Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Love and Lavendar by Josi S. Kilpack

Love and Lavender

The books in the Proper Romance series are some of my favorites!

Let’s begin with the summary:

Hazel Stillman is a woman of rare independence and limited opportunities. Born with a clubbed foot, she was sent away as a child and, knowing her disability means a marriage is unlikely, she devoted herself to scholarship and education.

Now working as a teacher in an elite private girls’ school, she is content with the way her story has unfolded. When her uncle Elliott Mayfield presents her with the prospect of a substantial inheritance if she marries, Hazel is offended. What kind of decent man would marry for her money? Besides, she loves her freedom as a professional, respected woman. When she hears rumors of the school possibly being sold, however, she knows she must consider all her options.

Duncan Penhale has a brilliant mind and thrives on order and process. He does not expect to marry because he likes his solitary life, shared only with his beloved cat. When Elliott Mayfield, his guardian’s brother, presents him with an inheritance if he marries a woman of social standing, Duncan finds it intrusive. However, with the inheritance, he could purchase the building in which he works and run his own firm. It would take an impressive and intellectual woman to understand and love him, quirks and all.

Hazel and Duncan believe they have found a solution to both of their problems: marry one another, receive their inheritances, and then part ways to enjoy their individual paths. But when Uncle Mayfield stipulates that they must live together as husband and wife for one year before receiving their inheritances, Hazel and Duncan reluctantly agree. Over time, their marriage of convenience becomes much more appealing than they had anticipated. At the end of the full year, will they go their separate ways or could an unlikely marriage have found unsuspecting love?

And now, my review:

Such an interesting and unusual story! The romance is a subtle slow burn, but it is worth the journey.

We have some epistolary elements, but it's not 100 percenta nice balance. And I highlighted some instances of great prose.

Each of our main characters has a central limitation, a handicap of sorts. Hers is physical, affecting her mobility. It also affects her belief that she could one day marry. Who’s going to want an imperfect woman? I loved that she was entrepreneurial, highly intelligent, a leader in her circle. She’s resourceful, independent, competent, and struggling. We root for her.

Our hero’s special needs, though unnamed, were fascinating. At times they were so relatable, at others I could understand other characters’ frustration with him. But to him, he was perfectly comfortable thinking and living as he had done. Incredibly intelligent, he learns from everything and everyone around him. He demands routines and feels safest within them. The author skillfully expressed his undiagnosed condition. This historical setting doesn’t lend itself to diagnoses of Asperger's or autism. I felt she handled this element very, very well.

The characters meet at their place of need and intelligence. They can discuss challenging topics together. I liked how this author subtly tackled gender limitations for a modern audience. I.e., our heroine is a top teacher, highly intelligent, capable of intense conversations, surpassing the intelligence of male peers. That approach in historicals is satisfying for today’s audience. There's also the element of helping other females rise through education as well. 

Each of the MCs is either able to overlook the other’s limitation or work with it. What used to be a deal breaker no longer stands in the way, but love is still out of the question.

I liked the arranged-marriage, fake-relationship, and marriage-of-convenience tropes. I enjoyed the unusual characters and their limitations. I found the autistic element interesting and well portrayed.

The whole novel is getting them to see themselves differently, to reconsider what’s possible, to dare to redefine themselves, their world, their perspective. Using their outward limitations to mirror this is a fascinating approach, and one that may have readers rethinking their own assumptions and self-imposed limitations.