Publication Date: July 24, 2020
About the Author: USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.
Gossip swirls around the countryside village of Shepton Worthy when Beryl Burnham finally returns from an extended stay in Paris. Dressed in couture dresses by her generous aunt and engaged to Sir Henry, the lord of the local manor, Beryl has nothing but happiness looming in her future. What then could have made a young woman stay away from home for close to a year? (Or was it nine months?) And why is it that she continues to mope about? What could she possibly be running from? And why is it that the only person who seems to understand is Sir Henry’s younger brother, the curate?
Mark Rivenhall never yearned to enter the Church, but his compassionate nature makes him a sympathetic friend and a wonderful counselor. When he sees Beryl back in Shepton Worthy, he can barely hide the beating of his heart under his black cassock. Still, it’s impossible to be more than a friend to her–older brother Henry has made clear his claim on her. Concealing his affections, Mark determines to find a way to support Beryl in her melancholy, not to “fix” her as so many others seem determined to do, and the first step on his plan is to give the woman a dog…
This short but perfect novella has an understated hero that is nothing like the alpha males of most romances. Mark Rivenhall is thoughtful, kind, restrained, and yes, romantic. His sincerity and empathy contrast with his brother Henry’s callous and calculating nature (and yet Henry is a well-rounded character despite that, as so many of Mimi Matthews’ secondary characters are). Mark is the man you rarely meet in the pages of a historical novel, but also the man that you would actually want beside you “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.” In short, Mark Rivenhall, Victorian curate, is the man real romances are made of. Recommended.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
BOOK CLUB / DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
- Beryl’s sudden departure from Shepton Worthy occasions all sorts of gossip when she returns. How does she meet the gossip “head on” in order to salvage her reputation? Is her strategy a prudent one?
- Beryl’s family has never understood the extent or nature of her melancholy. Why is it difficult for those who don’t suffer from depression to understand how it affects others?
- How does Sir Henry’s grief over his brother Jack’s death affect his relationship with Beryl? How does it affect his relationship with his one remaining brother, Mark?
- What is Sir Henry’s plan to “fix” Beryl’s melancholic condition? How is Mark’s response to Beryl’s condition different than Sir Henry’s?
- Why does Mark arrange things so that Beryl can have a dog (Ernest)?
- What convinces Beryl to break off the engagement with Henry?
- At the beginning of the story, Mark has made a sacrifice for his brother Henry, and later in the story we see Beryl make a sacrifice for her sister Winnifred. What were those sacrifices, and were both of the sacrifices wise to make?
- What is the significance of the gemstone that Mark gives Beryl at the end of the story?