I re-read this on March 2018 because I want to read the new novella and wanted to refresh my memory. Have to say that once again I can see why I LOVED this story. I still absolutely adore Mattie and this story.
My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
First of all, I can’t say enough about The Spinster's Secret by Emily Larkin. This book straight up touched my heart, so much so, that I didn’t want it to end! Matilda or Mattie, our heroine was such an amazing heroine. It’s been a while since I laughed, cried, despaired, and felt one with a character to this extent. Edward, our hero, could be a little obtuse, a little bull-headed and while scarred from the ravages of war all over his body, he was adorable in his own way. Every time I read about what he went through, it brought fresh tears in my eyes. I must give my due thanks to Ms. Larkin for writing this wonderful story.
Mattie is a spinster. We all can see that from the title. She’s orphaned, penniless and plain. Now hold on, sounds like one of those overused tropes, right? No, you’re wrong. Mattie is all that, and so much more! She’s one of the most original, amazing and smartest heroines I’ve come across in my years of Romance reading. Even though, at times, I thought she could be a little too accommodating for my liking, Mattie was simply marvelous. Mattie’s parents died when she was about to make her debut and misfortune fell upon like in the form of her elderly uncle Arthur, who took her in. There was no love, no affection and no connection in this bond. Uncle Arthur and her elderly aunt, Lady Marchbank, both are prudes and have extreme views of rights and wrongs. Creed Hall, where Mattie has been staying for the last 10 yrs., reflects the external imagery of what Uncle Arthur is all about; cold, dark and horrible. Uncle Arthur is also a miserly old man, not given to spending on things he deems ‘unnecessary spending’, even if it’s a little more coal to heat up big house made of stone in freezing wintry weather. But Mattie has always been grateful of her uncle’s so-called generosity. She tries to abide by the horrible food (whatever it is, only boiled), horrible living condition, her coarse gray wool dresses and a chapter of sermon reading every freakin’ night after dinner.
So far, Mattie did it all. But inside her, dwells a very different woman; someone who wants to break free, someone rather naughty and open minded. Creed Hall makes Mattie feel suffocated, she has nightmares thinking she might have to live here all her life. And so, as the resourceful woman she is, Mattie has been doing something rather unthinkable for the last couple of months to make some money that’ll make the dream of her independence a reality; writing erotica in secret under a pseudonym, Cherie. Ooh, shocking, isn’t it? A virgin spinster writing erotica! Mattie knows if the words are out, her uncle would kick her out of the house. In this small community, this miserly old man sees himself as the upholder of ‘truth’ and ‘moral’ judgment, so Mattie wouldn’t stand a chance. As I already said, there is no love lost between them. But Mattie is desperate. Since the war with France and the death of her only cousin, Arthur’s son, Toby on the battlefield, things have become a little gloomier. Toby was the total opposite of his father, a jolly young man who could laugh whenever he felt like it and work through whatever life offered him. Mattie liked Toby very much and misses him terribly. He made life bearable whenever he was here, even though he never got along well with his father. Now, Mattie has Cecy, her aunt’s companion, as a friend. And she’s writing each day. One of her school friends, now a married lady in London, is helping her stories published through third party and the money is being stored in the bank on her behalf. Mattie is waiting for that day when she would be out of here. She’d buy a boarding house close to the sea and spend her life quietly but on her own dictates. She’s also determined to take poor Cecy with her if it’s necessary. She doesn’t hope to marry, ever, so it’s for the best.
But then, Edward Kane happens in her life and things are never the same again.
Edward has returned from the war a few months ago, but still, the nightmares don’t leave him. He has PTSD, the death of Toby visiting him, since he died saving Edward. Edward has always blamed himself for the whole of it. As I mentioned earlier that the war left its ravages on Edward; half of his face have sword marks, half of one ear, gone. Half of the fingers of his both hands lost, broken ribs on one side and a leg damaged… along with the marks of numerous cuts and bruises that the bloody war gifted him with. Yes peeps, he’s scarred alright and people always flinch or stare at him shamelessly when they see his face. Toby used to call him a Goliath for his size because Edward is big and very tall. He thinks that his ox-like constitution is what kept him alive after his extensive injury. But what struck Edward the most was the fact that he might’ve become impotent. A few visits to some discreet establishments in France have proven that he can’t have sex anymore. It was amazing that Edward didn’t give up on life after everything. He wasn’t a perfect hero in any way, he mucked along, and yet, I didn’t think he was being callous on purpose. He’s just not good with words and gestures, that’s all.
