|Anne Barbour, Elisabeth Fairchild, Carla Kelly, Allison Lane, Barbara Metzger: Grand Hotel|
Penguin Putnam, Inc. (Paperback),
All right, already -- I liked it. Actually, a miracle occurred and I didn't just like it, I loved it. I know you're shocked, but you'll get over it.
I haven't the faintest idea whether the authors got the ball gowns, day gowns, men's pants (or whatever the heck they call them) right. But I do know that they created wonderful characters -- people I liked and would really like to get to know better.
Take Charles Mortimer in "The Background Man," by Carla Kelly. As the temporary manager of Sir Michael Moseley's newly constructed Grand Hotel, Mortimer bows, scrapes, toadies and generally goes through life following Sir Michael's rulebook. He doesn't even take his day off, off! The man has no life.
Then one sunny day a certain miss walks into the Grand's lobby and wham, the next thing we know ol' rulebook Mortimer throws his rulebook into the trash. Then some really shocking things start to happen.
Yes, Spidie, it's a romance, and man meets woman and they fall in love, but the great characterizations make the story. And it doesn't hurt that the plot twists and turns until you know you don't know who is whom. Better yet, the book's remaining four novellas share most of the virtues of "The Background Man."
In the second story, "Love Will Find the Way" by Elisabeth Fairchild, Lieutenant James Forester, just back from the war against Napoleon, can't wait to meet his commanding officer's widow. James read and answered her letters when her husband lay dying. Now the prospect of meeting her at the Grand Hotel to turn over the commander's effects sets James's heart pounding like a schoolboy's. You'd think it couldn't get less romantic than that, but guess what, love finds a way, and the story sings.
Anne Barbour's "The Castaway" dishes up a scam. Martha Finch offers the Marquis of Canby everything he ever wanted in a granddaughter. An orphan who washed up on a beach, Martha possesses a locket with pictures of the marquis' son and daughter-in-law in it. In addition, Martha used to own a shawl with the daughter-in-law's initials embroidered on it but lost the shawl during her rough and tumble years working as a skivy.
Unfortunately, the softhearted and emotional marquis does not appear at the Grand Hotel to vet Martha's credentials. Instead, Martha faces Gabriel Storm, the fourth Earl of Branford -- a tough nut who knows a scam when he sees one.
Don't worry, Spidie, everything turns out fine -- with some help from the fine staff at the Grand Hotel.
I nominate "The Management Requests" by Barbara Metzger as funniest of the group. Take one rascally viscount, unable to climb stairs because of war injuries, place him in the prominently labeled manager's ground floor office and stir in a devilishly attractive, shouting lass at the front desk. Result: a wickedly funny story of mistaken identity, which turns falling in love into a romp in London town.
Alison Lane's "Promises to Keep" rounds out the book with a suspenseful, dangerous tale in which life lessons learned in the New World come in handy for a lass in London. Maggie Adams checks into the Grand Hotel to fulfill a promise made to her dying father. Maggie's parents originally ran away to the New World to keep Maggie's mother from marrying her father's older brother, the viscount-to-be.
An heiress in the grandest tradition of the word, Maggie only wants to connect with her father's family for old time's sake. But London seethes with perils, the most dangerous of which may be a pantalooned, green-eyed fellow with a riot of dark curls.
My only problem, Spidie, is that you didn't book me a long enough stay at the Grand Hotel. I want to go back! For certes (see how much my visit improved my language), you can make an arrangement with your man of affairs. Romance is Crescent Blues business -- or one of them -- after all.
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