More or Less a Countess—Anna Bradley
"Violet didn't mind the dark. She'd spent many evenings alone in her grandmother's library, cradling dusty books in her hands and pondering the pattern of invisible fingerprints on those old, crackling pages."SAME, Violet.
Violet Somerset is an opinionated, odd girl who just wants to love books and also write one about true crime locations in Regency London. So, basically, a legend. Nick Dare is a lord who needs to marry and soon, according to his grandmother. When he mixes up Violet for her younger sister Hyacinth after returning to the London scene following an absence, Violet doesn't correct him; she lets him continue to think that she's Hyacinth, of the amazing pianoforte skills, so that he will escort her on outings to various crime locations which would be unseemly for her to visit on her own. Though both initially sees the other as a match of expediency, they gradually grow closer until they eventually...consummate their relationship. It's only AFTER this point that Lord Dare learns that Violet is not, in fact, Hyacinth, but begrudgingly marries her anyway because, hey, he's been inside her, and that was the done thing in those days. And then, despite the fact that they've started their marriage out on a lie, all things work out and there's a happily ever after.
Though this is the second book in the Somerset Sisters series, it worked just fine as a standalone. (Note to self: stop requesting books without finding out whether they're part of a series first.) I'm assuming the first book is about Violet's sister Iris, who we encounter as well as her new husband, in More or Less a Countess. I didn't love the twee flower names for the Somerset sisters, but we can't always get what we want, I suppose.
I did EXTREMELY relate to Violet. A girl who loves true crime, libraries, and cemeteries? Yeah, that's a romance novel heroine I can get behind, for sure. Also, the very first thing that happens is that she gets stuck in the library when Nick comes in and tups a married woman. Who hasn't been caught in an awkward situation, and then gets stuck when things have passed the point of no return? We've all been there.
The central conflict, that Violet has lied about her name, was SO contrived to me. If this were real life, sure, lying about your name might be a signifier of an underlying tendency to deceive. Or it might just be that it got past the tipping point and it became too awkward to correct him. Granted, I think the bigger problem for Nick is probably that she then decided to use him, but still. Not the best of even terrible fake conflicts that I've encountered in romance novels.
Even the secondary conflict, when Nick discovers a sketch that Violet made of him entitled, "The Selfish Rake" from the time that she watched him fuck the married woman in the library, was kind of ridiculous. He gets upset that she's entitled the piece that way, but, dude, you were. You were undoubtedly and assuredly a selfish rake. It did make a little more sense that he actually overreacted to that because of the specter of his dead older brother, the golden child, and his own feelings of inadequacy that he won't ever measure up. Still, not an appropriate reason to be a dick to your new wife, even in Regency England.
There were some really great tropes in this one too. One that I've been noticing more and more recently is the precocious but naive young woman who understands the act of lovemaking intellectually but asks questions of the experienced man on practicality, which, of course, gets him immediately and irreversibly hard. To be fair, the sexy times were pretty compelling, so it was worth reading for them alone.
There was some fairly funny dialogue, most especially from Gibbs, Lord Dare's valet. The writing was a little repetitive in places, especially when addressing Violet's past, and even more so when talking about Lord Derrick.
Overall, a pretty solid three, three and a half stars from me. I didn't love it, but I liked it enough to read more by Anna Bradley, and I don't think I've read any of her stuff before.
The book has a scheduled release date of August 7. Find out more here.
Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.