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Reforming Lord Ragsdale

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The Rake's Progress

Emma Costello owed a debt of honor to one of the most dishonorable lords in the realm. The infamous Lord Ragsdale was as rich as sin, as sinful as he was rich, and as heartless as he was handsome. But he had saved Emma from a fate worse than death when he stopped a lecherous brute from buying her as an indentured servant.

It was Emma's turn now to save Lord Ragsdale from his wicked ways. She had to find a way to stop his drinking, his gaming, his wild revelry. She had to make him break with his mistress, the superbly sensual Fae Moulle. She had to make him a suitable suitor for the ideal wife that the prim and proper Lady Clarissa Partridge would be. And above all, she had to keep his lustful eye from lingering too long on herself--even as she struggled to keep her own growing desire from undoing all her hard work in the unmaking of this irresistible rake...

224 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1995

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About the author

Carla Kelly

135 books707 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Although Carla Kelly is well known among her readers as a writer of Regency romance, her main interest (and first writing success) is Western American fiction—more specifically, writing about America's Indian Wars. Although she had sold some of her work before, it was not until Carla began work in the National Park Service as a ranger/historian at Fort Laramie National Historic Site did she get serious about her writing career. (Or as she would be the first to admit, as serious as it gets.)

Carla wrote a series of what she now refers to as the "Fort Laramie stories," which are tales of the men, women and children of the Indian Wars era in Western history. Two of her stories, A Season for Heroes and Kathleen Flaherty's Long Winter, earned her Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America. She was the second woman to earn two Spurs from WWA (which, as everyone knows, is all you need to ride a horse). Her entire Indian Wars collection was published in 2003 as Here's to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army. It remains her favorite work.

The mother of five children, Carla has always allowed her kids to earn their keep by appearing in her Regencies, most notably Marian's Christmas Wish, which is peopled by all kinds of relatives. Grown now, the Kelly kids are scattered here and there across the U.S. They continue to provide feedback, furnish fodder for stories and make frantic phone calls home during the holidays for recipes. (Carla Kelly is some cook.)

Carla's husband, Martin, is Director of Theatre at Valley City State University, in Valley City, North Dakota. Carla is currently overworked as a staff writer at the local daily newspaper. She also writes a weekly, award-winning column, "Prairie Lite."

Carla only started writing Regencies because of her interest in the Napoleonic Wars, which figures in many of her Regency novels and short stories. She specializes in writing about warfare at sea, and about the ordinary people of the British Isles who were, let's face it, far more numerous than lords and ladies.

Hobbies? She likes to crochet afghans, and read British crime fiction and history, principally military history. She's never happier than talking about the fur trade or Indian Wars with Park Service cronies. Her most recent gig with the National Park Service was at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site on the Montana/North Dakota border.

Here's another side to this somewhat prosaic woman: She recently edited the fur trade journal of Swiss artist Rudolf F. Kurz (the 1851-1852 portion), and is gratified now and then to be asked to speak on scholarly subjects. She has also worked for the State Historical Society of North Dakota as a contract researcher. This has taken her to glamorous drudgery in several national archives and military history repositories. Gray archives boxes and old documents make her salivate.

Her mantra for writing comes from the subject of her thesis, Robert Utley, that dean of Indian Wars history. He told her the secret to writing is "to put your ass in the chair and keep it there until you're done." He's right, of course.

Her three favorite fictional works have remained constant through the years, although their rankings tend to shift: War and Peace, The Lawrenceville Stories, and A Town Like Alice. Favorite historical works are One Vast Winter Count, On the Border with Mackenzie and Crossing the Line. Favorite crime fiction authors are Michael Connelly, John Harvey and Peter Robinson.

And that's all she can think of that would interest anyone. Carla Kelly is quite ordinary, except when she is sometimes prevailed upon to sing a scurrilous song about lumberjacks, or warble "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in Latin. Then you m

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5 stars
1,178 (34%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 436 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
May 31, 2020
Kindle freebie Regency romance, May 31, 2020. A soft 4 stars for this unusual Regency romance, much less fluffy than your typical RR. Carla Kelly is excellent at drawing realistic characters who have significant flaws. John Staples, Lord Ragsdale, is a particularly flawed hero: he drinks far too much, neglects his bills and duties, isn't interested in his mistress any longer but doesn't want to take the trouble to part ways with her, and is hugely bitter about the Irish - he lost his father and one of his eyes in one of the conflicts in Ireland several years earlier, and he's had a hard time coping since.

The last immediately puts Emma on his bad side: she's an Irish woman and an indentured servant to Lord Ragsdale's two American cousins, who are visiting him in England. But when his cousin Robert, who has a really serious gambling addiction, is about to gamble Emma away to a new master, John steps in and saves her. Now he's stuck with an Irish servant, which irritates him no end. It only gradually dawns on John that Emma detests the English as much as he does the Irish - for good reason.

