Enchanting the Lady

My Unfair Lady by Kathryne Kennedy
(Sourcebooks, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-1-4022-2990-9
Tarnation! This is a gosh darn awful book. (Honesty forces me to admit that while the heroine of My Unfair Lady says or thinks “tarnation” regularly I am not quite sure whether she ever says “gosh darn it.”) I can’t remember the last time that a novel I had read led me to rant about a book to my poor husband over dinner or to spend ten minutes describing its horrible-ness to a friend during a long distance phone call. In short, rarely have I had such a completely negative reaction to a romance novel I have been asked to review.

I actually picked up My Unfair Lady with a certain amount of enthusiasm. I have always enjoyed stories of American heiresses who headed to England in the late nineteenth century to try to hook a real life nobleman. While I know that many of these marriages ended unhappily (think Jenny Jerome, although her marriage did give us Winston Churchill, thank goodness), the premise does have lots of promise. None of this is realized in this book.

Actually, the heroine, Summer Wine Lee, while clearly an American heiress, has not come to London for the usual reasons. She does not want to marry an English lord. Rather, she wants to marry her American socialite potential fiancé, Monte. Monte asked for her hand, but when his powerful relative, Mrs. Astor, refused to accept the upstart from Tombstone, he reneged. He really wants to marry Summer (and all her father’s lovely money), but not if it threatens his social status. So he has suggested that Summer somehow make herself acceptable by gaining an audience with Queen Victoria. (The difference that this would make is never clear.) So Summer has hied herself off to England but has had little success in achieving her goal.

Her companion, Maria, suggests that Summer hire the Duke of Montchester to achieve her goal.  Montchester is known to be impecunious, but he is a confidant of the Prince of Wales and has an entrée into society and into the royal court. Montchester is known to despise these American social climbers, but, nonetheless, accepts Summer’s invitation to discuss a mutually beneficial arrangement. Indeed, Summer offers Montchester a one-third interest in a small but profitable railroad she owns. Somewhat to his own surprise, Monchester accepts the challenge and the fee. He finds the elfin looking, graceful Summer attractive and intriguing.

OK, a potentially interesting set-up: an unspoiled American and a worldly-wise duke thrust together for their own ends. I was even struck by the fact that Monchester, while undoubtedly handsome, is actually short! I can’t remember a short romance hero since Lord Lynton in A Civil Contract..  But while the set-up might show promise, everything goes downhill from there.

Summer takes the “natural” American to a new level. A real western gal, she was raised by an Apache, spent a whole lot of time in a whorehouse, can shoot and track and wears a knife strapped to her leg.  She has a miniature Chihuahua named Chi-chi, (a la Paris Hilton) rescues a monkey and a fox kit, and says or thinks “tarnation” at least once every few pages, just to make sure that the reader knows she’s a real western gal.

The duke, having agreed to help Summer achieve her goal, seems to have little sense about how to go about it. He takes her off to Paris to outfit her in Worth gowns. (The discovery of her knife sends the seamstress into hysterics but convinces Worth himself to use his talents to make her fashionable.) He sends his mistress to give her beauty advice.  (Summer convinces said mistress that she doesn’t really want to be Monchester’s mistress.) He takes her to a ball at his stepmother’s house. (He gets into an altercation and Summer gets her knife ready to use in his defense.)  He takes her to Ascot and introduces her to the Prince of Wales.  (Aha, finally, an echo of “My Fair Lady!”) He gets her an invite to the Prince’s houseparty at Sandringham.  (Although Summer’s novelty plays a big part in this.)  And he introduces her to sensual pleasure, though, to give him credit, he doesn’t achieve penetration till much later in the book. None of this seems likely to get her that much desired introduction to the queen.

Summer is certainly an intrepid heroine. Why, she saves the duke from the enemy who is seeking his death at least two and maybe three times. But although she is deeply attracted to the duke and though she makes love to him with great enthusiasm more than once, why, she just can’t accept his proposal of marriage because she promised Monte.  Ugh.

The characters in My Unfair Lady are uninteresting, the situations are improbable, and the historical accuracy is non-existent. Having to read a book like My Unfair Lady makes me rethink my decision to start reviewing again.  But I can feel virtuous in the knowledge that because I read it, you might not.  If we had a “No Heart”  rating, this book would have earned it.

--Jean Mason

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