The Gentleman of Holly Street by Lotte R. James – A story of a self made man and a determined woman

The Gentleman of Holly Street by Lotte R. James

Many romance novels set in the early nineteenth century involve lords and ladies, dukes and aristocrats generally. This book by Lotte James is different, more difficult to predict, because it involves people who have had to build themselves, and their businesses, institutions, from nothing, or at least very little. This is a novel in which the main characters, the determined Freddie Walton and the mysterious Philomena Nichols, work hard and try hard to ensure what they do contributes to the greater good. For Freddie it is a business that not only succeeds and grows, but also recognises the need for moral standards in not exploiting the workers and suppliers. This is almost a contemporary concern for readers, in my opinion, in the twenty first century; luxurious and desirable goods should not mean that those who work hard on them should suffer. Mena – Philomena – is also incredibly aware that there are those denied the basics of life, even though they have worked hard or shown bravery in many ways.

Both Freddie and Mena have pasts that are filled with difficult memories, that if given full reign would stop them in their tracks. They have come together to work hard along parallel lines, living in the same building, coming together to make a business that will support not only themselves but all those willing to work with them. They are friends, but not lovers, partners only in a complementary working and living sense. Both are frightened that if they take a step too far, express their feelings, they will lose the other forever. Thus, a delicate tension is established between them and as they begin to achieve their goals either with or without the other’s knowledge and support, they both know that they must let the other know what is going on, but know that in doing so they run the risk of effectively letting the other go forever. When danger threatens it may be a release, but it may also wreck the delicate balance that they have achieved.

From Freddie’s discovery of Mena at the beginning of the novel throughout their parallel thoughts and concerns, James manages to construct a lovely and convincing picture of their lives, of the approach of Christmas which may mean mutual revelations, of how they work so hard to make a difference, of how they quietly work to achieve their aims. James’ descriptions of how they are interested in small details, Freddie’s of his successful business, Mena of the books that will spread knowledge and joy for others, shows a great depth of research and understanding which is never too obvious. There is also a genuine attraction which is brilliantly expressed. The plot is well constructed, with the careful hints of what both protagonists have endured, and the power of the past to affect the future. While Mena fears that she has needed and continues to want Freddie’s protection, she has nevertheless achieved so much both known and unknown.

I really enjoyed getting to know Freddie as a gentleman of Holly Street, of Mena as a strong person in her own right, and the romance that goes far beyond the normal story of the success of the Season or orthodox relationships. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book, and I recommend it as a seasonal romance with a twist.

The Marquess of Yew Park House by Lotte R James – an historical romance with a thoughtful twist

The Marquess of Yew Park House by Lotte R James

As historical romances go, this is a splendidly thoughtful one with some secrets, consistent characters and a wonderful Scottish setting. The Marquess in question, Spencer, is a man of impulses which contrast with his upbringing and society’s expectations. When he encounters the mysterious Genevieve de l’Ormont he is left stunned by the encounter, and the novel has much to say about how they both adjust to another unexpected person in their lives. There is passion, humour and many kinds of discovery. Genevieve has traumatic secrets and a past that has brought out every survival instinct on behalf of her daughter Elizabeth, and her friend Jules. As the novel progresses it becomes clear that Spencer is affected by secrets that are destabilising his life, and that while he has run as far as possible, he will have to return to stern reality eventually. Set on a family estate in Scotland, the lochs, countryside and beautiful formal gardens provide a setting of wonder and attraction for all the characters. This is such a well written book that I found myself drawn into the narrative and relishing the characters’. I enjoyed the dialogue, and the theme of a naughty goat who enjoys eating clothes. This is such an entertaining book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

The book opens in May 1830, as Spencer arrives at his most remote estate, Yew Park House, having departed from London without warning three weeks before, with the bulk of his clothes travelling in the care of Josiah, his devoted valet. He has not visited this estate since his childhood twenty nine years earlier, but such is the lifestyle of the wealthy at the time there is a full staff  to greet him. No one, including his mother, has any idea where he has gone and why he has left in this unprecedented manner. His housekeeper, Mrs. McKenna, seems to be unsettled by his arrival, but that is a question for another day. While exploring his estate, he discovers a girl who is running through the garden, delightedly exploring. She is apparently called Elizabeth, for the figure following her is calling her. The first sight of the woman is memorable, her reaction to discovering her landlord while trespassing in his gardens obviously shocks her. She immediately realises who he is, despite having been assured that he has not visited the area for decades. She assesses whether he will recognise her, and thinks it unlikely, and also recalls that he has not been known for any memorable scandals. They are both attracted to each other, but know that they must return to their lives, him to experiment with following just what he wants to do with his time, while she and Elizabeth return to their modest home and their household concerns. The lure of the gardens proves too much, and a second meeting leads to some acknowledgement of their mutual attraction, and Spencer’s instinctive desire to spend what time he has in the area with the intriguing lady and her daughter. He is still fighting his fears, exaggerated by a discovery in the woods, while Genevieve must cope with her past decisions, and her concerns for her little family’s future. 

This is a passionate and well written book which deals with some interesting themes, not least the treatment of married women at the time. It also identifies the pressure on men to marry for duty rather than love, and accept that their role is limited by expectation even though they may have significant wealth and influence. This is a good read, and I recommend it to fans of historical romance.