Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: Becoming Mr. Brooking by Marguerite Butler (4 stars, historical)

Full Description: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
It was rather difficult choosing a rating for the second book in Butler's "The Mad Hatterlys" series, Becoming Mr. Brooking. After absolutely loving Compromising Prudence (the first book in the series), I was hoping the second installment would be able to live up to my initial impression of Butler. And this sort of ended up being true, in the sense that most of the elements I loved from Compromising Prudence were present. The clean regency romance moves at an engaging pace, there was plenty of comic humor without going overboard, there were a number of rather meaningful thoughts and discussions, and I very much liked at least one of the protagonists (the heroine). Marguerite Butler definitely has the skill to become one of my favorite historical romance authors. At the same time though, she disappointed me some with this second novel. The romantic conflict is both one that's been done many times before and one that I rarely enjoy, so - while I thought Butler made the best of it - I wasn't really satisfied by the end. One other thing to note is that the book's length was in-between the length of a novella and that of a novel (about 2600 units on a Kindle).

Unlike Compromising Prudence, Becoming Mr. Brooking has a hero who starts out very much as a rake. He is handsome, likes women, enjoys flirtations, and rarely does anything productive. However, in a manner atypical for a hero, he is not fully satisfied with his lifestyle. It's not just that he is suffering from ennui, he actually seems to be a bit ashamed that he is basically a wastrel while all of his siblings have their own passions (scientific inquiry, etc). He knows the two things that would impress his father would be to get involved into a scientific project or getting married, so it's fairly obvious which choice will cost less in the long run... he decides to finance a scientific expedition. The heroine's brother is a botanist who has been recommended to the hero as someone needs money for a trip, so he makes plans to have his secretary visit and check him out. Somewhat on a lark, he ends up impersonating his secretary and going to visit himself. This is where our heroine really comes in. She's a twenty-eight year old "spinster" who has been living with her brother to basically take care of him. The heroine is a very competent woman, and she has ended up having to basically take on the positions of "housekeeper, cook, gardener, and secretary". There's a bit of a hoyden personality about her, in the sense that she longs for adventure, curses (mostly in her head), and has a bit of a fiery temper. She actually had a single season but - much to her chagrin - nothing really happened. She doesn't have much wealth and, while she does seem to be fairly attractive, it wasn't enough to inspire any marriage proposals. There's chemistry almost immediately between the two protagonists, and after spending a considerable amount of time together in lively and often humorous discussion, their feelings grow for each other and rake become a bit less of a rake - you know how it goes.

And that fairly original storyline, immersed with considerable humor, was excellent. By itself, easily deserving of five stars. But there was also quite a bit of downside to the novel. First of all, it really didn't make sense that the heroine would get along so easily with the hero while he was masquerading as a secretary. He flirts with her readily after first meeting her, and almost tries to kiss her. I could be wrong, but I don't think those kind of actions, especially by a secretary, would have been taken very well in that time period. At the same time, though, I didn't find it too distracting. What was far worse was the actual conflict of the novel. As countless other romances involving rakes have used, the main obstacle between our couple getting together is the hero's unwillingness to get married. Despite finding this wonderful, attractive woman that he can't stay way from, the hero still thinks he can (and should) just walk away. He can't honorably give in to his desire to be intimate with the heroine and basically wants to make her dreams come true, but at the same time marriage obviously isn't an option *sarcasm*. For me, as a reader, it seems like such a empty plot device: all the author has to do to resolve it is have the hero basically have an epiphany and realize they should get married. In the meantime, the author can drag out the characters' interactions and repressed feelings as long as he or she wants. When the conflict was finally resolved, I didn't find it very satisfactory at all. Then, as a final insult, we have the often used final misunderstanding/hurt feelings/run away and realize how stupid they've been at the end. It works okay, as it usually does in other books, but it certainly wasn't a mark in Butler's favor.

With the first book by Butler that I read, I was blown away by the well-written, engaging, and rather original story. I loved that her frequent humor was interwoven nicely with the actual storyline, as well as the very interesting personalities of her characters. And all these elements are still present in Becoming Mr. Brooking, some in even greater quantities and others in less. Unfortunately, Becoming Mr. Brooking also contains well used plot devices that weren't appealing to me and ultimately caused me to be disappointed with the book as a whole. So while I loved the better aspects of Butler's writing too well to give this book less than four stars, it's not one that I will be reading again.

As a final note, this book was given to me freely as a review copy (Musa Publishing = awesome). Just so you know.

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