This guest post was submitted by Magdalen. The fourth part will be posted on Thursday 26 November.
Here’s the third of my guest posts on the subject of four specific authors I personally enjoy (Leslie LaFoy, Glenda Sanders, Mira Stables, and Beverly Sommers) because they are all smart authors.
Next up: Mira Stables. I can find nothing on the Internet to suggest who Mira Stables is (or even if she’s alive). Most of her Regency romances were published by Fawcett’s Coventry Romances imprint in the mid-1970s. In addition to two I remember particularly liking, I sampled a couple others at random. In the other in which I re-read them, then:
Chambers Dictionary defines a honeypot as “anything that attracts people in great numbers.” In this story, Russet Ingram has gone from being a penniless governess at a select girls’ seminary to being a Society darling after an uncle leaves her a fortune. But where she is much admired by the dashing young men of the ton, she is resented by some young women who remember her as colorless and beneath them at school. One such jealous rival is Letty Waydene, who is nasty enough to lie to her guardian, James Cameron, that Russet plans to steal Letty’s beau for herself.
James’s solution to this situation is to remove Russet — who was off to Italy for a few months in any event — and keep her at his estate. That’s right. He kidnaps her. Which step, in the hands of almost any other author, would suggest much more drama than the one Stables gives us. Honey-Pot is not my most favorite Stables novel, but it’s a good choice to demonstrate what she does so well. Her writing is delightfully calm, so even a kidnapping seems unremarkable. Furthermore, there’s always a reasonable explanation for why her characters act as they do — not that they are justified, and Cameron does come to regret his impulse as he begins to see Letty as the villain and not as the victim. But we can see why Russet is hesitant to raise a fuss, given that her sister is about to marry into the sort of family that would look amiss on such carryings on.
Also, in another author’s hands, there would be more uh, intimacy in Cameron’s and Russet’s dealings. But Stables wants us to see what her characters see when they look at each other. She has a very delicate way with POV so that shifts between the protagonists’ POV and even that of more minor characters are done so smoothly that there’s no trouble understanding exactly what’s going on. Russet makes one very dangerous effort to escape Cameron’s house, and although it fails, it chills both of them when they consider the risk that she took. That escapade changes their relationship, and Russet becomes more of a valued guest than a prisoner.
The fall in love, of course, but the course of love is unlikely to run smooth when the party of the first part has abducted the party of the second part. I’ll freely admit that the plot devices Stables uses to get these two proud and rather solitary people together are just a bit contrived. But her writing is so smooth and skillful that it hardly matters.
Miss Mouse (1980)
With each of Mira Stables’ books, I appreciate the sheer domesticity of her plots. Here, a young woman, Graine Ashley, is well-born but from a penniless family, which requires her to make her own way in the world. She is engaged to care for three young children currently living in the Earl of Valminster’s household. She’s quite unattractive, but proves herself up to the challenge of dealing with her charges’ small acts of mischief. Eventually, an act of heroism on Graine’s part reveals that she is, in fact, quite lovely but had undertaken a disguise because of events at the last position she held.
Here, again, an odd plot device is presented matter-of-factly and actually isn’t necessary for the progress of the book. The disguise serves more as proof of her ingenuity and character than anything else. The real issue in this book is the misunderstanding between the characters. The hero doesn’t see the disparity in their wealth and standing, but worries that he’s too old for her. She is much more conscious of the fact that while her birth is respectable, she has nowhere near the social standing of an earl. It all gets sorted out in the end, after only a brief bit of hurt and confusion.
All of which makes this seem a very anemic romance. And here’s what’s so hard to explain about Stables’ books. The plots aren’t the selling point. It’s the writing (at least for me). She crafts a world with people I like, situations I can appreciate, and feelings I can swoon over. What I can’t do is find a short excerpt that proves my point. Her writing is seamless and interwoven, descriptive and effective. It’s just not very quotable.
