If AAR had a Special Titles Listing for “Books with no discernible plot in which 90% of the story is basically the protagonists lusting after each other”, then The Lady Meets Her Match would most certainly be on it. This is the second book in Ms. Conkle’s series of Georgian-set historical romances which are very loosely based on classic fairy tales. I listened to and reviewed the audiobook version of the previous book Meet the Earl at Midnight, and while I wasn’t bowled over by the story, the audio had the considerable benefit of an excellent performance by narrator Marian Hussey.
With no such enhancement to distract my attention, the weaknesses in the storytelling, characterisation and writing in The Lady Meets Her Match are very apparent, and were such that I was frequently tempted to set the book aside and read something else.
Normally when I write a review, I start out by giving a brief summary of the plot, trying very hard to avoid giving away important plot-points or spoilers. We have a general rule here that anything in the publisher’s blurb or the first one hundred pages is fair game, but after that we keep plot details fairly vague. The problem with this book is that when I came to write a summary of the story, I realised I wouldn’t be able to stick to that rule because between the first chapter and the 85% mark there is no plot to speak of.
The opening is loosely based on the Cinderella story, as the heroine, Claire Mayhew, sneaks into the hero’s study at a masked ball in order to copy his signature so she can later fraudulently append it to the lease of the shop she wants to obtain. Naturally, he – Cyrus Ryland, a very wealthy self-made business man – discovers her, although not until after she’s copied the signature. The pair flirt, the mental lusting commences, he dances with her (and we get a second-by-second account of what brushes against what and what heats up where that sounds more like a set of instructions from IKEA than anything vaguely sexy) – but of course when midnight strikes and it’s time for the unmasking, she legs it, leaving behind a worn shoe.
All that happens in the first couple of chapters, so then we’ve got Cyrus looking for her, finding her, discovering her fraudulent intent but forgiving her anyway… and all the while there is much more mental lusting going on with a bit of groping thrown in. There’s a bit of a kerfuffle at a lunch party when the food items Claire had supplied are found to have been dusted in salt and not sugar, and this later ties into the minuscule plot-thread in which it seems that someone is out to send Cyrus a message.
This person has a grudge to settle and debts he can’t afford to pay, so naturally, marrying his daughter to a wealthy “cit” is the perfect solution to his problems. Cyrus is warned of this likely course of events and decides to tell Claire what’s going on so she won’t get upset when he pretends to be uninterested in her in order to protect her. Excellent – I thought – there’s no time for a Big Misunderstanding anyway, because the book’s nearly finished. Oh, how wrong I was. Because Cyrus, instead of using the three hours he had that morning between getting out of Claire’s bed and going home decided instead to spend them shagging and never said a word. What a complete plonker.
Both Claire and Cyrus had the potential to be interesting characters, but never got as far as even the two dimensional. She appeared in the previous book as the rather mysterious housekeeper to the reclusive Earl of Greenwich. Late in that story, we discovered that she had in fact been seduced by his brother and abandoned because the daughter of a land steward was not a suitable marriage prospect for the heir to an earldom. Shortly after that she leaves the earl’s employ in order to pursue an independent life…as the owner of a London coffee shop. Well, there’s an anti-climax if ever there was one. Given her enigmatic nature in the previous book, I’d expected her to be heading off to proclaim her true identity as the bastard of French royalty, or for adventure on the high seas – not to run a shop!
I’ve often said that I rather enjoy books in which nothing much happens other than two people falling in love. I don’t need spy capers or other sorts of adventure yarns to keep me interested in a book when the author keeps the romance front and centre and makes the story one about a developing relationship. The problem with The Lady Meets Her Match is that while it’s true that not much happens, there is also no sense of getting to know the central characters and no relationship development. They meet. They lust after each other. They part. They meet again. They lust after each other some more. They part. They meet again…you get the picture. The scenes in which they explore that attraction short of having full-on sex were so interminable I pretty much skim-read them, and by the time the couple had sex, I’d had enough of the author continually telling me about all the different parts of the hero that “clenched” in anticipation (at one point, I thought the poor guy wouldn’t make it to the end of the book without medical attention) or the heroine’s underwear fetish. Seriously – whether she was wearing cotton or silk, she was always aware of the feeling of her undergarments against her skin when she started feeling horny, especially when they rubbed against her “there”. I couldn’t help wondering if they were a size too small, given the number of wedgies she seemed to have to contend with.
I also had a huge issue with the number of Americanisms that appeared in the story, one of which was completely unforgiveable. There is no such place as “midtown” in London. I’m a Londoner born and bred and that place does not exist. We have the West End and the City – and reading the place and street names, Claire’s coffee shop is obviously in the City of London. It’s easy to check, yet the word “midtown” is used constantly – my Kindle tells me of 41 uses of “midtown”, but there were “midtowners” and other similar expressions, too. It’s easy to look up on the internet and I have no doubt there would be plenty of fellow authors able to advise, so there is absolutely no excuse for such a howler. I know that my frustration over the use of non-idiomatic English expressions is something I refer to a lot in my reviews, but I find it incredible that an author – no matter their nationality – setting their story in my country wouldn’t bother to find out the correct terminology for certain things. Not only that – it’s insulting. If ever I were to write a book set in Washington D.C, (and I won’t, so don’t worry!) I would go out of my way to make sure I got those things right.
There were erroneous word choices in the copy I read – something was described as being “eminent” instead of “imminent”, for example. Had the story and characters been more engaging, perhaps these errors would have been less noticeable, although I doubt it given their frequency.
It will come as no surprise that I’m going to suggest there are better things to do with your time and hard-earned cash than read The Lady Meets Her Match.
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