Friday, March 24, 2017

The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller, 2017

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Pride, prejudice and forgiveness...
Hampton Hall's new owner has the villagers of St. Hampton Heath all aflutter--all except Lavinia Ellison. The reverend's daughter cares for those who are poor and sick, and the seventh Earl of Hawkesbury definitely does not meet that criteria. His refusal to take his responsibilities seriously, or even darken the door of the church, leave her convinced he is as arrogant and reckless as his brother--his brother who stole the most important person in Lavinia's world.

Nicholas Stamford is shadowed by guilt: his own, his brother's, the legacy of war. A perfunctory visit to this dreary part of Gloucestershire wasn't supposed to engage his heart, or his mind. Challenged by Miss Ellison's fascinating blend of Bluestocking opinions, hoydenish behavior, and angelic voice, he finds the impossible becoming possible--he begins to care. But Lavinia's aloof manner, society's opposition and his ancestral obligations prove most frustrating, until scandal forces them to get along.

Can Lavinia and Nicholas look beyond painful pasts and present prejudice to see their future? And what will happen when Lavinia learns a family secret that alters everything she's ever known?

(304 pages)

Meh. This is a very forgettable Christian romance book that tries not very successfully to be a Jane Austen novel with "Christian morals" (i.e. lots of moralizing) squished in around the edges. It certainly got in the Christian parts, but got nowhere near the wittiness of Jane Austen.

I'm sorry, is that too harsh? To be honest, I didn't hate the book–I enjoyed reading such a complete escapist story set in Regency-era England. Some of the back-and-forth between Lavinia and Nicholas really is quite clever, and once I stop implicitly comparing the book to Pride & Prejudice I can enjoy it for what it is. The story had a lot of elements I like in old-timey stories–wealthy settings, hatred turn to romance, outspoken females–and I enjoyed reading them.

The book's two main errors, though, are taking things too far and being too obvious about it. Lavinia isn't just outspoken: she's a downright feminist, and she spends her days devoted to caring for the poor. These are both excellent traits, but they are also slightly annoying (she is way too perfect!) and are very unrealistic for her time. There's a constant tension between Lavinia and the very backward way everyone else approaches wealth, class structure, etc. I would have liked to see some evidence that Lavinia was a product of her own time, that her egalitarian tendencies weren't just some convenient flash of inspiration from God, and that she had given a little more thought to why her beliefs about social decorum were so different from everyone else's. I liked Nicholas more than I did Lavinia, though, and seeing him gradually move to her way of thinking (after originally being very prim and proper about what women could and couldn't do!) felt more realistic.

Everything is very melodramatic in The Elusive Miss Elison. Lavinia and Nicholas are constantly accidentally hurting each other's feelings, and their "hearts start pining for each other" from the first time they're separated–despite the fact that at that point they've only ever snapped meanly at each other, and Nicholas's brother literally killed Lavinia's mother when she was a little girl. Lavinia gets past that way too easily, in my opinion. You can forgive someone without falling in love with them, you know? And the plot twists themselves are straight out of a soap opera: Lavinia falls hopelessly ill with the influenza and winds up spending months being taken care of in Nicholas's elaborate house. She moves to London to visit some conveniently-discovered estranged family members, learns all sorts of juicy secrets about her past (that her aunt decided to wait twenty-three years to tell her about, because reasons), and so on and so forth. It's fun to read, sure, but it's also cringe-worthy in how cliche everything is. And don't even get me started on the fakey-happy way everyone's always talking about religion; I may be a Christian, but I don't start randomly talking about the Bible with casual acquaintances like that–and I certainly don't start giving religious advice when they may or may not be Christians themselves. Telling someone to pray about their worries, or to ask God for help, is not always a socially appropriate thing to do.

All in all, I spent a few pleasurable hours with Miss Ellison but I've certainly read better books in its genre. In fact, excuse me, I feel the urge to re-read Pride & Prejudice coming over me . . .

Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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