Novel Review: The Curiosity Keeper by Sarah E. Ladd

The Curiosity Keeper

The Curiosity Keeper (A Treasures of Surrey Novel) by Sarah E. Ladd (Thomas Nelson, July 2015)

“It is not just a ruby, as you say. It is large as a quail’s egg, still untouched and unpolished. And it is rumored to either bless or curse whoever possesses it.”

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille must allow a mysterious stranger to come to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content to work as the village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may be the answer to his many questions.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, these two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, they will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.


REVIEW:

As an good Austenite does, I am always on the lookout for new books set in the Regency time period. A Regency novel set within the framework of Christian fiction? Now that just sets my heart aflutter. And so, within my first few moments of picking up Sarah Ladd’s newest Regency novel, The Curiosity Keeper, I found not only a new-to-me author, but a renewed interest in Regency fiction because this woman’s writing far belies the tropes associated with this genre. The Curiosity Keeper is a wonderful novel that captivated me with its mystery, history, and romance spun into a hero and heroine’s tale of self-worth and love.

I have read a fair share of both Christian fiction and general market Regencies since first becoming acquainted with Jane Austen novels in college. The style and tropes of Regencies for me, therefore, were fairly well known until I came across The Curiosity Keeper, which implemented mystery into the storyline so well that I am anxious to read the rest of Ladd’s novels for more inclusion of that plot. Ladd’s writing style is a beautifully crafted blend of romance and mystery, and hooked me the entire time as I attempted (my mind is not wired to solve mysteries) to discover the culprit in The Curiosity Keeper. At times I became tired of the emphasis placed on the missing items, and I do admit that I would have liked to have read more romance and less mystery. But personal tastes aside, I found the mystery in this novel to be well done and expect to be further intrigued by mysteries in her stories.

Ladd’s straightforward style dropped me directly into the dark and dank streets of London as her heroine, Camille Inverness, worked in her father’s curiosity shop. A horrid place to live and work in 1800s England, London in The Curiosity Keeper utterly fascinated me as a character all its own. I yearned with Camille as she fought to make a safe life of her own in the beautiful English countryside rather than the soot-covered backstreets of London. And once Ladd dropped me into the second setting of The Curiosity Keeper, charming village of Fellsworth, I knew for certain that this author’s books would automatically stay on my bookshelves. Fellsworth’s charms were so beautifully conveyed that I could visualize the visual in Camille’s mind of what it would be like to run through green fields and have golden trees on fire in my backyard. If I never make it to England, at least The Curiosity Keeper brought me close to knowing in my heart what it would be like to visit that country.

The characters in Ladd’s fourth novel drive the storyline of The Curiosity Keeper. Camille is one of the strongest heroines I have come across in Christian fiction, and I truly hope to read more about her in the upcoming novels of this series. She stands on her own two feet, taking her life by charge and refusing to let others do what she knows she is capable of. Jonathan is a charming hero that took my heart quickly–his desire to protect others and do well by his family, but still find his own way, was probably my favorite aspect of this novel. The Curiosity Keeper includes secondary characters that bring this story to life, including a sister who I am hopeful will hold a starring role in another book in The Treasures of Surrey series. A poignant redemptive relationship between Jonathan and his father round out The Curiosity Keeper as a beautiful story revolving around family relationships.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Curiosity Keeper and am so excited for the future Treasure of Surrey novels and Ladd’s earlier series, The Whispers on the Moors. I recommend The Curiosity Keeper for readers who love Regency romances and are fans of Julie Klaassen novels.

Rating: 3.5 stars


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Sarah E. LaddSarah E. Ladd has always loved the Regency period — the clothes, the music, the literature and the art. A college trip to England and Scotland confirmed her interest in the time period and gave her idea of what life would’ve looked like in era. It wasn’t until 2010 that Ladd began writing seriously.  Shortly after, Ladd released the first book in the Whispers on the Moors series. Book one of the series, The Heiress of Winterwood, was the recipient of the 2011 ACFW Genesis Award for historical romance. Ladd also has more than ten years of marketing experience. She is a graduate of Ball State University and holds degrees in public relations and marketing. She lives in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever.

Book Review: With Empty Hands by Becky Riker

Life in Regency England is not as simple as it seems—for all its demure behavior and propriety, harsh consequences and unforgiving attitudes also abounded. Rowan Haydn, a once wealthy man of the Gentry, and Lydia Tyrone, a proper and polite shopkeeper’s daughter, find themselves in precarious situations out of their control during a time when having no control meant your fate was in another’s hands.

