Review: A Lady's Guide to Improper Behavior

It's not often that I am both entranced and repulsed by a heroine in a romance novel. Usually I either love them or hate them. Theresa (Tess) Weller is a heroine that I think might rub some readers the wrong way, but a character I both loved and wanted to smack upside the head.

Our hero, Colonel Bartholomew (Tolly) James is much more evenly appealing. The book opens with him--wounded quite badly and the sole survivor of a massacre-- hiding out in the Adventurers' Club, away from the sympathy and pity of his family. His family's persistent requests for his presence, though, force him back home where he encounters Tess Weller at a dinner party. Despite being rude and provoking a mild argument, he seems to capture the attention of Tess--someone who is never rude, always proper, and is somewhat obsessed with remaining a paragon of unexceptional behavior.

The budding relationship between the two seems to confuse both of them. I found it very sweet that neither character was 'in pursuit.' There is no chase. Which seems appropriate since our heroine is very conscious of propriety and our hero is in a wheel chair or using a cane throughout most of the story. The romance is low key. No big dramatic betrayals. I found that kind of slow build refreshing.

Why did I want to slap Tess, you ask? Because she lacks backbone at a crucial moment. She can assist with a surgery and shave a man in his bedchamber, but she refuses to support Tolly when he needs it because it would harm her reputation. It sounds shallow--it is shallow--but Tess is obsessed with propriety for a reason. And she is aware of how cowardly she is being. Disgusted by it. But, for a time, she remains paralyzed by her fear of stepping outside the carefully constructed box of good behavior in which she's surrounded herself. What I found redeeming was that she wasn't really as shallow as most of society thought her to be. She was aware of her fear. Aware that she was failing a friend at a crucial moment. And ultimately, finally, shows some backbone by casting aside the rules she's governed her life by for a decade.

The mention of the Thuggee problems in India during British colonialism was something I hadn't seen a lot of in standard Avon historicals. I found it interesting that while there is some lingering PTSD issues with Col. James, the major emotional scars come from the destruction of his ability to trust. And the scenes with Tess helping him shave were more emotional than the love scenes--which, I admit, were fairly tame and not very imaginative.

Something only an Enoch fangirl would love: the brief mention of Bradshaw Carroway. I'm hoping this means that she's going to finally give us those books featuring the rest of Dare's family. (Originally seen in The Rake.)

One thing that I almost missed: the switch to 2nd edition excerpts at the chapter headings. I'm guilty of skimming most chapter headings, even amusing ones, but thankfully noticed this change and flipped back a couple of chapters to read the headings with the 2nd edition difference in my head.

Overall, I thought this was much better than the previous book featuring the Adventurers' Club, the Care and Taming of a Rogue. And while it did have some thematic echoes of England's Perfect Hero , those similarities were very superficial. Pretty much, just the wounded war vet angle and the fact that the War Office and Horse Guards seemed to be part of the conflict and interfering in a happily ever after.

The resolution of the 'threat' against Col. James seemed a bit rushed and superficial. As if an editor was a little too stingy on the page count. The necessary elements were there, but I would have liked to have the 'danger' element expanded on more just a bit. And I would have liked to see at least a portion of Tolly's editorial.

I found A Lady's Guide to Improper Behavior unexpectedly moving. Not quite as good as the Lessons in Love trilogy, but then few books are. And I'm still crossing my fingers that Bradshaw's reappearance means that we'll get more stories featuring the Carroways soon.

My Grade B+/B

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