Kissing a Stranger

The Proposal

The Seducer

Improper Advances by Margaret Evans Porter
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80773-4
I owe Margaret Evans Porter a huge debt of gratitude. She has written a book that has finally held my attention throughout. I donít know if itís the books Iíve been reading lately, or the hectic circumstances of my life that have made it impossible for me to concentrate, but Iím happy to report Improper Advances grabbed me from the start and never let go.

Itís spring of 1799, and Oriana Julian is the toast of the London stage. Best known by her stage name, Ana St. Albans, she has traveled to the Isle of Man to escape yet another scandal. As a professional singer and the illegitimate daughter of a Duke, scandal seems to follow Oriana. But most of it is simply rumor initiated by jealous admirers.

Women are envious of the talented beauty, and though they devoutly adopt Orianaís every fashion trend, her background and stage career make her unworthy of their association. The men are no better. Since she refuses to have an affair, they spread false rumors touting her prowess in bed. Now another false rumor has sent her into seclusion until society finds another source of amusement.

Sir Darius Corlett, or Dare as he is called, is not certain he should rent the vacant cottage on his estate to the mysterious woman. Heís sure sheís run away to hide from some trouble, or worse, has discovered his fortune and has decided to set her cap for him. Dare has spent most of his time of late on the Isle of Man and has no idea it is the famous Ana St. Albans seeking accommodation.

This suits Oriana perfectly. The secluded cottage will make the perfect refuge and she manages to convince the reluctant Dare to allow her to rent it. After spending time together, Dare realizes Oriana is not a scheming woman after his fortune and he begins to act on his attraction to her. But Oriana knows when Dare learns her true identity any hope of marriage will be gone. A woman of her reputation can only hope to become a mistress, something Oriana has vowed never to become.

So Oriana abandons her cottage, leaving no explanation. Dare follows, traveling to Liverpool, the most logical place Oriana could have gone. His attempts to locate her are unsuccessful until he happens to attend a concert by the famous Ana St. Albans and discovers her true identity.

As Oriana suspected, Dare continues to pursue her, but with the intent of making her his mistress. Oriana is so much in love, she is tempted to take whatever she can from the relationship. Even if it means giving up her dreams of a respectable marriage.

The conflict established here is quite reasonable considering this a time when a career in the theater was an unsavory endeavor. A man of Dareís position would not have a stage performer as a wife, but she could be a feather in his cap as a mistress.

This is the perfect book for readers who enjoy lots of rich detail in their historicals. The descriptions of London and such places as Vauxhall Gardens are vividly rendered. Orianaís profession as a singer is not simply tacked on, we learn much about the theater during that time. Itís certainly not a glamorous career, but a need Oriana must fill to perform. Additionally, thereís in-depth details of horse racing and Dareís interest in geology. All of it is woven seamlessly into the plot.

The only thing keeping this from being a perfect read for me was Dare. I can appreciate the fact that he followed Oriana all around England because he was so in love with her. But he sometimes came across as a young besotted fool eagerly awaiting Oriana at the stage door. I had difficulty reconciling the strong man from the start of the book leaving everything that was important to chase after a woman.

But Improper Advances gets my full appreciation for pulling me out of my reading doldrums. Itís intelligently written and impeccably researched. Any reader who enjoys lots of historical detail should especially enjoy Improper Advances.

--Karen Lynch

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