by Kathryn June, regency (2000)
Zebra, $4.99, ISBN 0-8217-6484-5
Valentine Monroe, the new Earl of Alveston, is melancholic. He doesn't want this title if he has to inherit it at the cost of his father and brother's lives. His sister Valerie has been banished to America over some Scandal in her debut, and now he is lonely, broody, and spends his time working himself to exhaustion. Salvation comes in the form of a letter for Valerie from her dear friend in the Hedgecliff, Anna Tremain.
Intrigued by the warm, cheery words of a young woman he barely remembers, Valentine decides to reply to her. All the while signing off as "Valerie", of course. Correspondence after correspondence, soon Val finds himself most agitated when Anna tells of a young dashing man's courtship of her. He's jealous! He's... in love. Oops.
At this point, I expect this book to be some sort of Regency 84, Charing Cross Road, a story of romance carried out in letters and words. In fact, the letters are fun to read, with Anna's good cheer a great contrast to "Valerie"'s sober, gloomy reflective prose.
Then they have to meet and spoil everything. Bah. What happens is that Anna gets a chance to visit London and Val couldn't resist offering his gallant presence as some sort of escort around town (he wants to see her). Soon, it becomes very distressing to discover that Anna's good cheer is her one personality. She rarely show any other depths apart from being happy, cheery, obliviously merry, and disgustingly poppy. There are a few scenes where she display winning confidence and intelligence, but most of the time she's on a giddy joy trip. Ugh.
I'm willing to overlook the obvious plot loophole - Anna's reasoning for "Valerie"'s new handwriting in her letters is laughable - when the letters are so charming. But soon the plot turns into a boring, predictable push-and-pull session between Val and Anna. One moment he kisses her, then he pushes her away, then he kisses her again, and then Mrs Giggles push them both off the high cliffs of Dover (or something). Lots of shopping and partying also take place, and I get to read more about hats and fripperies that I ever wanted to in the first place.
This is a romance where the pen is definitely mightier than anything. Now, can someone banish Anna or Val to Elba and make them resume exchanging those fun letters?
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