by Kathryne Kennedy, historical (2009)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-2990-9
As you can probably guess, Kathryne Kennedy's My Unfair Lady is the author's take on the whole "Man teaches woman to be a refined gentlewoman and falls for her in the process" thing.
In this one, our heroine Summer Wine Lee is an American. Her father is very rich, thanks to his discovery of a vein of silver in Arizona, but he prefers to spend his time making more money than seeing to his daughter's genteel upbringing. As a result, our heroine not only suffers from the taint of new money, she also doesn't know how to behave like those other refined ladies in Mrs Astor's drawing room. This puts a big damper on Summer's affection for Monte, her beau who also happens to be closely related to Astors.
No matter, Summer decides to travel to London and buy herself a deportment tutor. At her friend and companion Maria's insistence, Summer hires Byron, the Duke on Monchester, to teach her the 101s. Byron isn't just a stiff-lipped gentleman, he is also a Mean Boy, making his living by entertaining the Prince Regent with cutting remarks about the other members of the Ton, and he despises American heiresses because they are parasitic social climbers. He's different, of course, because he's only a hanger-on who says nasty stuff about other people... or something. His logic eludes me.
At first I'm intrigued by this story because the two main characters are so different - a rather sweet and smart young lady who has a bit of a blind spot where the hero is concerned and a jaded asshole with issues - that I can only look forward to seeing how the author will make the romance believable. Unfortunately, my interest soon ebbs when I find that the story lacks a compelling direction. The plot just meanders around, with scenes after scenes of our main characters running around in Society. Even a subplot about someone wanting to kill Byron fails to liven up things. A part of me feels that getting rid of this useless Duke, who isn't doing anything useful to his properties, his tenants, or the people of England, won't be such a bad thing, but that's probably my inner Oliver Cromwell speaking.
The author tries to inject some life by having the heroine collect strays like fox cubs and a monkey on top of her Chihuahua as well as having the hero bust out some kung fu moves, but I think Gaelen Foley doesn't have to worry about potential competition until Ms Kennedy has found a way to prevent her story from having this unsightly sagging middle.
But ultimately, I don't buy the romance and that's where this book doesn't work for me. If its only crime is being boring, hey, that's not exactly a terrible sin. But the romance just feels false at the end of the day. This is because for a long time Byron is flustered and embarrassed by Summer's behavior. Am I supposed to believe that a few chapters will be enough to change his principles of a lifetime to love Summer forever after? These two characters are too different, and they have not learned to give and take to an extent that will make their happily ever after believable.
I'm also not sure what Ms Kennedy is trying to do with Byron. She knows that he is an asshole, because there are many moments when Byron, who isn't the most self-aware person around, is startled when people call him a cold-hearted bastard. But Ms Kennedy doesn't dare to have Byron reform on his own. Instead, she plies on tedious justifications for his antics. He had a loveless childhood! He is actually a nice guy at heart because he saves baby fox cubs! Why I don't buy his happily ever after with Summer is because in this story, he never hesitates to say the most cutting things to hurt Summer for the most trivial of reasons. And yet, despite being hurt now and then, Summer will defend Byron against his detractors by insisting that he's only telling the truth. Oh? Since when is unfunny witticisms like "The higher the title, the wider they'll spread their legs" considered the truth? Summer has all the vibes of an enabler while Byron is exactly the guy who will humiliate her in public whenever he feels that he has to do so in order to save face. When he becomes embarrassed by Summer - and I suspect that he will once the novelty wears off after the honeymoon - he is going to make her life miserable.
Summer's "love" for Byron has all the depths of a teenage girl's first fling. She's actually quite smart, but when it comes to her feelings for the hero, she's unfortunately not thinking straight. Even when Byron is saying mean things to her, she's more than willing to put out. In fact, she pretty much molests Byron into putting out to her while claiming that she needs to be with Monte. I'm sure we have all been there, when we were young and foolish to the point that a pretty face or a great body was enough to qualify that guy as one's summertime love. While such memories will provide plenty of lovely materials for songs by Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, they do not make a good foundation for the love of a lifetime.
That's the problem with My Unfair Lady. The odds faced by the hero and the heroine in their happily ever after are considerable, and they will have to be mature and sensible in order to make their romance believable. The main characters behaving like heavy breathing kids under the influence of a full hormonal overload, groping in the backseat as Taylor Swift on the radio wails about Romeo taking her somewhere to be alone - all that is not helping one bit.
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