Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick by Deb Marlowe (3.5 stars, historical)

Full Description: Amazon

 3.5 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
It wasn't so long ago that I read Hawkins' The Taming of a Scottish Princess, and I think it makes for a great comparison to Deb Marlowe's Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick. Both are recently released historicals that feature a heroine who starts out as an efficient assistant and breaks out of her shell over the course of the book. Each book has its strengths, with The Taming's primarily being humor and Unbuttoning primarily being an engaging and multilayered storyline. While I criticized The Taming for having next to no romance development (and little character development), Unbuttoning is at the other end of the extreme - the development is tackled with an approach that is almost too direct. And finally, while the conflicts and resolutions of both books were disappointing, this was especially true for Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick.

Toward the first half of Marlowe's Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick, I was happy to see that the characters of both protagonists contained significant depth. The heroine has adopted a prim appearance and fluid persona even before she began working as the hero's assistant. She felt alone, having been left behind by her stepfather's travels to a job as a teacher, and was grateful to step invisibility into the background. The heroine fills the secretary position, first as a temporary substitute for her stepfather and eventually as a job that allowed her to be close to him during his dying days. She continues at the job, enjoying the safety of quietly being in the background. The novel's prologue picks up when the hero gets back from his travels, and then the first chapter opens up about a year later. The hero is initially disconcerted to find out his secretary is a woman, but is quickly impressed by her efficiency and competence. The hero is yet another other of those men who had a very disturbing childhood, particularly because of his psychopathic older brother. He's learned that the best way not to get hurt is to be emotionally distant to everyone, and buries himself in passion of collecting ancient weapons. The heroine has had a crush on the hero since the day they met, and things start to change early on in the book. The hero makes some careless comments, and - in her anger - the heroine decides she's tired of hiding behind her safe, background facade. She chooses instead to take up the hero's sister's offer to go to London and plan a party, during which time she plans on discovering who she really is. The hero follows her, feeling a bit betrayed. He doesn't like that the heroine's newly uncovered personality traits and beauty make him want to step out of his emotional isolation, because he knows he can't do it. There's also a action subplot that keeps things moving, a search of ancient weapon that brings the hero and heroine to work together in London.

Alas, not everything can be daisies and roses. While I often find characters very unaware of their own inner walls (such was more or less the case in The Taming), it's just the opposite in Unbuttoning. This awareness is only rarely demonstrated by the action, and is much more frequently present in the dialogue. The heroine knows she's trying to "find herself," and she has half a dozen related conversations with the hero to prove it. Similarly, the hero knows he keeps himself emotionally distant, and knows exactly that it's because of his childhood, and he explains that to the heroine: repeatedly. There were some more enjoyable aspects of the relationship, but all too frequently I found things being discussed or thought about rather than progressing. The end result of all of this was a very disappointing romantic conflict. It's one where the hero stubbornly refuses to give almost any ground for 95% of the story and walks away at the end - only to finally realize how stupid he's been a couple of weeks later. The resolutions were equally lackluster. The heroine stands idly during the external resolution - a swordfight, and it was up to the hero's young nephew to help prevent the death blow. Later, I mentally rolled my eyes as I read majority of the romance resolution, which consisted of the hero having a very sudden epiphany (Oh wait, I can love the heroine after all!). There's also a slight paranormal element that's put into the book at the end, that only makes the action subplot seem less plausible.

In my opinion, Deb Marlowe's Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick is a book that had tremendous potential - engaging storyline, characters with depth, some level of romance and character development - but was ultimately a disappointing in a number of respects. As a result, it isn't a novel I'll be rereading in the future.

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