The writing was okay, if bland. I only noticed a couple typos/misused words. Unfortunately, this still managed to be a completely and utterly terrible book.
When Lady Annabella's mother tells her that she's being sent to her stepbrother, Grey, the Sixth Duke of Wyndham, in order to spend the Season in London and find a suitable husband, Annabella throws a fit (no, really – despite being almost 21, she has a tantrum and breaks things). Later, Annabella concocts a plan to send Juliet, her maid, in her place. Grey hasn't seen Annabella since she was a child, but Juliet does such a terrible job of pretending to be Annabella that he realizes something's going on almost immediately. Since Annabella's great aunts insist that Juliet is who she says she is, Grey sends a friend to investigate the situation and find the real Annabella. This frees him up to take “Annabella” to parties and give her presents and to look into troublesome evidence that Annabella's mother is siphoning off the family's money.
There are two ways that some parts of this story might have been saved, or at least made less horrible, and both would have involved changes early on in the book.
One, Juliet could have been much better at pretending to be Annabella, good enough to truly fool Grey. Although this wouldn't have been very believable, at least Grey's later anger at Juliet's deception would have made more sense.
Two, Juliet could have told Grey her true identity early on. The authors would then have had to figure out a reason for Juliet to continue the ruse. Perhaps she had already been introduced to several nobles as “Annabella,” and Grey didn't think he could send her away without embarrassing his family. I don't know – every explanation I can think of is pretty flimsy. But it would have allowed Grey and Juliet to fret about their cross-class romance without the enormous unresolved issue that was “Juliet might be a con artist.”
Unfortunately, Springsteen and Bowman tried to combine elements of both paths, and it just made the characters look stupid. Juliet spent most of the book thinking that Grey really did believe she was Annabella, even though he told her several times that he did not. Grey knew early on that Juliet was not Annabella, but he did almost nothing to try to find out her true identity. Grey's inaction became even harder to believe once he learned that Annabella's mother might be stealing from him, since, for all he knew, Annabella and Juliet were part of the plan. And yet, instead of confronting Juliet, he continued to marvel over her beauty, take her to parties, and give her several expensive dresses and his mother's pearls. That doesn't even vaguely make sense.
By the end of the book, Annabella is still missing. I'm guessing this was meant to inspire readers to race to pick up the second book, Something Like a Lady, which tells her story. Even if it were still available ($43 to get the paperback edition via Amazon Marketplace doesn't count), I wouldn't touch it. Annabella was a spoiled little monster who, when she was ten years old, bit Grey's finger at their parents' wedding. At nearly 21 years old, she threw a tantrum worthy of a toddler. She left Juliet to be found out and possibly fired, even though she and Juliet were supposedly best friends. Why in the world would I want to read a romance novel starring someone like that?
I wasn't expecting much from A Lot Like a Lady. I'm not a history buff, and I can put up with a certain amount of silliness. However, I at least expect the main characters to be able to follow along with the story and react in ways that make sense. This book was a complete failure in that regard.
An author's note, which discusses the historical basis for the dancing portions of the book. The references section includes seven resources, two of which were books (Jane Austen for Dummies and Georgette Heyer's Regency World) and five of which were websites (including Wikipedia and a free online dictionary). I was not impressed.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori; Emma (anime TV series) - This is one of my favorite cross-class romances. Emma is a maid, and William is a member of the gentry. William is sure they can manage to be together while Emma has a more grounded view of how their world works, even though she can't help but wish it were otherwise. The manga is out of print and a bit hard to get now, although I prefer it over the anime. The manga and anime are slightly different, but end up at basically the same place. I've written about most of the manga and all of the anime.
- My Fair Concubine (book) by Jeannie Lin - Another one of my favorite cross-class romances. This one is a Tang Dynasty take on My Fair Lady and features a tea girl learning how to pretend to be a noble lady. I've written about this book.
- The Very Comely Countess (book) by Miranda Jarrett - Another cross-class romance. This historical romance is primarily set in London in 1799 and features a lowborn orange-seller who is hired to pretend to be an Earl's mistress. The Earl is a spy whose "mistresses" are actually meant to help him maintain his cover. I've written about this book.
- Proof by Seduction (book) by Courtney Milan - I realized I'd included several cross-class romances but nothing in which the heroine was deceiving others and the hero sought to prove it. The heroine is pretending to be a fortune teller and the hero is a scientist who wants to prove that she's a fraud. I haven't read this, although I've read another one of Milan's works and really enjoyed it.