Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Improper Relations by Janet Mullany

Dear Ms. Mullany,

Improper RelationsI wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book; humorous romances and regency romances aren’t my two favorite sub-genres. That’s not to say I dislike them; I just tend to favor dark and angsty full-length historicals if given my druthers. I did read your erotic historical Forbidden Shores (written as Jane Lockwood) and gave it a B-, though in retrospect I think I remember it more fondly, closer to a B grade (well, it was hot). I also graded your 2005 straight regency Dedication a B-, though I remember appreciating that it had some unusual elements.

Improper Relations is told in the first person, alternately by the hero and heroine (an aspect of the story I loved). Charlotte Hayden is attending the wedding of her distant cousin (and best friend) Ann Welling to the Earl of Beresford. Charlotte’s voice is sardonic and perhaps a hint bitter; she is distressed to be losing Ann and honestly a bit jealous. She accepts a handkerchief to dry her tears from a handsome gentleman who turns out to be Viscount Shadderly (thereafter referred to as “Shad”), who is himself cousin and friend to the groom. Shad flirts with Charlotte in a rather offhand manner, as befitting his rake status, before announcing that he’s to be wed – to who, he doesn’t know, but his family has decided it’s time he marry. This puts him on level ground with Charlotte, whose family is eager to marry her off.

Their first meeting is unremarkable, as hero-heroine first meetings go, and I liked that about it. Charlotte is attracted to Shad, because he’s handsome. Shad doesn’t seem to be that impressed by Charlotte, but he’s interested enough to pay a call upon her several days later. Charlotte, who could be generally said to be lacking in the social graces department, is less than welcoming, and Shad finds himself intrigued by her “astringent’ personality.

Later that night, at a soiree, Charlotte gets rather drunk (something she does rather shockingly often for a romance heroine), and she and Shad are caught in a compromising position in the garden. Just like that, the two are betrothed.

Shad is more or less okay with the forced betrothal, even if Charlotte’s family is shockingly vulgar and he believes her to be infatuated with his cousin Beresford. Charlotte is less happy at the prospect of being a “brood mare” for a husband whose future fidelity she doubts (as well she should; he pretty much tells her that after she produces an heir they can each go their own way, discreetly, of course).

The plot of Improper Relations is nothing new – the dowdy heroine, the handsome, wicked hero, and the forced marriage have been historical romance novel staples for as long as I can remember. The prose is where this book really shines. I bookmarked numerous pages as I read, passages that featured sparkling, funny dialogue and observations from the characters.

Charlotte’s mother frequently speaks in italics and capitals that emphasize her penchant for melodrama:

“Charlotte, you may leave to reflect upon your Most Miserable Lack of Filial Affection.”

Then there is the mortifying conversation that Shad has to conduct with Beresford, who is finding Ann less than eager to perform her marital duties:

I consider my next words carefully. ‘ Possibly you should consider her pleasure.’

‘Oh, I don’t think…a gentlewoman, you know.’

Keeping a careful eye on the walking stick, I ask a few discreet questions and discover that Beresford is blissfully ignorant of the female anatomy. I take it upon myself to share what I know. He is startled and upset by my revelation, in much the same way, I imagine, that our forebears discovered that the earth revolved around the sun.

‘Every woman?’ he says with great suspicion. I wonder if he conducts a mental inventory of all the females he has ever known. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, every woman.’

‘And who told you this?’

‘A woman in Italy. She was my first mistress. She married a sausage-maker after we sailed.’

‘A sausage-maker!’ Beresford echoes. His universe is in chaos. ‘An Italian.’

‘Yes.’

He turns to me in triumph. ‘Well, of course, that explains it. She was a foreigner. So it can’t possibly be something Englishwomen have.’

‘They do. Every one of them.’

He looks troubled and pokes at the ground with his walking stick. ‘Even – even my mother?’

Mostly I love the interplay between Shad and Charlotte themselves:

“Is she your mistress?”

“That’s a very indiscreet question to ask on our wedding day.”

I shrug. “Very well. I’ll ask you tomorrow.”

