My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Franz was a lovely Christian-themed romance with a great storyline. This was my first book by the author and with her beautiful writing, I have to say she had me hooked since page 1.
Must admit that I know almost next to nothing about the American Revolutionary war (1775-1783) but I learned quite a bit here. Laura Frantz’s soft and unpretentious storytelling was so superbly merged in with the narratives of American Revolutionary War that History felt a part of this story as much as the characters. General (later the First President of USA) George Washington was just as much a character in the story as much was our war hero, Seamus. To me, this only proved the author’s writing skill.
But first I’d like start with how our hero and our heroine, Sophie met. Sophie’s father’s estate Three Chimneys is a neighboring to Seamus’s Tall Acre. It was apparent that she’d known him for a while. Seamus is tall, muscular, easy to look upon and Sophie had been smitten with him from an early age. Needless to say, Seamus, though always a gentleman, never noticed her. They were close in age but Seamus, the only son, had to take up on the responsibility of Tall Acre. He also joined the army and had succeeded. He got married quite young with a beautiful girl, which was quite the passionate affair. Then he had a daughter that almost killed Anne, his wife. But thanks to Sophie and her mother, both survived. It was that day that Sophie fell in love with Seamus. The whole affair, Seamus’s tension, the baby’s coming, his relief and love for his family may have altered something in her irrevocably. She couldn’t help it when he stood there, holding his hours old daughter, Lily Cate, in his arms, a glow of pride showing on his weary but handsome face. I bet Sophie wanted to be the mistress of Tall Acre then and there. Though she’d never feel jealous of Anne, she definitely despaired of the fact that Seamus Michael Ogilvy would never be hers.
But as fate would have it, Sophie would get her heart’s wish, even if it took quite a few years...
After Lily Cate’s birth, Seamus was made aware by the doctor that Lily Cate was to be his only issue because Anne may never have anymore children. He knew their marital intimacy had come to an end, but was reluctant to share this bad news with her. The war was raging (the flashback is set around 1778), Seamus went away right after when an urgent summon came. Then, he didn’t even have any time because he was away more often than not. You can only guess that he didn’t even have the chance to come home and visit but Seamus vowed to be faithful to Anne no matter what.
Back to Sophie whose luck, it seemed, would forever be at the edge of dejection and poverty. She was once plump and plain (even Seamus saw her like that back then); today, she’s still plain though the war had taken away her plumpness. Her father, a staunch Tory due to his own Scottish birth, up and left Sophie and her mother at the first sign of trouble. He hadn’t been seen or heard from ever since, though Sophie had come to learn that he’d been living lavishly in Scotland, his family in the America can go to hell. Her brother Curtis, their only hope, joined the army. He hasn’t been in contact for a while either. Sophie’s mother ran their gradually dilapidating estate frugally with whatever meager amount she earned with her midwifery skill. Even then, because to her father’s sins, Sophie and her mother suffered many humiliation over the years; most especially when the war ended. Sophie had never supported Tory ideas but that didn’t stop her neighbors from hurling insults at her whenever they felt like it. When her mother died a few yrs. ago, Sophie found herself stuck in a tight spot. How will she and her 2 elderly servants survive this way? No one would give her work and meager funds were running out. Her only hope was that Curtis will return someday to take up his rightful place and turn their fortune around. But after years of not hearing a single peep from him, Sophie didn’t know if she should abandon hope. She didn’t even know if he was dead or alive.
In the meantime, Tall Acre was running solely on the help of the servants and the efficient estate manager. The mistress and the daughter had moved back in with her sister in a more posh area called Williamsburg. Anne had never made it a secret that she disliked the country life. Sophie had no clue as to what was going on until one day, when she was in the surrounding woods desperately hunting for any type of food supply and came face to face with a little girl who had Seamus written all over her face. Sophie knew that instant it was Lily Cate and from her quiet chat, also that the master of Tall Acre had returned. She learns that Mistress Ogilvy has passed away some years ago.
While they chat, Sophie becomes more than enchanted with Lily Cate and her cute face and cuter lady-like behavior. At barely 6, she was already on the way to becoming a little lady herself! But most of all, Sophie begins feeling that familiar flutter around the crevices of her heart. It seems that the organ still leaps at the thought of seeing the Master of Tall Acre once again! On that short scene, they form a bond that proves to be stronger than anything. Lily Cate desperately needed a motherly influence in her life and Sophie with her smiles and kindness, won her over on spot. Because she’d never known her father until very recently, a father who proved to be quite distant too, Lily Cate starved for affection and her little heart recognized right away that the one thing Sophie could give in abundance was love.
