An Uncommon Bequest by Emily Hendrickson
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19208-7
NOTE TO AUTHORS: Readers want their romances to have likable characters and interesting plots.

Having been left impoverished on her father's death, Sophie Garrett has taken a position as a lady's companion to Lady Mary. She is notified that her uncle has left her a bequest, and she and Lady Mary go to the reading of the will.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: Readers wonder about such things as why the heroine didn't turn to her rich uncle when she was left penniless.

There Sophie encounters her third cousin, Jonathan, who has succeeded to the title of Viscount Lowell. Sophie and Jonathan had once shared a kiss, the sweetness and impropriety of which has haunted her ever since. Because of this youthful indiscretion, she is uncomfortable whenever Jonathan is around even though he seems willing to reestablish their relationship.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: Some readers are uncomfortable with the idea of a romantic involvement between cousins—even those who aren't first cousins.

Her uncle has left Sophie his extensive library. When she and Lady Mary are packing up the books, they discover that many of the volumes have bank notes or financial instruments tucked inside giving Sophie a comfortable fortune as well as a small income. She decides to conceal the money from Jonathan and use it to support herself during her come-out in London where she can find a husband. Lady Mary offers her London residence, and the two of them travel to London. Jonathan follows a short time later.

Sophie, who is spectacularly beautiful and constantly compared to an angel, purchases a new flattering wardrobe and is soon the toast of society.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: Readers aren't stupid. After being told twenty times that a character's appearance is angelic, we get it.

Relying on their cousinly connection, Jonathan frequently accompanies Sophie and Lady Mary on their rounds of society entertainments and functions as he seeks to monopolize Sophie's time and generally oversee her activities. Sophie recognizes she loves Jonathan but believes he will always regard her as merely a distant cousin so she pursues her acquaintance with other eligible bachelors. Meanwhile, Jonathan is determined to discover the source of Sophie's sudden funds.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: If you have a major plot theme, you must satisfactorily conclude it by the end of the book. Marrying the heroine to get the dough isn't satisfactory.

If this plot synopsis sounds boring, I've been successful in conveying the general tone of the book. The plot is utterly devoid of any originality or excitement (unless you count the episode where the entire household gets food poisoning from bad custard), and the characters are flat and insipid.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: If a plot is dull and flat, giving the heroine a cute pet isn't going to help.

Sophie is particularly annoying. Her angelic appearance and each article of her new wardrobe are deemed worthy of extensive description and conversation. Her admiration of Jonathan's good looks and dress borders on obsessive.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: Readers want the hero and heroine to be attracted by more than just looks.

She declares she loves Jonathan, but every few pages she finds his behavior towards her hateful.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: When a character secretly loves another, having her tell him she hates him does not constitute plot conflict.

Sophie's interests seem to center on dress, keeping the source of her money secret, and snagging a financially well-to-do husband.

Jonathan is scarcely any better. He's alternately courteous and demanding.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: Hypocrisy (such as having the hero keep a mistress while pursuing the heroine but being appalled to hear another character state that he intends to keep a mistress if he marries the heroine himself—and what happened to Kitty anyway?) is not an appealing character trait.

He is furious when he discovers the source of Sophie's money claiming that it belongs to him. (I've got news for you, Jonathan: a title and estate could be entailed but personal property—which includes money—could be given by will outside the entail.) But Jonathan doesn't seem to be the intellectual type—he admits he wasn't wont to frequent his uncle's library—so it's not surprising that his knowledge of legal matters is weak

NOTE TO AUTHORS: Having your character decide not to consult a lawyer doesn't excuse the perpetuation of misinformation.

The secondary characters are similarly flat and one-dimensional. Lady Mary is a major character who seems to serve no function except to supply Sophie with a London residence. Sophie's suitors, particularly the one earl who's Jonathan's friend, contribute nothing to the plot unless giving Jonathan competition constitutes contribution.

NOTE TO AUTHORS: Every male in the heroine's vicinity doesn't have to be chasing after her in order to prove the hero's getting a great catch.

Here's a romance where the hero and heroine are perfect for each other. I'm glad that Sophie and Jonathan are a twosome—I wouldn't want to waste a decent character on either of them.

NOTE TO READERS: There are some excellent Regencies written by talented authors such as Mary Balogh and Carla Kelly. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them.

--Lesley Dunlap

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