books

Mimi Matthews

Books

The Lost Letter (2017), The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter (2018), A Holiday By Gaslight (2018), The Work of Art (2019)

Parish Orphans of Devon: The Matrimonial Advertisement (2018), A Modest Independence (2019), A Convenient Fiction (2019), The Winter Companion (2020)



The Lost Letter (2017)

The Lost LetterSet in England in 1860.

Sylvia Stafford now works as a governess. The suicide of her father left her destitute, abandoned by society and her friends. So she is shocked when a young lady appears, asking her to come to the country.

Sebastian Conrad, once a colonel in India, is now back in England, terribly scarred, and the Earl of Radcliffe. He remains on his estates hiding his broken heart and scarred face.

This should have been a favorite–damaged characters are always my catnip–but this entire story just fell flat for me.

Case in point: I didn’t highlight a single passage as I read. Michael sometimes complains that he has trouble turning the pages on kindle books I’ve read, because he keeps accidentally tapping highlighted passages.

This story, however, just lacked. The heroine was beautiful. The hero was scarred and angry. They’d once been in love but believe the other had spurned them. A meddling younger sister wants to bring the two together.

All good things, and yet, it was lacking.

Part of my problem is that the crux of the story was the two moving past their misunderstandings, and that is something that tends not to interest me. I wanted the story of Sebastian learning to move past his scarring and fear of going out in public. But instead all of his inner turmoil was Sylvia. Which is fine, but it felt like the two kept putting obstacles in their own way, while all other issues were glossed over.

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 6/10


The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter (2018)

Set in England in 1861.

Tristan Sinclair, Viscount St. Ashton is a rake bored with his life. Valentine March is a vicar’s daughter, left on her own after the death of her father. When Tristan finds Valentine weeping in the Folly at a house party, he wants to walk away, but discovers not one of the ladies he expected to see but instead a young, ill-dressed ladies companion.

This is a non-boinking book, which I appreciated. It’s also rather short, so be aware of that.

What I particularly liked is that Tristan has to overcome his past. That’s unusual for that time, when it was acceptable for a man to have mistresses, but if a young woman was found alone with a man she was ruined.

I also liked that although Tristan had a terrible reputation, he hadn’t actually been living down to that reputation in the year prior to that book. So Valentine didn’t save him, she just pulled him out of himself.

Also:

What must, under better circumstances, be a rather enviable porcelain complexion was splotchy with weeping and her perfectly proportioned little nose shone red as a beacon.

I also liked that although Tristan was at odds with his father, his father had grounds for being unhappy, and was complex in his own right.

This was a man who’d buried a much-beloved wife. A man who’d seen his youngest son return from fighting in the Crimea, damaged almost beyond repair.

And as I said, he was pretty right about Tristan.

All the things his father had said to him during that excruciating lecture in the library last night were true. His manners were execrable. His language did belong in the gutter. And he had handled Valentine March like a tavern doxy instead of a gently bred vicar’s daughter.

The negative about this story was that the main characters fell in love almost instantly, and never truly got to know each other before their HEA. They did get to know their own selves, but I think they needed more time with each other before I’d really believe a HEA.

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 6.5/10


A Holiday By Gaslight (2018)

A Holiday By GaslightSet in England in 1861.

Sophie Appersett has decided that although Mr Edward Sharpe is handsome as well as wealthy, they do not suit. After months, she still knows nothing about him, other than that he and his best friend made their money in an investment that paid off.

He’s told her nothing about himself, and asked little about her, so she asks to end the courtship.

Unfortuantely, Edward Sharpe isn’t actually disinterested. He just has no idea how to woo a lady. He’s followed all the rules laid down by the Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette but them seem to have led him astray.

Unfortunately, Sophie’s father has been hoping she and her sister Emily will make good matches, for he has plans for continued improvements to their home–even if it seemingly impoverishes the family.

As with other of Mimi Matthews’ books there are no bad guys. There are people making poor choices, and doing things for reasons that might not make sense to others, but are still valid choices. It’s one of the things I particularly like about her stories.

I still, however, don’t like the father. I eventually understand why he behaves as he does, but I don’t like it and I really don’t approve of it.

A little easier to understand were Edward’s parents.

It troubled Ned how readily they assumed they’d have no place in his life once he married. As if he would sacrifice his own mother and father on the altar of social acceptance.

