Always A Lady
by Rebecca Hagan Lee, historical (2002)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-13347-7


For the most part of this book, Always A Lady is a cute, solid story that will rank an easy high eightysomething-score in my opinion. While the characters aren't original and neither is the plot, the story brims with infectious charm and good nature. I don't know why the author chooses to blindside me with a badly-constructed Trauma Porn thing late into the story. And a shoddily inserted sex scene towards the end is the final straw. It is as if the author has built herself a nice glass house and then proceed to take a gravel and smash all the window panes for reasons only she will comprehend.

Mariah Shaughnessy is an Irish convent dingbat. She is the best of both worlds: she is born to serve, yet she is "wilful" enough for the convent admin people to shake their head and make disapproving sounds at. Christopher "Kit" Ramsey is our hero, and he comes to Ireland to manage the lands and all. He inherits Mariah as his ward, and he decides to give her a Season, something her momma always wanted her daughter to have, before marrying her off to the local squire. Alas, he has no idea that she is the same six-year old girl he playfully betrothed himself to when he was a young brat, and he has no idea that Creepy Carebear Mariah is intent on making him honor his vows.

Creepy Carebear Mariah is a mistress baker and she is an expert housekeeper. In fact, she demands to do the housework even if she's of minor blue blood. She doesn't like parties, she won't ask for money because she's charitable and virtuous like that, and she just wants to bake, cook, clean, heal, forever ever amen.

Sometimes when people tell me that romance novels are strictly women's fantasies, I look at characters like Creepy Carebear Mariah - beautiful, undemanding, virginal, superhousekeeper and supermom - and I will roll up my eyes and say dryly, "Oh yeah, strictly women's fantasy, huh? Right." Unless Ms Lee really believes that being a happy domestic worker is the best fantasy a woman will ever have. If that is so, I hope her husband will take her shopping and show her the Pleasure of Spending Money For The Sake Of Spending or something. Meanwhile, you male couch potatoes can read this book when the football game is over and enjoy the fantasy of this Creepy Carebear Mariah cooking you your food and doing your laundry the way your momma used to.

Where was I? Oh yes, the Carebear and her boyfriend. Kit is the typical good-natured hero, nothing special, really. But he and his Carebear are pretty fun together, talking and exchanging repartees like two adorable cartoon characters. In fact, the whole story is surreally sunny, and all that's missing is the seven dwarves theme as Mariah happily bakes, cleans, shows off her dresses, and trips around the place with broom and mop. This is a paragon Martha Stewart, and it is a testament of Ms Lee's writing that I actually like this Carebear rather than to want to vomit rancid bile all over that poppy dingbat creature.

But then comes the secrets. Dark, not so nice family secrets. Which makes Mariah's perpetually sunny nature seem more like the product of illicit pharmaceuticals rather than an innately cheery disposition. Letters, wills, diaries, and notes from the past seem to litter this story, fluttering open conveniently when secrets need to be revealed.

But worst is the sex scene, the only one in this story. This is a transparent "Sex For The Sake Of A Sex Scene" thing. Look, cartoon characters should never have sex in my book. Carebears are supposed to be asexual. So what's all this "Sipping the Nectar" and "Share the Nectar" nonsense? What is this? It is like turning on to the Cartoon Network only to be greeted by the sight of Timon and Pumbaa having wild flailing animal sex with each other.

Maybe if the author has gotten a little more consistent with the tone and mood of her story and maybe if she doesn't put in a gratuitous sex scene and then decorate the lovers' boudoir with bright vivid prose of purple, Always A Lady would have been so much better. Then again, maybe if I've auditioned for the Spice Girls, I'd be married to David Beckham by now and living a posh life of cellulite-free sex, Prada binge, and having the not-too-smart Becks at my very beck and call. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Rating: 79


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