My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
The latest Carla Kelly that I read, Miss Whittier Makes A List, was one of those I was finishing up from her “Miss” series. Well, there’s no series titled like that but she’s got quite a few older Regency romances having titles with a “Miss this or that does this or that” (if this even makes any sense to anyone ;P). *facepalm* Sooo, I liked how it was, the storyline, the characters too. However, not as mind-blowing as I had hoped it would be after reading the first few chapters. As a result, it took me a while to finish it because I wasn’t sure what to write in my review or how to structure it; my feelings were that ambivalent. I don’t want anyone to dislike the story, but there are things that need to be mentioned.
Miss Whittier Makes A List isn’t a badly written novel. Not at all! I mean I keep saying this, and it’s true. I love Ms. Kelly’s writing and I loved most of her backlist thus far. This one begins with a h with a little different background. Hannah is a Quaker, a background not often explored in the arena of HR that I generally read. But even though she’s meant to be lived under strict rules of the ‘type’ of Christianity they followed, Hannah was anything but meek and biddable. Oh she gives that impression quite well, but inside Hannah something... different. Something preferably more exciting. Things that she won’t even acknowledge to herself, let alone to anyone else among her Quaker Friends. I mean, they don’t even call each-other anything but ‘thee’ and ‘thy’. :/
But, though, she had a different future as a biddable daughter, then wife, planned out for her, Hannah’s life will be turned completely upside down on her first voyage to the ocean in a ship called Molly Claridge. She was called away to Charleston, to help one of her brother’s wife who was about to give birth to her niece or nephew. However, on the way, an English ship called Dissuade waylays them. They were looking for deserters, or people who jumped ships; left His Majesties Royal Navy’s fabulous ships to work in a much friendlier environment. They often sought work on American ships. The captain of the ship was quite rude and remarkably arrogant. Not only does he claim the few men he recognized as Englishmen, but also takes the son of the Captain of Molly Claridge, Adam. Hannah knew the Captain’s family and Adam was her childhood friend. One she had often dreamt of being married to as they were of the same age. It was well known that people who were forced to work on English ships wouldn’t often return home, which got Hannah worried.
But this Daniel Spark, the Captain of Dissuade was a type of man Hannah had never met in her life. Well, one of her older brothers, Matthew, is sea bound being a whale hunter. But he’s nothing like Captain Spark, who stood as straight and tall as he was, oozing command from every pore of his body, his stance and his intense gaze. Hannah couldn’t stop looking at his curly dark hair, though quite arresting but not-so-classically handsome face which weathered quite a bit from years of wind and the sun. But the most hypnotic was his light colored eyes that glowed from that darker face. He didn’t seem to smile much, even then Hannah was quite struck by him. I’d say, totally dizzy by him on spot. But when they’re taking away Adam, knowing how much it’s gonna hurt his family, Hannah can’t stop but protest. When everyone around stood there with bated breath, knowing something bad may happen to Hannah, his face splits into something called a smile. Then he kisses her thoroughly and sails away, hinting they’d meet again. I thought that scene was super HOT! I mean WOW! If only Hannah was a little older than 17, It’d be legit scorching IMO.
Captain Daniel Spark was every bit of the man who liked showing off what he owned; his rank and his capabilities to hold up that position. For which he worked hard since he was a boy. He was around 30, almost retiring age for a man who has been at sea since 10 or 12 yrs. old. He’s also the second son of a peer but he hated being in England with his dysfunctional family. There was nothing exciting there for him to stay more than a few weeks in every few years. In the years he’d been worked super hard, and climbed ranks, Daniel has seen and heard horrible things. It shaped everything about him and his life until now. He’s very commanding, expecting to be obeyed. He’s extremely serious about his job and did a splendid one too by running Dissuade like a well-oiled machine. His subordinates respected him. I’d go as far as to say most of them were very fond and proud of their Captain.
When Daniel saw Hannah, he liked her instantly. She wasn’t extremely attractive or anything but she wasn’t too plain looking either. In his dreary life, she seemed like the much needed breath of fresh air. The innocence that was lost to him and his mates a long time ago. He had hoped to see her again, not knowing it’d happen quite soon. A few days later, they rescue Hannah, dehydrated and on the verge death, on a floating crate. Apparently the French ship he’d alerted the Captain of Molly Claridge about, done its deed. It was obvious that the Captain chose not to take his advice. It was also apparent that by sheer luck, Hannah was the only one alive.
The next few days, Daniel spends time taking care of Hannah who was also severely sunburned. And in this long voyage, where Dissuade was already England-bound, would be the most exciting, excruciating, yet the most exhilarating months of Hannah’s life. Probably the adventure she’d sought unknowingly all her life. She’d learn the life in a ship first hand, where no other woman was allowed in. She’d learn to become a ‘mate’ herself, living and dressing like one as that was the most convenient and she’d lost all her possession in the shipwreck. She’d learn the ‘vocabulary’ of a sailor, words her mother would faint if she ever heard herself, and would often be joked around by the sailors as the ‘shark chum’. She’d learn to oakum, to climb the rigging to spy for other ships. She’d earn the trust and affection of the sailors whom she would’ve thought perfectly unmanageable beasts otherwise. She’d also experience gruesome deaths when Dissuade is attacked, witnessing unimaginable pain and suffering on a surgeon’s table as the ship’s only doctor Andrew Lansing needed help. And Hannah would help no matter how horrible and unpalatable it was.