Emma decides that, to earn her release from her indenture, she's going to make Lord Ragsdale give up his dissipated ways and become a worthwhile person again. She gets him to agree to this plan in writing while he's drunk, hah. Then she gets rid of his booze, cleans him up, and starts sorting out all of his many unpaid bills. She even gets him to agree that he should marry a nice gentlewoman. The only problem is, Lord Ragsdale is ... VERY reluctantly ... starting to become deeply attracted to Emma.

I really like the complex, intelligent and troubled characters in this novel. The story does get weighed down by all of their difficulties (actually the focus gradually shifts from John's troubles to Emma's ... which are truly terrible). Carla Kelly takes on a lot of social ills in this novel. The actual romance gets a bit of short shrift here, especially since .

Read this one not so much for the romantic feelz as for the intelligent writing and characters and a more realistic take than usual on Regency England.
Profile Image for Lady Wesley.
924 reviews315 followers
July 24, 2020
Five ++++ stars!

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of romance novels that have brought me to tears. To that list I must add Reforming Lord Ragsdale.

John Staples, Marquess of Ragsdale, is an unrepentant rake. Not the handsome, charming, amiable kind of rake frequently found in romance novels. He's a drunkard who neglects his duties (although he is nice to his mother). He’s too lazy to hire a valet, or to replace the secretary he fired for stealing. He’s even too indolent to rid himself of his stupid mistress, whom he doesn't even like. His behavior is not like that of other romance heroes either. In one early scene, we find him waking up drunk, fully clothed, and filthy from his own vomit. It’s just another typical morning. Later, he visits his mistress and "attempting exercise far beyond his capacity," he leaves embarrassed and sulky.

He was disfigured by the loss of an eye while fighting in Ireland, which is also where he witnessed a mob murdering his father. He's wracked with guilt because he was unable to save him, and he hates the Irish with a passionate vengeance. When his American cousins, Robert and Sally Claridge, arrive for a visit, he immediately dislikes Sally’s indentured Irish servant Emma Costello, although he finds himself intrigued to learn that she has knowledge of Greek mythology and Shakespeare. When cousin Robert tries to put up Emma’s indenture as stakes in a card game, however, even Lord Ragsdale is horrified at the inhumanity of it. He rescues Emma by offering his two excellent horses in her place. Suddenly, he owns Emma’s indenture, and she pledges to repay him the two thousand pounds that the horses cost.

I said earlier that Lord Ragsdale was unrepentant, but in fact there is a part of him that knows he’s wasting his life. He wants to be better, but his indolence is too powerful. One night, in a drunken haze, he begs Emma to reform him, and she immediately sees her chance. She will reform this worthless man, and in so doing earn her release.

It turns out that Emma is an educated, talented, and ruthlessly strong woman whose life was ruined in the battle between England and Irish rebels. She dislikes the English no less than Lord Ragsdale abhors the Irish. Between them, however, a reluctant friendship develops, as she sets about organizing his finances, getting rid of the mistress, and stopping the out of control drinking. Emma encourages Lord Ragsdale to find a wife, and indeed he becomes the ideal fiancé for Miss Clarissa Partridge, a perfect little society chit of the sort he always expected to marry.

Eventually, Emma comes to trust Lord Ragsdale enough to share her past with him, and he goes out of his way to help her find out the fate of her lost family. Their friendship slowly turns to love, but they both know, without discussing it, that there is no future for them together. As the story enters its final pages, Lord Ragsdale is set to marry Clarissa, and Emma is leaving England, and the reader despairs of a happy ending. But fear not . . . .

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The plot is engaging, with plenty of humor as well as angst; the language sparkles. There's no sex -- just a couple of kisses -- but there's something better: real, unselfish love between two people who never expected to find it.
Profile Image for Sandy.
291 reviews187 followers
June 5, 2012
I think this may be the best Regency romance I've ever read. CARLA KELLY CAN WRITE. She creates these characters that live and breathe, complex characters with flaws and heart that you can't help but cheer for. I've never read a Regency romance quite like this one. There are serious themes of redemption, prejudice, and forgiveness mixed with wit and romance. The blend is intoxicating--a novel that made me laugh, made me cry, made me swoon, and, importantly, made me think and reevaluate myself. How does one make his or her life worth living? Don't we all need a bit of redemption at times?

Lord Ragsdale is an indolent, neglectful man who won't "exert" himself for anything or anyone. He neglects any and all duties and wastes his life on drink and worthless past times. The worst part--he knows it but is too lazy to change. The best thing he can say about himself is that he doesn't gamble. So why does he exert himself and save Irish indentured servant Emma Costello in a card game? And what will be the results when, in a drunken stupor, he agrees to let Emma reform him?

