What a Lady Needs for Christmas
Grace Burrowes has gotten some great buzz here, which led me to request her book for review. I’m happy to say that I agree with previous reviewers – she’s a great author, and her characters and their relationships are interesting and well developed. A few things hold this book back, but this cross-class Christmas romance has definitely left me excited for more Burrowes.
After a not-so-gentlemanly gentleman plied her with alcohol and left her not even certain how compromised she is, Lady Joan Flynn runs away from Edinburgh to join her family’s Highland Christmas house party. Daniel Hartwell, textile mill owner, finds her at the train station without even the money to purchase a ticket. Lady Joan needs to salvage her name and reputation; Daniel needs a lady for a wife to introduce his children and sister into society and to connect him to badly-needed investors. Additionally, there’s an attraction neither can quite explain. A Christmas marriage could be the solution to both of their problems, if Joan’s family can be brought around and the rumors quashed. Oh, and of course, the blackmail…
Here is what I loved about this book: Joan and Daniel. The two are interesting and well-rounded. Daniel is a complicated man who is both unashamed of his poor origins and conflicted that his money is placing him in company his bloodlines don’t match. Joan is resolved not to let her aristocratic bloodlines prevent her from following her dreams of fashion design. The two have strong chemistry from the beginning in my favorite way: they find themselves oddly comfortable sharing personal details and small touches, and then kisses. As lovers, they have to grow together to find out how to satisfy both of themselves, which is also a nice change.
Burrowes is a very good writer. I enjoyed her turns of phrase. I also enjoyed her details – Daniel, for instance, doesn’t have the gentlemanly background to know how to handle having tea with Joan in his train car. I also appreciated the fact that Joan’s nemesis was well-written and the resolution to his misconduct was logical and appropriate. Rather than being mustache-twirlingly evil, he’s a weak man who will take an easy and unethical path when it unfolds in front of him. Maybe a bit too much emphasis on the “mama’s boy,” but on the whole I thought he was a realistic change of type. It took Joan a little longer than I would have liked to bring Daniel up to date with the scheming, especially as it escalated to blackmail. He already knew she’d been compromised, so what was she trying to preserve?
If this book consisted only of scenes with Daniel and Joan, it would have been an A-. But oh, my heavens, do we have too many other characters. The weak romance between Daniel’s sister and his assistant didn’t engage me, but that’s not the biggest issue. Joan has, by my count, eight hundred happily married relatives, and they’re all at this house party being idyllic. A marquis drives away the nanny so he can change nappies. Spouses wander smugly into breakfast late because of their glorious sex lives. Tiberius, Joan’s brother, is especially frustrating. This plot requires him to be uptight and overprotective, but he’s clearly supposed to have transitioned through that character arc in his book. Consequently, we keep seeing his wife give him reasonable advice that he has to disregard to maintain narrative tension.
I was underwhelmed by a few other supporting elements. A mistake made by Daniel’s assistant is so obviously going to lead to disaster that I could practically hear the ominous music. Jarringly juxtaposed against that, and against the lush and intense personal romance, are silly cameo sequences written to revisit Joan’s family and weird comic relief scenes involving horny pet rabbits. For the first third of the book, I devoured every word. By the last third, I had to force myself not to skim entire sections.
I’m quite picky in my historical romances, and this is a strong central couple on par with characters I’ve loved in Baloghs or Milans. I wish the other parts of the book were as good, but I’m optimistic that if I try more Burrowes (especially ones from earlier in the series), I’ll find more of what I liked and less of the silly stuff I didn’t.