Book Review

Just Wicked Enough by Lorraine Heath

D+

Title: Just Wicked Enough
Author: Lorraine Heath
Publication Info: Avon August 2007
ISBN: 0061129704
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverWhen I wrote last week about reading a paperback and compared that experience to The Kindle-Ade, this is the book I was talking about. I grabbed this book as fast as I could because I had to complete the Act of Congress that it takes to move my posse around on the weekend and make sure I had something to read in the car.

Just Wicked Enough is a American heiress/impoverished lord historical, and I believe the second of a trilogy, or possibly a quartet, though according to Heath’s website the last two books are “on hold.” Michael Tremayne, Marquess of Falconridge (predatory animal + geographical feature FTW!), auctions himself to a pack of rich American men with eligible daughters, and wins the hand of Kate Rose, who is headstrong, rather bookish, addicted to chocolate, utterly unfamiliar with Mr. Falcon and his Ridge, and – surprise! – according to the terms of the marriage, in complete control of the purse strings of their union. The terms of the bid was in the multi-millions, so if Kate had her druthers, she probably could have bailed out Fannie and Freddie and gone back after Lehman. Kate’s financial acumen, it is fierce.

The problem with the book begins with the fact that Falcon and his Ridge are utterly emasculated by the circumstances of the marriage. And while he certainly had Teh Powerz of Seduction at his disposal to effect some balance in their relationship, Kate won’t have him in her bed until he wins her love. Right. Because a marriage based on layers of false pretense and plain out passionless purchase is destined to be a love match. For a sharp cookie, she sure was dim in her expectations of her husband. Even before she knew about the purchased part (Seriously, this book could have been a Harlequin: Presents novel: Purchased! A Wife! Because My Estate is Moldy!) she held him at such a disadvantage financially that he hocks one of his few pieces of jewelry to try to find gifts for her that might make her happy. What really puts the nail in the coffin of my respect for Kate is that the reason for FalconRidge’s poor financial straits are not at all because he has some sort of looney gambling problem, but because he’s trying to do something terrible and embarrassing and expensive and keep it a secret.

The upshot of their romance is that he’s tortured. What, with a name like FalconRidge? Of course he’s tortured! He’s mother is terribly ill with advancing and terrible dementia, and Kate is vanilla pudding in comparison to the hero. She’s not at all a Kate in the model of Taming of the Shrew. She’s far too reasonable – and far too in control of everything. Her development as a character happened, I suppose, in a previous book, but the additional elements of her scandalous backstory made her look foolish, deceitful, sneaky, and not sympathetic in the least.  I felt sorry for Michael a lot of the time in his marriage because Kate never missed an opportunity to remind him that she made the decisions, and time and again little scenes seemed to cut off another inch of the Falcon in his Ridge.

Overall, Michael seemed to fall for Kate because he ought to do so, it being a romance after all. He seemed to notice her and eventually profess to love her because they were married and because the book said “Avon Romantic Treasure”, not because there was genuine emotional attachment between them. Like standing next to someone on a stalled subway train – it’s easier to be friends due to the circumstances for the moment, but with Kate and Michael, the train was their marriage and the stall was for the rest of their lives. “You’re there. I could probably love you. Might as well. We’re married and you have a shit ton of money after all, which I don’t get access to unless you are happy.” (Really, that’s what it says in the agreement).

But Michael’s story as pertains to his mother is just heartbreaking, and the parts of the narrative that involved his mother, Kate, and Michael were painful and bittersweet. The passionate emotions that I wish had been more present between the protagonists were knife sharp and agonizing between Michael and his mother in the form regret and pain, and eventual bits of love. The depth of genuine emotion Michael felt for his mother, and for the circumstances surrounding them both were shattering, particularly when compared to the flaccid pudding that was his emotional connection to Kate. Heath pulls some mighty emotional strings between Michael and the Dowager Marchioness of FalconRidge, but there wasn’t nearly enough emotional weight to tie up the happy ending between Kate and Michael.

