Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4789-1859-2
Historical Romance, 2018
Kelly Bowen’s last few books hadn’t done much for me, and sad to say, Last Night with the Earl continues the trend. It’s better than the completely nonsensical previous book in this Devils of Dover series (this is the second book), but hey, a broken pinkie is arguably better than a broken wrist, and you won’t see me extolling the virtues of that. A big issue with this story is that the author certainly has made the effort to ensure that she has ticked off as many items in the bestselling formula list as possible, but in doing so she hasn’t given me any reason to care for the story in the first place.
About six years ago, Eli Dawes fell for Rose Hayward, but she was being courted by his BFF Anthony Gibson. Hence, the world had ended, never would his penis be happy again, et cetera, so he threw himself into all kinds of debauchery to forget her. You hear that? That’s me on my violin, playing sad songs for this poor, poor man who was forced by circumstances to have all that drunken floozie ho-bag sex to his heart’s content. So, so tragic. Alas, his BFF turned out to be a scum, and Eli was implicated in helping Anthony publish a scathing parody book that mocked Rose after their break-up. Since everything is about him, Eli was heartbroken by this turn of event. No one could understand how much he suffered under the yoke of such perfidy! Regret! Shame! Guilt! Thunderstorm! Despair! To let everyone know that he was suffering far more than Jesus himself could ever comprehend, he ran off to the war, after which he was presumed dead.
For a while, he let everyone think he was dead because oh, he had disappointed his father, and he would continue disappointing the man for all eternity, and oh, Rose’s humiliation was also eating away at him! Regret! Shame! Guilt! Daddy! DADDY! ROSE! HOLD ON, ROSE! DON’T LET… oh wait, that was a happier movie. Oh, and he also has scars and injuries now that artfully mar his physical ability and towering erection only a bit, in ways that makes him look even more sexy to gullible romance heroines, but oh, the scars! The scars! Regret! Shame! SCARS! So he flails around in god knows where, wanting everyone to know that God made a big mistake in choosing to martyr Jesus instead of he.
Still, he has to come back when his father dies and they manage to track him down and tell him that he’s the new Earl of Rivers. No, not an earldom! Scars! Regret! Rose! Daddy! Earldom! How can any man bear so much torment? So, he returns to Avondale, now his country home, only instead of announcing his arrival like any sane person will, he decides to sneak in even when he has no reason to. Oh, right, he has reasons: scars, guilt, Daddy, Rose, earldom, whatever.
Surprise, Rose and the girls have been renting the place from his late father, something he’d have known much earlier if he would unplug his head from his angst-clogged rear end for a second, and now they are stuck together. Mind you, if they don’t like one another like they profess, he can always sulk off somewhere else. It’s not like he has no place to go. But if these two are sane and their circumstances are normal, then they will just drift apart and the author will not have a book to deliver to her editor. Thus, the author just sticks these two together in the same building without giving any compelling reason for them to do so, and the story then meanders along as Rose tries to apply the principles of psychology she learned while watching daytime talk shows to build up Eli, even as he flails around due to scars, daddy, guilt, et cetera. There are muddling mini-dramas of bratty children needing TLC and other stuff to break the monotony of two people pretending that they are the most miserable twats on earth, and the story then caps off with a final conflict of Rose suddenly deciding that she is going to screech loudly about how she is a far bigger drama queen than Eli.
Last Night with an Earl has me wondering whether this should be my last romance novel with Kelly Bowen, because the author just isn’t doing it for me for a long time now. True, this is an improvement over the previous muddled mess, but the author has, at the end of the day, delivered a tale of two overwrought drama queens trying to one-up the other person. Their issues are actually trivial compared to the lengths they go to thump their chest. Eli is still physically fit in every way that counts, he has friends and money, and his alleged PTSD from the war certainly isn’t crippling his ability to lead a normal life or get it up for the ladies. It’s just… hot air and eye-rolling bloviating. Rose doesn’t seem terribly affected by the scandal in the sense that her social mobility, standing, and ability to have a strong support network all seem intact. Hence, the more she rends at her clothes, the more she comes off as an attention-seeking drama queen, although Eli still has her thoroughly beaten in that department.
Oh, and despite the fact that she is training young, impressionable ladies to be independent feminists, she still needs a man’s love in the end to restore her self-esteem. It isn’t enough for Rose to be a drama queen, she also has to be a faux feminist. There’s no progressiveness without a penis in her royal hoo-hooness!
For this story to work, the author should have actually crippled her main characters in ways that are commensurate with their whining and bleating. If the scars really get to Eli that bad, then by god, give him hideous scars then that make him look like Quasimodo’s unwashed rear end. Make Rose a social pariah forced to paint racy erotica to keep herself from starving when she’s not hooking at the streets on Friday nights to make ends meet. Or something. Give these characters genuine reasons to act like the sorriest gits on earth, and perhaps then I would be emotionally invested in all the hot air they are blowing my way. As it is, when I reach the last page, I can only wonder why I’m subjecting myself to slightly over 300 pages of people making a big fuss over nothing.
There is a “bonus story” here, probably included because Kelly Bowen’s story is actually shorter than a full-length novel: Grace Burrowes’s Respect for Christmas. Clocking in at about 150 pages, this one tells the story of an infamous lady, Henrietta Whitlow, who is said to be a man-eating temptress that lures her lovers into duels and worse, and what happens when Lord Michael Brenner, Baron Angelford (of course he is) offers her the use of his room one evening when there is no other room in the inn available for the lady.
I initially pay close attention when it seems like Henrietta is going to be an unconventional heroine, but as it turns out, she is another misunderstood heroine who passes the purity test perfectly. Don’t worry, people, you can read this story with conscience clear, without worries that you are condoning the behavior of real life immoral women. That aside, this is a sweet but perfectly forgettable story. Normally, this may not be a good thing, but Respect for Christmas delivers enough saccharine to wash away any bitter aftertaste from reading the previous story. So… good for it, I suppose.