The Naked Earl

The Naked Duke

The Naked Gentleman
by Sally MacKenzie
(Zebra Books, $6.99, PG 13)  ISBN 978-0-8217-8076-3
If you like a romance novel with truly intelligent wit, then The Naked Gentleman is the book for you! I laughed out loud reading the second page, and many times thereafter.

Margaret Peterson, known as Meg to her family and friends, is a sassy, smart, adventurous lady. She is saved from a “gentleman” who accosts her in the overgrown garden outside a party by the scholarly, witty and worldly John Parker-Roth. While John is attempting to help Meg calm down and tidy up her appearance, they are found together in a seemingly compromising position by Lady Dunlee, the biggest gossip in London. Shepherded inside to a private room, their attraction to one another flares and they are caught in a truly compromising position by John’s mother. It is strongly suggested by a host of family members on both sides that they should wed; leading John to issue an uninspiring proposal.

Meg refuses. She is a lady of marriageable age looking for a husband, preferably one who shares her interest in plants. However, while her current strategy of hauling the gentlemen she meets at parties out to the garden to examine the shrubbery seems to have failed; she is by no means desperate - yet. Meg’s overwhelming innocence when it comes to men has failed her; her reputation is in tatters and she doesn’t seem to realize the gravity of the matter until her family lectures her.

There is an extensive cast of supporting characters introduced while we meet and enjoy the interactions between Meg, John and their families. Both Meg and John are surrounded by their busybody family members and lovingly prodded to face the possibility of a union between them. Each of them entertain doubts of their own acceptability and desirability, and are more than terrified of the other’s rejection.

The whirlwind of activity and conversations come to a head when Meg defiantly decides to attend the all-male Horticultural Society’s meeting dressed as a boy. She is promptly discovered by John. One look into her eyes and he knows who she is. He quickly rushes her outside, but is overcome by the need to punish her for being so reckless and he kisses her in the street, in front of a multitude of witnesses, including Lady Dunlee-who believe he’s passionately kissing another man. John’s actions seem quite unbelievable to the crowd - and to the reader.

Now Meg has inadvertently ruined John’s reputation and the gossip swirling around the ton is devastating to him and his family. As the pressure from their families increase, Meg and John bow to their wishes with both longing and dread, and are wed. They are trying to quell the vicious gossip about John’s sexual orientation. John has already experienced a new side of polite society, and had a couple of unexpectedly humorous interactions with people who believe the rumors.

In fact, as Meg is walking up the aisle, the Reverend assures John that he is aware of a few discreet gentlemen with similar tastes.

John and Meg’s marriage begins as an unconsummated, separate union at the Parker-Roth family home to escape the delights of London. 0f course, his family is deeply involved in helping the couple find their way to their happily-ever-after.

The Naked Gentleman’s best feature is its wicked and often naughty wit. Any story that can make me laugh repeatedly is a lovely find. The conversations between all of the characters are fresh and endearing. It’s easy to learn a lot about the characters when their family relationships are delineated in such a real fashion that you feel echoes of your own family interactions.

Another enjoyable feature is the abundance of passion in this book-it seems like every one of the couples are having lusty, spontaneous sex, regardless of their age! You never know who you’ll catch in the garden within these pages!

Unfortunately, some of the main character’s facets are rather unbelievable. Meg’s innocence doesn’t strike the same familiar chord as the rest of the character’s dispositions. For all of her intelligent quips, she seems too naïve to be believed. Also, when John kisses Meg dressed as a man, after the Horticultural Meeting; one has to wonder: is he really so intrigued with her that he loses all sense of where he is and what a picture his actions make to the casual passerby? There is a flimsy attempt here to convince the reader that he is overcome with a combination of lust and protectiveness, and he wishes to “punish” Meg for her silliness, but is overcome by lust rather than anger. It is disappointing that the characters seem dragged along by the fantastic (and less than realistic) plot twists. The other minor drawback to the story is that the sheer number of characters can be hard to keep track of.

Regardless, The Naked Gentleman is a lighthearted and funny romantic romp.

--Amy Wroblewsky

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