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Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly
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Reforming Lord Ragsdale (1995)

by Carla Kelly

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Cover, title, and plot are equally embarrassing and over-the-top here.

I cannot keep doing this to myself. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Five stars!

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of romance novels that have brought me to tears. To that list I must add Reforming Lord Ragsdale.

John Staples, Marquess of Ragsdale, is an unrepentant rake. Not the handsome, charming, amiable kind of rake frequently found in romance novels. He's a drunkard who neglects his duties (although he is nice to his mother). He’s too lazy to hire a valet, or to replace the secretary he fired for stealing. He’s even too indolent to rid himself of his stupid mistress, whom he doesn't even like. His behavior is not like that of other romance heroes either. In one early scene, we find him waking up drunk, fully clothed, and filthy from his own vomit. It’s just another typical morning. Later, he visits his mistress and "attempting exercise far beyond his capacity," he leaves embarrassed and sulky.

He was disfigured by the loss of an eye while fighting in Ireland, which is also where he witnessed a mob murdering his father. He's wracked with guilt because he was unable to save him, and he hates the Irish with a passionate vengeance. When his American cousins, Robert and Sally Claridge, arrive for a visit, he immediately dislikes Sally’s indentured Irish servant Emma Costello, although he finds himself intrigued to learn that she has knowledge of Greek mythology and Shakespeare. When cousin Robert tries to put up Emma’s indenture as stakes in a card game, however, even Lord Ragsdale is horrified at the inhumanity of it. He rescues Emma by offering his two excellent horses in her place. Suddenly, he owns Emma’s indenture, and she pledges to repay him the two thousand pounds that the horses cost.

I said earlier that Lord Ragsdale was unrepentant, but in fact there is a part of him that knows he’s wasting his life. He wants to be better, but his indolence is too powerful. One night, in a drunken haze, he begs Emma to reform him, and she immediately sees her chance. She will reform this worthless man, and in so doing earn her release.

It turns out that Emma is an educated, talented, and ruthlessly strong woman whose life was ruined in the battle between England and Irish rebels. She dislikes the English no less than Lord Ragsdale abhors the Irish. Between them, however, a reluctant friendship develops, as she sets about organizing his finances, getting rid of the mistress, and stopping the out of control drinking. Emma encourages Lord Ragsdale to find a wife, and indeed he becomes the ideal fiancé for Miss Clarissa Partridge, a perfect little society chit of the sort he always expected to marry.

Eventually, Emma comes to trust Lord Ragsdale enough to share her past with him, and he goes out of his way to help her find out the fate of her lost family. Their friendship slowly turns to love, but they both know, without discussing it, that there is no future for them together. As the story enters its final pages, Lord Ragsdale is set to marry Clarissa, and Emma is leaving England, and the reader despairs of a happy ending. But fear not . . . .

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The plot is engaging, with plenty of humor as well as angst; the language sparkles. There's no sex -- just a couple of kisses -- but there's something better: real, unselfish love between two people who never expected to find it.
( )
  LadyWesley | Sep 25, 2013 |
Very cute. I couldn't believe in the characters though, a bit too modern. ( )
  Steelwhisper | Mar 29, 2013 |
This rich story opens with dissolute, weak, liquor-sodden. hopeless John Staples, Lord Ragsdale, observing the useless, aimless, chaotic path his life has taken since the brutal death of his father ten years earlier. In addition to his other charms, Lord Ragsdale also harbors a livid hatred for the Irish.

What made the day the novel opens any different from any other day was the unexpected (to him) arrival from the United States of his first cousins. He almost immediately wrote off his cousins, but they had with them a maidservant, who was unobtrusive, attractive, and apparently both intelligent and educated (certainly more so than his cousins). She piqued his interest until she made a comment under her breath and he heard her Irish lilt. That ended that.

…or so it seemed. Along the road to Oxford, where Lord Ragsdale and his mother were going to enroll Robert, one of his cousins, the entourage stopped for the night at an inn. There Ragsdale discovered that Robert had a ruinous addiction to gambling. When instinct awoke Ragsdale in the night, he discovered that Robert had stolen all of his money and Ragsdale ran downstairs to discover his cousin about to gamble the indenture contract of his sister’s Irish maidservant. And that is how Ragsdale ended up with Emma Costello, Irish woman.

In order to more quickly end her indenture and get on with her own personal agenda, Emma takes Ragsdale up on his drunken request that she reform him. Now the real story of mutual redemption begins.

Carla Kelly is one of my favorite authors and this is a grand story. The characters struggle with guilt, human frailty, and rise above adversity with strength, caring from sometimes unexpected places and, finally, love. ( )
1 vote rsstick | Sep 5, 2010 |
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Keep my counsel lest thou slip. / If love or hate men offer thee, / Hide thy heart and hoard thy lip. / Wed no man. Remember me. --from the Irish, seventeenth century
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To my sisters, Karen Deo and Lynn Turner--Family isn't just anything; it's the only thing.
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Emma Costello owes a debt of honor to one of the most dishonorable lords in the realm. The infamous Lord Ragsdale is as sinful as he is rich and as heartless as he is handsome. But after he saves Emma from a life of indentured servitude and shame, she decides it is her personal duty to save him from his reckless ways... without his permission.… (more)

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