Tressa by Barbara T. Cerny
Strategic Book Publishing
Originally Published August 4, 2011,
Reviewed by Sheena
Favorite Quote: “Ye affront me grossly, lady bird.”
“Ye affront me grossly!
“Ye was probably weaned on the hind tit, ye fly-bitten harpy.”
“And ye’ve got a face on ye like a well-slapped backside, paddy.”
It isn’t everyday you come across a romance novel that tells a delicate story with such strength, style and grace. This is especially so when there are possible triggers depending on what floats- or rather, sinks your boat. There is brief domestic violence, personal indignities, handicap abuse and it is set in 1805 and indentured servitude is heavily referenced throughout the novel. Though these themes exist, Tressa, is not at all a dark novel, on the contrary it was hopeful and immensely pleasurable. The author, Barbara T. Cerny, cleverly weaved consequences and bystander responsibility into the storyline in a way that made me nod in earnest, yelp, and cheer. So if you don’t have any targeted and specific hang-ups, Tressa is absolutely worthwhile.
It is always a good sign when I stop mid-chapter to group text my review sisters and gush over my latest novel. It’s really a good sign when I tie myself in knots because I can’t enter my status updates fast enough as they pop into my head without interrupting my flow. Fair warning, I am really excited about Tressa. It is feather light on the sex- but that was the very least of my concerns as the world the author built beckoned beyond the booty!
Tressa is a young Irish woman, working in her uncle’s bakery as an apprentice – soon to be Master Baker. She is surrounded by family and all the trappings of a simple, hardworking, yet happy life. She is 21 and surprisingly finds herself being courted by one of her Dublin town’s most eligible bachelor, Seamus Bannon. Seamus was popular and an award-winning dock worker. He fancied and courted Tressa shamelessly and once smitten, she agreed to be his wife, only she didn’t heed the fluttering red flags that didn’t begin to wave in earnest until her wedding night, when it was much, much too late.
Seamus, the childish and abusive cad he was, did the unspeakable to Tressa and made it his business to snuff out her spirit every chance he had. When events reach a fever-pitch, Tressa leaves her abuser and her close knit family behind (collateral damage that broke her heart) and boards a ship and escapes to America and by the luck of the Irish, she finds employment her first day in the US of A. Though trotted on royally, Tressa refused to be beaten and takes a liking to her new employers while endearing herself to the other servants and young lady of the house, Sarah, daughter of her employer, business mogul Big Mo Langley and sister to the wretched Heaton and reclusive Ethan.
Ethan is handicapped from the waist down in a terrible hunting accident from which he hasn’t fully recovered from emotionally. He keeps to his room and is content allowing his awful brother and sister in law, Victoria, verbally abuse him at every turn. Sarah loves him deeply and is the only one he tolerates until Tressa catches his attention with her quirky songs and housework. Ethan and Tressa spark right away, as she coaxes him from his reclusive state and he begins to insert himself into the family, much to Heaton’s jealous ire. And Tressa, ever true to her baking skills, maneuvers her way into opening a small bakery, it would seem, Tressa was on her way to the American Dream!
Soon after Langley Bakery started making a small profit, Tressa caught Big Mo in his study one evening… “Sir, I have another proposition for ye.”
“I am afraid to ask!” Big Mo handed her the empty plate. “However, your food is delicious and I like your ideas as well. The last one was quite profitable.”
“Sir, I would like to buy the contract of one of yer indentured servants. The business is growing quite nicely, as ye are well aware, since we go over the books together with George every week. I need to begin expanding the staff to keep up with orders.”
“So what is your proposition?” Big Mo asked proudly.
“I would like to buy Marjorie Clancy’s contract from ye. She has five years and three months left in servitude. I can pay ye for that time…
“You have enough profit from the bakery for that already?” Mr. Mo looked a bit shocked.
“No,” Tressa shook her head. “I have a bit of money I brought to New York to start me on my way. I dinna need it once I found employment with ye. But I feel it is time to move toward my independence.”
