Lord Mountjoy's Country Inn

A Family Affair by Cathleen Clare
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0821764829
A Family Affair takes the unusual step of having the hero and heroine marry within the first few pages. Davina Halderton and Adam Trowbridge are deeply in love. But he's an earl, and the Haldertons are, well, definitely beyond the pale. Not that they aren't gentry -- they are. Davina's boisterous father and three brothers, however, have pulled so many pranks and been involved in so many scrapes that the ton will have nothing to do with them. Davina is terrified that she will never make a good countess. Adam's mother, the icy, stiff-rumped dowager countess Eleanor, is at first aghast, then determined to force this chit into acceptable behavior, no matter what.

Davina and Adam return from their honeymoon trip to Trowbridge house in London, where Adam encourages his wife to make changes, make the house more cheerful and friendly and informal. He longs for a home that is happy, and his beloved Davina is, with her openness and affection, all that he ever dreamed of. At first, all goes well. Davina moves the maid down the hall and turns the maid's room into a cheery breakfast room where she and Adam can spend time alone and in comfort. The mountains of knick-knacks and uncomfortable furniture go into storage. Softer colors are chosen for the decorating. Adam is ecstatic and Davina begins to believe that she can succeed at making her husband happy.

All falls to pieces, however, when Eleanor arrives from the country, insinuating herself into the household and ordering the servants about as if she had never left. Her criticisms cut Davina to the quick, and Adam's defense of his wife falls on deaf ears. Davina simply must learn to behave as an acceptable countess, for the good of the Trowbridge family name. Davina, already doubting her ability to overcome her family's shenanigans, agrees to try and mold herself into a proper member of the ton. Soon Adam finds his wife slipping away, and a perfectly correct -- and perfectly boring -- lady taking her place.

This novel was fifty pages too long, at least. The section that could have been cut involved Eleanor berating Davina, over and over and over, while Adam makes half-hearted protests. Instead, readers must suffer through endless scenes in which Eleanor high-handedly orders Davina about and criticizes her, while Davina either sits meekly or dissolves into tears. Neither she nor Adam had the least amount of spine in dealing with the overbearing, vicious dowager, and this reader grew highly impatient with all of the nonsense. Adam is an earl, for heaven's sake, and could easily have sent his mother back to the country with orders not to show her face again unless she could be pleasant and refrain from her tirades. Instead, he allows her to run the household and make his bride miserable, but there is no reason given to the reader why he'd be unwilling to shove his mother out the door, other than "she always made him feel this way". Sorry. Time to grow up and stand up for yourself, Adam.

As for Davina, I had more sympathy for her. The author does a fine job of helping the reader understand her insecurities, and her inability to stand up to her mother-in-law makes sense given her background and her desperate desire to please the man she loves.

The ending isn't resolved in any kind of satisfactory fashion. Without giving anything away, let me say that the dowager never receives her comeuppance and the reader is likely to be disappointed at the way a happy ending is achieved. I longed for character growth and development of a little backbone. I didn't get it.

A Family Affair is one of those books that will make some readers smile and others groan. I can't recommend it, but it may work better for you than for me. Have a look.

--Cathy Sova

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