My Pleasure
by Connie Brockway, historical (2004)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6323-4

It really hurts to write how I really feel about My Pleasure, the second book in Connie Brockway's The Rose Hunters trilogy. Maybe it's easier to pretend that I adore this book to pieces like I do about many of the author's previous books, but this book is the worst book I've read by the author, set against the author's own standards that are set by herself. How bad is it? If this is the first book of hers that I am reading, I'd be wondering why people are raving about her books.

Maybe for a debut historical romance by an author who is tied by what she feels are "must-have" formulaic plot devices, this book will be a good effort. The writing is good; technique-wise, this book can't be faulted too much in any way. But plot-wise, ugh. The biggest problem of this book is that the conflict between the hero and the heroine just goes on and on thanks to the heroine's unbelievably stupid ways. While Helena Nash's sister Kate comes close to too-stupid territory at times, Helena rules that territory.

Let me explain. In this book, Helena spends her entire time trying to pass messages or fix the relationship between her charge Flora Tilpot and Flora's husband Oswald Goodwin. It's a long and silly story - Oswald and Flora eloped but things didn't pan out and now Flora is back at home living with her harridan aunt Alfreda. Helena, Alfreda's companion, now functions as a delivery donkey for the two separated lovebirds. This is fine with me if being the donkey for those two doesn't involve Helena having to put herself into dangerous situations in dark corners of London. After a temporary sane moment where she decides to stop being a delivery donkey, Helena is soon back at it, her bizarre reasoning being that Flora reminds her of her sister Charlotte and she needs to give Flora a happy ending to make up for her inability to coddle Charlotte. Or something.

And that's not taking into account that she has access to money, thanks to Kate and Kit's windfall at the end of My Seduction. But Helena insists on working under the harridan that treats her like a mangy dog, all the while biting her tongue. When asked by the hero Ramsey Munro why she doesn't seek her sister's help, she tells him that she doesn't want to move to the Continent where her sister and her husband are currently living at. Huh? At the very least, Helena should at least get a loan that she knows she can easily obtain and make a better life for herself. Ms Brockway however has Helena telling me that she doesn't trust windfalls that fall too easily onto her lap. What does this mean? (Other than Helena being a raging idiot, that is.) It's better to ignore better alternatives and remain in a suffocating existence because of... er, something?

In her first dangerous stint, she is rescued by Ramsey by chance. Ramsey has been stalking, oops, watching her for years now as a means of fulfilling his vow to the Nash women, and he is attracted to her. He recognizes her in her boy get-up (another proof that Helena is a moron: nobody, and I do mean nobody, is fooled by her disguise) but pretends that he doesn't recognize her. Don't ask me why. When Helena encounters Ramsey again, a man who is obsessed about her starts to cause trouble. Instead of buying a gun, she goes to Ramsey for fencing lessons, lessons where she spends more time sighing over and feeling his physique than to actually do anything useful. She masters one technique and thinks she's done with the lesson. She can take care of herself now. How nice. Put me and my trusty umbrella in a dark alley with her for ten minutes and I'll do my best to test out that theory.

Ramsey is a nice hero in some ways. His single-minded obsession-devotion to Helena is breathtakingly romantic, although I'm just as much puzzled by his devotion to the raging imbecile that is Helena as I am charmed by his willingness to sacrifice everything for her. I mean, one of his stances where Helena is concerned is that if it offends her, it offends him too. How sweet, truly. He's like the Idealized First Boyfriend that teenage girls dream of having, the guy that will slay dragons like a mean muthafudda and then sweetly lay the severed head of the dragon on the lady's feet and humbly begs for a victory shag. Him being a master fencer only makes him an even more larger-than-life Byronesque hero, fencing and thrust jokes aside, and all that's missing from making the Broody Wildly Romantic package perfect is the hero's name being Heathcliff.

Unfortunately, he is wasted on Helena. His willingness to give up his mission to root out the traitor in his past (you can read the review of My Seduction for details about this incident that brings about Ramsey's vow to the Nash women) comes off as equally silly as it is romantic. I mean, giving up everything for a truly moronic woman who uses him like an unpaid servant and sex toy as she devotes herself to making a martyr out of herself to unappreciative opportunists - that isn't as romantic as I'd like it to be, I'm afraid.