Shad and Charlotte’s early marriage has its moments of success – they are compatible in bed – but is marred by some problems as well. There is a discarded mistress of Beresford’s that Charlotte suspects belongs to Shad, and Shad has two wards who are commonly assumed to be his by-blows. Charlotte actually takes both of these situations with a fair amount of equanimity, to her credit. Shad has more of a problem controlling his jealousy, the vast majority of which is quite irrational and baseless. This got to be a bit of an issue for me, actually – Shad’s continual suspicion, even after being proven wrong numerous times, began to make him seem like a jerk who was also possibly a bit dim. Charlotte doesn’t help, by keeping secrets from Shad, but in her defense they are not her secrets, and she has good reason for not being forthright with him.

In addition to their own self-sabotaging, Shad and Charlotte’s marriage is threatened by the discord between Ann and Beresford. Ann turns out to be rather interesting, a more fully-realized type of secondary character than typically found in romance novels. There are early signals from Charlotte’s perspective that however much Charlotte adores her, Ann is kind of self-absorbed and possibly not the best friend she could be. But she never turns into a full-fledged villain; on the contrary, she manages to be fairly sympathetic even when she’s being selfish and immature. I kind of liked her. (Beresford, on the other hand, is pretty much just a boor, though his friendship with Shad seems to be sincere enough, at least.)

I liked Charlotte a lot; she’s not always wise but her actions follow a certain internal logic. Plus, I like a girl who enjoys her alcohol. I liked Shad, too, in spite of his jealousy issues; he turns out to be a bit of a nurturer and a collector of oddball souls.

I really enjoyed Improper Relations and am looking forward to trying your other humorous regencies, The Rules of Gentility and A Most Lamentable Comedy. My grade for this one is an A-.

Best regards,

Jennie

This book can be purchased at Amazon beginning February 18, 2010 (affiliate link). No ebook links yet.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

30 Comments

  1. GrowlyCub
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 16:43:10

    Oh, that sounds interesting!

    I wasn’t at all attracted to the plot of the last book, but this is more up my alley.

    Thanks for the review.

    ReplyReply

  2. Miranda Neville
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 17:04:28

    Janet Mullany is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, as well as having an exquisite turn of phrase. I can’t wait for this one to arrive from UK.

    ReplyReply

  3. Kim
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 17:06:53

    Thank you, Jennie, for the review! Have you met Janet in person? If not, find her at RWA and have a cup of tea with her! I met Janet at a book signing with other Washington Romance Authors (WRW) who I adored. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by buying the others’ books (but not hers) so I bought Rules of Gentility – what a riot! As I read it, I could hear Janet reading it to me, in her English accent, employing the English humor that is so rarely found in the US. Janet thinks outside of the Regency box yet stays within the bounds of the genre to deliver a satisfying story.

    To read more of Janet’s humor, log onto http://www.riskyregencies.blogspot.com/
    where she contributes with other Risky (and friendly) Regency writers.

    ReplyReply

  4. Janine
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 17:24:42

    I already preordered this from bookdepository.com (they offer free shipping) but now I’m looking forward to it even more.

    ReplyReply

  5. Santa
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 17:57:17

    Janet is one of the funniest writers out there. I’ve been a fan of her books ever since her debut traditional (but not really) Regency, DEDICATION. You’ll adore her other books as well.

    ReplyReply

  6. Kaetrin
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 18:03:38

    Well damn. Now my TBR pile is about to get bigger!

    ReplyReply

  7. Edie
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 19:47:32

    Oh this looks tempting..

    ReplyReply

  8. Janet Mullany
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 19:56:49

    Wow. I’m gobsmacked. Thanks, Jennie, and thanks to the entourage for your swift response (just kidding!). I’m so glad you liked it! And I’ll have a cup of tea with you all any day.

    btw if you’d like to hear my mellifluous English tones (upper lower middle class Thames Estuary) check out the soundbites on the homepage of my website, where I read from all three of my LBD books.

    Thanks again, everyone.

    ReplyReply

  9. Likari
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 20:34:01

    Gah! At B&N right now, Rules of Gentility is 4.48 for the paperback and 9.42 for the ebook!

    edit: I was going to buy the ebook – but not now.

