I have been totally broke since the holidays, so spent my time rereading some old favorites. Patricia Waddell's Gentleman's Club historical series is wonderful. It's about a group of men, their lives and loves. The ties between the books come from the friendship of 5 men, and their weekly card game with the Duke of Morland, who was a friend to all their fathers. An interesting twist, one unfotunately too seldom seen, to see these men all truly respecting the older man, and displaying signs of true friendship and comeraderie throughout the entire series. So, without further ado...
He Said Yes... This, really the 2nd (the first was a short in an anthology that, actually, I never read, but you don't need to read it to begin with this 1st full length), is a story about the Marquis of Waltham, Marshall. He is looking for a long term relationship, although has no intention of marrying. So, a mistress it will be, but he is sick of the "scene" and wants someone he can truly care about (without marrying her, of course). He meets Evelyn Dennsworth. She works in a dressshop, she's the daughter of a pastor, and has been arrested and accused of theft. He feels drawn to her and can't help but exert his standing in society to assist her in clearing herself of the charges. The description of Evelyn's feelings as she goes to trial is remarkable, you really feel the terror and shame right along with her. Marshall takes her home to his estate under the guise of being a companion to his stepmother, who has recently lost her husband, Marshall's father. You can guess the rest.
What is wonderful about this book is the depth of character development - Waddell doesn't shy away from the agonizing feelings of despondence and guilt for going on without your true love (his father's was truly a love match). In many ways, this is really Evelyn and Constance's (the stepmother) story. How Evelyn unselfishly draws Constance out of her shell of grief is beautifully and sensitively written. Marshall's precocious 10 year old half-sister is a wonderful character, full of life and love for her family - no spoiled villains in this family.
Marshall is also truly unselfish, loving his stepmother and wanting her to be whole again. He understands her grief, because he, too, loved his father completely and without reservation. She does not miraculously recover from losing her husband of 20 years. Her descent into grief and laborious climb out of its depths is emotional for all the characters, and therefore to the reader as well.
There is not a false moment, a false feeling or emotion in this book. Although he wants Evelyn for his mistress, he firmly believes she is the right person to be Constance's companion. Watching the love and depth of feeling unfold between Marshall and Evelyn is wonderful as well. Their strength and passion and character are well portrayed. Waddell doesn't rush these feelings, and gives them time to develop. As the reader, by the time I knew they were truly in love, I had totally bought into it. The story is believably, beautifully written. Highly recommended.
He Said No... This is the story of the Earl of Granville. On a trip to the country, he is nearly overrun (or run over) by Catherine, who is racing on a horse that he discovers he would do almost anything to have. As payment for the near accident, he demands a kiss. He then goes to her house to visit her father, a well respected horse breeder to see if he can purchase the horse that Catherine was riding. Naturally, he is invited to stay.
Catherine is high-spirited, not wanting to be married, after seeing how her two best friends became miserable in their marriages. She is constantly challenging Norton - in spirit and in fact. After each run-in, he demands a kiss. They run into trouble when they race and Norton is injured. As he recuperates, Catherine is overcome with guilt and goes to his room to apologize and see if she can help. Naturally, he demands another kiss, and this time it gets out of hand. They are caught and forced into an engagement. Catherine fights this tooth and nail, not wanting to see Norton change after marriage, as her friend's husbands did.
They don't marry immediately, Catherine trying to find a way out, but soon she finds herself seduced into the marriage. As they discover more about each other, their hopes, dreams, and fears, they fall in love.
This book is lighter in tone than He Said Yes, with loads of humor scattered throughout. It is not quite as satisfying a read as He Said Yes, but is enjoyable nonetheless.
He Said Now... This book is another serious one, with a hero who suffers from a case of PTSD after the Crimean war, and a strong, self-sufficient heroine determined to discover his secrets and help him through it. Fitch, our hero, discovers he has a daughter, conceived on a last night of play before he goes off to war. Lizzie, his nine year old daughter is under the guardianship of Hilary, who was a close friend of her mother's (now deceased). Hilary finds Fitch to tell him about Lizzie, and doesn't think he'll want anything to do with her. Fitch discovers that Lizzie is a delight and he wants to spend as much time with her as possible. Fitch and Hilary embark on a marriage of convenience to best care for Lizzie.
