This unique look at four Regency romances is a delightful and engaging read that flirted with keeper status. These talented authors have written four stories that are interwoven through the observations of “Lady Whistledown”, a gossip columnist created by Quinn in her Bridgerton series. Each story stands alone, yet occurs during the same events - a night at the theatre, an ice skating party on the Thames and a Valentine’s Day Ball.
One True Love by Enoch is the story of Maximillian and Anne. Both strong-willed and sensible, they are not looking for love. But the match is set - 19 years before at Anne’s birth, their two fathers betrothed them. Max was 9. Now he has come to London to claim her and they stumble around each other. Anne is upset that he waited 19 years and Max doesn’t know what to make of all the rumors he has heard. But he perseveres and she grows to like him. There is enjoyable repartee between the two as they determine if their feelings are real. The sexual tension is nicely built, while not ruling the actions of either character.
Hawkins’ Two Hearts is an interesting tale of two friends who slowly discover there is more than friendship to their relationship. Their intriguing reactions as they realize this must be passion they are seeing in the other and feeling themselves is both comical and endearing. Royce and Liza are the best-written of all the characters in the stories. The reader is able to see the motivations and understand their actions as they grapple with their feelings. Liza is a strong heroine with many of my favorite traits - smart, able to act independently while still being accepted by society, interested in business and not afraid to engage in it, and human. Royce is a good match for her, as he accepts her for what she is as a person, only to realize he is actually attracted to her, too.
A Dozen Kisses is the weakest of the entries. Mia Ryan writes an uneven tale of two who are not totally accepted, yet due to their rank, are regarded as acceptable. Both have scandals in their past, although neither are truly understood by the ton. Caroline is almost on the shelf and less than beautiful. She bears no title, but is acceptable. Darrington is a war hero that has returned less than whole. He has a brain injury that keeps him from verbalizing quickly all that he thinks, thus making him appear a bit slow-witted. He has hidden himself from the ton and is only now attempting to find a wife. The story was slow to get moving and garner my interest. (I think it fair to say that part of the reason may be because it follows the very engaging Hawkins story). Once I understood what Dare was trying to hide, and why Caroline seemed to be so snobbish, the story picked up and ended in a very entertaining way.
The final tale is that written by Quinn. Thirty-six Valentines enlivens the book with its references to the other three stories and with two delightfully funny and engaging people. Susannah and David are a unique pair. Susannah had been seeing David’s brother during the last Season, and everyone expected a betrothal announcement. The announcement was made, but brother Clive announced another lady as his intended. And he did so without warning Susannah beforehand. Needless to say, there is much embarrassment to live down, so off she goes to the country. She returns during this winter only as a favor to her sister. David, as head of the family, feels he owes Susannah an apology for his brother’s rudeness. He delivers the apology only to insult her again. He is intrigued by her directness and lack of guile. He soon discovers he wants to see her. She is drawn to David, but cannot explain why. Their courtship is full of humor, setbacks and stubbornness yet is also full of surprising interludes of passions. A good ending to four good stories.
With this many stories and characters, it is hard to envision how to rate the book as a whole. Three of the four are solid four hearters, with Ryan’s story in that valley between 3 and 4. Yet I find myself wanting to read it again, just to see if I can piece together the references to the other stories that are interwoven throughout. This adds a hint of fun into the book that otherwise might not have one going back.
With all that said, I highly recommend The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown and will let it hover in that keeper - nonkeeper limbo status.
-- Shirley Lyons