Desperate Daughters: A Bluestocking Belles Collection

Alina K. Field, Ella Quinn, Mary Lancaster, Meara Platt, Caroline Warfield,
Elizabeth Ellen Carter, Jude Knight, Rue Allyn, Sherry Ewing

ANTHOLOGY: Early 19th Century, England. The Dowager Countess of Seahaven has her work cut out for her. Fifth wife of the Earl, Patience is left with little inheritance to support nine stepdaughters after the new Earl turns them out. Patience is determined to find a way to get all the girls properly married off. Each story focuses on a different daughter’s quest.

The Bluestocking Belles represent a wide variety of women, the youngest in their teens and the eldest, their stepmother, Patience herself. Many of the girls are in their mid to late twenties—past marriageable age for the time. They don’t have money for fancy gowns, so a little stitchery changes their dresses with differing trims and overskirts. The camaraderie, teamwork, and ingenuity of these ladies is inspiring.

The women are all very different in other ways as well, with interests ranging from charity work to music to archaeology to herbal medicine. One is described as having an “unfashionable figure.” The twins are determined to find brothers to marry so they will never be apart. Yet each forges her own unique journey in her search for a man to love. Finally, Patience herself has a chance at a happy ever after.

These novellas, although written by different authors with distinctive voices, mesh seamlessly. They are perfectly paced, and all tell a full story with a satisfying conclusion. The love scenes run the gamut from sweet to slightly spicy. The array of women portrayed, with their determination and spunk to live the lives of their dreams, is refreshing for novellas set in a time when women had little such freedom. There are some hiccups: confusion ensues since the order of the first two pieces is not sequential—the second novella seems to come chronologically before the first. Also, as the tales go on, how the stepdaughters are related becomes somewhat fuzzy. All in all, this anthology represents an admirable storytelling collaboration, and is a delightful read.

F.S. Brown