Wednesday, April 18, 2012

TBR Review: Almost A Gentleman by Pam Rosenthal

This month instead of going with the TBR Challenge 2012 theme, New-to-Me Author, I decided to just go with the flow and read what I was in the mood to read. Although I do have quite a few new-to-me authors in the historical romance category in my TBR pile, this is the book that "called" to me.

A DARING MASQUERADE.
For three years, London's haute ton has been captivated by the cool elegance of Philip "Phizz" Marston. Tall, refined, an expert gambler with a cold, unerring eye for style, what keeps the ruthless social climbers attuned to this dandy's every move is something more unsettling.a grace and beauty that leaves women and men alike in a state of unthinkable yearning.

WILL BE DELICIOUSLY UNDRESSED...

Lord David Hervey must be losing his mind. How else explain the disturbing desires he feels whenever his eyes meet the penetrating gaze of Mr. Marston? When he overhears a threat on the gentleman's life, he intervenes and alone discovers the glorious truth.beneath the bindings of Mr. Marston's masquerade hides an exquisite body that is every bit a woman's.

AND EVERY HIDDEN DESIRE, REVEALED.

Armed with desire and entrusted with her bold game, Lord David won't give up till the lady gives in, revealing herself to him completely, surrendering her deepest secrets with every persuasive pleasure he can offer.
I first became acquainted with Pam Rosenthal when I read her Rita Award winner The Edge of Impropriety in 2009. I enjoyed that book and promptly purchased Almost A Gentleman. Unfortunately, it has been lingering in my TBR ever since.

Although Almost a Gentleman has a bit of that same style that I enjoyed in The Edge of Impropriety, I found it to be a vastly different read. First, the trope(s) used in this story are all familiar and then some. We begin with the familiar female to male masquerade and that oh... not so subtle attraction of a man's man who becomes attracted to another man, but doesn't quite know why. This trope has been done well, and it is loved by many.

The success of this past three years' masquerade lay precisely in the fact that she didn't feel like a woman. She didn't stand or sit or act like a woman because she didn't want to feel like a woman. Not ever again.
Rosenthal's gender bending Phizz/Phoebe is interesting in that she doesn't masquerade for a moment or for a short period of time, but instead assumes the life and follows the lifestyle of a gentleman for a period of three years. Successfully. Phizz gambles, drinks, socializes and through an agency that caters to males with 'certain tastes,' engages the services of a boy to service him/her sexually. Phizz is known as a dandy with much influence, particularly at White's where with a comment he can have gentlemen accepted or denied membership.

[...]Three years of Marston had accustomed her to doing things for herself. Three years of educating herself about her own tastes and passionate desires had made her aggressive -- a taker of pleasure rather than its humble recipient.
As you can well imagine, he makes many friends and foes. The one thing you can say about Phizz is that even though he's ruthless, he seems to be both admired and desired (passionately in some cases) by both males and females. Particularly by males. Phizz doesn't want to be a woman, he prefers the life of a man, the sophisticated lifestyle, the freedom, and the power. Phizz resents being a powerless female and for most of the story he fights to stay afloat as the dominant personality. But of course David comes along and changes everything.

David is a country gentleman, a widower nearing 40 and looking for a new wife. He meets Phizz Marston and is both confused and appalled when he's passionately attracted to the young man. He unmasks Phizz as Phoebe pretty quickly into the story, but I found it interesting that before that David went as far as trying to play the hero for Phizz and even throughout the whole story, although he denied it, he was really turned on by Phoebe when she was Mr. Marston.

Stop it, David, he commanded himself. Stop this idiocy at once. For he would certainly lose his oldest friend if John Wolfe caught the merest whiff of suspicion that David hadn't been in any way drawn to the young lady. He winced, imagining how shocked Wolfe would be to learn that what had roused decent, solid Lord Linseley's attention so profoundly had been the elegant posture and extraordinary eyes of a young man in black.
And his ass. Let's not forget the young man's ass!

Although understandable, his denials didn't carry much weight with me particularly when their sexual exploits take place. He loves the woman and insists that the woman is what he wants and needs, but Rosenthal introduces certain ambiguous sexual play as well as reactions in this story that leaves the reader thinking that David enjoys that double/gender bending personality that Phoebe/Phizz projects. David protests a bit too much, no?

The above are the interesting aspects of this story. Unfortunately, Rosenthal doesn't follow through  and leaves much of it unexplored. We rarely see Phizz in action within society, so there's little depth to his character from that perspective. And although Rosenthal's portrayal of how the homosexual male was viewed during those times is more in the historical context than PC, that portrayal is not necessarily well balanced. 

Once Phoebe makes a full time appearance and her real reasons behind becoming Phizz come to light, the story goes into the realm of the ordinary. Her final choices contradict her preferences, the blackmail plot becomes a non-issue, and the 'miracle of conception'? Well... what can I say about that one? I found it a shame that although I enjoyed Ms. Rosenthal's writing style (yes, it is different), and there's great potential and some intriguing moments throughout Almost A Gentleman, as a whole the story ends with a whimper.

April Review
Category: Historical Romance
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Kensington/December 1, 2007
Grade: C

Visit Pam Rosenthal here.

10 comments:

  1. I remember reading this. I like Rosenthal's writing and the sense of time and place she conveys. I agree with your review, though. It didn't quite live up to what I was hoping for.

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    1. Phyl, the only other book by Rosenthal I've read is The Edge of Impropriety and she definitely conveyed excellent sense of time and place in that novel. She also conveys that in this book (you know you are reading a historical and not a contemporary). Unfortunately, the execution wasn't what I expected.

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  2. I have both the Rosenthals you mentioned on the TBR pile. It looks like I'll go for The Edge of Impropriety before this one. Too bad since I like the heroine in disguise trope. Thanks for the review Hils!

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    1. Leslie, of the two I recommend The Edge of Impropriety. Definitely. Rosenthal has a... certian style, though. I hope you enjoy it. The trope in this book is what attracted me to it, and I liked how Rosenthal went about executing parts of Phoebe/Phizz's character, but then... it all just fell flat. Too bad.

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  3. I know I've read this one - but I literally remember nothing about it (even your review didn't really jog my memory all that much). Which, for me, is the ultimate sign of a C read. I read it, I got through it, but it didn't "stick."

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    1. Exactly Wendy. It had promise and in the end it was just... ordinary or average. Eventually, I know I will probably have a tough time remembering much about this book except maybe for some Phoebe/Phizz moments. The romance will be a blurr. A C read. :)

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  4. Hmmm, that's really unfortunate, Hils. From what I got from your review, MS Rosenthal had a great idea and didn't have the gut to follow-through :( Or decided to please the more conservative of readers. That's too bad.

    By the way, is it me or there's a lot of books about female cross-dressing popping up lately. You read this one and Ames is currently reading another...

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    1. You got it, Nath! Phoebe could have been a truly marvelous female protagonist (and still remained within the historical framework that Rosenthal set in the beginning), but the story devolved pretty fast into what we think of as conventional.

      Oh... I don't know about a "new" trend of cross-dressing heroines! I would love that. This book is from 2007, but I would love to know what Ames is reading. *g*

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  5. Hey Hils :)

    Ames read High Hearts by Rita Mae Brown. I don't think it's a new trend, but it just seems we're all reading books about cross-dressing heroines :) I mean, Eon/Eona, the Lady's Secret, this book by you, High Hearts... and I think there was another one. Happy coincidence LOL

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    1. Oh okay! Well, I'll look up High Hearts by Rita Mae Brown, and I have Eon/Eona in my list of books to read. *g* So I guess yeah... we are all in the "mood" for this trope. :)

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