It was a happy ending because they had some hot sex in the context of marriage, and their problems went far far away, and ultimately they got along. But because the relationship that ought to have been the centerpiece of the story was so secondary in quality to the relationship between Michael and his very ill mother, I was disappointed in the book’s narrative, though still determined to finish it – I had to know what happened to the Dowager, despite knowing it would be painful to read.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Mads says:

    Sounds like an interesting- if a bit crap- book. FalconRidge totally gave me some LOLs. What’s next … CougarDen, DeerPaddock?
    Maybe Ms. Heath should ditch the feisty American heiresses and amusing names and stick to writing tortuously sad memoirs about dementia.
    Sorry. That was tasteless.
    Anyway, enjoyed reading a Smart Bitch review. :-)

  2. 2

    She’s totally in control of the purse strings? He “auctioned” himself to a bunch of fathers?

    Of course I haven’t read the book, but having read “To Marry an English Lord” and Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan’s “The Glitter and the Gold” (Consuelo was the ninth Duchess of Marlborough—essentially sold by her title-hungry mother; she later divorced the Duke), this seems totally and completely at odds with historical accuracy.

    (Again, I haven’t read the book, so if I’ve misunderstood something I apologize.)

  3. 3
    SB Sarah says:

    Yes, that’s correct as I understood the plot. He auctioned himself to fathers of American heiresses, each of whom was sworn to secrecy about the transaction. And the terms of the marriage settlement required the wife’s signature and oversight on all financial matters. The bank will only release funds upon her approval.

  4. 4
    Jessica says:

    She’s totally in control of the purse strings? He “auctioned” himself to a bunch of fathers?

    Of course I haven’t read the book, but having read “To Marry an English Lord” and Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan’s “The Glitter and the Gold” (Consuelo was the ninth Duchess of Marlborough—essentially sold by her title-hungry mother; she later divorced the Duke), this seems totally and completely at odds with historical accuracy.

    Not having done a lot of research in this area, this impression may be totally historically inaccurate, but I think the fact that she was American is supposed to explain all that.  Americans—whether this is true in Real Life or just in Romancelandia I don’t know—are supposed to love titles, even if there’s no money to back it up.  And I do know that single women in America and England were allowed to own property and control their own finances, and if the marriage contracts were written right, a married woman could control at least some of the finances and property. 

    The premise sounds somewhat interesting, but I can’t stand romance novels where the HEA feels like it’s just there because it’s a romance novel.  I don’t know if I’ll pick it up or not.

  5. 5
    Sparky says:

    Well, historically, it’s not that inaccurate. It wasn’t (and, for that matter, still isn’t) unknown for noble houses with big houses, big titles and bugger all money to marry a rich heir(ess), merchant or industrialist, especially back in days of yore when merchants et al were considered “uppity” and grabbing a title was a good way into high society.

    What I don’t get is the “and she controls all the purse strings” schtick. I mean, he’s selling his title (in effect) for the sake of a healthy injection of cash – but she controls the purse strings? He’s made a bargain and hasn’t actually got what he bargained for. Unless there’s some stipulation like “you must restore my stately manor to its proper upkeep” or some such or an allowance, one off payment or something to him it seems that he doesn’t get much to the deal. And this guy AUCTIONED himself? I.e. there were COMPETITORS for the role of MoneyDomme? And this was the best deal he could wrangle? Does he look like Quasimodo with advance leprosy or something?

  6. 6
    Gwynnyd says:

    I suppose it depends on the historical period in which the novel is set.  As I understand it, she could not retain control of her property, not under English common law before the reform acts of 1882.  A marriage was “one person” and always represented by the husband.  A small dowery could be kept separate, but the bulk of a woman’s estate passed into her husband’s hands.

    Prior to the reforms, women’s premarital legal contracts were governed by something called the “law of coverture”.  Apparently – according to some quick research I just googled – English common law did not recognize pre-nuptial contracts made with women.  Once the marriage ceremony took place, it automatically annulled them.  Now there’s a plot bunny….

    quick overview here:

    Property Rights of Women

  7. 7
    Suzanne says:

    Wow, this sounds pretty craptastic!  I agree with Sparky – what was in the deal for him?  Historically inaccurate or not, doesn’t sound like a book I would like.  Maybe this review explains why the other to books are “on hold”?!

