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REVIEW: Mr. Bishop and the Actress by Janet Mullany

Dear Ms. Mullany,

When Jane mentioned that you had a new book available for review, I jumped at the chance to read it. I’ve become quite the fan of your books put out by Little Black Dress, and cannot for the life of me understand why these aren’t available for sale in the U.S.* It’s not as if the series is edgy  or risky  or “out there” in any way. It’s a strange world we live in where romances featuring vampires, angels and werewolves (or possibly even a vampire/angel/werewolf hybrid) are de rigeur, but a simple historical romance between two commoners has to be hunted down or purchased from international sources.

Mr. Bishop and the Actress by Janet MullanySophie Wallace and 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 employer’s estate to London and encounters Sophie, who is Charlie’s mistress. They meet as creditors remove virtually everything from the house Charlie has been keeping Sophie in, and spar over a bed (enormous, with a vaguely salacious painting on the underside of the canopy) that Sophie insists is hers and thus should not be removed along with the rest of the assets, but which she has neither the resources to move nor anywhere to move it to.

I liked both Harry and Sophie right away. We are actually introduced to them each separately in the prologue and first chapter of the book (like other books in the series, this story is told in the first person, alternating between Harry’s and Sophie’s viewpoints). In Sophie’s prologue, we meet her a number of years earlier, as a teenager eloping from her boarding school with a sailor (and with the assistance of two school chums). Harry we meet shortly before the meeting between he and Sophie – he is newly hired by Lord Shadderly and quickly finds himself alone with the fecund Lady  Shadderly as she goes into labor. His assistance in delivering  Lord and Lady Shadderly’s  third child goes a long way towards quickly binding Harry up in the lives of the family.

When Harry and Sophie meet, he finds himself surprised by her; she is a “rather slender, pretty young thing”, not the “elderly lightskirt” he’d been led to expect. She manages to put him in his place when he suggests that she find another profession:

“Oh, an excellent idea, sir.” She beams at me. “You know, I have always fancied the law. Or perhaps I should try for a commission in one of His Highnesses’ more fashionable regiments? I should look well in an officer’s uniform, I think.”

Harry rather reluctantly takes Sophie and her big bed to the modest hotel his parents run in London.  Somewhat   impulsively, she seduces him that night. Afterwards, they go their separate ways, but find themselves back in each other’s company when Sophie takes a position as companion and music teacher to Lord Shadderly’s ward, Amelia (a position arranged with the assistance of the school chums from the prologue).

From there, the story is deceptively simple, for the most part (there’s some running around in the last third, but it’s not pointless running around; it serves to advance the story). Harry and Sophie are frequently thrown together and share an attraction, but are kept apart by his ambivalence about revealing what he knows about her past to  their mutual employer  and her belief that he disapproves of her more than he actually does (in fact, Harry has had some second thoughts about his cavalier suggestion that Sophie find another profession). There is the minor fact that Sophie blackmails Harry into letting her stay, but really, that doesn’t end up being a factor in their relations much at all.

There is a lot to like about Mr. Bishop and the Actress - one detail that I appreciated  was the hero’s mixed race heritage, which is only referenced twice. The first time is in passing, and I wondered if I was misunderstanding; when the heroine meets the hero’s mother, reference is made to her being “dark-skinned.” The second time it’s spelled out more clearly:

“Your grandfather sounds like a remarkable man,” Lord Shad comments. “He was a man of learning, himself?”

“He was of high birth. My mother’s mother was his property.” In my bid for atonement I have revealed the shameful secrets of my family and my origins.

A silence falls, broken by Lady Shad’s strange mixture of kindness and clumsiness. “Bishop, will you take this child? I wish to drink tea.” She hands over Harriet

and examines me frankly. “You don’t look black.”

Harriet blows a bubble at me as I receive her sweet weight in my arms. “I resemble my father, ma’am.”

“Well, then. You know, Bishop, it’s high time you got some of those yourself. Babies, I mean. They probably wouldn’t all be black.”

“Ma’am,” Lord Shad interjects, “leave the man alone, and for God’s sake stop speculating on his unbegotten offspring. Have you no sense of propriety?”

I almost would’ve liked more information about this, and how it informed the hero’s personality, but I wonder if perhaps it actually wasn’t that big a deal in the time and particularly the place that the story occurs in (as it might’ve been if the story was set in the U.S.). In any case, it gave some depth and shading to Harry’s character, particularly in his striving to better himself and his circumstances in life.

