Sunday, February 22, 2015

Undressed By The Earl

Michelle Willingham's Regency-set Secrets in Silk series for Amazon Montlake has been a bit of a mixed bag for me.  The second book in the four-book series has, so far, been the strongest entry for me, with book three, Undressed by the Earl leaving me with the same reaction that the first book left me with.  It's OK.  It's pleasant, but it didn't always pass the put-down, pick-up test.

Amelia Andrews is the youngest of four sisters, their father a baron recently returned from fighting on the Continent.  While Daddy was away the girls and their mother fell on hard times.  Oldest sister, Victoria, took to designing and making ladies undergarments, which have proven to be a sensation at an exclusive London dress shop.  The fly in the ointment is that nobody can ever know.  If word got out that these gently born ladies even knew what corsets were, let alone designed them?  The family would be ruined.  While the family really no longer needs the money, the sewing has largely been given over to the wives of tenants that live on their Scottish property and those families really, really need the extra money.  So the business carries on, amidst all the general Regency shenanigans romance readers have come to expect.

Amelia fancies herself in love with a rake.  The same rake that happened to break off an engagement and thereby "ruin" Amelia's older sister Margaret.  But never no mind, Amelia knows that she can change him!  She loves him!  He and Margaret were all wrong for each other.  So despite everybody telling her how completely wrong the guy is for her, she's got her sights set.  Into the mix enters David Hartford, the Earl of Castledon, who Amelia thinks would be perfect for Margaret.  Never mind that Amelia once compared Castledon's personality to that of a handkerchief.

David is a widow with a young daughter.  He loved his first wife, and being a bit of a wallflower really has no desire to marry again.  But he also recognizes that his daughter needs a mother and decides that maybe he can find a woman who wouldn't be adverse to a marriage of convenience.  Instead he finds himself spending too much time with Amelia, who he believes is "too young" for him and not suitable at all for what he thinks he needs in a wife.  But he can't stay away.  Especially when she seems determined to throw herself at the completely wrong sort of man.

My issues with this story have everything to do with pacing.  The first half is spent detailing Amelia trying to find a suitable wife for David and David trying to convince Amelia that her affection for the rake is totally misplaced.  There's tap-dancing and banter and plenty of ballroom scenes.  It wasn't until the second half of the story when Amelia realizes that everybody really was right about the rake all along (like, duh) and circumstances spur her and David into coupledom.

From the above description it sounds like Amelia is young, naive and a bit brain-dead.  What I really appreciated and thought Willingham was genius to do is that she gives Amelia dimension.  On the surface, yes Amelia may appear to be those things.  But she's smarter than anyone gives her credit for.  She does not spend the whole book thinking the rake is the man of her dreams (thank God!) and she'll call a spade a spade.  Like when she calls David's first wife "St. Katherine" - to his face.  On that score?  David does hang on to the "perfect first wife" thing for a long, long time.  Until the bitter end in fact, when he finally wakes up to realize that he loves Amelia and that's OK.  He's allowed to find happiness twice in his life.

As expected for a third book the series baggage is pretty heavy here.  I loved seeing more glimpses of Amelia's parents, who are slowly trying to repair their marriage after so many years apart.  Also stuff happens to set-up Margaret's book, the final one in the series, and the villain from the first two books is back to do dastardly villain stuff.

While the first half never quite fully engaged me, the second half of the book is pretty good and injects enough emotional angst into the series to have me intrigued for Margaret's story.  While I haven't loved these books as much as some of Willingham's medievals, they have been charming and I've enjoyed the world the author has created.

Final Grade = C+

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