This story has so much expected depth and sparkling wit. In this day of the overused love-at-first-sight romance and cardboard stock character, Reforming Lord Ragsdale shines with it's slow building romance and complicated characters. Would you believe it, but these characters actually grow from hating each other to becoming FRIENDS. It's a indication of the power of this story that the most important part is when the heroine tells our flawed hero, not that she loves him, but that she LIKES him.

Carla Kelly, please keep republishing these classics of yours. This is what a historical romance should be. This one deserves to be re-read every year.
Profile Image for Bithi.
Author 3 books15 followers
April 1, 2018
This is the first book I have read by this author.

I have instantly liked the writing style of the author. She writes in an apparently simple way which is hard to achieve.

The character of Emma is hardworking, loving, realistic and self-sacrificing.

The character of Lord Ragsdale is superficially hard, but, inwardly insecure about his appearance.

This book shows that looks do not matter when the love is true.

The readers who like romantic novels will surely like it.
Profile Image for Preeti ♥︎ Her Bookshelves.
1,278 reviews20 followers
January 1, 2018
A Carla Kelly is always a treat to read and so is this one. The h-H equation takes some time to develop but when it does, it leaves you with a warm, fond feeling for the two of them. But still it’s the easy going, lazy H who’s my favorite. He’s a great guy despite the h berating him for bring worthless and idle for most of the book.

But after shrugging off the inconsistencies, I actually enjoyed the fun-laced and checkered dalliance between a lord and his maid/secretary. The H’s tongue-in-cheek humor and her bristling but caring ways soon bridge the hatred of the British/Irish they harbor for their own reasons. There’s no overt romance as till the very end they are both bent on fixing him up with a suitable ‘diamond of the first water’, but they have an undeniable connect and intimacy. The funny-angsty tone of the book kept me hooked till the last page.
Though with the book ending with a voyage, I wish they did epilogues in historicals back then.
Nice end to 2017 and I hope the good streak continues into this year...
Profile Image for Merry .
544 reviews47 followers
July 29, 2022
This book was written in 1995. The animosity between the Irish and English plays out between the H/h till they get to know each other. Lord Ragsdale is aimless and looking for meaning in his life. Emma is an indentured servant and looking for lost family and to end her servitude. Together they grow to be friends. I did find the way everyone worked to rehab Ragsdale to be way to easy considering that Emma just started working for him. Staff and his mother just seemed to fall in with all her ideas that were rather modern in thinking (even though she had been indentured in the USA). I enjoyed the first half a LOT the second not as much. 3.5*
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,329 reviews29 followers
February 2, 2013
Four solid stars for this gritty but tender historical. I have been reading (and/or re-visiting) Carla Kelly's novels this week. Reforming Lord Ragsdale is a digital re-issue of a 1995 Signet Regency. I liked it, but not as much as The Lady's Companion. (That's my favorite by CK, so far).

IMO, this talented author tackles too many somber themes at once: alcoholism, racism, indentured servanthood, and the injustices of a biased penal system. She vividly describes the slime and the smells of Newgate Prison, the body's spastic responses to alcohol withdrawal, the burning humiliation of lengthy exposure to racism, etc.

The romance itself is fairly compelling (and totally clean). I enjoyed seeing the relationship gradually develop. At first I didn't like Lord Ragsdale (John) because he was such a lush, wasting his life on booze and babes. And bigoted! At first he was biased against the servant Emma, just because she was Irish (yes, I know he had personal cause to hate the Irish, but it's hardly admirable). But... John grew on me. I especially loved how he unknowingly fretted about Emma if she was out in the cold, or out alone, or out past dark. Aww... ♥ He began walking beside her, providing his protection, and surprising her with warm winter gear. John found joy in making Emma happy. Heartwarming.

I've said it before -- Carla Kelly is the queen of show, not tell. Not dwelling too long in maudlin internal musings, she primarily uses actions to portray John's loving, sacrificing, and courageous heart, heretofore hidden even from himself. The sotted Lord Ragsdale gradually grows a spine, becoming my favorite character. I could take him home with me. ♥

The narrative mainly revolved around Emma and John, but a few secondary characters helped to convey the side-story, describing the heroine's search for missing family members. Absorbing, heartbreaking, and historically interesting.

In the end, I was satisfied with the HEA, even though some final twists in the plot were unexpected and unwanted (by me).

Main flaw: Lord Ragsdale had a self-effacing way about him. Would he really let an indentured servant girl tell him what to drink, what to eat, what to do?? Even if he wanted badly to rehabilitate and reform? Even if he was drawn to Emma's warmth and wit? I wanted him to be a bit more arrogant.

