June 5, 2014
No more wire hangers... in stereo.
Sweet Disorder is the first in the Lively St. Lemeston series by author Rose Lerner. Let me say this about Ms. Lerner - this is her third book and I have to say that all of her books are unique
The story revolves around our heroine, Phoebe, a strong woman who is struggling to survive in her small two room attic dump. She is barely making a living writing stories for young girls. She also helps her brother-in-law turn out the local Whig newspaper, the same paper that she and her late husband published. Yes, Phoebe is a widow living on her own away from her horrible mother and sixteen year-old sister Helen. Phoebe has a variety of heroine-guilt-ridden problems. The last year of her marriage wasn't the best and she doesn't ever want to get married again. She is still going through some trauma involving the miscarriage of her child and she feels guilty for leaving her sister behind to live with their you-can't-do-anything-right-you're-too-fat mother. Yes, Phoebe has a weight problem, or she perceives herself as having one. I was actually happy with Phoebe's physical appearance; too many times in romance novels the heroine is supposedly too skinny, which in our modern minds translates as a perfect size 1. (A short rant: I've never understand how mostly women authors continue to encourage the myth of skinny women in their novels. In most cases it takes a whole lot of horrible food and non-eating for a woman to maintain a body that looks like a starving model. I think continuing the idea that the perfect weight is a thin size 1 to 4 only encourages false hope in young girls and eventually a lack of self-worth in a lot of women.)
Back to Phoebe. While Phoebe may have some self-worth issues and has the beginnings of martyrdom written all over her, she also has something both the Whigs and Tories want - her vote, or I should say her father's votes. You see, she's living in a time period where women didn't vote, but she does hold her father's vote in "trust" and she can bestow it on her future husband to use. And that's why both the Whigs and the Tories want her - they need her vote for a very close election.
Enter our hero, Nick. Nick is the second son of an Earl - yes, an aristocrat, but you don't really notice. You might say his family is involved in politics - really involved. In fact, everyone but Nick lives, breathes, and eats politics. And now we turn to the other horrible mother in the book, Nick's mama. Politics is her life, her passion! It comes first with her, even before her own children. Because of this, her three sons have grown up trying to please her, trying to earn just a little of that love she so lavishly gives to the political world. And, this is why Nick finds himself in Lively St. Lemeston playing matchmaker. His mother has picked out a Whig husband for Phoebe. You see, Nick's youngest brother Tony is running in that county and they need Phoebe's vote (or Phoebe's father's vote), which would be passed to Phoebe's husband, because only a man can vote. Anyway, when Nick meets Phoebe and his mother's choice of husbands, Mr. Moon the baker, he knows that these two aren't a match. Besides that, he is attracted to Phoebe right from the beginning, but because he must prove himself to his mother he tries to overcome the feeling Phoebe creates in him.
There is so much going on in this book. Nick not only has feeling of inadequacy because of his mother, but he also was injured in the war and is depressed because this injury is making him feel less than a man. However, it's really not the injury but something much deeper, which is slowly revealed to us. So, we have an angst hero and an angst heroine. And, if that's isn't angsty enough, Phoebe's sixteen-year-old sister is kicked out of her mother's house because she's pregnant and won't name the father. So then Phoebe decides to sacrifice herself on the altar of matrimony by choosing either the Whig baker Mr. Moon or the sanctimonious Tory suitor Mr. Fairclough. There are also numerous secondary characters - all of them fully developed and all just as angst-filled as Nick and Phoebe. About halfway through this book I had to stop and make a note to myself about all the horrible - depressing people in the story. There are not a lot of laughs, so have that piece of chocolate cake nearby.
I am not giving this story as high as a rating as I wanted to in the beginning. The story started to drag in the middle and without giving too much away, I was disappointed that Nick and Phoebe seemed to be more forgiving at the very end of the story than I felt they should have been.
This is not the typical Regency romance most readers may be familiar with. It is not a light fluffy story, it does not contain ballrooms, spies, dukes, chase scenes, kidnappings or murderers. This story is filled with characters that are vividly real with everyday problems. And, those everyday problems are very complex in their simplicity. Sweet Disorder is a fully-developed story of a small town and the people who live there and a couple who fight their way to a happy ending. This is a darker, grittier romance novel and may not be everyone’s cup of tea - but it is one that should be read.
Time/Place: Regency England