For those, like me, who have been left feeling depressed from the unrelenting oppressive atmosphere of Carla Kelly's last few books, I have good news. The Admiral's Penniless Bride felt like a return to a more light-hearted Kelly, along the lines of Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand or With This Ring. As with those books, there are still ordinary people dealing with very hard times and circumstances, but the hardships do not overwhelm the story, and the frequent touches of humor make them easier to bear.
Admiral Sir Charles Bright is recently retired from the Navy and is being bedeviled by his older, widowed sisters to marry. He is a commanding figure to all but his sisters, who are not at all awed by him and run roughshod through his life and new home. In desperation, he arranges to marry the spinster sister of one of his captains and is waiting in a Plymouth inn for her appear when he sees Sally Paul nursing a pot of tea with quiet dignity, obviously at the end of her rope. When the spinster fails to appear, Charles impulsively proposes to Sally who, after initially rejecting the proposal, accepts.
Sally was widowed five years ago when her husband, found guilty of a crime he didn't commit, killed himself. Her young son shortly followed his father in death and Sally has been companion to a series of elderly, crotchety ladies. She arrives in Plymouth to take up a new post, only to find her new employer deceased and no jobs to be had. Her choice is - literally - the workhouse or Admiral Bright. Sally is no fool and chooses Charles, determined to be the best convenient wife she can be.
This is a quiet book, the bulk of which is spent with just Sally and Charles as they get to know each other and fall in love. They are older than the usual romance couple - Charles in his 40s and Sally her 30s - and their maturity adds a level of wisdom and poignancy to the relationship. Charles has been at sea and war since he was 10 years old and has missed out on so much of a "normal" life - a wife, a home, a family - and he finds himself a bit bewildered as to how to get along on shore. Sally lost everything and has been emotionally numb for years. In each other, they find a purpose and a joy that neither expected.
There was one false note toward the end of the book - an overreaction on Charles's part to a secret of Sally's - which bothered me, for it seemed so out of character for Charles and so unnecessary. But, other than that lapse, The Admiral's Penniless Bride is a winner and a pleasure to read.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, January 11, 2011