I really, really like first person narration, more than the average romance reader, or so I’ve always been led to believe. But I also have been led to believe that one of the chief objections of romance readers against first person narration is the lack of one of the main characters’ point of view (specifically, usually the hero’s). So alternating first person POVs is a neat solution to this problem, and allows the reader to get into the mind of both of the main characters. It helps that the hero and heroine of Mr. Bishop and the Actress are both so full of humor and wit. I particularly liked Sophie’s cleverness and flippancy:

“I don’t think it would be proper. Flirting is hardly the female equivalent of carpentry.” The claim of impropriety is the best way to end an argument with Amelia,

And, of course, I enjoyed Sophie and Harry’s sparring:

“You have a cold. Colds sometimes make people snore.”

“I do not snore. No one has ever complained of it before.” I drag the bedclothes over myself and turn my back on him. As I do so I become aware of an impediment of a somewhat personal nature protruding into my side of the bed. “Oh, and Harry?”

“Yes?”

“This bed is narrow enough. We cannot afford that sort of thing to take up valuable space.”

“I beg your pardon, ma’am.”

“It is unnatural. I am an invalid.” And having had the last word, I wipe my nose on the sheet and compose myself to sleep.

I’ll admit to finding incredibly amusing, especially, Harry and Sophie’s separate reactions to their first encounter. Let’s just say that Harry is more effusive than the somewhat jaded Sophie. I do love a story where the heroine is more experienced than the hero; here I especially liked that it’s not belabored (nor does it seem to be much of an issue for Harry, thankfully). It’s really more of an implied assumption based on their histories.

So, in summary, I liked just about everything about Mr. Bishop and the Actress. There are quibbles I could make – some silly business with a amorous theater owner who pursues Sophie comes to mind – but really, I can’t say that these had much of an impact on my enjoyment of the book. Right after reading it, I thought it was an A- (perhaps because my natural inclination is to think a straight A read requires more angst). But it’s been a few weeks and the book has stayed with me, and just thinking about Harry and Sophie makes me smile. So, an A it is.

Best regards,

Jennie

This book is now freely available in the US.

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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.

29 Comments

  1. MB
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 16:32:33

    Janet Mullany is a jewel! I’m looking forward to getting this book, especially after your review.

    ReplyReply

  2. Isobel Carr
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 16:38:17

    I adore Janet’s books!

    ReplyReply

  3. Leslie Carroll
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 16:47:10

    I’m so glad Janet has a new book out and that it’s another winner. I adore her wit and humor, and she’s one of the few authors who makes me laugh out loud on public transportation and makes me miss my stop. I’d pay to hear her read the phone book, proverbially speaking, so perhaps it’s time she tackled that, too!

    ReplyReply

  4. Jennie
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 17:10:15

    She’s just awesome, isn’t she? I kind of wish she’d write another erotic romance as Jane Lockwood, even though I didn’t like Forbidden Shores as much as her LBD books.

    ReplyReply

  5. Kim in Hawaii
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 17:31:43

    Thank you for a thoughtful review.

    Hopefull RWA will offer this book during the Literary Signing. I could listen to Janet’s accent and read her book all day long (tea optional).

    ReplyReply

  6. Pam Rosenthal
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 17:49:05

    I loved it first!

    Well, I don’t really know that — but I’ve been raving about it for weeks: finally a Regency I’d really want to live in. And I’ll be offering it (and it’s predecessor, about Lord and Lady Shad) as a contest prize come this Friday, 3/4.

    ReplyReply

  7. becca
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 17:59:17

    I don’t usually care for first person, but I can get over that for the right book. But first person present tense? I would have a lot of trouble reading that. Pity, this sounds like a charming book.

    ReplyReply

  8. Janet Mullany
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 18:41:47

    Wow, an A! Thanks so much. And it’s available on Kindle, too, something I realized just the other day. Otherwise, bookdepository.com.

    ReplyReply

  9. Sunita
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 18:53:02

    What a fantastic review, Jennie! I clicked on the Kindle link, not really believing it would be there, but it is! Now if they would only put the previous book in e-form.

    But I will not complain too loudly. I still have my pristine copy of Dedication, thank you very much.

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  10. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 19:03:04

    Count me in also as a huge fan. Janet’s books are so original they kind of defy description, but they are arch,witty and totally delightful.

    @Becca, I don’t seek out first person books either, but don’t deny yourself.

    ReplyReply

  11. Miranda Neville
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 19:14:29

    I have this one on my nightstand and might just have to crack it tonight. Janet never disappoints. Actually, I’m laughing just thinking about it.

    ReplyReply

  12. Janine
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 19:35:02

    It's a strange world we live in where romances featuring vampires, angels and werewolves (or possibly even a vampire/angel/werewolf hybrid) are de rigeur, but a simple historical romance between two commoners has to be hunted down or purchased from international sources.