They’re in a strange world, much of which makes no sense to them, yet they want the best for their son, which ends up making things difficult.

Which makes it all-in-all a lovely story. There were surprises, and although there was a bit or moralizing, it was deserved by the person who received it. And it was light and fun and not at all angsty.

“Did you shoot anything this morning?”

He extended his hand to help her up into the sleigh. “Does a tree branch count?”

She smiled, settling her skirts around her as Ned climbed into the sleigh at her side. “So little experience and already as skillful as my father.”

I think what I appreciate most about these stories is they try to match the mores of the time period while not being too distressing to a modern sensibility. Women are chattel here, and do not have rights, yet for all his faults, Sophie’s father is not going to force her to marry someone rich so he can continue his projects.

Also, I loved this cover. It’s beautiful and actually manages to match scenes in the book. Good job!

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 7.5/10


Parish Orphans of Devon


The Matrimonial Advertisement (2018) 

Set in England in 1859.

Helena Reynolds has fled London. She’s in Devon responding to a matrimonial advertisement, but if this doesn’t work, she return to London.

Justin Thornhill was a captain in the British army who served in India, and returned home physically scarred. Raised in an orphanage, he has done everything possible to secure the dreams he had as a child, for himself and for his friends, but he is lonely and alone, and coerced into filing a matrimonial advertisement. He wants a solid spinster–he gets Helena.

Both Helena and Justin have secrets, and each feels that once other discovers those secrets are brought to light, what they have cobbled together will evaporate. They’re both broken in complicated ways.

“I dislike suffering for no purpose. Pain and sacrifice should come to something in the end. It should have meaning.”

Helena nodded slowly, her expression thoughtful. “Yes, it should. But I’m not convinced it ever does. Not really.”

Yet still care deeply about those around them.

She gave him a long, searching look. “Is that why we loathe the place?”

We.

Justin’s chest expanded on an almost painful surge of emotion. He couldn’t tell if it was relief or— worse— if it was gratitude. All she’d said was we. It was hardly a declaration of undying affection, but to him, in that moment, it was everything. “Yes. That’s the reason.”

And Justin is a good person, even if he’s cold and brusque and tries to force people away.

“I owe you everything, Justin.”

He frowned. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “No. That isn’t how any of this works. It isn’t a tabulation of debts and repayments.”

What I found both fascinating and horrifying was how that bad guy of the piece continued to believe that the world owed him–Helena owed him. He refuses to see that he has done anything wrong.

It’s awful, yet it rings unpleasantly true every time he attempts to justify his actions.

This story does go into some dark places, all of which are based on incidents of the time.

The editorial that Mr. Pelham writes for the fictional London Courant is a paraphrased version of an actual editorial which ran in The London Times on August 19, 1858. It addressed abuses in private asylums and revealed, among other disturbing facts, just how often sane people were committed by greedy relatives who were trying to gain control of their money.

Which really makes them all the darker and more horrifying.

But it’s a good story, and I enjoyed it, and I ordered the next in the series, due out next month.

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 7.5/10

A Modest Independence (2019) 

Set in England, Egypt, and India in 1860

Solicitor Tom Finchley has worked his way up from nothing. He craves security, which is why he puts up with a job that often leaves him feeling uncomfortable, since the men he represents aren’t always good people.

Jenny Holloway became a companion for her cousin, to escape her life in a small town, where she was expected to look after her alcoholic father (since she hadn’t married). After her cousin’s marriage, she has received a modest independence, and plans to spend her life traveling, to escape the rules and strictures of society.

“Come. You can’t expect me to believe that you’ve never dreamed of marrying and having a family.”

“And giving up all of my rights? Not only over my money and property, but over my body? No thank you.”

At the end of the previous book, Jenny remained angry with Tom, who didn’t tell her the whole truth about his best friend (and client’s) history and plans. But Justin and Lady Helena know that they care about each other, and so force them to deal with each other.

Because of his history, Tom trusts almost no one.

Even Justin, his best friend and the closest thing he had to a brother, was not privy to all of his secrets. Tom didn’t wish to burden him— or disappoint him.

He also lives his life in a way so as to keep himself secure financially, which keeps him safe in body, but has left him lonely, all but married to his job.