Edward comes to Creed Hall to return Toby’s things. He has, of course, heard Toby talk about his old man, description sometimes felt so outrageous or extreme that Edward thought Toby joking. But upon reaching the place, he could see that nothing Toby said was actually any joke. Edward couldn’t help think how Toby turned out so different spending a childhood in this place, under a father such as this one. Meeting Arthur Strickland was... tiresome. Edward knew he has to tread lightly where this old man’s concerned. Later the day, he decides to meet his cousin, the one Toby used to talk about, Miss Chapple. When the butler shows him the shabby parlor, he finds two women there; one blonde, petite and very pretty, and the other, an Amazon but of sturdy built and plain looks overall. Edward assumes that the plain one is the aunt’s companion, and so he turns to the pretty woman to give his greetings as Miss Chapple. To his surprise the tall Amazon with voluptuous figure stands up to take his greeting with a warm, polite smile. Edward flushes guiltily by this blunder but there’s nothing to be done about it now.
Mattie doesn’t take offense though. She has read about Edward from Toby’s letters. He is indeed a Goliath as her cousin mentioned. Mattie can see the ravages of war on his face and body but she’s not afraid or disgusted by any of it because Mattie, of all people, knows how it is to be at the receiving end of people’s censure. She knows that she’s too tall, too voluptuous to be called anything close to beautiful. Even her face is rather plain. But the woman inside, wow, she was smart, witty and well-spoken with a beautiful voice. In fact, Mattie’s voice is what attracts Edward first when they were going through the monotonous sermon reading after a terrible meal at night. Her voice is what made it amazingly bearable to him, even though he managed to fall asleep twice in the middle of it. lol
The next day, the incessant rainfall wipes the rickety old bridge away, leaving Edward sort of stranded on Creed Hall, though he has been counting the time when he can leave; which is, the sooner, the better. He would leave if it means making a wide detour to get to London. Edward is feeling horrible here. When he goes to Strickland’s study to give him Toby’s things, an emotional scene follows. It seems like Strickland did love his son. Later, the letters from the whole village is sent back because those were soaked through, thanks to the mail boy. While going through the letters and muttering to himself of numerous complaints about the village and everything around himself, Strickland finds something that he shouldn’t. He screams ‘filth’ after reading a bit of that. Edward takes the notes and reads. It was the latest installment of Cherie’s Confession, the monthly installment that took London gents by storm! Edward knew about it, but he’s more than surprised to find someone writing this here of all places, this Godforsaken little village! Arthur Strickland is bend on finding the culprit and kick him/her out of the village… moral upstanding and all that. He even becomes ill while screaming. Edward doesn’t support his views but somehow he’s persuaded by the emotional moments earlier, and promises to find this Cherie for him.
Edward makes acquaintance of Mattie too. He begins to enjoy their walks and talks; about war, about Toby, about life at Creed Hall. She makes his living a bit more bearable, now that Edward knows he’ll be here for another week or so. He doesn’t tell his business to Mattie, but somehow Mattie becomes suspicious. She didn’t find her writing inside the letter she was sending to her friend, and thought it’s lost somewhere. She already re-wrote and took the mail to the innkeeper herself, as she always does. Mattie becomes a bit uncomfortable, knowing what a disaster it’d be to have her secret revealed! She needs just a little more time before she finishes the collection. Mattie started this venture when she found the diary of a countess who lived here some half a century ago, and was having an affair with her groom. The secret cubby hole in her room was where the diary was hidden. Mattie also found a copy of Fanny Hill in Toby’s room while sorting out his things after his death. And this is how the idea of writing secret confessions of a courtesan sprang in her head. Something shocking that would sell well. But it was a desperate attempt to gain her independence. This venture has helped Mattie so far, she knows she’s earning well via her friend but now... what to do now?
