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  • Caitlyn Lynch

Book Review: What Ales The Earl by Sally MacKenzie

Harry Graham has to choose a bride, and quickly. He was never supposed to be Earl, but when his brother died in his mid-thirties without siring a son, Harry inherited both the title and the responsibility to ensure the succession. The only problem is that all the ‘suitable’ young ladies he’s meeting in London are utterly uninteresting. None of them compare to Pen, his childhood sweetheart.

Encountering Pen again when helping out a friend is quite a surprise… but not as much so as meeting Harriet, who couldn’t be more obviously his daughter.

When Harry went away to join the army, Pen was horrified to find herself pregnant. Her abusive father tried to marry her off to the local blacksmith, an unpalatable option, so she ran away to an aunt who helped her out, eventually ending up at a countryside home for widows and abandoned women. No ordinary home, this one grows hops and makes ale, and Pen’s knowledge of farming is essential to the process. Harry’s reappearance reopens old wounds as well as jeopardising Pen’s standing as a ‘respectable widow’.

Frankly, Harry behaved like an ass throughout a lot of the book. His internal thoughts about how Pen would be grateful for his attentions and how she must be gagging for sex after years of abstinence made me want to smack him any number of times, as did his complete ignorance of the trials Pen and Harriet would face if Pen allowed him to set them up in a house near his home. It never even seemed to occur to Harry to ask Pen to marry him until his family basically gave him permission, and as a friend pointed out to Pen, she would have to give up everything to do what Harry asked (become his mistress) whereas he would get to have his cake and eat it too.

Harry basically spent a lot of time thinking with the head between his legs. He largely let other people solve his problems, not thinking about other people’s wants or needs until he was basically hit in the face with their existence. Ultimately, he came off as very selfish and I really struggled to like him - we were told in Pen’s point of view how wonderful he was, but I could never quite see it.

I liked Pen and her friends, and Harriet was a delightful character, but when you spend the whole book thinking the hero is a bit of a selfish ass, it’s pretty hard to get past. This was solidly written and edited and had some very accurate social commentary so it definitely deserves four stars, but I can’t give it five.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.

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