REVIEW: The Viscount’s Lady Novelist by Alissa Baxter
Harriet Linfield is a lady novelist who has been disillusioned by love. She sets out to write more realistic tales about the emotion when she returns home to Linfield Court for the summer. Vowing to avoid any romantic entanglements along the way, she focuses instead on her writing and her plan to turn the estate she inherited from her uncle into a refuge for orphans.
Oliver, Viscount Wentford, is determined to restore his family fortunes. But his plans for the estate he inherited are in direct opposition to the wishes of Harriet, his new neighbor. Upon meeting her, Oliver is amused when, in response to his provocative comments, she informs him that she intends to make him the villain of her next book. But his amusement swiftly turns to dismay when circumstances align to show him in that exact light.
When an enemy comes back into Harriet’s life, she sees that love isn’t as clear-cut as the romantic tales she pens. But will the viscount manage to discard his villainous mantle to become Harriet’s real-life hero?
Dear Ms. Baxter,
I had fun last year reading “The Earl’s Lady Geologist” and have been eagerly awaiting the follow up novel in the series. I’m still psyched that there are NO DUKES in the series (insert mental images of Snoopy happy dancing) and there are many things I liked about this book. There were also a few issues that had me grinding my teeth.
Firstly, this can be started without having read the first book due to the amount of backstory carefully and slowly doled out (thank you no backstory-dump!) but it might help newbies to the series to know that in the first book, Harriet was almost hoodwinked by a fortune hunter and all around rat of a man. This has left her questioning her ability to judge a man’s character and tell if he’s truly interested in her or her inheritance. Yay, that she’s not enthusiastic about the idea of marriage anymore but neither does she totally rule it out or make any vows to Never Love Again.
The Linfield family is gathering at their country estate for the marriage of Harriet’s older brother James and her best friend from school Lavinia whose courtship was part of book one. One of James’s best friends, Oliver, will be joining the crowded house while his recently inherited property nearby is renovated. He’s hoping that a coal seam on it, that he plans on having a colliery sunk to access, will help provide the money to not only fix it but also his ancestral estate that has fallen into ruin as well as help the tenants on it who depend on him. Harriet’s two younger siblings, the twins, are budding biologists and soon latch like leeches onto Oliver as a source of information.
Circumstances thrust Harriet and Oliver together although Harriet, who is an introvert in her family of extroverts, would prefer more alone time to decompress (introverts, you know what I’m talking about). Oliver is kind and well mannered so Harriet doesn’t hate her time with him. On the contrary, she likes him and feels he might be starting to like her in return. Then her parents spring the news on her that, before he even met her, Oliver approached her father with an interest in buying a property Harriet has inherited but which her father will control until she reaches her majority. This, combined with a past event that has shaken Harriet’s belief that she can discern a person’s true interests in her, makes Harriet unsure of Oliver’s intentions and sets her back up. Then someone from her past reappears at the same time that Harriet begins to believe that Oliver might be better matched with someone else.
Just so readers know, this is another book in the mold of a traditional Regency from 25 years ago that has no sex and low heat. Let me also insert a bit of commentary I wasn’t sure where else to include. The setting of the book is near the city of Bristol. At the time, Bristol’s wealth lay partly in trade with the colonies that depended on the exploitation of enslaved people. Oliver’s visit to Jamaica showed him the cruelty of this and he’s made the decision not to trade with colonists. He and Harriet’s family support the Quaker Abolitionists trying to effect change.
I like that Harriet’s parents support her but also that they aren’t too progressive to believe for the times. They approve of her plans to start an orphanage for girls in the property she’s inherited but legally she’s still too young to manage the estate, leaving her father in charge.
The courtship that Oliver is forced into pursuing – a mixed “marriage of convenience” crossed with an “arranged marriage” makes more sense and is less infuriating than it might appear at first glance. As I mentioned, Harriet’s belief in her ability to judge character has taken a hit due to her youth and the oily skill of the man who duped her. Her parents are aware of this but their efforts to support her backfire – as her father ruefully acknowledges after the damage is done. Does this make things worse for Oliver and Harriet as they attempt to work out their relationship? Yes, but it’s understandable given how Harriet’s backstory is written and shows me that her parents love her and want the best for her.
Harriet’s initial response to the changed dynamics of Oliver’s courtship is fairly mature and I applauded her. She’s angry but she doesn’t fly off the handle and issue ultimatums. After thinking over all sides of the situation and fearing what might happen if Mr. Oily Fortune Hunter reappears, she comes to a rational decision and wants to make the best of the situation not only for herself but also for Oliver and the tenants who depend on him. Still she has some character growth to undergo which provides the final conflict between her and Oliver.
I like Oliver a lot. He’s calm, level headed, but also frustrated that Harriet’s parents have put him in a position that makes it difficult for him to court Harriet. Whatever he does, she could take the wrong way and he very much wants to get things right as he’s come to develop true feelings for her and assures her that had he not, he wouldn’t have considered a marriage between them. He’s open and honest and determined to clear things up with Harriet. At the end, they do and the scene of Oliver putting Harriet above all her other family members made me smile.
The blurb tells us that Harriet is an author and I wanted to see more of Harriet as a novelist. This is dropped for long sections of time until suddenly, oh yeah she’s a writer – gotta show a bit of that. Same for Oliver’s and James’s interest in geology although Oliver pulls out a great tidbit of interest about local geology and then focuses that on Harriet. Points to him for this.
A sorta suspense part of the plot was fairly easy to figure out and just reminded me of the fact that I hate “whack-a-mole” villains who won’t stay down.
Now to what really got my goat – ugh – the twins. They are seventeen yet at times act as if they’re ten. I won’t pull any punches regarding how I feel about them. They’re terrible. Harriet is the “one of these things is not like the other” of Sesame Street fame. Her family are interested in the sciences and her siblings are all boisterous but Harriet is the introverted, quiet writer of the group. I ♥ Harriet but at times her siblings didn’t seem to. In fact there are times when they are openly dismissive of her interests and of her. Her bratty younger siblings – who, let me repeat, are seventeen – are obsessed with biology and determined to force Harriet over her fears of creepy crawly things. They tried this once by locking her in a room with a snake, beetles, and other insects (some flying). The experience traumatized Harriet. She tells them she didn’t like this and yet when they basically shame her into visiting the family biology museum, her asshat brother pulls a stunt that would have had me screaming. Yet even after he’s dressed down for this, his apology is grudging and he still belittles her publicly that evening. I was so enraged I wanted to punch this little pissant through the page. Her sister, the heroine of book three, isn’t much better. There is a slight effort to redeem these pests at the end of the story but some heavy lifting will be required for me to not continue to loathe them. Ahem, sorry.
So yes there are many things I like about the book and, obviously, parts I didn’t. Harriet matures in how she views her world but doesn’t totally change. Oliver convinces her (and me) that she is his choice and none other. I wasn’t thrilled about suspense stuff but it does present opportunities for Harriet and Oliver to bond more. Harriet’s family – well some of them I liked and some … not. B-