“When a boy spends his childhood never knowing from one day to the next whether he’ll have food to eat or a roof over his head, the prospect of steady work and dependable wages is something to dream about.

Not that Jenny is quick to trust either.

I have only your best interest at heart, you know.”

“Said every man to every woman since the beginning of time.”

Tom and Jenny go to India, to search for Helena’s brother, who was believed killed during an uprising.

This story attempts to be historically accurate, which means that there is a LOT of racism and other awfulness by the British towards the “natives”.

“I don’t believe,” he said, “that one can accurately be called a savage if one is inhabiting one’s own country.”

Mrs. Plank’s smile turned thin. “It is not their country, sir. It is ours.

Aside from the casual racism (historically accurate, as she notes) this is a sweet story, and there is NO BOINKING. It’s a romance, so of course Jenny and Tom are going to end up together, but their desires and needs were so far apart, I didn’t see how they could have their HEAs without having to give up some important part of themselves.

This was actually a concern for me as I was reading, because both of them had beliefs based upon their needs: Tom’s need for financial security and Jenny’s need to see the world and not lose her rights and independence. And they both needed to learn to trust.

The ending reads as if there will be another book in the series, but it was a perfectly satisfactory ending, and if I didn’t get another book, I’d be fine with it.

So an enjoyable story, with lovely characters, and although there was drama, it wasn’t ridiculous drama.

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 8/10

A Convenient Fiction (2019)

Set in England in 1860

Laura Hayes father died three years earlier of the same fever that crippled her brother and left her weakened but also in charge of her family–but with few resources to do so, since their properties were left to be managed by a lawyer–one who has been pushing Laura to sell the lands and properties.

Alex Archer fled England for the continent years ago, and spent his time learning how to become a card sharp and a scoundrel. Now he is using those skills to try and find a landed bride, an the stability he lacked growing up in an orphanage.

I very much enjoyed the first two books in this series. Helena and Justin were complex and complicated, and we got to know both Tom and Jenny in the first book and wanted things to work out for them. In this book, Laura and Alex are new, and Alex in particular is a cypher. We’re told his a chameleon, but I had a hard time really feeling for him, mostly because he’s quest didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. He’s a fortune hunter in search of land and property, but he already has to money to purchase those things.

“Land is the only thing that gives a man a sense of connection. Of meaning. Unless he has it, he never truly belongs anywhere.”

“Is that what you’re searching for? A sense of belonging?”

A lump formed in his throat. She made it sound so simple. As if he might have found it anywhere. “I suppose I am.”

Something in her expression softened. “You don’t want land, Alex. What you’re looking for is a family.”

Great. That’s precisely what he wants! Except he doesn’t really see it.

Also, he doesn’t really make it clear to Laura that he doesn’t need a fortune, that he has enough. We’re supposed to believe he’s a fortune hunter, but in the second part of the book he seems to have plenty of money. Sure, he doesn’t have the antecedents for society, but that’s not really what he wants.

Laura as a little more clear to me. She was struggling to keep her family together and would do anything for her brother and aunt. A little more complicated was her friend Hen, who for most of the book didn’t act at all like a friend. Except at the very end.

I had the feeling that the author didn’t quite know what to do with Alex–how to redeem him from his past. Hen ended up being a far worse person than Alex. Possibly it’s because she hadn’t spent any time with either character to develop them the way Justin and Tom and Helena and Jenny were.

I’m hoping the fourth book is stronger. Especially since the hero is the most damaged of the four men.

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 6/10


The Winter Companion (2020) Mimi Matthews

The Winter CompanionSet in England in 1860

This is the 4th book of The Parish Orphans of Devon series, and about the most complicated of the four men. Neville Cross has spent as much time as possible with animals, rather than people, after the accident that almost killed him, and permanently affected his ability to speak. Animals don’t judge his hesitations, and they calm him down, so why would he want to spend time with humans?

On a good day, the words Neville formed in his mind could be translated into short phrases with minimal difficulty. He’d learned over the years how to keep things from getting muddled. How to say what he intended with the least fuss, even if that meant he must occasionally sound like a child.

Clara Hartwright has taken on a position as lady’s companion to Mrs Bainbridge, aunt to Laura and her new husband–Alex Archer (one of Neville’s old friends). But Clara has inherited an old dog from her previous employer, and as this was an unpleasant surprise to her new employer, she needs to take care of him with as little fuss as possible.

