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Emma Wildes

REVIEW:  A Most Improper Rumor by Emma Wildes

REVIEW: A Most Improper Rumor by Emma Wildes

Dear Ms. Wildes:

You are an author whose prose I’ve enjoyed in the past. Your 2009 novel, An Indecent Proposition (reviewed here by Jane), was a sexy fun read and I found the first book in the Whispers of Scandal series, Ruined by Moonlight, entertaining (My review is here.) Your latest, A Most Improper Rumor, however, left me disgruntled. Not only did the plot baffle me, the emphasis the novel places on physical beauty was so great, it pulled me out of the story.

A Most Improper Rumor by Emma WildesThis book begins with Lady Angelina DeBrooke, “a raven- haired beauty with crystalline gray eyes,” calling on Lord Heathton–Benjamin Wallace–to request his help. Ben and his wife Alicia are a Regency Nick and Nora who, in Ruined by Moonlight, discovered a nefarious plot to destroy gorgeous young ladies by decimating their reputations.

In A Most Improper Rumor, Angelina is the most notorious woman in the ton–she’s called the Dark Angel. Both of her husbands died and, when the second one perished from the same “mysterious ailment” as felled the first, Angelina was accused of murder. The evidence against her wasn’t strong enough to convict her at trial, but now, at twenty-four, she’s a social pariah. That, however, is not what she requires help with. Angelina is madly passionately in love with a man who wants to marry her. Angelina is terrified that if her love affair with Christopher becomes known he too will be killed.

Ben quickly realizes the villain ultimately responsible for Angelina’s problem is the same villain he and Alicia became aware of in Ruined by Moonlight. Given that Angelina’s first husband died six years ago, five years before the case in Ruined by Moonlight, Ben deduces that this reputation wrecker has been taking down diamonds of the first water for some time. In both cases, the ultimate villain whom I will henceforth refer to as the Big Bad learns of some lesser villain whom I will henceforth refer to as the Baby Bad. Each book has a different Baby Bad.

In Ruined by Moonlight, the Baby Bad wanted to force her brother to marry so that she could be free to stop running his household.  The Baby Bad connected with the Big Bad via a newspaper ad and then left the matter in the Big Bad’s hands. The Big Bad arranged for the heroine–a breathtaking blonde–to be locked in a stone room with the biggest rake in Christendom. This should have ruined the blonde but didn’t because the rake married her. Angelina’s case is far worse–here the Big Bad has killed–and Ben realizes the Big Bad is really really bad. I recount the plot of the first novel because it’s integral to making sense of this one. A Most Improper Rumor doesn’t work well as a stand-alone.

The Big Bad/Baby Bad thing didn’t work for me in Ruined by Moonlight and nor does it in A Most Improper Rumor. Ben and Alicia work to discover and thwart both Bads each of whom has a different motivation. The identity of the Baby Bad is obvious to anyone who has ever had a hinky friend. The identity of the Big Bad can’t be discovered–it’s the basis of the series–so Ms. Wildes gives the reader information, none of it very interesting, about the profile of the Big Bad.

The Baby Bad in A Most Improper Rumor isn’t really evil. The Big Bad not only is evil, he/she begins to target Ben and Alicia which kinda makes sense but doesn’t really work with the “I Ruin the Reps of the Young and the Beautiful” MO. At several points, the plot was so far-fetched I felt as though I were reading Dan Brown novel.

Ms. Wildes does a better job with characterization, at least in the case of Ben and Alicia. I really liked Ben and Alicia in Ruined by Moonlight. In A Most Improper Rumor, Ben and Alicia are a bit less appealing. Alicia is predictably pregnant which makes Ben spend lots of time thinking about the nature of his love for his wife and her baby bump. Alicia spends lots of time musing on how profoundly Ben loves her even though he has a tough time saying those three little words. Their sex life, which underwent a charming transformation in the first book, isn’t especially diverting here. It’s nice that a married couple is seen burning up the sheets but that alone isn’t enough to make their relationship especially compelling. It’s also nice that Ben who began the series with conventional ideas about the role of one’s wife now sees Alicia as his partner and intellectual equal. Their interactions are my favorite part of this book.

I am not as fond of the Angelina/Christopher piece of the tale. For starters, everyone in the book is so hyper-aware of Angelina’s beauty that it almost becomes silly. When she first calls on Ben he thinks, “She was entirely too beautiful to refuse.” When Alicia hears Angelina paid Ben a visit, her first response is to say, “When one of the most beautiful women in England calls on your husband, a wife is surely allowed to ask why.” Christopher who to his credit reminds himself regularly how much he loves Angelina for more than her form is still routinely distracted by her beauty whenever the two are in the same room. Furthermore, given that Angelina and Christopher are already deeply in love when the novel begins, there’s very little tension in their relationship. They struggle with the threat against them which is so external it does little to illuminate any internal facets of their coupling.

Ms. Wildes is a strong writer and in A Most Improper Rumor her prose is clean and clear. The setting however isn’t memorable and the descriptions of women in particular seem stolen from Maxim magazine. A Most Improper Rumor irritated more than it entertained. I give it a C.

Sincerely,

Dabney

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REVIEW:  Ruined by Moonlight by Emma Wildes

REVIEW: Ruined by Moonlight by Emma Wildes

Dear Ms. Wildes,

When I saw you’d published a new historical romance, Ruined by Moonlight, I downloaded the ARC. I’ve read quite a few of your books since your print debut An Indecent Proposition (Jane liked it less than I did.) and enjoyed several. (Let’s agree not to discuss One Whisper Away.) When your books work for me, they do so because the chemistry between your lovers is smoking, your plot has a twist I didn’t see coming, and–and I really like this about your books–there are two love stories each of which is engaging.

