After two excellent five-star reads, it’s safe to say Jenni Fletcher has become a favourite romance author – An Unconvential Countess is her newest book, and the start of a new series set in Bath!
Book: An Unconventional Countess by Jenni Fletcher
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.
I was initially tempted to this one not just because of Jenni’s name on it, but also because it’s set in a biscuit shop! There’s little better than an afternoon curled up with a good historical romance, a cup of tea, and some biscuits, so it just sounded perfect. Add well-drawn characters, a believable connection between the hero and heroine, a quiet but compelling plot… well, it’s the ideal Sunday afternoon read!
The reluctant earl(/duke/marquess) is a fairly common character in Regency romance, and so is the practical, no-nonsense woman who eschews high society in order to focus on her own goals; however, I’ve never seen them paired together before, and they work very well together here! I think that they are helped enormously by the depth of character they’re given; Samuel isn’t scared of the responsibility of inheriting, he just had a different life planned, being totally at home in the navy, and Anna isn’t following a dream with her baking so much as she’s avoiding the rejection she fears if she tries anything else. Both characters have such complex feelings about their families and childhoods and their changing statuses, and it’s so interesting to see how these inform the way they interact with the world and each other.
As I mentioned above, the plot is far from high-octane, but that’s exactly what I want in a romance! The central plot elements are Anna’s reconciliation with her estranged family, and Samuel’s acceptance of his possible new role as an earl, depending on the sex of the previous earl’s unborn child – these quieter, personal stakes allow plenty of space for both of them to grow. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are also some hard looks at feminist issues of the day – though we may be less concerned about propriety and chaperones now, the naivety of Anna’s young friend Henrietta in the face of a dashing rake feels very true to today, as does the plotline centring around the pregnancy of the previous Countess. Her body and her unborn child are intensely scrutinised and discussed by others, and she is totally helpless to take back her privacy – sound familiar? None of this is heavy-handed, but it’s great to see some acknowledgement that women’s issues have not necessarily changed all that much in 200 years.
One thing I adored about this book is that there was no huge, dramatic declaration of love – as fun as it is to see characters suddenly be struck by the power of their emotions sometimes, it wouldn’t have suited either Samuel or Anna. Instead, they approach the subject in their typical calm and practical way, and I thought it was utterly perfect for them. They aren’t any less passionate for it, don’t get me wrong! But they take their feelings in their stride – less a sudden realisation that you can’t live without one another, and more that natural, subtle change where you realise you don’t want to. It felt very true to both real life, and to these sensible people. While I do love some dramatic romance, my favourite thing is when I can see that a couple have a strong foundation in friendship and good communication – that gives me way more confidence that their Happily Ever After will actually be Ever After.
My single caveat about this book? Make sure you have some biscuits on hand, because it will make you hungry. Otherwise, tuck in and enjoy! Five out of five cats.