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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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Friday Film Review: Operation Petticoat

Friday Film Review: Operation Petticoat

Operation Petticoat (1959)
Genre: War comedy
Grade: B

Since today is Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in many other countries, I decided to pick a film to pay tribute to those who’ve served. But I didn’t want preachy so that ruled out such things as “The Americanization of Emily.” And it had to have some romance so that ruled out a lot of others. With time running out to get this review done, I remembered a film I’d been thinking of reviewing for a while and here it is.

Lt Commander Matt Sherman’s (Cary Grant) submarine, Sea Tiger, got strafed and shot up pretty badly during a Japanese attack but, unwilling to give up on her before she’s seen any action (It would be like a beautiful woman dying an old maid), he talks the port commander into letting his now skeleton crew attempt to patch her up enough for them to get to a naval shipyard for major repairs. Since several of his officers and crew were transferred to other ships, he’s got to take what replacements he can get and what Sea Tiger gets is a new Supply Officer Lt. Nick Holden (Tony Curtis) who takes scavenging to new heights – or depths depending on if it’s your stuff that just got stolen requisitioned.

But it’s enough for the sub to get under way until a leak forces them to an island where Holden discovers 5 stranded Army nurses. With the Japanese expected there anytime, there’s no way – Holden argues – that Sherman can leave them there. Disgruntled but unable to argue with the facts, Sherman reluctantly takes the women on board then prays he can keep his men from trying to exchange information about the facts of life with their pretty new shipmates while they duck and dodge their way across the Pacific.

First some things to mention. This is a fluffy movie played for laughs and fun. There are a few moments which are supposed to be tense but with the tone of the film already set by then, it’s pretty obvious that nothing bad is going to happen and no one is going to die. Well, unless you’re Seaman Hornsby. By this point, people were ready to see comedies about WWII, which is mainly what the first half is about, and Hollywood “sex comedies” (tame by today’s standards) filled with busty leading ladies were being cranked out full blast, which is mainly what the second half is. This is also not a PC movie by today’s standards, though it’s held up better than a lot of other 50+ year old films, yet at the same time it’s also fairly tame with no nudity, sex scenes or profanities. There are lots of sexual innuendoes and the cramped quarters are used to good effect but it’s done in pretty light hearted fun and IMHO, you’d have to work at it to be offended.

Grant and Curtis’s characters both find their lady loves among the nurses but the film is actually more a bromance than a romance since they’re the ones with the major interactions. The way these two play off each other is wonderful though the humor never feels forced. Unlike Grant’s OTT performance in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” here he’s subtle. Watch Grant’s face as much as you listen to his dialogue because he’s a master at conveying a lot with only a wry look and a well timed pause. Con man Curtis is given some great lines to deliver but he doesn’t overdo it either and allows the laughs to flow from the actions and dialogue on screen rather than hamming anything up.

Directed by Blake Edwards, the rest of the cast is filled with a host of famous, soon to be famous and well known faces including Dina Merrill, Gene Evans, Dick Sargent, Arthur O’Connell, Madelyn Rhue, Virginia Gregg, Gavin MacLeod and Marion Ross. I will be honest and say that towards the end of the film, there’s a sort of pile on of events which ends in several island women, their children and a goat coming on board and that the, now pink, Sea Tiger limps into port after evading being sunk solely on the strength of a woman’s brassiere but watching Holden’s early scrounging missions and the way by-the-book Grant reacts to those expeditions is priceless.

Grant is suaveness personified, Curtis is cheeky fun, the rest of the cast backs them up well and the whole is a froth of mindless fun. If you’re willing to sit back and allow yourself to be entertained, there’s a lot here that can do it.