Saturday, April 23, 2016

Book Review: Beckman by Grace Burrowes


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Click here to buy the paperback at The Book Depository

Just when I was about to take a break from the Lonely Lords, I get drawn back in with Beckman's story. Beckman Haddonfield is spare to Nicholas's heir, and he lived his entire life trying to live up to the expectations of being the spare. He married young to secure the succession, and to please his family -- but that didn't end well. He tried to be his older brother's companion, but Nicholas always preferred Ethan over his younger siblings, and the ladies of London preferred Nicholas over Beckman, so that didn't work out too well for him either.

His father could not figure out a space for Beckman, and so he became the Haddonfield messenger: asked to travel to distant places to oversee to such and such business, and Beckman was content to stay rootless and wandering. With his father ill, and Nicholas busy looking for his future countess, it comes as no surprise to Beckman to have to be sent away again. This time to Three Springs, one of Lady Warne's estates.

Considering Lady Warne's wealth and generosity, it is both a surprise and mystery for Beckman to discover that Three Springs is in utter disrepair, and that staff has dwindled to a housekeeper, her daughter, her sister, the cook, and a steward --

I love how Grace Burrowes tells stories: there's a sense of a linear timeline to it, and it's very easy to follow -- but you also get the sense of non-linearity. Of things implied, and never spoken of out loud: such is the case of the Hunt women, who have worked at Three Springs, but whose manners and conversation hint at a greater pedigree. The same could also be said of Gabriel North, who struggles to provide Three Springs with all its needs.

Sara Hunt is housekeeper at Three Springs, but Sara didn't start out in service -- in a different life, she was Sarabande Adagio, a skilled violinist who traveled through Europe, but her late husband was a petty tyrant who micro-managed her career and overspent her earnings, leaving Sara disillusioned, and disenchanted with her talent. When her husband died, she escaped the life and did a complete 360 -- eschewing the world of art, for the quiet, domestic life at Three Springs, bringing with her her sister Polly and daughter, Allie.

There isn't a great conflict in Beckman's story, but I loved his story for the study of human aspirations -- Sara and Polly had great artistic talents, but they were females and had to find a way to explore and develop their talents. They followed their dreams (blindly) to the point of forgetting all else (even their own selves), and were consumed by it. But, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, they regrouped and recovered ... but were never the same. Allie also possesses the same artistic gift as her aunt, Polly, but Sara is conflicted whether to allow her daughter to continue pursuing art, or to nip it in the bud.

Beckman is a golden boy: all blonde and beautiful, and, when he arrived in Three Springs, he seems to possess a magical cure-all for all that ails the disintegrating estate. But Beckman is tarnished as well: when he lost his wife, he also lost his way -- and, for a while, he was content to be told where to go -- he turned to drink, to women, to drugs -- and nearly died if not for his brother Nicholas, who found and rescued him from an opium den.

There isn't one defining scene that shows how or when Beckman became attracted to Sara and vise versa -- but, perhaps, the numerous encounters and conversations, and perhaps it's the recognition of the brokenness inside them that drew them to one another, and I loved them together: in Beckman's words, "they fit." There's a lot of cuddling in Beckman (and in Gabriel's story, which I'm reading right now) and it's a great privilege that Burrowes allows us such an intimate peek into the lives of her characters. When the day is done, and the lights are out, and our hero and heroine are both stripped down to bare skin, she reveals all.

Beyond the housekeeper/titled lord social class issue, there loomed a much larger problem: Beckman's time is not his own -- his father is near-death, which would cause a change in his status from spare to heir (with Nicholas taking over the earldom), and he would be called back home. In that I appreciated Sara and Polly's unusual upbringing, because they had very realistic limitations and expectations. Sara and Polly (and Allie) also lived with one foot out the door, ready to leave if the things in their past threaten to overtake their present lives. Tremaine St. Michael, her late husband's half-brother, poses a threat to Sara. She knows he possesses some of her personal effects, and wonders what Tremaine would do with them. Would he act like his brother and take advantage of her family? Would he be different from Reynard and do the honorable thing?

I don't know how Burrowes does it, but she does it well: she succeeds in telling the main story and does a good job of intriguing you about the secondary characters. (Yes, Gabriel's book is next, and, yes, I'm reading it right now.) On the surface, Gabriel North and Polly Hunt didn't seem to have the same problem as Sara and Beckman: they are both free from entanglements and, as cook and steward, are not bound by the same social rules as the aristocracy. But Gabriel isn't really just a steward, and there's more to Polly as well.

The one thing I loved above all in this story is how Burrowes celebrates the Truth (yes, capital T) found in art. Art is honest and bares all. I had to stifle a laugh at how honestly Sara and Polly assessed Beckman and Gabriel, and how Allie spoke of the world with such unfiltered sincerity.

Beckman is book 4 in Grace Burrowes's The Lonely Lords series. To find out more about Grace Burrowes and her lovely books, click below:

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