The Surgeon's Lady, by Carla Kelly

>> Saturday, March 29, 2014

TITLE: The Surgeon's Lady
AUTHOR: Carla Kelly

PAGES: 299
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Historical romance
SERIES: Follows Marrying The Captain

Coldly sold for marriage to the highest bidder, Lady Laura Taunton does not hold much faith in love and kindness. The war against Napoleon only serves to echo this feeling, until she meets intriguing Royal Naval surgeon Lieutenant Brittle – a man who’s the exact opposite of her cruel late husband. Taking up his offer to help aid the battle’s injured, Laura starts to believe that she could have a place in the world…and a man who can show her true happiness.

We meet Lady Laura Taunton at a bit of a turning point in her life. She's recently widowed and the death of her husband, meant relief, rather than bereavement. It's not just that he was a much older man her father forced her into marrying and he was obsessed with getting her pregnant. It's also that Laura spent the last few years nursing her husband after a really bad stroke, and she's glad both of them are free of this (I didn't quite get why she felt she had to do the most intimate tasks of nursing an invalid herself, when she did not like the man, they had plenty of money to hire someone else to do them, and it's not like fine ladies were expected to take on such tasks, anyway, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and go with it).

Laura has recently found out that she wasn't her father's only illegitimate daughter, and as the book starts, she decides to get over her fear and contact one of the others, Nana. Rather than write and give herself time to chicken out, Laura just gets on a carriage and travels to the house where Nana lives with her new husband.

Nana is married to a ship captain, and at her place, Laura meets Lt. Philemon Brittle, a naval surgeon. Each is very impressed by the other, but their stations are far apart, and both assume they'll never see each other again. But then Nana, who's far along in her pregnancy, asks Laura to make the trip to the hospital to visit a boy who served on her husband's ship and has been wounded in battle. And of course, the boy is being cared for in Philemon's ward, so the two reconnect.

The Surgeon's Lady started out pretty confusing. This is the 2nd book in a series, and Kelly drew heavily on the events of the 1st book in this section. For a while I wondered who Nana and Lord Ratcliff were and why Laura was afraid to contact Nana, and I felt hopelessly muddled. I got it after a while, and things got off the ground, but throughout the book, I felt like there were things I didn't quite get, and I suspected I'd understand their significance a lot better if I'd read book 1. For instance, all the stuff about Laura and Nana's father and his perfidy. We only get passing references to his treatment of Laura and what happened when he forced her to marry her husband. It sounds like he wasn't at all a loving father to Laura, but deciding whom his daughter should marry doesn't seem extraordinarily mean or cruel. And yet Laura flips at the very idea of seeing him again, while she seems to forgive her late husband, who was basically verbally and sexually abusive. I'm pretty sure if I'd read the first book I'd have understood her feelings towards her father much better, but from what was in this book, it doesn't quite make sense.

The middle sections, though, I loved. Laura's visit to Philemon's hospital ends up with her accepting an offer to work as a matron, both organising the place and dealing with patients. The hospital stuff is fascinating, and I really liked the camaraderie that develops. I particularly loved Philemon's immediate assumption that Laura is competent and caring and will want to and can help. It's not based on nothing (after all, he knows she's nursed her late husband even though she wasn't in love with him), but he could have assumed that as a lady there was no way she would even consider coming within a mile of, as they're described here, "common tars". Actually, it might strain disbelief that he does assume this, but it's just such a Philemon thing to do. The man is completely focused on healing and helping people, and I thought he was lovely.

I loved all this, but Kelly kind of lost me as we got closer to the end. I lost interest in what was going on once the main thrust of the plot wasn't the work in the hospital any longer, but the romance and whether Laura could trust another man given her treatment by her late husband. I don't know why I wasn't interested in this, it's exactly the sort of plot that appeals to me and that I've liked in the past. It just didn't work for me here. I guess it might be that there wasn't much tension to it. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and there were no surprises, so I was bored.

So, a really good middle, bookended by a begining and an end that didn't really work for me. I'd still recommend reading it (especially if you have read the 1st book in the series), but Kelly's definitely written better.



Barb in Maryland 29 March 2014 at 16:23  

Yet, of the three books in this series (one per sister), I liked this one the best. Go figure. I do agree that Kelly has written better; her old Signets are fantastic. My favorite of hers for Harlequin is 'Her Hesitant Heart'--post Civil War US Army post in Wyoming.

I thought Laura nursed her invalid husband as an act of contrition for being sooo glad he was no longer able to force his attentions on her. Just a theory...

Rosario 30 March 2014 at 10:47  

I don't think any of the books she's written in the last few years come close to being as good as her old Signets, but I haven't read Her Hesitant Heart yet (it's in my TBR, though).

I think your theory might be right. Makes sense, anyway!

Wendy 30 March 2014 at 20:19  

Of the three books in this series (The Channel Fleet) series) by Carla Kelly, which includes Marrying the Captain, The Surgeon's Lady, and Marrying the Royal Marine, I strongly recommend the third, Marrying the Royal Marine. I am a major Kelly fan, but could barely get through the first two, but I absolutely loved the third. It engaged me from word one. It also reads much better as a standalone than the second book, I think. Anyway give Marrying the Royal Marine a try.

Rosario 31 March 2014 at 07:16  

Wendy: Oh, that's a good sign, that you liked it best. I have it on my TBR (of course I do, I buy every single one of hers that comes out), so I will try it at some point soon.

Christine,  5 April 2014 at 16:28  

I really loved this book but I think your experience did suffer from not reading the first book. It really sets up the father and how horrible he is. Unlike the previous poster the first and second books are my favorites over the third but all are really enjoyable. I'd recommend "Marrying The Captain" next. It's a very sweet romance and will introduce you to the whole world they are in. I guess I would describe it as a cozy book. The third book "Marrying The Royal Marine" I guess would be a "road adventure" and the most action oriented.

Rosario 6 April 2014 at 08:19  

Christine: Just as I suspected! That creates its own problems, though. I was already annoyed by Philemon's insistence that Laura forgive her father when the man seemed moderately mean, it's even more infuriating if he was actively horrible! Definitely a pet peeve of mine.

Christine,  7 April 2014 at 04:04  

Rosario that is a common feature in Kelly's books- forgiveness where IMHO it's sometimes not really warranted. While I love the idea of compassionate heroes and heroines who don't just go around killing off the baddies in one book in particular the kindness made me angry. I believe it's Mrs Drew Plays her Hand were the heroine is so desperate for her and her girls to escape the clutches of the evil brother in law the hero and she make a desperate ride through the cold and snow to marry. The hero gets frostbite and loses some toes to do this. At the end all is forgiven with the brother in law who was trying to sexually coerce her and the kids are going to visit at his place with the relatives who were so awful! Huh? I just felt for the hero who probably would have appreciated them figuring it all out before his sacrifice and frostbite!
All that being said she is one of my favorite authors and even a book of hers I have problems with is still better than most other books I read.

Rosario 12 April 2014 at 10:27  

Christine: oops, missed your comment! I was actually thinking of Mrs. Drew as well when I made that comment. If I remember correctly, it was my only problem with that book.

I associate this issue with something that seems really widespread in romance as well, which is the whole "blood is thicker than water" idea. There have been way too many cases where I've wanted to shake the characters (usually the heroines, unfortunately) and tell them to go far, far away from their toxic families!

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