Other CK titles I have enjoyed and reviewed:

(5 stars) The Lady's Companion. My review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

(4 stars) Marriage of Mercy. Review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

(4.5 stars) Marrying the Royal Marine. Review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

I have enjoyed several others, but haven't yet reviewed 'em.
Profile Image for Kathy.
2,046 reviews576 followers
June 15, 2012
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. To be honest, when it first started I didn’t think I would. Lord Ragsdale starts off as your typical drunken rake. I knew from the title that the story was going to be about his supposed reformation, but I wasn’t sure how that would be pulled off. Somehow it happens though and along with Emma I actually found myself liking him. Emma really does bring a believable change in him and it was refreshing to read a Regency where I actually ended up liking the rake. Emma was a very likable character, and at times I even found myself crying at her situation. I never cry while reading, and have to commend Ms. Kelly for writing such believable characters. I thought the whole thing was very well written, I even laughed at how the whole mistress situation was handled. I still hate reading about mistresses and I still would have preferred if there had been some remorse from Lord Ragsdale for having ever kept a mistress. I know it was fairly common at that time, especially in the Upper class, but on a moral level it’s always wrong. It was handled well in the story though and while there were a couple comments that were more on the crass side, it was more to show the drastic change in Lord Ragsdale’s personality.

Mostly, I just loved that the story actually had substance. It wasn’t your typical insta-love story, but love that grew from a genuine friendship and respect. My Goodreads friend Sandy said it best “It's an indication of the power of this story that the most important part is when the heroine tells our flawed hero, not that she loves him, but that she LIKES him.” Which I can now understand so much better now that I’ve read the story and can totally agree. It was Sandy’s review that brought me to this book, and especially the curiosity to see if I could end up liking Lord Ragsdale as well, and I did. I loved that it wasn’t your typical story and that they both end up redeeming each other. Great writing and a great story. I would probably normally give this 4 stars, but I really loved Emma's story and thought she deserved a 5.

Oh, I do wish there had been an epiloge. There were a few unanswered questions, which I can't mention without giving spoilers.

Content: Clean romance.
While I hate the talk of mistresses and rakes, it was overall well handled.
Profile Image for Linda .
1,795 reviews249 followers
January 27, 2018
Johnny Staples, Lord Ragsdale, was a Scoundrel with a capital S.

He had a deformed dead eye. He thought of switching his patch to cover the good eye; then considered how loud his maid would scream after witnessing his face. Then there was his drinking. He knew he should leave the bottle(s) alone. He made a point of telling himself this the morning after. And his mistress? He was long overdue to end their relationship.

But somewhere lurking inside Ragsdale was a good man and it was because of Emma. Emma Costello from Ireland. Except Ireland was a country he detested and would rather forget.

Emma had made her way to America only to become an indentured servant to Johnny’s cousins. When Robert and Sally came for a visit -Robert was to attend his lord’s alma mater- Emma was brought along.

Lord Ragsdale and Emma’s relationship got off to a rocky start. They hated each other.

I enjoy Mrs. Kelly’s style of writing. The story was told mostly through the H’s POV with a great deal of internal dialogue. In a less skillful hand, Johnny would not have been as likable.

It turned out that cousin Robert had a wee bit of a gambling problem. Strike that. He had a ginormous betting addiction. And because of it, Fate played its hand.

”Don’t cry, Emma.”

This was one man’s tale of personal growth.

His emotional need.


And the woman who molded him into a better human being.
Profile Image for Mei.
1,881 reviews410 followers
January 9, 2018
Oh, what a cute, cute book!
I loved both the heroine and the hero! The heroine bacause she was a fighter and the hero because he was such a clear-headed rascal of the highest order who was able to be sarcastic and makes jokes about himself!
Their banter was wonderful to read!
And their love story was wonderful too! From enemies to deeply in love it rung so true!
Great read!
Profile Image for Vintage.
2,370 reviews421 followers
January 6, 2018
Thank you Preeti for recommending this book. It was a charmer!

The Irish problem and the English’s horrible treatment is hard at work here in spades in this Regency romance. I’m not going to touch on the story that much, but it is heartbreaking on both sides. The hero and the heroine have suffered emotional and family losses due to war in Ireland, the war between the English and the Irish. As a result, both characters hate each other for their nationality.

Banter resumes pretty quickly, perhaps too quickly, as the h tries to reform and marry off the H so she can pay off her indentured servant status. The two become friends very easily and are charming together. At one point, I wondered if they would end up as friends only as she maneuvers him into a marriage everyone feels will stabilize him and make him happy. In turn, he tries to help her with her family situation.

Not a perfect book, but if you enjoy banter and a little whimsy between your H and h then give it a try. His inner comments about his fiancee are hysterical. However, there are a couple of scenes, remembrances of the war, from both characters that are not of the faint of heart. They aren’t overly graphic, but disturbing and sad nonetheless.

