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Book Review
FAIR AS A STAR
From the Victorian Romantics series, Vol. 1

Beryl Burnham suffers from clinical depression, or “melancholy,” as it was known at the time. Though she keeps busy to hold the sadness at bay, Beryl can never fully escape it. After an overdose of sleeping powder, she is whisked off to Paris with her aunt to rest and recover.

Beryl returns home to her small English village and must face her fiance, Sir Henry Rivenhall, a wealthy man who is ruled by practicality. He has no tolerance for Beryl’s silly “emotions” and believes bearing children will cure her of her selfish sadness. While Beryl struggles to cope with Henry’s accusations and ideas, her one refuge is her friendship with Mark, Henry’s brother, and a curate at the local church.

Mark sets out to better understand Beryl’s depression and tells her that he has “no expectation of curing” her. He just wants to help Beryl cope and, in modern parlance, give her the necessary tools to succeed. But as the days pass, it becomes apparent that Beryl and Mark have feelings for each other. Beryl accepted Henry’s proposal because it was practical. But she soon realizes that she must find a way to extricate herself from the arrangement and embrace her feelings rather than push them aside. Matthews constructs a romance that is built on empathy and trust, demonstrating that it’s not just brute strength or power that might attract a person.

In addition to offering a sweet romance, the author deftly addresses the importance of bringing mental health treatments out of the shadows. And just as she explores the depression that underlies Beryl’s need to stay busy, Matthews exposes the darker side of a pretty English village where malicious gossip and unrealistic expectations can render incredible harm.

10 Comments

  • OLT Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    In First Corinthians of the Bible, St. Paul says it’s better to marry than to burn. But what if you are the curate of the church in the village of Shepton Worthy and the woman you are yearning and burning for is going to marry your brother?As this story begins, our heroine, Beryl Burnham, has returned from a year-long trip to Paris with her aunt. Before leaving on the trip, she had agreed to marry Sir Henry Rivenhall, baronet of the village, and the trip was ostensibly to shop for her wedding trousseau. But Beryl has a troubling secret that sent her away. Not a wardrobe issue. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about her problem, an all-too-common one that is still not easily dealt with nowadays, and see how much more difficult it was during Victorian times with Victorian attitudes and treatments.Our hero, Mark Rivenhall, village curate and brother of Beryl’s fiance, has pined for her for years. They are the best of friends, with many common interests, in particular their love of Dickens. Mark writes letters to her during her absence, filling her in on village life with humorous anecdotes. Beryl’s fiance makes no effort to be in touch. Upon her return, she finds that Mark is the only one who really understands her, really sees her for who she is, and can help her with her problem. Their longtime friendship develops into a mutual, reciprocated love, but it’s a love that must be denied.What to do? Well, not to worry. Something good will happen in this lovely story. It’s simple and sweet and nicely written and deals with a serious mental health issue without glossing over it or making too much of it. And the characters are well developed. Caring Mark may be just a little bit too good to be true, but, well, I wish we had more real people like him in this country at the moment.Other characters include Mark’s stiff-rumped, seemingly cold and unlikeable brother, Beryl’s fiance, but Matthews gives us insight into why he is the way he is. Beryl’s sister Winnie is a free spirit and fun counterpoint to serious Beryl. And we have Beryl’s mother and aunt, new village doctor Black, and many other village characters to entertain us. Not to mention Ernest the dog and a horse that will play a part in the story.This romance is actually quite slight but it’s very well written. There’s some lovely imagery here. One that stands out is Beryl’s whitework embroidery. White thread embroidered on white cloth, producing small figures hiding in plain sight that when “discovered unexpectedly…gave the finder an instance of surprised delight.” Just as Beryl’s secret self was hidden from view and seemingly only visible to Mark.A love story that warms the heart. I’m looking forward to more romances in Shepton Worthy. Mark’s brother Henry needs to find someone to humanize him. Beryl’s sister needs to find someone worthy of her free-spirited personality. There are hints about Dr. Black in this regard. We shall see.

