Too Scot to Handle
Miss Anwen Windham is on the board of directors of the House for Wayward Urchins, a school and home for orphaned boys which provides them with shelter and a decent education. Anwen worries for and loves all of the boys in her charge very much, but there are grey clouds on the horizon. Struggling with the budget, a tyrannical teacher and her two lackadaisical, spendthrift co-directors, Anwen is urged by her new headmaster to take another chance on the marriage market in an attempt to bolster the coffers, but instead she turns to her new brother-in-law, Colin for help. As they begin to spend more time together, Anwen is encouraged by both Colin’s supportive nature and her own confidence in what’s right and wrong to seek out profitable solutions for the House’s problems. She definitely doesn’t plan on falling in love with the somewhat dour Lord MacHugh, but the more time she spends with him, the more likely it seems.
Lord Colin MacHugh is newly titled, an ex-captain who’s traveled the globe with Wellington’s army before selling out. Anwen’s sister has recently married Colin’s brother, and Anwen is rapidly to become Colin’s favorite among his new extended British family. Though he longs to return to Scotland he must stay in England for two more months in order to shepherd his two younger sisters through their first season, during which time he struggles with society at large and his attraction to Anwen in particular. At the urging of his scheming friend and fellow military man, Win Montague, Colin takes Win’s spot on the board of directors for the House for Wayward Urchins, and soon finds himself both bonding with Anwen’s boys and with the lovely miss in charge.
AAR staffers Caroline and Lisa read Too Scot To Handle and are here to share their thoughts.
Lisa: Well, this one was a lot of fun; if I had to pick one word to describe it, I’d go for ‘merry’.
Caroline: You clearly liked it a lot more than I did! My word for it would be ‘fine’. If you like lightweight historicals with a reasonable amount of accuracy, you’ll enjoy this one for a day or so and then not remember that you read it.
Lisa: I think I did – I have a bit of a fondness for the breezier stuff, so this hit the spot in a lot of ways. It’s the kind of read that works for a light afternoon break, or it might be something that’s perfect for a summer afternoon at the beach. What do you think of our heroine, Anwen? I loved her cleverness, and her dry-eyed observations (“The lack of balls on a man were harder to spot.” was a favorite of mine.).
Caroline: My favorite Anwen observation was when she described Win’s artificial body language as “tilt[ing] his head up… as if striking a pose, ‘Handsome Swain Admiring Invisible Stars,’” which was doubly true because it might have been exactly what was going through Win’s mind. He was such a prat.
What suffered for me in Anwen’s characterization was the fact that this book is part of a series, and Anwen is presented here as having transformed from the woman she was in previous books. I haven’t read any of the other books, so this ‘transformation’ wasn’t compelling for me. It needed a prologue or something so I could see shy, conformist Anwen for myself
Lisa: This is an excellent point and probably my biggest problem with the book as a whole. There is absolutely nothing about Anwen that’s retiring or withdrawn; she fearlessly fights everyone on the board and Win himself, and a lot of her relationship with Colin is driven by her own desires and needs (for heaven’s sake, she and Colin make premarital love in a conservatory at her own direction!). I think I liked her as a character a bit more than you did because of that boldness, but a lot of the other characters’ observations about her feel like they’re either informed attributes or leftover notions from the previous book.
What about Colin’s sisters and Anwen’s siblings?
Caroline: They read, to me, like pure sequel bait. On the whole, I felt that this book was overly aggressive about its part in a series. Anwen’s sister’s eventual match with a Welsh duke is telegraphed in dialogue that has no purpose except to sell that book. I rolled my eyes hard at a passage where Colin’s sister tells him, “Hamish was the brooder, you are the flirt… Magnus is the hothead, Angus the scholar.” Was that text copy-pasted right out of the series sales pitch she sent her agent?
Lisa: That quoted line shouldn’t have made it into the final product of the book.
Colin stood out a bit more to me than I think he did to you – mostly because his loving but long-suffering attitude was pretty amusing to me, and I liked his handy, practical nature. I think my favorite thing about Colin was his honesty. It well matched Arwen’s frankness, don’t you think? Also his poetic way of wooing Anwen was awfully beautiful, and I thought Burrowes’ take on a fish out of water plot was rather inventive when written about a male character in a romance. And most importantly – what about this love story? I loved how grown-up it was.
Caroline: I liked it when Colin told Anwen she was “a bonfire in disguise.” It’s a lovely compliment, but it was undermined by, as I mentioned, the fact that she was never ‘in disguise’ in this book. I didn’t connect strongly with their love story, and I didn’t feel chemistry in their sex scenes.
Lisa: Those felt somewhat oddly restrained, didn’t they? I was willing to overlook that; I liked their slow transformation from friends to lovers too much.
Caroline: That’s true. I rarely like historicals which open with that clichéd ‘lust from across a crowded ballroom’ scene. I definitely thought that Colin and Anwen knew and liked each other as people.
Lisa: What did you think of the school scenes? I found the four orphan boys especially amusing.
Caroline: I liked them well enough, and I thought the author did a good job showing that they would still be subject to the lure of street life. But ‘benevolent supporter of orphans’ is a trait I’ve seen before in historical heroines, and there was nothing in this relationship to distinguish it from the trope. She was loyal to them and they were loyal to her, and that’s a pretty one-note relationship.
Lisa: Their continued tendency to lean back on the lessons that their lives as orphans had taught them felt well-drawn, too – though sometimes they did feel like they emerged from central casting to me, very Dickensian in a way. And their fates were a bit pat, though I’m glad the author resisted having Anwen and Colin outright adopt them.
Caroline: Let’s talk about Win Montague, who I thought was the most developed character in the book. Win’s horrible prank (in which he and friends run up huge bills on Colin’s tabs) felt like authentic society hazing, and I thought it was the most original, engaging, and unpredictable part of the whole book. Since Colin couldn’t refuse to pay, but also couldn’t protest without alienating his peers, I honestly had no idea how it would be resolved.
Lisa: I thought Win was a pretty delightful villain – largely because he really did feel like your average idle rich brat with no direction or sense of purpose who lives to tipple with the boys and run about gatekeeping his social clique. I loved that Anwen refused to take his guff, which made his solution to his debt problem even more facepalm-worthy, yet he was just clever enough to make the prank plot work.
Caroline: The crime plot, by contrast, was very predictable. I saw the crime and its resolution coming from the first time we learned about a strongbox.
Lisa: I agree that the crime plot wasn’t the best part of the book – honestly I would’ve scrapped it and involved the orphaned boys in the Win and Colin mess. It mostly felt like an excuse to get Colin emotionally involved with the plight of the orphans.
Caroline: Overall, then, what grade would you give this book? I’d give it a B-, because it’s solid, but it didn’t truly elevate itself.
Lisa: I’d give it a grade just a step up from that; around a B. It’s not a perfect book by a long shot, but I found the hero and heroine’s romance generally engaging and liked them as people, and Win’s villainy as well as the politics of the era were well-captured.