Opposites in every manner of the word, Lydia and Rowan form a strong bond during the months that Rowan works for her father in their family’s clock-repair shop. A handsome young man with a secret to hide, Rowan uses his time with the Tyrones to turn his life around–from unfortunate choices that Lydia yearns to know about but that Rowan is desperate to keep his own. Rowan feels that his past mistakes ensure he will always be looked upon in disdain by God and his peers, despite a privileged pedigree that normally protects the Gentry from being pushed aside. In never expecting a wealthy gentleman to find himself in the situation that brought Rowan to his present state, Lydia unintentionally places herself below Rowan because the class structure of Regency England dictates that the Gentry cannot form relationships with working-class individuals. Both Lydia and Rowan comprehend that God places no value on social standing or past mistakes, and yet both of them fall prey to the belief that they are only as good as society deems them because that status states their offerings to others.

When an unexpected and devastating event brings about feelings that Lydia and Rowan did not want to acknowledge, both have to decide if they are willing to put aside society’s conventions for a relationship that defies the odds and proves that God’s love is the one that matters most.

Author Becky Riker brings societal analysis, family drama, and personal hardship and growth in the inspirational romantic story With Empty Hands. A novel of redemption, love, and acceptance, Riker’s novel shows that every person is worthy of God’s mercy—no matter their past mistakes—because what matters to Him is one’s willingness to surrender their life out of love for His son. The third novel in Riker’s Regarding the Gentry series, With Empty Hands has every aspect a reader wants from a Regency novel: class differences, flowery language, a community of characters that love family drama, romances that seem destined for challenges, fiery females, and heroic males.

Riker’s strongest point in this novel is her ability to create characters that are flawed but loveable, wholly human and relatable, and strong in their faith without being preachy. Lydia and Rowan, as the protagonists of With Empty Hands, draw readers into their situations with simple but deep emotions that create heart-wrenching scenes. Rowan is heroic with his genteel background and love for Lydia. Readers will cheer for him as he valiantly comes to understand God’s love for him and make amends for his past mistakes. His courtly behavior and respect for Lydia’s father make Rowan one of Christian fiction’s most admirable heroes. Lydia, like her counterpart, is an equally intriguing character because she defies Regency standards for female characteristics. An upstanding lady who challenges those around her with sarcastic wit but humble dialog, Lydia epitomizes Christian female behavior as she takes care of her father and follows God’s law for how women should act. She stands her ground with Rowan about the propriety of men and women’s interactions, but Lydia is not afraid to form a friendship with him. She is a good example for female readers of the proper way for modern ladies to become strong and independent, but still humble, around men.

If With Empty Hands has a fault, it is that the novel is too short for true character development to occur. Riker’s novel has much possibility for in-depth characterization that its short length does not do the story or its characters justice. With Empty Hands is a good novel—I wanted more! Rowan’s relationship with God, for example, is hardly touched upon after he makes his decision about where he wants the relationship to go. Riker’s novel is an inspirational one, so Rowan and Lydia’s relationships with God—and subsequently how their relationships with God affected their romantic relationship—should have factored into the storyline much more than was actually placed into the text. The negation of this subject after the first third-or-so of the novel left a void in the story because it suddenly felt that the faith aspect of Lydia and Rowan’s lives were no longer important, even though the Tyrone and Haydn families claimed to be saved by Jesus. A little extra length to With Empty Hands would have gone a long ways to making the story into a fully compelling novel.

Riker’s novel is good regardless of whoever picks up the novel because her love for the time period and genuine desire to reach people through God’s salvation translates through characters and settings with ease. The three-hundred-year difference between Regency and present day makes little difference to empathizing and sympathizing with her characters. However, historical fiction readers will love With Empty Hands for its classic flowery language that instantly brings to mind characters in pale muslin dresses or breeches and cravats. Riker’s novel also stands out amongst other Regency stories because the context within which she sets her story is a bit darker than most—Dickensian, if you wish, for those who have read the Victorian author’s Little Dorritt. With Empty Hands is the third novel in Riker’s Regarding the Gentry series but can be read as a stand-alone novel; however, the story will be more fulfilling if the first two novels are read beforehand.

Stars: 4/5