Lilly Westbrook wishes she could do something productive with her life than simply being the "lady of leisure" that society demands of her. Bored with attending endless balls, she embarks on a secret double life as dime-novelist Fannie Cole. But while Lilly derives joy from enriching the lives of her readers through her moralising tales, she knows that she would destroy her family's reputation if anyone found out that a lady of high society was secretly penning dime-novels. But with society's gossip tabloid threatening to reveal her identity and her old beau, Jackson Grail, planning to buy her publishing company, Lilly knows that she can't keep her career a secret for long. Can she wrench herself away from her attempts to hide her alter-ego long enough to realise that Jackson isn't back in her life by chance, and let herself fall in love with him all over again?
Despite the mixed reviews I've read of this book, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. While it was clear how the story would end right from the start, the unique idea of a society woman being a dime-novelist over-shone the predictability of the plot. I really liked the character of Lilly and watching her relationship with Jackson grow. This was a sweet romance, and I don't think they even kissed until the last page, but it seemed appropriate for the time period. Likewise, Lilly's dilemma over whether she should settle for a "content" marriage with Harlan was one that I'm sure a lot of women in the late nineteenth century struggled with. I really got a sense of the time period when I was reading this novel, and I didn't feel that any of the characters were caricatures. It was interesting to see the secret life of Lilly's sister-in-law, Irene, come to the surface, and it explained her earlier bizarre behaviour. I hope to see these characters appear again in later novels in the series.
The first book in the Ladies of Summerhill series may be rather predictable, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is the perfect light read for fans of historical romance who are looking for a twist on the usual storyline. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series. 8/10