>> Saturday, August 09, 2014
Single twentysomething seeks Prince Charming.
Those without royal castles need not apply.
Inspired by a famous talk show host to "live her best life," out-of-work tech writer Katy Orville flies off to London to find the man of her dreams. But in order to catch a prince, she has to shed her all-American girl image and transform herself into a hip, fashionable heiress. Can she really pull it off? Will she?
At a society wedding, it seems like a dream come true when a handsome man in a formal kilt begins a hot pursuit, clearly smitten with Katy. Unfortunately, Will Eland is more interested in rebuilding some old estate in the countryside than in partying with the aristos -- how can she be attracted to Mr. Handyman when she's looking for a nobleman? But appearances can be deceiving, as Katy well knows. Sometimes a prince is disguised as a pauper -- and sometimes an ordinary bloke is really a duke. And she hopes that playing make-believe hasn't ruined her chance for happily ever after...
I've been reading ebooks almost exclusively for 10 years, so my electronic TBR is large (very large) and unwieldy. I keep books on my kindle ordered by most recently opened, so I mainly end up reading new additions to it. I've decided that once a month I'll read a book chosen randomly (thanks to Calibre + a random number generator), and the first one that came up was this Lisa Cach contemporary, bought when I glommed her backlist after reading and loving The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid (not erotica, but a lovely romance and hilarious to boot).
Katy Orville has been laid off from her job as a technical writer for an IT company. It wasn't a job she loved, by any means, but she'd made up her mind to feel the safety of it compensated for the boredom. Losing it makes it clear to her that this safety wasn't real, so she can't seem to get inspired to look for another job like it. She's been sensible and put some money away for a rainy day, so she's got a bit of space to look for something closer to a dream job, but the problem is she doesn't know what her dream is.
All real enough, right? But then the zaniness starts. Katy worships Oprah Winfrey (as in, she's got a sort of altar in her room with a photo of Oprah and lights candles to her). She asks herself: "What Would Oprah Do?", and downloads instructions for a Life Map from her website. After making a collage of all the images and words from magazines that "feel right" to her and not knowing what on earth it all could mean, she falls asleep and Oprah comes to her in a dream. When she wakes up, Katy knows exactly what she wants to do. Her dream is to marry an English aristocrat, so she'll spend her rainy day fund on a trip to London, where she'll stay in Mayfair and frequent the places where she imagines "lordlings" hang out. That's what Oprah would do.
And for such a harebrained, idiotic plan, it actually works. While queueing for entrance to the Tower of London, she notices groups of very well-dressed people going in and showing invitations at the door. There's clearly a high-society wedding inside. And when she goes in and drifts in that direction wondering if she should try to sneak in (surely there'll be lords in there!) she sees someone she knows: the kilted young man who nearly ran her over in his dilapidated van a little while earlier, when she (of course) looked the wrong way before crossing the road.
The young man is Will Eland and he's a real, live duke. An impoverished one who got his title unexpectedly and doesn't care a hoot about it, and who's trying to keep a roof over his (as dilapidated as his van) castle by farming organic vegetables. He assumes the suited, high-heeled Katy is a guest, rather than a tourist (when deciding what she should wear to attract her dream lordling she thought the most sensible thing to do was to model her wardrobe after Queen Elizabeth -posh, right?-, so she's been wandering round London in a yellow skirt suit and a huge brooch), so she escorts her in, accidentally making everyone assume she's his guest.
The first person Katy is introduced to is Will's supercilious cousin Trevor, who's a viscount, and who wants nothing better than to get one over Will. Seeing how Will's looking at the frumpy American girl, Trevor decides to pursue her. And that's Katy's conflict right there: should she go for the rather nasty and dismissive guy who's a nobleman, and therefore everything she wants, or for the strangely attractive, rumpled regular guy (she thinks), who's nothing like her dream man?
This is a wish fulfillment book. There are loads of them around lately, and that aspect didn't work for me any better than when it's all about regular girls dating rock stars. Maybe the idea of a contemporary aristocrat would have been more to my taste if I hadn't moved to England a few years go, but I did, and it wasn't. Part of me despised Katy for going "ohh, noblemen!" without even considering social realities.
The humour is really frustrating. A lot of it depends on Katy being completely oblivious and mind-numbingly stupid (in ways that are not even internally coherent -she's on this huge aristo-hunting trip and she never thought of checking what the wife of a marquess is called?). Humour's so very personal, but here's a quick test: a girl who thinks that dressing like Queen Elizabeth is a good idea if one wants to attract a privileged young man - hilarious or painful? But at the same time, there are some scenes that really tickled me (e.g. the one where Katy's push-up bra springs a leak and Will thinks she's mortally injured and about to do major surgery on herself). The balance moves more to the latter as the book progresses, which ends things in a slightly happier note, but the beginning made me groan quite a bit and left me not believing in Katy as a real person at all.
Actually, no one feels real. Cach has some strange ideas about English people, and nothing feels remotely true or plausible. Yes, it's supposed to be farce, but the ways in which she got things (like her take on what a British tabloid article about a rich American newcomer might sound like) were not just off-base, they were cringe-worthy and laughable and made me feel embarrassed for her. I was also annoyed by how all the young, female characters (who could have been rivals for the heroine) were unbelievably nasty.
The shame is that at the heart of this is a hero and a romance that could have been pretty good. Will was a nice character, a hard-working and (literally) down-to-earth guy who cares passionately about the land that has come to him. He's rather lonely, though, and actively dreams of someone to share his life with. He falls for Katy really hard as soon as he meets her (lovely, but why on earth does he?), and his pursuit of her is mostly really sweet (I did get a bit annoyed at his insistence that the man has to be the breadwinner, though).
It's a shame, because I could see this written in a way that isn't so offensively stupid.
MY GRADE: A D.