The Unlikely Master Genius

The Unlikely Master Genius (St. Brendan Book 1)  - Carla Kelly

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After reading and loving a short story ‘The Christmas Angle’ by Carla Kelly in an anthology, I was anticipating The Unlikely Master Genius, book 1 in the St. Brendan series. The above mentioned short story is kind of a prequel to this one and I enjoyed it so much, I was totally invested in the series already. I mean, who doesn’t like a hero who is a nerd and a genius with a heart of gold? Who is also a gentleman that loves his wife to distraction? However, after reading it can’t say I loved it as much as I thought I would. I’ll try to elaborate as best as I can.

Born in a street behind a church in Scotland, where his supposed mother died right after his birth without even giving him a name, Durable or ‘Able’ Six has come a long way. The name he’s got is the aftermath of becoming a nameless orphan left unclaimed in a workhouse of Dumfries, where his life was everything that was never nice, loving or pleasant. He’d shortened the silly name to Able later in life to give it some semblance of normalcy. After his initial resistance to death–hence he surpassed the first 5 ‘Durables’ and became number Six that lived—Able fought to survive. He fought hunger, abuse at the hand of his so-called teachers but most of all, he fought death to stay alive.

Able joined Navy to escape the workhouse so I doubt he had any big ambition but as Sailing Master Able Six at 26 he’d already climbed the ladder of success when it comes to HRM Navy. At least as far as success is concerned for a total nobody like him. No one ever heard a person becoming a sailing master at the age of 22 but Able had become what no one has been before. Hell, he’s someone so unique that no one probably had seen anyone like him in the past decades, maybe more, and likely won’t see another for a long time to come. Able Six, what you can describe in the simplest terms possible, is a genius. A prodigy if you’d like that word too. Someone with photographic memory. He’d read/see/hear, basically experience anything, and he’d remember every single crisp detail.

Able had known he’s a bit of a genius from a very young age. But he didn’t know that he was exceptional cause there was no one to guide him until he joined the Navy. From there though, his odd talent (if you can say so) had been quickly found out by not only his mates but also the captains of the ships he’d worked on. And the rest, they say, is history. He’d climbed the rank where he never thought he’d ever be—that too at such a young age—had it not been for his brilliant memory and the help from a few good captains who’d taken him under their wings.

We get all that and more in ‘The Christmas Angle’, where we also learned that Able was on half pay from the Navy as a result of the Treaty of Amiens. He has basically been living day to day on whatever meager amount he had in his sad purse until the day a mate of his offered him a job. Of sort. He knew about Able’s brilliance and thought he’d be the perfect man for this particular job. The offer was to teach a few of many children of the Vicar of his parish during the celebratory month of Christmas. It’s also a month when the Vicar was extremely busy so he was unable to do this part of his numerous fatherly responsibilities. The pay was good and he’d also have a place to stay, so Able agrees to this crazy scheme not knowing if he’d even get the job. Unbeknownst to him, fate was planning something for him that’d totally catch Able by surprise; namely meeting the beautiful young woman with whom he’d spend the rest of his life.

Meridee, a self-proclaimed spinster at 24, had given up on marriage a long time ago. Not because she had no interest to but because she had no other options. She’d planned to live out as the ‘fun aunt’ to her rapidly growing line of nieces and nephews. Having so many older sisters robbed Meridee out of the dowry she deserved; hence she knew there won’t a marriage for her. She’s beautiful in her own way and Able was duly smitten because of that. But she was also smart and kind, someone who showed so much genuine interest in him that Able was simply awestruck by it. No decent woman had ever given him that much attention (except if you think of the superficial since he was quite handsome himself). But whatever it was it always ended when they knew of his background.

Meridee and Able’s attraction was instant, their courtship rushed but it ended in marriage despite both never imagining marriage to be a future prospect. Able, because of his background. Also because he thought marriage will only lead to heartbreak, such was his job in the Navy. He knew there’d be war as soon the treaty was over and he’d be on a ship once again fighting for his country. And I already mentioned why Meridee didn’t think she’d ever marry. But they fell for one another and there was no going back.

