by Sally MacKenzie, historical (2008)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-8217-8076-3
The Naked Gentleman reminds me why reading too many historical romances can make me feel as if my head is going to explode. Look, there is such an adorable hero, how nice. The secondary characters are too funny. But look, there is the heroine behaving as if there is a big gaping void where her brain should be! Is she coming my way? No, please, someone please shoot that creature before she is allowed to... oh, crap. The whole story has gone to hell. And this story goes straight to hell by page ten. I think Sally MacKenzie must be trying to beat Katie MacAlister's world record or something.
Margaret Peterson is such a darling. She claims to be twenty-one, but here she is, in her second Season, inviting men to the gardens with her so that they can kiss her and she can evaluate their husband potential from that kiss. As you can probably imagine, things go out of control in page one and our hero John Parker-Roth has to come to her rescue. He also provides some comfort by the way of his mouth on a particularly sensitive part of her breast, and they are discovered in a compromising (to say the least) position by what seems like every character that has ever graced the books written by this author in the past few years.
Margaret, naturally, doesn't understand why she has to marry John. She won't! She'll never! Nobody can make her! Never! Oh, and she has to protest that she is not a child at several occasions in this story. I wonder why other people may get that impression from her antics. The rest of the story can then be divided into two. The first half involves what seems like every character that has ever graced the author's previous books showing up to tell John and Margaret that they have to get married. Margaret will naturally say something like, "Never! You can't make me!" while John will go, "Are you crazy? That crazy woman has refused to marry me - I bet it's because she thinks I have no title and am therefore unworthy of her. And then there is that woman who dumped me once upon a time... oh, women suck!" The second half is when those two actually do get married, and I feel that for too often it's like watching two blind gnats traying to fit a square block through a round hole.
You're probably wondering at this point who John and Margaret are. Well, let me just say that this book is one of those books so infested with secondary characters that if you are new to the author's Naked Bloke (or whatever it is called) series, you should do yourself a favor and read the previous books first. You can try to keep track of who is who in this book, of course, but given that for too much of this book John and Margaret interact with these characters more than they interact with each other, you are actually better off getting some kind of appreciation for those characters first. If you are not fond of them, you may end up wondering why you are reading this story.
Speaking of the secondary characters, I find Ms MacKenzie's portrayal of marital bliss positively creepy. Every heroine of the previous books that shows up here is either a mother to unnaturally precocious brats that say things that are meant to be precious in scripted precision and timing or a lactating goddess breastfeeding an infant in front of friends and family members (and bear in mind that this story is set in some vaguely Regency era). Every single woman watching these glowing paragons of lactating fountains of maternal bliss will be seized by envy to the point that even Margaret finds her eyes watering at the sight. The overpowering message I get from this terrifying Pregnant Stepford Wives scenario is that if a woman's worth lies solely in her ability to have many children.
Motherhood in this story is portrayed as some kind of dream-like bliss. The children are, of course, tucked tidily away in some non-intrusive corner while the glowing mothers gossip about Margaret's scandalous antics, only to show up when it's time for them to make "cute" observations (if they are old enough, which in this book means anything above the age of five) or to allow the glowing Lactating Stepford Baby-Making Machine to show off her breastfeeding ability and make spinster heroines cry inside in anguished envy.
A part of me suspects that Ms MacKenzie may be trying to target some niche audience with this story. After all, I'm sure that there are people out there who will find pregnant or lactating women some kind of erotic fetish. These people will no doubt find The Naked Gentleman one of those most erotic stories that they have ever read.
As for me, I have grown tired of the hero and the heroine who act like small children quickly enough. Ms MacKenzie has a great sense of humor, but if her last few books are anything to go by, she is on a determined mission to dethrone Katie MacAlister as the Queen of the Walking Braindead Heroines of Doom. Let me just stand out of the way of the impending catfight then.
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