HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-78916-0
Historical Romance, 2016
Cooper Townsend is a hero, and he is not enjoying the whole fanfare. Sure, he got a title and all from the Prince Regent, mostly as a reward for covering up something that fat guy needs to keep hidden, but recently, two chapbooks were anonymously published to tout his adventures in a most overblown and lurid manner. Not that the rest of Society cares – to them, he is a real life Sinbad and Hercules all rolled into one, doing impossibly daring feats and rescuing very grateful and well-endowed virgins from all kinds of “fate worse than death”. But the whole thing is a plot – Coop recently received a blackmail letter. Now that the author of those two books had built up Coop in the eyes of Society, he would expose Coop’s secret – or rather, the Prince Regent’s secret – in the third book. The fall from grace would be terrible, especially since his admirers would feel doubly betrayed… unless Coop pays up, of course.
For some reason, it supposedly makes sense for him, his buddy, and his mother to then head over to town during the Little Season to look for a wife for him. Don’t ask, this is one story with a plot that you really shouldn’t think too hard about.
Anyway, our heroine Daniella “Dany” Foster has an issue. Incidentally, she is Dany and the hero’s friend is Darby. I suspect more than a few readers may get tripped up by these two’s rather similar names early in their reading. Back to Dany, her sister wrote to a secret admirer a while back while Mari was feeling neglected and unloved by her husband. Mari, unlike Dany, is prone to melodrama so she actually signed her name – complete with her title – in her letters, along with unnecessarily detailed accounts of her husband’s inability to fill her life with passion, so to speak, and more. Now, this person is sending blackmail letters to Mari – either she pay up or the letters would be used as a basis for a chapbook all about her indiscretion.
Dany literally trips into Coop while she and Mari playfully discuss that they need a hero to solve Mari’s problems. Dany is the practical youngest sister who is actually practical, believe it or not, and a lot of her sarcasm involves making fun of typical romance heroine behavior found in other similarly-themed romance novels. She imagines herself as the brain of the operation, directing the mule Coop about, although she naturally will ask him for advice or two before weighing them against her superior female intellect. Coop decides to work with her after realizing that they are both after the same blackmailer, but if she thinks that she can order him around, she has much to learn about him.
A Scandalous Proposal waltzes to the finish line solely on the personalities of the hero and the heroine alone. Maybe it’s because this story is shorter than the typical full-length novel – the shorter story How to Woo a Spinster (which was previously published elsewhere) is bundled in here as a “bonus” to pad the book – or the plot remains an underdeveloped mess heavily reliant on coincidences and our lovebirds being at the right place and time. The villain sort of pops out of nowhere, and later in the story, the author also has secondary characters from the previous book showing up as well. The last is a bit odd – despite references to things that occurred in the previous book, the ties are rather flimsy because of the underdeveloped nature of the plot in this story. As a result, all the appearances by those secondary characters feel gratuitous and, to readers unfamiliar with the previous book, possibly confusing.
But oh, the hero and the heroine! I believe I have mentioned in the past that Kasey Michaels is more Amanda Quick-like than Amanda Quick herself these days, and it’s like that here. Dany can be scarily smarter than the usual romance heroine, and she is also a pragmatic realist at times, but this only means that she keeps tripping me and the hero over. She’s hilarious. She’s like that sarcastic person who rolls up her eyes at the more typical romance heroine witlessness such as an overblown tendency to martyrdom or letting emotions cloud common sense, but deep inside she’s actually an adorable darling. Coop, despite being a capable guy who can take down bad guys and all, is beta in so many ways, and I find it most amusing that he ends up being attracted to a woman who reminds him of his mother, whom he normally can’t stand. These two together, along with the secondary characters, all make me laugh. I can’t care less about the plot, but I do adore the way these people entertain me.
As for the shorter story How to Woo a Spinster, it’s related to the author’s previous series, but it can stand alone. It is about Lady Emmaline Daughtry who, at 28, has little expectations of meeting the right guy until one handsome gentleman shows up at her doorstep. Now that everyone else has married and their kids are growing up, Emmaline realizes that, as a spinster, she is now going to face a more lonely existence, probably stuck in this estate for the rest of her life. The arrival of Captain John Alastair, however, is not all sunshine and happiness: he bears news that her brother and the man’s sons are lost at sea.
This one could have been grand. It has pathos, love, and the emotional awakening of a lonely woman who has resigned herself to a peaceful, quiet, and barren existence for the rest of her life. Furthermore, our hero has a secret. But the whole thing is short to the point that nothing feels really developed, and I am still waiting to feel something when the ending hits me in the face.
The two stories in A Scandalous Proposal have their charms, but I can’t help wishing that they have been longer so that the author can really bring on the great stuff. This one is somewhat good, but not good enough.