|Laura Parker: Notorious|
Zebra (Paperback), ISBN 0-8217-7461-1
Dumped at the altar nine years ago, Jemima MacKinnon lives out her life happily in her small country home. She spends her time gardening, reading, learning and enjoying time with a social group made up of other scorned ladies. Tired of the men getting off scot-free from scandals, the group decides to do something about it. Jemima draws caricatures under the pseudonym of Jonathan Foolscap, pictures which champion the devastated females in the gossipy scandals of the time.
Pru loved the younger brother of one of society's most eligible men, Lord Beau Bellaire. When Bellaire discovered her fondness for his brother (Pru claims) he forced himself on her and got her with child. Utterly appalled -- especially since she harbors some tender feelings for Bellaire from long ago -- Jemima enlists the help of her roguish cousin, Julien St. Ives, to help her return to Society. Jemima plans to become notorious and expose Bellaire.
Beau Bellaire wants nothing more to do with marriage. Nine years ago, he married his "perfect match," who turned out to be a spoiled featherbrain. When she died in childbirth, he decided to forego the wedded state and satisfy his carnal cravings with occasional -- and safely impersonal -- diversions. And not knowing anything of raising children, he sent his infant daughter, Emma, to live with relatives.
Jemima's plan works splendidly, though the transformation from mousy country girl into daring flirt begins awkwardly. Beau finds himself fascinated with her, and the pair strike up a friendship and more. But Beau's most recent diversion, Lady Sarah, doesn't relish the new ingénue in town or the sudden arrival of Emma. Partly through Lady Sarah's machinations, Jemima soon finds herself embroiled in real scandal, instead of flirting around the edges. Jemima returns to her country home and almost loses everything when lightning strikes her home and burns it to the ground.
Parker begins with an interesting premise -- forward-thinking women trying to make men responsible for their actions. But the tale gets bogged down in the intricacies and petty politics of Society. A ridiculous subplot involving a semi-tamed bear also muddles things. Parker weaves in too many characters and storylines to make a good read.
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