Speaking of Helena's follies, have I mentioned her adorably original stance on sex and marriage? She won't marry Ramsey for protection because she loves him and won't want them to be stuck in some loveless marriage, but at the same time, she decides that she's better off being his mistress instead. I really don't expect such horrifyingly overused and plain dumb romance heroine development from a Connie Brockway book. Maybe from a Stephanie Laurens book, but... oh, I feel ill just trying to figure out about how an author who has created such delightfully unconventional heroines like Lily Bede, Desdemona Carlisle, and Anne Wilder can come up with a creature like Helena "Rejected by Avon" Nash.

The plot is a mess. Ramsey's big plan to root out a traitor is to get money (by reluctantly agreeing to be his grandfather's heir - the Marquis finally acknowledges his grandson to have a blood kin carry on the title) to pay an informant. I'm surprised that he isn't more suspicious by how easy the informant pops up after Kit has spent a long time trying to search for answers. But in this book, the Rose Hunter storyarc seems like an afterthought. Kit is busy, I think, with his wife in the Continent - that's devotion, I'm sure - and now Ramsey is shouldering on the quest on his own. I can't help thinking that these men are treating too lightly an issue that changed their lives irrevocably. After the build-up in My Seduction, I expect storyarc development in My Pleasure, but what I get instead is a filler to Helena's My Crazy-Ass Martyr Adventures in London story. The denouement pops out in a "What on earth?" manner, and that's after Helena and Ramsey have acted too many times in uncharacteristically stupid ways just to prolong my agony.

By uncharacteristically stupid ways, I am talking about how supposedly intelligent Helena cannot even guess that Ramsey, who is saving her and acts like the champion she doesn't deserve one bit, loves her. Or how she can't tell him the true extent of the danger she is in. Or what she is actually doing on her late night romps. Although if I'm doing what she is doing at night, I'd find it hard to tell people too, but that's because I don't want people to know how stupid I am being. Ramsey, likewise, is sometimes too obtuse for words. He doesn't believe her when she tells him that the Other Man is stalking her. Then again, stalkers won't think so bad of other stalkers, would they? He doesn't tell her that he loves her, only asks her to marry him so that he can protect her. As for where the traitor is concerned, Ramsey isn't any better when it comes to being capable. He comes off as a mildly capable guy with more show than substance letting his lust fog his better judgment.

In fact, that's the feeling I get from the romance: in his years of watching Helena, Ramsey has created in his mind an idealistic Helena that he loves, which may not be who the real Helena is at all. I can't help thinking that eventually he would get tired of her once he realizes how different she really is from his romanticized fantasy of her.

Reading My Pleasure saddens me and writing this review actually makes me a little angry with this book and even with the state of the genre (a stretch, I know). This book is well-written but plot-wise, character-wise, it is a messy amalgamation of some of the silliest (but inexplicably popular) clichés in the genre. Currently I'm really burned out by the genre because of heroines behaving in outlandishly stupid ways for the sake of conflict, half-baked romantic suspense, silly erotic paranormal cartoon stories, and more. To open a book by a favorite author to have it a tidal-wave barrage onto my face all the elements I've grown to be nauseated by in the genre, I wonder whether this is a sign that the romance genre has jumped the shark where I am concerned.

I haven't mentioned the incredibly silly stand-off where the villain blabs his entire plans to the heroine, have I?

This book reads like a Connie Brockway book but it sure isn't what I've come to expect from the author. I'm not giving up on this author - we all have our off-days, after all, and surely one or two books that don't measure up are to be expected - but I do hope that the next book will see her back in the game like the pro she has proven herself to be in the past. For now, My Pleasure is anything but - a ghastly aberration that is salvaged, for what little of it that can be salvaged, only by the hero's romantic devotion to the heroine, and even that is soured by the fact that the devotion is better off focused on a more worthy object of affection.

Rating: 47

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