Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-92604-0
Historical Romance, 2017
The final book in the ridiculously named Hedley’s Hellions series, Secret Lessons with the Rake can still stand alone very well. No long hanging drama from the other books, it mostly focuses on the romance between Christopher Lattimar, aspiring politician, and Ellie Parmenter, the mistress of a new-dead nobleman.
Oh don’t get so excited. Ellie may be someone’s mistress but the author’s gameplay is obvious from her introduction, in which she talks about how women like Ellie had little choices in life and oh, please don’t judge the dear heroine, virtuous and moral romance readers, because the darling had to do what she had to do. Christopher certainly isn’t judging: his own mother is a celebrated, if notorious and barely respectable merry (and very married) lady who enjoys a string of affairs without apologies. But because the author wants to sell this book, and thus Ellie has to conform to a certain moral code, our heroine will spend the entire story whinging about wanting to save the strays and the broken on the streets when she’s not shuddering at the idea of being under the thumb of any man again. Unless that thumb belongs to Christopher, of course, because he’s hot, and it’s totally true love on her part – no whore, no whore – when she allows him to put that thumb and other digits in her everywhere.
And to demonstrate that she is not a whore at all, she clings to this weird logic in which she’d never be with Christopher for the happily ever after because she’d never be his mistress. I suppose I can tell her, girl, he’d taken not only the milk and the cow but the entire farm, and since her funds are not limitless and she’s throwing them away to the poor kiddies, she may as well get paid for swinging those legs over his shoulders. But I know, romance readers wanting the same old fare throwing £4.99 at the publisher and the author instead would be a far better alternative. I understand the need to get paid, but still, I’m bored. Ellie’s boring. I’d rather read the story of Christopher’s merry mommy.
Because Christopher has a penis, he of course has the privilege of swinging it everywhere without being judged a whore and a harlot by us romance readers, and as a result, he’s a far more fun character. Half the time he’s such a sweet, sweet, sweet romantic man that makes me melt inside. The other half of the time he’s making me cringe because he’s being over the top sentimental and mawkish – the author’s romantic moments are touch and go here – but the scenes that work can make me feel like swooning, so he’s alright.
At the end of the day, this is another story which has many characters happily bending some of the romance genre rules… all except the heroine, who stands out as a cliché designed to be as inoffensive and bland as possible in other to not agitate further readers who are already frothing at the mouth that the heroine is such a whore, whore, whore. This entire book is a cynical demonstration of how to pander to the double standards of romance readers, and an idealistic part of me dies a little bit more with each turn of the page.