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Review: Nearly a Lady by Alissa Johnson

Nearly a Lady has been quietly languishing on my TBR pile for months now. I'm afraid that cover had something to do with it (she says sheepishly after making and breaking her 110th resolution not to judge a book by its . . . well). Uninspiring cover aside (but seriously, I just don't like the look of them and really that's far too much lavender for my taste and . . . well), it lingered in the back of my mind all this time for no discernible reason except that I read the ebook sample and liked that the heroine threatens to shoot the hero with her rifle in the opening lines. Sadly, the determinedly full price ebook combined with a lack of an available hard copy locally kept me from giving Alissa Johnson's writing a try. Until I needed something the other night, that is. And that girl with the rifle started calling my name. I am so very glad I listened, because this engaging historical is as lovely as they come.

Winnifred (Freddie) Blythe has not a single delusion of grandeur. She knows exactly who she is and where she belongs. And that is a girl no one has ever much wanted (with the exception of her longtime friend and governess Lilly) and on a forgotten farm in the backwoods of Scotland. And Freddie is happy with this life. Though they have next to nothing, she and Lily have learned to cope, even taking in mending jobs for the inmates at the local prison. Their calm, if somewhat desperate, lot is thrown into chaos when Lord Gideon Haverston arrives on their doorstep to right the wrongs his horrible stepmother did Freddie these past twelve years by cheating her out of the annuity his father promised her upon her father's death. One of the walking wounded, Gideon is a former Royal Navy ship captain home from the war and determined to hide the post traumatic stress he deals with on a daily basis. When Lilly insists Freddie be given a proper London season, Gideon feels honor-bound to make it happen. The more time he spends in Freddie's company, however, the more convinced he becomes he must get the women to London and get out immediately after. He can tell Freddie is developing a fondness for him, and the feeling is more than returned. But the nature of what happened on his ship, the Perseverance, make it imperative that Gideon never be responsible for anyone. Ever again.

You know how you go into some books knowing exactly what you're going to get and being perfectly okay with that? I thought I knew what I was getting with Nearly a Lady. I thought I would be getting a perfectly respectable amount of light Regency fluff, competently written and hopefully engaging enough to see me through to the end. And if we could avoid any over-the-top silliness or grand misunderstandings, so much the better. What I wound up getting was quite a bit more than those admittedly mundane expectations. Color me absolutely delighted and ordering my own paperback copy before I even neared the halfway mark. Throughout the book, both Freddie and Gideon resist being shoehorned into any of the usual genre tropes. She is wonderfully strong and uncouth, monumentally uninterested in a London season but willing to do that and more for the sake of her best friend. He is titled and genuinely charming, absolutely set on doing the right thing but suffering from no illusions that the hero role he finds himself playing is anything other than a role (and a very temporary one at that). Together they induce a surprisingly wide and strong range of feelings on the part of the reader. The loveliest of all the lovely things about Freddie is that she is ultimately unashamed of herself and she speaks her mind. She respects Gideon's privacy and sensibilities, but she draws the line at letting him get away with dissembling when it comes to the emotions he broadcasts and the ones he actually claims. And I just wanted to throw her a high five every single time. The loveliest thing among yes, a very many lovely things about Gideon is that he is honest with himself and he calls Freddie out as well (in his disarming, occasionally maddening Gideon way) when it comes to her flyaway temper and what exactly she sees in that mirror she is forced to hold up when faced with societal expectations. The bottom line is I never tired of them, I always respected them, and I swallowed tears more than once at the obstacles between them and happiness.

Here, a representative conversation between the two, in which their individual strengths, their humor, and the nature of their wonderful, burgeoning friendship is evident:
She considered him quietly. He hadn't shouted, or cursed, or even snapped at her. His voice had remained perfectly even. But the authority--in the tone, in the words--was all but palpable.

She took the seat across from him, suddenly fascinated. "I've been wondering how you managed to captain a ship for all those years. I was beginning to suspect you injured your leg during a bout of mutiny."

"Delighted to have satisfied your curiosity," he answered in the same unforgiving voice. "Your reasons, Winnefred. I'll have them now."

She sat up straighter in her chair. "I am not a sailor aboard your ship to be ordered about. And my reasons are none of your business."

"On the contrary, and to my considerable frustration at the moment, you, and everything you do, are my concern until I deliver you into the care of my aunt."

