Saturday, February 11

Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin

Book 1 in the Baleful Godmother series

Charlotte Appleby is a good woman in a bad situation; both her parents have passed and she now approaches the ripe old age of 25 under the roof of her insufferable aunt and uncle, still without having received the Season she was due. As a 'charity' case, her aunt and uncle don't seem inclined to help Charlotte find her way in the world, so Charlotte needs to forge her own path; something that becomes a trifle easier when her (albeit scary) Fairy Godmother shows up on her 25th birthday to grant her a special power...metamorphosis. Armed with the ability to transform into whatever, or whomever, she pleases, 'Mr. Albin' decides to make 'his' way in the world by answering an ad in the paper for a secretary... an ad placed by a very handsome earl.

Marcus, Lord Cosgrove, is in need of a new secretary after his last one was ambushed and hurt in a fight; Mr. Albin, while a bit unusual (and clearly untutored in all things manly), seems to be the only one in England who's willing to stomach the risk. Together, Albin and Cosgrove set off on an adventure to find whoever is smashing the Earl's windows, leaving 'nightsoil' on his doorstep, and, apparently, even trying to kill him. Albin and the Earl become good friends as they begin to unravel the mysteries surrounding Cosgrove's life - but will that all change when Cosgrove learns Albin, er, Charlotte's secret?

Charlotte is an amazing heroine - truly, her story and her personality captivated me. She was generous and thoughtful, and willing to take responsibility for her actions at all times - even when it was hard. She was honest (as much as can be expected when one is hiding a major, magical secret) and hard-working, her caring for Marcus stemming from a deeply personal place of friendship and concern. She is a self-made woman, someone who is reasonably afraid but takes action anyway; I found her to be one of the more admirable heroines I've read about. For his part, Marcus was also a gem; funny and loyal, incredibly caring, sexy in his competence and confidence, and very thoughtful. He actually took a backseat in my estimation, with Charlotte really being the mover and shaker in this book, which might be why he shines a little less brightly than she does despite still being a wonderful, consistent character.

The plot was fast-paced; the mystery of who was behind the events happening to Marcus (and when/how he would discover Charlotte's secret) kept the pages flying by and provided a lot of opportunities for Charlotte to prove her worth as Albin. I liked Charlotte's freedom to move through the plot and make change happen, so unusual for women in Regency that often are being pushed around by the ton and relatives, and I loved her growing self-confidence and bravery as she took charge. The setup for the magic is well-done so it doesn't feel ridiculous or overbearing, and the ending - the way Marcus and Charlotte resolve their differences - is classic and sweet. 

Honestly, there was only one thing that brought this book from an A/A+ region to a solid A-, and *SPOILER ALERT HERE - READ AT YOUR OWN RISK* the issue was really only a page, making it even sadder that it brought the book down in my estimation so much. Marcus has been sleeping with a woman called 'Miss Brown' (Charlotte); he realizes that Miss Brown and his secretary, Albin, are one and the same. He flies into a violent rage using his punching bag, repeating over and over in his head 'I fucked a man' while he tears his hands to pieces. The episode smacked of some very real and violent homophobia/transphobia, echoing real world events where trans women who come out to their partners are summarily beaten or murdered; overall, the inclusion of this scene made me wildly uncomfortable and I think there were better ways for the author to express Marcus's discomfort - perhaps by focusing on the lies that Charlotte had told rather than the gender. *END SPOILER ALERT HERE* 

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book - a fast-paced, fun and unique plot with a take-charge heroine and a man that matches her fire and spirit. What's not to love? Fun fact: by heading over to Emily's website and joining her reader group, I hear you can get this book for free! What's better than that?

Favorite Quotes: Unfortunately, I was not reading this book with the intention to review it (but once I discovered how good it was I knew I needed to share it with the world!) so I did not mark favorite quotes. Be rest assured, this book is really fun. 

"Sexy"ness rating: One thing I loved about this book was that it got hotter over time - you could see the way the friendship benefited the intimacy. Definitely does not leave you at the bedroom door. 

Overall Rating: A-

Bottom Line: Charlotte is a heroine of her own making; her bravery and self-direction, honesty and selflessness, make her an admirable woman - it felt like an honor to witness her journey to love. Marcus is also honorable, kind, and humorous; he is an alpha hero for sure - self-assured, a bit domineering, but still soft enough inside to be more than lovable.

Pages: 391
Published: November 2016
Genre: Historical/Regency