Neville quickly takes to Clara, because of the care she shows for her old dog. Clara is a little more cautious about Neville, who initially seems stand-offish, and she can’t quite figure out his place in the household.

First off, I really dislike Clara’s entire family.

“I say, Clara, you can’t blame Mama and me for believing him over you. How were we to know—”

“Because I told you so.”

Second, I really like Simon, and it was interesting to be in his head. He’s been a side character since the first book, and it was never quite clear how much the fall had damaged his brain. Justin has Neville working for him, but it’s never quite clear precisely what Neville does for Justin and whether the work us out of choice or need. This book quickly clarifies all that.

It’s a good series, and I am glad I enjoyed this final book far more than I did the third.

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 8/10

The Winter Companion (2020)

The Winter CompanionSet in England in 1860

This is the 4th book of The Parish Orphans of Devon series, and about the most complicated of the four men. Neville Cross has spent as much time as possible with animals, rather than people, after the accident that almost killed him, and permanently affected his ability to speak. Animals don’t judge his hesitations, and they calm him down, so why would he want to spend time with humans?

On a good day, the words Neville formed in his mind could be translated into short phrases with minimal difficulty. He’d learned over the years how to keep things from getting muddled. How to say what he intended with the least fuss, even if that meant he must occasionally sound like a child.

Clara Hartwright has taken on a position as lady’s companion to Mrs Bainbridge, aunt to Laura and her new husband–Alex Archer (one of Neville’s old friends). But Clara has inherited an old dog from her previous employer, and as this was an unpleasant surprise to her new employer, she needs to take care of him with as little fuss as possible.

Neville quickly takes to Clara, because of the care she shows for her old dog. Clara is a little more cautious about Neville, who initially seems stand-offish, and she can’t quite figure out his place in the household.

First off, I really dislike Clara’s entire family.

“I say, Clara, you can’t blame Mama and me for believing him over you. How were we to know—”

“Because I told you so.”

Second, I really like Simon, and it was interesting to be in his head. He’s been a side character since the first book, and it was never quite clear how much the fall had damaged his brain. Justin has Neville working for him, but it’s never quite clear precisely what Neville does for Justin and whether the work us out of choice or need. This book quickly clarifies all that.

It’s a good series, and I am glad I enjoyed this final book far more than I did the third.

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 8/10


The Work of Art (2019) 

Set in England in 1814

Phyllida Satterthwaite lived with her grandparents until their death, at which point she was taken to London to live with her uncle, who Had Plans For Her.

both of her cousins immediately perked up, as if they expected Philly to receive the harshest reproof.

Captain Arthur Heywood is a second son who was seriously wounded and has spent the past several years recovering in solitude. He is sent by his father into London to conduct some business, and it is there he meets Philly.

I actually had difficulty starting this story, because I was worried that Uncle Edgar’s plans for Philly would actually take place, and I did not want to read that story. Luckily, Arthur rescues Philly, and the heart of the story is their coming to know each other–and discover just who is behind the threats to Philly.

One of the things I particularly liked about this story was 1) that both characters talked to each other, and 2) that neither’s concerns were overblown. Arthur truly believed that he could accidentally kill Philly, because of what had happened to him during the war, and once he explained this to her, she understood his fears and tried not to make things more difficult for him.

Philly went very still in his arms. “That’s why you were so certain that you might have killed me? Because of what you did to this other man?”

Arthur felt a sinking sensation in his stomach as he looked down at her. “I’ve frightened you.”

“Yes. Perhaps a little. I didn’t believe you when you said you could have harmed me. I thought you were merely distraught. But now…” She was trembling.

Generally in romances, in situations like that, the man is overly worried and the women isn’t worried at all. This story makes it clear that Arthur’s fears were justified, but also that Philly wasn’t wrong to trust him.

And for pure amusement:

“I say, ma’am. ’Tis not safe!” Greene trotted up to join her, his words coming out in gasps as if it were he, and not his horse, who had just ascended the hill. “Uneven ground hereabouts… poachers… sheep!”

This wasn’t completely unreasonable, but it is still funny.

It was a very lovely story, and I quite liked the way the bit of mystery turned out–I hadn’t seen the ending coming at all.

Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Rating: 7.5/10