When It's Perfect
2001, European Historical Romance (1850s [Victorian] England)
Avon, $5.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 038081806X
Part of a series
There is a staff review of this book as well
In the sequel to Someone Irresistible, Marcus, Earl of Renn, arrives home after four years in Egypt, in response to a plea for help from his younger sister, Christine. He arrives at his estate in Cornwall, only to discover that Christine has died from a mysterious fall. Renn enlists the help of Mary Marsh, who had been hired to create a trousseau for Christine. Mary who has reasons of her own for wanting to remain away from London, agrees to try and help Marcus.
As Marcus and Mary search for the answers to Christine's death they find themselves pulled deeper into Christine's life and also discover that in each other they may have found the one person in the world who would understand them.
Linda: This month AAR reviewer Jennifer Schendel is sitting in for Blythe, who is in the middle of a move to a new home.
Welcome, Jennifer - how did you like Ashworth's When It's Perfect?
Jen: I was relieved after being disappointed by Ashworth's last book. While this one wasn't as good my personal favorite, My Darling Caroline, I liked it much better than Someone Irresistible. I was immediately sucked into the story and liked it, but there was still something nagging me when I was done so it wasn't a totally satisfying read.
Linda: I haven't read Someone Irresistible yet, but I was intrigued enough by this one to read it in the future. While not as emotionally satisfying for me as Winter Garden, I really found a lot to like in When It's Perfect. I especially liked Marcus and Mary. I thought Marcus was unique as an Earl who was a "fish out of water" on his own estates and whose heart was in Egypt. I also admired Mary for developing a career as a lingerie designer in a time when Society wasn't particularly forgiving of a woman in business. I really liked this couple and enjoyed watching them fall in love.
Jen: I agree completely about Marcus, he was a lovely hero. Kind, charming, and devoted not only to finding the truth behind his sister's death, but was also devoted to Mary. I liked that he didn't worry in the slightest about their potential class differences.
I appreciated Mary had an original career and I liked her once she admitted she had feelings for Marcus, but since I knew what she did in the last book, I had some residual disgust for her and her actions towards her brother-in-law. Yes, she admitted her guilt, but the fact she still hadn't really apologized to him bothered me. That and her dithering about Marcus with the "yeah I'll sleep with you, but I'm not good enough for you to marry" routine Ugh! I hate when heroines do that.
Linda: Well, since I haven't read the first book yet I didn't have any baggage about Mary - although it was clear that she felt guilty about something. Perhaps for those who read Someone Irresistible, it would have been good to have had a "grovel" scene where Mary asked Nathan's forgiveness. But, I interpreted her actions with Marcus differently. She was well aware of the class differences between them and I thought it was realistic that the one from the lower class saw more difficulties then an Earl used to doing what he pleased. I interpreted her actions as knowing she would never marry (she was 29 after all) and was going to take the one chance she was likely to have to enjoy a love affair with a man she cared about. I loved the scene in the cottage when she showed him her 'wares' - very hot without a bit of clothing actually being removed. Great writing.
Jen: That scene was fabulous! I know nothing about the history of undergarments, but I found the discussions about corsets enlightening and they fit in well with the flow of the story. Since there was no Victoria's Secret back in the good ol' days women had to get their lingerie somewhere and it was great career choice for a heroine. As for the class difference, I think if Marcus and various family members hadn't been pushing the marriage idea I would've understood Mary's reaction better. As it was, it seemed as though Ashworth was manufacturing a reason to keep them apart when there was no longer any reasonable objection.
Linda: Frankly, I always have a bit of trouble with "class" storylines. I guess it comes from my family background - they left England in the 1600's for America and never went back. So, I find the dithering about class a bit off-putting, but do realize it was a very realistic situation in England in the Regency and even Victorian periods. I think sometimes it is hard to put aside our American class-based-on-merit backgrounds to understand people who accepted being bound by their station at birth.
