Courting Claudia by Robyn DeHart
(Avon, 5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-078215-3
Courting Claudia from debut author Robyn DeHart is a book that has some potential, but kills its own entertainment value with the inclusion of several irritants in the plot. They are:

1. An extremely insecure heroine.
2. A family member as villain, for whom excuses are made.
3. A manipulative hero.

Claudia Prattley, daughter of Viscount Kennington, has been using her initials when she submits fashion illustrations to a popular paper, so the editor will believe a man drew them. She makes the decision to resign from her position at the paper after her father decides to arrange a marriage for her. In this cause, Claudia visits the paper in person for the first time, and meets the editor, Derrick Middleton.

Derrick is completely surprised when he learns that the plump little woman in his office is the fashion illustrator that gained his paper much of its popularity. He is doubly surprised when he finds out who her father is. Since Derrick has a major bone to pick with Viscount Kennington, and because he really doesn’t want to lose his fashion illustrator, Derrick decides to “court” Claudia in an effort to make her stay with the paper.

Derrick and Claudia’s first meeting makes painful reading. It goes like this –

“I see. It appears to me that no part of your position with this paper is appropriate. I find life is vastly more rewarding if you live your life as you like it rather than by what Society deems appropriate.”
Her eyes widened and her mouth formed a tiny “O.” “You must live a daring life, Mr. Middleton, she said, her voice breathy. “A very exciting existence. If only I were so fortunate.”
He could certainly show her a more exciting life. And he’d start with peeling off that silly hat so he could see what her hair looked like. Then he’d probably want to kiss that silly little mouth of hers to see if she would make that ooh noise again. …”

One must not forget that Derrick’s speech about “live your life as you like it” is given to a Regency miss, an unlikely candidate for that kind of freedom. That oozing condescension on Derrick’s part is extremely off-putting, as is the fact that Derrick spends much of his early relationship with Claudia manipulating her.

Derrick probably can’t help manipulating Claudia because she is such a weak and malleable heroine. Claudia’s dastardly father has given her a huge inferiority complex and she spends a lot of time deciding that Derrick cannot truly care for her, but all it takes is a little attention from Derrick and Claudia agrees to everything he says. One has to wonder how such a victim ever got the nerve to send her illustrations to Derrick’s paper. The only time Claudia shows a little spirit is when she’s refusing to face the fact that her father is a villain.

Once again we have the “family member as the bad guy” plot, and once again the protagonist just cannot seem to see what every one else does. Derrick spends a large part of the book trying to protect Claudia from the knowledge that her father is a vicious criminal and probably a murderer. When Claudia finally has proof of her father’s misdeeds, what does she do? You got it. She confronts him for the first time in her whole life, putting herself in danger.

The writing is technically very skillful. The descriptions are very good and the dialogue is easy to read. And most importantly to this reader, the writing is concise, without the use of unnecessarily large words and florid language.

The bare bones of the plot in Courting Claudia are not bad. There’s a little mystery, and murder, and sex, of course, which could have been pretty entertaining, but I think most readers will find the characters very annoying.

--Wendy Livingston

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