Monday, June 26, 2017

Tour Book Review: A Stranger At Fellsworth, by Sarah E. Ladd

A Stranger at Fellsworth
(Treasures of Surrey, Book 3)
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
Thomas Nelson
May 16, 2017
Christian Fiction, Historical Romance,
Mystery, Women's Fiction

 Could losing everything be the best thing to happen to Annabelle Thorley?

In the fallout of her deceased father’s financial ruin, Annabelle’s prospects are looking bleak. Her fiancé has called off their betrothal, and now she remains at the mercy of her controlling and often cruel brother. Annabelle soon faces the fact that her only hope for a better life is to do the unthinkable and run away to Fellsworth, the home of her long-estranged aunt and uncle, where a teaching position awaits her. Working for a wage for the first time in her life forces Annabelle to adapt to often unpleasant situations as friendships and roles she’s taken for granted are called into question.

Owen Locke is unswerving in his commitments. As a widower and father, he is fiercely protective of his only daughter. As an industrious gamekeeper, he is intent on keeping poachers at bay even though his ambition has always been to eventually purchase land that he can call his own. When a chance encounter introduces him to the lovely Annabelle Thorley, his steady life is shaken. For the first time since his wife’s tragic death, Owen begins to dream of a second chance at love.

As Owen and Annabelle grow closer, ominous forces threaten the peace they thought they’d found. Poachers, mysterious strangers, and murderers converge at Fellsworth, forcing Annabelle and Owen to a test of fortitude and bravery to stop the shadow of the past from ruining their hopes for the future.

I received an ARC of this novel 
from TLC Book Tours 
in exchange for an honest review.

I love the Regency period just as much as Sarah Ladd does, and thoroughly enjoyed falling into this great story that reminded me of the novels of Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen (but especially the former).

The plot of this novel is a very interesting combination of elements -- romance, an overview of the relationship between the higher and working classes, the hardships endured by women at this time in history, and even mystery. It was all handled beautifully, too, and kept me turning pages!

The characters and the world they lived in were very believable. At first sight, the villains in the story might appear a bit predictable and one-dimensional, were it not for the fact that real people of this time period did engage in the types of nefarious activities depicted in this novel.

Annabelle Thorley is a wonderful, kind, thoughtful person, not at all like many upper-class women of the time. However, she has the misfortune of being tyrannized by a cruel, selfish brother who attempts to force her to marry a man she cannot love.  Thomas Thorley is only interested in covering his debts, as Cecil Bartrell, the man he wants his sister to marry, is very wealthy. Thomas has absolutely no concern for Annabelle's happiness and wellbeing. As for Bartrell, he's the classic misogynist who loves to treat women as property, as well as physically mistreat them.

I thoroughly enjoyed how Annabelle stood up to this bully. Although she couldn't count on her brother's emotional or physical support in this matter, she refused to cower before Bartrell; instead, she courageously defied him every chance she got. 

Annabelle initially tries to be patient with her brother, but must finally take matters into her own hands. I admire her courage in doing so; she has to leave everything behind in order to escape this forced marriage. In the process, her whole life changes. In this she reminded me very much of Jane Eyre, who similarly had to make a life-changing decision, although hers was motivated by a different matter entirely.

I was so happy to see a working-class hero in this story! This is not at all common in Regency romance novels. Usually, these novels depict romantic relationships strictly within the upper classes. Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, written and published in the Victorian period, broke with this tradition, as Jane is a governess, while Rochester is an aristocrat. In the case of A Stranger at Fellsworth, the situation is reversed. Annabelle is the aristocrat, while Owen Locke is a gamekeeper.

The sweet, tender relationship between Annabelle and Owen develops gradually, while other events are going on, and in the relative solitude of a village school, run by Annabelle's uncle, who has been kind enough to take in the niece he had not seen in many years, and offer her employment at the school.

I love Owen! He's such a gentle, honorable man, who is totally devoted to his motherless daughter. He is also a man of high moral principles, a perfect match for Annabelle. The more he interacts with her, the greater his attraction to her, and hers to him. Annabelle was a balm to Owen's wounded soul, while he was a refreshing change for her. 

It was also wonderful that Annabelle never for one moment thought that Owen was beneath her. On the contrary, she admired him for his character, and ended up falling in love with him because of it. But then, she was not a shallow silly person, but instead, a woman of substance. The fact that she adjusted so well to having to work for a living, after having lived such a privileged life, speaks very highly of her.

Another thing I loved about Owen was that he was never condescending toward Annabelle, nor did he ever attempt to force her to do anything against her will. Quite the contrary! In marked contrast to Bartrell, he was always respectful toward her, and not only because of her station, but also because he simply did not believe in mistreating women, but instead, gave them respect and any assistance they might require of him. Although he did feel protective toward Annabelle, he never made her feel that she was in any way "a second-class citizen" just because of her gender.