    Isn’t that the truth.

    I really enjoyed the first book in this series (The Rules of Gentility) and have the next two TBR. I should get going on them sometime.

    As for first person and present tense, I may be weird, but I think first person goes with present tense much better than third person does. I actually have a preference for past tense with third person and present tense with first person, although I can enjoy first person past tense as well.

    ReplyReply

  13. Susan/DC
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 20:38:46

    I ordered this through bookdepository.com a few weeks ago and had made a note to e-mail them if it didn’t arrive soon. Happily for me, it was in today’s mail. The morning began with a check-up at the dentist; I view the book as my reward for flossing.

    ReplyReply

  14. Kaetrin
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 21:36:21

    I love this author’s work too. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. Thank God for the Book Depository!!

    ReplyReply

  15. Jennie
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 00:41:58

    @becca: You know, it’s funny, because I consider myself very sensitive to prose, but I didn’t even really notice the present tense. I mean, now that you point it out, it’s obvious, but for some reason I didn’t even think about it. I recall that it did strike me when I started the first Mullany LBD book, but I acclimated to it easily. It actually does work well for me!

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  16. Jennie
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 00:43:45

    @Janet Mullany: That is awesome! I swear when I looked it up before on Amazon before it wasn’t available for Kindle. That is (well-deserved) great news!

    ReplyReply

  17. Brussel Sprout
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 03:50:08

    Huzzah, I’ve downloaded it via Kindle, a new Mullany book to get me through my next wrestling match with French anthropological theories…

    ReplyReply

  18. Anne Douglas
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 06:29:52

    @Jennie: There was another ER at Loose Id I think …

    Anyone know if there’s an ebook copy of Lamentable comedy available in the US?

    ReplyReply

  19. Sandra
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 07:21:16

    @becca: True, in the wrong hands first person present tense doesn’t work. But Janet’s are not the wrong hands. This is a wonderful, funny book. Chapter 4 is priceless.

    ReplyReply

  20. Jamie Michele
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 09:58:19

    Oh, fabulous. I’m lucky to count Janet among my chapter mates, and I love it when people I like write great books! One of Janet’s greatest yet most underrated skills is drawing high tension out of commonplace situations, rather than contriving all sorts of high jinx to keep our attention. She makes me want to turn the page, and never cheats by throwing silly misunderstandings or unnecessary angst at the reader. She seems to respect her readers too much to play with them.

    I’ll need to snatch this up. I wonder if I can get it on my Sony Pocket?

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  21. AS
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 10:01:21

    I am wondering – what’s the level of “heat” in this book? I am asking because I tend to like more explicit scenes in my romance novels and this book sounds intriguing, but I don’t know if I want to spend the money for the Kindle version.

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  22. Janet Mullany
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 10:31:32

    @Susan/DC, @Brussel Sprout, I’m honored, but aren’t flossing and French anthropological theory meant to be their own rewards?

    @AS Oh go on, spend the $. Heat level–well, you don’t get blow by blow descriptions (laughs heartily at own joke). But if you enjoy filth, check out Reader I Married Him (Loose-Id) and Tell Me More (erotic contemporary, July 2011, Hqn Spice).

    @Anne as soon as I can get the rights back, you betcha there’ll be a Kindle of IR and Comedy.

    @Jamie, one of the most awesome things anyone has said about my writing. Thank you.

    ReplyReply

  23. Lynn S.
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 14:39:23

    I seem to be on a roll lately with my purchases. Ordered this from Book Depository and the review makes me even happier that I did.

    @Sunita: I too have a pristine copy of Dedication. Haven’t read it yet though. My TBR list is past pleasantly plump. Tell me it is good, pretty please. I know you would never do anything so evil as lie to me.

    ReplyReply

  24. Sunita
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 16:52:15

    @Lynn S.: Oh, it’s better than good. Save it for a day when you really need a top quality read. Or read it now and then reread it on those days.

    ReplyReply

  25. Jennie
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 19:16:31

    @Anne Douglas: Thanks, I will have to check that out.

    ReplyReply

  26. Jennie
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 19:20:59

    @AS: The more I read romance the less I care that much about the heat level, so maybe I’m not a great barometer. There isn’t really explicit sex in the book, but it feels more erotic because of the fantastic writing and the emotional connection between the h/h.

    ReplyReply

  27. REVIEW: Tell Me More by Janet Mullany - Dear Author
    Jul 28, 2011 @ 14:11:10

    [...] have enjoyed your witty historical romances quite a bit, and liked your historical erotic romance (written as Jane [...]

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