Monday, October 17, 2022

Review: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

Of all the Disney Princesses, most book lovers probably identify most with Belle from Beauty and the Beast. A romance with a reader as a main character? Yes, please! Mimi Matthews must feel the same way since her newest Victorian romance, The Belle of Belgrave Square, very definitely owes quite a bit to Beauty and the Beast (as well as The Story of Bluebeard and several other stories she mentions in her author's note at the end of the novel).

Julia Wychwood is a beautiful young woman who suffers from crippling social anxiety. She is the wealthy heiress to invalid parents who are clearly hypochondriacs, continually summoning the doctor for their many imagined debilitating conditions. Her anxiety means that she doesn't want to be out in society (she takes books with her when she must attend balls and gatherings in case she needs to escape to somewhere quiet) but as an eligible young woman she can only feign illness to avoid these obligations so often. And doing so has earned her a reputation as fragile and sickly. Captain Jasper Blunt is known as the Hero of the Crimea. He is a big, imposing man and has a large scar on his face. His brutality during the war is whispered about in the drawing rooms of London. He owns a crumbling home in Yorkshire which needs a large influx of money to repair and maintain. Goldfinch Hall is also where his three illegitimate children live, a fact that scandalizes society. He is pursuing Julia for her fortune. She knows it, and he is very honest about it. Initially though, he terrifies her. It is only through his continued chivalry towards her and his genuine care for her well being that she comes to see him as a way to escape the odious suitor her parents have chosen for her and the London social scene that makes her so unhappy.

Julia is a romantic and dreamy young woman. She loves novels and the exciting stories they tell (if you haven't read Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon that Julia is reading, you're missing out on some fantastic gothic sensationalism). It is through their shared love of novels that she and Captain Blunt first start to know each other. They are very honest about their feelings for each other and take the time to try to get to know each other before intimacy, which is refreshing. The major stumbling blocks to their growing relationship are the secrets the Captain is keeping from Julia, including a locked tower room, and Julia's father's selfish opposition to their marriage. Julia sees to the kind heart of her emotionally wounded husband and he sees the strength in his shy and anxious wife, proving that people can change and grow despite gossip and reputation, especially if they are surrounded by love.

This is the second book in the Belles of London series but it easily stands alone. It is a closed door romance, focused far more on the characters, who they are and how they relate to each other, than on the physical side of their love. There is a major plot twist that is evident from the beginning of the novel but Matthews intentionally gives the reader easy clues to this, which is only one of the surprises Julia uncovers. These characters who are not valued by many others for who they truly are come alive in this swoony romance. I suspect that while Julia might say there weren't enough adventures in it, she'd wholeheartedly approve of the romance aspect if she were reading her own story.

For more information about Mimi Matthews and the book, check our her author site, like her page on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, look at the book's Goodreads page, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Laurel Ann from Austenprose and publisher Berkley Romance for sending me a copy of the book to review.

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