The Countess Misbehaves

Outlaw's Kiss

The Princess Goes West

The Seduction of Ellen

You Belong To My Heart

 
The Scandalous Miss Howard
by Nan Ryan
(Mira, $6.50, R) ISBN 1-55166-893-9
**
Laurette Howard and Ladd Dasheroon were childhood playmates, sweethearts, and then lovers in the years leading up to the American Civil War. When Ladd leaves for West Point, and later to fight for the Confederate cause, Laurette promises to wait forever. When Ladd fails to return home, a heartbroken Laurette marries another.

Fast forwarding to 1880, Sutton Vane is a man on a mission. Barely surviving the war, he returns to Mobile, Alabama, hungry for revenge. For those who wronged him - including a traitorous former friend, and one Laurette Howard - he plans to carry out his own brand of justice.

Sutton intrigues Laurette, and she quickly succumbs to a passion so fierce it must be truly scandalous. However, the more she reveals herself to him, the more secretive Sutton becomes. Who is Sutton Vane?

Puhleeze.

The Scandalous Miss Howard is so infuriating, that I lost track of how many times I wanted to chuck the book across the room. Most problematic is the style in which it is written. So often the author resorts to telling the story, instead of showing it - this is what Laurette is doing, this is what Ladd is feeling. I continually felt disconnected from both lead characters.

The first half of the story follows Ladd and Laurette from infancy through the war years. Their childhood exploits are mildly amusing, but it is when they both enter their adolescence that the author has them exploring their sexual desires for one another. Personally, I prefer adult romantic couples and couldn’t get past my discomfort when reading about their virginal teenage trysts.

After pages of seat-squirming teenage exploits, the war arrives. Finally, some excitement! Alas, not to be. In one eight page chapter the author chronicles Ladd’s two years of war experiences before tossing our hero into a Union prison. It’s here that the story further deteriorates due to the presence of the main “villain.” I use the term loosely because outside of coveting Ladd’s aristocratic lifestyle and the lovely Laurette, the bad guy isn’t all that bad. In fact, his main crime is taking a chapter from Disposing Of Rivals For Dummies.

Even though I knew (very early on, I might add) where the story was going, the latter half of the book does pick up some. However, one has to get past the motives of the completely unlikable Sutton Vane. I’ve always had a problem with romance heroes bent on revenge, and Sutton is a perfect example of everything I hate about the plot device. He doesn’t look beyond his belief that Laurette is a traitorous whore. The thought of what her motives may have been at the time never enters his mind.

Laurette is a mildly bland heroine, who doesn’t truly irritate until after she meets Sutton. One would think a 36-year-old woman who survived a war, the death of so many loved ones, and an unhappy marriage would be a sensible, mature woman. Not our heroine - for she is soon acting like a bubble-headed, twittering ninny in between her sexual romps with Sutton - and believe me there are plenty of romps. When she finally grows some brains in the closing chapters, the moment is ruined by an abrupt ending and unanswered questions.

Even the appealing secondary character of Bones couldn’t muster much enthusiasm in me. Readers on the lookout for steamy love scenes may find Laurette’s scandalous behavior right up their alley. Those looking for a story featuring likable characters, meaty war drama, and rich period detail would be wise to think twice.

--Wendy Crutcher


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