HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77433-3
Historical Romance, 2010
How to Beguile a Beauty is a story with an interesting heroine but the poor darling is trapped in a plot that doesn’t do her any justice.
Lydia Daughtry is at a loss when it comes to the upcoming Season. Our 18-year old heroine is, for the first time, separated from her more outgoing twin sister (who had recently married in How to Tame a Lady) when Nicole followed her husband to pay the in-laws a visit. Her brother is away in London, busy with his business affairs. When faced with such convenient plot devices that force her to confront her demons, Lydia has no choice but to sigh.
You see, about a year ago, her first serious boyfriend died. Don’t look at me – much of this grand love affair took place off-stage and I’m merely told that it was grand and amazing. Captain Swain Fitzgerald was the classic romance novel boyfriend: a much older man who was her brother’s good friend, he was sweet and gentle, promising to cherish and protect her as well as making them wait until they were married to do the cherishing, heh. Well, he died in Quatre Bras while fighting the French army soon after, leaving Lydia to think sad thoughts about what could have been.
Swain died in Tanner Blake’s arms. No, not in that way, get your mind out of the gutter. Tanner, who is also the Duke of Malvern, promised Swain that he would take care of Lydia and this is what he does for a while now. Lydia initially blamed Tanner for Swain’s death, something that she now knows to be an irrational thing to do, and now she feels most uncomfortable that Tanner is being nice to her out of obligation. Also, she is tired of being treated with kid gloves by everyone, she wants to be seen as something more than a duty or obligation, and she wants… what?
Lydia doesn’t really know. She has lived so long under Nicole’s shadow, as her twin sister’s more proper and guarded counterpart. Not that she is envious of Nicole, it’s just that, now that Nicole is not here, Lydia doesn’t know what to do with herself anymore. But perhaps this upcoming Season would be a good time for Lydia to discover herself and, in the process, find the opportunity to love again. After all, Tanner has long fancied her. Maybe now she will realize that he’s willing to be much more than her friend.
Lydia is an interesting heroine in that she actually defies the stereotype of the “good twin sister”. Just like Ms Michaels did with Nicole, she creates Lydia as a character with some degree of complexity. Lydia is not a saint – she has selfish thoughts, desirous feelings, and temper tantrums as much as any person would. She comes off like a well-drawn and real person with a good sense of awareness when it comes to herself and the world around her, although she is not always wise enough to avoid making mistakes.
Tanner is a pretty decent fellow. He’s the walking proof that good guys don’t always finish last in the romance genre. Still, while his lack of arrogant sense of entitlement or angst is refreshing to read about, he can be sometimes too nice to the point that he stands there and lets Lydia get away when he could have reached out to her.
But this story doesn’t know what to do with both Lydia and Tanner. It is as if Ms Michaels had either become bored by these two or she didn’t know how to stretch their story to meet the word count, so Ms Michaels include various secondary characters – the key ones being Tanner’s cousin, Jasmine, and his friend, Justin the quintessential rogue with a tragic past – that not only do a lot of scenery chewing but also intrude on any quiet moment Tanner and Lydia could be enjoying together. Soon How to Beguile a Beauty stops being their story and instead becomes more like “Watch Tanner and Lydia as they chase after Jasmine and Justin!”
The set-up and the main characters have plenty of potential, but the payoff is horrible as the story quickly becomes hijacked by secondary characters. It would have been less painful for me if the book had been completely awful from the start.