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The Actor and the Earl - Rebecca Cohen I just finished reading this book and figured I’d better write the review now before I’ll have forgotten it. Like, tomorrow.

This book reads like a Harlequin. An old one from the 70s. One where the tiniest bits of conflict are supposed to get the reader riled up. Where the virginal heroine gets upset by bits of gossip, or by the hero being a bit short with her when he is upset about something else or by, oh horror, other women making a pass at her husband and husband not slapping these harlots down fast enough. It’s hard to believe that Sebastian, having spent years among actors/prostitutes even has such virginal sensibilities and is holding out for true love in a mercenary marriage like this one, but he does.

It is unclear to me why Sebastian falls in love with Anthony, besides the fact that he is handsome and he’s the first one he goes all the way with. I am not even sure when it happens. It is also unclear to me why Anthony apparently goes all insta-love about Sebastian. The former is worse, because the whole thing is written from Sebastian’s viewpoint and if he can’t translate his own feelings to the reader, what’s the point of being in a romance novel? Maybe first person POV would have helped in this case. As it is, there is so little elaboration on Sebastian’s feelings, it seems like the author is counting on the readers to insert their own emotions in the appropriate places. But as I mentioned before, the stuff I am supposed to get upset or excited about is so insignificant it hardly makes a blip on my radar.

The whole premise of the conflict in this book is that Anthony was a player before he got married, and other people don’t believe he can be reformed, especially being married to such a plain ‘girl’. Because Anthony doesn’t gush properly every five minutes (the flashes of possessiveness and jealousy don’t count, I guess), Sebastian shares these beliefs. Of course, everybody and their aunt keeps warning him not to lose his heart to the player, so I guess we can’t blame the poor boy. The only one who was any fun in this book was the real Bronwyn and that was only because she was so stupidly over the top with her ‘OMG! How dare you not shout your love for my brother from the rooftops!’.

All the episodes of barely-there conflict are resolved within a paragraph or three, as if the author is afraid that too much conflict will chase readers away. Instead, what it does is kill any tension. Only the last big scandalous misunderstanding lasts bit longer and, in proper Harlequin fashion, gets resolved with a grand public make up scene, after there has been most proper grovelling.

It’s really too bad, because I liked the idea of the story. And it functions quite well as a light, formulaic romance. The fact that most of the cross dressing charade went off without a hitch is not realistic of course. But that lack of realism didn’t bother me so much as all the missed opportunities for some meatier conflict.

I personally didn’t care for the sex in this book, which only lasted a couple of paragraphs per scene. Just like the conflicts. I found it uninspired, but your mileage may vary. If you manage to feel the love between the MCs here, it may actually be alright.

And was there a point to having a mute kid in this book? Did he have any other function than window dressing and padding the page count?

If you’re in the mood for something light, predictable and uncomplicated, this one may scratch the itch.