  8. 8
    Suzanne says:

    Um, okay…that was supposed to be TWO books on hold…man, I hate it when I make stupid mistakes like that!

  9. 9
    senetra says:

    I haven’t read much by her since she left the American West.  Her Texas trilogy is gold standard writing.

  10. 10
    ChristineM says:

    Falconridge sounds one step away from Falcon Crest. Crest…. Ridge…. Not a far leap from one to the other. Perhaps next we can expect a knock-off of Knott’s Landing. :)

  11. 11
    Katie Ann says:

    I, too, read this, and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as some of her American historicals.  Anyone read

    Always to Remember

    or

    Texas Destiny

    ?  Those two had some of the best heroes I can remember, and both are definite keepers, which is what made me pick up this book.  Just didn’t do it for me, though.

  12. 12

    Yes, there was a huge inrush of American heiresses marrying titled Englishmen; that’s not inaccurate. As I mentioned in my first comment, the book “To Marry and English Lord” is the story—in great detail, in some cases—of those ladies, how the marriages were made, what happened after, the legal ramifications and how the money was spent, etc. etc. etc.; and Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan was one of the ladies in question.

    But the idea that she controls the purse strings beggars belief, as does the idea of having such an auction in the first place. From the late nineteenth to early 20th centuries, such heiresses were plentiful; ripe for picking, and the better the title the more money the titled man in question could attract (a Marquess holds a damn good title, just one step below Duke—and there were only 19 of them at any given time—and probably lesser titles as well; he wouldn’t have had a problem). Lord Falconridge would have been knee-deep in pretty, wealthy American girls, whose mothers were desperate to see them become titled. (The fathers generally just paid the bills and stayed out of it.) He wouldn’t have needed to auction anything, and he certainly wouldn’t have needed to agree to relinquish control of his wife’s money (and, as Gwynedd points out, that was not permissable by law up to a certain point, and when the law changed it didn’t change THAT much.)

    The laws in America had absolutely no standing on such agreements; when she married an Englishman, the bride became English, and was subject to the laws of that country only.

    Many parents did attempt to make sure their daughters had some income of their own (Jenny Jerome’s marriage to Randolph Churchill nearly foundered on this point, and good for the world that it did not, as one of their children was Winston Churchill); but the idea that she would be in complete control of the money is unfathomable for that period in history. Not only legally and socailly—the scandal such an agreement would have caused!—but quite simply Lord FalconCrest wouldn’t have needed to make such an agreement.

    I’ll have to grab the book later and see what else I can find; but generally, while the father could have settled an amount on his daughter that would be hers to keep, the interest earnings from it would have belonged to her husband. (And yes, he’s definitely not getting what he paid for in that scenario!)

  13. 13
    willaful says:

    An odd phenomenon – I saw the book under grade “D”, then when I clicked to read the rest of the review, saw that it had actually gotten a “D+.” For some unknown reason, this seemed worse than just a D.

    I guess I know why this book keeps turning up in library sales. I’ll probably get around to trying it one of these days, just to see. I did enjoy her To Marry an Heiress. And of course the “Texas” books are awesome. I felt like such a tool when I read them and instantly became one of those annoying people who always go “but her Westerns were so much better.” Sorry, but… they really are.

  14. 14
    Charlene says:

    Falconridge is a heavily ethnic neighbourhood in northeast Calgary. Most residents are either Sikh, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Hindustani.

    Seeing this in a novel would be sort of like a New Yorker opening a book and finding the dashing hero is named the Earl of Jackson Heights.

  15. 15
    Pat says:

    Ah, yes, I remember this book and feeling exactly how you do about it.  Definitely a REAL disappointment!

  16. 16

    I have to say that I read this book and loved it—I have a grandparent who suffered from dementia, and this was a very personal book for me—but that’s not why I’m commenting.

    I do want to set the record straight on property rights.

    The Michigan site regarding women’s property rights is correct but incomplete in a major way.  The reason it’s incomplete is that whoever Hiam Brinjikji is, she’s missing a fundamental piece of the English legal system.

