Julia, Lady Winterset, has lived in genteel poverty since her husband died several years ago, but things are starting to get desperate, so she is looking to sell the only thing she has that may have monetary value: her great-grandmother's memoirs, entitled The Perfect Mistress. Hermione was quite the scandalous widow, and a prospective publisher believes her story could sell quite well. However, word of the memoirs reaches Harrison, the Earl of Mountdale, who will do anything to stop publication. Harrison is stuffy and stodgy and wishes to avoid the scandal which is sure to come when it is revealed that his father was one of Hermione's "adventures."
I liked Julia quite a bit. She is intelligent, sensible and loved her husband dearly. She is greatly surprised, however, to learn that she has a deeply passionate side that she has never really explored, but which is exposed by that annoying Harrison. Harrison is a bit of a blockhead. He offers to buy the manuscript from Julia and, when she refuses, proceeds to come up with various plans to procure it. Harrison is big on "plans" and watching him navigate his way through his relationship with Julia with various plans is one of the pleasures of this book. Julia is not at all what he is looking for - she's far too smart, for one thing - but she is turning out to be just what he needs.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of plot devices that left me shaking my head. Julia supports her grandmother who resides in a cottage in the country. When finances become too stretched to accommodate two households, Julia visits her grandmother on p. 71 to arrange for her to come to London. Grandma finally arrives in London on p.340, with hardly a word spoken of her during the intervening pages. And then there is the fact that great-grandma Hermione is a ghost who periodically appears to chat with Julia. Neither of these storylines seemed really necessary and, in fact, just took away from the central romance between Julia and Harrison, which was very sweet and funny and didn't need the additional shtick.
Still, I do recommend The Perfect Mistress for Julia and Harrison's romance, and Julia's two widowed friends whom, I assume, will be getting books of their own down the line.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, January 19, 2011