It’s obvious Eileen Putman has strong story-telling abilities. In Reforming Hariett, scenes flow nicely and images are vividly portrayed. Unfortunately, her main characters fall a little short of the mark.
Lady Hariett is a widow, whose philandering husband owned stock in Lord Westwood’s business. Hariett has been selling some of this stock to help out people in the village. Her generous nature has resulted in the loss of some 60,000 pounds on Lord Westwood’s part and he wants her to sell the rest of the shares back to him.
Elias, Lord Westwood, is your typical large, handsome Regency hero. He possesses a heightened sense of smell that serves him well in business and the pursuit of food. He meets Lady Hariett in a bakery where she is preparing pastries for the village. Despite how good Lord Westwood may look, his personality just doesn’t measure up. He spends most of the book being sullen and arrogant. If he can’t intimidate Hariett into giving him what he wants, then surely he can seduce her!
Reforming Hariett gets off to a very good start, but the characters are inconsistent. Other than the fact that Lord Westwood is not very likable (he rarely smiles or even appears to be in a good mood), he flip-flops around when it comes to Hariett. First he wants to seduce her, then he figures he should marry her and then he decides that she’s not his type – but he just can’t keep his lips to himself.
Hariett is built up to be a strong, independent woman, but she easily turns to jelly in the hands of the obnoxious Lord Westwood. Despite her intelligence, she has been taken advantage of her solicitor and made some very stupid mistakes. But despite the fact that she doesn’t come across as very bright, she hosts some of the most wonderful soirees where liberal minded intellectuals vie for her attentions! She also blames herself for the fact that her husband died in the arms of his mistress.
Of course everyone ends up happy in the final pages of the book. It didn’t come as much surprise. I felt a little cheated that a writer of Putnam’s calibur created such wishy-washy characters. I felt as if she hadn’t been quite sure just what she wanted to achieve with either Hariett or Lord Westwood. It almost felt as if she was torn between how she wanted to present the characters, tried to compromise and failed.
Though there was plenty of kissing and sexual overtures on behalf of both Lady Hariett and Lord Westwood, it didn’t feel real to me, because I didn’t care about the characters. How can a woman be attracted to a man who constantly seems to be staring down his nose at her and does nothing to make himself agreeable? One minute she is kissing him with abandon and enjoying it, the next she is blaming her lack of passion for the death of her husband. Does she deny her passionate nature, or is she really that blind to it?
The plot is not original, but has promise and some variation on an old theme. The primary characters manage to show a spark of life every once in awhile but are overall disappointing with their inconsistent behavior. The best feature of the book are the secondary characters who are vibrant and colorful. I found myself more interested in the budding romance between the butler and one of the housemaids than I was in the main story!
All in all, Reforming Hariett is not a bad book, but I felt that it could have been so much better. Had the hero and heroine been half as enjoyable as the secondary characters I would have given this book a B+, but the promising beginning and happy ending couldn’t take away the disappointment of a less-than-stellar middle.