Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: Lady in Disguise by Wendy Vella


Click here to buy the book on Amazon

When Wendy Vella informed me of her new book, Lady in Disguise, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of gently-bred young ladies masquerading as highwaymen in order to make ends meet. Add to that, a childhood love who returns home after being away for five years.

Unconventional heroine + Second chance at love story = insta-love.

What I didn't realize was just how much I would enjoy Lady in Disguise by Wendy Vella (answer: very, very, very much). ^_^

Olivia Langley is the eldest daughter of the late Viscount Langley. She and her sisters, Phoebe and Bella, are known as the Luscious Langley Ladies because of their beauty and social graces. Men chase after Olivia and her sisters and all the ladies are jealous of their popularity. What the residents of Twoaks do not know is that the late viscount died and left his daughters penniless and the heir, their cousin, does not provide for them. (And has, in fact, very dishonorable intentions towards Olivia and her sisters.)

To support the family, Olivia and her sisters live a double life: to the world outside, they continue to present the image of spoiled, carefree ladies but, in the cover of night, they disguise themselves as highwaymen and rob travelers. On their very first excursion as highwaymen, they rob William Ryder, the prodigal younger brother of the Duke of Rossetter, who has finally returned home from India after five years. He also happens be Livvy's first love and first heartbreak.

Will knows that he has much to explain and atone for in his five-year absence and he doesn't know where to begin. Will grapples with the burden of confronting his past: a version of himself that he now hates: a frivolous, rakish, hell-raiser -- and he is determined to prove to his older brother that he has changed.

Joseph had called him a leech on the dukedom, demanding to know when he would become the man his parents had raised him to be. Will had remembered those words. They had motivated him to become the man who stood here today.
- p. 11

Then there is Olivia, whom he left without saying goodbye to. He returns to discover a very different Livvy: distrustful, wary (and weary), burdened -- and Will wants to regain her trust and her love, if she would allow it. Will also knows that there is something "not right" in the Langley household but he can't put his finger on it -- and Livvy is being very evasive.

I loved that Will's story with his family was separate from Olivia's story with her family and the juxtaposition of the different but similar difficulties that our hero and heroine are experiencing as they come to terms with their present situation. Will successfully built a business and has more money than most of the titled lords in London -- but, he can't help but feel that he has failed his family, especially his younger sister. His adjustment is going slowly: England is too cold, he doesn't like tea, his old friends still think he is the same old Will, and Olivia treats him like she would an acquaintance. But I could see Will's determination to make everything right -- I loved his conversations with his brothers, which, I thought Wendy Vella did very well. The author captures the awkwardness, the uncomfortable-ness of two brothers talking again, when their last conversation ended in an argument and Will's running away. (Imagine trying to untangle a piece of string or a ribbon that has been pulled too tight in two different directions.) But both brothers admit their mistake and their willingness to move forward. It is an emotional (and very healing) homecoming for Will -- but, mending the fences with his family is only the first step.

Livvy's father died and that's what people know and understand -- what they don't know about is the circumstances of her father's death, which Livvy is keeping a secret, for fear that it might ruin their reputation. People also don't know that they don't have any more money but they continue to keep up appearances and succeed in doing so. No one in Twoaks has any idea how utterly destitute the Langley sisters actually are. Their front parlour is representative of the life they now lead, the best of everything in their house to show the world but, beyond that room, everything else is in shambles.

And the situation is worsening because of Bella's leg, which was injured in the same accident that killed their mother and brought their father into the spiral of despair, which eventually killed him. It is desperation that compels Livvy to cross over to the "dark side" and take up a life of crime. Wendy Vella chose to take an alternate route when she developed the Langley sisters. Before their financial ruin, they were actually the "mean girls" -- aware of their appeal and their popularity and cruelly wielded it to their advantage (and at the expense of the hapless gentlemen.) The drastic change in their fortune is a humbling dose of reality for them -- but, instead of confiding in and asking for help from the Duke of Rossetter, the sisters kept their financial problem a secret and I thought it was incredibly brave of them to stand by their convictions and it is amazing how well they have managed on their own as orphans.

But bravery takes it toll on even the strongest of people. Livvy tries her best to present a confident face but, deep inside, she is scared and worried about their uncertain future. Will's arrival makes Livvy feel even more vulnerable: men have done nothing but break her heart and disappointed her -- Will, her father and her cousin. While she cannot deny the love that she still feels for Will, she cannot allow herself to trust him ... yet.

He still unsettled her and at that moment in time she wanted to slap him, hard. She hated that he had the freedom only a man could have and that he was supported by the comfort and wealth of his family, but more importantly she was angry because once she had loved him and he had walked away from her without a backward glance.
- p. 58

Very strong emotions run through from beginning to end: heartbreak, yearning, sadness, weariness, etc. and the author does a good job of making her characters bleed literally and figuratively. As a reader, I was swept up in what Livvy and Will were going through and I felt for them -- to the point of getting very teary-eyed and weepy. How Vella resolves this story is a definitive, celebratory confirmation of the enduring power of love. There's just so much to enjoy in this story.

Lady in Disguise is the first book in Wendy Vella's The Langley Sisters series. Vella does an excellent job of shaping Phoebe and Bella's characters and I can't wait to read their stories. ^_^

To find out more about Wendy Vella and her books, click below:
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Disclosure: I requested this review copy from the author. Thank you, Wendy, for the opportunity to read your work. Yes, this is an honest review.

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