My mum handed me Maid to Match (Bethany House Publishers, 2010) back in early February, right around the time I started this blog. I was working on other darker things at the time, so the fluffy romance got pushed to the back burner. I know romance novels (and their authors) often get a lot of grief for being what they are, but I’m firmly rooted in the camp that they have their place and purpose and are just as important as anything you’d find on the literary fiction shelf. For me, TRNs (trashy romance novels) are equivalent to dessert or a piece of Vosges Haut-Chocolate in the middle of a stressful work day. Sometimes I like picking up a book with strong female leads and sexy men and knowing that everything is going to turn out alright! (Though I have to amend right off the bat that Gist and Bethany House take the T out of the TRN!)
After finishing a dark, disturbing young adult novel, Maid to Match was exactly what I needed. Set in stunning North Carolina, on the Biltmore Estate in 1898, the story begins with the introduction of Tillie Reese, our immediately likable heroine. Tillie, the head parlormaid, is on the brink of becoming a lady’s maid to the Mrs. Vanderbilt. She craves the elite position and everything that goes with it; books, baths, fashionable dresses, travel and better pay (“so she could help her family and others in the community who were in need”). Tillie’s big heart and level head make her a shoe-in for the position, not to mention that Tillie’s over-bearing mama has been grooming Tillie for the position all her life.
Enter Mack Danvers, the rugged mountain man with a heart of gold. His handsome countenance, plus the fact that his twin is currently a Vanderbilt-employed footman, kick him right onto the fast track of servitude. After all, anyone in the upper echelon of turn-of-the-century society can employ a handsome footman, but think of the prestige that would come with employing a matching set.
The heavy responsibility of de-mountain-manning Mack somehow falls on sweet Tilly and of course, sparks (squeaky clean sparks) fly. Tillie does her best to avoid Mack’s advances because one does not engage in inter-service romance, especially if she wants to be come lady’s maid. However, the more time our hero and heroine are forced to spend together, the more Tillie learns about the real reason Mack has emerged from his mountain home and the more her heart softens toward him.
What I enjoyed the most about this book was that it introduced me to a setting and time in American history that, in retrospect, seems to be overlooked in the romance genre in general. Gist’s well-researched storyline waltzes the reader through the lush Biltmore Estate with its modern swimming pool and bowling alley, shady orphanages run by dodgy characters, and the beautiful Carolina mountains and their clans. Gist outlines in her author’s note just what was historically accurate and what she stretched for the sake of the story, which I thought was pretty cool.
Let’s talk about S-E-X for a sec. Bethany House is a publisher of Christian fiction and romance, and when I started Maid to Match, I wasn’t aware of the fact. Being much more accustomed to the bodice-rippers of Stephanie Laurens and others like her, I felt a little, well, frustrated that all that sexual tension between Tillie and Mack never had an outlet, or rather, that the outlet was merely alluded to. It makes more sense upon my discovery that the book came from a Christian publisher, but was odd and, er, anti-climactic at the time.
Bottom line: If you are looking for a light-hearted romance with a sweet, likable heroine and some fascinating American history lore, Maid to Match is a good one to pick up. Just be aware that this is no titillating TRN!