This was my second Carla Kelly. The Wedding Journey was my first and was well done. Looks like I need to search out more of her to read. The characters in Reforming Lord Ragsdale were such more fun. I was hoping that some of the servants that were so rude to the heroine would be faced with retribution, but oh well.
Profile Image for Emilia Barnes.
542 reviews97 followers
February 10, 2017
Did not finish this book. It reads as though Carla Kelly had taken her friends and family together and encouraged them each to write a sentence, one after another. It just makes no sense, and I mean, from sentence to sentence, not even from plot point to plot point.

The set up is so bizarre and impossible, that I don't even know where to start pointing out its inconsistencies. I don't understand anybody in this book: from the hero who keeps a mistress he dislikes and who obeys an Irish servant whom he had just met, to the heroine who has some dark past that I am so not interested in discovering (involves torture, I think), to the one-dimensional American cousins, to the grandmother who talks with her grandson, casually, about said mistress and his taste in women (yeah...), the whole is a cast of incomprehensible people.

I have read 20% of it and so far nothing that made sense happened. Literally nothing. I have so many questions, I don't even know where to start. Why are there American cousins in England pestering a Marquis after they have left home, without him knowing ANYTHING about them? Why is he suddenly responsible for everything they do? Why is he chatting with grandmama in Oxford about his Mistress? Why does she care about his Mistress in the first place? Why is the Irish servant girl, our heroine, shy and quiet one moment, and then bold and staring him in the eyes another? She is queenly and dignified one moment and then walking around London without a bonnet in the next, without even noticing she is in a bad area. Then his lordship picks her up, drives her to Newgate (where she wants to interview his thieving secretary for some reason) and as they arrive they smile at the notion that she could have asked the hero about the things she wanted to know all along! WTF? Yet they still continue into the prison! Seriously!

I liked the three other CK novels I read, so this one just totally blew my mind with how incomprehensible it is.

In terms of historical inaccuracies, I noticed that CK seems to have no idea how titles work. She really, seriously seems to believe that a marquis could travel to an inn, suddenly find himself out of pocket and would find it necessary to scrub floors and clean out chamber pots to make up for his stay there. I noticed that happens in With This Ring too, when a Countess decides to open a barbershop to pay for her stay at an inn. I'm not saying that titled people can just go about for free, but they can, by virtue of their standing and reputation, find themselves out of pocket and pay later (something which CK herself writes about in this bloody book *%$^!!)

Just no.
Profile Image for Miranda Davis.
Author 5 books266 followers
January 14, 2013
I've come late to Ms. Kelly and heard about her by reading reviews of my favorite truffle hound reviewers. Her best, by far, is Reforming Lord Ragsdale. Crystalline, deftly portrayed characters with histories that are based on history and its tragic human consequences. A good man learns to forgive himself and let himself love; a good woman learns to trust one who by all rights she should despise. The plot ticks right along and there isn't a stupid ploy anywhere. I liked both characters though they had their defensive pricklers deployed at the outset and he is introduced as a dissipated lord. Still, both were admirable, intelligent, caring and real. Can't say enough nice things.

My only lit-tle beef is the cliff-hanger ending ends so abruptly and with such an unexpected development (at least for me) I wished there had been a bit more story around it to 'talk me down from the ledge.'
Profile Image for Stella Riley.
Author 20 books369 followers
June 2, 2013
My thanks to Carla Kelly for saving my sanity on the day when The Black Madonna was stuck in a loop on Amazon and my stress level was going through the roof.
Reforming Lord Ragsdale is a beautifully-crafted example of a slowly developing relationship and both lead characters are very well-drawn. The inherent kindness in Lord Ragsdale makes him a loveable and extremely attractive hero. As for the sequence where he lies in bed getting completely legless and then wakes up to the inevitable consequences - that had me in stitches. The fact that I could laugh at anything on that particular day is a testament to the quality of Ms Kelly's writing.
Profile Image for Cheesecake.
2,670 reviews358 followers
August 25, 2017
Lord John Ragsdale the Englishman and Emma the Irishwoman
I'm gonna give this 4.5 stars rounded up. (Almost perfect)
I was expecting the usual predictable plot of the Lord falling for the maid who is really a lady... but it was FAR from that. It's a slice of history, a clever poke at the British aristocracy and a story of redemption through love... or was it love through redemption??
Emma is an indentured slave servant brought to England with Ragsdale's feckless cousins. She's beautiful and has the self possession of a queen but the pointed wit of an Irishwoman.
Ragsdale is a self absorbed, lazy and bored aristocrat, who means well but never does anything. He also has a pointed sense of humour and at first that seems to be his only saving grace. The one thing that hints at great depth of character is his bad eye from when he was a captain in the army.
Through deplorable circumstances Emma's indenture becomes his property and he doesn't know what to do with her. He even questions why he bothered saving her. Truly he was border line despicable.
Emma sees an opportunity to get out of her indenture by making a bargain with him (in writing so he can't squirm out of it later). She will reform him. (and perhaps in return he will reform her?).
She will get him to stop drinking, dump his mistress, take responsibility for his tenants and servants.... and get married. He is after all, at the ripe old age of 30 and has no heir!
At first they almost hate each other. He has good reason to hate the Irish, and she has even more reason to hate the British. (Truly her story is so heartbreaking!) But they find themselves actually starting to get along. After about half way, they even show signs of affection. It's very much a 'slow build' romance.
It isn't til around 80% that I got a bit frustrated with the characters. There is a debutante; Clarissa, that Ragsdale was halfheartedly pursuing (though I suspect she was passive aggressively pursuing him more), to fulfill his 'family obligations'. I found myself disappointed that Ragsdale let it go as far as he did.
BUT his grand selfless gesture of love for Emma, at the end, more than made up for it.
Maybe an epilogue would have helped but honestly any peak into their future would deserve an entire second novel!! They have so much in store for them.
safety is good
Profile Image for Mary.
108 reviews44 followers
June 11, 2012
Need I say more? This was my first read by Carla Kelly. She was an author that was suggested to me many times by my many GR friends, and I can definitely see why. The woman can write!