  • Amy M. Bruno Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    I feel like I say this whenever I write a review for a Mimi Matthews book, but this one is definitely my favorite so far! And that is saying something because I adore every book she’s ever written! But Fair as a Star will always be special to me and I know I will never forget Beryl and Mark. That’s reason #4,972,087 that I love Mimi’s books. The characters she creates will forever be embedded in your heart and soul.Beryl is back home in Somerset, England after being away for a year in Paris with her benefactor Aunt. With only three months to go until her wedding Beryl is a reluctant bride and not exactly thrilled to be home. There are rumors in town as to why Beryl left town so suddenly and stayed away so long when she was betrothed to the most eligible man in town. But the real reason Beryl left will be revealed when she confides in her fiance’s brother, Mark, the town’s curate and the only person she is truly close to. Mark’s love for Beryl will have to be forgotten if she is to marry his brother, but their connection is undeniable.In addition to the love aspect, this book also deals with a very serious topic, that of depression, or melancholia as they called it back then. I’ve suffered from depression from a very young age so I related to Beryl 100%. I loved the way Mark wanted to learn more about how she was feeling and didn’t try to “fix” her. The scenes with those two together had me feeling all the feels! I just love them so much. As I was reading I wanted to wrap them both up in a bubble and stab anyone that threatened their happiness!Another thing I love about Mimi’s books is that she always includes a cute dog and I absolutely loved that feisty little Ernest!I cannot recommend Fair as a Star enough! It’s a beautiful story that will capture your heart! I think I might have to read it again tonight 🙂 I miss them already!

  • She who shall remain nameless Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    This was simply magnificent! Mark and Beryl were amazing MCs. I loved that this story dealt with chronic depression. I do not recall any other books that I have read dealing with this. We need to be more open with subjects like this in my opinion. I liked how the story emphasizes that friends, pets, fresh air and exercise are the best medicine for melancholy. I also loved Beryl’s whitework. So many romances disparage needlework as women today aren’t as interested in it, but it is a wonderful pastime which is relaxing and allows one to create something beautiful. Additionally, I adored that Mark was a clergyman. He was kind and loving and totally swoon worthy!My favorite two passages of the book were the following:“What I think—what I sincerely believe—is that you need to surround yourself with people who love and support you unconditionally. Who’ll show compassion during your dark moments, not criticize and shame you for something over which you have no control.”“All the beauty you see before you is on account of the flaws. Were it perfect, it would have no color at all. No value, certainly not to me.” He took the ring from its box. “I prefer this one. It matches your eyes.” Absolutely priceless!  This is a remarkably lovely novella which I will be rereading often in the future. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

  • Élodie Nicoli Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    Will her encumbrance hide to her the tree from the forest …What an exquisite tale once more Mrs Mimi Matthews offers us.And while it is a novella, it is loaded with all the subtleties she is renowned for.She sets her cap on dealing with a topic, how people suffering from it were seen, how they were treated and how they went on with their life.Beryl is made felt guilty because of what she sees as her moment of selfish weakness, as it was fiercely engrained in her mind as a wrongdoing from her part: plus medicine at that time, but also prior to the Victorian area and still sometime now was helpless but also uninterested to help those seen as lesser because they were different.Mark, oh Mark, how a sweetheart he is, devasted by guilt when he understands Beryl’s impediment, saddened he did not see it before. Yet, what a great friend he is, looking to assist her by giving her weapons to deal herself with her issue. He pulls her upwards when everyone belittles her, even if it is not malicious. She is seen as crippled, but it is also how she represents herself in her mind. Until Mark shows her her own worth, that only she can help herself but a shoulder to rest one’s head has its value too.I hope we will see again the side characters introduced here as I am very curious about Winnefred, Dr Black, Henry.Mrs Matthews paints a very thoughtful vision of this society with its up and down.5 starsI was granted an advance copy by the publisher Perfectly Proper Press, here is my true and unbiased opinion.

