by Shana Galen, historical (2006)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-077316-2
Charlotte Burton is an American woman with a mission. Her father's shipping company is in ruins thanks to that old coot's gambling habits when he was alive but she's determined to rebuild it even if she has no idea how to even start. Not that she wants money and a luxurious life for herself of course. Ms Galen has Charlotte telling me that she's doing all this for the sake of her Black maid Addy. Clearly, without Addy, Charlotte would have been happy to lie down in front of a bus and scream for daddy in heaven to wait for her because she's coming to join him there, I suppose. Anyway, since Charlotte has not much money left after the death of her father, it therefore makes sense for her to spend the last of her funds on a trip to London to ask a family friend, Cade Pettigru, for a loan that she isn't certain she will receive. All the better for the author to strand the heroine in London, of course, tee-hee!
I've said in the past and I'll say it again: if I ever discover that a romance heroine is in charge of the world, I'm going to do myself a favor and bloody well kill myself quickly.
Naturally, Charlotte arrives just in time for a Regency-era sting as men burst into Cade's house and arrest her while looking for Cade. Cade is said to be a bad spy for the Americans, you see. The sting is led by our English hero Freddie Dewhurst. After calling Charlotte all kinds of synonyms to mistress and prostitute, he later realizes that his new orders is to take Charlotte into Society and pretend that she's his wife to lure Cade out from wherever he's hiding. When they've caught Cade, Charlotte will "die" - no, not really, they'll just pretend that she dies, sigh - and then get paid for her work so that she can go back to America and feed all the happy Black people back home with happy cakes while Freddie is free to regain his old life back.
Shana Galen is really trying to be humorous and hip like Julia Quinn or Karen Hawkins in this book but I don't know. Pride And Petticoats is clumsily written. Many of the punchlines are either too obvious or too unoriginal, such as the feud between the sassy Black maid and the effeminate British foppish valet and Charlotte's constant ruining of Freddie's clothes. The plot is already a silly one, so it doesn't help when the story only becomes increasingly sillier as it progresses. The author can only get away with this with her dignity intact if she lets me know that she is aware of the silliness going on, but alas, Ms Galen has Charlotte dreamily feted as a brainy and spunky American when Charlotte is just a petulant dingbat who cannot make a good decision to save her own skin. Freddie is a terrible spy and he comes off worse when it seems like everybody in this story knows that he's a spy. How does this dumb lummox survive his first mission, I will never know.
As for the love thing, again, I don't know. These two characters are constantly bickering like children pretending to be Archie and Veronica, I expect them to as much start pulling each other's hair and screaming for Mommy as they would indulge in tedious "I hate you! You brute! Pig! Okay, let's shag now! But I still hate you! Pig!" scenarios.
The very few things I find memorable in this inept attempt at replicating the romantic comedy formula of Avon's more established authors are the scenes where Charlotte ridiculously trumpets the Great American Values to all who would listen - you'd think, from listening to her blabbering, that America holds exclusive rights to the concept of piety, faith, justice, honor, courage, and equality - and then she has the cheek to be offended when someone makes fun of her country because it is so rude to make fun of someone else's country. Some of Charlotte's thoughts make her look astoundingly like an imbecile, such as when she refuses to address some titled English fellow as Lord So-And-So because apparently only God should be addressed as Lord. I don't know if it's Ms Galen's deliberate intention for me to view Charlotte as an imbecile but I have to confess that I laugh at some of Charlotte's more spectacular examples of stupidity. I can't help myself. It's either laugh or cry.
Charlotte also decides that Freddie is a good guy when he defends America to an obnoxious fellow who has been doing what Charlotte has been doing, although since he's mocking America, he is therefore not a nice guy. I tell you, if Freddie wraps his thingie with an American flag, Charlotte will most likely expire from bliss and get down to business like she's a heroine in an erotic werewolf romance. Hmm, maybe if I deliberately toss an American flag over the cliff, Charlotte will instinctively jump after it...
On the whole, I find much of the attempted comedy in Pride And Petticoats more tedious and predictable than effective. Ms Galen is like a stand-up person in training, borrowing punchlines and gags from more established peers as she tries to sort out her own style. Maybe one day she will find her stride, I don't know. For now, her fumbling only has me thinking that comedy is indeed hard to write effectively and perhaps she should leave comedy to the professionals and spare me any more encounters with the likes of Charlotte Burton.
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