2 January 2013: Disclaimer: Review is from the Kindle edition, which I purchased. I do not know the author nor have I had any correspondence with her regarding the content of this review. I am an author of historical romances.
Since this is not a self-published work, I expected at the very least reasonable editing. Formatting and proofreading are fine, but frankly I just could not believe the poor editing.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, turns me off a historical romance faster than gross inaccuracies in peerage titles. There is absolutely no excuse for this. Certainly not for authors, but good gracious, do the editors at Avon/HarperCollins not care? Can't they get it even close? The Earl of Ashdown, whose personal name is Robert Maitland, has died, leaving his widow Isobel as Lady Ashdown. She is not and never has been Lady Maitland, nor is her mother-in-law Lady Honoria. And because Isobel and Robert had a son who is now Lord Ashdown (even though he's only five years old) the late earl's brother Charles is never anything more than Mr. Maitland. He is not "Lord Charles." He just isn't. Period.
Why is this particular detail so important to me, as a reader? Because as far as I'm concerned, The Nobility (my caps for emphasis) becomes a very important part of the plot in almost any British/European historical. Class and caste consciousness were part of the everyday fabric of life.
But when the story revolves around persons of The Nobility, and particularly around their individual relationships to The Nobility -- as in who will or should marry whom, what marriages will do to or for inheritances, who will or won't or can't inherit, etc., etc., etc. -- I feel the absolute least the author can do is get the damn titles and forms of address correct. It's not that difficult to do.
So setting that little annoyance aside, what did I think of the book anyway? Well, the beginning was cute, sort of. Lady Ashdown has the hots for Blackwood and seizes the opportunity to indulge. No explanation of how she developed this desire specifically for him, but maybe that will come out later in the story. The business with the sword was a bit overmuch, but given the passions of the moment, I suppose it could be done.
But how is it that Blackwood wouldn't know who she was? She's a friend of Lady Renshaw, and given Isobel's circumstances -- widowed, under her in-laws' thumb -- Blackwood should have known everyone. If he's a spy, it would be his business to know everyone in the ton, and there would be no excuse for him not to know who Isobel was.
And if the Dowager Countess, Isobel's gorgon of a mother-in-law, insists on such propriety, how did she permit Isobel to attend a masquerade ball? And in a costume with bells on the pants!?!
As another reviewer has written, Isobel's lack of concern for pregnancy didn't make sense either. If a teenager in the 1960s (that would be me) was at least aware of the risk and worried about it even though an out-of-wedlock pregnancy wouldn't be The End of the World, then a woman whose social standing and her relationship with her son would also be at risk would at least have given the possibility a passing thought. Isobel didn't, and that puts her firmly in TSTL territory.
When the internal consistency is this far off in the first couple of chapters, I know I'm not going to be able to set aside any disbelief. I expect romance novels to be a little bit over the top, and if the writing is good and the story plausible and the characters consistent, I can even get lost in the believability of a really over the top tale. But Secrets of a Proper Countess lacked just about everything that sustains a willing suspension of disbelief.
So what finally made me give up completely? Well, there were other details that played like Richard Collier's penny to pull me totally out of the story. I was able to wince and just highlight the statement that Phineas' friends went to spend "an afternoon at the track," but I could not ignore the absurd ending to Chapter Five: "And when he did, he was going to make love to her with the lights on."
At that point I turned the light off and quit reading.