  • HappyBookWorm Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    This is a gentle love story. It surprised me at first, because Mimi Matthews is quite capable of riveting the reader from the first sentence. She didn’t do that here. Instead, the reader edges into the story. It is low key from beginning to end, and about a fourth of the way in, I begin to appreciate what she was doing. Not to give away too many spoilers, the heroine’s experience of life is blunted. This was especially apparent in scenes where her polar opposite sister, horse mad, impetuous, and passionate in everything, appears.This is a surprisingly deep story. It turns out that the heroine has some serious problems to overcome. She and her affianced husband, Sir Henry, are not a good match. Her mother and sister’s futures depend on her marrying well. She is much more comfortable with Sir Henry’s youngest brother, the curate in the village church, than with Sir Henry, who is obsessed with managing his estates and has little interest in Beryl. I fell in love with Mark, the curate, who is strong, compassionate, unselfish and that rarest of things – a good listener. I was happy to see Sir Henry come through for his brother at the end of the book.I am sincerely hoping that Beryl’s headstrong, horse mad sister Winnie gets her own book, and also would love to see Sir Henry find someone who will shake him up. He reminded me a little of starchy Wuldric from Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn series.My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to read and review this book. This is my honest opinion of the book.

  • Cindy Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    This is a beautiful story with some hard topics and a theme of friendship and support.Beryl returns from a long trip to Paris with her aunt to the small village where her family lives, and the first thing she does is go to the church and see the curate. They’ve been friends for a long time and Mark wrote to her regularly while she was in France, and she wants to thank him for that.We immediately see there’s something simmering just below the surface between Beryl and Mark. But neither of them is acting on their feelings because Beryl is engaged to marry Mark’s brother, Sir Henry Rivenhall.The writing is so well done, as usual, and the characters are compelling. Beryl’s mental health is a heavy subject, and I wondered how she and Mark would be able to resolve the obstacles in their way.The setting of a small village in the summer adds the right touch to the story.Highly recommend.I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley and this is my honest opinion.

  • Blanche Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    4.5 Fabulous Stars. Apart from that one book that shall remain nameless (hint… AMI) Ms. Matthews never disappoints. Fair as a Star is a lovely little story, shorter than I might have preferred but beautifully written. The romance is sweet, the H and h are well developed characters, and the plot is well thought out and wonderfully paced. I applaud Ms. Matthews for taking on such a delicate theme with grace and empathy. However, having said that, and without giving too great a spoiler I hope, I would have liked to experience our heroine’s burden with her a bit more in real time. We are told about it and how it effected her in the past, and we get to see a thin slice or two of it during our story, but I would have liked to see how the H and h handled a more serious episode together, maybe as part of the epilogue. But that’s just me, and really the lack of a glimpse into that inevitable part of their future life together only lessened my enjoyment of this gem of a book a smidgeon.

  • Arietta Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    We meet our h as she returns to her village home after a year in Paris with a wealthy aunt. She asks the coachman to stop at the church so she can greet her dear friend and future brother-in-law, Mark, who is the curate of the local parish. Beryl, our h, is set to marry Henry, the curate’s brother.We find out why she spent a year in Paris, and see how Henry and she deal together. Beryl has serious struggles in an era ill-suited to deal competently with medical and psychological challenges.This is a relatively quick read. I loved the h/H, the treatment of Beryl’s struggles, the beautiful way the love story is depicted. It is very romantic, and so heart-warming. I do not hesitate to recommend this – and all Ms. Matthews’ other works!

  • myrtle Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    Beryl and Mark make such a wonderful couple. Their romance is endearing, it quietly catches up with the reader and makes one start rooting for them to become a couple early on the story. There are no villains with the exception of the local doctor who was following prescribed medicine protocol at that time. The interactions of the small cast of characters, the village life scenes, the dialogue between the H and h were all wonderful parts of this story. I so enjoy all of Mimi Matthews work; hope for more character development from Shepton Worthy!

  • A+D Posted November 30, -0001 12:00 am

    Another hit from Mimi Matthews!Beryl and Mark have such a special friendship and love, too bad she is engaged to his brother Henry. No spoilers but I loved the ending.Beryl suffers from melancholy, mostly in secret. I really liked how the author handled this with care and sensitivity.I highly recommend reading this book!

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