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Starting with the 2019 Alphabet Variation Challenge (and hopefully I’ll get through the entire thing this year):

Letter S

For letter “S,” I read Joanna Shupe’s A Notorious Vow, which was published in 2018 and was chosen to read by my book group.

This story is part of Shupe’s Four Hundred Series which references the 400 families on the social register during the Gilded Age in the United States, or more specifically New York. It also was, allegedly, the number of people able to fit into Mrs. Astor’s ballroom. So, based upon that background, A Notorious Vow is set in New York City in the year 1890, but it does not involve people who are a part of the 400 families.

Our hero, Oliver Hawkes, although incredibly wealthy, suffered from an illness at 13 years old and lost his hearing. As such, he has become a bit of a recluse, keeping to his grand house and grounds in New York, while working on inventing a small hearing aid that the deaf and hard of hearing can wear. Our heroine, Lady Christina Barclay, is from a family which is ostensibly a part of the British aristocracy, but her parents have squandered their money and reputation in England. So, they’ve absconded to New York in order for Christina to capture a rich husband who would also be thrilled to be connected to a titled Brit and/or have a young wife. Problem is, Christina has been emotionally and mentally beaten down by her mother, is basically a pawn, and has become quite withdrawn, nervous, and terrified of interacting in society. Nonetheless, Christina’s parents have pushed her to accept the marriage offer of a much, much older wealthy New Yorker who has out-lived a few wives and is interested in siring more children and basically sees Christina as a brood mare.

To escape her parents, Christina has taken to breaking into the garden of the next door neighbor, who just happens to be the wealthy recluse, Oliver Hawkes. When Oliver discovers Christina, he is eager to get her out of his gardens and his life, while Christina begs for sanctuary. Before long, Christina’s parents discover where she’s been spending time and demands they marry — especially since they hope to attain some of the wealth of the deaf recluse. They’re not the only ones after Oliver’s money. A cousin has also been demanding a part of Oliver’s fortune and will stop at nothing — even getting Oliver declared mentally deficient — to assert his claims.

After learning what Christina has been facing, Oliver reluctantly agrees to help her, but on his own terms which will make their marriage one in name only, but will that bargain last? Can Christina’s parents be bought off? Will Oliver’s cousin give up his quest? And will Christina and Oliver help each other to face the world as a couple.

I am a huge fan of Gilded Age historicals and this is a very interesting premise, not only including someone with a disability, but highlighting how deaf people were treated and what inventions were being developed during that period. So, I was really much more interested in Oliver’s part of the story. Christina’s, on the other hand, was more old school romance — a titled young lady “being sold” by her family. Plus, Christina’s deeply introverted personality made me a bit impatient. I kept hoping she would gain more of a backbone, but — although she has to step up to help Oliver in the end — she still seems to be so reticent and leaves much of the work to Oliver’s attorney and friend, Frank. She frustrated me because she never seemed to really take full control of her life. For that reason, I’d give this a B or B-.


The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 1 down, 18 (or maybe 9) to go (S …)