The Changeable Rose
by Jessie Watson
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-5813-6
****
Regency readers, put on your track shoes and hasten to the bookstore. You'll definitely want to get a copy of The Changeable Rose before this December release vanishes from the shelves. Jessie Watson is a new Regency author, which makes it a double pleasure to recommend this book.

Clare Winchester is a twenty-eight year old spinster, living not-too-unhappily in London with her maiden Aunt Maude. Clare had once been the toast of the London Season; her nickname of The Changeable Rose came from the whispered rumors that she - gasp! - rouged her cheeks. Her youthful escapades were largely overlooked until her father passed away and left a pile of debts. With her family fortune mostly gone, Clare found herself snubbed by an unforgiving Society. Now her days pass quietly, in a manner that, if not exciting, is at least comfortable.

While accompanying her aunt to a dress fitting one day, Clare comes to the aid of a young girl who faints on the floor of the dressmaker's shop while inquiring about work. None of the other fashionable ladies are willing to help this ragged-looking girl. Clare, moved by the girl's seemingly desperate situation, takes her home and puts her to bed.

Things take an interesting turn when the young lady turns out to be Evelyn Hallisey, the runaway niece (and ward) of the Earl of Northrup. He has just returned from the war, and is prepared to launch Evelyn on her first Season. After meeting Clare, and making peace with his niece, the earl decides that here is a person who can aid him in securing a successful debut for Evelyn. Clare accepts. It will be fun, she reasons, and may help her re-gain a measure of respectability, which will no doubt please Aunt Maude.

Clare isn't worried about turning the earl's head. After all, she's well past marriageable age and has a somewhat scandalous past. Surely Northrup will look elsewhere if he wants a suitable wife. It is therefore safe to dream about him. The earl, however, begins to have other ideas. In Clare, he sees all of the qualities lacking in his nasty former fiancée: integrity, humor, and a mature outlook on life. When the fiancée reappears, determined to snare Northrup again at any cost to Clare's reputation, sparks begin to fly.

This book grabbed my attention right away. I found the main premise to be charming. It's not often a Regency features a heroine who is a spinster ex-Incomparable, and Jessie Watson takes care to make Clare into a character worth knowing. In fact, all of the characters, with the exception of Northrup, are styled with a flair and assurance not often seen in a first book.

Northrup gave me a bit of trouble. He's a little too willing to believe the lies spread by the very woman who deceived him; this didn't say much for his intelligence, especially since he knows what a selfish witch the ex-fiancée really is. But one of the best scenes in the book is the climactic confrontation between Clare and Northrup. I loved the way the author kept Clare in complete character, refusing to let her crumble into a sobbing heap or turn wooden with shock. Instead, Clare gives Northrup as good as he dishes out, then throws him out of the house. That scene alone was worth the price of the book to me.

The pacing is brisk; the dialogue rings true, and the plot is lots of fun. A Changeable Rose gets my vote as a must-read Regency. I hope we hear lots more from this talented author. Her next book, A Cat's Bracelet, is due out in June of 1998. I'll be waiting!

--Cathy Sova


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