Just Say Yes
As I read Ms. Robens’ sophomore effort, a scene from a movie kept playing in my head. The movie is Mask, and the scene is the one in which Rocky (the boy with the misshapen head, played by Eric Stolz) is musing on his life. He makes two lists: “these things are good” and “these things are a drag”. Each of his lists stands alone. The good things are good regardless of the things that are a drag, and vice versa. And that’s what happens in Just Say Yes. There were good things (which outweighed the bad) and things that were a drag, but in some odd way they don’t impact each other. Like Rocky’s lists, they just are.
Let me give you a little something about the plot before delving into my lists. Geoffrey Dorrington, Earl of Cheriton, is working incognito as a steward on a friend’s estate. He’s not, as the back cover blurb suggests, hiding in the country because he “longs for a simple life.” Geoffrey is heir to a dukedom and wants to prove to his father that he can do the job when he inherits. His plans to remain unnoticed go awry when he literally runs into Miss Cassie Hartwell.
Cassie is the last unmarried daughter of the local vicar. Though she is 27, she’s content living with her parents. Her mother has other ideas. Mrs. Hartwell is distantly related to a Viscount and has made it her life’s mission to get one of her daughters married into the aristocracy. Cassie is her last hope. When Cassie meets the handsome steward, her mother warns her that a pretty face is not enough. Cassie soon feels differently. Geoffrey is charming and intelligent and the first man to make her feel something stronger then attraction.
I give Kensington points for the new cover format (even though just several months after starting to use them, they decided to cancel their trad Regency line). The bright colors and flirty cartoon are very eye-catching, and they made me want to delve right in – which I did. I sat and read this in a night. But cover and readability aside, the number one thing on the good list is the cast of characters. They were one and all well-drawn, realistically portrayed and truly refreshing. Cassie is down-to-earth and sensible. Geoffrey is a beta hero with nary an anguished memory. And perhaps the piece de resistance is Mrs. Hartwell. She rivals Jane Austen’s Mrs. Bennet in her single-minded pursuit of a title for her daughter, but in many ways she’s more realistically written.
Which brings me to my “these things are a drag” list. Mrs. Hartwell’s obsession with Cassie’s future could have been used more effectively as a complication for Cassie and Geoffrey’s burgeoning relationship. Instead it’s talked about a lot, but never has much of an impact. This is a symptom of a larger problem with the character development. Though they are all convincingly drawn individually, their interactions with each other don’t ring as true. The characters bounce off of each other without much rhyme or reason. This is especially true of Cassie and Geoffrey as a couple. They go from first meeting to being in love without much explanation. Geoffrey’s instant feelings were particularly inexplicable. Cassie at least has the explanation of having met relatively few eligible men in her life. Because the characters don’t mesh, the level of emotional intensity never really builds. All these interesting people walk and talk their way through the book and I felt very little beyond gentle enjoyment. I did enjoy them – I just wished I felt them a little more. Likable characters can only take you so far.
I’ll end this with another list. Will I read another by Ms. Robens? Definitely. Do I recommend Just Say Yes? Yes, especially to those looking for a gentle read. Do I want the next to be more emotionally challenging and thus more satisfying? Yes.