All Smiles
by Stella Cameron, historical/paranormal (2000)
MIRA, $5.99, ISBN 1-55166-615-4


All Smiles is a simple yet elegant wordplay of the fact that the heroine's last name is Smiles. That's right, meet Meg Smiles, impoverished seamstress and living with her sister Sybil in one of the apartments in 7 Mayfair Square. It can also refer to the great bliss Count Etranger (also known as Jean-Marc in the boudoirs) gives her with him ambidextrous fingers and some drapery cords.

Whatever. I'm still blinking in befuddlement after the last page. Usually I'd wade through the story again if it puzzles me so, but All Smiles has more than 400 pages, a great length for a story with characters who do things that don't make any sense in a plot that is barely coherent. Add in Sir Septimus Spivey, the ghost who plots to evacuate all the meddling tenants in his home (a plot that continues from the first book in this series More And More), and his ramblings and I get even more confused.

I mean, I like More And More despite its sometimes incoherent execution. But All Smiles is a mess.

The plot, or what I make of it, seems decent at the surface. Meg and Sybil need money to survive, so Meg sews and Sybil teaches music. When Finch More introduces Meg to the new tenants across them, the foreign aristocrat Princess Desiree and her brother Jean-Marc, Meg dons cosmetics, pads her bra (okay, maybe not), and gets hired as Desiree's tutor. Someone is trying kill them (as usual) and Spivey is meddling too.

But like I said, I don't get the story. It is weird. It tries to be cheeky, kooky, or eccentric, but it's just plain out-there. Meg, for a daughter of a vicar, is a visionary New Age practitioner two centuries ahead of her time. Chanting mantras and dying her hair and using thick kohl on her eyes that probably make her look like a startled panda. And she's a vicar daughter? Uhm...

And she indulges in banana peeling and munching with Jean-Marc and lets herself be pawed publicly by this horny toad with much gusto. And she demonstrates convenient streetwise knowledge when the plot demands it, and does some pretty stupid things for a supposedly practical girl.

Oh boy, the vicar must be really negligent in his children's upbringings.

And Jean-Marc, I don't know. That guy gives me the creeps. His sexy innuendos come off more like something a creep in a pick-up bar would use. He seems more interested in Meg's south of the border than what's up north, and his intention to make her his mistress (instead of wife) may make sense if he's a true nobleman, but he's illegitimate. And he has no qualms in pawing and playing house with a woman he knows as innocent and from a decently high station in life - that makes him quite a creepy pervert.

Before I can entangle the conundrum presented by these two's thoroughly confusing characters, the author hits me with a tsunami wave of non-stop action, skanky villains, eccentric and bizarre secondary characters that only add to the cacophony, and loud, drunken ramblings of an annoying ghost whose function seems only be a voyeur and a distraction.

I'm sure there's a great concept in All Smiles, somewhere, but really! The final product is like a train wreck. I can't make head or tail out of any part of it, I don't feel even remotely interested in the main characters, and I really wish Ebeneezer Scrooge would pop in and choke Septimus to silence.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I have a headache coming on.

Rating: 39


My Favorite Pages

This book at Amazon.com

This book at Amazon UK

Search for more reviews of works by this author:

My Guestbook Return to Romance Novel Central Email