My Rating: Beach vacation (3/5)
Eliza Lawrence has been a secretary for the Evensong Agency ever since leaving her job as a governess for a rambunctious family. She enjoys the order and the regimented structure of the secretary job. More importantly, she loves the independence that working affords her and her mother, for whom Eliza is the sole provider since the death of her father. Eliza has no desire to work as a governess again, but it seems that’s exactly what she must do when her employer is desperate.
Soon Eliza finds herself installed in the home of artist, Nicholas Raeburn caring for his illegitimate daughter, Domenica. While Eliza develops an instant relationship with Domenica, she abhors her father. Nicholas has a bit of reputation. He doesn’t care what others think and he was completely happy in his previous dissolute and creative lifestyle before he took over the care of Domenica. While Nicholas doesn’t want to give up all his freedom, he realizes that he needs to change some things for the sake of his daughter, and a starchy governess is definitely not what he needs. In fact, he’s completely happy to let Domenica run wild and isn’t fond of having restrictions placed on his daughter. So when Eliza arrives and attempts to do just that, sparks fly. I have only recently discovered Maggic Robinson’s historicals, but after reading In the Heart of the Highlander, I was hooked. These Edwardian-set historical romances have been a lot of fun. I love the more modern setting (as opposed to the Regency era) and the effect that this has on the types of characters that can feature as the hero and heroine. They’re not all dukes and duchesses, indeed here, we have a common governess and a noted artist, not your usual romantic leads.
The romance between Eliza and Nicholas was very much a case of opposites-attract. Eliza was very straight laced and fairly single minded about what was right and proper. Meeting Nick proves to be a bit eye opening for her:
She waited, listening for footfalls on the stairs. There weren’t any. Putting her bag down, she rang the bell again.
And waited some more. Perhaps she should go down the basements steps and go in by way of the kitchen. Someone had to be down there, surely. It was almost teatime, and Eliza had not had lunch in her haste to pack and save the day. She wouldn’t turn down a biscuit, would be happy to share one with her new charge.
Third time was the charm, they said. Eliza gave the bell a vigorous – well, vicious – turn. If no one answered the door, she would go back to the Evensong Agency and await instructions.
Her resolved proved unnecessary. The door opened, and so did Eliza’s mouth.
The man before her was no butler. For one thing, he appeared to be wearing pain-stained silk pajama bottoms, something no self-respecting butler would wear, even to sleep in.
And nothing else.
Eliza really has a very difficult time comprehending Nick’s lackadaisical attitude towards life; that carefree attitude is just not one that she can understand or afford to adopt for herself. Considering the time period and the relative vulnerability of Eliza as a working independent woman, I found her views to be wholly realistic. And to be honest, I was often frustrated that Nicholas didn’t understand that about her; he couldn’t wait for her replacement to be found:
No, she wouldn’t be here long, and good riddance. Nick was not about to be lectured in his own house by this bourgeois little prude.
While Eliza does bend in view of the world and recognize that people’s actions are not black and white, I never really felt that Nick appreciated her point of view. I thought Eliza had to compromise much more than Nick did, and I wasn’t really satisfied with this aspect of the romance. I felt that Eliza had legitimate concerns and they were never fully recognized or appreciated by Nick.
As for Nick, he was a different sort of hero to read about, and I have to admit that the “artist” is not a “type” that appeals to me. He just seemed a little too self-absorbed and uncaring about the consequences of his actions. While I felt Eliza changed and developed throughout the novel, I never got that impression from Nick and I think it would have made their romance stronger had that aspect been more fully fleshed out.
Ultimately, I liked this book. The romance had it’s strong points and I loved the sense of humour and wit that appeared throughout the book. From a personal reading perspective, the “artist” characterization didn’t appeal, but that doesn’t mean I wont be back for more from the author. In fact, I now find myself anxiously awaiting The Unsuitable Secretary.
If you enjoyed the “opposites-attract” theme in The Reluctant Governess, you might also like Olivia Drake’s Too Wicked to Love. Ethan and Jane are not an obvious couple, but necessity forces them to marry. While Jane isn’t reluctant and stubborn as Eliza, they are both caretakers, even when they don’t want to be.
I really liked the fact that The Reluctant Governess was set in 1904 and that Eliza was a independent women working for a living. If you also liked this, you need to check out Laura Lee Guhrke’s And Then He Kissed Her. Emma, like Eliza, is a sensible working woman, but when her employer finally starts to notice her, she’s forced to make a decision about what she’s been missing out in life. There’s a little more depth her than The Reluctant Governess, and I think readers who were looking for a bit more exploration of gender roles during the period will enjoy And Then He Kissed Her.
There were some great flashes of humour in The Reluctant Governess, for more of that I recommend Kate Nobel’s The Game and the Governess. It takes some time for the romance to actually get moving, but it’s witty and perfect for fans of the governess theme in their historicals.