But, Mary didn't dither too long for me and I admired her spunk so much. Not to mention her creativity with corsets - the black with the rubies was great and I was sweating when Marcus was admiring it. I also liked the way that Marcus and Mary followed the clues to figure out what had happened to Christine, and how, in uncovering Christine's past, Mary came to terms with her own tragic past.
Jen: It was amazing that any investigation ever got solved in the Victorian era, because all the rules governing what was (and wasn't) polite conversation made gathering facts near impossible. Marcus' sticking with the search for the truth despite the potential for scandal was admirable and the reason behind Christine's death was quite believable, but in the end I was unsatisfied because the villains basically got away with what they did. Yes, there were ramifications, but I didn't feel like Christine got justice - that bothered me.
Linda: I thought it was clear after the conversation between Mary and the minister's wife that all eligible women of gentility would be warned about the villain - so I think he would have had a difficult time marrying well. That may not have given Christine the justice you mentioned, but it was something. And as far as the other person accountable for her death - I think Christine's loss would haunt them for the rest of their life.
Jen: I just felt what had happened to Christine was so horrible, that I couldn't quite get past my 21st century political correctness. I wanted villain number one to suffer public scandal and semi-villain number two seemed to have been forgiven for brushing it all aside to avoid scandal. Though I will agree it was quite believable for the times and the class involved.
Linda: While I have since learned that Marcus' solution to the dilemma regarding his title/estates was extremely unlikely (if not impossible given the time period), I liked that Ashworth did it anyway. It was nice reading about a member of the nobility who truly had a work that satisfied and drove him. I found myself wanting to read about the adventures of Marcus in Egypt as the discoveries made in the 1850's-on were absolutely fascinating. I think that Marcus and Mary have the potential of carrying a Victorian Mystery series along the lines of Peters' Amelia Peabody stories. I really liked them a lot.
Jen: I so agree that I want to follow Marcus and Mary to Egypt, I think there's an even better and more fascinating story there. I want to see more of Marcus' work and Mary's adjustment. Alas, this was a romance and had to end - and appropriately so - when they got together for good. Still, a reader can wish, can't she? <G>
Linda: Well, there is no reason Ashworth couldn't use them in a future story set in Egypt with the love interests being friends of theirs, is there? I think it is a real compliment to the author when one hates to see a story end and longs to see the couple again. I enjoy Ashworth's writing a lot and in the four books I've read she has created characters that I really liked and hated to close the book on. Leaving an audience wanting more is a sure sign of success, I think.
This book did call on us to set aside some of our 21st Century ideas and don our "Victorian-reading hats," but I think it was worth the effort as Marcus and Mary are a couple whose love and happily-ever-after-ending I really believed.
Jen: I agree it's worth a look. If a reader is iffy on continuing with Ashworth after reading Someone Irresistable, then definitely give When It's Perfect a shot, because it moves quite well and has some very likable characters. But it's a qualified recommendation on my part; I still had issues with the heroine and the outcome of the mystery, but I just loved Marcus and he's worth the price of the book on his own.
Linda: Obviously since I enjoyed the book so much, When It's Perfect stands well on its own and perhaps it was easier for me to like Mary without the baggage of the first book. Ashworth is very brave using less then perfect women for heroines - she did the same thing with a less then noble woman in Stolen Charms, coming back as the heroine of Winter Garden. I applaud authors that aren't afraid to give us a complex perhaps less then entirely likable character for main characters. But, I am in entire agreement about Marcus; he is truly worth the price of the book and I would love to see this couple again in an Egyptian setting.
Jennifer, thank you for sitting in for Blythe this month, I hope you enjoyed the experience. Blythe will be back next month and we will be reading Laura Lee Guhrke's Not So Innocent.
Jen: You're welcome, it was fun and quite a different experience from writing a review. Not to mention it gave me a reason to read this book, which I might have missed out on otherwise and that would've been a shame. Thanks for having me. Hope you guys enjoy Not so Innocent.
Linda: Happy Reading!
--Linda Hurst and Jennifer Schendel, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for
-- Pandora's Box
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