Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-210032-0
Historical Romance, 2014
Leonie Noirot, practical and brilliant, is running the family dressmaker business now that her sisters are now married and have all kinds of reasons to stay out of the limelight and let Leonie run the show. Business is fine for now, and Leonie decides that giving Lady Gladys Fairfax, one of the most disliked, ridiculed, and feared spinsters in town, a makeover and turning her into a sought-after belle of the ball would only catapult the Noirot reputation for avant garde awesomeness straight past the stratosphere. Leonie knows that she can do it. After all, there isn’t anything the Noirot sisters can’t do except maybe walking on water and immaculate conception.
Simon Blair, the Marquess of Lisburne, begs to differ about Lady Gladys. She’d never, according to him, become popular – that lady’s tongue is too acerbic and sharp, she has no filter, and she dresses and carries herself like a sack full of turnips.
So, if Leonie succeeds in her mission impossible, he’d give her Venus and Mars, the Boticelli painting he has in his collection. If he wins, she’d spend two weeks with him, doing absolutely anything he’d ask of her and enjoying every second of it. So what would it be? Who could come out on top – the seamstress or the Marquess?
Meanwhile, Lisburne is in London to accompany his cousin Lord Swanton, whose dribbling poetry has caught the fairer sex of London by storm despite receiving scathing reviews from critics. The fact that Swanton is gorgeous only adds to his appeal to the ladies in London. Lisburne finds Swanton’s poetry tiresome and is prepared to find the trip boring, but then again, he never expects to meet Leonie. Things get complicated when someone begins claiming that Swanton has fathered a baby on her and then dumped her. Swanton can’t remember whether he did anything with the woman – let’s just say he is… “sensitive” like that – but the controversy threatens to sink both the reputations of Swanton and the Noirot business unless Lisburne and Leonie get to the bottom of this matter ASAP.
Vixen in Velvet is the conclusion of the trilogy revolving around the Noirot sisters, although this one can stand alone very well. There are possibilities left open by the last page for spin-offs involving family members and friends, however, so I won’t surprised if the author extends the series by a few more books.
Let’s start with Lisburne. He’s an interesting hero. Despite claiming to find Swinton’s poems banal and dull, he is also the kind of the guy who can be moved to tears by works of art that resonate with his finer feelings. While he has some moody moments in the past, he’s free from the blues here. He’s charming, easy going, and happy go lucky. Leonie is the more take-no-prisoners type – she treats most things in life like a business opportunity, and she’s always thinking of how to get the upper hand in every situation. Apart from hair color and a head for figures and organization, I find Leonie a bit too similar to her sister Sophy in that there’s nothing these women can’t do because they are just awesome. While I do adore competent heroines, these ladies can be too competent without showing any hint of vulnerability that can help create some kind of suspense in this story. I mean, plot twists and turns don’t mean much if it’s pretty clear from the start that these ladies will always get over any difficulty just like that.
Still, Lisburne and Leonie have a pretty good chemistry here, the kind that the author applied successfully to many other couples from her previous efforts. However, chemistry alone can only do so much. The story in this book just goes along for a long time like a meandering leisurely stroll through the park. Things happen, but they are mundane day-by-day encounters. I don’t see any clear direction that this story is heading in – the villain remains in the background for so long, the plot doesn’t kick into action until later, and much of the plot boils down to Leonie being awesome and Lisburne flummoxing her with his charm and attention. It’s too easy to put down this book – I’m intrigued at first, but I soon become bored as I turn the pages. The characters are just too obviously better than everyone else around them, so I find myself waiting for something interesting to happen, something that can challenge them and make them sweat a little. No luck there – problems are just small bumps in our main characters’ quest for world domination.
I wonder whether I’d have enjoyed this book better if I was less familiar with the author’s past efforts. Much of the story here feels like a formula by now, only, the plot is nowhere as interesting as it could have been to sustain the momentum and the characters lack that air of vulnerability to balance their superior qualities and make them seem a little more human. In short, Vixen in Velvet isn’t too bad a read – it’s just a boring one.