A Lady at Willowgrove Hall is a sweet little romance by Sarah E. Ladd. At sixteen, Cecily Faire is all set to run off with landowner’s son, Andrew Morton. Her father, the local smithy, catches them in the act and whisks Cecily off in the middle of the night to Rosemere, an all girl’s finishing school, with a small bag of money and the warning that she’s their problem now. To her horror, that’s the last Cecily sees of her twin sister, Leah, and her home at Aradelle Park. Of course, during the Regency Era, an elopement meant the ruin of a young girl, so Cecily must keep this nightmare a secret at all costs. Five years later, in 1819, she finds herself on the way to stately Willowgrove Hall in Danbury, England, to be a lady’s companion to the elderly Mrs. Trent. Here she meets the handsome steward, Nathaniel Stanton, who has a secret of his own. They feel an instant attraction to one another, but their respective pasts precludes them from pursuing a romance. Mrs. Trent exhibits an intense dislike towards the Stanton family and Cecily finds herself caught between her employer’s prejudices and the developing friendship she feels with Mrs. Stanton and her daughters. Everyone seems to maintain some sort of secret which has an impact on their lives that cannot be resolved until forgiveness is received and/or granted.
Although I enjoyed this story, part III of the Whisper on the Moors Series, there were some aspects of this book I found perplexing. While the continued repetition of thoughts for several of the characters, (yes, I know your secret past can never be revealed), was annoying, my major beef was the gaps in character development. Mrs Trent was a fascinating figure who should have had a larger role in the story. Although Cecily was extremely fond of the old woman, it was baffling to discover the villagers disliked her to the point of failing to pay their respects upon her death. This was never explained. I also would have liked to have learned more about Mrs Trent’s lady’s maid, Clarkson, who was both standoffish and warm, especially since she plays an integral part in the resolution of the storyline. Then there was widowed dressmaker Mrs. Massey. Was she simply incompetent, or did she purposely mess up Cecily’s new gowns out of jealousy? Her behaviors were inconsistent – friend or foe, good or evil, or some of each. And former lover, Andrew Morton, was an enigma as well. He is described as shallow and self centered, yet, at one point, he was willing to give up a life of luxury to run away with Cecily. Also, did he care for his aunt or simply want her dead? The narrative alludes to multiple conflicting interpretations of his intentions. These characters all seemed to have secrets which were never revealed. Since this story is mainly based upon relationships instead of actions, Ladd owed it to the reader to flesh out these supporting roles.
Despite these faults, I did enjoy the story. Both main characters were likable and it was easy to root for the inevitable happy ending. I thought the use of the Book of Proverbs as a source of comfort and a few brief references to Christian values fits in nicely with the questioning mindset of Cecily as she tries to deal with her losses. The sweetness of a few kisses and a couple of embraces creates a book that you can recommend to your grandmother without embarrassment. It was not necessary to read the first two books in the series, The Heiress of Winterwood and the Head Mistress of Rosemere, to appreciate this novel. Three stars.
A thank you to Netgalley and Thomas Nelson (Harper Collins Christian Publishing) for this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.