Monday, May 25, 2015

REVIEW: The Likelihood of Lucy by Jenny Holiday
The Likelihood of Lucy by Jenny Holiday
Publication Year: May 26, 2015
Genre: Romance, Historical (Regency Era Britain)
Series: Regency Reformers #2
Awards: NA
Format: Thanks to Entangled Publishing for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book (via NetGalley).  My review reflects my honest opinion of and experience with the book and was not influenced by receiving the book for free from the publisher. 
Narrator: NA

Time for another trip back in time to hobnob, dally or perhaps even court ruination in the grand houses and ballrooms of Regency Era England.  I admit I'm a bit addicted to the experience and when reading romance, rarely stray very far from this fascinating era of eligible Dukes and rakish Earls.  Because I visit it on such a regular basis, I much appreciate when a creative and unique approach is taken and that is just what Jenny Holiday has done with her Regency Reformers series of which this book is the second.  Holiday's heroines are a rare commodity in the England of the early 19th  century - they are political activists.   I really loved the first book in the series, The Miss Mirren Mission, whose heroine was an activist opposing slavery. 

In The Likelihood of Lucy, Lucy Greenleaf is a devotee of Mary Wollstonecraft.  Wollstonecraft lived in the late 1700s and was an advocate for women's rights.  Lucy worships her and has decided that marriage is a terrible idea because both of Wollstonecraft's husband/lovers ended up betraying Mary or her legacy.  When we meet Lucy she is in the process of losing her position as governess to two girls because her male aristocratic employer does not appreciate the radical things Lucy has been teaching them.  She is forced to flee and ends up having to knock on the door of her childhood friend, Trevor Bailey.

Trevor played a secondary role in The Miss Mirren Mission as the second in command to Britain's spymaster, The Earl of Blackstone.  Unlike his friend the Earl, however, Trevor is a self made man who spent his childhood with Lucy in the poverty stricken Seven Dials area of London.  He was Lucy's protector in those days, helping her to escape her fate and get an education before pulling himself out of the gutter and becoming a successful businessman.  He is in the process of opening London's first "modern", luxury hotel when Lucy shows up at his door. 

The conflict between the two is interesting.  They are instantly attracted to one another once they meet again as adults but Lucy is protective of her independence and self-sufficiency and Trevor has some serious self-worth issues.  He seems not to realize that he's not the same con-artist boy who had to steal to eat and he thinks, rather infuriatingly, that he knows what's best for Lucy without asking her what she might think about it.  Despite his resolve to not saddle Lucy with his miserable self, they have occasional interludes of smooching and ...ahem... other things, that Lucy enjoys immensely but to which he reacts with guilt and self-loathing for touching her and by hiding in his apartment for days on end.

Needless to say its an interesting set up and relationship.  They are both pretty emotionally dysfunctional and immature which lead to some frustration on my part but is likely quite understandable considering their childhood.  I liked Lucy quite a lot.  She's very self-sufficient and independent.  One nice touch to her character is that she likes to take on self-improvement projects to teach herself a new skill - like baking, flower arranging or learning to speak Danish.  She does it as a means to keep her mind lively and stretch herself.  She denies her feelings for Trevor because she thinks marriage will lead to betrayal and the loss of her self.  Understandable concerns for that era in time. 

So what did I think?  I liked it, particularly the character of Lucy and the exploration of women's rights during that period of English history.  The secondary plot, a series of murders that appear to be politically motivated, is less prominent and integral than the plot in The Miss Mirren Mission but it adds some forward momentum and establishes how Trevor and Lucy have changed since childhood.

On the slightly negative side, the relationship was just okay for me.  I enjoy that the two main characters are outside the aristocracy which is unusual for this subgenre and I do think they make a good pair.  I also really like the friends to lovers trope but it did not work completely for me here for a couple of reasons.  Because of Trevor's penchant for hiding from Lucy, it honestly felt like they did not interact very much and I thought the book struggled a bit to create the tension needed between the two.  There were a lot of threads in the book - Trevor and Lucy's tragic childhood, the serial murders that needed investigating, the opening of the hotel and what that means for Trevor, Lucy's former employer being unable to let go of his contempt for her, an alternative suitor for Lucy and women's rights in the Regency Era PLUS Trevor and Lucy falling in love.  It was perhaps a little too much to cram in there and it felt like the romance got pushed a little too far into the background at times.  Not a problem, of course, if this wasn't meant to be a romance novel but because it is, I wanted the focus to be more heavily on the couple falling in love.  It also seems to me that the friends to lovers trope can be tricky to pull off because it must be harder to create the romantic tension and conflict needed between two people who already know each other well.  My personal preference is to want the story to start at the beginning of the friendship, even if it goes back to childhood, which likely would have required a much longer book! The book flashes back to key moments in Trevor and Lucy's childhood but we don't really get to see them become friends, we are just told that they are.

FINAL VERDICT:  Overall, I like the premise of this series and think this is a good continuation.  Lucy is a unique heroine without falling too far outside believability as a Regency era lady and I enjoy the focus on two characters outside of the aristocracy.    3 out of 5 stars.

So what about you?  Do you enjoy a friends to lovers story and where in that story do you like things to begin?  What do you think works best in this scenario?

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