All Smiles is the first novel I’ve ever read by hugely popular author Stella Cameron. I was looking forward to it, but my hopes were almost immediately crushed. I have a lot to say about this book, so I’ll try to keep my plot summary short.
When Meg Smiles’s minister father died, she was left without funds. She decided to get a job, and quite boldly secured the position of companion to Desiree, a foreign princess. She also used cosmetics and hair dye in order to make herself more attractive, hoping to land a husband. Oh, and someone has begun teaching her something that resembles yoga. Anyway, her new employer is Desiree’s brother Jean-Marc, Count Etranger (great title, huh?), whom she finds attractive, and who is fascinated by her bright red hair, dark eyelashes and rosy cheeks. He immediately begins to pressure Meg to become his mistress (it is unthinkable that he take a commoner to wife). Meanwhile, someone is trying, not very effectively, to kill Meg, Jean-Marc, or both. There’s also a ghost who schemes to get Meg to move out of the house that he haunts.
If I were to list everything I didn’t like about All Smiles, this review would be seven pages long and filled with spoilers. I’ll try to show how the book irritated me by describing a representative scene.
Desiree is having a dancing lesson. Jean-Marc comes in and asks Meg to waltz with him. Meg first refuses but then allows herself to be swept up in the dance. Jean-Marc begins to openly admire Meg’s breasts and to describe to her how much he needs her sexually. He sticks his finger down the top of her dress, then puts the finger inside his own shirt and tells her that he’s imagining her bare chest against his. He demands that she become his mistress. When she begs him not to pressure her, he contents himself with fondling and squeezing her breasts.
Throughout this scene, I kept thinking to myself: people are watching! If any man tried that finger trick on me in a public place, I’d either punch him in the nose or go hide in the ladies’ room, and I’m not a virginal 19th century parson’s daughter.
What could the author have been thinking? Meg is maddeningly inconsistent and Jean-Marc is a dyed-in-the-wool creep who passionately whispers things like, “Whatever I want to do to you, I can do. The decision is mine to make.” This is the only book I’ve ever read in which the hero ties up the heroine before taking her virginity.
Whenever both protagonists are present, the point of view clicks back and forth between them, sentence by sentence, with metronomic regularity. The dialogue is stilted and forced. Meg and Jean-Marc discuss the intimate details of their relationship when other people are present. When Meg is under strain she does yoga, dropping to the floor and chanting “I am,” which succeeds in granting her serenity and convincing all who observe that she’s competent to make her own decisions. Uh huh.
There’s also way too much going on here. There are dozens of secondary characters: the ghost, Meg’s sister, the valet, the valet’s valet, Meg’s cousin, the cousin’s minister. Meg seems to have about ten housemates who pop up, exchange significant glances, and go away again. No doubt some of them are leftovers from the last book, and some of them will probably figure prominently in the next, but as far as this book goes, they’re just so many tedious extra pages filled with interactions that do not make sense.
I already mentioned that there’s a mystery plot here on top of everything else. Someone is trying to kill either Jean-Marc or Meg, by such inefficient methods as putting a razor into her reticule, or frightening the horses when she’s in a coach. This part of the book is resolved by the revelation of at least three different, independent conspiracies, some of which target Meg, some Jean-Marc. This resolution was incredibly frustrating and had me wondering why these villains didn’t simply shoot our protagonists and have done with it. That would have nicely accomplished their goals, and I wouldn’t have had to waste my time reading this horrible book.
It gives me no joy to say something like that about a book written by an author of Ms. Cameron’s popularity and reputation. All I can say is this: she has written over forty books, some of which have earned solid recommendations by AAR reviewers. I must recommend that you read one of those. Don’t read this one. This one is badly written, bewilderingly cluttered, and deeply disappointing.