NPR's Best Books of 2016 list, and Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner is no different. I was browsing the "love story" section of the list when I came across Lerner's novel. The blurb stated in part:
Fans of historical romance know that if there's one thing fictional England has in spades, it's dukes. But they might not be as accustomed to encountering valets. You might see one briefly, making certain a coat of claret velvet hangs just so on his master's shoulders, but as the hero, complete with romantic aspirations and dreams of his own, he's almost unheard of.
I was immediately intrigued and decided to read it immediately. Listen to the Moon is the love story between the maid, Sukey Grimes, and a valet turned butler, John Toogood. The two meet when Sukey is a maid for a woman who keeps a boarding house. John Toogood has just been dismissed from his position because he displeased the mistress of the house for not telling her everything that was going on with her adult son.
The two immediately hit it off, but it is actually the promise of another job that has them getting married. A reverend in a nearby town wants John as his new butler, but only if he is married. Apparently, the former butler had gone after the female servants (children) and the reverend thinks a married man will be less of a threat to them. This lends a small, immediate disquiet to their marriage because Sukey wonders if John married her to get the job, and John wonders if Sukey married him to get out of her bad situation.
The majority of the book takes place after their marriage, when Sukey and John really have to get to know each other and figure out how to get along, work together, and live together. I was very impressed with this part of the book because it was very character-driven. Sukey is rather carefree and impulsive while John is pretty exacting, careful, and demanding of both himself and his staff. Sukey finds herself stuck in the middle between John, who she loves, and unhappy servants--and she is often on the side of the servants. For his part, John wants to be liked, and wants his wife to love him, but cannot compromise his principles for them.
What I found most surprising is that Lerner made her hero, John Toogood, so human. This was probably the first time I've ever really associated myself with a hero of a romance novel. I am totally the awkward, anal one who tries to do everything perfectly, and I could completely understand where John was coming from.
I don't think the ending quite lived up to the rest of the novel, but good endings are hard to come by. The only real problem I had while reading this one was that I found Sukey rather unrealistically comfortable and knowledgeable about sex, even as a virgin. And I totally understand that it would fit her personality to be curious and sexual, but this went way beyond that. It definitely didn't ruin the book for me, just distracted me for a short time because it felt unrealistic compared to the rest of the novel.