Pandora's Box

Something About Emmaline

Elizabeth Boyle
2005, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $5.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0060549319
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

In this installment of Boyle's Danver's series, Alexander Denford, Baron Sedgwick is tired of his grandmother and mothers from the ton mothers with eligible daughters hounding him to marry. So in desperation he creates a wife: Emmaline. While "Emmaline" supposedly remains in the country, very ill; Alex is completely enjoying his freedom. Imagine his chagrin when decorating bills start to arrive and his grandmother tells him his wife is all over the gossip pages. Hurrying to town to throw out the interloper, Alex confronts a beautiful Venus rising from his bed. Alex's efforts to evict Emmaline and then ultimately to keep her from leaving sets off a chain of events that provide a merry romp through Regency London.

Linda:   Something About Emmaline was just a delight for me, I was engaged from page one. I loved the characters, the banter and the Remington Steele type plot.

Blythe:   When I read the back of the book, I too thought of Remington Steele. As I was reading it, I decided it was Remington Steele meets Housesitter (the movie with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn). I really enjoyed it as well—on a light and fun level. I was a little leery at first, because I often dislike plots involving secrets and dishonesty. But this was so much fun. Boyle handled the plot in a way that really worked.

Linda:   I think the plot worked so well because all of the characters were so likable and engaging. Emmaline and Alex are my favorite type of character: sexy, funny and intelligent. Their banter had me laughing out loud and watching the stuffy Alex thaw was just a delight.

Blythe:   I loved that everyone thought Alex was stuffy and boring except Emmaline, and it was fun to watch his family's reactions to the changes in his personality. But I also liked that neither of these characters took themselves too seriously. It almost seemed like they were having fun with what was going on.

Linda:   Yes, exactly. Also, they were well grounded in their society. I loved Alex's friendship with the freeloading Jack and his moment of bonding with Malvina's husband was terrific. I also liked Emmaline's friendship with Malvina and with her servants. Emmaline was a survivor and she had managed to survive on the fringes of the ton conning unsuspecting manor owners into giving her free lodging. But, in that time a woman had to use what skills she had .

Blythe:   I liked Jack too, in spite of his freeloading ways, or maybe because of them. It was also funny how well Emmaline fit into society (or the fringes of it). Ordinarily, I think her deception would have really bothered me, but the fact that Alex was in on the secret made the plot work. She was deceiving others, but she didn't really lie to Alex—he knew all along that she wasn't really his wife.

Linda:   Yes, the fact that Alex had actually started the ball rolling by creating a fake wife - named Emmaline - who was too ill to travel was great. Of course, it was Jack's idea but Alex had enjoyed a peaceful period with no harassment from his grandmother about marrying and the scheming Mamas of the ton also left him alone. Having a fake wife was very enjoyable for Alex, until the bills started arriving. The nice part was that Emmaline was so spontaneous that she freed Alex from his stuffy ways as they entered into a bargain to let Emmaline stay for two weeks.

Blythe:   Well, anyone who creates a fake wife deserves a little payback. The scene where he receives the bills was almost delicious. You could feel it coming on beforehand, which made it pretty satisfying. What I also liked about it was that he came to like Emmaline almost immediately. He liked her decorating taste (even with the exorbitant cost) and he found her attractive. She was a schemer, but a well-intentioned one. And she really stuck it to Alex's annoying heir, Hubert, didn't she?

Linda:   Yes, she certainly got the best of Hubert, Lilith (Hubert's wife) and Lilith's mother, the "Grande Dame Lady Oxley". I thought it was great when Emmaline came to the aid of the young betrothed of the odious Oxley (Lilith's brother) by pointing out that Lady Oxley's breeding wasn't quite as good as she pretended. Emmaline's basic kindness and caring nature coupled with her intelligence and arcane knowledge made her a truly unique heroine. I loved it when she told Alex that one of his friend's vases was a fake and showed him why. I think it startled Alex to realize just how amazing Emmaline's education was. And her joy in creating the kind of home she had always dreamed of was terrific. Alex didn't even realize how grim it was until he saw the changes Emmaline wrought.

Blythe:   And it looks like Oxley's fiancÚ and Jack (Alex's freeloader friend) will appear in a future book. I would definitely be interested in reading it. I've read Boyle before, but it was a long time ago, and the book was more dramatic than light-hearted. I don't remember the title offhand, but it wasn't nearly as good as Emmaline. It looks like light and humorous romances are a better fit for her.

