|In Duchess of Fifth Ave, Lana Dunleavy makes hard choices and goes to extreme lengths to make a better life for herself and her best friend Siobhan, and ultimately, for Siobhan’s son. As children the two girls escape from an orphanage in Ireland, and as teenagers they travel together to the U.S. with Siobhan’s deadbeat husband. Once settled in the U.S., Siobhan and Lana find work and spend all their energy trying to keep a roof over their heads and make a decent life for Siobhan’s son Colin, while Siobhan’s husband gambles and drinks. When Siobhan passes away in a suspicious accident, Lana has to try to find a way to adopt Colin.
Rescue appears in the form of a gambler, known only as Stone, whom Lana knows has been masquerading in New York society as English nobility. As a servant, Lana does not have the influence or the means to adopt Colin, so she appeals to Stone for lessons on how to pass as a lady. Stone agrees to help her for reasons of his own, and soon Lana is living in Stone’s unconventional household, being dressed and taught how to act.
Stone’s real name is Jesse Jordan, and he is okay for a hero. He’s handsome and comfortable in society, and it quickly becomes clear that he’s more than the fraud Lana believes him to be. He also puts up with a lot of bad behavior from Lana, when he should have been throwing her out of his household. He’s a genuinely nice guy, but his cynicism toward love and marriage becomes tiresome.
Lana, however, quickly became very annoying. Her problems are realistic, but her solution to them is, of course, implausible. It is her reaction to Jesse that chafes the most, though. She vacillates between being incredibly grateful to utter ingratitude. Lana devolves from a smart, wily scrapper to a sneaking, TSTL liar, and the result is not attractive at all. Just when the reader decides the heroine is a complete waste of paper she contrives one last clichéd conflict.
Frankly, the rest of the book is pretty much a mess. There is no clear antagonist. Three times the reader has cause to believe “finally an enemy!”, but each time something happens and the problem disappears. The big surprise ending is not a surprise to anyone but the heroine. The love scenes are not warm or interesting enough to make up for the other lacking elements.
To the author’s credit, the story was not set in Regency England, but in 1890s New York City. Colin and some of the other secondary characters are interesting, and the dialogue (other than that which comes from Lana’s mouth when she’s angry) is well written, but I’d recommend giving Duchess of Fifth Ave a pass.