Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-241294-2
Historical Romance, 2016
Piety Grey flees to London to escape her mother and her stepsons. You see, her father left her a big inheritance, and her mother decides that the best way to get Piety to share the money is by having that young lady marry one of the stepsons. Our heroine doesn’t agree with keeping everything within the family, however, so she arranges with her solicitors to purchase a property across the pond and flees there ASAP to start a new life there. Unfortunately, while arranging for the temporary use of the vacant house next to hers – she needs someplace to stay while she oversees the renovation of her new home, after all – no one seeks to let the owner of the house next door, Trevor Reese, the newly minted Earl of Falcondale, know of this arrangement. So when she finds her temporary abode infested with an unwelcome pest, she decides to use her charms to win him over. Meanwhile, the self-appointed boss of everyone from across the street meddles, to ensure that the two unpredictable elements in the neighborhood will behave and not ruin the peace and order of the place.
Charis Michaels’s The Earl Next Door screams “traditional Regency romance” all over, despite some half-baked sex scenes later in the story that have me wondering why the author even bothered with such scenes in the place. Writing love scenes is like sex – sometimes, it’s very obvious when someone is faking it. Anyway, the charm of this story lies more in the character interactions and humor, laced with an emphasis on manners and humor revolving around the social niceties of that time and place.
And the author’s greatest strength here is her ability to gently tell a story by showing as much as telling. Just look at the prologue alone. The author doesn’t introduce the hero or the heroine directly, instead having the boss lady of everyone sniffing about how the neighborhoods of London have become decadent due to all the bohemian upstarts moving in, before seguing charmingly into that woman urgently running to the window as a carriage moves towards one of the two vacant houses across from hers. I learn a lot about this lady and the two houses across the street probably as much as if the author had just slapped me in the face with a huge wall of information dump, but I have so much more fun with how the author does her thing here. This applies to the bulk of the story.
The author weaves in cute little moments that make go “Aww, so cute!” only to stump me when all these little details lead up to a charming climactic moment. For example, the hero is grouchy, boorish, and grumpy because he has attachment and commitment issues, but his thawing is gradual in such a natural manner that it is so cute. I’m clued in to all this long before the hero realizes what he has done, so when he finally reaches a point when he’d grumpily decide to shave and look pretty just for the heroine, all I can do is to go SO CUTE. That’s the charm of this story. The author throws in all these adorable little moments that make the characters feel more natural and fun to follow.
The heroine is a bit all over the place, though, and much of Piety’s actions here feel like they were included just to move the plot to a certain direction. For example, she is willing to go all the way to London by making her own arrangements and all, and yet, at the same time I’m supposed to believe that her family can steamroll over her? It also feels out of character for a woman who is so confident in so many areas of her life would also at the same time grasp at straws to believe that the hero would think the worst of her over every thing. I often feel that every time the author takes a step forward with Piety, she’d then backslide two steps – Piety may be an unconventional heroine in some ways, but she’s also a too-obvious plot device at the same time.
And just like most traditional Regency romances, the lack of believable lusty feelings means that the romance between Piety and Trevor resemble at times a juvenile affair in which bad communication is foreplay and some abrupt kisses are the culmination of such foreplay. Some readers will like this, I’m sure, but me, I always find such romances a bit hard to take seriously. “Oh, he’s so hot and I just want to… oops, let’s limit my naughty thoughts to PG-13 materials at most because some readers don’t like reading about how physical attraction makes one randy!” Oh yes, that’s believable.
This story also has some pacing issues. While I’m glad that the author goes the extra mile to show as much as tell, she also has a tendency to dwell on every minute detail in a scene to an unnecessary degree. For example, each time our main characters meet someone they aren’t familiar with, they will introduce themselves and their companions to this fellow. Good manners are always welcome, of course, but come on, when we’re reaching page 200, is there any need for me to read the full names and titles and addresses of these people yet again? The unnecessary repetition of details end up making the story feel far longer than it needs to be. The editor should have been more ruthless in getting the author to cut own all those unnecessary repetitive parts.
Still, its issues aside, The Earl Next Door is a cute, fun read. Okay, so the romance turns out to be the least interesting aspect of this story due to the chemistry being toned down to the level of Barbie’s first crush, but the characters are fun, the humor works, and I really like the author’s style. What else does she have up her sleeves? I’d love to find out.