Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday Review: The Perks of Being a Beauty

The Perks of Being a Beauty
(An enovella)
By Manda Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: 
June 18, 2013

At three and twenty, Miss Amelia Snowe, once the most dazzling of the diamonds on display in London ballrooms and other social settings, is now the companion of a wealthy mill owner’s daughter. Her mother’s death left Amelia with nothing but debts, and her years as a mean-spirited beauty meant that friends who were willing to help were few. Ironically, only the Ugly Ducklings, once the targets of Amelia’s cruelties, are willing to stand her friends now, thanks to a change of heart Amelia experienced before her change of circumstances (How to Entice an Earl). But even the combined efforts of a duchess, a countess, and a viscountess aren’t enough to save Amelia from those eager to see her frozen out of the circle where she once reigned.

The young woman who once flaunted her beauty now works to subdue it. Mrs. Smithson, Amelia’s employer, reminds the beauty at every opportunity that she is now a nonentity, scarcely more than a servant. And Amelia, who once used her tongue to wound those she viewed as her inferiors, now endures in silence the cuts Mrs. Smithson inflicts. Amelia’s only consolations are that her employment allows her to earn a living and to repay slowly the money Cecily, Duchess of Winterson, gave her when Amelia’s very survival was in jeopardy and she is able to be of real help to Harriet Smithson, a sweet natured but not very confident young lady.

The last person Lord Quentin Fortescue expected to meet when he paid a visit to Smithson to discuss business was the woman who rejected his proposal nearly six years earlier. Amelia Snowe thought her beauty would hook a husband with a more impressive title than the honorific one bestowed upon a duke’s younger son. At first, Quentin feels a certain sense of satisfaction to see that Amelia’s failed to find the titled gentleman of whom she was so certain, but that feeling quickly gives way to an awareness of her beauty and an urge to protect her from her employer’s snubs.

When the addition of Quentin to the house party guest leaves Mrs. Smithson with uneven numbers, she reluctantly compels Amelia to join the company. Amelia finds herself partnered with Quentin for a scavenger hunt, and as the two spend time together, the friendship they shared is renewed and the chemistry between them reignited. Can Quentin forgive the rejection that was a blow to his pride and his heart? Will Amelia have a second chance with the man she has never forgotten?

Romance readers are notoriously tough in their judgment of female characters, and so redeemed heroines are much rarer than redeemed heroes. I admit that I was a scoffer when I first heard that Manda Collins was going to write Amelia Snowe’s story. I don’t have much forgiveness to offer mean girls, and I already thought Cecily, Juliet, and Maddie were too quick to accept Amelia’s apologies in How to Entice an Earl. I should have trusted this author.

Collins shows her readers a truly repentant heroine, one whose present circumstances are more than payback for her offenses. She also reveals Amelia’s history, so that the reader understands the forces that shaped her into the jealous, spiteful beauty whose venom spilled out in the Ugly Ducklings books. In this case, to understand is to forgive, and I wasn’t very far into The Perks of Being a Beauty before I found Amelia a sympathetic character whose HEA I was anticipating.

It doesn’t hurt that Quentin is a delicious beta hero, my favorite type, and that the two are involved in a reunion romance, my favorite trope. I really liked that he was not content to be merely the younger son of a duke but was actively engaged in building his fortune in a socially enlightened manner. I thought the time he spent in America as the son-in-law of a wealthy industrialist made both his interest in trade and his more egalitarian ways credible.

If you read the Ugly Ducklings books, you will find that The Perks of Being a Beauty is the perfect after dinner cordial—sweet and intoxicating. If you haven’t read the Ugly Ducklings series, I have three novels and a novella to recommend to you.

Do you think you judge female characters by a stricter standard? Are you a fan of redeemed heroines? Who is your favorite?

To celebrate new releases by two of my favorite writers and dear friends, I’ll give one digital copy of The Perks of Being a Beauty to the author of a randomly selected comment (on release day) and one digital copy of Meant to Be by Terri Osburn to the author of a randomly selected comment. (Sorry--limited to comments from U. S. only)


Jane said...

I do think women judge other women more harshly. Sometimes I think we do it unconsciously. I do like reading about redeemed heroines. One of my favorites is Debra Webb's Annette Baxter in "Faceless."

irisheyes said...

It is a funny double standard, Janga. I think I'm hard on both heroes and heroines, but maybe a little bit harder on the heroine.

I read a few reviews on the book I'm currently reading (UNSTICKY by Sarra Manning) that claimed the heroine was shallow, self-absorbed, materialistic and didn't really deserve a HEA. I decided I wanted to read it and see for myself if I can feel for her and want her to achieve her HEA.

I remember starting SEP's AIN'T SHE SWEET thinking it was going to be hard to like Sugar Beth. I did, though, and was happy when she got her HEA. That would probably be my favorite redeemed heroine story.

Janga said...

Jane, I've heard the argument that we judge female characters more harshly because we identify with them more closely. I'm not sure I buy that. I think there are larger issues at work, and I agree that such judgments can be unconscious on the reader's part.

Janga said...

Irish, I always marvel that SEP was able to make the reader like Sugar Beth. I've read a few books recently with heroines I could not like. I also read several pieces from the lit fic community suggesting that only shallow readers demand that the heroine be likeable. This shallow reader has read many of the IMPORTANT BOOKS, and I will continue to spend my book dollars on books I enjoy reading, which for me means liking the heroine. I did like Amelia.