Review

Review: The Other Harlow Girl by Lynn Messina (2014)

Love Takes Root, Book 2.

Review of Love Takes Root, Book 1 here.

Heat Factor: There’s a little space heater in there

Character Chemistry: I don’t think so

Plot: Does it need to happen this way?

Overall: eh

Following The Harlow Hoyden by some months, this story tells of Emma’s sister Lavinia’s romance. After the debacle of her engagement (and it’s a doozy), Lavinia Harlow has realized that marriage only for the sake of family and children is probably not the best choice for her, so she throws herself into her beloved hobby: horticulture. She’s already written a pamphlet on drainage systems, she’s a skilled cultivator of orchids, and now she’s designing a non-exploding hose.

In fact, she’s working on the hose as the book begins, and we are introduced to the hero when he arrives in the conservatory just as her current iteration explodes, soaking him. Lavinia, who has been everything that is proper for the first book, loses all of her composure and embarrasses herself in front of the Marquess, who takes everything in stride and is everything that is polite, so naturally Vinnie instantly dislikes him. I confess, I found this to be irrational, which really doesn’t start us on the right foot, but that’s where the author is taking us so let’s go.

Felix, the Marquess of Huntley, has been the Duke of Trent’s best friend forever, which is how he ends up in the Duke’s conservatory at the wrong moment. He’s just returned from nearly two years of botanical study abroad and is, quite frankly, full of himself.

As I have mentioned, Vinnie and Felix do not get off on the right foot, and they initially antagonize each other to the point that Felix tries to embarrass Vinnie by nominating her (a woman) for membership in the British Horticultural Society (an all male institution). He doesn’t think through the repercussions to Vinnie’s reputation, the notoriety that will now be attached to Vinnie in society. A year ago Vinnie would have done exactly as Felix expects and demurred, but she’s the Harlow Hoyden’s sister, and her relationship with the Duke has taught her to better value herself, her knowledge, and her abilities. So she decides to stick it to Felix and everybody else and go all in for membership. Good for her. Felix is being a cocky jerk.

Felix is horrified by the repercussions of his actions, but manages to continue to make himself seem just horrible. First, as he is apologizing for damaging her reputation in the first place, he starts mansplaining:

“Hastings was not displaying faith in you but rather tweaking Mr. Irby, who, as a member of the British Horticultural Society, naturally finds the idea of a woman among our ranks repellent. Hastings belongs to the Society for the Advancement of Horticultural Knowledge, a rival organization, and would love to see our esteemed institution brought low by the inclusion of a female.” Sensing her rising anger at his frank speech, he hastened to add, “I seek only to clarify your understanding of the matter, Miss Harlow.”

Bleh. This guy. Vinnie puts him in his place by refusing to withdraw her candidacy. Then Felix seems to redeem himself by taking Vinnie to the shoe factory that owns the patent for the method for waterproofing boots, from which Vinnie is attempting to draw to make her flexible hose. They have an absolutely marvelous afternoon, Felix is so engaging and charming and genuine, they have a moment and then:

“Although I cannot fathom your interest in joining an organization that is ill-suited to your person, I respect the fact that the choice is yours to make.”

“Thank you, my lord,” she said wryly.

He was too intent on his purpose to observe the sarcasm. “Knowing you have a multitude of interests, I proposed today’s expedition in the hopes that it would provide you with an occupation sufficiently engrossing as to override your interest in the society,” he explained.

Wow. How on earth do we go from this total lack of respect on Felix’s part to love? More to the point, how on earth does Vinnie ever get past the fact that this man thinks she’s less than the dirt beneath his feet?

Then a caricature is put in the newspaper of Vinnie henpecking the members of the British Horticultural Society, and for some reason, even after everything, Vinnie is horrified that Felix is represented in a horribly emasculating way, so she runs over to his house and declares that she’ll withdraw. At which point Felix declares that she most certainly will not. I am so confused. Is Vinnie sticking it to society with her newly developed backbone or not? Does Felix believe Vinnie doesn’t belong in the Society or what? Apparently this is their moment. I don’t buy it.

We keep getting yanked back and forth with this story. And for some reason there is a moment of high drama at the end that is anticlimactically resolved. I liked knowing what happened after The Harlow Hoyden, but beyond that I’m not sure I’d be enthusiastic about this one.


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