Review: It Started with a Kiss by Ella Quinn

Format: Mass market
Pub Date: April 2017
Publisher: Zebra/Kensington
Length: 362 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Received a signed copy at RT 17 for free

This is the weirdest book. Admittedly, it's been a LONG time since I read a non-paranormal romance or romantic suspense book where the majority of the conflict was external. But what makes this book weird is that every time the book starts to build the slightest bit of tension, the author undercuts the issue by solving the problem almost immediately.

All of that works to make this story a bit of a mess, with 5 different mini conflicts and no overarching tension to keep the story moving. It was a slog.

Gideon, Duke of Rothwell comes home from traipsing around Canada to discover his father dead and the estate perilously close to bankruptcy. Turns out his father had dementia the last few years, forgot he was married, and began gambling and taking up with a mistress who took him to the cleaners financially.

He also  has a message from his cousin who needs some mysteries kind of help, but before he can meet with him, he meets Lady Louisa Vivers and falls for her quite quickly. She, without hesitation, does the same. But...uh oh. He has no money and doesn't want to be seen as a fortune hunter, so he tries to keep his distance and wait until he's repaired the dukedom's finances before formally courting her.

Meanwhile, his cousin finally connects with him and the help he needs is: wooing Louisa Vivers who he believes he's ALSO in love with.

Rothwell LIKES his cousin, and genuinely wants to help him, but he's in love with Louisa, who is patently NOT the right woman for his dithery cousin. It's a huge tangle! Which lasts about 15-20 pages as both Louisa and Gideon can't resist each other and end up courting despite a) the finances and b) the cousin. The fallout is exactly as predicted, except Louisa has already set up her erstwhile suitor with a more appropriate woman, and the bad feelings last maybe another 20 pages.

As this is happening, the discovery of the former duke's dementia results in Rothwell not honoring his father's debts and recouping much of the jewels and horses etc the mistress had purchased with a fraudulent note. So the financial obstacle to happiness is pretty well mitigated quite early on as well.

THEN: We discover that the old duke owed a fortune to a less than savory character who threatens both Lousia and Gideon. And you think: aha! Here's the tension. But nope. There are some threatening letters, some thugs who attempt to rough up Rothwell only to get stabbed and beaten for their trouble, and the ultimate shooting of the gaming hell owner. Another obstacle done away within just a handful of pages.

Finally, we're seeing that Gideon, who has been keeping Louisa in the dark about the former duke's mental issues and mistress, has underestimated that grasping mistress. She sends a letter (oh, somewhere in there, Gideon and Louisa marry) to the new duchess claiming to be his mistress. Louisa, who had seen a stray invoice for a pair of diamond earrings, gets upset and threatens to leave. Which is a GREAT MISUNDERSTANDING plot device and might work if we weren't on page 337 of a 360 page book. Needless to say, it all resolves itself neatly by the end.

It was nice to read about two decent people who didn't have to be reformed, and a hero whose biggest flaw was being a bit proud and overprotective. But there's a reason most romances choose to have character growth and internal conflict power their stories: it's more interesting. There is a decided lack of emotion (besides frustration) in this book.

My Grade: C-

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