleasured her in ways that none of her dozens of former suitors would ever have dreamed of. And yet, only six months after their wedding, Cassandra knew their marriage was on the brink of ruin.

Their wills were too strong for either to force the other in submission, their passion too great for compromise. But all at once they found themselves caught up in a dangerous affair of intrigue and violence that led them far from the fashionable world of the ton to the sordid depths of London’s criminal netherworld – and on Paradise Row, where rogues and cutthroats gathered, they found themselves fighting desperately for their lives … and their love…”

Dear Readers,

Wow, that’s a fairly dramatic back cover blurb. Watching the programs “City of Vice” and “Garrow’s Law” made me think of this Paula Allardyce novel that I’d read years ago and pull it out for a reread. One thing I really like about her books is that they’re different. Either the characters are different or she uses an unusual setting or features something in the plot that I’ve rarely – if ever – seen in other books. Here the married couple are now past that honeymoon happy glow phase and dealing with the humdrum of married life, she was an actress before her marriage, and he has a batty, old distant relative who is determined to stay in the home her papa left her despite the fact that the neighborhood has now deteriorated to the point that she basically lives in a slum. And not just a slum as she’s surrounded by London’s criminal world of pimps, prostitutes, thieves, counterfeiters, highwaymen and worse.

Paradise-RowMost romances end with the HEA or maybe with an epilogue that shows how amazingly in love our couple is. If we see them in a series then usually it’s a fertility check and to watch them still making goo-goo eyes at each other 2-3 years later. Not here though. Okay, so we never saw the initial gushy romance but there are brief, yet eloquent, things that are mentioned that show Francis and Cassie were deeply in love when they married. Six months later it’s just that the routine of making the social rounds doesn’t hold the glitz Cassie thought it might since the catty wives tried to snub her – though Cassie has her own successful way of getting even – and the actual work of running a household is just that, work. Francis is still madly in love with Cassie but her love of drama and habit of turning everything into “playing a role” tends to wear if it’s done constantly. One major argument has now turned into an exercise in pride though everyone in the household is pulling for a reunion. Francis’s younger half-brother James – who is often truant from school – also plays a major role as do old family retainers, a transplanted African bare knuckles boxer, a highwayman and a young whore.

What turns out to save Francis and Cassie’s marriage, and gets James out of the boarding school he despises, is Miss Parkington-Smith and her stubborn determination to stay in her house. As with most Allardyce books, there is a villain and a mystery – both of which the reader soon figures out – and clues that various characters have but need to put together to solve what’s going on. There’s some commentary on the lives of the poor that is just as relevant today as it was then. Arabella Parkington-Smith is also a character not to be missed as I don’t think I’ve read about such a vinegary, sour, mule headed yet also staunchly brave person in almost any other book. You want to bop her in the head and haul her out the door of her house for her own good – as does Francis – but also stand up and applaud her stand against the bully boys sent to drive her out. For a trip into the dark world of the London slums of the 18th century and a marriage on the rocks, try “Paradise Row.” B

~Jayne

 

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REVIEW:  Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

REVIEW: Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

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)

Seducing Mr. Knightly Maya RodaleThe 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

Best regards,

Jane

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