“Independence is very important to you, isn’t it?”…You have proven in less than a year that you are a skilled artisan and a skilled business woman.” He held out his hand. “It is an accord.”
Ah! But Nothing good lasts forever, and just as things seem to be improving, her circumstances take a whip-lashing turn for the worse. The misfortune is not limited to Tressa, sweet Sarah, the house staff/servants, and Ethan, in particular, bear the brunt of the shadows that befall the Langley estate. Survival is precarious and nasty Heaton and his cruel wife spend, lie, cheat and steal right from under everyone on a fast track to impoverish the once grand estate. In their crosshairs, are Ethan and the family jewels but Tressa isn’t ready to go down without a fight and outwits Heaton to buy her adopted family time to figure out how to triumph over their formidable challengers.
The plot is pretty linear, there are no shocking surprises, and the characterizations are pretty black and white and I was pretty okay with that. The good characters are good to their core and the villains are evil incarnate. There weren’t really any balancing personalities, no shades of grey. Overall it is a very good vs evil theme. Amidst the good vs evil is a lovely relationship that blossoms right before the eye. Ethan and Tressa start out with mutual interest that gives way to mutual respect that evolves into a friendship that slow burns to true, authentic love. Though Ethan is wheelchair bound, he is no less a man and seeing him through Tressa’s eyes was marvelous.
I have a great respect for the skill it took to write Ethan’s character. Cerny gives him such life and vigor that the reminders of his disability were well and true reminders as it was so easy to get lost in his strong character that it became of no consequence that he had no use of his legs.
Ethan had no idea what happened to him. He dealt with a total onslaught of emotions. This woman was all he’d ever wanted and, until five minutes ago, he thought her unattainable. But here she sat, half naked on his lap, kissing him in ways he never thought possible. Her playing with his nipples drove him to distraction. He could not stand it anymore. He wanted all of her and he wanted her now!
“Alright, my lady,” he groaned. “Up in the bed.”
And up into the bed she went! By the time these two make love in their own special way, I was spent with relief and joy. They well and truly earned and deserved one another. Even without the full monty, explicit description, I appreciated that the author found a way to illustrate their sensuality in a way that fit so perfectly, keeping in time with the novel’s modest beauty.
Ethan might have a broken body, but there was nothing broken about his deep and undying love for this Irish woman. In one evening, she proved to him beyond a shadow of a doubt that his manhood was not limited to one region of his body, and that making love was a total body experience.
Nearly an hour later, Tressa lay quietly in her new lover’s arms enjoying the calm after the storm. “You still think I need to go look in greener pastures for a lover?” she teased.
Ethan rolled over on top of her. “You are not allowed to ever leave this bed again, my incredible, delicious love.”
It was so very easy to fall in love with Tressa; the novel and the heroine. I felt a connection forge with her from the very beginning. This is a story about overcoming obstacles and remaining whole on the other end. A critique that nagged at me from time to time? I felt at times Tressa was a little too liberated for 1805. She was lucky to have open-minded and supportive men in her life, and there was certainly enough venom and anti-woman disdain dripping from Seamus and Heaton to serve as a reflection of the times. But on the whole, I thought she enjoyed many liberties as a free and single woman, far more than I think would have been possible back then. But, I’ve also decided, I don’t care about being super strict with the historical times. As I mentioned, Tressa and the women around her were oppressed sufficiently enough to quell any discontent with historical accuracy.
It is always tricky to write character focused material. There was no grandiose plot to distract. Chapter after chapter the characters were faced with a problem of sorts and the entertainment, the storytelling, rested soundly on their ordinary lives. Lives so ordinary but written in a way that captivates. I don’t know where Barbara T. Cerny has been all my life, but she’s firmly cemented as one of my fav reads of 2018 thus far with her Tressa re-publication. (Yes it’s early, but I’m super discerning lately, this list may not get much longer. heh!)