Review: The Harlow Hoyden by Lynn Messina (2014)

Love Takes Root series, Book 1

Heat Factor: Something of an afterthought

Character Chemistry: He’s her most trusted ally!

Plot: A romp

Overall: How can you go wrong with a hoyden?

In this case, I really wished I could just quote nearly all of the first two chapters. Messina caught my attention hook, line, and sinker. The Duke of Trent, reading in his conservatory, catches Miss Emma Harlow attempting to steal one of his prize orchids.

“I say, is that the best way to do that?” the gentleman asked after a moment.

Emma, whose feathers were never the sort to ruffle easily even when she was behaving improperly in a place she didn’t belong–in this case, with her fingers around the stem of a prize Rhyncholaelia digbyana in the Duke of Trent’s conservatory – calmly turned around. Her blue-eyed gaze, steady and sometimes intimidating, met with an amused brown one. “Excuse me?”

Emma is completely unabashed by her own behavior all the time because she is being her authentic, impetuous, enterprising self all the time. There is a point at which Emma asks her chaperone sister-in-law what is more important–her person or her reputation:

Sarah looked at her with considering eyes. “Honestly, my dear, I don’t know the answer to that one”

“Well, I do, and that’s all that matters.”

Emma is a modern woman making her way in a Regency setting, thus the hoyden appellation. She thinks her twin sister Lavinia is getting married for all the wrong reasons to a man who is truly horrible. At first her sister’s fiance, Sir Waldo, is just horrible because he is a pompous snob who wants Lavinia to quit all her own hobbies and just be his wife and a mother to his children because that should be all the fulfillment she needs in life. Eventually, the story takes a turn toward the adventurous and Sir Waldo becomes truly dastardly and traitorous, which is also when things really get rollicking.

Rather condescendingly, nearly every major character either tells another major character or Emma herself that she’s being irrational because she just doesn’t want to lose her sister. If I were told just one of the things Emma reports hearing directly from Sir Waldo because he can’t figure out which sister he’s engaged to (so if that didn’t tell you right there…), I’d say, “Maybe you are correct, and this was a bad decision on Lavinia’s part.” Everything Sir Waldo says makes him sound like a horrible man, and I don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s a good idea for Lavinia to marry him. He’s a good catch because he has an old and respected family name?

Trent, initially enchanted by the audacious young woman invading his conservatory, is quickly taken aback by Emma’s proposal for Trent to draw Lavinia away from her fiance by seducing her. He becomes priggish and swears he’ll have nothing more to do with her, but he just can’t stay away! He has to protect her from herself! One must give Trent his due for telling Emma that only Lavinia can make her own decisions and no one can make them for her. Much of his interaction with Emma is focused on saving her from herself, which some may find annoying, but which I found entertaining probably because Emma is a very strong, self-confident character who layers her emotional reactions to situations with well-considered strategy. And she doesn’t care at all if he goes with her on her adventures or not, although he is her “most trusted ally”.

There are a number of distracting, silly errors in the text that would have been corrected by more careful editing and which other readers might not be so willing to overlook. Typically if there are too many grammatical errors or the author clearly doesn’t understand what words mean, it’s difficult for me to get through multiple chapters. In this case, the situation is not so dire, but also I think it’s more palatable because it’s a comedy rather than a drama.

The romance was not what made the story so much fun, but it was still well done in context. Emma and Trent are both avoiding marriage for different reasons, which causes Emma to make some bad decisions when she thinks Lavinia must marry Trent to save her from a disastrous marriage and also Emma thinks she herself could never marry Trent because he wouldn’t be faithful to her (not sure why she thinks Trent would be faithful to her sister). Trent soon decides that he is in love with and wants to marry Emma and suffers through some heartbreaking moments because when Emma tells him she’s not interested, he believes her and leaves (which really is the respectful thing to do, after all).

He wanted to talk of their marriage, not his and Lavinia’s or Lavinia and Sir Waldo’s. “After all that’s happened between us, you still want me to kiss your sister?”

“Yes,” she said in a soft voice after a very long pause, during which the duke held his breath, “after all that’s happened between us, I still want you to kiss my sister.”

The duke sighed, feeling the heart flow out of him. He was prepared to fight her willfulness and obstinacy and the sheer bullheadedness that he had come to love, but he had no words to overcome her indifference.

UGH. Of course, once they finally start communicating with each other more truthfully, the result is quite satisfying. There is enough of the ridiculous that I’d recommend this story as an entertaining way to spend a few hours.

Boy Now: Amazon

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