REVIEW: A Lady in Attendance by Rachel Fordham
Five years in a New York state reformatory have left a blemish on Hazel’s real name. So when she takes a job as Doctor Gilbert Watts’s lady in attendance in 1898, she does so under an alias. In the presence of her quiet and pious employer, Hazel finds more than an income. She finds a friend and a hope that if she can set her tarnished past in order, she might have a future after all.
As Gilbert becomes accustomed to the pleasant chatter of his new dental assistant, he can’t help but sense something secretive about her. Perhaps there is more to this woman than meets the eye. Can the questions that loom between them ever be answered? Or will the deeds of days gone by forever rob the future of its possibilities?
Rachel Fordham pens a tender tale of a soft-spoken man, a hardened woman, and the friends that stand by them as they work toward a common purpose–to expunge the record of someone society deemed beyond saving–and perhaps find love along the way.
Dear Ms. Fordham,
I haven’t read too many inspirational romances lately but the mention of a “reformatory” in the blurb caught my interest. What had the heroine done, I wondered. And where would her journey take her?
As the book begins, Hazel finds herself in a situation she would never have dreamed would happen. All we know is that the prologue puts her in a New York State reformatory where other inmates who have had a rougher row to hoe than she for their entire lives give her the skinny about what she can expect there and how they hope to use the experience to better themselves. But all of them worry about when they’ll get out and how society will view them.
Five years later, Hazel discovers that she might have done her time but a lot of people still view her as “lesser,” as a criminal not worthy of employment or a second chance. She desperately wants to clear her name – we still don’t know for what – but all her efforts so far have led to nothing. Desperate and with no money, she moves to a small town, changes her name, and applies for a job.
Her employer, dentist Gilbert Watts, isn’t sure of this newfangled idea of female assistants but it appears to be the way the profession is headed. This latest applicant appears intelligent and competent but he is adamant from the beginning that their relationship will be strictly professional. However, once they begin to spend time together, of course things and feelings change. But will Gilbert alter his view of Hazel once he knows her past?
This is a slow, mostly gentle story of love, forgiveness, and second chances. The historical details add to but don’t overwhelm things and I learned a lot about early dental assistants, corn shucking, boarding houses, and reformatories. Hazel is not one to refrain from speaking, laughing, or working hard which is what initially gets Gilbert to start opening up. Their budding friendship is charming to watch and it doesn’t take long before they start to cross the “no attachments” line that Gilbert drew in the sand. But it’s done in a 1898 way which is mainly hand holding and light kisses.
I was surprised at how the Big Reveal of Hazel’s past was handled. I’ve read enough romances over the years to expect one thing but here I got another and it was a nice change. Since this is an inspie, my immediate thought was not only what was Gilbert going to think of her past, and I appreciated that it isn’t one that paints Hazel in a good light, but also how was he going to reconcile it with his religious beliefs. He got major points from me for both. And what about how Hazel’s experience had changed her? Booyah for this, too. Even though she was determined to see her name cleared she also took those five years to heart and worked on how she viewed life.
The path that the second half of the story took wasn’t one I saw hinted at in the blurb but nonetheless I liked. There was another conflict that Hazel and Gilbert had to face in a new character who was introduced who also had issues from the past to examine and some self discovery to do. I thought this was handled well as was the investigation that was pivotal to Hazel’s past. Things progressed somewhat easily but as the main emphasis of the story was on personal issues rather than solving a crime, it didn’t bother me. Reconciliations were done and discussions were had which was also needed for Hazel to finally feel free and vindicated. The last chapter or two dragged just a bit but it was nice to read an inspie that I didn’t feel preached at me (or any of the characters) and that showed the power of forgiveness (both of self and to others). Oh, and watching Gilbert come out of his shell was fun, too. B