Dear Ms. Jewel,
I was excited to read Not Proper Enough because two of your earlier books are on my list of favorite historical novels—my Ballin’ Bodice Rippers compilation—Lord Ruin (reviewed here by Jane) and Scandal (reviewed here by Janine.) I haven’t read the first book in your Reforming the Scoundrels series, Not Wicked Enough (reviewed here by Janine), but I can’t say that impeded my (non)enjoyment of this book. Not Proper Enough is well-written, but dull. I never became invested in the leads and their conflict lacked depth.
Lady Eugenia Bryant is returning to Regency society four years after the death of the great love of her life, her husband Robert. Though it’s been four years since he suddenly died, Eugenia is still in love with Robert. She sees life without him as something to simply be endured. Eugenia has come to London to help a younger friend of hers, the socially awkward Hester, find a proper husband. The very first night she and Hester are out in society, Eugenia is angered to encounter a man she hates, the Marquis of Fenris. Eugenia loathes Fenris because, years earlier, when she first met Robert, Fenris, who’d been Robert’s best friend, trashed Eugenia to the ton and to Robert, so sure was Fenris Eugenia wasn’t a lofty enough bride for Robert.
Fenris, however, is a changed man. He realized long ago he was wrong about Eugenia and is, in fact–and this is not a spoiler; it’s put out there in the book’s first chapter–madly and passionately in love with her. He is determined to win her heart but, since this is a Caroline Jewel book, he realizes he will most easily do so by winning her body. Fenris sets out to seduce Eugenia and to do everything in his power to help her–and Hester–succeed in society. He begins that very first night by defending Hester from a blowhard jerk–hilariously named Dinwitty Lane (I kept thinking of him as Dimwitted Lame.)–who is insulting her just for sport. Eugenia is shocked the evil–but oh so gorgeous–Fenris would do such a thing. She’s again floored when, several days later, he comes to call upon her.
The man gazed at her with his ridiculously beautiful brown eyes, not a common brown but a lighter chestnut brown. Of course the Marquess of Fenris could never have common brown eyes. The world might end if his eyes were merely brown.
Could any man be as perfect as Fenris? It wasn’t fair for anyone to have the best of everything life offered. She looked him up and down, examining him for flaws, and found none.
“If you aren’t here for Hester, why are you here?”
“I should think that’s plain enough.”
“Well, it is not.”
Not Proper Enough has a similar romance plot as is in Scandal. In both books, a sexually confident man begins the book in love with a guarded widow and spends the rest of the book whittling away her resistance. This storyline worked better for me in Scandal. That book had a far more interesting back story and the reservations held by the heroine made sense. In this novel, the back story is easily dismissed–Fenris was a jerk, he lost his best friend, he came to regret it–and the reservations Eugenia has all pale in the face of her overwhelming desire for Fenris.
Not Proper Enough is a very long and drawn out tale of seduction. Fenris first begs Eugenia to bed him; then for her to forgive and fall for him. Both their sexual encounters and subsequent angst-filled conversations bored me. In scene after scene the two have sex, Eugenia (Fenris calls her “Ginny”) says it means nothing, and then feels awful about all the banging orgasms Fenris ensured she had.
The meeting of their mouths was instantly carnal, desperately so on his part. She had no trouble keeping up; neither of them were sexual innocents. He set his forearms above her shoulders and let the weight of his pelvis sink onto her.
….“Fenris.” His name was half groan, half plea as she brought him closer.
With what felt like the last of his restraint, he lifted his head. Some little part of the fog of his passion lifted. “Not here.” He understood this might be his only chance for coitus with her, but he wanted more. More than once. He didn’t want her to hate him or resent him afterward. “God, Ginny, not a quick fuck.”
She looked at him with eyes drugged with passion. “Why not?”
The question stunned him to silence. Why not?
She slipped her hand between them and her fingers stroked the length of him from base to tip. Her fingers curled around him as best she could with his trousers impeding her access. “Why not, Fenris?”
….Her fingers stayed on him, and her eyes, so full of desire, Jesus, he might give in just to have that passion right now. “I miss feeling like this.”
That was it for him. “Why the bloody hell not?”
While her fingers tightened around his prick, her other hand, the one on his shoulder, drew him closer. His eyes were nearly closed, but not quite, and he saw what she hadn’t meant for him to see. He touched two fingers to her cheek, making sure with the touch that she did not turn her head from him.
“Ginny, this should not make you grieve. What makes you so sad?”
“Nothing,” she whispered. She lifted her hips, arching against him.
“Not nothing. Tell me.” He kissed her once. Hard. He pulled back just enough to say, “Whatever you say, I’ll still fuck you. But I want the truth before I do.”
“I miss Robert.” She blinked rapidly and touched his lips, a finger laid across his mouth. “I’m sorry. Sorry to say something like that when we are—like this.”
His heart broke again, and as he gazed at her, he gave up the very last of his reserve with her.
“What do you need? Tell me, and it’s yours.”
“You. This.” She squeezed him.
This back and forth goes on for frickin’ ever–it’s not until the very end of the novel Eugenia realizes the obvious. It’s not that she’s irritating–I liked her and Fenris as individuals–but rather it takes far too long for Eugenia to change the way she sees Fenris and what he has to offer.
Not Proper Enough has a subplot involving Hester and Fenris’s widowed father, the Duke of Camber. They share a love of botany–I learned how not to kill a potted fern in this book–and spend a great deal of time together conferring about plants. Eugenia can’t figure out why the Duke of Camber, a stern, harshly powerful man, would spend so much time with a woman young enough to be his daughter. I could and I suspect most readers will as well. Oddly, I’m not sure that was intended.
The writing in this book is elegant and the historical context lovingly rendered. All of the characters in the book are well-developed and charmingly presented. Unfortunately, these positive attributes aren’t enough to enliven the torpor of the lovers’ protracted tale. I give it a C+.