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Miss Tibbles' Folly
by April Kihlstrom
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19576-0
****
I heartily recommend Miss Tibbles' Follies to all those readers who have been following the exploits of the Westcott girls, to all those who enjoy reading about a mature hero and heroine acting maturely and to all fans of Regency romance who appreciate a sweet, well told love story about a most unlikely heroine. Who would have thought that Miss Marian Tibbles', governess extraordinaire, would have her own happily ever after?

This is not a typical story of a governess who, despite being forced to earn her bread for a few years, finds romance and happiness and a return to the status she was born to. No, Miss Tibbles has been a governess for 18 long years as this story opens. Forced by her father's dying in debt and her soldier fiancé's death in battle to earn her way, Miss Tibbles has made a reputation for herself as the governess of last resort.

When a daughter (or daughters, as is the case for the Westcotts) seems intractable and unlikely to successfully assume her expected role in society, the best families of the ton called on Miss Tibbles. Through wisdom, intelligence, cleverness, and determination, Miss Tibbles could turn a young lady into a perfectly respectable debutante without breaking her spirit or destroying her unique character. No mean feat that.

Now, Miss Tibbles is at loose ends. She had stayed with the Westcott family for much longer than was common; after all, five daughters take some time to fire off. But now that Lady Penelope has been married to her scholarly suitor, it is time for the governess to look for a new post. Miss Tibbles finds herself somewhat loathe to move onto another family and when the grateful Earl of Westcott offers her a month or two vacation in Bath, she is happy to put off considering her future for a while.

While strolling through town one day, Miss Tibbles runs into (literally) a handsome gentleman. Somewhat shaken, she actually proffers her name when asked it by Colonel Merriweather (something that the proper Miss Tibbles would normally never have done.) Col. Merriweather is caught up short by the name "Marian Tibbles." Certainly, he had heard it before. As Miss Tibbles walks away, he suddenly remembers who she is – the betrothed of his good army friend, Freddy Carrington. Since Freddy died in his arms with Miss Tibbles name on his lips, the colonel feels that this shared experience is a basis for further acquaintance.

Colonel Merriweather is the younger brother of a baron and clearly a member of the gentry. He had had a successful military career, ending up on Wellington's staff. He inherited a nice estate when his wife died a year earlier and is in town visiting his aunt, Lady Merriweather. He is clearly far above Miss Tibbles in the social hierarchy and an unlikely suitor.

Yet, the colonel finds Miss Tibbles' wit, intelligence, astringent humor and pleasant person a most attractive package and before long, he has become her determined suitor, much to her amazement. She had long given up any hope of marriage and at 38 was a most unlikely candidate for courtship. But Colonel Merriweather, in his forties himself, finds her much more appealing than the young misses that his aunt and mother suggest as potential wives.

The conflict in Miss Tibbles' Folly centers on Marian's unsuitability as a wife for a man of Merriweather's position. His family is appalled at the choice. Yes, Miss Tibbles' birth was genteel, but her many years as a governess made her, in their opinion, a totally unacceptable candidate to become Mrs. Merriweather. Additional complications arise when the Westcott girls discover what is afoot, and respond with differing levels and kinds of concern to what at least some regard as their governess' foolish behavior.

More uncertainty arises when an investigation of the colonel's past leads to questions about his first wife's fate and his motives in courting Miss Tibbles. Through all this, both Colonel Merriweather and Miss Tibbles behave with remarkable good sense. Miss Tibbles is concerned about the questions about the colonel's past, but she trusts her own judgment of his character and does not jump to conclusions or act irrationally. The colonel recognizes Miss Tibbles' excellent qualities and refuses to be swayed by the dire warnings of his family as to her motives. And these two strong-minded people also find the ability to learn to bend and compromise when necessary.

Miss Tibbles' Folly left me with a smile on my face. I had enjoyed Miss Tibbles very much in the previous Westcott books. I thought she was an admirable creation and even felt sometimes that she overshadowed the hero and heroine. I never imagined that she would have her own love story and am delighted that Kihlstrom chose to depart a bit from the conventions of the Regency to show the world that there can be love after 35. Her stunned surprise when she realized that she was in fact in love rang true and was delightfully poignant

. In Colonel Merriweather, Kihlstrom provided a hero who is worthy of our strong minded heroine. He knows his mind, but he also understands the scruples that Miss Tibbles feels about accepting his offer. He doesn't get angry (or at least not very) or dismiss her concerns. He respects her hesitation, but will not be dissuaded. He knows that they are meant for each other.

Miss Tibbles' Folly is a sweet and enjoyable read. Kihlstrom has demonstrated once again that she has a real feel for the Regency era and the Regency genre. I certainly recommend that Regency fans who have enjoyed the Westcott books and who appreciate a definite departure from the usual heroine read this novel. They will not be disappointed.

--Jean Mason


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