What I Read in May Part III . . .Lord Sidley's Last Season by Sherry Lynn Ferguson
Marian Ware is in London for a few weeks staying with relatives and studying art while she awaits the return of her naval officer fiance, Lieutenant William Reese. Marian is shocked at the ton gossip about Lord Sidley. The new Lord Sidley returned wounded from fighting on the Peninsula, where his older brother died, and is said to be on death's door. Ton gossip says Lord Sidley is spending is nights as days and participating in a dissipated lifestyle while he piles up creditors' bills. When Marian first meets Sidley, she's shocked to discover a strong, handsome man but perplexed by his teasing behavior. Lord Sidley knows he's not dying but finds it great fun to pretend he is. He believes it will save him from a marriage to a silly young girl. For some reason he finds himself drawn to, and teasing, Miss Ware. His best laid plans go awry when his aunt invites a few young marriage-minded misses to his home, including Marian's Aunt Edith and cousins, Edgar and Katherine. Sidley makes sure Marian is on the guest list as well. Marian's cousin Katherine is determined to get a proposal out of Lord Sidley and best the other young ladies who are dying to marry the Earl only to become wealthy widows shortly thereafter! When she's invited with her family to a country house party at Lord Sidley's estate, he commissions her to paint him. Marian tries to focus on her painting, but the more time she spends with the Earl, the more she's confused by his behavior and her reaction to her behavior. Should she continue with a marriage to a childhood friend where she would be buried in the country and her art would be treated as a hobby? Lord Sidley doesn't think so. He believes Marian has great talent and is determined to support her. He's determined to keep her from making a big mistake, but his mischievous behavior may have ruined his chances.
The only reason I rate this 3 1/2 stars is because the story is a bit shallow. There's hints of backstory but not enough is developed. There's also not a good reason for the hero and heroine to be interested in each other as early as they are. I can see Lord Sidley's attraction to Marian once he finds out about her interest in art, but he seems interested even before that. I liked the later interactions between the hero and the heroine. Their relationship builds nicely as they get to know each other. The misunderstanding works well for the plot and I think it was perfectly justified. I like how Lord Sidley has friends to counsel him and not just aid him in stupid behavior. There's an interesting slight plot twist towards the end that allows us (and Marian) to see Lord Sidley as he really is. Marian was a bit stupid about her feelings and needed some help to push her in the right direction. There's a predictable plot twist in her story too. It actually surprised me because I was expecting something close to what happened but not exactly. I really liked that Marian is a painter. It provided a different aspect of Regency life that isn't well known. The author did her research on female painters of the era and seemed to know her painting technique. There were a few secondary plot threads that I thought deserved to be finished or picked up in another novel.
I liked Marian because she's a bit older than most of the young ladies and more poor, she's a bit more steady. I love her devotion to her painting. It makes her a unique heroine. She's also very kind and caring without bring too perfect. She has her flaws, mainly her hasty judgement and quick temper. She doesn't have much of a sense of humor. I don't like to be teased so I don't blame her for getting prickly with Lord Sidley at times. Plus, his intentions weren't clear to her, which made her uncomfortable. She's not as lively as Elizabeth Bennet but I think they could be friends. I liked Sidley for all he's a tease. He's thoughtful and caring. I especially like the way he believes in Marian and supports her. He teases but it's just his way of making friends and keeping his real feelings hidden. He's only 29 but feels much older due to life experiences and he doesn't seem to let anyone close to him except for a few select people. He's good to his aunt and we never actually see Lord Sidley participate in any sort of rakish behavior. This is a pleasant, forgettable read.
An Affair of the Heart by Joan Smith -- Regency Romance
The Marquis of Claymore is broken-hearted or at least his pride is wounded, when the belle of the season Gloria "The Golden Rose" rejected his marriage proposal in favor of an elderly Duke. Clay is determined to marry another beauty to flaunt around town. He can think of only one young lady from the current crop of debutantes, a mysterious dark haired girl who disappeared after only a few weeks. Luckily Clay's friend Rex Homberly knows just who the beauty is, Wanda Wanderley, his neighbor in Sussex. Rex warns Clay that Wanda is a spoiled beauty and unofficially engaged to the Squire's son, but nothing will do for Clay but to entice the girl to marry him with his title and fortune. After a drunken binge, Clay and Rex arrive at the Wanderleys in the middle of the night and discover Wanda's twin Ellie dreaming of true love at her window. She instantly falls in love with the Marquis's pretty words, but to her dismay, he later doesn't remember the moment at all and continues to court her sister. Ellie was not presented this Season because she's a late bloomer. She doesn't really mind. She would rather stay home, care for the roses and research the family history, but with three beautiful sisters, she can't help but be a bit jealous of her twin. blah blah blah same old story... fill in the blanks with plots about twins and marriages of convenience.
This is the same old boring story. The plot doesn't make any sense whatsoever. The hero has zero redeeming qualities. When the going gets rough, he gets drunk. He gets drunk during key moments of the story and so drunk he doesn't even remember he was drunk once he's sober. He thinks he can have any woman because of his title and fortune and gets mad whenever a lady rejects him. His friend finally tells Clay that he uses people, a fact Clay denies, but the accusation isn't far from the truth. He doesn't really learn much of a lesson. He falls in love suddenly and randomly and proceeds to make a mull of things. He had help from his best friend Rex, who is a slowtop if there ever was one. Rex means well but he puts his foot in his mouth and manages to wreck his best friend's life over and over without realizing what he's done and the hero continues to be best friends with the man. Mr. Wanderley is the only likeable man in the story. Though he spends all the family money on rare flowers and plants, he cares about his daughters and wants them to be happy. He comes up with a way to test his daughters' suitors and ensure their future welfare.
The female characters are all stereotypes culled from the standard book of Regency characters. Ellie is the only one I liked, at least at first. She's a bit shy and socially awkward but she's kind and intelligent. However, her lack of self-esteem annoyed the heck out of me. In almost every scene she doubts anyone could love her because she's not as pretty as her sister. She doesn't really come to believe in herself. I stopped liking her after about the third time she doubted that someone loved her. I didn't like the way she handled things but she did handle herself better than most heroines do in similar situations. I really wanted her to confront her sister and stop being jealous. Wanda is a spoiled, nasty brat who doesn't deserve a happy ending. If she were my sister, we would have had some serious violent fights. Clay's mother is Wanda grown up and not a very good mother. Yet she does a 180 at the end which is weird and random. Wanda and Ellie's sisters are older versions of them and even Joan is not always very nice.