Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: How to Build The Perfect Rake by Kate Harper (4 stars, historical)

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Thoughts After Reading:
Kate Harper's How to Build The Perfect Rake had all of the elements of a very promising read. I was considerably impressed with This Wicked Man - the last book by Harper that I've read. I also have a special affection for romances involving longtime friendships. It was that particular storyline that first led me to discovering the historical romance genre, and it is a storyline that I continue to enjoy - despite its implausible nature. And thirdly, I am a big fan of those rare heroes whose best character attributes are that they are "nice," "sweet," and "dependable." It's reassuring to think reformed rakes aren't the only ones who can find love. Throw in an amusing storyline about a hero trying to pretend to be a rake in order to win the hand of a witless "Incomparable", and Harper had me sold. The result was a novel that surpassed my expectations in many areas, but disappointed me in others.

The twenty-one year old hero starts out with a problem. He's wealthy, kind... and has no idea how to approach the "divine" Carisse Houghton. The same Carisse who is a blonde beauty, who has three quarters of eligible bachelors chasing after her, and whom the hero cannot seem to approach without stuttering. Also the same Carisse who seems to have a particular fondness for rakes. It is this particular characteristic that the eighteen year old heroine remarks on, when she jokingly suggests to the hero that he change his personality and become more like a rake. She is well aware of the hero's infatuation, having been his close friend and confidante for the last sixteen years, and is is torn on what to think. On one hand, she wants to help her best friend win the girl of his dreams. At the same time, though, she recognizes the insipidness of Carisse and worries that the hero will not be happy in a marriage with the silly and vain girl. She continues to help him on his quest, but does so begrudgingly. The hero, meanwhile, takes the heroine's comment at face value. He hires a penniless rake to spend three weeks teaching him how to be a rake - or rather, how to pretend to be a rake. The lessons go far better than the heroine expected. Dressed sharply and armed with a slightly sensual wit, the hero flirts with half of London and makes headway with Clarisse. As events progress, the heroine comes to a realization about her feelings toward the hero and has to make some tough choices.

I very much enjoyed the first two-thirds of How to Build The Perfect Rake. This first section was quite entertaining, containing highly amusing dialogue and plot action without ever becoming frivolous. I loved the bantering relationship that existed between the two protagonists, a close bond of friendship with just a hint of romantic interest. The writing itself was also quite well done. There were a few phrases used that seemed suspiciously anachronistic in nature, yet the majority of the language and actions seemed consistent with the time period. Unfortunately, there were two major issues that developed as the plot progressed towards the end. For one thing, the sudden discovery of romantic feelings - first by the heroine and shortly after by the hero - was quite jarring. I had hopes the author would provide a gradual yet authentic transition as to why the couple would fall in love after being friends for so many years. Instead, Harper takes the route of describing the realization literally as a "bolt out of the blue." The second major disappointment was the final romantic and external conflicts. These conflicts - being both trite and ridiculous - detracted significantly from the satisfaction of the resolution.

Overall, I felt Kate Harper's How to Build The Perfect Rake to be an above average novel. There were some particularly enjoyable elements of the book, including a greatly amusing storyline, a "nice" hero, a plot that was (mostly) entrenched in the Regency era. At the same time, however, poor handing of developments in the romantic relationship and unappealing conflicts keep me from offering a strong recommendation.

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