September 2012, European Historical Romance (1817 England)
Berkley Sensation, $7.99, 304 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425250970
I'm a sucker for characters getting a second chance at love, so it's no surprise that I'd end up reading Not Proper Enough. As always, Carolyn Jewel's writing is polished and her characterizations delightful. With a story that is by turns very hot and very emotional, I found myself relishing the experience of reading this book.
Eugenia Bryant's beloved husband Robert died several years before the opening of this story, and she is now in London chaperoning a young friend. As it turns out, the Marquess of Fenris (Fox, as his friends call him) has come to Town as well. Thanks to some truly hurtful, cutting remarks made by Fox when she was herself unmarried and first meeting her late husband, Eugenia bears no love for Fox and has no real desire to cultivate his acquaintance. However, as it turns out, Miss Hester Rendell, the young lady staying with Eugenia, discovers that she and Fox's father share a deep love of botany. This turn of events will throw Fox and Eugenia together a bit more often than would otherwise be the case.
In addition, readers learn early on that Fox fell in love with Eugenia years ago but stood aside in the face of her and Robert's obvious love for one another. Fox is determined to win her this time around and this story is really one long tale chronicling Fox's seduction of Eugenia. His earlier behavior toward her obviously hampers his chances, but even though Eugenia tells Fox more than once that she cannot stand him, there is obvious attraction between the two. Fox flirts with Eugenia and Eugenia's resistance starts to crumple. While the reader can tell that Fox loves Eugenia, it takes a little longer for Eugenia's attraction to him to go beyond the physical.
The world of this book is set up well for storytelling. On the one hand, readers get to see the various intrigues of the Season as matchmaking mamas try to angle their daughters (and sons, as we see in at least one case) toward certain eligible parties and we see something of the jockeying for social position that goes on in this world. And then there's Fox and Eugenia. Their stolen (and sometimes downright scandalous) moments together contrast with the very proper Regency world, and the contrast makes this book feel a little bit subversive - and a lot of fun. Both are intelligent characters and their dialogue makes for entertaining reading, too. This is an emotional tale of healing and learning to find love again, and Jewel manages to write with a light touch, while still preserving the deep and serious feeling of the characters. I sometimes like to wallow in a dramatically angsty read, but I also appreciate books like this one, where light and darkness mingle.
My only real issue with this book came with the pacing on Eugenia's side of things. She and Fox have quite the hot affair going, and outside the bedroom Fox does many things to show his regard for Eugenia. Yet, no matter what he does, she still doesn't seem to get that he really does love her and she claims not to love him. This went on far too long for me. I could believe in Eugenia's conflicted feelings at first, but it did start to seem a touch unbelievable after a while.
In addition to Fox and Eugenia, we also get to meet Fox's father, the Duke of Camber, various friends of the characters, and Eugenia's charge, Hester Rendell. The secondary characters are appealing, though I do wish we could have seen more of the secondary romance that runs through the book. The book ends with what I suspect is the set-up for the next book in the series, and I know that I will be eager to return to the world Jewel created here.
-- Lynn Spencer
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