In My Heart
by Melody Thomas, historical (2004)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-056447-4

Yucks, what an ugly cover. They may as well stamp "Do not buy" on the cover and be done with it, really. Melody Thomas, the new pseudonym for the author whose previous incarnations were Laura Renken and Lori Morgan, has written a decent and enjoyable story for her Avon debut. The story starts strong, falters in the middle, and ends with a whimper but the author's sense of pacing and her characterization that has a little something extra to differentiate her Jack Thomases and Jane Bluestockings from the rest of the great unwashed in the historical subgenre.

Alexandra Marshall holds an unusual career for a Victorian era blue-blooded lady - she is a curator and researcher for the British Museum. It's not easy to get where she is as she also has an overcontrolling and overbearing father who has ruined her marriage as well as the glass ceiling to juggle along with her career. When she realizes that she's being set up to take the fall in a case involving some missing priceless jewels, she finds an unlikely ally in her ex-husband, Christopher Donally.

Christopher is still bitter of Alexandra's father stepping in and forcefully breaking his marriage to Alexandra but he realizes that while he is a respected architect now in society, he is still far from being entirely respectable and he needs a respectable lady to give his sister a helping hand when she debuts in Society. If Alexandra will help him, he will help her clear her name somehow in return. Of course, they'll fall in love all over again in the process.

While this book could easily be a big misunderstanding story, it isn't, thankfully. Alexandra and Christopher talk so they get everything cleared up without resorting to bile and bad drama. Christopher is an attractive hero because while he has the standard hero qualities (good looking, broad shoulders, dubious respectability, capability, yadda yadda yadda), he also lacks the more tired pretensions of the stock historical hero. He is bitter about his annulled marriage to Alexandra, but he doesn't let the bitterness cloud his judgment or become the sole focus of his entire existence. He comes off as more pragmatic and intelligent, as a result, and I like that.

Alexandra, for a while, is a very fun heroine too. She isn't stupid, for one. She doesn't do the usual nonsense historical heroines tend to get into by plotting bizarre unworkable Plans and Plots that usually require them to martyr themselves in outrageous ways. She can handle her father and even manipulate him to get her way in order to make her life more bearable. She can talk to Christopher without becoming too overemotional. Isn't that wonderful for a heroine? Alas, by the second half of the book she has mutated into a standard nitwit heroine. It must be an editorial thing, I suspect.

The suspense and Daddy's increasingly hard-to-swallow Very Angry Antics become more predictable as the story progresses, but throughout it all, I like the fact that Alexandra's relationship with her father has ambiguous shades of grey that make it more realistic that the usual Daddy Hates Me But I Love Daddy Forever No Matter What father-daughter relationships pervalent in the genre.

Ms Thomas has improved on her fluid sense of pacing to keep the momentum going throughout the story, and I really enjoy the way she works to give her characters a little something extra to make them stand out from the rest of the crowd. Despite the unfortunate plunge into stereotypical mediocrity in the second half of the book that has me wondering what happened to the initially well-written Alexandra, In My Heart has enough to stand out as one of the more enjoyable and less derivative historical romance offerings in the recent months. It isn't a keeper by any means, but it will do pretty nicely for me.

Rating: 84

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