The Blurb: No more drinking. No more gambling. And definitely no more mistress. Now that he's inherited a mountain of debts and responsibility, Lord Nevinstoke has no choice but to start acting respectable. Especially if he wants to find a wife-better yet, a rich wife. Penelope Brown, a manufacturing heiress, seems the perfect choice. She's pretty, rational, ladylike, and looking for a marriage based on companionship and mutual esteem. But when they actually get to Nev's family estate, all the respectability and reason in the world won't be enough to deal with tenants on the edge of revolt, a menacing neighbor, and Nev's family's propensity for scandal. Overwhelmed but determined to set things right, Nev and Penelope have no one to turn to but each other. And to their surprise, that just might be enough.
Bouquets: Have you ever, in bright sunshine put on sunglasses and felt your eyes sigh in pleasure? Have you sat down in a comfy chair at the end of a busy day and felt your very bones sigh in relief? Sometimes, when I am very fortunate (because, sadly it is not as common as I would like), I pick up a book and after only a page or 2, I heave a happy sigh - in dual relief and anticipated delight because I know, I just KNOW that I have found a book which will please me from start to finish and I can just settle in to enjoy the experience. This, for me, was one of those books. At the foot of page 1 (page 1!!) is this:-
"Lady Ambersleigh did not look delighted when the three young men were announced. Nev tried to avoid the eye of a young matron on whose new settee he had accidentally upended a punch bowl the month before, and that of an earl from whose son Percy had won almost two hundred pounds at piquet the week before, and that of a lady whom - oh, hell, he tried not to meet anyone's eye."And that was when I knew. The tone, the humour, even the sentence structure pleased me. So, I did a mental happy dance and settled on in.
In For A Penny is not just the title and a play on the name of the heroine. The theme of "all or nothing" (or, "in for a penny, in for a pound") appears time and time again throught he book; there is Nev who starts off being a very likeable profligate - his life is drinking and playing and very little else. Then, after his father dies (a father who gambled excessively and very badly, another "all or nothing"), he decides to change - he gives up drinking, his mistress and his friends and throws himself completely into saving the estate. Penny's response to Nev's proposal surprises even her but she throws herself into it wholly. She also spends much of the time wholeheartedly showing to all that she is a "lady" (even though she is a Cit and she believes that makes her "lady-ness" (huh, I made up a word) fake). Even Sir Jasper, on the neighbouring estate, is totally uncompromising as to the rights of landholders vs. the citizenry. And, through the book, Nev and Penny and many of the secondary characters too, learn where compromise is appropriate (ie, where it doesn't have to be "all or nothing") and where it is not - Nev relaxes enough to enjoy a brandy occasionally, knowing that it won't mean he'll suddenly become a drunken, gambling, wastrel; he suggests compromise between the rioting tenants and himself as landholder but he loves Penny wholeheartedly, holding nothing back. And, although it is, I think, less obvious, over the course of the book Penny becomes more accepting of her origins and comfortable in her own skin.
I enjoyed the secondary characters too. I really liked Penny's parents; I felt for Nev's friends when he dropped them like a hot potato because they were too frivolous for his new life; I felt for the tenants who were struggling with their lot. Even Sir Jasper had a backstory which made his "villainy" somewhat understandable. I say somewhat because he was, by the end, crazy 8 bonkers (I don't think that's giving anything away to mention).
I started reading romance at about age 12 and I pretty much believed what I'd read about deflowering virgins in the books I'd read. Then I was educated (I'm looking at you Kalen Hughes!). Now, reading a "deflowering" (ugh, what a word!) scene getting it wrong wrong wrong makes me cringe. This is one of the very few novels I've come across where the position of the maidenhead was correct - Thank you, thank you, thank you! And, even Nev knew it! Hooray! In fact, the love scenes were all realistic, sexy and romantic at the same time and I don't see that all that often either.
"Love isn't a game. Living with someone, being married to her - that's work, Louisa. It's trying to be what she needs even if it doesn't come naturally, and struggling to understand her and working together to make a life! It's accepting that sometimes things aren't perfect. It's understanding that sometimes one of you has responsibilities that have to come first and knowing that she understands that too!"
If I were to have a quibble, it would be that I didn't have much sympathy with Penny's fears over her lack of aristocratic background. I identified more strongly with Nev. That Penny considered for the longest time that Nev could not love her because she was a Cit, especially when she had such loving parents herself, strained a bit for me. Nev never treated her as less than ladylike despite her fears. But, that could be a product of my modern upbringing. I certainly understood it was a concern, I just thought the self-flagellation dragged a little towards the end. But, as quibbles go, that's not much.
I enjoyed this excellent book very much and will be watching out for future titles by this author. Just thinking about it gives me that happy sigh....