REVIEW: Love and Lavender by Josi S. Kilpack
Hazel Stillman is a woman of rare independence and limited opportunities. Born with a clubbed foot, she was sent away as a child and, knowing her disability means a marriage is unlikely, she devoted herself to scholarship and education.
Now working as a teacher in an elite private girls’ school, she is content with the way her story has unfolded. When her uncle Elliott Mayfield presents her with the prospect of a substantial inheritance if she marries, Hazel is offended. What kind of decent man would marry for her money? Besides, she loves her freedom as a professional, respected woman. When she hears rumors of the school possibly being sold, however, she knows she must consider all her options.
Duncan Penhale has a brilliant mind and thrives on order and process. He does not expect to marry because he likes his solitary life, shared only with his beloved cat. When Elliott Mayfield, his guardian’s brother, presents him with an inheritance if he marries a woman of social standing, Duncan finds it intrusive. However, with the inheritance, he could purchase the building in which he works and run his own firm. It would take an impressive and intellectual woman to understand and love him, quirks and all.
Hazel and Duncan believe they have found a solution to both of their problems: marry one another, receive their inheritances, and then part ways to enjoy their individual paths. But when Uncle Mayfield stipulates that they must live together as husband and wife for one year before receiving their inheritances, Hazel and Duncan reluctantly agree. Over time, their marriage of convenience becomes much more appealing than they had anticipated. At the end of the full year, will they go their separate ways or could an unlikely marriage have found unsuspecting love?
Dear Ms. Kilpack,
The blurb for this book intrigued me. Hazel appears to be an independent and educated Regency woman who has made her own way against great odds. Duncan has a cat but beyond that I didn’t know exactly what kind of hero he would be. There are parts of the book I loved, parts that dragged, things I liked and others that made me slightly uneasy. While I finished the story believing that Hazel and Duncan have found their best lives, this definitely isn’t a conventional romance book and I’m not sure I’m totally sold on their romantic relationship.
While this is book four in this series, it appears that most of the other books take place almost simultaneously and thus I didn’t feel lost. Take one heroine of gentle birth who due to her physical deformity has been shunted away by her family for almost her entire life (and didn’t I want to yell at them about that) who has forged her own path in life, add one hero who while brilliant is obviously on the autistic spectrum (which appears to be not too anachronistic), then mix in one meddling uncle who thinks his money is going to solve long the standing issues of his niece and nephews. What results is an upset niece and pseudo-nephew.
Hazel is the niece of Uncle Elliott who is dangling £50,000 pounds at her if she marries while Duncan is the young man who Elliott’s estranged sister looked after while Duncan was a boy. That whole bit felt quite unnecessarily complicated and was the one part of the book that while perhaps explained elsewhere wasn’t totally laid out here. Hazel is insulted at the idea that any man could be bribed into marriage and also aware that her inheritance would then pass on to him rather than stay in her hands. Duncan is satisfied with his life and also sure that no woman of genteel birth (as stipulated by Uncle Elliott) would marry him due to his oddities of behavior.
Both people pass on the offer but strike up a (quite delightful) correspondence. When events for both of them change, they decide to marry each other but then go their separate ways. Uncle Elliott puts the kibosh on that despite the fact that what they plan meets his original offer. I was as mad at him as Hazel and Duncan are. The compromise leads to the year of marriage part of the deal. Uncle Elliott hopes that they will find love as he now has as well as the other cousins. Hazel and Duncan just want to control their own futures.
The epistolary section of the book was lovely and served as a great way to learn more about Hazel and Duncan without it seeming like telling instead of showing. The inheritance offered by Buttinsky Uncle Elliott was something wonderful and could truly make a difference for both Hazel and Duncan. I cheered that they initially turned it down but the reasons that served to maneuver them into taking it were realistic and organic to their backgrounds and characters.
I liked that both Hazel and Duncan felt like real people dealing with real lives. They hadn’t had the best of childhoods or families and their thoughts and feelings – sometimes resentment, sometimes resignation – also felt realistic. Part of the book dealt with Hazel coming to terms with family who had treated her badly while Duncan had to face major changes in his orderly routine. Nothing magically changes; old feelings aren’t totally soothed and forgotten, new issues arise and have to be dealt with. All this seemed believable to me.
But there were scenes that dragged and could have used a bit of editing. Hazel meeting the wives of the neighborhood and the lengthy build up to plus actual Christmas service added little to the story. I was interested to note that while this has scenes of an inspirational nature, Hazel is best described as an agnostic, something that I didn’t feel changed despite a few “edging towards preachy” moments.
Hazel’s physical deformity and Duncan’s neurodiversity are not just character traits but integral aspects of themselves. These things have shaped them and played a major role in who and what Hazel and Duncan have become. I’m no expert on either issue so can only defer to those who are as to the authenticity of the portrayals. It did not seem to me that either person was portrayed as “brave” or “wonderful” for just living their lives or as one other reviewer phrased it – this isn’t inspirational porn.
But what I found myself questioning was how the arranged marriage became a romance. There was no way it would ever be a conventional one, nor would I have bought that, as so much time had been spent crafting the characters as people who had never expected a romance and thus hadn’t dreamed of twue wuv. Yet though Hazel and Duncan end up with a marriage that suits them, that they find fulfilling and which makes them happy, it’s an unconventional one that won’t be satisfactory to every reader. While I like both characters and I appreciate that they are written with flaws, I’m not sure that I’m feeling the feels I’m supposed to at The End of a romance novel. I just didn’t get the sparky spark. Sigh, I guess this is going to be one of those marriages that outsiders will say “You never know what goes on in a marriage unless you’re in it.” I still can’t shake the feeling that Hazel is doing most of the heavy relationship lifting and gave up the most to get even that. Had this been labeled as historical fiction, I would be happier with the story I got. B-
Hmm, this does sound intriguing, Jayne. Thanks for your review!
@Kareni: If you decide to try it, I’d love to know what you think of it.