Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What Not to Bare by Megan Frampton

My Experience:  C+++++++++++++
Synopsis:  Lady Charlotte Jepstow certainly knows how to make an impression—a terrible one. Each one of her ball gowns is more ostentatiously ugly than the one before. Even she has been forced to wonder: Is she unmarried because of her abysmal wardrobe, or does she wear clashing clothing because she doesn’t want to be pursued in the first place? But when Charlotte meets Lord David Marchston, suddenly a little courtship doesn’t sound so bad after all.
David will be the first to admit he’s made some mistakes. But when he gets yanked from his post by his superiors, he is ordered to do the unthinkable to win back his position: woo his commander’s niece. If David wants his life back, he must use his skills as a negotiator to persuade society that Charlotte is a woman worth pursuing, despite her rather unusual “flair” for color. But David does such a terrific job that he develops an unexpected problem, one that violates both his rakish mentality and his marching orders: He’s starting to fall in love.

Sprinkled between chapters of this enjoyable book are snippets from the The Fashionable Foible.  I confess this device [reminiscent of Lady Whistledown] is what hooked me and loosened the strings of my purse.  Before I dive in to my review, in tribute, I offer my own Advice to Gentle Readers of Romance....

Dear Ladies
Obviously, not all of you have received the message that images of faceless Man Boobs are all that is required to create a burning desire to turn loose your clutch-fisted grip on your reticule. Resistance is futile, whether you are a member of the ton or the buying public, conformity is all.  Please, so that we may move on to the next trend in book covers, I beg of you, buy-buy-buy those books with hairless male cleavage before some poor man must endure yet another waxing! 
The Reflective Reader

Mr. Gorgeous and the Abomination contains possibly the most far-fetched, implausible plot I've enjoyed reading in a long time.  Our modern woe of peer pressure and bullying to produce conformity can find many of its roots in the Regency Era.  Finding ways to live fully and love eternally within exacting boundaries is part of what I love most about reading these romances.  However, most prefer to read about living and loving defiantly until it has become the new conformity.

I don't mind, much.

And in this case, only a little.

Charlotte, the Rabid Fashionista in her Third Season, dwells in insular privilege.  But for all her intelligence, wit and considerable charm, Charlotte has almost no thought for others; about them yes, but for them, no, not really. She ponders her life in Capital Phrases.  [A habit I've never truly broken, only learned to edit, and plan to indulge thoroughly during this review.  If it annoys you, skip this book]  She toddles through her days, deliberately shocking others, frustrated with others, disappointed by others, speaking her every thought, asking impolite and indelicate questions, wearing as many colors as possible, because she's waiting for this Special Other to see beyond her elaborate, defiant disguise and love her for herself, not her fortune.  Her clothing is a challenge no man has dared accept, yet.

"The man she waited on was an unusual, special man.
Because she was an unusual, special woman.
Who liked to wear unusual, special clothes

It isn't that she's oblivious or unaware, she's just ... silly and selfish as a young debutante is supposed to be, in a rather sweet sort of way.  Her judgments regarding others are based on little more than their judgement of her; exterior appearances and a few comments during an evening's entertainment.  Writing a fashion column for her friend brings this to light and it Shocks her.  In Charlotte's defense, she is incredibly young [can't be more than 20 since she's only had three Seasons] incredibly sheltered, incredibly naive, exactly as she is supposed to be.  She genuinely believes being an Eternal Burden is the Worst Thing that can happen in her life, and it's entirely possible she's right.  Her parents aren't going to toss her out.  Her friends will commiserate with the Injustices of Choice.  She can toddle on through life until she really is a Confirmed Spinster and then, one hopes, she will be that daring auntie everyone loves in a Regency Romp.

Or not.

