Marianne Shelton and her two younger sisters came to London to experience their first Season. While the younger girls are eager to begin their husband hunt, Marianne has no desire to marry. She's old enough to remember how unhappy their parents were before their mother died and has no wish to repeat the mistakes of the past. Marianne loves reading and fancies herself an adventurer. She wants to become an independent woman of means, so that she can travel the world and experience the things she's only read about in books. To this end, she submits a story of her own to a local publication and is very excited when she is contracted to anonymously write a serialized story about her adventures as a country miss visiting London for the first time. Her stories become a smashing success and are the talk of the ton, but Marianne is still beleaguered by her host to participate in social events. She does so with abandon and soon many men are bestowing their attentions upon her. So why is it that the only man who seems to pique her interest is the very man who is assigned to protect her, and the one man who, in her mind, is the most unsuitable?
Thomas Effington's mother was supposed to sponsor Marianne and her two sisters' Season in London, but when his mother unexpectedly left the country, the task fell to Thomas. He's none too pleased to be babysitting three young girls, and wishes nothing more than to marry them off quickly so that he can concentrate on his own search for a wife. He knows exactly what he wants, a biddable woman who is nothing like the headstrong Effington women he's grown up around his whole life. So how is it that an opinionated bluestocking who is completely unsuitable is the only woman he seems to have eyes for? Marianne has gotten under his skin and he can't deny that he enjoys their late night chats and heated kisses. But Thomas can't help but feel a bit guilty since she's his best friend's sister and a woman who is supposed to be under his protection. Still, when Marianne implies that "experiencing life" also includes sampling the pleasures of the flesh, Thomas knows he can't let any other man touch her. One thing leads to another and soon, Thomas can't say no to the beguiling beauty. But when their passion reaches the point of no return and Thomas does the right thing, offering Marianne marriage, she turns him down flat. With a little persistence and a whole lot of romance, can Thomas figure out what's gotten into Marianne and bring this independent lady around to his way of thinking?
The Marriage Lesson is a light, breezy Regency romance that is the third book in Victoria Alexander's Effington Family & Friends series. It's a fairly entertaining book that has some sweet romantic moments, but in general, I tend to prefer my romance to have a little more depth and substance in both plot and characterizations. There just wasn't a lot going on in the story in the way of action or intrigue. The conflict is all of an internal nature with both the hero and heroine either fighting their feelings for one another or being oblivious them. I thought perhaps there would be a tense moment or two when the truth came out about the heroine being the author of the infamous Country Miss stories, but overall it was pretty anti-climactic. There's a lot of repetition in both themes and dialogue, which I believe is supposed to be cute or funny, but for the most part it didn't affect me that way. There were a few humorous moments that made me smile, but overall for me, this was more of a slightly above average story than a great one.
Marianne is the sister of Richard, the hero of the previous book of the series. She's the oldest of his sisters who are still unmarried, and a bit of a bluestocking. She's an avid reader, who wants to experience the adventures, which up until now, she's only read about in books. For that reason, she has no intention of marrying and has come up with a plan to earn some money to fund her independence and travel plans. After submitting a sample of her writing to a local publication, Marianne is hired to write a series of stories that become known as The Absolutely True Adventures of a Country Miss in London. She bases the stories on her own experiences with a little fiction added in for excitement, but soon her own life is almost juicy enough on it's own without the extra embellishment. Her stories become the talk of the ton, while she navigates the perilous waters of love and the marriage mart. Marianne begins to fall for her brother's best friend, who is essentially her protector while her brother is out of the country. Since she has no intention of marrying, she doesn't feel that there is any reason to save her virginity and decides to indulge in physical intimacy. She finds a lot of that in Thomas's arms, but it isn't enough to entice her to marry him. Although her mother died when she was young, Marianne is still old enough to remember how unhappy her parents seemed even though they supposedly were a love match. Marianne is an incredibly stubborn young woman. While I understood her desire to have Thomas declare his love for her, it drug on a little too long for my taste. I also couldn't help wondering a bit about her being so insistent upon love, when her parents were supposedly in love and still ended up unhappy. There were times when I felt like she could have simply communicated with Thomas a little better to perhaps spur him to give her the reassurance she needed instead of drawing it out so long. She also seemed rather unaware, because Thomas's elaborate schemes did nothing to stir her belief in his feelings for her. I don't think many men would have gone to such lengths just to get a woman to marry him and not be in love with her.
Thomas is the oldest Effington son and heir to the dukedom. While his parents and Marianne's brother are out of the country, he's been left in charge of Marianne and her two younger sisters, a duty which he initially resents. He simply wants to find them husbands as quickly as possible to get them off his hands, so that he can concentrate on finding a wife. He thinks he wants a woman who is biddable and demure and nothing like the headstrong Effington women, so even though he's physically attracted to Marianne, he thinks she'll never do. However, the more time he spends with her, the more he enjoys bantering and talking with her. When she threatens to learn about physical intimacy from someone else, he can't let that happen, so he eagerly embraces the opportunity to give her "lessons." What begins as heated kisses, soon turns into a whole lot more. I did admire Thomas for offering marriage after their first time making love, but of course, he doesn't offer love along with it. Thomas is said to be thirty-three years old, but to me he came off as younger and more immature. A fair bit is made of the fact that he writes poetry, albeit bad poetry, but we're only treated to his inept verses once in the entire story. Also a great deal is made about him being a rake, but other than slightly overindulging in drink a couple of times and of course, "ruining" Marianne (after which he proposes anyway), his behavior isn't all that rakish. He is, however, something of a dim bulb. I had a hard time believing how incredibly dense he was when it came to understanding what Marianne wanted from him and even recognizing his own feelings. He comes up with these elaborate plans, some of which were admittedly rather amusing and/or romantic, but he fails to do the simple thing of saying, "I love you." I can get on board with a hero who fights his feelings for a while as long as he has good reasons, but one who is as oblivious as Thomas simply isn't all that endearing to me.
There are several secondary characters in The Marriage Lesson who go on to get their own books in the series. Next up, in The Prince's Bride, is Marianne's sister, Jocelyn, who seems to mainly be looking for a title and money. I haven't quite decided what I think of her yet. Sometimes, she seems sweet, but other times, she seems a little shallow. She gets paired with Thomas's friend, Randall, Viscount Beaumont, who is seen at the beginning and the end of this book. Also Thomas has two other friends, Pennington and Berkley, who become the heroes of their own books, Pennington in book #6, Love with the Proper Husband, and Berkley in book #8, The Pursuit of Marriage. Pennington seems like he might be interesting. Berkley has a bit of a romantic streak in him. However, he seems as dim if not dimmer than Thomas, so I'm not sure how I feel about him as a main hero. It also appears that book #11, Let It Be Love, is probably a next generation book, featuring Thomas and Marianne's son as the hero.
In most cases, I either enjoy a book from start to finish, or it may begin a little slow, but pick up momentum as it goes along. The Marriage Lesson felt pretty consistently slow-paced throughout, due to not a lot of import occurring. I actually found myself somewhat drawn in at the beginning, but the further I got into it, the more my interest started to wane. There were certain scenes that entertained me, so it wasn't a chore to finish. But at the same time, there were scenes where the characters frustrated me with their stubbornness and inability to see what was right in front of their faces. Overall, The Marriage Lesson was a decent read, and I'll probably continue with the series for now. But in general, I prefer my romances to have a little more depth and a little less breeziness.
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