The secondary characters are well-developed, too. I especially liked Annabelle's Uncle Edmund, her deceased mother's brother, as well as his wife. They both welcomed Annabelle to their home with open arms. When they finally learned the reason for her coming to them for help, they immediately offered her a safe haven, giving her much needed love in the process.

I also loved Annabelle's relationship with Hannah, Owen's daughter. She not only helped the girl with her studies, but also protected her from bullies at school. Furthermore, she also taught Hannah how to paint with watercolors.

One secondary character I tried to like, and could not, was Margaret Crosley, Annabelle's maid. There was always something about her that made me think she was untrustworthy, and my hunch proved right in the end. It was really too bad, as Annabelle did try to be friends with her when they both began to work at Fellsworth School. 

This is one aspect of the novel I do wish the author had handled differently. It would have been absolutely wonderful if Annabelle and Margaret could have developed a new friendship as equals. Instead, Margaret turned out to be harboring resentment and envy toward Annabelle. This became clear later on in the novel.

The prose style is wonderful, and the settings vividly described. I was strongly reminded of Lowood School and its environs (from Jane Eyre), except that in Ms. Ladd's novel, the children are well treated, disciplined in a fair manner, and Edmund is certainly not in any way to be compared with the hypocritical clergyman who ruled Lowood with a merciless, iron hand. Still, this part of the novel did bring back memories.

I also liked that Ladd refers to Annabelle's mother having kept a prayer journal, and mentions that Annabelle is struggling with her faith. These details made her female protagonist more believable and realistic, as well as someone the reader could easily relate to.

The plot of this novel came to a very satisfactory conclusion, with no plot lines left dangling, and no cliffhangers, either. The action was mixed in with parts in which character development, chiefly through dialogue, took place. Toward the end, things did speed up as the villains moved in on Annabelle, and Owen stepped up to the plate in order to protect her.

In spite of my comment regarding Annabelle and Margaret, I loved this wonderful tale that included a touch of mystery and intrigue! Furthermore, even though it's part of a series, it can be read as a standalone.

In short, A Stranger at Fellsworth is a very enjoyable historical romance, with great characters and a very sweet love story. I can't recommend it highly enough to all Regency fans, especially as a great escape on a rainy afternoon!


Purchase Links


Sarah E. Ladd has always loved the Regency period — the clothes, the music, the literature and the art. A college trip to England and Scotland confirmed her interest in the time period and gave her an idea of what life would have looked like in that era. 

It wasn’t until 2010 that Ladd began writing seriously. Shortly thereafter, she released the first book in the Whispers on the Moors series, The Heiress of Winterwood, which was the recipient of the 2011 ACFW Genesis Award for Historical Romance.

To access the complete tour schedule, just click on the button below!


  1. Great review Maria.

    I guess that there is a genre of books set in this time period. As you point out, the plot description does remind one of the books Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. Though he wrote later and about a later period, I am also reminded of the Anthony Trollope books.

    Working class heroes do seem rare in this sort of fiction. I am lumping together books written in this era with the Victorian period and with books of this type written in modern times. Things were so class consciences at that time. Evan Charles Dickens wrote characters that, later in life, discovered that that they had upper class roots.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      Thanks so much for the compliment!! :) :)

      Yes, this is a romance sub-genre, known as "Regency romance". All of the stories in this sub-genre take place during the Regency period, which, as you know, is that period in English history in which Jane Austen lived and wrote her novels.

      This particular novel reminds me of both Bronte and Austen, but I think that the Bronte influence is a bit stronger. I saw this especially with the section in which Annabelle worked as a teacher at Fellsworth School. This was "Jane Eyre" in reverse. In Bronte's novel, Jane went from a school, where she worked as a teacher, to Thornfield, an aristocrat's mansion. Annabelle went from her family's mansion to a school where she, too, worked as a teacher. I thought this reversal was quite intriguing!

      How interesting that you're also reminded of Trollope's novels! I really need to start reading them!! :)

      I LOVE Regency romance, and believe me, I can tell you (because I've read so many of them) that it's VERY rare to see a working-class hero portrayed in such a novel. At the most, I read one novel in which, right alongside the main couple, who were both aristocrats, there was a working-class couple. But in "A Stranger at Fellsworth", the main male character is actually a member of the working-class. And he marries a female aristocrat. I don't think I've ever come across this combination in a Regency novel before!

      It's totally true that novels in the 19th-century reflected the marked separation of classes in the real world of the time. And, as you say, even Dickens included this in his books. I really don't remember which of his characters found out that they originally had upper-class roots. I need to re-read those Dickens novels I've mentioned before, such as "Oliver Twist", and then get to some new ones!

      Thanks for such a WONDERFUL, thought-provoking comment!! Hope you're having a very nice day!! <3 :)

  2. The fact that this book reminds you of Bronte and Austen makes it a must read for me!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

    1. Hi, Heather!

      Oh, it DEFINITELY does!! I think you'll LOVE it!!

      You're very welcome for myu participating!! Thanks for the nice comment!! HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)


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