Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-8388-1
Historical Romance, 2015
First, let’s get the PSA out of the way. If you haven’t read anything in Kelly Bowen’s The Lords of Worth series before, you should at least read A Good Rogue Is Hard to Find, the previous book. The plot in this one is pretty self-contained, but the heroine’s mother runs a secret agency of some sort that is probably a little less ridiculous if you have read the other book first. Alternatively, you can just go along with the flow and try not to think so hard, heh.
You’re the Earl That I Want – oh please, don’t be so obvious and go “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” at me – is a book by Kelly Bowen and can you believe that? Her last two books get a ” Hideous!” and “It’s not bad… at least I didn’t die!” verdict from me, respectively, so this one is definitely not what I’m expecting when I open this book. Then again, I did wonder after reading the previous book as to what could happen if the author lets her heroine be smart for once. Well, people, this happens.
Mind you, I put down this book and left it aside for a few months when the heroine, Josephine Somerhall, shows up in a ballroom only to prod and pry at the host’s expensive Ming vase before cradling it between her thighs, all in the name of checking to see whether it is the real thing. No, the host doesn’t ask her to do this. And then, when the hero lies to the hostess about what an amazing party it has been, she can’t believe that he’d lie like that. Okay, I told myself there and then, the heroine would probably give me a cardiac arrest if I keep reading, so let’s just call it a day and look for naughty pictures on Pinterest.
Still, the very image of the heroine squeezing a Ming vase between her thighs popped in my head at the oddest moments over the next few months, and I finally decided to read this thing and be done with it. Famous last words, those.
Jo is a genius of sorts. She reads, speaks, and writes in many, many languages, the names of some of which our hero Heath Hextall probably can’t spell, much less pronounce. She is also a well-traveled lady, having served as a translator and more for various foreign dignitaries and British ambassadors in the process. Now, she’s back in London, much to Heath’s flustered exasperation. He has always teased and even bullied her back in those days – not that she cares, because she’s always had a crush on him – but now that she’s a gorgeous woman, he doesn’t know what to think anymore. Heath is a tradesman who just inherited the title of the Earl of Boden, and he’s looking for a proper and well-behaved wife to help him manage the… well, things that need to be managed, while he runs his business. Our hero doesn’t like upsets, changes, or turmoils in his life; his family’s more ‘flexible’ ways has made him allergic to improper behavior and dramatic scandals. Therefore, a woman like Jo who invites trouble wherever she goes is not for him. He knows that. Now all he has to do is to convince his other body parts.
And then, a dying man passes some coded documents to Heath, with Jo stumbling onto the scene shortly after, and Jo then realizes that they may have stumbled onto a delicious mystery. Fortunately, she’s a pro at code cracking, and she also has the expertise and contacts to see to the rest of the mystery stuff. Heath can stand there, look pretty, and scowl in bewilderment if he wishes, but she’d rather that he tags along because he’s so cute.
Jo’s so well-suited to being a code-breaking spy lady investigator that it’s almost scary, but then again, this is one story where her mother plays an elaborate deception while secretly running a vigilante organization to help downtrodden women everywhere – successfully too, despite having little previous experience in doing this kind of thing. Therefore, it’s best not to view this story as a sober tale, it’s more of a campy and cheerful tale more in vein of those Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. If you can accept the premise of those books, you’d be alright with this one. This one is particularly fun because Jo is the Mulder to Heath’s Scully – Heath often can’t believe that the outlandish twists and turns in this story are actually happening. The thing is, both work spectacularly well together, often playing off one another on cue to pull off an undercover investigation or to ponder over the clues they have found. Both characters are well-matched; the hero doesn’t monopolize all the brainpower or muscle power in this duo, as the heroine is an active participant in their investigations.
Okay, the mystery part is quite out there at times, but the whole “as if it’s written by Enid Blyton” quality to it is charming, I must admit.
And then, there is the romance.
“No, I’m not all right,” he said when he was able. “Not so long ago, I attended a ball thinking I could find a wife and settle down to a life of pleasant predictability. Since then someone has tried to kill me twice. I’ve become the custodian of a conspiracy that defies all reason, discovered that the chickens are all for show all along, and now counts a man who collects bodies for a living as a friend. And the worst of all is that somehow, in my efforts to do the right thing, I’ve lost the love of my life.”
Isn’t that just beautiful? Okay, the above excerpt doesn’t seem that amazing when I plunk it here out of context, but it’s a wonderful summation of how poor Heath just falls for Jo as the story progresses. He falls hard, his world is completely turned upside down, and he says these things that make me feel all choked up inside, unsure as to whether I should laugh or cry. His post-coital babble with Jo on pages 336 and 337 is the corniest, sappiest, sweetest, glorious-est OH MY GOD I CAN’T TAKE THESE TWO, THEY ARE SO ADORABLE, STOP MAKING MY EYES ITCH AND TEAR UP thing I’ve read in a long time.
Mind you, Heath is not the stereotypical stiff-lipped prude type. He has his share of quietly mischievous moments, which makes him the perfect foil for Jo’s more in-your-face personality.
As for Jo, she’s not a stereotype of some book-smart robot with no social skills. If you have read Amanda Quick’s very early books, do you remember how she would floor both the hero and the reader by slowly peeling the layers of the sassy-spunky-rebellious-bluestocking facade to reveal a very lonely and vulnerable woman? Kelly Bowen does the same thing there, pulling off that scene so well that I think I’m floored more than the hero. The best thing is that Jo’s vulnerability feels like a very organic part of her character, so it’s not like the author is forcing a new personality trait on her heroine.
Anyway, You’re the Earl That I Want is the book that I really need. If you are a fan of those wonderful books by Amanda Quick and Connie Brockway early in their career, you should take a look at this one too. I’m too cheap to wager money that you will love it as much as I do, but come on, what do you have to lose?