Review for Miss Chartley's Guided Tour

Miss Chartley's Guided Tour by Carla Kelly was a charming romance. It is unusual in several ways. First, it isn't about two strangers meeting and eventually falling in love. It is about lovers estranged by tragedy and lack of communication for eight years (she was left standing bewildered at the altar as he secretly fled some horrible situation involving a lot of blood on his clothes) reunited by circumstance and forced to confront both the past and the present. Clearly, Omega Chartley and Matthew Bering both still love each other, but she is justifiably angry and he is filled with shame and they need to work together in the current crisis.What crisis you ask? That brings us to the second interesting feature. Children! I have a soft spot for stories that involve children, as long as they are reasonably portrayed. In this case, a runaway boy fleeing an abusive uncle. He's seeking his other uncle, and Omega Chartley befriends him during her leisurely travel from one teaching position to another. But wait, they runaway boy, who is clearly from a well-to-do family, is being hunted by Bow Street! Our heroine runs afoul of the Runner trying to help the boy and finds herself a penniless fugitive alongside the waif.And so the third interesting feature is that this story occurs on the byways of England more than soirees and house parties of the ton. I like stories that show some of the rarely seen aspects of life in the period. In this case, some of the hardships of veterans and orphans of the war, as well as the seamier side of London and the economic concerns of rural villages. Does this book go into any significant or realistic detail on any of these? No, but it does provide a shadow of a taste without the bitterness or much of the ugliness.The weaknesses: a dastardly villain, of course, whose machinations caused all of the heartbreak and pain (yawn); the extremely tidy and rather unrealistic happy ending for everyone involved, except the villain; yet another sprained ankle forcing the lovers to deal with each other rather than run away; the rather saccharine nature of our hero and heroine and the Bow Street Runner who turns out to be a good guy after all. If I dislike everyone in the novel except the protagonists being a mean, terrible person, I like the exact reverse situation only a little less. After all, we all have our weaknesses and dark side, and pretending otherwise does not make for such a satisfying story. I like some fiber to go along with my sugar sometimes. The strengths: the characters are engaging if not particularly deep, the dialogue is often snappy, the story tackles the difficult topics of love and betrayal and forgiveness, and there's quite a bit of humor, particularly around the reunion of the lovers and the subsequent bloody nose and black eye. Good humor can make up for a lot. So this book is a keeper, for now.
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