Series: Improper Series
Published by Carina Press on March 24, 2014
Newly widowed, Caroline Boothroyd passes her days writing a guide for young wives daunted by their housewifely duties. She takes it to publisher Thomas Cathcart-Ross, who makes the outrageous suggestion that Caroline should instead tackle the subject of marital relations—and, even more shocking, that she should tell women that sex with their husbands can be pleasurable and not a shameful necessity.
Tom's sisters were sent into marriage naive and unworldly. He's willing to risk scandal to help women like them, and Caroline's writing talent provides the means. Remembering her own newlywed nerves, she agrees, despite fears for her reputation.
As Caroline thinks back on her own sexual awakening, she cannot help imagining a sensual future with her compelling publisher. Tom makes her want to write a second chapter of her sexual life. But lust could lead to love, and Caroline never wishes to feel heartbreak again.
Caroline Boothroyd, who recently lost her husband, has spent most of the last few months writing a guide for housewives on proper housekeeping. When she sends it off to a publisher, Thomas Cathcart-Ross of Peregrine Press, he rejects her manuscripts and instead requests that she write a guide for housewives to use in the bedroom, something that will show sexual relations can be a positive experience and pleasurable, not something shameful or frightening. But over the course of their publishing partnership, lust ignites between Caroline and Tom. Can Caroline learn to love again?
Like the previous books in the Improper series, this is written from Caroline’s perspective (although the view does occasionally hop into third person). You would think such a choice would provide valuable insight into Caroline’s personality. Unfortunately, I don’t think she has one. Despite claiming to have been well-loved by her deceased vicar husband, Caroline comes across as staid and clinical as the writing. She shows almost no inclination towards desire and even when she does, it seems to come from nowhere. This improves as the story and love scenes progress, but I don’t want to wade through 55% just to find a halfway decent heroine.
Tom is sadly much the same as Caroline in terms of characterization and personality — that is, he has none. And like Caroline, his desires seem to come from nowhere since there is nothing to suggest any kind of feeling for Caroline before their first kiss. And there were a few other things in Tom’s characterization that threw me off. For example, the first the reader hears of Tom having a mustache and beard is right before the first love scene in chapter 8 — this a few chapters after Caroline told Tom how much she disliked the scratchiness of her late husband’s beard. That would have been a good time to mention Tom’s beard, perhaps a comment on the scratchiness of his own? Instead, the reader is left to wonder at how one beard can be distasteful and scratchy while another is soft and pleasant to stroke. The book is littered with these kinds of inconsistencies.
There is great irony in the fact that Thomas spends a significant amount of time providing Caroline with feedback on her writing and tips for improvement. I feel as though this book would benefit from the same advice. The writing is clinical and full of awkward phrasing and dialogue. There are many points where the reader is told something happened instead shown that something happened. At one point Caroline talks about how her prose was “so provoking” that “stark, unabashed desire resonated from every page.” Except the excerpt that followed read like a textbook and was twice as boring. Maybe those prose might have been provocative for Victorians in 1870, but that’s not the audience reading this book today. The prose was not in the least bit provocative or even slightly steamy – more like tepid water than steam. Also, there is no indication to signal where the story ends and Caroline’s writing begins. There were more than a few passages that I had to double back on because I realized I was reading something that was supposed to be from Caroline’s guidebook and not part of the story action itself.
Frankly, I struggled to finish this book and very nearly threw it in the Did Not Finish pile. It was an interesting idea, but a poor execution. The later love scenes are good, but that doesn’t make up for the story’s other shortcomings.