Friday, November 11, 2022

Anna Bennett - First Earl I See Tonight

Recently jilted by his fiancée, David Gray, Earl of Ravenport is not in the market for a wife. Even if Gray didn’t have his hands full renovating his crumbling country house, it would take more than a bold marriage proposal from a headstrong young beauty to thaw his frozen heart. Gray is confident that spending a week at his ramshackle estate will change her mind about marriage, but every passionate moment he spends with her tempts him to change his…
A talented artist, Miss Fiona Hartley desperately needs her dowry money to pay off a blackmailer set on ruining her sister. The handsome earl seems a sensible choice for a husband…if only she can convince him that romance will play no part. But marrying in name only may prove difficult for Fiona. Gray can’t help but be dazzled by her genuine warmth. Yet as their feelings deepen, Fiona’s deadline looms. Will her secrets destroy them, or is true love their final destiny?

Comment: Another book I must have added to my TBR after seeing positive comments somewhere. I can't remember anymore why I'd have felt interested, except that I believe it was due to the possibility this would feature a marriage of convenience and usually that is a trope I tend to like.

In this book we meet Fiona Hartley and she is determined to help her younger sister to not be ruined by a cad, a blackmailer who wants money otherwise will expose Lily's origins. Both of them are adopted but only now has Fiona learned who Lily's mother truly was but the problem is how to get the money. She, therefore, devises the plan to marry and with her dowry money she will be able to pay, but the marriage has to happen very soon and she immediately thinks of Gray, the earl of Ravenport, rumored to need money to restore his estate and who was recently jilted by his fiancée.
Indeed, Gray would like to pay the restoration if his estate so that his grandmother could still enjoy it as she did in her childhood. He believed his fiancée would understand this but upon seeing the estate, she changed her mind. He is wary of Fiona's ideas when she proposes marriage - unheard of! - but the more he gets to know her, the more intrigued he is by her personality. Could it be her crazy idea isn't that silly after all?

I didn't have many expectations about this story and that means that I was quite entertained by it and by how much I ended up liking it. It's true that it's not the best historical romance I've read so far, but it had enough details to have made the story feel interesting. It also helped that the writing was pleasant and nothing glaring comes to mind in how this might affected the story line.

The story is simple, the protagonists meet because of the heroine's daring proposal but despite this being a difficult point to accept if the intent is to have a very proper historical, it's not so different from the vast majority of stories in the genre out there. I think there are other authors, some with a bigger number of fans perhaps, who have yet more anachronisms than the ones we might find here. To me, this book worked, I think there are enough elements to make it an historical but it's clearly more on the cute side.

The plot is also simple, focused on Fiona's desire to prevent a scandal. Since we know she and her sister are adopted, I have to assume a lot obviously was meant to protect their parents, especially her father who is someone Fiona looks up to and who has had health issues, so she doesn't want to burden him - probably why there's even a plot to begin with. I think the dynamics with her mother are harder to grasp, the lady seems to be a bit more shallow, more concerned with appearances but at the same time she accepted the adopted daughters... tricky to think of this.

The steps Fiona takes to get her goal might seem unlikely but to me the more obvious sign this isn't exactly  cannon is how quick everything happens. She sends a letter to the earl and he very quickly gets on board with her plan (since getting the letter and after some chapters of indecision it's still too quick), which we know would help him too. I think most of the plot lines were predictable, but still amusing or interesting for the most part anyway, so I can't truly complain. I was even positively surprised when, way before it was time to end the novel, the heroine trusts and confides in the hero, preventing one of those huge and avoidable misunderstandings.

Fiona and Gray are compatible and I think we see enough to accept they make a good pair. The author does try to showcase why they match and although some details area bit too obvious (Fiona, the artist, sees beauty in Gray's dilapidated gardens and house), I think the overall effect is a positive one. The transition from certain scenes to others doesn't seem to always be smooth, but it gets easy to understand how they are falling in love. Still, I wouldn't have minded less subtlety in a few key moments.

I've read some reviews where readers call out a few issues the plot has and I do agree with some as well, especially the big question of why was Fiona being blackmailed, after all everyone would know women, especially single unwed ones, would not have easy access to funds to do such a thing, but the idea for the plot is certainly not its strongest detail.... the path, as often happens, sometimes is part of the fun and not as much the final result, and in this case, I suppose that is how I saw this. It was funnier to get to know the characters than to expect wonders... the end was one of the predictable details.

Still, it was entertaining, it wasn't terrible nor did it have scenes/segments I could not stand, but to be fair I don't know if I will want to read the rest of the trilogy, one book about Fiona's sister and the other about their best friend.
Grade: 7/10

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