It was mainly Lily Cate who brings Seamus and Sophie together. Lily Cate would insist on seeing Sophie under various pretenses, which her father would reluctantly oblige. That reluctance though, over time, becomes an eagerness that Seamus starts sharing with his daughter. It was because of Sophie that both father and daughter begin to form the attachment they lacked due to Seamus’ prolonged absence. Lily Cate was gradually forgetting her fear and awe. She even starts calling Seamus from ‘sir’ to ‘Papa’. Seamus, also, was gradually getting to know his little daughter’s moods and whimsies. Each day brought them new fun and adventures, all thanks to Sophie, who by that time couldn’t think of ever having to stop seeing the occupants of Tall Acre. In midst of it all, rumors abound; now that Seamus is back, he’s looking for a bride. Every time Sophie heard of it, she’d die a little but she can’t hope for Seamus to actually see her anything but a friend and a loving, calming influence on Lily Cate.
In the meantime, Anne’s relatives, her sister Catherine and his husband, with whom Lily Cate was living before Seamus’ return, begins to create trouble to get her back. They wanted Lily Cate at all cost, their ruse of wanting to ‘take care of her’; one, because they were childless, two, they deemed Seamus neglectful (because he was away fighting a war!). But enough time has passed for the father and the daughter to renew their bond to an extent where Lily Cate wouldn’t leave her papa and Sophie for anything and Seamus wouldn’t let her out of his sight, most especially when she begins complaining about a man loitering about their property, staring at her window at night. Seamus knew in his gut that it has to be Anne’s relatives’ doings but he won’t give up so easily.
One day, on a visit to Tall Acre, Sophie discovers something in the room she was staying. It was Anne’s when she was alive. A diary that held some pretty compelling information; secrets Anne may have never told anyone. Needless to say, Sophie is aghast by the contents. A dilemma begins warring within her. Should she burn it to save Seamus from more heartache? But he had every right to know Anne’s true character! Not knowing what to do, Sophie takes the diary to finish it, just to know the extent of Anne treachery during Seamus’ absent. She already knew that as the mistress Anne wasn’t popular due to her temper tantrums and addiction to absinthe. In addition to her dislike of Tall Acre, she demanded that everybody gave into her whims absolutely. She also had no interest of being a mother, leaving Lily Cate to her nurse, Myrtilla, a now-freed slave employed at Seamus’ estate. Myrtilla was absolutely loyal to Seamus and she plays a vital role in the end when he needed the help to extricate himself from a bad scandal.
As the unspoken war between Seamus and Anne’s relatives remained on, he decides that he’d marry. Catherine’s husband, a lawyer himself, had pointed out the fact of Seamus’ unmarried state, which means he’s not suitable to keep Lily Cate as she had no motherly influence in her life, or so to speak. And who better for the role than Sophie? Seamus held her in esteem, liked her a lot... and if he looked inside his heart, he’d find that he may have formed a deeper affection for her than ‘just friend’. But Seamus is too reluctant to walk down that path in fear of getting burned once again even though he knew by now that Sophie is nothing like Anne in her subtle beauty and grace. She has to be the best thing that happened to both him and his daughter in a long while. Maybe in all their lives.
Needless to say, even though Lily Cate remained the main reason behind his proposal, Seamus wanted Sophie even before he knew it was true. He wanted her by his side, craved her attentions, her loyalty and trust. Only he didn’t know or even imagined that Sophie would give him anything he asked for. Not knowing her true feelings for him, Seamus remains a little reluctant. When a junior officer of his wanted to court Sophie, she clumsily told him her affections are engaged elsewhere. Upon hearing this bit of news, Seamus was rather surprised. It didn’t cross his mind that she may have a beau somewhere though he couldn’t come up with a name or a face to go with it. Seamus was already jealous of the man for wanting to court Sophie, this news rather struck him hard as I believe he knew he was smitten. This made him even more reluctant open up his heart. On his inquiry, Sophie tells him the truth, only she doesn’t explain the man in question is himself.
