I have been in a complete reading slump. I am in the middle of three contemporary romances right now, and while I intend to finish all of them, none of them are holding my attention. Historicals were my first love, and will always be the thing I come back to. But, the more I read, the crankier I get and it just gets harder and harder to please me. I want the author to do something new! Something different that I haven’t seen before. ‘Wow’ me!…BUT, don’t make it too out there. I read romance because I like the tropes and I like knowing what to expect. See? I’m impossible. Or, so it would seem, until I come across a gem like this book. This book was everything I was looking for!
Phoebe Sparks is a widow living in reduced circumstances, but she is getting by on her own. Nick Dymond is the middle son of a politically ambitious family. He is recently home from the war (injured in battle) and his mother pulls him in to help his younger brother’s political campaign. The specific help is that Nick needs to persuade Phoebe to marry a supporter of their political party, rather than someone for their opponent, because through some archaic laws, as a widow of someone who was able to vote, she holds the ability to grant to her new husband the right to vote. (This all seems really wild, but I listened to an interview with the author and she said in her research she came across lots of odd voting laws that are town specific, so I decided to let her run with it). Nick does not want to take on this duty (he has been battling depression since he came home), but he does want his mother to notice and appreciate him. For her part, Phoebe does not want to get remarried at all, but a matter in her personal life comes up that basically leaves her no choice. Of course, rather than falling for the potential political suitors put forward, Phoebe falls for Nick just as much as he falls for her.
There are some details that made this book refreshingly different than the usual fare. Neither of our leads is titled. Woohoo! Nick’s older brother holds a title, and the major issue between them is the class conflict, but it’s not as implausible as a duke and a serving girl. (I’m looking at you Tessa Dare. I like your books, but I don’t visit them for reality). Phoebe is plus sized (as depicted on the cover! Whoa!) and it is not an issue. It affects her relationship with her mother, but it is otherwise not a problem for her or her hero. How lovely! *Trigger warning* Phoebe is still dealing emotionally with a past miscarriage. It does not happen in the book, but it complete defines who she is and the future she wants, and she talks about it in a raw way.
I loved Nick. He is very much a beta hero, so if that’s not your thing you may have a problem with him. Nick is first and foremost a people pleaser. Almost every action he takes is because he thinks it will make someone else happy, and the rest of the time he is fairly passive. He is not a martyr or sacrificing himself for others. It’s more like, he doesn’t know what he wants, and is scared to ask for what he wants, partly in fear that he will not get it. Nick’s journey is learning to speak up for himself and to gain the strength to do some self-examination of what HE really wants. It hurt to read and I loved it. (I completely identified with Nick in a way that I don’t think I have ever identified with a hero (and possibly a heroine) before.)
Phoebe is the sacrificer. She beats herself up whenever she can’t help someone close to her, particularly her younger sister. She even gets upset at herself for being unable to connect with the man Nick is tasked with getting her to marry. She doesn’t owe him anything, but he’s a nice man and they could help each other if only she could get up the gumption to marry him. Both hero and heroine seemed very real to me. The book takes place over a very short time span, and while they connect quickly mentally and emotionally, I appreciated the reserve they showed to really letting themselves be open and vulnerable to another person.
This was definitely a slow burn, which I usually prefer, and this was no exception. Once Phoebe and Nick decide to go after what they want it is both very steamy and very awkward. One of the reasons I picked this one up was because in that aforementioned author interview she described her work as something like ‘political historical fiction with more blow jobs’ (extreme paraphrasing my own – though now I want to go back and relisten to see what she really said), and I thought “I MUST read this!”. There is no question I will be reading her entire catalog.