In Ruined by Moonlight, the first love story is between a rake and a virgin who wake up together, barely dressed, with no idea where they are or how they got there. Lady Elena Morrow and Viscount Andrews have never met although Elena has of course heard of the notorious Raven.

Doing her best to stay calm, Elena tried to think, incredulously recognizing the infamously handsome features of Randolph Raine, Lord Andrews. It wasn’t as if they actually knew each other—he hadn’t even asked to be introduced to her this season, and if he had done so her mother would have probably fainted dead away—but it was impossible to be part of the beau monde and not know of him.

He was the reigning rake of the ton, his reputation more wicked than sin itself, his name a byword for seduction and forbidden pleasure.

Ruined by Moonlight by Emma WildesLord Andrews–Ran–is equally appalled when he awakes. He and a virginal Lord’s daughter are locked in a room that contains virtually no furniture other than a bed, their clothes are missing, and their situation beyond compromising. He and Elena sort out that neither has trapped the other and thus they have been set up for some purpose neither of them can fathom. Armed servants eventually bring them food and drink but refuse to free or enlighten them. It becomes clear first to Ran and then to Elena that someone has trapped them together with the hope Ran will “persuade her to spend that time in the way men and women had been entertaining each other since the beginning of the human race.”

That’s one love story and even though the set-up is hokey and the prose pretty purple, I was hooked. I wanted to know who kidnapped Elena and Ran.

So, of course, does Elena’s father, Lord Whitbridge, and he turns to Lord Heathton–Ben–who was recommended by Wellington. (Ben, now trying to retire, worked in intelligence for the War Office.) Ben’s wife, Alicia, is Elena’s cousin and between the pressure from Wellington and the need to aid his wife’s family, Ben agrees to try to find Elena. He isn’t crazy about taking this job. He’s trying to run his estate and deal with a startling new problem of his own: his wife of six months has kicked him out of her bed, telling him they need to get to know each other better. Ben is, at first, flummoxed by her demands, and yet he concedes–to himself–she has a point.

A part of him was furious because he’d done his best, ever since the day he’d sat down and coolly arranged the marriage with her father, to have exactly the kind of relationship with his wife that he’d always envisioned once he sacrificed his bachelorhood to duty.

He wished to live his life, and she was free, within limits, of course, to live hers. She appeared on his arm at certain functions, oversaw the menus and other aspects of the household, and though it hadn’t happened yet, she would bear his children. All very civilized, all very much in his control, and nicely ordered.

He’d never expected to be blackmailed.

It was unsettling to realize a small part of him, a completely foreign facet he didn’t recognize, was intrigued at this sudden show of independence. Alicia had always been biddable enough, acquiescing to his decisions without argument, always the gracious hostess and dutiful wife. In bed it was much the same. She allowed him to touch her as he wished and never refused him unless it was an inconvenient time of the month. And when he left her for his own chamber she never failed to sweetly bid him good night.

However, if he was painfully honest with himself, her submissiveness gave him an uncertainty about whether she even enjoyed his attentions. He hadn’t realized it bothered him until now, when he found himself gazing at her from across the room, his mind only remotely registering the question she’d just asked him.

This story rocked. Alicia and Ben are a captivating couple, both smart and determined to get what they want. Their interactions are witty, romantic, and, as the book progresses, very sexy. The two take their time and each step that leads back to their marital bed is full of lovely tension.

“I’m no longer an uncertain bride,” she said for his ears alone as she clasped his fingers, lifting her silk skirts in her other hand.

“I think you have made that quite clear.” He was obviously amused. “However, you might not be as sophisticated as you think.”

Her very fear. Still, it was best to brazen it out since she’d come this far. “If not, it is up to you to educate me, my lord.”

“An intriguing proposition. This has been a somewhat trying evening so far, but unless I am mistaken you have just offered me an opportunity to vastly improve it.”

One way Ben and Alicia grow closer is by working together to figure out what’s happened to Elena. As Ben spends time with his wife, he realizes she’s just as intelligent as he is and possesses skills–like cleverly chatting up others to glean information–he doesn’t have. They make a great team; I enjoyed watching them become the couple Alicia is determined they can be. The two become equals and their partnership really worked for me.

The relationship between Elena and Ran is not as engaging, though still fun to read. Ran and Elena weren’t as interesting in part because they are far more stereotypical characters. Elena is breathtakingly beautiful; Ran is gorgeous and a stud. Given their situation–not only their near naked proximity, but the likelihood that Elena is inherently ruined–the two decide let Ran teach Elena about seduction. I feel like I’ve read that trope a bazillion times and while it’s reasonably done here, it wasn’t especially riveting. I did like the way the two didn’t spend all their time exploring Elena’s silken skin–they talk, play games, and become, sorta, friends. These non-sexual interactions provide some balance to all the time they spend “educating” Elena.

As for the question of who kidnapped Ran and Elena and why, I liked all the steps leading to the answer better than the answer itself. The identity of the mastermind was a bit hard to believe; even less likely was the odd story about how the kidnapping was engineered. I can see why you resolved your story this way; Ruined by Midnight is the first in your new series, Whispers of Scandal, and it’s clear the stories will be linked by how these scandals are engendered.

Ruined by Midnight worked for me. It was diverting, sexy–although the language used to describe much of Elena’s and Ran’s sensual escapades is often over the top–, and, until the very end, pleasantly mysterious. I liked Alicia’s and Ben’s story very much–I think they’re your best couple yet. The book gets a B- from me.

Sincerely,

Dabney

P.S. There is one odd continuity error in your book. At one point, Ran says his mother died of a wasting disease which caused his father to then die of a broken heart. Later, he says they were killed in a carriage accident. Given that it made no difference in the novel how they died, I ignored this disconnect. Still, it seemed sloppy.

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