Friday, 1 February 2013

#CBR5 Book 11. "One Good Earl Deserves a Lover" by Sarah Maclean

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Yes, I know. The title is ridiculous. There seems to be a trend in current historical romance, in particular the ones published by Avon, to have silly, punny titles. I mentioned it to my husband, who coined an absolute gem of a "so bad it's good" title, and I'm hereby claiming it as my own, as it appears no one has yet to write a novel entitled Earls Just Want to Have Fun. That one's mine, bitches. When I finally tire of teaching and decide to become the first Norwegian famous for Regency romance novels, that shall be my debut novel.

Lady Philippa "Pippa" Marbury is decidedly odd by society's standards, and has known it her entire life. She's more interested in horticulture, anatomy, physics and mathematics than gossip, fashion, balls and fancy dresses. She wears spectacles. In two weeks, she's about to marry in a lavish double ceremony with her vibrant younger sister, to a man who's perfectly nice, and more importantly, is the only one who ever thought to propose to her. As Pippa has always believed in doing thorough research and that this is the way to prepare for everything, she is in need of a research partner who can help her figure out the more puzzling aspect of married life.

She's decided that the perfect man to help her with this research is the book-keeper of her new brother-in-law's exclusive gaming hell (see A Rogue by Any Other Name). Tall, reclusive, handsome and known only as Cross, she feels he'll be able to teach her about ruination and the many mysteries of romance without any emotion getting in the way. Pippa doesn't realise that Cross' reputation as a ladies' man is extremely exaggerated, and that Cross has stayed far away from women for a very long time, plagued by his guilty conscience and desperate to atone for actions in his past. He knows nothing good can come of their interactions, and as Pippa is soon to become a Countess, it's imperative that she not be touched by so much as a whisper of scandal. Gallivanting around notorious casino, propositioning complete strangers will lead nowhere good, yet she's unlike any woman he's ever met, and convincing himself that he's keeping her out of worse trouble, he agrees to her insane plan. On the condition that all his lessons are purely theoretical, and they never touch...

As a big ol' stinking nerd, I instantly get charmed when book dedications seem aimed directly at me. Last year, Tessa Dare dedicated her A Week to Be Wicked (awesome book, by the way) to "all the girls who walk and read at the same time." Sarah Maclean dedicates this book to "girls who wear glasses". It's not like she actually wrote the book for me, but it works nonetheless. Besides, it's incredibly refreshing and rather unusual to see a romance heroine who needs glasses all the time, and can't just take them off whenever it suits the plot because they're more of a shorthand to signify bluestocking.

Pippa is a huge nerd. She's one of five sisters, and has never really felt at home among them, or in society. She's an odd one, and is never allowed to forget it. She's inquisitive and pragmatic and fiercely intelligent, but completely clueless when it comes to most social interaction. She accepted the proposal of Lord Castleton because he's a kind, if a bit simpleminded man, and because it's quite clear her mother wouldn't allow her to remain a spinster. She's honestly puzzled by her sisters' ability to feel and express strong emotions, but wants to be the best wife and mother possible, and is therefore desperate to discover what her wifely duties will actually consist of. Her younger, vibrant and extremely outgoing sister's hints about kissing with tongues and fooling around in dark corners make her mystify her, and since none of her sisters are willing to clarify, she feels Cross will be the perfect man to assist her in what she genuinely considers research.

Cross is a former rake, who is now tortured and brooding and lives his life grimly punishing himself for former misdeeds. Smarter than most people he's ever met, he has the ability to count cards, balance books, calculate odds and strategise brilliantly. He's also ginger, not something you see in romantic heroes outside of Highlander (or Irish set) romances. He tries so valiantly to push Pippa away, but she keep coming back, and with every encounter, he becomes more smitten with her. Her unusual behaviour and intelligence are the things that appeal to him the most, which is also not a very common trope in romance. Due to Cross' vow of celibacy, there's more unresolved sexual tension than actual smexy scenes, but all the buildup makes the pay-off all the more satisfying.

There's a subplot in the novel with a rival casino owner who's blackmailing Cross, which further causes him to agonise over his past and brood and generally act emotionally like a Goth teenager, but Pippa's extreme awesomeness and refusal to be diverted from her goal more than makes up for it. I also love that unlike in my beloved Courtney Milan's The Duchess War, where the heroine is also extremely smart, the resolution of the plot is actually due to Pippa's cunning and determination, and it's not seemingly forgotten about in the last third of the book. There's also further appearances of the other owners of the gaming hell, who are both clearly going to feature as heroes in future books. Based on the first two books in this series, I've now upgraded Maclean to auto-buy.

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