From the desk of Debbie Brown:
I need “Me” time. Frequently. My husband and I joke about my need for a “Leave Me Alone!” hat as a signal that I am NOT to be disturbed for a while. Anyone else feel this way sometimes? When the worries pile up, you feel the need to go somewhere by yourself, shut all the noise out, and forget about your obligations temporarily. It’s therapeutic. It recharges your batteries.
That’s why the beginning of A Convenient Fiction immediately grabbed my attention. Laura Hayes is hiding away from everything that bothers her. She chooses a rather unorthodox method of escape, especially considering this is Victorian England: she swims below the surface of the pond at Talbot’s Wood, wishing it were the sea, and tries to remain underwater as long as possible without coming up to breathe. “There was nothing of the world underwater. No unmet expectations. No burdens too heavy to carry. Nothing, save herself, and the sound of her own beating heart.”
Then a strange man shows up compelled to “rescue” her.
Okay, Alex Archer thought she was drowning, but he ruined what would otherwise have been a perfectly lovely morning for Miss Hayes. What’s particularly embarrassing is that she’s wearing only her chemise and drawers to swim, leaving the rest of her clothing folded neatly near the banks of the pond. What’s he doing on private property, anyway?
It doesn’t take long for Laura to find out. She meets him later the same day when she joins her friend Henrietta Talbot to serve as a chaperone. Mr. Archer is supposedly a “friend” of George Wright, the ne’er-do-well son of the local vicar who’s been away from home for quite some time. In fact, George’s huge gambling debt to Alex is way over his head. In lieu of payment, George provides the introduction to Henrietta, his childhood friend, who will inherit Squire Talbot’s profitable country estate, Edgington Park, as well as a fortune from her late mother.
Yep, Alex is a bona fide fortune hunter. He has money, but he yearns for property, which is why he arranged to meet and will hopefully marry Henrietta. He’s got the charm and good looks to pull it off successfully. Unfortunately, he finds himself more attracted to Miss Hayes than his potential bride. However, he won’t be dissuaded from his purpose by mere feelings.
Although Laura is suspicious of Alex, protecting Henrietta is the least of her many concerns. Years ago, her family was as wealthy as Henrietta’s. Mr. Hayes owned perfume distilleries, factories, and farms. Unfortunately, he took business risks that backfired. Three years ago, before he had the chance to turn things around, a fever claimed his life. The same illness left Laura’s brother Teddy an invalid. Mr. Weatherwax, her father’s solicitor, is managing the family’s finances until Teddy reaches his majority, which is coming up soon. In the meantime, they are barely making ends meet. Laura’s mother died when she was a young girl, and her aunt Charlotte now lives with them. It’s Laura who bears most of the responsibility of keeping the entire household afloat. She’s apprehensive about an upcoming meeting in London with Mr. Weatherwax, knowing the results are critical to her family’s survival. But that’s only the beginning of her troubles.
Nothing here feels formulaic. It’s a complex plot with complex characters. Alex is described as a chameleon. “What a strange gentleman he was! Both hero and villain, by turns.” Laura is an admirable woman in most respects, but she makes herself a martyr because she presumes no one else can handle things. Her brother Teddy might do more and says he wants to help, but his tendency towards self-pity and pessimism makes Laura believe she must hide bad news from him. Even Henrietta is neither all-good nor all-bad. As Laura tells her friend, “You’re a good person. Generous. Kind. But when it comes to suitors– to possessions–you’re not very nice, Hen. Not to me.” The reader can’t anticipate what any of these people will do because they’re not one-dimensional.
There’s actually more than one “convenient fiction” in this story. Ms. Matthews only releases information about her characters in slow drips, shifting the point of view back and forth between the two protagonists. Early on, it’s clear that Alex is hiding something and impossible to guess exactly what. Laura clearly is overwhelmed, but the full scope of her difficulties isn’t revealed until well into the novel. It’s an effective storytelling device that contributes to its unpredictability.
A Convenient Fiction is the third and most recent of four books in Mimi Matthews’ Parish Orphans of Devon series – the fourth is due to release early in 2020. Each book is centered on one of four men – in this case, Alex Archer – who grew up together in a nightmare of an orphanage. You can read each as a fully stand-alone novel. There’s no cliffhanger here, though I admit that the final pages may leave you feeling like you’ve missed something if you haven’t also read the previous books. If you’re like me, that will only give you the irresistible urge to do so.
5 out of 5 Stars
ADDITIONAL BOOKS IN THE SERIES
READ OUR REVIEWS
- A Convenient Fiction: Parish Orphans of Devon Book 3, by Mimi Matthews
- Perfectly Proper Press (October 22, 2019)
- Trade paperback & eBook (352)
- ISBN: 978-1733056939
- Genre: Historical Romance, Victorian Romance
We received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Autenprose.com is an Amazon Affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Perfectly Proper Press © 2019; text Debbie Brown © 2019, austenprose.com
Hello Dear Readers,
Have you read any of the novels in the Parish Orphans of Devon series or by this author?
If you enjoy historical romance with witty dialogue, engaging plots, endearing characters, and swoon-worthy romance Austenprose highly recommends them.
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Laurel Ann Nattress, editor