Narrated by Jilly Bond
I’ve enjoyed some of Megan Frampton’s historical romances in print, so when I saw her latest book, Lady Be Bad, pop up in audio format, I decided to give it a listen. Ms. Frampton’s work is in similar vein to that of authors such as Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale; generally light-hearted and peppered with witty dialogue and with a slightly more serious undercurrent that lends a bit of depth and colour to the story overall. In the case of Lady Be Bad, that undercurrent is to do with the lack of options available to well-born young women in the early nineteenth century and how stifling it was to know that one was being brought up to have no individuality, no opinions and no choice in the direction of one’s own life. That’s a theme often explored in historical romance, but it’s been done much better than it is here, and this first instalment in Ms. Frampton’s The Duke’s Daughters series falls very flat. The storyline is clichéd and predictable, the characters are two-dimensional stereotypes, the writing is stodgy and repetitive; and while Jilly Bond is a very experienced narrator, her somewhat quirky delivery generally proved to be more hindrance than help.
Lady Eleanor Howlett, the eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Marymount, knows it’s up to her to salvage the family name after it was dragged through the mud following her youngest sister’s elopement with the dancing master. It’s not fair, but Eleanor is prepared to do her duty and sacrifice herself on the hymeneal altar so that her three sisters can have the chance to find love and make good matches. The gentleman chosen by her parents, Lord Bennett Raybourn, Viscount Carson, is the son and heir of the spendthrift Marquess of Wheatley, who has so ruined his family finances, that the viscount must, of necessity, marry a woman of considerable fortune. Such is the motivation behind many an aristocratic marriage – the Raybourns need money, the Howletts need consequence – and everything is settled.
Except it isn’t. Eleanor knows her duty, but she doesn’t want to settle into what promises to be a dull, average life-sentence without having first experienced some of the delights life has to offer. When the viscount proposes, Eleanor asks him for more time to make up her mind – sending her mother into conniptions – which confuses Bennett, who had thought it a done deal. He agrees to Eleanor’s request, although a long engagement is not what he had in mind, given that he has no time for courtship; he has taken over the running of the family estates and finances in an attempt to prevent disaster and is forever in meetings or engaged on estate business. So he asks his younger brother Alexander, the family scapegrace, to spend time with Eleanor and use his considerable powers of persuasion with the ladies to induce her to accept him sooner rather than later.
Oh, dear. (Did I mention that Eleanor Must Marry in order to repair her family’s reputation?)
I really don’t need to tell you where this is headed, do I? I certainly don’t object to the “falling for the wrong brother/sister” trope, but to make it work properly, there needs to be some prospect of the “wrong” sibling winning out – and it’s clear from the get-go that Bennett is a merely a convenient plot device to provide the requisite roadblock along the path to true love. Eleanor and Alex actually meet shortly before Bennett’s proposal, when they literally bump into each other in a bookshop; an encounter which ends up with Eleanor falling on top of Alex and getting all hot under the collar at the sight of the illustrations in the naughty book he’d been looking at before their collision. This naturally leads to the usual musings on the hardness of the long, lean body beneath her by the heroine and the softness and curvaceousness of the one on top of him by the hero. Honestly, I was yawning before I’d even made it half-an-hour in.
By the way – did I mention that Eleanor Must Marry in order to repair her family’s reputation?
The story proceeds predictably, with Eleanor – who also has a bucket list of sorts – wanting to be “overwhelmed” and to “find her joy” – we’re not allowed to forget either of those things, and are hit over the head with them repeatedly. She and Alex somewhat implausibly manage to gallivant about unchaperoned on several occasions so he can take her to a gambling den and somewhere else proper ladies aren’t supposed to go (yep, there’s the bucket list in action) and then Alex, who, owing to a youthful error or judgement is persona non grata with his father, comes up with the most ridiculous idea imaginable to shore up the family finances so he can marry Eleanor. There’s no character development, no real chemistry between the characters, and if I hadn’t been listening for review, I would have DNFed.
And did I mention that Eleanor Must Marry in order to repair her family’s reputation? Because I lost count of the number of times Ms. Frampton mentioned it.
Jilly Bond is an extremely experienced narrator, and I’ve listened to her a few times – most recently in Georgette Heyer’s Cousin Kate which, admittedly, was a few years ago now. Her tone and style of delivery remind me a little of Alison Larkin, but Ms. Larkin has a better sense of comedic timing and pacing; Ms. Bond’s pacing is on the slow side and peppered with too-long pauses. Her vocal acting is very animated and her performance is lively and upbeat, but sometimes that liveliness crosses the line into “twee” or “over the top” territory, and while I do enjoy a narrator who acts rather than just reads, this was one of those times I’d have liked it toned down a little. That said though, the material was so dull, I doubt that would have helped.
Ms. Bond differentiates well between all the characters; Eleanor and her mother and sisters are all easy to tell apart, and she’s very good with the ‘character’ roles of servants and older gentlemen like Eleanor’s father and Wheatley. The male voices she adopts for Alex and Bennett are… okay and I’ve heard worse, but – and I said this about Cousin Kate, too – she employs this sort of “rounded” tone that conjures an image of a puffed-up, slightly portly older man rather than a seriously hawt six-footer with a gorgeous bod and a wicked smile.
Lady Be Bad isn’t (quite) the worst audiobook I’ve listened to in 2017, but it’s certainly one of the most disappointing. As is obvious, I’m not going to recommend it.
Note: this title is included in the Audible US Romance Package.
TITLE: Lady Be Bad
AUTHOR: Megan Frampton
NARRATED BY: Jilly Bond
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: 5
REVIEWER: CazBuy Lady Be Bad by Megan Frampton on Amazon