But most of all, Hannah would find herself falling for a light-eyed Captain who took life too seriously. Hannah couldn’t blame him anymore seeing what she’d seen, knowing he’d experienced it thousands of times worse than her. She’d come to realize that she was the one Daniel wanted to have close, because she brought those sudden whisper of smiles on his face. While still on board of Molly Claridge, Hannah made a list of ‘virtues’ in a would-be husband when she was sheltered and didn’t know anything of the world. She was bored, and ironically, was thinking of the ‘rude Captain’ when she made the list. Daniel later found it and read it, which remains a joke between them. However, now Hannah knew better. By now she knew that life works in the most mysterious of ways. Daniel Spark would’ve failed miserably to capture her interest if she had to go by virtue of that list. After all, she made that list thinking how unsuitable he was as a ‘husband material’. Now she couldn’t imagine being with anyone else but him.
That’s not it though. At one point, no thanks to an enemy ship, there’s also another shipwreck and Dissuade is lost to them, alongside many of their trusty mates. As they’re deserted in another enemy country and more adventures for Hannah; some good, other not so much as Daniel is arrested, then beaten to bloody pulp. By then, they’d sort of managed to acknowledge their feelings for each-other, knowing they’d marry as soon as they’re in England. Hannah had made peace with the fact that she may not be seeing her family again. At least, not anytime soon. Things do go wrong when Daniel is send to England separately. Hannah knew nothing of it as she and Adam were waiting to aboard an American ship.
But somehow, with Daniel’s remaining crew, they manage to escape, sadly with the sacrifice of their doctor Lansing. Hannah also meets the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, who helps her and Adam to get to England. There were some funny scenes here, as Hannah still as innocent as ever, asks the Great Wellington to cut his toe nails often so his socks stay in better shape. :P In England, Hannah proves her mettle by helping Daniel out of a court marshal. Daniel was over the moon when reunited by his beloved. He takes her straight to his home, planning a wedding ASAP.
In England, life would be different for Hannah. Much more different than her quaint life in Nantucket. So far away from her family to live in an enemy country to be with the man she loved. She often questioned herself, could she do it? But one look at Daniel’s smiling face and his eagerness to love her, Hannah knew she’d remain in England for the rest of her life as long as she can be Daniel’s wife, bear his children and grow old with him. IF she can grow old with him because Daniel would not give up his duty for his country. The war with Nepoleon was still raging, and that was Daniel’s first priority. Even before Hannah, as he’d made it quite clear to her. Hannah won’t come between him and his duty. Still, Hannah persevered, knowing she can’t blame him for choosing his country over her. After all, wasn’t his integrity one of those things that drew her to him? What if it means she maybe a widow long before her time? Hannah was trained to be a biddable wife and she’d be the best wife Daniel would ever have.
But then, suddenly one day, after planning his latest voyage, Daniel changes his mind. He refuses to marry Hannah and breaks off the engagement before going away to serve his King and his country. That has to be one of the most difficult moments of Hannah’s life because he refused to acknowledge his feelings any longer. He wanted her gone to America but without any explanation as to why. ‘What now Hannah?’ was all she could ask herself. She’d be ship-bound to sail to America in a few days but would she be able to live with a broken heart? Could she forget her errant Captain and move on?
Fear not, there is a HEA for us despondent readers. I enjoyed reading Hannah’s superb adventures of life that taught her so many things; things she never thought to ever experience in her sheltered life.
Now I’d like to point out the things that bugged me the most, and why Miss Whittier Makes A List couldn’t make it more than a 3.5 stars, even though I LOVED many aspects in this story. By all means, it could’ve been 5 stars for me. But, sadly, it wasn’t.
# The first and foremost would be Hannah and Daniel’s age difference. Don’t get me wrong though. Generally in the historical romance perspective, I’m quite okay with a h of 17 who has a 12yrs. age difference with the H. After all, that was quite common in those days. I’ve read stories like that and enjoyed thoroughly. And if the h is older and matured, then a 12yrs age difference with a much older H isn’t a problem at all. In here, I loved Hannah for her innocence, her fresh outlook of life. Her curiosity and a deep abiding need to experience ‘life’ in it’s full glory even when she was scared. It was all great, but she’d have been better paired with someone like Adam or even that sailor in his early 20s that she came to like in the story. Daniel was simply too experienced of life, too matured for her. She was just not of his league. Which is why I constantly felt she had little to no idea of what she exactly wanted in her life. She was always confused and hesitant, sometimes weepy as well. She didn’t know what to do with the love of this much older, experienced man until she sort of got used to with the idea of being with him. I don’t blame her for it but it was just... wrong in so many levels.
# Which brings me to my second issue. Because of how I saw Daniel, I never felt their pairing was correct. He could’ve been a better big brother to Hannah than her beau. He basically treated her as a child until he realized that’s not gonna help with the already palpable attraction. Even though I never questioned the affection between them, the chemistry was thoroughly missing. I refused to even imagine anything between them for reasons I already explained above. It was not because of their age difference, but because they were not meant to be a couple anyway IMO. A more matured lady, who knew what she wanted and went after it, was needed to be Daniel’s equal. I adored him and this simply made me weep in frustration. :(
And so, even though I loved the story, I was very disappointed in the Romance part. I’d still recommend it if you’re into clean romance and would like to read a sweeping tale of adventure as long as the above doesn’t bug you as much as it has bugged me.