This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Iola. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Inspirational Romance category.
A youthful indiscretion has cost Lizzie Poole more than just her honor. After five years living in exile, she’s finally returning home, but she’s still living a secret life. Her best friend, Ria’s dying wish was for Lizzie to assume her identity, return to London, and make amends that Ria herself would never live to make. Bearing a striking resemblance to her friend, and harboring more secrets than ever before, Lizzie embarks on a journey that tempts her reckless heart once again . . .
A committed clergyman, Geoffrey Somerville’s world is upended when he suddenly inherits the title of Lord Somerville. Now he’s invited to every ball and sought after by the matchmaking mothers of London society. Yet the only woman to capture his heart is the one he cannot have: his brother’s young widow, Ria. Duty demands he deny his feelings, but his heart longs for the mysterious beauty.
With both their futures at stake, will Lizzie be able to keep up her façade? Or will she find the strength to share her secret and put her faith in true love?
And here is Iola's review:
Believe it or not, in Victorian England you were permitted to marry your cousin (many of us find that idea repellent, but that could just be that we are thinking of our own male cousins), but you were not permitted to marry the wife of your dead brother (despite the fact that Henry VIII did exactly that. Or possibly because Henry VIII did exactly that, and we all know how that turned out).
So, this is Lizzie’s conundrum. Masquerading as Ria Thornborough, Geoffrey is off-limits. But Lizzie Poole could marry him, except that Lizzie Poole has a history that Geoffrey, an ex-vicar and committed Christian, is unlikely to be able to forgive. And things get even more complicated when ‘Ria’ recognised as Lizzie Poole by a face from her past … and then another. And behind all this is the mystery of Lizzie’s real identity and relationship with Ria. Solving that problem isn’t as easy as she thought, either.
I found both Geoffrey and Lizzie/Ria to be highly likeable characters, and spent most of the novel wondering how they were going to be able to overcome their (assumed) formal relationship. Without wanting to add a spoiler, I think the author managed this well—it might be stretching credibility a bit, but it was believable in the context of the novel. I especially liked the way the author created the romantic tension between the two.
There were strong themes of honesty and forgiveness running through the story, and while this is a Christian novel, the faith elements were understated—perhaps too understated. For example, the blurb describes Geoffrey as a committed clergyman, not a committed Christian (it is to be hoped that a committed Anglican clergyman would be a committed Christian, but Victorian England was a time when the third son of a gentleman was typically destined for the church, personal belief in God not being seen as a prerequisite). Geoffrey came off as a man of deep faith but not an evangelical Christian. This is perfectly in keeping with a Victorian vicar, but (rightly or wrongly) doesn’t fit the mould (excuse the British English spelling) of modern Christian fiction, which is of a decided evangelical persuasion.
An Heiress at Heart was set mostly in Victorian London, and the author appears to have researched the time and location well, particularly around conveying the attitudes and manners of the time. I’m one of those readers who picks up on factual errors, anachronisms and Americanisms, and there were none to speak of in this book. (Excellent. English characters in a novel set in Victorian England have no business sounding like Americans. It’s not like they could pick up the accent off TV or from the movies.)
Will An Heiress At Heart win the RITA®? It’s hard to say. Inspirational Romance is a difficult category, as it pitches short category romances against full-length historical and contemporary romances. This doesn’t seem quite fair: for example, a category romance is going to find it difficult to have the same level of character development as a full-length novel. My thought is that while this was a sound novel, the inspirational aspect was perhaps too understated. The writing was solid but didn’t shine. Will it win? The eventual answer will depend on what the judges are looking for.
Thanks to Jennifer Delamare for providing a free ebook for review.