    ReplyReply

  10. Likari
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 20:38:02

    Another thing. I have bought a bunch of books at the Sony bookstore, but I like the B&N reader better. It blanks me off no end that I can’t read the books I bought with both devices.

    I love buying books from Samhain, because I know I’m always going to be able to read them!

    ReplyReply

  11. Laurel Ann
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 20:40:14

    Lovely! My ears perked up when you said the dialogue was witty and sharp. Every story may have been told before – but dialogue is what makes the characters shine. Humor goes a long way in my book and it sounds like Mullany has the nack in spades.

    ReplyReply

  12. Lyn
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 21:20:37

    @Likari: What formats does the Sony use?

    ReplyReply

  13. Alyson H.
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 21:55:33

    Ah, nicely chosen excerpts, Jennie. The plot was seeming kind of ordinary at first, but you had me hooked by the end. Thanks for the tip!

    ReplyReply

  14. Likari
    Feb 16, 2010 @ 23:38:43

    @Lyn: The Sony uses epub, and I even loaded them into calibre, but it won’t convert them because they have DRM.

    I can put them into the B&N reader (this is all on my laptop, not an actual reader) but when I click on the file it asks for my credit card number!

    sigh. The Sony reader program isn’t that bad, but the B&N has much nicer font for my eyes. ::spoiled::

    I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent.

    ReplyReply

  15. Jennie
    Feb 17, 2010 @ 01:24:41

    Every story may have been told before – but dialogue is what makes the characters shine.

    Well, exactly. I don’t even care that much about plot, normally. It’s all about the prose and characterization, baby.

    I had no idea Ms. Mullany was British. (Or maybe I did and I forgot. That happens with distressing frequency these days.) I hate to think “oh, that explains the more sophisticated, sparkling writing,” but I guess I just did think that. Not that there aren’t plenty of decent American romance writers, but they tend to be a bit more…cookie-cutter, even when they are overall good writers.

    I just started A Most Lamentable Comedy – I was going to try to save it for a while but I’d had a couple of dreary reads in a row and needed something that I could count on to be better. I’m not far in, but I’m loving it so far – the heroine is deliciously un-heroine-like, self-absorbed and about one step away from being a con artist, I think.

    ReplyReply

  16. Susan/DC
    Feb 17, 2010 @ 12:22:52

    I’m just another gushing Mullany fangirl, helped by the fact that her humor (which is, after all, highly individual) matches mine. She also manages to make characters sympathetic who might be offputting in less skilled hands. For example, as Jennie notes, both the hero and heroine of A Most Lamentable Comedy skim very close to being con artists. Con artists are by their nature selfish and uncaring about the impact of their actions on the people they con, but Caroline and Nicholas are 3-dimensional. Mullany makes you understand why they do what they do, and part of the book is watching their growing realization of how their actions affect others. I laughed, I cried, I enjoyed it very much.

    ReplyReply

  17. Pam Rosenthal
    Feb 17, 2010 @ 16:05:48

    I haven’t read this one yet, which makes me very happy indeed, because I have it to look forward to. I think Janet’s the funniest writer in romance today. I’m madly envious and deeply grateful for her existence.

    ReplyReply

  18. Janet Mullany
    Feb 18, 2010 @ 21:46:33

    Susan and Pam, thank you both so much for the lovely comments.

    ReplyReply

  19. Lyn
    Feb 20, 2010 @ 15:21:11

    @Likari: I have the ereader and the way around to entering your credit card number every time you add books is to open up ereader first and go to File, Add Books, then select the folder and books you want and add them to the library. If you just click on a book from your desktop it will prompt you for card info. Of course they’ll read this and fix the glich now….

    I use ereader on my laptop and now I have a nook. I’m good either way.

    Hope this helps.

    ReplyReply

  20. Sunday Dreaming 2/21/10 « Nisaba Be Praised
    Feb 21, 2010 @ 15:27:04

    [...] Improper Relations by Janet Mullany – Humorous regency romance. I love funny books, but there are so few of them! I’m always, always on the look-out for more. (via Jenny at Dear Author) [...]