The hero, John Staples, Lord Ragsdale, is a Marquess. The second son who never expected to become the heir, John is a bit of a nonconformist as far as Marquesses go. When we meet him, he is a slacker. He is indolent, frivolous, and completely ignorant of the real world and real problems. He sails through his priviledged life, wiling away the hours with his mistress, his club, drinking, and spending his overwhelming wealth on whatever absurdities will amuse him at that particular moment. But John has a heart. Although hidden below his superficial facade, it his kind heart and sense of morality that cause him to come into possession of an indentured servant, Irishwoman Emma Costello. To make matters worse, because of some incidents from his past, John also hates the Irish.

Emma is a level-headed young woman who has known a lot of hardship and strife. When she comes into Lord Ragsdale's employ, she quickly realizes that his life is a complete mess. She sets about to correct that situation - to 'reform' Lord Ragsdale - and help him reach his full potential. Emma sees his potential, even though John cannot.

What I loved most about this story was how much time was spent showing the reader the building relationship between the two characters. There was no need for any leaps of faith or stretching realty. The build-up was slow, but necessarily so. By the time I got to the fourth quarter of the book, I just wanted to see them together. It seemed so natural and perfect.

Part of what makes this novel so special is Carla Kelly's incredible talent for getting into the heads of her characters. Truly, I think the reason why this relationship seemed so natural is because the reader was with the characters at every cognitive step forward. It was adorable how John took such pleasure in making Emma happy, even when he was not consciously aware of why he wanted to see her so happy. The reader could easily see the building love and respect even when the characters were still unaware.

This book is totally clean. And while I normally prefer to have a little heat in my romance, it made complete sense for it to be absent from this story.

Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Mela.
1,417 reviews175 followers
December 19, 2016
First of all I am positively surprised. I have hoped for a nice Regency romance. But I got more.

There is a quite rich historical background. We have for example: Irish Rebellion of 1798 and of 1803, some facts about fate of convicted in those times (in UK).

Next, the characters were very convincing, they were true and real. Their concerns and hopes were surprising complicated for a simply romance. They developed and changed in a good pace. The whole narration made the story really good.

I was engaged and a few times surprised what had happened. There was some humor, there was a little witty banter. [But, I would add that it is a bit more serious book than the most of Regency romances.]

By the by, almost to the end I wasn't sure how it would end. Yes, I knew it would be a happy ending, nevertheless Kelly wrote it in such a way that I wasn't sure one hundred percent.

For more information I recommend a review of Sandy

It is my first book of Carla Kelly. I am curious if others are the same.
Profile Image for Jacqueline J.
3,462 reviews312 followers
September 6, 2015
I guess I just didn't see what everyone else saw in this book. It was nice but not stellar. A nice sweet regency but nothing too out of the ordinary. Both of the characters were likable, especially the hero. It was totally clean which worked in this case. The feel for the times was just okay. Nothing glaringly anachronistic but nothing real in depth and physical descriptions of people and places were light on detail. I've liked other books by this author better. Very middle of the road for me. Hmm...
Profile Image for Serial Romance Librarian.
718 reviews162 followers
November 28, 2020
* How did the book make you feel?: I took a chance on this book knowing it would be more intellectual with less emphasis on the sexy times. It was a very good book.
* How do you feel about how the story was told?: The pacing of the story didn’t drag and I was very invested in the characters.
* What did you think about the main characters?: As implausible as these two getting together must’ve been, I guess it could’ve happened. Emma came from from a genteel background before she was an indentured servant. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief. More than likely, he would never give her the time of day. I really enjoyed the H’s personality.
* Which parts of the book stood out to you?: The love letter part was wonderful.
* What themes/tropes did you detect in the story?: servant and master romance
* What did you think about the ending?: The ending was so wonderfully satisfying but I would’ve really loved an epilogue.
* What is your impression of the author?: I appreciate this author’s writing style a great deal.

