Amazon discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom broke all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs used this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Review: How to Please a Lady

I'm in a bit of a disagreeable reading mood at the moment - which is to say I have no idea what I'm in the mood to read. What this translates to is me throwing spaghetti at the wall.  I took a deep, deep dive into my Kindle for a historical romance and unearthed How to Please a Lady by Jane Goodger. This is the second book in a series that splits it's time between late Victorian England and New York, features that most bananapants of romance tropes (a virgin widow!), a cross-class romance, and stands alone reasonably well.

The book opens with the former Lady Rose Dunford, now Mrs. Cartright, widowed nearly two years and annoyed with her new neighbor. The man is a rake of the first order, entertaining all manner of "ladies" during the night and quite frankly, the sound carrying all too well. So imagine her shock when she discovers her new neighbor, a wealthy, handsome, self-made man is none other than Charlie Avery, her family's former stable groom.

Great set-up, right? Well brace yourselves because we then flashback to some years earlier to England where we spend the next 60% of this story. Rose, daughter of an Earl, is engaged to a Duke, and Charlie takes care of her beloved horse in her father's stable. They played together as children and while Charles carries a torch, he's smart enough to know that stable hands don't marry Earl's daughters and that there is zero opportunity for him in England.  In a fortnight he's leaving to join an uncle in America where he hopes to make something of himself. 

Rose isn't in love with the Duke but her mother is over the moon and frankly she knows what her role is. What she didn't bargain for is the Duke being an odious, vile villain and sexually assaulting her (spoiler: forced fellatio). Charlie deduces what has happened and tells Rose to inform her mother, but Rose knows how futile that is. No, instead, she hits upon the idea to go to America with Charlie and show up at Mr. Cartright's front door. He's an acquaintance of her oldest brother and she liked him when they met at a ball recently.  She also heard a rumor that Mr. Cartright likes boys more than girls and that these rumors are holding back his career in the US State Department. Frankly after her experience with the Duke being a beard for a gay man sounds more than ideal to Rose.

Just from the back cover blurb we know eventually Rose does marry Mr. Cartright and settles into a comfortable life. The real meat and potatoes of this romance is in the final 40% when Rose and Charlie, now a self-made man, reunite. Here's the thing about flashbacks, when they work they're great but they're very tricky to pull off, and this authorial choice in this story just didn't work for me. I get teased with a great opening chapter and then I spend the next 60% stuck in Flashback Land a little bored and anxious to get back to the New York storyline. Why the tease? Just start at the beginning and tell this thing in a linear timeline. It reeks of too many cooks in the kitchen trying to be clever.

What I did appreciate is that the author does not sweep the class differences, which are a lot, under the rug. Rose is a woman of privilege and naturally a little snobby. She's what I call thoughtlessly cruel. She's not evil, but has a tendency to say cruel things without realizing they're cruel until Charlie gets hurt or angry. These are people from two very different worlds.  Once reunited, Charlie may now be successful and wealthy, but he's ill-equipped to navigate high society waters, which is where Rose comes into play.  Also, I liked that not everything is magically right as rain in the end. Rose and Charlies, of course, get married but that doesn't mean her parents are ready to welcome him into the family fold.

I wasn't in love with this and the use of a very long seemingly never-ending flashback annoyed me, but I was engaged and read this in a day. I was also swept up enough in the world-building to pick up the next book in the trilogy (yes, of course it was in my TBR) about Rose's older brother who harries himself off to a life of isolation after his Good Time Girl Wife dies in another man's bed. Let's hope the flashbacks stay locked up in a closet somewhere.

Final Grade = B-

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