Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine
by Jane Fresina
I am not sure that this book works on all of the levels that the author intended. At its core is a good story about a woman trying to find what truly makes her happy in life, but much of the conflict, the characters, even the setting itself came across as vague. I hate to throw out the word “wallpaper” however, the lack of any depth to the story made this book flat to me.
The book opens at a small society gathering where Sophie Valentine has been discovered in a most scandalous position with her suitor James. For Sophie, the intimate experience wasn't memorable and now she is on the precipice of having her entire life changed because of that single moment of wantonness. As she stands at a garden balcony coming to terms with this unwanted future, she sees James touching a serving girl with more care than he seemed to show Sophie, and she knows that she will never be happy being with him. In that single moment she takes a leap of faith, more literally than figuratively, to change her future and live the life she wants to. Flash forward ten years and that fantasy of a fulfilled life for Sophie has yet to materialize. She is approaching thirty, is firmly on the shelf, and is at the mercy of her brother's charity for her wellbeing. In a fit of pique after an argument with her sister-in-law, Sophie's brash side briefly shows itself again when she writes and mails a want-ad for a most unusual item: "Wanted: one husband…”
Into Sophie's quiet and secluded existence walks a man who, rather than introducing himself, steals a kiss from her lips and stirs passions she had thought long since dormant. Lazarus Kane has been a self-made man for ten years. Growing up in the lower classes of London, he has been on both sides of the law as both an enlisted man in the army as well as a convicted criminal. Through it all, Lazarus has always tried to become the better man for his experiences. He adapts, he works hard, and in his heart he holds the image of a woman of such beauty and spirit that everything he does is a way to get closer to her. He arrives in the hamlet of Sydney Dovedale in answer to Sophie's scandalous advertisement, but he also wants to create a real life for himself. At the age of twenty-four, he is mature beyond his years and knows exactly what all the challenges of his life have led him towards. He also know the importance of embracing any opportunity that life can give a man, as that life can be taken in a matter of moments.
As far as characters go, there was much to endear me to both Sophie and Lazarus as I read the book. At the risk of seeming “square” I've never been a huge fan of the Older Woman/Younger Man trope in romance, yet in this book I never got that squeamish feeling from their relationship. Lazarus was written as the more mature individual who knew exactly what he wanted and had the tools to make that wish a reality. Sophie was written as a women somewhat suspended in time, physically being thirty but mentally acting as that same young woman who wanted to reach out for happiness, rather than security. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters in the book were very one-note, thinly developed people with their behaviors never changing, and their motivations always black or white.
The setting of the book was also vague, enough so that Sophie and Lazarus could have existed in any time and place and I never would have known the difference. I only knew they were living in England for the occasional use of the peerage titles with a background character or two. Otherwise, this easily could have set in the 1800's American West or another place outside of Regency England. The author could have done a bit more to establish her setting by adding more of the cues that Historical readers look for. I don't need to be hit over the head with history, but even a random mention of “Prinny” would have been welcome.
Overall, the best word I can use to describe this book is “cute.” It was a light read, with minimal conflict between the main characters finding their way to love, but without much to back up the emotion.
~Reviewed by Sara Anne Elliott
“A sweet story about a fallen woman, a man with a past, and a most improper courtship.”
June 2012, 384 pages
"Wanted: one husband, not too particular. Small dowry, several books, sundry furnishings, and elderly aunt included. Idlers, time-wasters, and gentleman without other attachments need not apply."—Miss Sophie Valentine
Sophie Valentine knew placing an ad for a husband in the Farmers Gazette would bring her trouble-and she was right. When the darkly handsome, arrogantly charming Lazarus Kane shows up on her doorstep, the nosy residents of Sydney Dovedale are thrown into a gossiping tizzy. After all, it's common knowledge that Sophie is a young lady In Need of Firmer Direction. But even Sophie isn't so scandalous as to marry a complete stranger. .. is she?
Lazarus Kane has been searching for Sophie half of his life. She may not remember him, but he could never forget her. But the past is a dangerous thing, and it's best if his remains secret if he wants to tempt Sophie ...