>> Monday, November 03, 2014
Effervescent bon vivant Lucy Eastlake is a young operetta singer whose star is on the rise in Edwardian London. Though struggling to maintain her beloved great-aunts’ household, she holds fast to the belief that “things will work out.” Now, with the fiftieth anniversary of a siege her great-aunt Lavinia lived through approaching, it looks like Lucy is right, because a fortune is due to be divided among the survivors. All Lucy and her great-aunts have to do is travel to a small Pyrenees town to claim Lavinia’s share of a fabulous treasure in rubies. What could be more simple?
Professor Ptolemy Archibald Grant is the brilliant, straitlaced grandson of a British lord who also withstood the siege. When his grandfather asks him as a matter of honor to escort his old love on the journey, the about-to-be married professor agrees, not expecting Lucy to be part of the bargain. Losing the great-aunts en route, the handsome, buttoned-down professor finds himself caught up in Lucy’s quirky, bewildering, and probably illegal efforts to reunite with them, as he is drawn further and further into an inexplicable infatuation with the free-spirited singer. What could be more complicated?
But when unwilling attraction gives way to sizzling passion, both will be forced to confront the ages-old question of whether love trumps honor…or the other way around.
Lucy Eastlake is a rising operetta singer in 1908 London. After her parents' death when she was very young she was passed on from one relative to another, until she arrived at her great-aunts' house. That was that. Aunt Lavinia and Aunt Prudence immediately took her in and gave her a home for good, as well as much love and support.
Now her great-aunts need her assistance, and Lucy is determined to give it. Some 50 years earlier, Aunt Lavinia was a young girl in the market for a husband in India (she didn't 'take' during her London season). She ended up in the middle of a siege, and the last group of survivors ended up in possession of a pouch of valuable rubies. Being all quite respectable and morally upright, they didn't feel it was right to just keep them, so they decided to wait 50 years. If by then the rightful owners hadn't shown up to claim the stones, any survivors from the group would divide the proceeds. Yeah, 50 years felt a bit excessive to me, too, but I went with it. It's just a McGuffin, after all.
Anyway, the 50 years are now up, and Lavinia needs to present herself at a small town in France, where she'll get her share. Both she and Prudence are a bit apprehensive about travelling abroad, so Lucy will be going with them to help. Which means that when one of the other survivors, the man Lavinia loved and lost, offers them his grandson as an escort, they refuse.
But things go all wrong at Calais, and the aunts end up taking the ferry on their own, with Lucy supposed to follow them on the next one. Things keep on going wrong, though, and Lucy ends up following the aunts (and her luggage!) all around France, in the company of the aforementioned grandson, anthropology Professor Ptolemy Archibald Grant. He's a man who's determined to be staid and proper, but who find it really hard in the face of Lucy's charms.
It's not only Lucy that's charming; that's probably the best way to describe the entire book. It's funny, sweet and very entertaining.
I loved Lucy and Ptolemy and their relationship. They seem at first sight to be a bit of a cliché: the flightly, ditzy heroine who keeps getting herself and her companion into trouble, and the stuffed shirt hero who must learn to relax. But they're much more than that. Lucy is very definitely not ditzy. She's actually really intelligent and sensible, and Ptolemy realises that immediately. And he's not naturally stuffy; that's part of his problem. He's got into a situation where it's expected of him, because it's expected that he wants to get into the next step in his profession. All he wants is to do fieldwork, but he's allowed himself to be persuaded that he shouldn't want that. With Lucy and her questions, he suddenly has to consider what exactly it is that he really wants. They made a great pair.
I should mention, since it will be an issue for some readers, that although this is a relationship where it's clear that both Ptolemy and Lucy fancy each other madly, and there's certainly a fair bit of (quite nice!) mental lusting, this is a book with no sex scenes. When sex does happen it's like this: they're kissing, it's obvious they're about to make love, and then we cut to the next morning. And my instinctive reaction is probably a sign of how fed up I am with the romance genre's increasing focus on hot sex scenes and how boring I tend to find them these days: I was delighted.
There isn't a great deal of plot here, just small (but really entertaining) adventures during a road trip, but I didn't mind. It was all enhanced by some fantastic secondary characters. My favourite was Margery, Lucy's cross-dressing artist friend. When Lucy and her great-aunts become separated, Margery continues the journey with them, in his costume (they wouldn't feel it appropriate to be escorted by a man), and they all become great friends. I loved both this friendship (especially how it leads to Lavinia and Prudence's characters developing in some really lovely ways during their adventures with Margery), as well as the sensitivity with which Margery was portrayed.
This is a good one, I should go back and read Brockway's previous Montlake book, which is apparently in the same vein.
MY GRADE: A B+.