REVIEW: Secrets of a Proper Lady by Victoria Alexander
Dear Ms. Alexander:
I can't recall the last book I had read of yours so it's as if you are a new to me author. I can see why you are popular because your books provide the comfort of the familiar with a dash of the funny. For me, though, the plot and characters were a bit too familiar and the love story, based on deception, never rang true.
Four male friends form a tontine to see who will escape marriage the longest. I admit it. I emitted a long groan after reading the prologue because the club of men who wager against marriage seems a bit tired. This hero believes he will be the last man standing as he is DETERMINED not to marry which, of course, sounds the death knell of his bachelorhood. American Daniel Sinclair is in Britain to solidify railroad deals that will ultimately make him very wealthy and suddenly finds himself promised to Lady Cordelia Bannister.
Daniel's father wants to combine his shipping empire with an old and titled family. The Earl of Marsham needs a big cash infusion. Up to this point, Marsham has been indulgent with his daughter, Cordelia, paying all her bills and allowing her an enormous amount of personal freedom such as allowing her to travel all over the world (the British travelable world, that is). The fact is that no hats will be purchased nor will any trips be financed if this deal with Harold Sinclair (Daniel's father) isn't consummated.
Cordelia is appalled that she is being bartered off and refuses to do so even in the face of the idea that her refusal could be the ruination of her family. She does agree to consider the idea and sets out to try to get to know Daniel better by engaging his secretary in dialogue. Cordelia, rather than being straightforward, decides to impersonate her paid companion, Sarah, who really has no say in the matter. So Cordelia, masquerading as Sarah, meets who she believes is the secretary but is really Daniel. Daniel decides to perpetuate the mistaken identity by romancing the companion in hopes of learning more about Cordelia who he is sure he doesn't want to marry because the fact that she reads and travels makes her sound like a stout Amazon (a description I thought was oxymoronic).
Both Daniel and Cordelia are spoiled and self absorbed and while they eventually realize their respective faults nothing much is done to reflect any change in their attitudes. The character development of those issues seemed so summarily handled as to be non important.
Daniel, particularly, is a character whose depiction doesn't match the description. I.e., he is supposed to be a brilliant businessman but he can't see the flaws of his own deception of Cordelia. If he can't see the problems in his logic – I am going to romance the companion to learn all about Lady Cordelia, a woman I don't want to marry but may end up marrying in the future causing huge awkwardness if we do get married between the companion and the wife – then I wonder how he could have any success in business.
But even in business, his acumen is not sharp. He was not even aware of a business situation that threatened to completely derail (pun not intended) his plans for building a fortune. I also thought it was laughable that Daniel believed himself to be a self made man because he wasn't depending on his father's money, but rather the money he inherited from his mommy's parents. That's standing on your feet all right.
There were parts of the book I liked such as Cordelia being called out by her family for being selfish and self absorbed but she doesn't agree to marry; she simply perpetuates the fiction that she is Sarah. I liked the Daniel thought that continuing the masquerade seemed dishonest. He engages in a long discussion with the honorable secretary whom he is posing as, but he still goes on pretending to be the guy he says he doesn't want to be.
On the surface this was an amusing read as the two main protagonists pretended to be other people while falling in love. At one point, Daniel waxes rhapsodic about the characteristics he likes in the fake Sarah such as her refusal to not live off her richer relatives and no one in the book seems to recognize the falsity of feeling that is behind any declaration of love for Cordelia. It had some of the 50s era romantic comedy feel to it. Unfortunately, my read left me a bit frustrated both at the characters and the narrative. C