by Pam Rosenthal, historical (2004)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0445-0
Pam Rosenthal is really bitten hard by the sophomore effort bug in this, her second book The Bookseller's Daughter. I understand that this book is actually her first romance novel, but all empathy aside, this story is still readable until the heroine begins doing some really shockingly stupid things to make herself even more of a victim.
Set ten years before thimbling in front of the Guillotine becomes France's favorite past time, this story concerns the heroine Marie-Laure Vernet, a bookseller's daughter that is forced to work as a scullery maid in what seems to be the Household From Hell after her father's death. Her father was a bookworm scholar, and you know how darling fathers tend to be in stories like this one. Anywhere, when she's not fending off men bent on raping her luscious body, she's being abused verbally and physically by her employers.
Then one day the household receives a visitor - Joseph d'Auvers-Raimond, a Vicomte that smuggled books to her father's store before. Joseph learns of poor Marie-Laure's plight and offers to pretend to be her lover. They meet as often as they can in his room at nights where they talk about books (really, that's what they do). The attraction that was formed when Marie-Laure tended an injured Joseph the first time they met kindles alight. These two soon become intimate.
But alas, the financially crippled Joseph needs to marry money so they aren't really meant to be. Still, he offers Marie-Laure a very obvious and logical solution out of her problems, and all Marie-Laure has to do is to take the opportunity and leave the Household from Hell. What do you think she does?
Well, if she has done something smart, that is, something a typically dumb romance heroine would not do, this book would be viewed by me in a more favorable light. I think Marie-Laure is the only one surprised when she realizes that without Joseph to protect her, things are far from looking up for her. What happens subsequently involves plenty of melodramatic heroine-in-distress scenarios, but I can never forget that Marie-Laure is in trouble because in one stupid moment, she decides to become a textbook case of a dumb romance heroine with no sense of priorities.
I still enjoy Ms Rosenthal's writing and the quiet scenes between Marie-Laure and Joseph ring with wonderful romanticism. The author also manages to bring to life the atmosphere and what it is like to be involved in bookselling at that time. But when the book gets busy - and set in a tumultous time, this book can really get quite busy - The Bookseller's Daughter comes off like an overly dramatic rescue fantasy. While Marie-Laure probably cannot help being in the circumstances that she is in, I wish that she will stop being so helpless and passive and actually do something to help herself, even if this something in question may not be wrapped in heart-shaped bows. Joseph is a better character in that at least he seems to be able to evaluate a situation and propose an appropriate action for that situation. As for the cartoon villains, they seem very unworthy for someone that writes so evocatively like Ms Rosenthal.
So while I manage to enjoy some aspects of this story, The Bookseller's Daughter falls short of my expectations of what this author can offer. Here's hoping that she can rebound nicely in her next book.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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