Many a times while writing a sex scene, Mattie would feel lost, not knowing what comes after this and then, she’d consult the diary or Fanny Hill to get some idea. Every ‘now what’ of her thought made me laugh. I couldn’t help shaking my head at the irony of the whole situation. Mattie was also starting to like Edward immensely. His big form and square, scarred face was becoming dearer every day; a ray of light in her dull world. She loved their daily walk and interactions, be it on the hay loft with the kittens, the secret gingerbread eating together or just the simple gestures. I loved how she was, the way she conveyed her thoughts, even her vulnerabilities. She felt trapped but she tried making the best use of her resources. I applauded it. I loved how she’d inquire about Edward’s limp on their walk. It was plain that she was beginning to feel attracted to this man. Even while writing, sometimes Edward’s face would come to her and make her flush with heat.
Another good friend of Edward, Sir Gareth, comes to visit them soon. He is also a veteran of the war and lost one of his arms and his fiancée afterward. No, the fiancée jilted him, not wanting to have a disabled husband. The b*tch!! Gareth is sad, and in pain, but he tries not to show it. Edward and he both miss Toby immensely. Gareth lives in the same bachelor quarters as Edward, so when he wrote to Gareth to bring some of his clothes for his extensive stay and all of Cherie’s confessions published so far, Gareth himself stops by to see what’s going on. More funny scenes follow, when Edward, now a ‘veteran’ of the Creed Hall, tries to alert Gareth of the questionable hospitality of this place. I knew that Gareth would be paired with Cecy the moment they met. She looked a lot like the type of girl Gareth preferred, even his ex-fiancee. This makes Edward a little unhappy. Would he fall for another money grabbing, husband hunting woman? Cecy was a widow, and her first husband died leaving her extremely poor. She had nowhere else to go. But Cecy had a champion in Mattie who loves her as a sister.
Edward’s reading of Cherie’s confessions was a big revelation. And then there was Miss Chapple, too. While reading the confessions, on ‘research purpose’, he couldn’t help the picture Mattie in Cherie’s place. And whenever he did so, seemed like his body was giving the signs; signs he thought he’d lost with the war. Yep, erections! Big revelations indeed! Edward was relieved to find that he hasn’t lost his sexual abilities but what disturbed his thought was that it couldn’t be Mattie he, or rather, his body was attracted to. This must be because he had been celibate for a long while. He liked her alright, but being attracted her seemed... odd (?). When thoughts like that keep poking inside Edward’s head, I felt like kicking his ass. At one point though, he gave up the ruse. There’s no point in denying that he wanted her. Edward also continued on with his investigation though his efforts were in vain so far. He just wanted to be done with it and be gone. Gareth was staying in the inn on Edward’s advice, and he’d laugh about the whole debacle Edward gotten himself into. But Edward couldn’t like the fact that Gareth giving the signs that he’s falling for Cecy. Thinking he’s helping his friend, Edward imparts some information that he gained from Mattie and shouldn’t have repeated. This causes quite a rift between Cecy and Gareth’s blossoming relationship. Mattie makes it clear to Edward that she’s not at all happy about what he did.
Arthur decides to marry Mattie off to this old man, who visits Creed Hall to judge Mattie and her ‘childbearing hips’ because he needed an heir. I could feel why she felt trapped, the way Arthur forced her to acknowledge the old creep, never giving a sh*t about her feelings. When Mattie denies to marry him, Arthur is so mean to her, telling her in so many words that what a piece of nothing she really is. We find him berating Mattie more than once throughout the story. His words made me plain sick. Edward didn’t really do anything. He felt that Mattie needed to be rescued and yet, he wasn’t sure just what he can do to help her.
Meanwhile, Mattie gets words from her publisher. She just sent him a full volume of Cherie’s memoir but it requires one last thing; the lost of Cherie’s virginity. Oh well, I knew something hilarious was coming, and there it was! Mattie’s fruitless venture of writing about how one loses one’s virginity! She had no idea herself, the countess’s diary had no such description other than her detailed affair with the groom. And the description of Fanny Hill gave her the jitters and she pulled faces, dismissing the ‘stream of blood’ as unlikely (trust me I had the same kind of expression on my face reading the excerpts). She seeks Cecy’s help but she is also not very helpful with the details. I had a feeling that something rather different is coming up and Mattie would soon have the means to write this scene. When she was tired of throwing away pages after pages (and you will laugh reading those lines she crossed and made more faces because she had no idea what she was doing lol), Mattie thought of something. Carpe diem, as Toby used to say. Mattie knew she wanted Edward, and one night, she just blurts out that she wants to have sex with him.
