April 2008, European Historical Romance (1850s [Victorian] England)
Avon, $6.99, 360 pages, Amazon ASIN 0060896493 Part of a series
A word on word count: At approximately 200 words per page, this one comes in at just about 72,000. In direct comparison, another Avon historical I picked at random adds up to more than 92,000. Big difference. Which begs the question: Would an additional 20,000 words have resulted in a better book? Probably not much, but it’s undeniable that the extreme skimpiness of this one - and, interestingly, Avon romance submission guidelines state that manuscripts should be at least 90,000 words - reinforces its mediocrity and an evident lack of time put into churning it out.
So, in sixth grade-size type and an abundance of white space, what we have here is the story of a female bookseller who moonlights anonymously as a successful writer (bet you’ve never heard that one before). She meets an aristocrat newly returned from serving in the military in India who doesn’t know she’s said famous writer.
Aidan thinks Fiona’s hot. She thinks the same about him, but she’s concerned about her obligation to her mother who’s residing in a private asylum for the insane. The doctor there has given reason to hope that her mother will recover, so Fiona needs the income her writing and bookshop provide and can’t afford distractions such as Aidan represents.
So, Aidan is traumatized by wartime events (bet you’ve never heard that before), but not enough that he hesitates for a moment in pursuing Fiona. And he does. And before you know it, she gives in.
In the meantime, Fiona is being threatened by a mystery stalker. Only it isn’t really a mystery at all since the author bothers to introduce only one suspect. But said stalker does give Aidan reason to behave protectively and for Fiona – usually foolishly – to proclaim that she doesn’t need any freakin’ protection (bet you’ve never heard that one before).
To put it bluntly, in addition to the extreme clumsiness of the story, I don't believe for even one moment that the events in this book could have taken place in the Victorian era. For example, proper young lady Fiona is invited by a bachelor duke to attend a respectable dinner party alone. And she goes. Alone! Add on to that one the fact that Fiona lives totally on her own with only an occasional maid to help her just like girls of her class did all the time. And to stretch credulity even further, Aidan – the brother of a no less than a duke – actually calls said maid “Miss Barnes” when he meets her. Yuh-huh. That would happen. I could go on, but why? It's enough to add that the term "wallpaper historical" was coined to describe books exactly like this one.
This novel is apparently a follow-up to the author’s previous release, The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell; that character and his wife (who is Aidan's sister) feature in the story. And, of course, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that the duke is up next. Based on my assessment of this one – and it isn’t my only negative experience with Samantha James – I’m checking out. Permanently.
-- Sandy Coleman
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