Laura Lee Guhrke
2007, European Historical Romance (1890s [Victorian] England)
Avon, $6.99, 375 pages, Amazon ASIN 006114360X
I've always enjoyed Laura Lee Guhrke's writing although I was disappointed with her last, She's No Princess. However, I am happy to say that And Then He Kissed Her is her best book yet.
Emmaline Dove, 30-year-old spinster, has been secretary to Harry, Viscount Marlowe for the past five years. Marlowe is a very successful publisher of newspapers, magazine and books. Emmaline is über-efficient and indispensable as his secretary, but she longs to write. She has submitted four etiquette books for publication, but Marlowe has rejected all of them.
Harry is an ambitious man who loves working and making money, which is a good thing, since hereditary titles in the late Victorian era are not the big money-making machines they once were. Harry went through a protracted and expensive divorce proceeding years ago, repeatedly and publicly declaring that He Will Never Marry Again. He is also known as the most absent-minded man alive, but that doesn't really matter, for he has the inestimable Miss Dove who keeps his life and business running very smoothly. She is incredibly convenient and complacent - she cannot be rattled, and goodness knows she has had opportunity to be. Harry believes that she is kind of flat and lacking in passion, with no life beyond her job. As such, he is sure her books would be dull as dirt as well.
Emma thinks she has a winner in her new etiquette book, though. Using the name of her fictional persona, Mrs. Bartleby, she pens Advice to Girl-Bachelors. It is very topical - there is a new class of women, single, respectable women, who, due to the advent of the typewriter, are able to support themselves and live on their own rather than be a burden to their families or society. These women are faced with problems that other etiquette books have not addressed.
When Emma realizes that Harry has never read more than a few words of any of her five books, she snaps. She is suddenly tired of being patient, of waiting and hoping for things that never happen. She has lost her entire youth in that fashion and resolves not to do so again. She writes a letter of resignation and takes her manuscript to Harry's biggest competitor, who is only too happy to have her, and hires her to write an etiquette column for his weekly paper.
All is chaos at Harry's office and within hours, he is off to persuade Emma to come back. They have a blazing row and Harry is stunned to see his expressionless Miss Dove full of anger and passion. Two months later, the office is still in disarray and "Mrs. Bartleby's" column is a smash hit, the talk of London. Able to admit when he's wrong, Harry buys his competitor's paper and tells Emma that he wants to expand her responsibilities from a single column to an entire four-page section. This will require that they work closely together - as equals - something that puts Emma on her guard, but which intrigues Harry, and after much negotiation they begin.
Harry is a great character, one of those blunt, no pussy-footing-around kind of guys who border on rude but somehow wind up being charming instead. He's driven in business but practically hen-pecked at home by his adored mother, grandmother and three sisters, all of whom live with him and whose joint mission it is to see him married again. He thinks he has women all figured out and is broadsided when the almost inhumanly efficient Miss Dove slowly turns into his passionate Emma.
But Emma is the star of this story. In too many romances, the man is the more fully-developed character, but Emma is a fabulous creation and my favorite heroine of the year, thus far. She begins as an emotionally repressed woman, stifled by the rules and expectations of her family and Victorian society. But through her slowly evolving relationship with Harry and her growth as a writer, she learns who she really is and what she really wants and how to fight for it, becoming an assertive, independent woman. It is a joy to watch her discover herself.
I also enjoyed the setting of 1893 London, a time period too little utilized in romance, but one filled with possibilities. Guhrke's story is primarily a character-driven one as two people who thought they knew all there was to know about the other, discover how very wrong they were.
As I read, I was pleased to be enjoying a very strong B+ romance. However, I have since found myself going back and rereading several scenes, and when I finish this review, the book is going right on my Keeper Shelf - that all adds up to a DIK in my book. And Then He Kissed Her is smart and sexy and fun and I highly recommend it.
-- Cheryl Sneed
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