Unbuttoning the Innocent Miss
I’ve enjoyed a number books by Bronwyn Scott in the past and have generally rated those I’ve reviewed in the B range, but for some reason her latest title, Unbuttoning the Innocent Miss, which is the first in a new series, proved to be big disappointment. The writing is good, the characters are attractive, and the love scenes are nice and steamy, but the story is rather disjointed and ultimately the whole thing just doesn’t gel.
Miss Claire Welton is the daughter of a viscount, but, like her three friends, Bridget, May and Evie (who I assume will feature in the other books in the series), is something of a wallflower. A disastrous incident which saw her wearing a dress identical to the one worn by the belle of the ton, at her début and the fact that the only marriage proposal she has ever received was from a pompous baron who didn’t want a wife with a brain badly dented her confidence and made her decide that life was safer viewed from the sidelines. But Bridget, who at the beginning of the book announces that she’s pregnant – has decided that enough is enough and that it’s time for her friends to get out there and show society what they’re made of. Evie is too shy and retiring, May is too outspoken and Claire’s intelligence intimidates most men, but as Bridget rightly insists, “nothing will change until we do” and they shouldn’t be content to live the life that society is going to impose upon them. It’s Post-Regency Girl-Power.
Jonathon Lashley is one of society’s darlings. Handsome, intelligent, charming, and heir to a title, he’s an extremely eligible bachelor and is on the verge of securing a prestigious diplomatic post in Vienna, one which will enable him to take part in important negotiations designed to keep the peace in Europe. With the support of Lord Belvoir, whose daughter, Cecilia – a cartoonish, curl-tossing spoilt bitch – will make the ideal diplomatic wife, Jonathon’s appointment is all but assured, except for one thing. While he can understand French and write it fluently, his ability to speak it has deserted him, and as French is the international language of diplomacy, without facility in the spoken language, he will not be offered the post.
Claire has been in love with Jonathon since she was nine years old, but he barely notices her. That said, she has made an art out of not being noticed, so I suppose one can’t exactly blame him for that. With Bridget spurring her on, and some nifty needlework from Evie who makes over some of her dreary frocks, Claire attends a dinner at May’s home at which Jonathon is also in attendance, and is rather alarmed when she discovers that May has manipulated the seating plans so that they are seated opposite one another. When Claire hears him mangling some French, she instinctively corrects him, which is somewhat of a faux-pas, but he doesn’t take it badly, and in fact, thinks that perhaps she is just the person he needs to help him to improve his spoken French.
Jonathon is intrigued and just a bit smitten with this new, bolder Claire, and naturally the time alone afforded by their lessons gives them the opportunity to talk and get to know each other a bit. The author draws an interesting parallel between Claire’s lack of choices – or any woman’s for that matter – and Jonathon’s restlessness at doing nothing other than being charming in ballrooms and his feeling that he’s just waiting for something to happen, and I did like the underlying message that life is what you make it.
The main problem with the book, though, is that Ms. Scott has tried to cram too much into it, and the romance comes across as rather superficial because not enough time is devoted to developing it. Early on in their relationship, Jonathan wonders if Claire is interested in someone; Claire allows him to think that she is and Jonathon suggests that perhaps their being seen spending time in each other’s company will pique the other man’s interest. This plot-point goes nowhere – the two of them are spending time together anyway, so there no need for them to invent reasons to be together. Jonathon’s almost overwhelming need to get to Vienna and recent inability to speak French are tied up with the guilt he feels over his younger brother’s disappearance – likely his death – at the Battle of Waterloo, but it all feels very wishy-washy. Claire very quickly realises that Jonathon’s problem is exacerbated when he sees French written down because he can’t make the words he sees sound right, and then, hey-presto! within a very short time his spoken French is back to normal even though he’d worked for months before with another tutor to no avail.
Confession time; I make my living teaching languages (mostly French) so I did roll my eyes at some of the issues that came up with Jonathon’s pronunciation, and struggled with the concept that he could speak French provided he didn’t have to read out loud. I don’t know, perhaps that really is a thing; and I suppose that I should remember that this is a romance novel, and this is the device by which the author contrives to throw the hero and heroine into each other’s company on a daily basis – and not think about it too much. But I can’t deny that it bothered me enough to take me out of the story a few times.
While both Jonathon and Claire are reasonably engaging, neither is especially memorable, and it has to be said that Claire is rather too good to be true; the worst that can be said of her is that she has allowed herself to be intimidated into fading into the background. I did, however, like the idea of her emerging from the shadows to find herself and put her life back on track, but then she had to go and ruin it by pulling the “I’m leaving you for your own good” card, something I hate, especially when, as here, it’s nothing but an obvious plot device used to try to inject a bit of uncertainty about the outcome.
Unbuttoning the Innocent Miss – and I’m sorry to once again complain about something over which the author may have had no control, but I can’t figure out what the hell that title has to do with ANYTHING about the actual story! – is a rather weak start to Ms. Scott’s new series, and I’m afraid I can’t recommend it. She’s an author I generally enjoy, but the underdeveloped romance and overall lack of depth to the story mean I’m putting this one down as a misfire.