REVIEW: The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller
That’s the firm opinion of not-so-meek minister’s daughter Lavinia Ellison. So even though all the other villagers of St. Hampton Heath are swooning over the newly returned seventh Earl of Hawkesbury, she is not impressed. If a man won’t take his responsibilities seriously and help those who are supposed to be able to depend on him, he deserves no respect from her. In Lavinia’s pretty, gray eyes, Nicholas Stamford is just as arrogant and reckless as his brother–who stole the most important person in Livvie’s world.
Nicholas is weighed down by his own guilt and responsibility, by the pain his careless brother caused, and by the legacy of war he’s just left. This quick visit home to St. Hampton Heath will be just long enough to ease a small part of that burden. Asking him to bother with the lives of the villagers when there’s already a bailiff on the job is simply too much to expect. That is, until the hoydenish, intelligent, and very opinionated Miss Ellison challenges him to see past his pain and pride. With her angelic voice in his head, he may even be beginning to care. But his isn’t the only heart that needs to change.
These two lonely hearts may each have something the other needs. But with society’s opposition, ancestral obligations, and a shocking family secret, there may be too many obstacles in their way.
Fans of Georgette Heyer, Lori Wick, and Julie Klassen will enjoy the spirited exchanges between the bluestocking minister’s daughter and the bruised war hero as they move past pride and presumption to a humbled appreciation of God’s grace and the true strength of love.
Dear Ms. Miller,
I didn’t let myself be swayed by the use of La Heyer’s name in the blurb, as so many try to hang on her coattails, and since I’d never read the other two authors mentioned they didn’t influence me either. I did hope that this would be a Regency more in tune with what we think were the mores and actions of the time rather than the over sexed, historical wallpaper books so common today.
Livvie Ellison is a woman of convictions. Her parents raised her to care for others and do what she can to alleviate pain and suffering. Her last hours with her mother were spent this way and she firmly believes it her duty to help where she can and point out to the new Earl of Hawkesbury that his tenants need his assistance. Nicholas Stamford arrives with a load of guilt for something from his past even as he tries to get used to his new title and responsibilities. While the vicar welcomes him and sets Nicholas at ease, his daughter and sister-in-law are women quick to point out the Earl’s faults and failings. Livvie has a smile for poor villagers and Nicholas’s own staff but few for him.
Reverend Ellison is the type of minister I look forward to hearing a sermon from – thoughtful, non-judgmental, and one who makes me think and reflect. Who gently points out our ophthalmic logs but doesn’t breath hellfire while doing it. He certainly makes Livvie think about her attitudes. She’s able to forgive but maybe isn’t quite to the forgetting stage yet.
On Livvie’s side, there is real conflict about something dear to her heart that is increasingly revealed with more and more hints. For Nicholas, he is an Earl where he never thought to be one. As the younger son of the younger son, he was plain Mr. then Major on the battlefields of the Peninsula. Now he’s faced with needy tenants, rising damp, muddled estate ledgers and a steward he is increasingly suspicious of – but what to do as he’s adrift at this. With each of Livvie’s pointed reminders of how he’s failing his tenants, Nicholas feels more guilty and more useless but since he’s at a loss as to how to make things better, he also retreats into slight sullenness at his black marks in her book.
I really like that the manners of the time – or at least as we know them – are correct. No first name basis for the main characters after knowing each other for 6 minutes, no one is best friends with the servants, while decorum and status are pretty much maintained. There is death from illness – which while not something to applaud – is at least true to the time. There are no miracle cures here.
Livvie is the daughter of the minister and truly not only feels but lives her faith. She feels even more real to me since she has her moments of failing to live up to her own standards, of doubt, of anger and frustration. She’s not a plaster saint. Meanwhile Nicholas wasn’t raised with much more than lip service to the CoE. But they both must find deeper belief. When Livvie owns up to needing to work on her own sins of pride and being judgmental, she comes to the realization by seeing that what she had condemned in Nicholas, is what her own problem is.
Nicholas watches Livvie and her good works in action and begins to understand that she isn’t just for show – she walks the walk as it were. Could her faith be what he needs to overcome his guilt for an action from years ago? I like that while Livvie initially chastised Nicholas for what she believed were his failures of pride and dismissal of the needs of his tenants, once she knows the true man and peeks under his shield he projects to hide his uncertainty, she’s all about helping his faith grow. But there’s never any preaching at someone and I certainly never felt a literary finger being wagged at me.
Nicholas first likes Livvie before falling in love with her and not just for Livvie’s looks. Indeed, he admires her conversation and how well read and interesting she is. He’s also coming to admire her faith and willingness to help others- something mirrored in his care for his own men during his wartime experiences.
Ah, but his mother has something to say about his growing fondness for a mere Vicar’s daughter. Society is looking at and judging this relationship and not ready to yield to a romantic HEA. The social difference between them is a gulf not even they are ready to believe can be crossed. And it is here that the book begins to falter for me. After this tension was built, it gets suddenly and easily deflected by a deus ex machina development. Then the story continues past the resolution of the conflict and meanders back through issues that should have been a done deal already. I was losing interest when at last Nicholas and Livvie reached their spoken understanding. A good start with nice period sensibilities is watered down by a final few chapters that limp to the end. B-/C+