Triggers: violence, torture, but no sex (only references—clean romance)
Profile Image for Heidi.
316 reviews63 followers
September 13, 2012
Okay, I almost didn't finish reading this one. The VERY first chapter starts out with Lord Ragsdale(hero) at his mistress's house. I HATE the "mistress" talk in regency romances. HATE it. Anyway, it wasn't descriptive but definitely let you know he enjoyed going there. I was annoyed to say the least and worried about whether the story was going to be clean..not to mention I was disliking the "main character" immensely. I got on goodreads and read reviews on the book again though and decided to give it another try. I must say I ended up loving it. Talk of the mistress was brought back up quite a bit during Lord Ragsdale's reformation, (by the heroine of the story) but the book remained free from description. There were a few references to, ahem, bosoms and shapely figures that Lord Ragsdale (as the Rake) unfortunatley notices and narrates his opinion about. I wish that would have been left out, but all in all I would consider it clean. Carla Kelly is a beautiful story-teller and has a way of drawing you into her books. As I said, I started out disliking the Hero entirely...but along with the Heroine, I found myself liking him more and more by the end! Once you realize all that he has gone through you begin to sympathize with him and forgive him for his nastiness as he begins to forgive himself. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Emma help Lord Ragsdale truely find out who he is and become the man she didn't even know he could be. I loved everything about Emma's character and I found myself cheering for her to have her "Happily Ever After" after all she had been through as well. I loved that our once rake turned hero ends up being her "knight in shining armor" and saving her as much as she "saved" him.:)
Profile Image for Zumbagirl.
154 reviews3 followers
May 27, 2012
4.5 stars
Reforming Lord Ragsdale was a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend it. The writing style reminded me of something in between Georgette Heyer and Anne Gracie. This is a clean read but it's a great story with excellent dialogue and character development. I never missed the spice. John and Emma were a very unusual couple. I really liked Emma, she had a great spirit, was very smart and resilient. She had secrets and scars too. John or Lord Ragsdale was a mess and needed to be reformed desperately. There were lots of lines giving us insight into the hero's thoughts which were very amusing. He had a great heart and proved himself by the end. Well, the ending could have been a little longer or more thorough - seemed rushed - but it was sufficient. Even though this book was under 300 pages, it still took me as long to read as the average novel (maybe it's because I'm new to this author's writing style. I know the book I read by Heyer took me like a week to finish).

I really liked this advice that one of John's father's friend gave him about his reformation:

"In your zeal for reformation, make sure you do not injure beyond repair what you seek to heal." And "Just make completely certain you marry the right woman. The wrong one will ruin you."

It took John a little longer than I liked for him to realize who would be the right woman or wife for him. That's one of my least favorite things in a romance. But he pulled out some interesting stunts at the end and made up for his blunder.
Profile Image for Megzy.
1,193 reviews49 followers
February 5, 2016
3.5 stars

I didn't realize I have read this book last year until I found it on my Kindle library at 99%. I started re-reading it and I immediately remembered the first 1/3 of the story. It still remains the most powerful part of story. I could vividly imagine the scene that happened in the inn on the way to Oxford. I could picture Emma with the resign look on her face. The middle part of the story became more of a typical your everyday regency. The last part made me to be on the fence and I understood why I never reviewed the book. It was how they both realized they loved each other and the actions Lord Ragsdale took to be with Emma that bothered me. It was written in a thoughtful systematic way. It didn't excite me like it should have. What was missing was the emotions one displays when they understand their love is mutual and it is returned in full force. He jumped through all the hoops to be with her at the end, but his actions weren't enough for me. I wanted the words to make me visualize the scene and to become three dimensional like the way I was able to imagine the first 1/3 of the book... but it didn't for me. In this case his actions were so much louder than his words.
Profile Image for bookjunkie.
168 reviews38 followers
April 4, 2017
Wow! This was a good one! I didn't know how the author could pull it off, the Hero was such a worthless, drunken waste of a man at the start. Literally sleeping in his own vomit. And the heroine, an indentured Irish servant wearing broken shoes. Such a giant disparity between their positions, it was depressing.

