Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-4349-2
Historical Romance, 2018
The title The Girl with the Sweetest Secret hints at things that are far more interesting that what is actually present in this story. It’s basically a story about tomfoolery in the ballrooms, without much direction or focus. I suppose one can argue that the author’s focus is to make me laugh with the incessant silliness taking place here, but the humor hinges on me being entertained by and even applauding women who are running off to do things that would be socially ruinous to them back in those days. If anything, my take home message from this story is that, were I an upper class mother in 19th century London with romance heroines to marry off one by one, I’d likely be an alcoholic before noon.
Set three years after A Good Day to Marry a Duke, Frances Bumgarten gets her chance to be in the spotlight. Of course, after all the expenses paid by her parents to make sure that she gets to snag an advantageous marriage, our heroine decides that she will never marry unless (a) she falls in love with some guy first, and (b) she gets the hint that the guy wants to marry her back willingly. She will put out for free, though, because that’s what women do in the name of love back in those days. If you are a good, virtuous woman, you too should be putting out and refusing to hold the man accountable for putting you in a ruinous situation. Meanwhile, Frankie is determined to help her younger sister sneak off and indulge in that silly girl’s infatuation with a musician.
So, who was she to deny something that was possibly a fundamental part of Cece’s soul?
You know what else is a fundamental part of the soul of a stupid, stupid girl who doesn’t care for the consequences of her recklessness? An illegitimate brat. Although, judging from the tone of this story, bearing a brat out of wedlock is going to be held up as a medal of honor for the cause of true love or something.
Really, I have no idea how the mother hadn’t taken up opium or something by now, with all her daughters being like this. And the poor darling is portrayed as the unreasonable killjoy shrew here!
Reynard Boulton, or Fox because he’s a professional busybody that can sniff out anyone’s secrets, is asked by his BFF, the hero of the previous book, to take care of Frankie and the other girls while the couple of the previous book take a trip to America. So our hero is stuck with chasing after Frankie while at the same time trying to keep a charming and hence villainous duke from ruining that girl.
The Girl with the Sweetest Secret is one of those stories in which the only reason the heroine isn’t pregnant, unwed, and forced to prostitute herself in order to feed herself and the brat is because of plot armor. She and her sister are typical dingbat types who clearly have no idea what they want, but are determined nonetheless to defy social conventions regardless of consequences in order to pursue instant gratification. Readers who are more tolerant of these characters will like this one better, I guess, but the way the author has these dingbats running all over the place saying and doing stupid things only makes me feel profound relief that I’m not their mother. I’d probably ship them all off to Canada and let them be the problem of those mountain men there.
Don’t get me started about Uncle Red, whose continuous self-destructive and socially ruinous antics are allowed to go on and even abetted by these dingbats because these dingbats are so understanding and sympathetic like that.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll pour myself some sherry and raise a glass to the poor mother of these dingbats.