  21. Likari
    Feb 21, 2010 @ 21:04:48

    @Lyn: Hi Lyn

    Thanks. I tried this, but I can’t find a “file” button, only “add new item” in “my stuff” – which brings up a dialog window asking for the credit card info.

    It doesn’t do this if I add an epub file I create out of one of my own .doc files, but it does with an epub file I bought from the Sony store.

    Oh well…the Sony reader is okay, just not as nice as the B&N reader.

    ReplyReply

  22. Likari
    Feb 21, 2010 @ 21:07:16

    By the way, for hijacking the thread – kind of – and also after all the great comments about Janet Mullany’s writing, I went ahead and bought Improper Relations at B&N — even though it was SO OVERPRICED, ha.

    Can’t wait to read it!!

    ReplyReply

  23. Lyn
    Feb 21, 2010 @ 21:32:16

    @Likari: Hi. Sorry you’re still having the irritant. I might have the older version of the eReader on my PC than you do. I shy away from the ‘Upgrades’. I left my Adobe alone as well. I would send B&N an email about that. That’s irritating to have to enter card info every time you load a book. In eReader at the top left of the window there should be a menu. First File, then drop down to Add Books and Browse for your files. You might try Ctl-Shift-A and see if you can bypass it that way. Worth a shot. Let me know.

    I haven’t been able to find ‘Improper Relations’ on ebook yet….

    ReplyReply

  24. Likari
    Feb 21, 2010 @ 21:58:19

    @Lyn: I am losing my mind! I bought Rules of Gentility, not Improper Relations. I couldn’t find it in e either.

    This is a screenshot of my version of the reader:

    http://missfiddyment.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/screenshotbn.jpg

    edit: the reader also lets me read non-drmed books, like books from Samhain and Anne Frasier’s Pale Immortal that she published on Smashwords after getting the rights back.

    So I guess the issue is with the DRM.

    ReplyReply

  25. Lyn
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 10:00:38

    @Likari:Hi. That is definitely not my eReader. I downloaded mine from Fictionwise a long time ago. Try either one of these and see if it makes a difference. If not, just uninstall it and keep on reading. Let me know… I don’t see why the DRM’s would be messing it up. Do you use any formats other than pdb?

    Try:
    http://www.fictionwise.com/help/ereader-download.htm

    OR

    http://www.ereader.com/ereader/software/product/15009_pro_win.htm

    ReplyReply

  26. Janet Mullany
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 13:06:16

    Likari, thanks for blowing your budget on my book. Rules of Gentility is available as an e-book–the HarperCollins edition, that is, which is the one you want to buy because it has my afterword with the Top Ten Things you’ll never hear a romance hero or heroine say.

    I regret that the Little Black Dress books aren’t available digitally. The best place to buy them is bookdepository.com which has free shipping worldwide.

    Thanks.

    ReplyReply

  27. Likari
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 13:17:27

    @Janet Mullany: I know my comment about the book price makes me look cheap, ha. My complaint wasn’t exactly the price itself so much as the paperback costs 1/2 as much. Doesn’t seem right!

    I’m looking forward to reading your book, and discovering a great new (to me) author.

    ReplyReply

  28. Likari
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 13:23:39

    @Lyn: I’ve got so many ereaders on my laptop! Calibre and Sony and B&N and one other I don’t remember the name of – oh, it’s Stanza.

    I just like the readability of the B&N program. The problem is with Sony. They apparently have DRM on their files that only lets you read the book on their stuff – either their reader or their software. No biggie. I’ll just buy at places other than Sony.

    ReplyReply

  29. REVIEW: A Most Lamentable Comedy by Janet Mullany | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Apr 10, 2010 @ 12:01:57

    [...] recently read and very much liked your book Improper Relations , I was eager to pick up this other book of yours that I had in my tbr pile. A Most Lamentable [...]

  30. Mr. Bishop and the Actress
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 09:41:28

    [...] Harry Bishop meet when he is drafted by his employer, Lord Shadderly (whose romance is depicted in Improper Relations ) to help get his nephew Charlie Fordham out of desperate financial straits. Harry travels from his [...]

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: