by Michelle Marcos, historical (2007)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-312-94849-8
When A Lady Misbehaves is an accurate title for this book. Readers who don't like unrepentant naughty heroines, beware - the heroine here is a conwoman who does not behave nobly for the most of the story.
April Jardine is the daughter of a chimney sweep, but she dreams of a life far better than the one she current has - as a scullery maid cleaning up the mess left by the clients of the brothel Pleasure Emporium. Don't ask me how, but she can speak English and French well plus she can read too. And while she looks into the mirror and see a cow looking back at her, naturally she's gorgeous. The owner of the Pleasure Emporium wants April to start earning her wages on her back, but April balks at that. When she discovers her employer's diary that contains detailed information on all her previous clients, April drags her best friend along as they both flee the brothel to embark on a new scheme.
April will pretend to be the daughter of that woman and she would meet up with the more high-profile ex-clients of her former employer, claiming that this woman has passed away and now April has no one left in the world but Daddy Dearest. Usually the horrified man will hand over some money and send April and her "maid" away. It's a good scheme to enrich themselves, and April intends to keep the scheme going... until things become more complicated than she expected at first when they target the Duke of Westbrook. The Duke is actually very fond of the madam, and he is more than happy to take his "daughter" in over the objections of his eldest son Riley Hawthorne. Don't worry, Riley never believes that April is the real deal for even a second, so his attraction to his "half-sister" is not that creepy... I think.
My issue with this story is not that the heroine is for a long time a self-absorbed twit, although I suspect some readers will have problems with April. No, my problem with this story is how wildly inconsistent everything is. April is a lazy scullery maid who dreams of becoming a noblewoman... and yet when she's playing the Duke's daughter, she lashes out at the unfairness of the nobility and the injustices experienced by the common people. She insists that people should be allowed to fall in love regardless of rank and pedigree... but she refuses to let her friend sleep in April's comfortable bedroom because she doesn't think it is right that a maid sleeps in a noblewoman's bedroom. April lashes out at the hypocrisy of the Ton... but she is the biggest pretender and hypocrite in the whole story.
Meanwhile, the Other Woman who has designs on Riley is demonized as a bitchy skank when all she is doing is to protect her turf from an interloper. She was there first - can you blame her for not being happy when April hones in on Riley? And yet April, who is the biggest liar in the story who also took shameless advantage of her friendship with Jenny, is celebrated as a lovable creature who has spirit and courage. The men who rightfully are angry at April for conning them are painted as hypocrites and users of women, but nothing is said about Riley, the circuit judge, defending a woman is definitely guilty of the crimes she has committed when he knows the truth of her crimes. And don't get me started about that farce of a trial - my goodness, it's so melodramatic and mawkish, no to mention unrealistic.
Oh, and the synopsis on the back cover suggests that this is an erotic romance. Like April, the person who wrote that is lying. The sensuality level of this story is actually pretty tame.
There are some effective scenes of comedy here and there, but on the whole, the story is too inconsistent for me to take it seriously. All When A Lady Misbehaves tells me is that love turns people into hypocrites. It's not exactly the kind of message I am hoping to receive when I read a romance novel.
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