The best part, though, has to be that Emma caused her own change of fortune. I guess Ragsdale helped a little, by being a basically decent gentleman and stopping her from being gambled away over a card game. But really I had to cheer when Emma stepped up and took over, deciding to reform him and getting his drunken signature agreeing to free her after his complete reformation at her hands. This was a woman who had a real spine!

I loved it. The whole thing. The racism and blind hate at the start, the dawning of understanding and empathy that grew gradually. The connection between the two of them, not even romantic for the longest time. They just became friends, and the liking and respect between them was so genuine. I loved how he made it his mission to help her find her family. They were both so good for each other, and to each other.

Lovely book. Will leave you all smiles.
Profile Image for Katrina Passick Lumsden.
1,779 reviews12.8k followers
July 19, 2014
This is a really sweet, funny, well-written romance. I loved John to distraction, and Emma, even though I found her to be a bit cold at times, was refreshing in a heroine as she was neither simpering nor overbearing. She was intelligent and warm (when drawn out of her shell) and just the kind of no-nonsense wake up call that John needed. The two of them strike up such a warm, unlikely friendship that the reader can't help but feel the tension and hope they both stop being idiots and realize they're perfect for each other. The friendship, actually, is the best part of the story. Carla Kelly is capable of writing characters whose chemistry isn't entirely dependent on the physical while still maintaining an edge of sexual tension.

This is a clean romance, however, and while that would normally be fine with me, I also felt like there wasn't enough romance, either. The ending was abrupt and anti-climactic... But it was sweet.
Profile Image for Laura (Kyahgirl).
2,051 reviews144 followers
August 18, 2012
4.5/5; 5 stars; A

Carla Kelly has a gift for taking real historical events and crafting them into the foundation of her stories and the characters that those stories are about. I really enjoyed the premise of this book; a man who has allowed himself to become a dissolute wastrel as some sort of punishment for his sins during the war is dragged by the ear back on to a steady course by an indentured servant who thinks he is absolutely worthless in the beginning. As in so many of her books, Carla Kelly's characters in this book have quite a few flaws but underneath all that tarnish they are solid and loveable. I've heard about this book for years but have never seen it at a UBS or library. Finally it is out as an ebook so I was able to get it. Well worth the wait.
Profile Image for Jess (BookObsessedJess).
182 reviews28 followers
November 17, 2017

I freaking loved this book.

Our two delightful protagonists both have their great many flaws and difficulties. They come from two opposite ends of the spectrum. Lord Ragsdale (John) is English. Miss Emma Costello is Irish. This is set in a time of HIGH hatred and prejudice and war between the English and the Irish. During this time, John saves Emma from her gambling addicted "owner" (his cousin). I put the term owner here in quotations because I find the term offensive and disgusting. No one can own a human being. The fact of slavery that pervades much of human history is difficult to understand. Humans are humans are humans regardless of race, gender, or whatever. The end.

Wow...that...got away from me.

Anyhow! Stepping off my soap box now. John is largely a miscreant. He drinks to excess. He has a mistress, with whom he is utterly bored, through no fault of her own. He neglects his vast properties and estates because he doesn't feel he is worthy to fill his father's shoes.

After John saves Emma from being sold in a card game to an uncouth character, Emma decides to reform him. Of course...this involves his asking for her to reform him as he is passing out drunk...to which she hilariously makes him put signature to paper. They develop a true friendship over the time when she is working off her indenture. One where she speaks her mind and he speaks his. At the end of the day, though, that friendship makes both of them better people. She learns to trust again. He becomes an actual human being as opposed to a lazy sod.

This was a delightful read. Beautifully written. You truly feel you are in each of our characters heads throughout the book. The progression of their friendship was so real and believable, I honestly have nothing bad or negative to say about this book.

Happy Girl Power Spoiler!

All in all, this review can be summed up into one beautiful gif:

Profile Image for BG.
440 reviews111 followers
March 25, 2022
Surprisingly it was not bad at all but actually quite cute💕

He chuckled as he finished brushing her hair. She handed him a ribbon, and he tied it in a tight bow while she started on the biscuit. He turned her around to admire his handiwork.
“You'll do,” he said, setting down the brush. “You know, Emma, that's the trouble with reformation. Sometimes you get more than you bargained for.”
Profile Image for Cara.
110 reviews21 followers
November 17, 2017
I am not sure that I have the words. It has been a while since I loved a book this much.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. Great character development
2. Banter. Oh the banter. The wit. The honest exchange.
3. A right and true scoundrel.
4. Fully fleshed out development of the relationship between MCs. No stupid games.
5. Perfect window into the MCs thoughts, which are written so beautifully.
6. An ending that nearly made me cry, not so much because of what happened, but because of the words.

My tender heart overflows. So good. Just so good.

There will be no rating-regret on this one.

That is all I have the energy to say. Such exertion. 😉 (read it and you'll appreciate that comment)
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