One night, as she's being coerced by her dear friend in to writing a fashion column, Mr. Gorgeous, David, Lord Marchston, asks to meet her.  Only, uh, he was actually asking to meet her friend.  Ah well.  Everything might have concluded there.  Instead, Charlotte's indulgent uncle that just happened to be a Director in the Home Secretary's Office does what Important People do best:   Meddle in the affairs of others.  Of course, romping with the General's wife in India and being sent home "until the old man cools off" makes David the Perfect Candidate to court but not marry, Lord Bradford's niece.  The theory being that a large gorgeous bee buzzing around a blossom will attract other bees.  I call this the Lemming Theory of Conformity.  Twitter, FB, Book Covers and playgrounds have proven the validity of this theory repeatedly but feel free to do the research yourself.

Poor Gorgeous David was tired of being considered a Pretty Boy, redundant Second Son.  In India, when he wasn't reading poetry with the General's wife, he was Useful. [capitalization mine but emphasis author's]  The concept of being useful is a Total Novelty to Charlotte.  The ability to think, speak or use any of those useful skills David is supposed to possess is blinded by Charlotte's attire, literally.  He frets about this, worrying he is becoming a "gauche-mat" instead of a diplomat.  His shining moment during their first dance is to tell her, "You are not ugly."

Charlotte is delighted by "the most sincere compliment" she's ever received.

I enjoyed David.  He was just the right amount of befuddled young man on the Brink of Adulthood, though chronologically that point passed him by some time ago.  He had experience in the world but it appeared he was insulated from the world by his fears of being unnecessary now his brother had produced an heir, i.e. no one with a title [Quite how that worked isn't clear and a minor peeve of mine with this book.  Lord Christian Name for any male is an immediate give-away regarding the attention to research].  His idealization of India as it is colonized and reformed to fit the needs of the East India Trading Company leads me to believe he spent much more time on poetry than actual negotiations but I could be wrong.  None of these details wrecked the book for me.  The synopsis and sample pages did not mislead me in to expecting an accurate portrayal of the Regency Period.

The story progresses in amusing ways with internal dialog that made me laugh out loud, repeatedly. Staccato sentences that flit from subject to subject, from Nonsense to Epiphany in the blink of an eye suited this story and these characters quite well.  The romance was not rushed or unbelievable.  David and Charlotte are exceedingly modern but Charlotte, at least, despises her Regency Costume. David is accustomed to his but it does Chafe a bit.  Secondary characters are as expected, some stalwart, some sniping, most of them bewildered and confused.  Stir vigorously and you have just the right seasoning for this Smorgasbord.  Historical accuracy, not to mention reality, is irrelevant - except when it is convenient to use as a plot device. The subplot of the Fashion Column holds it all together.  I mean that literally, sincerely.

As to the intimate encounters ... wow!  They were definitely more than I expected when I began, I admit they jarred me considerably in context and I skimmed the Big Scene.  I thought it was too unlikely to happen and frankly, David tumbled from his pedestal of Learned That Lesson in India, won't make That Mistake again.  For if cuckolding your boss's wife is bad, how much worse is taking the virtue of a director's niece?  Oh true, he was intending to marry her ... but Darlings, that didn't make it all right.  And though Charlotte was an enthusiastic, demanding vixen, the word No is useful, especially in diplomatic circles.

Much to my surprise, David and Charlotte did manage to grow and mature, and look beyond their own little bubble of existence.  It wasn't an Enormous Change, just some of those baby steps we all experience in real life.  I dare anyone to look back and not find a moment or twenty they weren't utterly, ridiculously pathetic in their desperation to have life happen Now, the way they wanted it, Immediately, If Not Sooner.  I'm positive my moments would not have been as kind as glimpses of Charlotte and David growing up.

Overall, I liked this book. I laughed, I giggled, I read parts out loud to my daughters and it was just plain fun.  On a bad day, I'll probably read it again because it was just the right mix of silliness and over the top that I occasionally need to keep from taking Real Life too seriously.  With the cautions mentioned above, I recommend What Not to Bare for a Jolly Read.

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