As we observed Able and Meridee’s adorable courtship, we were also awarded glimpses of Able’s unique way of teaching children. The way he could gain the attention of the most mischievous or the shiest of children and veer them to the right path, teaching them through fun and games. It was a sight of delight. Meridee was already quite taken with Able’s genius mind (among other things ;) ), she also knew instinctively that he’d be a good teacher. A plan hatched to keep him land-bound as long as possible. With the help of two of his staunch champions, Captain Hallowell and Capt. Belvedere St. Anthony, Meridee lands a job for Able at a little known school for the street-rats called St. Brendan. A school the Navy peeps don’t really talk about cause it’s all about training the street rats AKA workhouse boys into able seamen. You know, they needed more and more people as the war raged on and what best way to utilize the ‘free resources’? There were rumors surrounding as to who funded the school—unknown men of upper echelon of the Navy, maybe even the Crown itself—yet no one acknowledged it.

It was the perfect opportunity for Able to stay on land. After marrying Meridee, the sea has ceased to appeal to him. He wanted to live with her, by her side and not die at sea so far away from her and their home. So Able was all game to try this new venture if it meant he could keep Meridee, his love hale and hearty. If it meant they’d have a home of their own and money for future. That’s all Able cared about. Though Meridee also, let’s just say, ‘coaxed’ out a promise from Able’s captains that he won’t be called away if it’s not dire necessity, there was still a chance he must go if the summons arrive. Neither of them was looking forward to it but they won’t let this tarnish their current marital bliss and Able’s own enthusiasm about teaching in a school for the very first time. Who was better than he to teach these children? He, Able, who knew exactly what these so-called ‘street rats’ have been through and had an idea about how to help them. Meridee saw how resourceful her darling was and took pride in everything he did. She was his keeper and his true champion.

If you read the story, you’ll know why Able’s Captains always poked fun at him about gaining a ‘keeper’ as soon as possible. Since his brain didn’t function the way a normal individual’s would, Able’s needed special care. It was always crammed with too many things; thoughts, pictures, books and other experiences, good or bad, he’d had since he never forgot a thing. To say he was always under stress would be an understatement. In the past, there were incidents that had proven to be too much where he’d been knocked senseless for days because of it. There was always a chance he may not wake up from that and it worried everyone who cared for him. Able had several ways of alleviating the stress, the pressure of it by reciting his favorite books with eyes close and trying best to relax; sometimes even chatting with his favorite authors as if they were real. Another way for him was to have sex. We don’t really get a lot of details or mentions of how he handled that side of his life prior to Meridee since it’s a clean romance and he was more often than not on board a ship (I can assure you he had no interest in men). I have a few ideas of my own but.... let’s just say it didn’t really come up until... it did. Over and over again in the story. How so? On that in a bit...

The Unlikely Master Genius pretty much takes off right after ‘The Christmas Angel’. Able and Meridee marry and promptly move to Portsmouth where St. Brendan is situated close to the sea but hidden away through a walkway long forgotten by the people. Well nothing that dramatic but the peeps behind this school didn’t want too much attention coming its way, so they found a place where not many would go to pester the children or the teachers. Thankfully, as Able would find out soon, that despite all the hush-hush the school functioned properly with all the necessary amenities for the boys training there. He was relieved and ecstatic that it was nothing like a workhouse. From the very beginning, Able made a splash, naturally, on the minds of the children as well as the headmaster, Mr. Crocker who was equally relieved to find someone wanting to take the stress of majority of the lesson since they were short of instructors. For obvious reasons they didn’t have many teachers but Able was totally fine with taking on the challenge. He wanted to work with these kids, to show them they too can shine in this world despite the atrocities they must’ve endured and experienced while growing up in different workhouses. Those didn’t vary whether in London or in Dumfries or anywhere else in England.

