by Alexandria Scott, historical (2007)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-8217-7824-1
Alexandria Scott has previously written historical romances as Brenda K Jernigan. Southern Seduction is the first book in a trilogy revolving around three young women who left England and traveled to America to begin a new life there. The three women are friends who go their separate ways once they step foot in America. This one is Brooke Hammond's story.
Brooke is an unusual heroine in that she is a former courtesan.
She didn't start out to become a whore, but life was a game of survival, and that was exactly what Brooke had been doing... surviving and hoping that a better life would come along.
She left the streets when she met and became the platonic companion of Jackson Montgomery, the Duke of Devonshire. When the Duke passes on, she learns the that Jackson has left her a sugarcane plantation in Louisiana. Hoping that she has at last found a chance to be in control of her own destiny, she makes her way to her new home, only to learn when she gets there that she's actually only a co-owner of the plantation. The plantation is co-owned by Travis, Jackson's estranged illegitimate son. Travis has managed the plantation on his own all this time, so he is not pleased to learn that he has to share the plantation with some stranger.
It gets better. Jackson's will stipulates that these two will have to co-own the plantation for a year before one can buy the other person out. And if Travis marries another woman and begets an heir before the year is out, Brooke loses her co-ownership and gets instead a small monetary compensation. Jackson makes it clear in his will that this is his way to matchmake Travis and Brooke. I tell you, with fathers like Jackson, it's better not to be born in the first place. Brooke therefore realizes that she must get Travis to marry her if she wants to have the home and security that she has always dreamed of. However, Travis has a fiancée and she's coming over soon, so Brooke has to act fast.
Okay, so the plot is on the ridiculous side, but for nearly two-thirds of the story, I am enjoying myself. I like the fact that Brooke, despite having many hard knocks in her life, still manages to remain pretty upbeat and determined to achieve her dreams. She also doesn't deny her attraction to Travis. In fact, she doesn't mind giving back as good as she gets from him. Meanwhile, she goes around charming the household staff and winning them over even as Travis tries to drive her away with his permanent scowl.
But the story really stumbles in its late third or so when Ms Scott keeps piling on the melodrama right up to the last few pages. Problems keep coming and piling up in a cartoonish manner to the point that this story starts to resemble those soap opera "special episodes" where the heroine gets transported back into the past. Oh my goodness, the misunderstandings and the arguments that arise from them keep coming along with near-death encounters and other melodramatic plot developments. Even when the story is about to end within ten or so pages, the author just has to cram in one last dramatic moment involving Travis. The first two-thirds of the book are pretty readable as Brooke and Travis circle around each other, but when the cartoon villains and the exaggerated drama start coming, it's as if I'm reading a different book altogether.
I also have a problem with the author's portrayal of Travis. This man is a complete boor. He is as thick as lead, always jumping to the wrong conclusions about pretty much everything, and it doesn't help that he also has a tendency to turn everything into all about him. Humorless, unpleasant, and ridiculous, Travis has me wondering what on earth Brooke ever sees in this man apart from the fact that he is a baggage that comes along with the house (thank you, Jackson). If I were Brooke, instead of cooing that the boor is just hurting because of his sad past, I'd have laced his drink with arsenic. The poor man, it is common in this story for him to undergo weird almost-bipolar outbursts. One moment, he will be waxing insipid compliments about Brooke's "pure profile", whatever that is, in one scene only to have him foaming angrily at the mouth about Brooke in the next scene. One moment he will say that he accepts her for who she is and in the next scene he will be leveling condemnations of her character based on hasty and ill-conceived assumptions. There is no coherent consistency to this poor fellow's thought pattern and antics.
Therefore, I feel Southern Seduction an uneven book. One moment Ms Scott will be writing a mostly lovely and enchanting scene, only to then have the next scene devolve into silliness. All in all, I think this one is pretty readable. I also must give this author credit for trying to come up with a heroine that is different from the usual stereotypes. However, I just can't bring myself to rate this book higher no matter how much I've enjoyed the better aspects of this story. Maybe next time, Ms Scott.
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