Linda:   Yes, I think she has just the right touch for a light Regency tale. Boyle never loses track of the plot and the humor never descends into slapstick. In fact, what made this book great for me was what was not in it: no big misunderstandings. Alex accepted Emmaline and didn't try to punish her for her upending his life and biggest of all, no kidnapping of Emmaline!! There were really no awful villains here, just people whose actions made sense. I was afraid that Boyle would resort to the old cliché of having Hubert kidnap her. As he haunted the docks, I was sure he was looking for crooks to spirit Emmaline away. It was delightful to learn his reasons were completely different. I have read one too many books where the hero has to rescue the kidnapped heroine lately. In fact, a light and funny Regency (Miss Thornrose and the Rake) was spoiled for me recently when two-thirds of the way through the book, a hideous villain raised his head, forced the heroine to jilt the hero, and then threw her into an asylum. The descent into melodrama was so hackneyed and so jarring to the tone of the book that it ruined it for me. Boyle makes no such missteps and like you, I'm really looking forward to reading about Jack and Miranda.

Blythe:   Yeah, I'm with you on the kidnapping thing. It has gotten to the point where I'm just expecting it to happen as a matter of course! How ridiculous is that? There is one thing . . . (trying to tap dance around a discussion of the ending, without giving away major spoilers) the ending did contain a plot device seen fairly often, and one that tends to be a bit grating. And although I have objected to similar endings in the past, I thought this one worked perfectly with the light tone of the book, and I was able to accept it. What did you think?

Linda:   I agree that it has been done before but I bought it in this book. It did fit with the tone. And didn't Alex's grandmother turn out to be a complete delight? I thought the denouement was such a delightful surprise. I have to admit I was completely fooled by the identity of the eavesdropper in the prologue. This book was a real page turner for me, I liked these characters so much that I couldn't wait to see what they would do next.

BTW, I absolutely loved the picnic where Alex and Emmaline ended up in the water. Alex's complete relaxation of his stuffy airs of propriety and his joy in the moment were just a delight. I also loved it when he summed up his feelings for Emmaline by saying: "she makes me laugh." Jack to his credit immediately knows what Alex is trying to say and I think realizes before Alex does that he is in love. I know that you don't always buy love-at-first-sight stories, but I really did buy into this one and had no difficulty understanding why this pair loved and completed each other.

Blythe:   This didn't quite seem like a love-at-first-sight story to me - maybe more like a "like" at first sight and fall in love quickly kind of story. What's nice about that is that the characters avoid some of the common pitfalls like the Big Mis. Maybe it's just a function of the sheer number of romances we've both read, but I think you do reach a certain point when you just breathe a sigh of relief every time a hated cliché is avoided.

Linda:   Yes, exactly. I suppose others don't read as many books and so don't get so tired of these cliches. But I know from readers' conventions I've attended that many readers are tired of old plot devices (especially the Big Mis and the Long Separation)...but then, people attending these conventions are usually fellow bookaholics and perhaps are as jaded as we are.

Blythe:   Well, we must not be too jaded if we're still reading and still finding books—like this one—that we both enjoy. It's pretty encouraging. To me this book was the literary equivalent of a yummy, frothy ice cream sundae, with lots of whipped cream. It wasn't a deep read by any means, but it was a lot of fun.

Linda:   You hit the nail on the head, it was the equivalent of a lemon meringue pie! Just enough tang to make it interesting with a frothy tone. We have both read many "light" books where the author used too heavy a hand and the book descends into slapstick or just falls flat. Boyle has the golden touch here and I can see that I need to dig into her back list.

Blythe:   Yes, I have definitely experienced "slapstick hell" before.

Was this the first Boyle you'd read?

Linda:   No, I've read one other, Once Tempted, which I also enjoyed. I'm intrigued by Templeton, whose story is told in Stealing the Bride...apparently SAE is a "prequel." The author also casts a tantalizing hint of heroes to come in. As you can probably tell, this will not be my last Boyle.

Blythe:   I really liked Templeton too. And I think Boyle has a knack for setting up future books without being too heavy-handed about it. The idea is to give readers just enough foreshadowing to hint at the future, not whack them over the head with the fifteen brothers who will all be getting their own books. Well at any rate, it's always nice to find a book we can both recommend.

What's up for next month?

Linda:   Next month we are reading Heart of the Flame, the sequel to Heart of the Hunter, by Tina St. John. It's a medieval, which seem to be few and far between these days. I've enjoyed St. John in the past and she has gotten mostly nice reviews from AAR, so it will be fun to take a break from the Regency period.

Blythe:   We don't do many medievals at all, do we? And I've never read St. John, so I'm looking forward to it.

See you next month.

Linda:   Yes, I seem to be stuck in the Regency lately. <G>

Happy reading.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for

-- Pandora's Box

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