by Jayne Fresina, historical (2012)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-6597-6
Ten and a half years ago, Sophie Valentine let her boyfriend shag her in a ballroom. It wasn't amazing - we all know only men who are our true loves are capable of giving us orgasms - but the scandal that followed definitely was, when some folks entered the room and took in the scene for what it obviously was. The guy proposed, but you know how heroines are. It's true love or endless pages whining about misery and death, all or nothing, and in this case, it was nothing even close to true love so off she went to live with her brother in disgrace, leaving behind the bloody bits of her dignity like a warning sign to all readers: This is the trail of a colossal idiot. Follow it at your own peril.
Cut to present day. Sophie is 30, which, in 1820, means that she's practically an old hag straddling every shelf in town. However, that doesn't stop her from still acting like it's either true love or endless pouting for her. Her way or nobody's way. If she can't get her way, she's scowl and flounce and generally act like a brat twenty years younger. She doesn't seem to have learned anything from her past, other than to shriek and protest for ten seconds before putting out again.
Therefore, when she meets our hero, Lazarus Kane (don't laugh, I didn't make this up), it doesn't take much for her to repeat her mistake. At least her previous boyfriend seemed to have seduced her sweetly into dropping her bloomers. Here, her first encounter with Lazarus is akin to wrestling with an octopus that keeps hearing "Grope!" instead of "No!" Lazarus has a secret, but that's okay, Sophie finally has a man to keep her happy, so it's love.
The synopsis is pretty rubbish, I know, because I haven't told you why these two meet and other important details. Here's the thing: this story spends so much time having the main characters stumble and flail through one plot twist after another, it is only late in the story when things come together to become a semblance of a plot. Revealing these details may constitute a spoiler marathon, therefore, so you'll just have to take it from me: the story is such that the author seems to be making things up as she goes along.
I can tell you that the man who calls himself Lazarus has a pretty interesting background, and he has not a drop of noble blood in him. Unfortunately, his behavior is such that he actually makes me miss the stereotypical blue-blooded toff: the author uses Lazarus's lack of noble blood as an excuse for Lazarus to behave like a creep. There are basically two modes for this guy: Sex Creep or Asshole. Apparently, by not being familiar with nicer manners of the Ton, Lazarus has free rein to paw the heroine and practically forces a kiss on her, when he's not mocking her and treating her like something he'd like to shag but has zero respect for. He has a condition that can make him drop dead at any minute, though, so I can only hope that he will do so soon.
Sophie has two modes too - Idiot and Idiot. She's the classic tragedy of feistiness gone ugly. She does and says things without thinking, and doesn't have to take responsibility for any of her nonsense, so she never learns. She acts like a child when she doesn't get her way. Her thought process is akin to a petulant teenage brat, and she lacks the intelligence or self-awareness to make such petulance palatable. Sophie would whine that she wants something more than being a spinster, but she often sabotages any opportunity to be this something more because of her stubborn insistence that a man must spell out that he loves her before she'd spend her life with him. That's usually not so bad but she, at the time, has no problems having sex with him and generally paying no thought to possible repercussions. The entire story is basically me waiting for her to stop being an idiot and get her act together, and it's a long wait, ugh. When Lazarus dies, I hope Sophie, floundering without a man to think for her, would shortly after mistake a woodchipper for a hair dryer and delete herself from existence as well.
The author tries very hard to tell me that Sophie is smart, because she apparently run her brother's estate for him in the meantime, but the author's misstep here is to make that brother an idiot. Therefore, Sophie is brilliant only because she is in a room with even bigger morons.
The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine is a textbook of how everything about a clichéd historical romance set in 19th century England can go wrong. Despite the difference in social status between the hero and the heroine, the author treats everything else about the story like standard tropes on march, only in unfortunate ways. The characters are familiar stereotypes, but their personalities are replaced by exaggerated one-note tics. The plot tries to have everything but the kitchen sink - maybe the next book - but they are tossed together in such a manner that, half the time, I have no clue why these people are behaving like dolts or why I even bother to wonder.
The kindest thing I can say about this book is that, well, the words are all in the correct order in readable sentences and I don't see any gross spelling mistakes. The story is a hot mess, however, and I'd dearly love to strangle the main characters with my own bare hands for being so annoying and dumb. I know, it's not exactly the nicest reception I can throw for the author's debut published effort with Sourcebooks Casablanca, but hey, I didn't ask to be subjected to such a story.
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