The mention of frustration at having to care for her until he could hand her over to someone else made her heart stutter and the edges of her vision turn red. It was an irrational and disproportionate reaction to an offhand comment, she knew, but she was helpless to stem the anger. She'd had her fill of being delivered from one person to the next as a child.

Her eyes narrowed to slits. "I have no interest in being anyone's burden, Gideon. And I will not be passed between members of the Haverston family like an inconvenient head cold."

She rose from her seat and turned to leave, but Gideon stood and caught her hand before she could escape.

"Sit down," he said softly.

"No." She tugged her arm. "Let go."

"Winnefred, please."

She stopped pulling at his plea but didn't resume her seat.

Gideon gave her arm a gentle squeeze. "My frustration is with this particular conversation, not with you. I apologize for my poor choice of words."

"The conversation is with me."

"It is not our first disagreement." He gave her a disarming smile. "Can we not settle this one as we have others?"

"I haven't a rifle to hit you with."

"We'll make do."
Throughout this book, whenever things reached a point in a conversation where less nuanced, less dynamic characters would have fallen back on tiresome histrionics or predictable obtuseness, these two consistently remained both true to themselves and anxiously concerned for the other. They somehow managed to be sensible and fall wildly in love at the same time. It was a terribly satisfying experience accompanying them on their journey.

One last favorite passage:
How had things gone so terribly wrong? She wasn't supposed to be returning to Murdoch House in defeat, and she most certainly was not supposed to be returning alone.

Lilly should be there. And Gideon. High-handed, muleheaded, wonderful Gideon. She'd never admitted it, not even to herself, but a part of her had expected him to come back to Murdoch House with her. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that no part of her had been able to imagine going back without him.
Sigh.

Buy

Linkage
The Book Barbies - "The romance was so sweet, it nearly killed me."
Fiction Vixen - "I loved everything about it from the charming writing to the delightful characters."

Comments

  1. I was really surprised to see this was published by Berkley - I was guessing self-pubbed from the cover... not that I ever do that judge a book by its cover thing ;-)


    But I loved the excerpts you quoted - sounds like an excellent romance.

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  2. When I first read your summary, I was trying to figure out if I'd read the book already because it sounded so familiar. But I finally realized it's just because it sounds so much like "Minx" by Julia Quinn. So between the "Minx" similarities and your review, I think I'm pretty sold :)

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  3. I got the same exact vibe from that cover! Lol.


    It is excellent. So much more than its cover.

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  4. Oh, interesting. I haven't read Minx. But I really am so very fond of this one. It keeps making me smile days after.

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  5. Gosh - that cover is an absolute shocker! Although possibly topped by the cover blurb "all she needed was a little seasoning"... What..?

    If it wasn't for your review I would never have even considered this book but it sounds great!

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  6. Gah. I didn't even want to mention the blurb because it bugs me SO BAD. Ugh. It's just so not fair to Freddie and their relationship.

    It really is great, though.

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  7. Yeah, that IS an awful lot of violet. But this sounds like a book I want to read. So does this mean you find yourself liking historical romance more? :) I just remembered that at one point contemporary seemed to work more than historical for you (ok I have the same thing - I have to be in the right mood for historical romance I think).

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  8. I think you'd like it. And yes! I definitely do. If we look as plain numbers, contemps I've loved may still edge out historicals, but things are definitely growing closer to neck and neck. I may have just grown more adept at gauging which sort of historicals to avoid and which are likely to work for me. But I also might actually fall harder for those ones that do.

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  9. I'm always on the lookout for new-to-me great authors in HR because I'm just in love with that genre. Thank you for the wonderful review Angie! Adding this now to my TBR list :)

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  10. I am increasingly in love with HR as well, Camille. Just really enchanted. Hope you love this one as much as I do. I think about Fred and Gideon all the time.

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  11. Oh goodness. I just finished this one and have almost died with the adorableness of Gideon and Freddie. Love, love that he had a sense of humor and a talent for non-sequitors! And that Freddie didn't need to 'change.' *sigh* Such a charming read, thank you so much for pointing me in its direction. I was in dire need of such a perfect read.

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  12. Did you?! Hooray! Lol. You're right. I love his non-sequitors. And it was such a relief she wasn't forced to change. Johnson handled them both with such care and strength. I can tell a re-read of this one is not long off as I think about them all the time. I am so so happy you enjoyed it, Michelle.

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