by Alissa Johnson, historical (2011)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23397-4
When going through the papers of the now decamped Lady Engsley, the newly minted Marquess of Engsley discovers that his stepmother had been systematically fleecing the family coffers. Among the many examples of creative accounting displayed by Lady Engsley, she had been underpaying the funds allocated to her husband's ward, Winnefred Blythe, paying the poor dear only a tiny fraction of what she should be getting in the last twelve years. Appalled by this, the Marquess sends his younger brother, Gideon Haverston, to locate and tell Freddie that she would be paid the amount that was owed all these years as well as a bonus to make up for Lady Engsley's perfidy.
It turns out that Freddie and her companion Lilly have been living and running a farm in Enscrum, Scotland, surviving on whatever they could plant, catch and hunt. When Gideon shows up and explains the situation, Lilly wants Gideon to give Freddie a Season in London. Freddie needs polishing up, of course, and you can imagine what happens between Gideon and Freddie as the story progresses.
Nearly A Lady has an interesting and appealing hero in Gideon, a younger son who joined the army, only to come home hiding some wounds in his soul underneath a pleasant demeanor. Having lost men under his command, Gideon wishes to spend the rest of his life without having to be responsible for anyone, and falling in love with Freddie means being responsible for her. What is that poor fellow to do? He's a nice guy, sweet and gentlemanly without the typical brooding pretensions of a rake, and he can be quite the romantic too.
Unfortunately, Freddie is a wet rag of a heroine. She is so determined to be joyless so she resists every single attempt by Gideon and Lilly to make her even a little happy, so much so that I soon begin to wonder why we can't just throw this sour-faced twit back to whatever hole she crawled out from. She's that kind of friend who will make sure that Lilly knows just how much of a sacrifice Freddie is making just to make Lilly happy by going along with the preparations for a London season, and she will also tell Gideon that the only reason she is going along is to make Lilly happy. Worse, Freddie behaves like a typical self-absorbed heroine as the story progresses. At first she's determined not to succumb to her attraction to Gideon, and makes it clear to him that she is not keen on hooking up with him, but then she'd get all hurt and rejected when he gives her what she wants and seems to show signs of not wanting her in his bed. She claims that she doesn't love him, but treats him coldly when he refuses to tell her the L word. And finally, she pulls the Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test, fleeing and opting to live the life of a ruined woman just because the guy wants to marry her after boinking her - clearly a sign that he only cares for her reputation and not her, don't you know. Everything about Freddie is either tedious or obnoxious. I have no idea what Gideon sees in her.
Also, the story moves at a snail's pace. The story tells me early on that everyone is going to London, hurrah, but almost two-thirds of the book focuses on Freddie being obnoxious and annoying as these people take forever to pack up and move to London. This story gives Freddie way too much room to behave like a difficult dingbat who actually has no clue what she wants from life as well as from Gideon. As a result, what could have been a fun tale between a nice guy and country tomboy turns out to be a tale of Gideon and Lilly trying to indulge Freddie as she puts on a sour face and lets everyone know that she is not having fun.
Nearly A Lady, therefore, is a tale that alternates between boring me with its slow pace and annoying me with the heroine. It's not one of the author's better works, that's for sure.
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