I really loved the first book in the Regency Belles of Bath series, An Unconventional Countess (review here) so I was thrilled to be offered the chance to review the second book early – and it’s just as delightful!
Book: Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer by Jenni Fletcher
Read before: No
Publication date: 24th December 2020
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Secondary character is an alcoholic; mention of death of spouse/mother; parental neglect/abandonment; brief mentions of violence in war.
The Regency Belles of Bath is a fun and fluffy series set around Belle’s, a wonderful biscuit shop in Bath. In the first book, An Unconventional Countess, Henrietta Gardiner was a naive girl who nearly got into a lot of trouble with a dashing rake; this book may take place only six months later, but she’s done a lot of growing up in that time, thanks to her brush with danger. She’s wary of men and their flirting, which puts her in a bit of a pickle when Sebastian Fortini (brother to our previous heroine, Anna) returns to the biscuit shop for the first time in years, and sparks feelings in her she was hoping to avoid. Sebastian, for his part, is baffled to find out how much has changed in his absence, and feeling rather directionless after leaving the navy, can’t help but be drawn in by the beautiful and kind Henrietta…
As with the previous book, this is a sweet story that sticks to quieter stakes, really allowing the characters to get to know one another and help each other grow. A large part of the plot revolves around Henrietta dealing with her three nephews after her brother, David, who is struggling badly with alcohol after the death of his wife. At first, Sebastian resolves to give her a hand in the shop so she has time to look after the boys, but it’s wonderfully good fun to watch him come up with excuse after excuse to himself to stick around and spend time with her! There really isn’t much more to the plot than that, but that isn’t to say that it’s boring – actually, this is my favourite kind of romance, without the bells and whistles of mysteries or kidnappings or elaborate marital schemes. The characters are more relaxed, and if they’re well-written, which they are here, you get to see exactly what makes them tick and watch them grow into themselves through their interactions with others, rather than their responses to drama. It makes things very cozy and enjoyable – proper Sunday afternoon books.
I loved both Henrietta and Sebastian. They’re both a little bit adrift – not unhappy, but not quite sure that this is where they want to be – and in each other, they find something that helps them to work out how life should feel. After Henrietta’s subplot in An Unconventional Countess, I thought her development here was spot on, as she learns to trust Sebastian; it made perfect sense that she was so averse to flattery and flirting, and I found her matter-of-factness with Sebastian about it very refreshing. For his part, he was the perfect gentleman, but more than that, he really seemed to understand why she was uncomfortable, and go out of his way to make her feel more at ease with him. Jenni’s heroes are just so wonderfully considerate, respectful, and kind – they really are the sort of characters I love to read about. It’s such a treat to read a historical romance where everyone is so emotionally literate and, well, nice!
Normally in a historical romance I’m all about, well, the romance, and I don’t pay too much mind to the subplots, but here I found myself rather touched by the plot involving Henrietta’s nephews. I’ve been struggling a little to adjust to life with a baby, and I read this on a day I was feeling very down, but the love Henrietta has for those boys (and the way their plotline resolves – no spoilers) left me happy-crying and thinking about how much I love mine. It sounds silly, but sometimes it’s nice just to sink into a book filled with good feelings – it can help you get a handle on your own life!
This is a real comfort read and one I can see myself returning to again and again. I’m really excited for the last two books in the series – I saw some hints in this one as to who we’ll be seeing fall in love next and I can’t wait! If you’re in need of a bit of escapism (and who isn’t, at the moment?) then this is definitely one you should preorder and spend Christmas Eve curled up with. Five out of five cats!