By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I have been struggling to get into historical romance, lately, which has left me feeling adrift because historicals were my introduction to the romance genre, and a lot of my favorite, auto-buy authors (including Jennifer Ashley) write historicals. But even the last few Jennifer Ashley books I've read have been disappointing, so it was nice to pick up and thoroughly enjoy Rules for a Proper Governess.
Sinclair McBride is a barrister who prosecutes crimes in the London courts. Bertie (Roberta) is a daughter of a petty criminal from the East End. When one of her friends is accused of a murder she didn't commit, Bertie expects McBride to put his considerable legal skills to work crucifying her friend--that's his job, after all--but instead he tricks the main prosecution witness into all-but-confessing to the crime on the stand. Bertie is thrilled, until her father and fiance (one of her father's associates), force her to pick McBride's pockets. To her surprise, McBride gives chase. When he catches her, he convinces her to return his stolen pocketwatch (a treasured gift from his late wife) in exchange for freely-given coin.
Yes, you have to willingly suspend your disbelief a little bit to accept that a prosecutor would give a pickpocket money rather than clapping her in irons, much less that he'd hire that same uneducated, unpolished, Cockney-accented guttersnipe as a governess to his children, but if you can make that leap, it's a fun story and an unusually compelling romance.
I really, really enjoyed Bertie. She is so unflinchingly honest and self-possessed. Compared to the carefully calculated manners and behavior of so many of the husband-hunting ladies populating historical romance (who tend to be spunky or perky, sure, but only so far as propriety permits), Bertie is refreshingly relaxed. She is smart and savvy and strong -- she fights her own battles (literally), but also owns her flaws. She knows she's woefully unequipped for the job of educating McBride's children, so she sets out to read his entire library. She goes after what she wants--she's the one who initiates the first kiss with McBride, for example--but though she wants McBride, she doesn't need him. She doesn't expect McBride to marry her--(which is actually often a problem for me: I tend not to like historical romances where the lady takes the enormous risks to her reputation and possible pregnancy by becoming intimate with the hero, before he commits himself to the relationship--I think I was willing to forgive it here because 1) Bertie's reputation wasn't so pure it needed to be so well protected, 2) McBride's feelings for her were clear from the beginning, even before he spoke them out loud to Bertie, and 3) you know if anything did go wrong in the relationship, Bertie is strong and smart enough to look after herself)--but she loves him and doesn't play games with herself or with him about her feelings and her determination to experience and enjoy their relationship for as long as it lasts.
Bertie also has a mindfulness that is very appealing, both to McBride and to the reader. McBride has gone numb, still in mourning over the death of his wife, overwhelmed by work and by the emotional needs of his unruly children, whom he loves but can't connect with. By contrast, Bertie feels everything, notices everything, appreciates everything. She loves McBride, loves the children, loves the books she reads, loves the fine soaps they use in the McBride house, loves the fine engineering of the train that takes her out of London for the first time. McBride shows her the world, but in exchange, she shows him how to see and appreciate it, how to be present in the world in a way he has not been since losing his wife.
The plot moves right along and there's plenty of stuff that would make a stickler for historical verisimilitude purse her lips in dismay (I am not such a stickler, except when it comes to grammar), and if you're one of those people who hates plot moppets (cute but unrealistic child characters who do little to advance the plot), this is not the book for you, but I really enjoyed it.