Monday, May 6, 2013

Review: How to Entice an Earl by Manda Collins

With her two cousins married and occupied with their new husbands, Lady Madeline Essex has more time on her hands and she has decided to write a novel. Her research requires her to attend events at questionable establishments and to associate with people with questionable reputations. Her cousins know her plan and are worried -- but it is Christian Montieth's reaction that proves curious: he is furious with her and her recklessness -- but, why? He is only the good friend of her cousins's husbands -- so where is this fierce protectiveness coming from?

When her first trip to a gaming hell ends disastrously, which included her brother's friend dying in her arms and her brother missing, Maddie shifts her focus to uncovering the villain, whose actions have cast suspicion on Maddie's brother, Viscount Linton.

Christian is also investigating Viscount Linton and his friends regarding to their connections to a potentially dangerous group known as the ... Their goals might be different but Christian and Madeline agree to work together and a tentative partnership is formed.

It was a given that Madeline and Christian would end up together -- her cousins and his friends (and readers of the series) were all expecting it. The only questions that needed to be addressed were, when and how. Even from the previous stories, I had a sense that there was Beatrice-Benedick dynamic to Madeline and Christian but, the author doesn't capitalize on this. Instead, the conversations between our hero and heroine weren't engaging and their moments of intimacy felt a bit flat.

The best part of the story is the intrigue: Madeline is the only witness to a murder and her brother is the top suspect. Christian has been investigating Viscount Linton for a different reason -- and this latest incident casts even more suspicion on him. Manda Collins is great at heightening the suspense and kept me guessing until the very end. Although I was a bit concerned about the amount of information Christian was divulging -- I had expected those who worked for the Home Office to be a bit more covert and secretive. (Read Chapter 9, the meeting of Christian and Maddie's father, Lord Essex.)

Nick Hornby in High Fidelity talks about the strategy of compiling (in his character's case, a mixtape):

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter -- there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've for to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention ... Then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch ... Oh, there are loads of rules.

In the same way, I think that making a great historical romance series is a delicate balancing act. Manda Collins's debut, How to Dance with a Duke was a stellar breakout novel and is one of my favorite debut novels of 2012. And then she followed it up with How to Romance a Rake, which upped the emotional angst ante -- but, now, with the final book in the series, How to Entice an Earl, I find myself a little disappointed. Of the three Ugly Ducklings, I thought Madeline Essex had the most interesting story to tell. She's titled, beautiful and a bit outspoken -- it is the third reason that makes her an Ugly Duckling. I thought Manda Collins did well in making each cousin unique and with a distinct voice -- but I did not hear that voice in Madeline's own story.

How to Entice an Earl is the final installment in Manda Collins's Ugly Ducklings series. The Perks of Being a Beauty, a novella which will feature Amelia Snowe is scheduled for release this June 2013. To find out more about Manda Collins and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook and on Goodreads.

To read my reviews of the rest of the series, click here:
How to Dance with a Duke
How to Romance a Rake



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