This whole scenario creates a big misunderstanding and quite a bit of tension between them. Sophie agrees to Seamus’ proposal on spot, which wasn’t surprising. But she also, previously, told Seamus that the man she loves doesn’t love her. She feels inadequate in different ways so doesn’t divulge the truth to him for a while. Even though the marriage is a happy ceremony, with Lily Cate in seventh haven (she did want Sophie as her mother, even made her wish known to Seamus :)), that misunderstanding stands between them. Seamus keeps thinking that Sophie loves someone else, while Sophie remained positive that Seamus would never love her back. Sophie wanted to consummate but Seamus couldn’t get over the fact that that she’s in love with someone else. Ah........ *sigh*
But no matter what, trouble is never far away from the Ogilvy family. Lily Cate’s relatives demand a visit, bearing down with a court order and Seamus is forced to take her to visit her aunt and uncle. Neither he nor Sophie liked this new development but they had no other options. Then, after a few days, she goes missing. Neither Catherine nor her husband could supply Seamus with any information as to her whereabouts. Seamus is overcome with guilt, grief and sorrow just as much as Sophie yet he starts pushing her away, completely shutting himself in. It just broke my heart to see Sophie hurt. She wanted to help, wanted to conform him but Seamus won’t let her. There as this aura, the mood, all told Sophie she’s unwanted. TBH, I hated it completely, the way Seamus was so neglectful of Sophie’s feelings for a long time.
Lily Cate remains missing for months, but neither Seamus nor Sophie would give up hope. Then one day, as if the burden of Lily Cate’s disappearance wasn’t enough, Sophie had to witness Seamus take a fall from his horse which shakes her to the core yet once again. It was a minor injury; nonetheless she unburdens the truth of her feelings, surprising Seamus completely. This does resolve their differences and all the misunderstandings. After months of being wed, at last they consummate their marriage. Now here is the thing. I knew this was going to a clean read (Christian themed storyline). I didn’t mind it because the story was pretty engaging and nothing here felt too preachy to irritate me. But I didn’t expect this to be so squeaky clean either! Unrequited love has to be one of my most favorite themes, and I absolutely loved Sophie. Seamus could be a dunderhead at times and frustrating too but he was a good man. It took him some times to come to fess up about his feelings but when it did, he didn’t hold back. But I wish there was a little depiction of their intimacy. I mean, if it was going to be so clean, why keep giving us the visuals of Seamus’ hot bod?! :-s No offense to anyone who loves clean read, and sex is not always so important to me in a story as long as it’s good but intimacy can be depicted without being explicit. This was one of the things that bugged me. I don’t think it was the author’s fault, just that I had anticipated this to happen between Sophie and Seamus for so long that it felt I was missing something when there was not even a fade-to-black mention of anything. :(
Back to the story... Just when Seamus and Sophie seem to take comfort in each-other while they wait for more news of Lily Cate even if the waiting seemed unbearable, trouble comes to pay a call at Seamus’ house. As if the past roused from the dead quite literally! Seamus was out, away to gather more news of Lily Cate, and so, said ‘trouble’ found Sophie, alone at home except for the servants, rendering her speechless. This whole thing put a big dent on Sophie-Seamus’ marriage, shattering their happiness yet once again. Even though Lily Cate was found, unharmed and well, only missing her mama and papa, it seemed providence was testing their faith in themselves as well as in their marriage. The bitter new development leaves Seamus in despair, Sophie completely heartbroken. And despite the fact that she soon discovers she’s with child, Sophie leaves Tall Acre for Three Chimneys, which was thriving at that point thanks to Seamus’ generosity, to avoid further scandal.
I felt for these two so very much. Seamus needed a little peace in his life after he’d been through so much. Sophie had already been abandoned by her own family when her mother passed. Before her marriage to Seamus, she’d had a letter from her errant brother Curtis, who turned tail to be with their father in Scotland leaving her alone, with a half-hearted invitation to join them there. But Sophie had no interest in it. She was an American citizen in heart and mind, more so now that she’d married a war hero. Her war hero. Yet now, though in the eyes of God, she considers herself Seamus Ogilvy’s wife, each day Sophie becomes despaired of the fact that the law may have a different saying. And even though she despised the thought of going to Scotland, she begins considering it seriously. This maybe her only chance of surviving the heartache, the ensuing scandal and to be able to raise her child without too big a blemish on his/her reputation. Sophie simply doesn’t know what to do but she knows being away from Seamus would be the most painful thing she’d have to suffer if it comes down to that.
When all seemed lost, as I mentioned earlier, Myrtilla comes to the rescue at the last minute, restoring Seamus’ faith. He and Sophie are bestowed with another chance to make a new life together, to celebrate with their friends and family. To eagerly wait for the newest addition of the Ogilvy family too!
All in all, The Mistress of Tall Acre was a beautifully heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, read. Every scene featuring Lily Cate and her interactions with her mama and papa were a treat! If you’re a fan of clean romances you’ll definitely enjoy this story. For me, I’m going to hunt down the author’s backlist for more goodies. 4.25 stars.