Wednesday, June 15, 2022

#TBRChallenge 2022: In the Arms of the Heiress

The Book: In the Arms of the Heiress by Maggie Robinson

The Particulars: Historical romance, 2013, Berkley, In Print, Book one in series

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I had an autographed print copy in my TBR and a post-it note still attached to the cover makes me think the author might have sent it to me? Maybe? Or else I picked it up at a conference.

The Review: This month's optional Challenge theme was "After the War" which certainly implies dark, angsty reads. Well, here's a story that is the exact opposite.  Ladies and gents, we have ourselves a romp!

Banking heiress Louisa Stratton ran away from home a year ago. Tired of being a prisoner under her aunt's flinty dragon-like gaze, the moment she came into her inheritance she grabbed her personal maid and started traveling around the Continent in an automobile she bought in France. But her family just won't stop pestering her - so she does what any sensible Edwardian-era heiress would do...

She invents a husband.  Maximillian Norwich is positively perfect and dashing in every way. But still, the family makes noise and worse yet - Aunt Grace's health has been poorly.  There's no avoiding it any longer - Louisa must return home to England and the dreadful Rosemont Manor.  Well, bugger. She's just going to have to find someone to play her husband for 30 days. I mean, it's really the only option!

Charles Cooper is a former captain having served during the Boer War. He's living in a squalid rooming house and pickling his liver with gin when Mrs. Evensong finds him.  Louisa hired her agency to find a fake husband and she thinks Charles is the man for the job.  Charles thinks both women are cracked.  Then he finds out how much Louisa is willing to pay him for a little 30-day farce and we're off to the races.

Of course it all starts to go spectacularly topsy-turvy once they land at Rosemont. A series of "accidents" start befalling Charles/Max and Louisa's family is a venerable nest of vipers.  They're essentially living off her largess and yet think she's a bubble-headed ninny who cannot control her scandalous impulses.  Charles takes one look at the lot of them and his White Knight Complex kicks into hyperdrive - not to mention his sex drive. He's been dead below the waist since returning from war and Louisa with her non-stop prattling, quick wit and hour-glass figure have his Mr. Happy standing up to salute once again.

I absolutely love the Edwardian period - the dawn of the 20th century, women pushing back on the confines of the dying Victorian era, yes we have World War I around the corner, but it's all grand stuff and Robinson handles the time period really well.  We need more romances in this era!

If you know anything about the Boer War at all, you know that it was horrific - and Charles waning time there found him ordered to a concentration camp as part of a damage control campaign. Finding women and children dead and near death hasn't done wonders for his peace of mind. This has naturally given Charles a fair bit of PTSD and hence the drinking. 

Yes, there's dark underpinnings but it's still a romp. A bit of a farce. It's very My Gal Friday in dialogue and sparring. Louisa and Charles rub each other in all the right and wrong ways and it makes for some sparkling, quick-witted reading.  There's even the light mystery bubbling along to keep the reader flipping the pages.  And yet...

It all feels way too long.  The sex scenes are fun and lively but there's frankly too many of them (they felt like word count padding after a while...).  My print copy clocks in at 316 pages and I feel like these mad-cap shenanigans would have been perfect at the length of a Traditional Regency or a Harlequin Historical.  It just seems to go on for a very long time.

Then there's the matter of Louisa's family who are toxic and yet at the end I'm supposed to buy some clap-trap about how they really do care about her it's just they're really, really bad at showing it.  Y'all Wendy did not just fall off the turnip truck. I would have lit Rosemont ablaze while they were all sleeping in their beds.  I mean, if the Boer War can't quell the bubbly tone why should a little mass murder by arson?

As a general rule I have a checkered history with light historicals but this one falls on the less annoying side of the street for me.  Yes, it's a romp but it avoids cutesy and twee (shudder).  I did appreciate several things about the story, but it didn't captivate me to the point where I want to gobble up the rest of the series.  However it has made me curious about Robinson's historical mystery series - of which I'm glad I have book one laying about somewhere...

Final Grade = B-


Jill said...

This sounds like I might have to give it a try if the library has it or I can scrounge up a cheap copy.
I read WITH THIS RING by Carla Kelly which was a bit of cheat b/c it's set during the Napoleonic War when Napoleon has been sent to Elba. So the reader knows the war is not over but the characters don't, of course. Either way, the hero has been invalided out so the war is definitely over for him.
So we have our hero (Major Samuel Reed, Lord Laren) grappling with the horrors of war both his own injuries and the injuries and problems of his men. He happens to still in a hospital in London when the heroine, Lydia Perkins, comes along with her shallow sister b/c it has become ala mode for the upper classes to gawk at the soldiers. Lydia is not a gawker by nature so she rolls up her sleeves and does her best to help.
She and Sam develop a rapport and that (for plot related reasons) develops into a marriage of convenience which of course quickly becomes complicated for both of them. This had all the classic Carla Kelly elements, wartime grit, (mostly) everyday people, a lot of emphasis on hard work and compassion for those who are struggling. I ate it up with a spoon. It's very similar to her (later) Channel Fleet series, but different enough that I enjoyed it still.
I think my favorite thing about Kelly's books is that her characters usually develop a lot of affection and respect for each other before they act on their attraction. I read all heat levels, but something about people who genuinely like each other is refreshing when so many romances are "I hate you, but let's have sex anyways."

Whiskeyinthejar said...

Romps are a little tough for me too but this sounds good, I like when heroes pull themselves out of their melancholy, or what have you, because they get fed up with how the heroine is being treated. Standing up for the heroine is gold star.
Much like this sentence I mean, if the Boer War can't quell the bubbly tone why should a little mass murder by arson?

azteclady said...

Jill: that's what I like about Carla Kelly's work too, that the characters like and appreciate each other before we get to shenanigans.

WhiskeyInTheJar: same!

Wendy: I have the last one in the series in ya olde kindle, and I believe I have this one in the print cordillera of doom (must look). I too struggle with light historicals, especially in times of struggle, but historical period is done right is my jam, so I'll move these up the TBR

Wendy said...

Jill: True story, my original plan for this month was to dig through my print pile and find an appropriate Carla Kelly - because I know she's got several books that could fit the theme. But this one jumped up and bit me first - so Edwardian/Boer War it was!

Whiskey: Yes, his White Knight Complex does kick in fairly quickly once they arrive at Rosemont and he makes the acquaintance of her family. From then on he's firmly in her corner acting as protector.

AL: A lot of my issues with light historicals stem from they're so easy to descend into cutesy/twee and I loathe cutesy/twee. This book is as light and bubbly as champagne but it never landed in eye-rolling territory, even with all the rompy-ness going on.