Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-5011-4448-6
Historical Romance, 2018
I haven’t found many reasons to enjoy Sabrina Jeffries’s recent books, but I keep buying her new releases because… I don’t know, maybe it’s because some of her early books were favorites of mine, and I would love to experience all that magic again. The Secret of Flirting is almost a good book in this instance – almost, because it recaptures, albeit faintly, some of the elements that made books like The Forbidden Lord so good to read. This one, however, lacks nuances.
The heroine Monique Servais, for example, doesn’t do anything halfway. She’s ON!!! all the time, and after a while, she resembles a caricature more than a realistic character. An actress in France, she first encounters our hero Gregory Vyse, Baron of Fulkham, when he is dragged by a friend to get an introduction to her backstage (yes, you can read that any way you want). Goodness me, and she is so shrill and rude, denouncing the two gentlemen as ignorant, entitled pigs to their faces because, true to the fashion of this author’s heroines, Monique knows everything about the world at her age and she knows that all men are assholes. How did this charmless harpy become a celebrated actress again? Especially when Monique also makes a great fuss about being virtuous and and how she’s only doing all this for her increasingly senile grandmother – how anyone can stand being in this sanctimonious decibel-apocalypse creature’s company for more than a minute is beyond me.
They meet again later when Monique is asked to impersonate Princess Aurore of Chanay when the actual princess is indisposed and her absence in an upcoming trip to London can trigger a diplomatic crisis. Again, the author wants everyone to know that the heroine is honest, virtuous, blah blah blah and she is only doing this because her grandmother is very precious to her and she will do anything – ANYTHING!!! – to get the money that will keep GRANNY OH GRANNY I LOVE YOU GRANNY!!!! happy forever and ever. Gregory quickly recognizes her and, because he is one of the best spymasters in the world, stomps up to her to tell her that he recognizes her and she has better tell him what her plot is.
Of course, political intrigue abound, and Monique is soon going GRANNY!!! SAVE AND HELP THE REAL PRINCESS!!! OH SHE MUST KEEP DECEIVING PEOPLE, SOB SOB, BECAUSE SHE NEEDS THE MONEY FOR GRANNY!!! AND SHE NEEDS TO HELP THE REAL PRINCESS!!! GRANNY!!! PRINCESS!!! GRANNY!!!! etc. Seriously, she doesn’t understand nuances – everything is either zero or 9,000!!! to her. As for the romance, of course she has to SACRIFICE!!! LEAVE HIM!!! because, you know, she loves him too much to see his reputation ruined by shacking up with an actress like her.
The whole thing is so, so artificial to me, thanks to the heroine going all Looney Tunes on me while going through the motions of acting like every tiresome heroine out there is that is obsessed with telling me what a good person she is. Sure, Monique may be a shrill shrew in the beginning and she tones that down later, but her “character growth” is a jerky and abrupt transformation from harpy to determined martyr. There is no believable growth or transformation here, just the heroine going from an unlikable twit to a different kind of unlikable twit.
Gregory isn’t believable as a spymaster, but at least he is somewhat consistent in his behavior. Also, he doesn’t annoy me as much as Monique, so there’s that.
The Secret of Flirting resembles too much of a by-the-numbers kind of story that throws in several tropes that made the author’s earlier books so much fun to read, only in a lifeless and flat manner to remind me that the magic is still missing.