This is treat not to be missed: two of Carla Kelly's better Regency novels in one package! Both "Libby's London Merchant" and "Miss Chartley's Guided Tour" are reprints from the late 1980s-early 1990s, but they still make for enjoyable and engaging reading today, as they did then; and are wonderful examples of how a fascinating plot, together with appealing characters, and a pleasing writing style, make for pleasurable reading.
I'm not going to go into the plot of "Libby's London Merchant" too much, because much of the joy that is to be gleaned from this novel is the unexpected twist and turns that this romance takes. Briefly, the plot of this novel centers on the beautiful Miss Elizabeth Ames, who suffers from the twin evils of both possessing undesirable family connections (her maternal grandfather was a tobacconist) and of being quite penniless. Fortunately for Libby, her's is a rather sunny disposition and she is quite content living with her mother and brother on her kindly uncle's estate, helping her mother run her uncle's house, and being a friend and companion to her cousin, Lydia. Interestingly enough while Libby still has hopes that she will one day find a gentleman who would love her enough to overlook her unfortunate circumstances, she seems to be oblivious to the fact that the awkward but dedicated village doctor, Dr. Cook, is quite in love with her. And then one day, everything changes. A handsome stranger has a carriage accident, and is taken to her uncle's house to recuperate. The stranger proves to be a London chocolate merchant, and he is handsome and charming and in no time at all, Libby finds herself falling deep into the stranger's thrall. However this London merchant is no ordinary tradesman. He is actually Benedict Nesbitt, the Duke of Knaresborough, who has donned a disguise in order to take Lydia Ames's measure (subplot involving the Duke's down-on-his-luck cousin who has to marry Lydia because she is an heiress). What a bonus that Lydia's cousin would turn out to be so beautiful and charming! In no time at all, the Duke decides that he wants to marry Libby. But will he still want to do so when he discovers her family connections and her lack of a dowry? What will Libby do if the Duke turns his back on her after he learns everything? And what of Dr. Cook?
In the opening chapter of "Miss Chartley's Guided Tour," Omega Chartley discovers that she has been jilted at the church door by her fiance, Matthew Bering. Things go from bad to worse for our heroine, when on the heels of that humiliating disaster, Omega's father looses all his money. Deciding to make her own way in the world, Omega finds employment as an instructor at an academy for young girls. And now, for the first time in years, she is all set to have her first holiday. Her vacation however takes an unexpected turn when she helps a young 10 year boy evade a Bow Street Runner. James Clevenden, tired of the cruel manner in which his legal guardian deals with him, has runaway from his home, hoping to reach his other uncle's home, and so find sanctuary. Imagine Omega's surprise when upon arriving at the uncle's estate, he turns out to be her erstwhile fiance, Matthew Berring, and her deep disappointment when Matthew seems all set to return James to his cruel guardian! Can Omega forgive Matthew for jilting her in such a public and humiliating manner? And what is she to make of his determination not to interfere with the manner in which James is being ill treated? As for Matthew, he never thought he'd ever see Omega again. And he's not sure if he should tell her the truth as to why he abandoned her. For there is a very dark reason as to why Matthew jilted Omega, and he's very much afraid that the truth will make Omega despise him even more than she already does! Will Matthew relent and agree to protect James? And will he be able to persuade Omega to forgive him and agree to take a chance at loving him again?
Both these novels make for enjoyable reading. Carla Kelly displays her talent by taking two rather run-of-the-mill plots and tweaking them is such a manner as to make them fascinatingly different. I liked the fact that the heroes and heroines were not always overwhelmingly good looking, and that both Libby and Omega are the kinds of resilient and intelligent heroines that appeal and engage the reader to root for them to come out on top. Both these books make for excellent reading, and if you're looking for romances with nifty plotlines, appealing characters, and intelligent writing, look no further: this two-in-one deal is a must!