by Victoria Malvey, historical (2001)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-7434-1883-2
A Proper Affair could have been a typical but fun bluestocking-rake-and-a-spoiled-brat Regency historical romance, but alas, while Victoria Malvey has ideas, she just couldn't execute them well. Half the time APA (a) doesn't make sense, and (b) when it does, it makes sense in all the wrong ways.
Once upon a time, Bryce Keene, never expecting to inherit, fools around and indulges in wine, women, and song all day long. He is in love with one Francesca, sultry, exotic-looking woman, but he isn't above wenching in tavern/brothel rooms and trying to shock Cassandra Hampsted, pale, proper, and prim in a ballroom. Little does he know that patriotism should go a long way - the exotic wench will turn out to be a Harlot of the Century (gee, just like him!) while the proper, pale, absolutely all-wholesome British romance-novel-style Cass will be his true love.
Anyway, the ballroom fiasco ends up with Cass loathing that rake - loathe, loathe, loathe! - and Bryce going off to marry Fran.
Cut to seven years later. Bryce is heartbroken when his proper brother died, leaving Bryce to care for sixteen-year old spoiled and rebellious Alaina. He is also bitter over his dead wife. See, here I am confused. Bryce, rake, must have done the doggie-dance with married women before, so why should he expect his wife to be any different? Karma, y'know. Anyway, Fran has the decency to die though, and Bryce is now Bitter and Trying To Cope with his niece/ward.
Cass, meanwhile, is in a dilemma. She has been so proper and dutiful all her life, but where has that gotten her? About to be evicted by her stepson (she wouldn't be his mistress), his father has amassed too high a gambling debt (of course, instead of scolding that stupid buffoon, good heroines must solve the matter so that Papa will love them forever and ever and ever - "DaddyNMe4eva!!!"), and she needs money.
Bryce remembers her and that book on manners that she wrote years before, and proposes marriage. A perfect solution - he gives her money, she gives him free babysitting services for Alaina.
Of course, he then signs Cass' marriage privisio without reading it fully, only to discover too late that #26 states that no sex for six months (let's know each other better first) and there's also one that states that Cass can let her dog Paco into the house. Bryce, naturally is mad. Scheming wench! Just that slut Francesca! Bitch! (Of course, it's not his fault he didn't read that stupid contract.)
Hey, I understand. If I marry Hugh Jackman and he says that there will be no boinkings for half a year, I'd be mad enough to chew glass too.
So Bryce schemes to teach her a lesson, which, as far as I can tell, involves playing pranks more worthy of a ten-year old and flashing his naked skin at Cass. Cass vows to resist - ha ha ha, get real woman.
So there the story goes. Oh yeah, Alaina gets a new friend and a mommy, et cetera, Evil Dead Other Woman's brother comes in to cause trouble, more et cetera, and don't forget a happy ending where Cass throws off all chains of propriety and goes naked horseback riding in the park. I'm kidding about the naked horseback riding.
I wince when Bryce outs a falcon mask over the dog. Because while he lets the dog into the house, that doesn't mean he has to look at it, see. Haha. Call the SPCA, somebody. This is cruel. Cassandra decides that she wants a logical, unemotional marriage. But when Bryce tries to behave that way, she decides she wants one of true love. When Bryce and Cass are not indulging in petty attempts to upstage each other, they are sulking because things aren't going their way.
I'm not saying this book is littered with squabblings and bickerings of the Big Misunderstanding nature. It's just that these two's tug-of-war session is rather petty and juvenile in nature, more appropriate for a food fight at Camp Nursery Brats than in a romance novel featuring grown-ups. Alaina is puzzling too. She is sixteen, but she behaves as if she's ten. I thought she was ten, until the author reminds me that Alaina must get a Season ASAP. As a daughter of a duke, she inexplicably seems to display no knowledge on even the basics on how she should behave in public. And I'm told her dead father was a poster child for responsibility. Eh?
When Cass and Bryce are not trying to be Wild E Coyote and the Road Runner, they actually are very nice together. They talk, they indulge in tiny cute chit-chat only lovers do, and they have chemistry. But the author puts these two as well as poor Alaina through the hoops in an attempt to be funny, and unfortunately, most of the time they aren't even funny. A Proper Affair is very readable, but it's more actually akin to A Perplexing Affair.
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