Dear Ms. Lawrence:
It’s not that I don’t love an ugly duckling story or that I can’t appreciate the ridiculousness that is a Harlequin Presents and I totally am on board for the nice alpha male. But I cannot stand a dumb effacing heroine.
Elizabeth Farley has been the efficient secretary of Andreas Kyriakis for three years and she harbors what she thinks is a secret yen for him. When he announces that he needs her help picking out an engagement ring, the ordinarily efficient and unflappable Beth falls apart. Theo, Andreas’ older brother, finds Beth in tears and Andreas in a clinch with his new love, Arianna. Arianna happens to be Theo’s former fiance, who cuckholded him years ago. Theo harbors no flame for Arianna but does want to prevent his brother from marrying the faithless whore (my words, not Theo’s but you know he is thinking them).
Theo looks at Beth and sees an opportunity. He’ll remake her, pretend that they are lovers and Andreas will come running after Beth. Beth dresses like a frump because her grandmother raised to dress in this manner. But with the right hair cut and the right clothes, Beth’s a woman that even Theo has a hard time not chasing after. (and not that I don’t think this can’t happen as I watch What Not to Wear and am amazed at the transformations).
There are some attempts at providing depth to both characters (Beth’s endless devotion to her grandmother and Theo’s interest in art that was subsumed by the family business when his eldest brother died) but those were never fully fleshed out and therefore seemed unnecessary. What really became just incredibly irritating was Beth’s constant putting herself down even in the face of Theo’s matter of fact declarations that she was gorgeous and sexy. By the fourth or fifth time, I wanted to pound my Kindle and scream ‘yes, we get it! you are a self effacing martyr!’
Additionally the two go to plotting against Andreas to “I love yous” in such a rapid fashion that I felt like I was watching sprinters hopped up on HGH at the 100 meter dash. C-*
*Fans of the ugly duckling might like this because even if Beth is irritating (and she is), Theo is a pretty decent guy.
Dear Ms. Way:
I can’t believe there are still more Balfour sisters’ stories to write. Let me just start with something I think none of the books really came out and said. Oscar Balfour, the father of 8 girls with at least three different women, is an asshole of the greatest proportions. I am not sure what the series outline said for these books, but that he wasn’t excoriated and humiliated in some fashion is a friggin’ tragedy.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Oscar Balfour couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, has been married several times, cheated on his wives and the end result is 8 daughters to whom he generally abandoned in the pursuit of building a bigger fortune than the one he already possessed. During the 100th Balfour Ball, the Balfour girls engage in behavior that results in a scandal (or a greater scandal than already existed). Self righteously Oscar dispatches his girls to the ends of the earth to learn to uphold the “Balfour Family Rules, a code of conduct that had been passed down from generation to generation within the Balfour family”, generally with the help of some very wealthy man. Misogyny alert. If a reader can get past that distasteful setup (for which I know none of the authors are responsible as this series thing is presented to them by someone inside Mills & Boon), this whole Balfour series has been a pretty good read.
Olivia Balfour is the oldest of the Balfour sisters. Since the death of her mother, Olivia has been part mother, part hostess, all dutiful daughter. She’s lived the life of moral rectitude while her twin sister, Bella, lives the glamorous life with the platoon of slavering men following after Bella. Olivia has had two tepid love affairs. To hear that her father is disappointed in her and that she needs to learn humility is lowering but Olivia has spent her whole life trying to achieve her father’s approval and this is just another task to achieve toward fulfillment of that goal.
Oscar sends Olivia to Clint MacAlpine, a cattle baron who lives in Darwin, Australia, whose sole interaction with Olivia was at a couple of parties where he says she needs to be taken down a peg or two, for her own good.
This book, in part, is an ode to Darwin and the wild beauty of the land and the open heart of the people that live there. Clint acts as guide for Olivia throughout the territory and, at times, I did feel as if I was reading a travelogue of sorts. I also resented Clint for being a know it all. Yes, he was glorious, magnetic, amazing but also super insightful (per the text).
He was looking at her steadily, openly challenging her, but she could only feign a nonchalant shrug. "You must have defective reasoning powers if you think I'm lonely or insecure." It seemed imperative to get back to her old form.
He appeared to acknowledge just that. "Olivia, I don't want you to feel threatened by anything I say. I'm merely pointing out you spend a lot of time protecting your image. Be yourself. That's my advice.”
Clint is responsible for Olivia’s remaking, unfortunately. I felt like he walked around with a perpetually mocking and amused gaze. But I did like Olivia, her earnestness to better herself whether it is to be a better daughter or a better person. She recognized her repressiveness and opened herself up to the possibility of love. Her story arc fit the setting. Darwin was a land that was a pioneer outpost that flourished into a modern city that was decimated by a cyclone in the 70s and rebuilt. There was a nice symmetry between Darwin, the city, and Olivia’s growth, but I could have lived without the mystical overtones. The prose was a bit obvious and melodramatic at times but perhaps that was to reflect Clint, the more overtly emotional of the two? I couldn’t be sure. In all, I enjoyed the Balfour girls’ books and was glad I read all eight. ** C
Maybe if we had matched Olivia with Theo, I would have come away more satisfied.