Live Journal is not cooperating with me, so I’m posting my SBD here.
Althought I read it in 2008, Marrying the Captain by Carla Kelly is actually my first keeper for 2009.
The title of the book is rather pedestrian. While the hero is a captain and the heroine marries him, there’s so much else going on. But I suppose it is a standard Hqn title.
Eh. The hair is wrong for the heroine — wrong color, wrong length. Nana’s hair is brown and red and short, because she sold it to a wig maker; this is significant to the story, and it’s unfortunate that the art department didn’t pay attention to that. The man in uniform was okay, although the model seemed a little too young for Captain Worthy.
The tag line on the cover, How could he keep her safe?, actually makes sense, because Oliver worried about Nana’s vulnerability, financial and social.
Carla Kelly’s name is in larger font than the title. Normally, I would take that to mean that the author was fairly well-known and popular, that readers would buy the book because of who wrote it instead of being captured by the title. But perusing Harlequin Historical covers, their fonts seem all over the place, so I’m not sure that is the case here. I would be interested in knowing what kind of sell through Kelly has; her backlist is relatively scarce and expensive, and her readership, though not blockbuster-sized, is loyal.
Here’s the back blurb:
The Captain and the Commoner
Ever since her father tried to sell her as a mistress to the highest bidder, Eleanor Massie has chosen to live in poverty. Her world changes overnight when Captain Oliver Worthy shows up at her struggling inn. Despite herself, Nana is drawn to her handsome guest . . .
Oliver planned to stay in Plymouth only long enough to report back to Lord Ratliffe—about Nana. But he soon senses that Lord Ratliffe is up to something, and Oliver will do anything to keep this courageous, beautiful woman safe—even marry her!
First, the blurb contains a serious spoiler.
Second, Oliver Worthy is handsome only in the eyes of Nana. Otherwise, he’s thin lipped, prematurely aged by sun, sea, and stress. And I think they are both commoners.
Third, Oliver is in Plymouth drydock while his ship, the Tireless, is being repaired. He stays at Gran Massie’s inn because of Lord Ratliff, but has a reason other than Nana to be in town.
Fourth, Oliver did NOT marry Nana in order to keep her safe, as he had already arranged things to keep her safe financially. He married her because he wanted to.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten those things off my chest, to the important stuff. I must admit to having a soft spot for naval heroes due to Captain Wentworth. Oliver Worthy lives up to that high standard.
There’s a line in Bujold’s Shards of Honor that I love; suspicious of espionage, one character derides the unlikeliness of a middle aged captain as a romantic hero. Many of Carla Kelly’s heroes are the unlikely sort, and Oliver Worthy is one of them. He is only thirty, but that is middle aged for a man of his profession. Oliver is an even more unlikely hero when you consider that he had determined to never marry as a midshipman, not because he had a lady in every port but because of the risk of leaving a widow.
The book opens with Nana trying to scrounge business for her Gran’s inn, which is located off the beaten path in Plymouth. Times are hard, and they are on the verge of starvation. Captain Worthy pilots his damaged frigate into Plymouth harbor in order to put her in drydock and have serious repairs done. Upon reporting to the Lords of the Admiralty, he is charged with checking on Nana Massie. The illegitimate child of Lord Ratliff, she rejected his efforts on her behalf and he is worried about her…or so he tells Captain Worthy. So Captain Worthy returns to Plymouth to oversee repairs to his ship, and stays at the Massies’ inn, which is rather run down and empty. As Nana and Oliver interact during his stay, they fall in love. Nana, the bastard of a sailor, knows that naval men are not to be trusted; Oliver, an honorable man, knows that there is no future for Nana with him. And sooner rather than later, the Tireless is repaired and Oliver returns to the sea.
There is much more to the plot than that, of course, but I don’t want to spoil the story. Suffice it to say that there is adventure, including a spy, a press gang, and a hostage taking in Spain. Everything ends well for Nana and her captain, though. (Ends well to the extent that the reader sees their HEA; what may befall them in the future is left open — Oliver is a naval captain in the Napoleonic Wars, after all.)
The characters in Marrying the Hero feel very realistic, much more so than the characters often found in traditional regencies or european historicals. The vulnerability of an illegitimate child is seldom touched upon in romance novels; not so here. The same with poverty. The long travel times, so miraculously abbreviated in most novels, are not abrogated here. The very real risks of naval life, along with the horrendous food, lack of clean water, and cleanliness, all part and parcel of the story; more rareties in genre romance.
Kelly has a knack for showing her characters’ physical attraction to one another and their sexuality without being graphic or vulgar. Her love scenes are tender, earthy and hot, but also brief and modest.
My only quibble about the book, if any, is the uber evil and cowardice of the Bad Guy. He just seems…too sleazy and oily, in a way that makes me (as a reader) wonder why none of the other characters noticed his sleaze sooner.
Still, the book is a keeper. My first keeper for 2009.
Available as an ebook and in paper format from eHarlequin.com. An excerpt can be accessed here.
Afterthought: Kelly books usually contain easter eggs, glimpses of characters from earlier books. Very small glimpses, such as the hero of One Good Turn buying seeds from the Waterloo Seed Company (owned by the hero and heroine of The Lady’s Companion. I didn’t catch any in MTC…unless I missed a captain? Kelly has written a couple of other naval heroes (Captain Sir Daniel Spark of Miss Whittier Makes a List and Captain William Summers of Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season).