    Yes, women could not, at law, own property.  The common law did not recognize women as having separate legal status.

    The problem is that the modern reader looks at something like “women could not own property at law” and thinks it means that women could not own property.  The reason we are trained to think that way is that we think of “law” as being the be-all end-all of the government, and so we read the phrase “at law” to mean something like “by operation of law.”

    The problem is that for most of the 1800s, “at law” had a very specific meaning:  Under then-existing statutory and common law, as administered by the courts of law.

    But for much of English (and US!) history, there were also courts of equity.  And so saying that women could not own property “at law” did not mean that women could not own property in courts of equity.

    It was unambiguously the case by the late 1700s that a woman who owned property, but did not want it to go to her husband unequivocally upon marriage, could transfer the property to a trust, for which she was the primary beneficiary, and state that the property was for her sole and separate use, not withstanding any future coverture.  (If she was engaged, her potential husband would have to consent to such an arrangement.)  This happened ALL THE TIME.  After marriage, of course, you couldn’t set anything up at all.  But if you planned ahead, you could give someone a great deal of control over the whole system.

    So yes, it is actually quite possible for the woman to hold the purse strings in pre-1882 England.

    This is mentioned in this treatise here: http://books.google.com/books?id=HZUDAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA228&dq;=“notwithstanding+any+future+coverture”+date:1780-1890&ei=2W_-SIvTLI3IMrbg0McL

    Somewhere, I have another book that goes into married women’s rights—but I haven’t been able to find it on Google Books.

  17. 17

    Actually, I should amend my response.

    It is possible that a woman could own money that the man couldn’t control, but the legal fiction is that her trustees technically owned it.  She’d have to ask them to do everything for her, and if they refused, she’d have to bring suit against them.

    So the bit about it being released on her signature alone probably wouldn’t work.  She’d need to give her signature to the trustee who’d authorize the release of funds.

    That being said, that’s the sort of round-about stuff that probably doesn’t need to make it into the novel.

  18. 18
    PJ says:

    Actually, the book doesn’t sound too bad to me.  I’m sick of historical romances where the guy has all the say so and the girl is a big ole wimp.  Give me a heroine in control of the purse strings and a nice PWed guy.  Very sexy.  I’m going to try this one.

  19. 19

    I do remember liking this book because of the unusual plot twist of the auction, plus I liked that it was the wife who was in control, though I did not like how completely emasculated the hero was because of this. I found the hero to be a highly sympathetic character in a way that the heroine was not.

  20. 20

    I stand corrected on property rights—by the very turn of the century several marriages were made in which the money was settled strictly on the bride (usually in the form of stocks or something else which could not just be spent); and several people have clarified property laws. I still think it odd that the Marquess would have had to settle for such an arrangement and that it would have come off at all, as by 1883 or so people were becoming cynical about such matches and generally insisted the parties in question at least pretended to be in love; and for the reasons I mentioned before.

    Either way, I don’t completely buy the scenario, and I don’t see why we need the “auction” when the marriage could have come about without it, and the heroine still could have been given the keys to the moneybox, at least to a large degree. But again, I haven’t read the book.

  21. 21
    Kristie(J) says:

    *sigh* I just can’t read her anymore.  I was so her bitch when she was writing Westerns – like the two Katie Ann mentioned.  And when she ‘moved’ to England I totally tried to follow her.  But the writing just was not up to what it was when she wrote her Westerns.  So with a Great Deal of Sadness, I had to say farewell.  It was just too painful to stay with her – knowing what she used to write and how well she did it.

  22. 22
    Sparky says:

    Like December, it’s not the legalities of the matter that concern me so much as the realism of the deal. There are (and were) always ways and means around the laws if you’re cunning enough

    But there’s still the point that the Marquis has decided to sell (in effect) his (highly desireable and demanded) title to some lucky bride and this is the best deal he gets?

    It beggars belief that he would have agreed to such a thing – that out of all the rich father’s he approached this was the best option, especially since the humiliating scandal of being so emasculated in those days would be crippling to say the least. He has sold his title, this precious asset for funds he needs and got nothing for it.

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