Monday, February 1, 2016

Review - ‘Pretty Poison’ by Lynne Barron

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Blurb 

What's an American heiress to do when a pair of britches, a plunge into a pond in the dead of winter and a broken betrothal force her to set sail across the ocean to an arranged marriage with a fortune-hunting Englishman?
With her hopes and dreams sinking to the bottom of the sea like so much lost treasure, Emily Calvert falls into the pretty poison she finds in a little blue bottle.
Can Nicholas Avery, a charming aristocrat with a faulty memory for names and a family in dire need of financial salvation, convince the wounded lady that the blessed oblivion she finds in his arms is sweeter than laudanum?

This story contains all sorts of frolicking and dallying and very little of the fun takes place behind closed doors.

Review 

Emily is a twenty-four year old heiress to a grand plantation home and horse farm in 1826 Maryland, but her life isn’t balls and proper society. She’s forced by her father to raise her younger siblings and to manage the farm, but she enjoys this. She’s a hoyden and her mischief turns the family into a laughingstock. When her fiancé leaves her, her father sends her to England for an arranged marriage her aunt set up.  Emily became sick on board the ship and she’s so depressed and scared about how her life is turning out that she abuses her medicine, laudanum. She finds escape in the little blue bottle and her life quickly unravels even more.
Nicholas is desperate to marry to save the family home, title and dwindling fortune but backs out of the almost betrothal after the scandal a drug-addled Emily created among the Ton. No one knew about her problem until it was almost too late and the scar now on her body doesn’t compare to the one in her heart. 
This book starts strong with believable characters. Emily is a very strong-willed woman but she loses sight of who she is. All she’s ever known among her family and life in Maryland is spousal betrayal, pain and humiliation. She wants better and drowns her sorrows in drugs since she thinks she’ll never have it. Nick is a proper man bound by honor to help his family and to secure their happiness, but he meets an addict and cannot follow through with his promise. When Nick and Emily meet again months after she’s clean, romance blossoms but Emily’s self-esteem is fragile and she doesn’t trust Nick to love her and to stay loyal to her as she deserves.
Most of the side characters brought a lot of depth to the story. Emily’s father and aunt, Charles and Margaret respectively, love Emily but didn’t know how to help her. Nick’s father, brother and sister are delightful characters and I love the relationship between the father, Andrew, Viscount Talbolt, and Aunt Margaret, Lady Morris. Bernice, Adelaide and Lucy were great friends to Emily, Veronica was the antagonist and rival for Nick’s affection, and Jamison was Nick’s mysterious best friend. A few other side characters played bit roles while even more seemed to be filler.
The pacing slowed in the middle of the book and seemed rushed at the end. In my opinion, the author introduced a few minor characters not needed for the story which slowed the pacing. The reader is left to speculate through the majority of the book about what happened to scar up Emily’s chest but, since it’s not described until the end, my assumption didn’t match up to what the author wrote. That’s pretty annoying since I read the book with this one idea in mind. By the end, there were a lot of loose ends not tied up. The reader is left to wonder about who is trying to force Veronica to marry and why is she so mean, why did Jamison refuse Bernice’s love even though he loves her and why is he so cold and seemingly unfeeling (I was dying to learn more about this couple!), why did Nick buy the box at the apothecary shop and what happened with all the other couples in the story. It was hard to keep track of who was falling in love with whom because there were so many side characters.
The book needs another round of editing. Periods are missing and wrong words are being used. It’s written in third person, sometimes in passive, and the POV occasionally shifts from each main character to a few side characters without scene breaks. The shifts were well-written, however, so I usually knew who was talking and thinking.
I haven’t read many romance books where the female lead is the drug addict. It was refreshing to see the downfall, recovery and forgiveness from the female perspective. Emily and Nick are wonderful, three-dimensional characters with flaws and a lot of heart, but I’m debating on giving the book 3.5 to 4 stars. With editing, tightening up the middle section and the addition of an epilogue to wrap up the loose ends, this is easily a 5 star story. I hope there will be a sequel (starring Jamison and Bernice please!) to answer the above questions but I think I’ll round up to 4 just because I really enjoyed the story.
4 Stars

Disclaimer – I won a print copy of this book through a contest. I am a reader. I am not paid or compensated in any way, shape or form for this honest review. I will not change or alter this review for any reason unless at my discretion.