2010, European Historical Romance (1819 England)
Leisure, $6.99, 310 pages, Amazon ASIN 0843963352
Not infrequently, I find myself reading debut novels with heart. However, finding a brand new author who writes a first novel that not only has life, but also beautiful writing, charming characters, and attention to the small details happens far less often. In for a Penny is just such a book, and I adored it.
The aristocratic Lord Nevinstoke meets awkward brewery heiress Penelope Brown at a ball and, even though as a Cit she is not his social equal, she makes an impression on him. Shortly thereafter, Nev inherits his father's estate and finds everything in shambles. Though reportedly an affable man, Nev's father had no head for finances (or much of anything else, quite frankly) and the family finds itself drowning in debt.
Faced with the option of basically selling his beloved sister in marriage to a repulsive neighbor, Nev decides to sacrifice himself instead. He rather rashly goes out to call on Penelope's family and when her father allows him to address her, Penny just as unexpectedly agrees to the match. And there the fun begins as we see the young couple build a relationship, as well as trying to set Nev's rundown family estate to rights.
The initial meetings between Nev and Penny are cringe-inducing. This is definitely not perfect relationship at first sight material. The two have grown up in different worlds with different sets of expectations and it shows - painfully. However, each has a good sense of humor and this shared ability to see the funny side of situations bridges a lot of gaps. While there are definitely some miscues in communication and jumping to conclusions between these two, they are at least willing to try to speak openly with one another and that leads to some great scenes between the two.
The book has some cute, funny moments, but one of its great charms lies in seeing how two very different people fall in love and figure out how they complement each other. And they really do. Penny is very intelligent, kindhearted, and has good business sense, but she's not the most graceful in social situations and she doesn't understand country ways. Nev, on the other hand, has a certain amount of sense and plenty of good intentions, but he's no financial wizard. He never learned much about business or managing an estate and, while not a rake, his life in London before marriage does have a certain immature quality that I would call "Regency frat boy." However, Nev is also softhearted, knows his tenants, and has an almost innate talent for putting those around him at ease. They're a good team.
As I mentioned before, Nev and Penny's relationship does feature a certain amount of miscommunication, but given their personalities, it feels natural rather than forced. Even more importantly, each time these two work through a snag, it brings them closer together. I could really believe in their love story. The love scenes between the two are quite passionate, and their relationship also feels believable because the author pays attention to the small details. Nev and Penny may make love ardently, but Nev is also very protective of Penny in the face of those who would insult her, and he does small things to try to put her at her ease and make her happy. For her part, Penny has a strong personality which comes through very well, and it's easy to see what she has that Nev loves about her because she's definitely an individual and not simply a generic, interchangeable sort of heroine.
The tone of the story also bears mentioning because it works really well. The book has a cover quote comparing the style to both Austen and Dickens and this struck me as apt. The bright dialogue and way in which the couple relates to one another did remind me at times of a throwback, if not to Austen, then at least to some of the better Regency trads (except with steamy love scenes). However, the manner in which the book deals with the grinding poverty and social problems of the day did remind me very much of Dickens or Hardy. It may sound like an odd combination, but it works very well.
The shared desire to create a life for themselves and also to improve the lot of their tenants adds a certain gravity to the love story. Readers may quibble with certain aspects of the plotting toward the end of this book, but the strong characterizations and wonderful tone made me love In for a Penny and consider it a treasure.
-- Lynn Spencer
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