Thursday, May 19
Title: Secrets of a Proper Countess*
Author: Lecia Cornwall
Genre: Historical Romance
Format: Mass Market Paperback, & Digital e-book
Date/Year: April 2011
Reviewed by: Booklover1335
*This book was provided to me by the author for review
Summary from the publisher:
There are secrets we take to the grave...and some we just take to bed.
Cinderella meets the Scarlet Pimpernel...
Phineas Archer, the notorious Marquess of Blackwood, may hold the reputation as the worst rake in London, but as a spy for the crown, he merely plays the role of a fool to learn the most closely guarded secrets of the ton.
As a new threat to England's success in the war against Napoleon emerges, Phineas must foil a plot to kidnap the exiled Bourbon heir to the French crown. Every clue seems to lead to his mysterious lover, but while Phineas can spot trouble a mile off, and see through the cleverest of disguises, he cannot find any trace of his elusive femme fatale. No man alive would imagine the prim widow Maitland could be his dream lover. But behind the mask and the secrets, Isobel is everything Phineas has ever desired....
Our heroine was married at a young age to a man and family that despised her and her heritage, but coveted the money that she could bring to the union. The only joy to come from the marriage was Isobel’s young son whom she loves dearly, yet lives in constant fear of losing. She is strong, yet demure...more out of necessity than by nature, and is constantly trying to live down her mother’s notorious behavior, as well as come to terms with her own mother’s abandonment at a young and tender age. Every aspect of her life is ruled by her dead husband and her in-laws...how she dresses, who she is allowed to socialize with, and it goes without saying that she is forbidden to form any new attachments, have love affairs, or consider marriage again in fear of never being able to see her son again. However, the one thing that her in-laws can’t control are her thoughts and her secret desires, and she secretly desires the worst rake in London.
Our hero, Phineas Archer, the Marquess of Blackwood is from an illustrious family and is in line to inherit a dukedom. He is in his prime, and his grandfather feels that he has had enough time to sow his wild oats, and it is now time to retire his Rake status and start a family. But he has secrets of his own; he is an agent for the Crown and his Rake persona is not who he feels he truly is and longs to just be "himself" with someone therefore he has decided to retire from being a spy after one last assignment.
Secrets of a Proper Countess has a great set of characters, including the heroine and the numerous villains, whom you just love to hate. I especially thought that the character of Isobel was well written. You could feel her despair, her desire, and desperation to break free if only for a few stolen passionate moments. I just wish that I felt that I knew as much about the hero as I felt I knew about the heroine. A hero can make or break a romance for me and Phineas Archer was, in my opinion, a bit of a quandary. The reader is told that he is an agent of the crown and that he often plays a “role” while in the presence of the ton that is different than his own personality. However, I didn’t feel that the persona that he presented to the Ton was any different than the person he was when he was with Isobel, whom he was supposedly himself with, which was a problem for me. Really, the whole agent of the Crown aspect of the story didn’t really work for me. If this would have been a story about a Rake, a Widow, and a deviously and really vile controlling in-laws, I think I would have liked Secrets of a Proper Countess much much more than I did in the end. Not to say that I didn’t like it, just that I felt it would have been a better story without the distraction of the plot involving the kidnapping of the French King.
For instance, Phineas plays an agent of the crown, yet he spends more time trying to discover the identity of his secret lover, than uncovering the plot involving the King. He assumes that the two are connected, but on very circumstantial evidence which made him seen almost amateurish in his agent skills. He takes most things at face value, and something that left me somewhat baffled was his discovery of a will during a reconnaissance mission at Isobel’s home that could have set Isobel free without the fear of losing her son early on in the story yet he doesn’t reveal it or confront her about this until the very end. of the story. He has no real reason to hide the information, especially when she refuses to marry him for fear of retribution from her family. You would have thought that he would have revealed this information to her, so that she could keep her son and be with him without retribution, but he doesn’t. It left me very confused, because you realize that he had to have known this earlier, because what good agent would steal important looking documents and not read them at the first opportunity, so why does he do nothing until the point where it no longer matters? Of course it fits better in the plot this way, with the King kidnapping, but otherwise I thought it made him seem like an incompetent agent, as well as an unconcerned, and less than caring lover. He always seem to accept things at face value and never once questions Isobel as to why she just doesn’t lead her own life regardless of what her family by marriage believes since she is a supposedly wealthy widow. It made his relationship with her seem very superficial....more about lust and mutual desire, than caring and falling in love with Isobel. As you can see I had some issues with Phineas as a hero worthy of the risks and sacrifices Isobel should suffer if their relationship were to be discovered.
Another aspect to the story that I wish would have been explored more was Isobel’s relationship with her mother. Her mother left her at a very young age to be with her lover and is led to believe by her father and her in-laws that she left her daughter without looking back and never trying to contact her. Isobel fears becoming her mother, who was infamous for her lusty behavior, and vows to be a good mother to her son...something that she doesn’t feel she had from her own mother. This history played a major part in who she has become, the choices that she has made, and how she presents herself to the Ton. During the course of the story Isobel discovers that her mother didn’t completely abandon her like she was led to believe. Her feelings are somewhat resolved, but I wish I would have known definitively if Isobel and her mother were able to reconcile after so many years apart. There was a hint in the story that her mother may have already died, but I was never quite sure so this part of the story felt a little bit unfinished. Since it played such a large part in her development I expected this discover to have a larger impact than it did.
I mentioned earlier in the review that The Secrets of a Proper Countess has a great cast of villainous characters...and it does, almost too many of them, but in the end they all get what they deserve. Matter of fact their fate is all tied up in a pretty, almost over the top, bow. However, I do feel that a more fitting ending to her in-laws would have been public humiliation and the poverty that they feared that led to their greedy and possessive behavior, but that’s just me and my vigilante justice :) I also feel though that this would have allowed Isobel to finally confront her mother in law with all of the terrible things that she did to suppress and manipulate Isobel all for her own gain and greed. Because Isobel didn’t get her moment of glory and triumph in a face to face confrontation with her mother in law, in essence owning her passions and personality and claiming all that is hers, I felt she was shortchanged and that her mother-in-law’s demise was too unsatisfying.
Overall, I felt that The Secrets of a Proper Countess had amazing potential, and had a heroine that I absolutely loved. She was complex and presented with situations that seemed insurmountable. It had really vile villains that I thought were so deliciously bad you couldn’t believe all that they went to the lengths that they did. But as I said before, the hero usually makes or breaks the story for me. And in this book I didn’t think Phineas was worthy of his task as an agent of the Crown, nor was he worthy of Isobel and the chances she took to be with him. He was lackluster for me. Add in the subplot with the kidnapping of the King which I thought could have been left out to the benefit of the story and it made a potentially great story, into one that disappointed me in a few important ways. However, it appears that I am in the minority with my criticisms of the story, because the book has received fairly positive reviews. If you’ve read The Secrets of a Proper Countess I would love to know your thoughts.
Overall: 3.5 stars (Though it appears that I am in the minority with my criticisms since most other reviews give this book 4-5 stars....maybe I was in a nitpicky mood when reading it)
Sensuality level: 3.25 stars (a few passionate, but brief encounters. pretty straight forward sexin' that is sure to satisfy some, and leave others wanting more)
For a complete understanding and definition of the ratings at Seductive Musings, click here
- Fiction Vixen (4 hearts out of 5)
- The Season for Romance (9 out of 10)
- Night Owl Romance (5 start out of 5)