Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: A Lot Like a Lady by Kim Bowman and Kay Springsteen (4 stars, historical)

Full Description: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
Let me preface my review by saying that if you demand complete historical authenticity in your novels, Kim Bowman's and Kay Springsteen's A Lot Like a Lady is probably not for you. Don't get me wrong - the authors do a superb job of transporting the reader to Regency England. But there are a number of nuances that didn't seem like they would be plausible in that era, the largest of which is the premise of the story. There's no way a nineteen year old lady's maid would go along with a scheme that could easily lead - at the very least - to herself and mother being out of a job, simply because the maid feels bad for her spoiled friend. With that being said, the first 70% of A Lot Like a Lady was some of the most enjoyable writing I've ever read. Most of the storyline is such an amazing mix of humor and authentic sweetness, and my interest was steadily engaged from the first. I loved the heroine, and was really warming up to the hero... until the final conflict disappointed me immeasurably.

The storyline of A Lot Like a Lady is sweet on a number of different levels, and much of that has to do with the personality of the heroine. Even though she's had some lessons, she's a fish out of water in the world of the ton. She's shy and stutters whenever she's nervous, never taking anything for granted. And yet, she's not afraid of giving the hero - a formidable duke - a kick in the shins (literally as well as figuratively) whenever he's being insufferable. The heroine has an almost childlike wonder of the world at times, and it's rather beautiful to see how much she embraces life. The hero starts out being a bit cold and arrogant, but his life is slowly but surely turned around by the heroine's presence. The plot setup is thus: the heroine's mother has worked in the kitchens of the hero's stepmother for quite some time, and the heroine eventually becomes a lady maid and somewhat of a friend to the hero's stepsister. The hero has practically ignored his stepmother and stepsister since his father remarried, especially after his father's death. When the hero's stepmother demands her spoiled daughter visit her stepson and find a husband within the ton, the daughter rebels. Both the mother and daughter have been snubbed as a result of the hero's negligence, and the stepdaughter doesn't want to face the ton.  So the heroine is convinced to masquerade as the stepdaughter,and she sets off to London in the company of the stepdaughter's two eccentric aunts. The moments that follow vary widely: many are lighthearted, others borderline farcical, and still others are deeply touching. What all of these moments had in common, up to about the 70% mark, was that they were immensely enjoyable.

Here's my question: why, oh why, is it so hard for excellent writers to create a satisfying conflict and resolution? The romantic conflict in A Lot Like a Lady isn't abnormally terrible, by any means. ***some spoilers*** In fact, it's extremely standard with the anger, weeks worth of moping, and a happenstance meeting between the hero and heroine that leads to the resolution. I think there were two main factors that really frustrated me in the particular case of A Lot Like a Lady. The first is simply that most of the book was so extraordinary, I was hoping that the level of excellence would continue to the end. The second, more concrete reason, is that the hero came out looking like such a coward in the few last chapters. Throughout the book, it's been slowly building that the hero realizes: the heroine isn't his stepsister,  the heroine isn't of noble birth, he loves the heroine anyway, and he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. But then, when the heroine's identity is actually revealed, the relationship backtracks. Suddenly he's angry at the heroine for not sharing her secrets and no longer feels like defying society and offering marriage. He tries to court other women, etc... until he happens to see her again.

So that's A Lot Like a Lady in a nutshell. A book I confidently believed was going to be become one of my all-time favorites, yet ultimately let me down in a significant way. I give it four stars, and a reluctant recommendation, because there's so many good aspects to the storyline... and because I imagine most readers won't be as bothered by the final conflict as much as I was. For me, however, it's a novel I won't be saving to reread.

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