Waddell once again displays the beautiful writing that she employed in He Said Yes, writing Fitch's journey of self-dis-covery and re-covery in a sensitive, thoughtful manner. Although he participates fully in their marriage, being a warm and caring husband and father, he holds a piece of himself distant - the soldier who saw too much bloodshed and heartache on the bloody battlefields of war and holds secrets too horrendous to share. The more his emotions become engaged with Hilary, the more he holds himself back, believing himself to be not a whole being any longer, and therefore unworthy of a true, honest, loving relationship. Waddell draws him beautifully, as his true character comes out in many ways - a fun, loving father, and a warm, tender lover and husband. When a friend and fellow soldier commits suicide and leaves his diary to Fitch, he withdraws more and more into his memories as he reads through it.
The dichotomy of character that many war veterans display is fully explored here, one minute loving the next minute angry and sullen. Waddell ventures into the early world of psychiatry as well, when Hilary seeks the help of a cutting edge physician who treats soldiers with PTSD (of course it wasn't called that). Her unselfish, undying support of Fitch as he travels this journey is heartfelt and true. She wants him to heal not just for the health of their marriage, but so that he can be truly happy and emotionally healthy once again. This is the second book I've read with a hero who is a veteran of the Crimean war (the other being the powerful and poignant England's Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch, which I can't recommend highly enough). It seems that was a particularly bloody and horrific war for the British. Waddell, as does Enoch, beautifully and accurately portrays the many faces of PTSD and its consequences for not only the veteran, but his family as well. Highly recommended.
He Said Never... The last in the series, this is the story of the Viscount Rathbone, as he faces unexpected love, unheralded teasing from his buddies, and a surprise twist at the end. He is certainly the wildest of the bunch, going from woman to woman, creating quite a rakish reputation for himself, vowing never to marry. He finds Prudence Tamhill, the ward of a duke, out and about in after dark alone. He delivers her safely home (after stealing several kisses from her, of course), then pursues her relentlessly in order to win a bet with some friends (not our circle of friends in the series). This bet has him in her room in the middle of the night attempting to steal a ring she was supposed to give him in "friendship" as proof of his win. She, of course, wakes up, and they are soon discovered in a compromising position.
He has watched his friends one by one succumb to love and marriage and children, and when he is caught in Prudence's bed (they didn't actually "do it"), he agrees to marry her; actually, he insists on it, but Prudence is unaware of that, believing he was forced as much as she. He soon discovers he is quite happy with his situation, and looks forward to marriage to Prudence. Prudence has discovered through her mother's diary that she is not the product of her mother's marriage, but the product of an affair with the true love of her mother's life. They soon get caught up in Prudence's mysterious search for her father, which leads them all over England. During their travels, they fall in love.
This was the most stereotypical of the series, although still a delightful read. It conforms to the usual "boy meets girl, boy compromises girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl fall in love" scenario, but that didn't really diminish my enjoyment of the book. If I didn't like that formula, I wouldn't be such a fan of historicals, apparently. But I digress. During the course of the book, Prudence learns more about her mother, and her fateful relationship with her father. She learns she is the product of love (I guess that's where the term "love child" comes from *g*), which pleases her immensely, as she was not close with the man who she thought was her father for most of her life. The surprise twist as we find out who her real father is, and the confrontational scene that ensued were flawlessly executed, leaving me smiling and snickering.
So, to wrap it all up with a quote from another reviewer, this is a series of books that are "witty and sensual romances with heroes you could fall for and heroines you can respect." It is thoroughly enjoyable to revisit all the other couples from the series. Waddell carries their friendships throughout each book, complete with the weekly card game with the Duke, where the men have to explain themselves if they are absent. It's a blast to watch these otherwise confident, take-no-prisoners men quiver in their boots when they discuss facing the duke if they don't show up for a game. There is also a fun twist where the friends recognize and acknowledge that it seems whoever serves as the best man in their friend's wedding seems to be the next one to the altar. The scene in Fitch's book where Benjamin (Rathbone) very reluctantly agrees to be the best man is hilarious - a light note in an otherwise serious story. In fact, they are all quite reluctant to serve as best man, knowing they might be next, giving a fun twist to what should be an honor for a close friend.
I like the fact that none of these couples immediately falls in love - Waddell takes the time to build their relationships within believable timeframes within each story. I really enjoyed this series. I'll confess that knowing the final twist the second time around did lessen my enjoyment of the ending of the final book just a smidge, but it didn't truly bother me. The books are well written and complete enough that I enjoyed them the second time almost as much as the first.