YOU GO GIRL!! :p
But this did render our Goliath of a hero speechless for a while. He was dealing with inconvenient erections but now knowing she also wants it, ooh boy! Edward can’t help giving him. He knew this is not a good idea. Mattie isn’t a light skirt and she’s his friend’s cousin. But, things had to happen and they end up having sex that night. I totally loved the sex scenes and Edward’s calling Mattie ‘Venus’ (he has come to think of her as that).
Edward’s search was still fruitless and he thought of visiting Cherie’s publisher and grilling the man for information. Before leaving, however, he blunders big that only didn’t hurt Mattie, but me too. He proposes to her out of nowhere. Mattie knew this proposal didn’t come from his heart but that he felt inclined to marry her because of what happened between them. It was heartbreaking, more so when Edward is honest enough to confess that otherwise he wouldn’t have asked for her hand. I was mad, and very disappointed in him. I want to be mean to him by pointing out some things, but I won’t, only because Edward was very keenly aware of his own blunder. He felt guilty for hurting her and then requests her at least to think of it while he’s gone. When he’s back they can sort it out together. Mattie agrees. She starts missing him, and decides to write him a letter that very day, confessing her secret. She doesn’t know how he’d take it but Mattie couldn’t hold it back anymore without feeling miserable. She was also feeling guilty of hiding it from her Uncle.
One day, Mattie has a chance to talk with Gareth who liked Mattie a lot. She requests him to talk to Cecy, who was heartbroken by Gareth’s withdrawal from her. As they talk, it seemed like they sort out their problems quite easily. I wish there were some scenes from Gareth and Cecy’s POV as a second romance. It would’ve been great IMO!
In London, Edward does some more blundering. At first, he’s not sure he wants to marry Mattie, and visits a brothel. I was feeling kinda sick, thinking what a jerk he’s being to Mattie. It was plain horrible to think after all they’ve shared, and I don’t only mean sex, that he dismissed her like this; not be ‘sure’ of her position in his life! But his body told him, again, that it only wants Mattie. The next, he decides to buy some pretty things for Mattie to woo her. Edward finds out Cherie’s real identity soon enough, and becomes very angry at Mattie. Ok, so yes, she used their first night as the inspiration for Cherie’s virginity losing scene but he had the galls to be angry at her when he was the jerk who thought about shagging some whore because he wasn’t ‘sure’ he wanted her? I mean talk about hypocrisy!! Mattie is such a sweetheart, such a smart and intelligent girl, more so than you Edward!!!!!! This was one of the very few let-down moments for me, because I felt like bawling and screaming and.......... ugh!! He even rushes to Creed Hall the next day to inform Strickland about Cherie’s identity, Mattie can go to hell. Not knowing what’s on Edward’s mind, her face lit up with this huge smile, with her heart shining on her face, only to be punched on the face when she understood that Edward knows. There was nothing but anger in his gaze. So Mattie decides to reveal her ‘shameful’ secret herself, telling everyone present (it was the sermon reading) that she’s Cherie. My love and respect for Mattie only grew after it.
You don’t wanna know her uncle’s abominable behavior towards her and how he went to beat her with his cane!!! I wish Edward was more of a man to break the old man’s arm. Yah, I know I’m mean but I saw it this way; this girl, she didn’t have anyone in her life. Not a single person to rely on, to love and cherish, to hold on to, a shoulder to cry on. She was dreaming that Edward might become someone like that, but Edward disappointed her (and me) in these last chapters and made me horribly sad. These chapters brought tears to my eyes, for Mattie, her heartbreaks and disappointments. Thinking that she didn’t deserve any better since that’s all life has bestowed her with. But Mattie was strong enough to pull herself together and bid Creed Hall goodbye at daybreak, on her own.
I was a bit disappointed that the story skips a little afterwards and ends fast. No, Edward does find her but I wanted to know what happened in between those 3 months. Maybe I was just wishing for a few more chapters because I was in love with this story and Mattie. A big, lovely 5 star. Needless to say that I will be looking forward to EL’s next installments.