Clara Wells is the granddaughter of a duke, but her mother was disowned when she eloped with her dancing master. Clara's parents had a very loving relationship, but they died when she was only a teenager. She went to live with her Aunt Aurora and Uncle Byron, who love her like the child they never had, but both are flighty, eccentric artists who tend to draw unwanted attention and unkind comments from members of the aristocracy. Nevertheless, Aurora manages to get them invited to a society party at which Clara meets the most handsome and eligible bachelor in London. Although he sets her heart to fluttering, she thinks he's nothing but a wastrel. But when he agrees to allow Aurora to paint his portrait and invites them to his country home to do so, Clara learns things about the man that may require her to rethink her low opinion of him.
Paris Mulholland is known to have left a string of beautiful conquests in his wake, but even though Clara is nothing like the women he usually seeks out, there's something about her that calls to him. Her knowledge of literature and her opinionated nature intrigues and amuses him. What no one knows, though, is that he's cultivated his persona as an unrepentant rake to cover up for a long-held secret that makes his daily life very difficult, and he worries what a highly educated lady like Clara might think of him if she knew the truth. But if he can't even get Clara to believe that a man like him is genuinely interested in a woman like her, he may not have to worry about ever needing to reveal his shortcoming.
The Wastrel is one of several dozen Harlequin Historical books that have been sitting on my bookshelf, collecting dust, ever since I belonged to the Harlequin Historical subscriber service eons ago. I finally got around to reading a few of them this year, and I'm glad I finally did. They've all been pretty good reads, including this one. The story got off to a great start with plenty of humor and lighthearted banter that really sparked off the pages. At one point, I thought there was a decent chance it might reach keeper status for me. In the end, though, it didn't quite get there, due to a couple of issues I had with the characterizations and the fact that it slowed down quite a bit after the opening few chapters. But overall, I still enjoyed it fairly well.
Paris is known as the handsomest man in all of England, but he also has a reputation for being an unrepentant wastrel. Although he swears he was named for the city, everyone believes his namesake is more likely the mythical legend who seduced Helen of Troy and who is very much like him. What no one really knows, though, is that he puts on the devil-may-care facade to cover up for the fact that he can't read any better than a child. He charmed his way through school, but now that he's the lord of his own estate, he struggles with the business end of things, because it takes him forever to decipher the correspondence from his estate manager. But he can't let anyone in on his secret, because it's too shameful. Enter the beguiling but disowned granddaughter of a duke, who sets great stock by education. Not only does Paris find her pretty, he's also drawn to her intelligence and scholarly nature. But he knows she'd probably think him an imbecile if she knew the truth. I really liked Paris. He's a charmer to be sure, and although he's reputedly had his fair share of exploits in the past, he acts the perfect gentleman throughout the story. I loved that he was accepting of Clara's eccentric aunt and uncle, welcoming them into his home and agreeing to allow Aunt Aurora to paint his portrait. I also enjoyed that he isn't really vain like someone that handsome and supposedly rakish might be and that he's socially responsible, using his wealth to help out in whatever way he can. Most especially I liked him for not thinking Clara odd for being so well-educated, instead actually enjoying her vast knowledge and storytelling skills. His willingness to pose for the Eros Discovered painting Aunt Aurora wanted to do was fun, too. The only thing that might have made him a tad better is if his feelings surrounding his illiteracy were brought out a little more. He obviously thought himself inferior because of it, but I just felt like there could have been a deeper exploration of that. Otherwise I thought he was a very good hero.
Clara's mother fell in love with her father, who was a mere dancing master, and married him against her own father, the duke's wishes, leading him to disown her. After both her parents died, Clara went to live with her aunt and uncle who are quite good to her but are very eccentric artistic types. As a result, Clara had to grow up quickly, managing their finances and household affairs. Because of their more liberal views, she also received a strong education in areas that many women of the time didn't tend to study. She puts great stock in learning and knowledge, and she's something of a bluestocking who doesn't hesitate to speak her mind. I really liked this about her. However, where Clara kind of started to grate a bit was with her repeated refusal to see Paris as anything other than a wastrel even when certain pieces of information began emerging that made her start to question that label. Basically she would be presented with a new fact, think it was interesting, but then immediately make some excuse for why that didn't change anything. It takes until the very end for her to finally see the light. I also wasn't quite sure where her rather extreme case of low self-esteem came from. I know that she was essentially disowned but her grandfather, but she didn't seem to care much what he thought of her anyway. By all other indications, her parents had been good and loving until they died and her aunt and uncle had treated her well, too. She was obviously self-conscious about being out in public with them because of their eccentricities, but generally seemed to handle it in stride, so I wasn't entirely clear as to why she thought that Paris was blatantly lying whenever he gave her a compliment. In general, I mostly liked Clara, but I think that there were certain aspects of her characterization that could have been better explained and that she perhaps could have lightened up a bit sooner. As is, it didn't feel like she grew in the way a character with issues like hers should have.
The Wastrel has a very colorful cast of supporting characters. First would be Clara's Aunt Aurora and Uncle Byron. Aunt Aurora is an artist who has a habit of asking everyone if they'd like to have their portrait painted, while Uncle Byron is always trying to follow in his namesake's footsteps but instead spouts bad poetry. These two brought a great deal of humor and lightness to the story, but they're also very kind and caring. Paris invites two school chums to his home at the same time. Jonas is a rather stiff and serious man who intends to become a minister, while Tommy is a more flippant son of a wealthy merchant. Then there is the Pimblett family. Lord Pimblett is a blustery man, while his wife, Lady Pimblett, has a habit of swooning at the drop of a hat. Their oldest daughter, Helena, is convinced that Paris is going to marry her and is always putting herself in his path. Youngest daughter, Henrietta, is rather flighty and always tittering at the oddest moments. Then there's middle daughter, Hester, who is a bit more like Clara, rather shy, serious, and bookish. Out of all the Pimblett girls she was my favorite, so I'm very happy that she becomes the heroine of the next book of the Most Unsuitable Men series, The Dark Duke. Lastly, were Paris's dog, Jupiter, and Clara's cat, Zeus, who don't exactly get off on the right foot and are forever getting into trouble.
Overall, The Wastrel was a pretty good read. Paris would have been impossible not to like, and while I wish that Clara had been a little less serious and judgmental of Paris and a little less hard-core self-conscious, she had her good points, too. The wonderful secondary cast members brought a lot of levity to the story, as well, and had me frequently grinning. I think one of the greatest strengths of the book lies in it's dialogue filled with sparkling wittiness that really jumped off the pages. The general writing itself was well done, too. Even though there were moments when I thought that the plot could have a been a little better or that the conflict could have gone a little deeper, it was still an easy read. The Wastrel was my first book by the rather prolific Margaret Moore, but it has left me looking forward to continuing the series and trying more of her work in the future.
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