November 2012, European Historical Romance (1825 England)
Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0062088947 Part of a series
I really tried to love this book. I had heard it was very funny and an enjoyable read. But for me, it just never pulled me in and the story was only lackluster.
Annabelle is one of the Writing Girls, a group of female writers that were hired by the editor of the London Weekly in order to boost the paper's ratings. The hiring of women means scandal in Regency London, so of course people begin reading the paper when there are women writing. One of the women, Annabelle, runs an advice column. She is apparently the Dear Abby of London, answering everything from proper etiquette to advice on love. But of all the people needing advice, Annabelle is the head of the list. She is an orphaned girl who is living with her brother and sister-in-law (who hates the “inconvenience” of having Annabelle there even though Annabelle essentially acts like hired help), she has been in love with the same man, Mr. Knightly, since the day he hired her, and she has no idea how to turn her life around for the better. So when she runs out of ideas, she turns the questions on her readers and asks them their advice on how to catch the man of her dreams.
Derek Knightly is a self-made man. As the illegitimate son of an earl and his beloved mistress, he has spent the last seventeen years since his father’s death trying to earn the respect of the ton. To do this, he has made a financial empire out of his newspaper – which is all he cares about. He doesn’t notice the people around him – especially the shy and unassuming Annabelle the advice columnist. Even as all of London gets involved in the quest for his attention, it takes low cut bodices and sultry stares in order to get his attention turned. But his current goal of saving his paper from an inquiry into their sources is leading him toward the courting of an aristocrat, and he isn’t sure if he should be sidetracked by the suddenly interesting Annabelle.
To me, Annabelle was a completely one-dimensional character. She wanted Knightly to love her. That was about all her motivations from the beginning to the end. Ok, I can accept that. She was obsessed, in love, on the verge of spinsterhood, and this guy was the most appealing man she had found. Her home life was pretty depressing, so from her attic bedroom, the idea of the perfect love was no doubt appealing. This was understandable in a sense. However, when you delve into why it was that Annabelle was in love with a man who shared so little of himself with her, you had to wonder… why? Why was she in love with him? Her reasoning is founded on the fact that he held a contest to hire women to write for his paper and he chose her as a winner. He gave her a chance. But that was three years, six months, and two days ago. Honestly, since then what has he done to earn love or affection? Yes, the man was a good-looking guy and he even had a respectable sense of wanting to prove himself after his father’s legitimate family had shunned him. But the problem is that he never shared any of who he was with Annabelle before she decided she was in love with him, so what was the reason for such devotion? And when push came to shove, when did the crush turn to the undying love that Annabelle was yearning for? I just never saw that develop between these two.
As far as Derek, the Nodcock as Annabelle calls him, is concerned, he was a little bit more of a character, but even he was pretty uninspiring. He was pretty much a coldhearted guy for most of the book and only began to show something once Annabelle started following the advice of the readers and tried to get his attention. He reminded me of a little boy. He didn’t want the toy until someone else wanted to play with it. He wasn’t interested in Annabelle until other men were interested in her. Though I am sure that happens occasionally, it screamed so much of “plot device” to me and that constantly distracted me. It was too cliché and the wittiness of the characters, mostly in the persons of the other Writing Girls, didn’t make up for it in creating an enjoyable read.
Is there a place for books that you can read and enjoy without taking them too seriously? Absolutely. But even those books need to have compelling characters who interest and engage you or it just doesn’t work as a quick, fun read. For me, the characters of Annabelle and Derek just weren’t enough to give this story the things it needed to fill a space in the category of “fun books you don’t have to take too seriously.”
-- Louise VanderVliet
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