Lissa is a fairytale, pure and simple. As a young girl, Lissa is deposited on the doorstep of a naval widow and is raised as a village child even as everyone assumes she’s the baseborn child of some feckless nobleman. She doesn’t do well as a domestic in a neighboring home, but when the young Viscount Stapleton meets her, he sees great merit in hiring her as his sister’s companion. Lissa is under no illusions of her heritage, but she’s eager to contribute in any way she might. The viscount, rusticating after a disastrous and unsuitable passion for some fortune-hunter, enjoys seeing how charmingly Lissa fits into the household.
And then they fall in love. (Are you seeing a trend here in Mira Stables’ romances? After the wispiest of set-ups, they fall in love. And then the tiniest scrap of conflict is sorted out, and they’re happy. These books really don’t lend themselves to complex discussion of plot devices.) Now, with regard to Lissa, the casual reader can work herself into a froth about how Lissa seems way too young at the beginning of the book, and so the viscount’s attentions seem potentially skeevy. But the hero is young too, and idealistic. He grows up as much as Lissa does, and by the end of the book, he’s seems more sure of himself just as Lissa is making her own choices. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s barely 17 when the happy ending happens, but I would also suggest that it doesn’t make the HEA any less plausible.
There’s a bit more plot than I’m letting on, but it’s pretty much an either-I-tell-you-or-I-don’t proposition, and I’m not sure telling you would make you want to read the book. What I can say to encourage a waffling reader is this: There’s so much joy in Mira Stables’ books, and particularly in Lissa. These are happy people, for the most part, and when they love, they love with whole hearts. Reading a well-written romance about interesting, warm-hearted people is not such a bad thing.
High Garth (1977)
The cover says this is a Victorian romance, but my best guess is that it takes place around 1830. Any sooner and the discussion of the railways makes no sense; any later and it’s unlikely Ann Beverly would remember anything of following the drum in Iberia with her mother and sister. Which is probably more analysis than you need to know, but is evidence of how real this book seems. With the other three Mira Stables books, it’s pretty clear they’re fiction, but High Garth contains a world you feel you could visit. You could meet these people, and enjoying hearing how their lives were going. In my reading experience, that’s high praise indeed. (Another book with this quality, I think, is Candace Camp-writing-as-Lisa Gregory’s The Rainbow Season.)
Here’s the plot: Ann Beverly agrees to be the housekeeper and part-time tutor at High Garth, the hill farm owned by Patrick Delvercourt. Both are better educated than would seem plausible for such an isolated and hostile environment, but their circumstances are reasonable enough: Patrick needs a younger, fitter housekeeper to start taking over the reins from Janet, his former nurse. He also needs someone to keep his young brother engaged and out of trouble.
Ann similarly needs a job. She has a wealthy step-father, but he’s not wasted a penny on either her or her twin sister, Barbara. And she wasn’t exaggerating her domestic skills when she convinces Patrick to hire her, although she’s never had to work in such primitive conditions as High Garth offers. But it gradually becomes clear to Patrick that Ann’s background precludes her living in such poverty as he can offer her, which means revealing his love to her is completely out of the question. And, finally, a bit I can quote:
Patrick knew very well that he, too, had gone beyond the line. The transition from a warm liking, half-amused, half-respectful, to a love that he already recognized as hopeless, had happened in the blink of an eye. That it was bound to create painful problems and could only end in self-denial and bitter loss, he was very well aware. But for the moment he was content to savour present happiness.
It’s the quality of Stables’ writing that allows me to accept completely the details at the end that make their ending one requiring less sacrifice of material comforts. One reason is that by that point, it doesn’t matter if they have money. Patrick and Ann were destined to be happy as long as they were together. Nonetheless, and just in the interests of full reporting, I did ask my ex-husband about when the pesky railway shares might start paying off. Sometime in the 1840s, he reckons, so that by 1850, Patrick really was a wealthy man. A factoid to keep in mind, just in case you decide to visit High Garth.