Meridee also found herself with a job of the House Mother since some of these children needed extra care due to the way they were treated from whence they came. She and Able were given a big house just opposite of the school to live so they had plenty of space to house extra children. She was also more than happy to care for them because 1. She knew what Able went through and it fairly broke her heart that there were more children living under the same condition. Yes, she lived a sheltered life and had little clue of the realities of outside world. 2. Also because she had been around children all her life, was living with the Vicar and her sister who had over 6 children of their own so it was no big deal for her. However, she’d find that these workhouse children were indeed special on their own and they indeed needed extra care; sometimes just to reach out to them so they aren’t scared of being beaten or missing their families so much that they’d cry out at night. Sometimes all it took were a few hugs and the reassurances they previously never had. They needed to know someone cared. After all, they were only children. :(

Now, the story is largely based on Able’s life as a St. Brendan instructor and how he established himself as someone that the boys could look up to. Some even hero-worshipped him and began considering Meridee as their Ma. They formed a lasting bond with many of Able’s pupils including the ones who came to live with them. I really enjoyed that part of the story, all the while trying to figure out Able’s brilliant mind which was no mean feat. But Meridee was ultimately the keeper of everything that was Able. At daytime he was exercising his brilliance on his pupils at St. Brendan and trying to do everything in his power so they became brilliant seamen on their own. He also worried about his pupils, knowing full well they’re going to the sea probably to die, which eat at Able every single day since he had a soft heart. There were simply too much going on in such a short time and Able had to work on relieving the stress. How you ask? Yes, he and Meridee had quite a healthy sex life or so I come to understand from the millions of times the author hinted at it. Like on every other page there was one mention or innuendo to something that referred to them going at it like the bunnies. Well, I certainly would have no problems with that cause they were, after all, newlyweds. Plus they loved each-other madly. And thankfully, Meridee who enjoyed it also knew how it helped her extremely adorable and super genius husband so she was always up for, uh, helping him cope with it.

However I had an issue. Since the book was a clean read, I found the numerous mentions of their sex life quite frustrating, and frankly speaking, extremely annoying. I didn’t need to know the hints of how many times or when and how and whatever they did in bed since the author had no intentions of giving me at least one love scene. So why bother? One strictly clinical mention of sex being one of Able’s coping mechanisms would’ve been enough for me. I didn’t need images swirling around in my head ffs! -_- I adored Meridee and Able enough to have an interest in their sex life. Also because he was so different, I would’ve loved to know the details of how it helped him. What helped him the most. Which position he preferred and why. Yes all of that! I was THAT interested in Able and so I got irritated every time there was a hint or a mention of anything remotely sexual in their relationship cause I knew there won’t be any fulfillment for me as a reader in the end. I’ve read Carla Kelly’s lovescenes, however sparse they are, in her older harlequin historicals and I know she doesn’t need long descriptions to make your toes curl where her heroes are concerned. So yeah, I wasn’t happy about this aspect of the story at all.

Maybe because of that, I found the story quite dragging in the middle of it cause there wasn’t much happening apart from what I mentioned above. I’d say there are some interesting twists in the end, though nothing too dramatic, to tidy it over. But it wasn’t as fulfilling as I thought it’d be. Plus I felt the story ended abruptly, which means the next installment of this series would probably pick up right where it was left off in this one following the tradition of the prequel.

I’m not saying I’m not interested in the series anymore. Quite the opposite actually so I can only hope that book 2 is coming soon, though I’m yet to see any pre-order or even a title. I can’t really hazard a guess if the story would be about Able and Meridee again or center on another couple with them being secondary characters. It can go both ways. There were some very interesting secondary characters in The Unlikely Master Genius including Capt. St. Anthony. I was hoping the author would give us his story since he’d suffered so much in the war. :( Despite my feelings about book 1, I’m eagerly looking forward to the next book cause I need to know what Ms. Kelly has in store for us!

Also highly recommended cause I don’t think what bugged me in this story will bug you. The writing was as excellent as ever, plus you get to read about this highly unusual nerdy hero who is hot in his own way (even if there isn’t any hot scenes). 3.5 stars, wish I could rate it better than this.