Megan Walker takes us to the world of the landed gentry in pre-Victorian England, where a lady would never venture from her rooms without the proper gloves and a gentleman is never late for tea. There are childish parlor games and carefully measured conversation, but there is something delightful in the decorum required of the characters in Walker’s debut novel.

In Lakeshire Park (Shadow Mountain), we meet Amelia in the drawing room, playing the piano and musing over happier times where she remembers that worries were few and the future was full of hope. 

MOTHER’S SECOND MARRIAGE PUTS DAUGHTERS AT RISK

Alas, that is not the case for Amelia and her younger sister Clara any longer. After their father’s death, their mother re-married the starchy Lord Gray who, from the beginning, considered the girls an unwanted burden. After their mother’s death, Lord Gray has washed his hands of them entirely. Only a deathbed promise to his late wife prevents him from turning them out of his house.

He bellows, growls and rages. He stomps about Gray House, demanding that the girls attend to his whims. The girls cringe and do their best to please him. 

He is ill, we learn, and although that may sound like good news (for those of us who root for the death of evil queens and stepmothers in fairy tales), it is not good for Clara and Amelia. This is England, 1820, and women cannot survive without the protection of family, title, money and their good name. Without Lord Gray, they have none of that. He has had made it clear that when he dies, his entire estate will go to his own family, leaving nothing to them. Their only hope is to marry.

DESPERATELY SEEKING A SUITABLE MARRIAGE

Hope arrives by post early in the book: an invitation to spend a fortnight at the grand estate of Sir Ronald Demsworth of Hampshire. “A well-spoken man besotted by one of you,” announces Lord Gray, though the invite doesn’t specify who, and the two young women are instructed to pack. As further proof of their low status, they must share a maid.

Amelia is spirited and determined; Clara, needy and a little simpering. Without Amelia, one wonders what would become of her, and once Amelia learns that Clara has her heart set on Sir Ronald: Game on. Amelia will do whatever’s necessary to marry off her little sister to the man.

However, among the other guests at the Demsworth estate is Georgiana Wood who also has her sights set on Sir Ronald. And there is her annoying brother Peter, determined to help his sister get him. The posturing and strategizing that goes on during the two weeks of almost desperate match-making is the heart of the book, but tangential entanglements and scandals are entertaining, as is the education about pre-Victorian society where a stolen kiss can be the ruin of a girl and her entire family. A kiss stolen from their mother has two stories behind it; a kiss stolen at Lakeshire Park changes the game there completely. 

Walker does a fine job of inviting her readers into a world of fine manners and sage advice where we’re cheering our protagonists to ignore both.

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Megan Walker was raised on a berry farm in Poplar Bluff, MO, where her imagination took her to times past and worlds away. While earning her degree in Early Childhood Education, she married her one true love and started a family. But her imaginings of Regency England wouldn’t leave her alone, so she picked up a pen. And the rest is history. She lives in St. Louis, MO, with her husband and three children.