Desert Isle Keeper
Almost a Gentleman
Much as I loved Almost a Gentleman, I was almost afraid to sit down and write the review. Pam Rosenthal’s romance debut is a masterful mix of bold and subtle writing elements. Knowing that, I knew anything I write will hardly do the book justice. But since this is a review site and I’ve offered to review, I’m going to try anyway.
A post on our Reviews Message Board brought this book to my attention. The poster’s description of a heroine dressing and passing as a man in London society was enough to pique my interest. Stories with cross-dressing themes will hook me every time, often resulting in wildly uneven reading experiences. At the top of my list of favorites is Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders. At the lower end is Lynsay Sands’ The Switch. Hard to believe, but Pam Rosenthal’s debut has done Heyer one better and is now tops on my list.
Every life has its defining moments. For Phoebe, Lady Claringworth, hers comes when she survives an accident that kills her husband, small son, and her unborn child. Now nothing else matters and all she can think of is escaping. Her escape comes in the form of a disguise. Lady Claringworth is dead only to be reborn as Mr. Philip “Phizz” Marston. Phizz can go places and do things Phoebe cannot. He’s able to enter society and make the people dance to his tune, crushing a few and blackballing others. Sure, he’s created some enemies with his behavior, but the beauty is that he truly doesn’t care.
Getting through each day, each month, and each year is Phoebe’s only goal. Until she meets Lord David Hervey, Earl of Linseley. David has left his beloved country estate to come to London in the hopes of meeting and marrying a woman he’d find compatible. What he finds instead is a lithe young man who stirs his interest in ways he’s never imagined. The instant attraction he feels for Philip is unfathomable and irresistible at the same time. Phoebe has the advantage of knowing who David truly is, but finds the deep feelings he stirs just as exciting and disturbing.
I mentioned Rosenthal’s abilities with boldness and subtlety. I’ll get to the bold in a moment. Right now I want to talk about her way with understatement and the unsaid. This is a Brava publication and the book has a Burning rating but for a very satisfying 180 pages there are no sex scenes. I’m not saying the first half isn’t erotic; it is. It is in fact one of the most sensual reading experiences I’ve ever had. The author obviously subscribes to the theory that the brain is the most important sexual organ. The mental/sexual dance between Phoebe and David is proof positive.
The true beauty in their moving mental foreplay is that David isn’t in a state of constant erection. Where other authors use this heavy-handed description to indicate deep feeling, Rosenthal writes a man who is realistic, physical, and intelligent. The man is forty years old and though he is aroused, the arousal is just as much cerebral as it is physical. Phoebe moves him in all ways.
“Phoebe dear. Phoebe darling. Phoebe. It chimed like soft musical accompaniment to the images wafting through his mind. Her back and shoulders: gracefully arched and widely spread, held in perfect equipoise as she guided her friend about the dance floor. Her neck: high and proud beneath the purity of her white cravat. Two weeks ago time had stood still while he’d watched her unwind that length of snowy linen. She’d offered him her graceful woman’s neck, all vulnerable hollows and poignant shorn nape.”
David’s feelings are entirely reciprocated by Phoebe, though she is more wary of indulging them. And when they do indulge, that’s where the boldness appears. Frequently, romantic/erotic novels with this much sexual content are described as graphic. “Frank” and “honest” in here. At one point the two engage in a wordplay contest to come up with as many names as possible for their respective sexual equipment. I could almost picture Ms. Rosenthal laughing as she wrote that scene. The pair exchanges euphemisms that have been used by romance writers since time immemorial. And when they get to “manhood” Phoebe tells him that won’t work because it describes all of him not just “that part.”
A couple of quibbles kept this from being a straight A. The opening scene may turn potential readers away. The exposition as Phoebe tells her friend Kate what Kate already knows (just so the reader can know too) is a little clunky. That’s very minor, I know. A little less minor are the rushed concluding chapters of the novel. The pacing of the book and relationship is so beautifully done throughout the rest of the book, I felt a little cheated by the hurried way in which Rosenthal wraps things up. That came across as typical romance writing (where almost nothing else in this book does) and slightly marred what was otherwise an almost perfect reading experience.
Minor disappointments aside, Almost a Gentleman is the book for all those readers who’ve been wanting to dip their toe into the more erotic end of the genre spectrum. This is the book that makes the whole idea worthwhile.