A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly

on May 20, 2020

The theme: Old School (book ten+ years old. That no longer feels very old…)

Why this one: I usually prefer going really Old Skool for Old School month, but this book was being discussed on Twitter and I felt like reading it. It actually has quite an old skool blurb and starts off with a divorced hero who’s very cynical about women, but that doesn’t last past his first laying eyes on the heroine.

(Incidentally, there’s a nasty flu epidemic in this story, so it was not great timing.)


Six months after burying the husband she nursed for years, Roxanna Drew is starting to feel ready to live again. Unfortunately, her brother-in-law’s idea of taking care of her and her two young daughters is to insist that they live with him, where he can offer her “the comfort of a husband” she’s been missing. Desperate to escape a pressure she might be tempted to give in to, Roxanna impulsively rents the dilapidated dower house of a titled neighbor she’s never met.

Fletcher Rand, Lord Winn, wouldn’t seem to be a great knight errant for this damsel in distress. Not only did he shoot a friend he found in bed with his wife — apparently getting him in a very sensitive spot — and feel no remorse about it, but he also divorced his wife in extremely ungentlemanly fashion, calling on all her lovers to testify. I’m not sure how to feel about this, to be honest. On the one hand, it’s cruel; on the other hand, she was pretty terrible. By the lights of the book, we’re not supposed to think particularly badly of him.

In any event, this hardened cynical lord is soon turned into a bowl of mush by Roxanna’s adorable children and her adorable self. As usual with Kelly, the development of the relationship (relationships in this case) is sweet and disarming in its swift intimacy; her characters are always old friends who just met. In Roxanna’s case, missing “the comfort of a husband” is definitely a factor. Here she cleans up after the stranded Lord Winn has spent the night (alone) in her bed:

She made her bed, noting the indentation of Lord Winn’s head on the empty pillow next to hers. I wonder if men have an instinct about these things? she thought as she fluffed her pillow and straightened the blankets. After Helen was born, she had claimed the side of the bed closest to the door, so she could be up quickly in the night. She started to fluff his pillow but changed her mind. She traced her finger over the indentation, then pulled the bedspread over both pillows. I really should change the sheets, she thought, but knew she would not.

Kelly’s books are known for being “clean,” but there’s some powerful sexual tension in this story. It wasn’t that usual when this was published for a romance about a widow to be so honest about her needs; it’s one of the charms of the book, along with Fletcher’s unexpected vulnerability, and the beautifully drawn children — the younger lively and mischievous, the older sadly quiet and matured by her father’s death.

I didn’t love everything: Fletcher’s past is unpleasant, and the plot meanders its way to a truly ridiculous Big Misunderstanding. There’s certainly adventure and drama enough without throwing that in. And then there’s Fletcher pushing Roxanna to forgive her brother-in-law, whose redemption could have used more work. But I was very drawn into this story about a woman trying to “play her hand,” no matter what terrible cards life dealt her, and glad that she finally got to put down… let’s call it a full house.

7 responses to “TBR Challenge: Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly

  1. KeiraSoleore says:

    Yes, I loved how the title is the theme of the story. She really does her best with what she has. She could’ve become embittered, but instead, she forges ahead to make of her life what she can.

    The hero forcing her to forgive was a bridge too far. I have erased his past, so I need to pick up the book again to remember it. My memory of the book is that I liked it. After the Twitter convo, I wanted to retest that.

    • willaful says:

      It is a tad ironic, isn’t it — the hero who only chuckled over shooting his former friend where the sun don’t shine. Admittedly, the villain is her daughters only family and cares about them, but it shouldn’t have been pushed like that.

  2. SuperWendy says:

    I also read Kelly this month – The Lady’s Companion – which I loved beyond all reason. I’m going to have to read this one soon. I know I have it buried in the TBR somewhere and your review checked off more than a few of my boxes.

    • willaful says:

      Such a fantastic book, though I’ll never forgive her for not writing a story for… Rueben, was it? The disabled Jewish man who stole my heart…

      • SuperWendy says:

        I went dashing to my print copy to look it up (I’m horrid with character names) – Joel! OMG, he was so, so amazing. A tragedy she didn’t give him a romance!

  3. Re: Mrs Drew (which I loved, btw)–I could forgive our hero’s cold-hearted actions towards his BF, and towards his cheating wife. However, I never did quite buy the turn-around of Mrs Drew’s BIL. He was so nasty and so blatant in his threats to her at the beginning, that I had a hard time buying his ‘oh please forgive me’ speech at the end. I also agree that the Big Mis was silly.
    But the book was still top tier Kelly for me. I had to resort to tissues at several points, so I was definitely involved emotionally.
    ps I also love Wendy’s choice–The Lady’s Companion. I also want a story for Joel. He needs an HEA of his own.

    • willaful says:

      Yes, there definitely needed to be more there. Or he shouldn’t have been made so villainous to begin with. I would not want to send my child off to a man like that!

      Kelly seems to have considered writing a story for Joel but I guess she’s mostly writing Mormon characters now? So unlikely to happen. *sob*

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