Friday, May 6, 2011

Winning Joanna by Kathleen Coddington

TITLE: Winning Joanna
AUTHOR: Kathleen Coddington
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 39k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $5.20

In a bid to keep a preferred hunting estate accessible, the king orders the widow who owns it to marry the Earl of Reston, an order she flatly refuses. Determined not to lose, he sends the Earl to win her over, but Hugh is caught in a storm along the way and ends up on her doorstep half-frozen. Joanna has no idea who he is, so he decides to pretend to be someone else in hopes of finding out why she refused the marriage proposal. He doesn’t expect to fall in love, though…

I’m not having great luck this week. It’s not that books are terrible. It’s just that they’re all kind of bland, and this one, the blandest of them all.

Set in 1347 England, it’s the story of Hugh, Earl of Reston, a widower recently returned from fighting in France, who gets told by the king that he’s going to marry Lady Joanna Leland. The king considers it a good match – Joanna lost her husband and son two years earlier, Hugh lost the mother of his daughter nine years earlier – but he’s mostly interested in keeping the estate for hunting. Joanna has decided to give it to the abbey, and since the king won’t have that, he sends Hugh along to change her mind. Hugh gets caught in a winter storm as he’s traveling and arrives on her doorstep half-frozen. He takes advantage of the fact that nobody knows who he is and poses as someone else, slowly gaining favor within the household. He and Joanna become close, and he knows he has to come clean about his identity, but the situation just never seems appropriate.

It’s a story of mistaken identity and deceit, and honestly, a very blatant one. Hugh claims to be a widower with a nine-year-old daughter he never saw, and yet, nobody seems to question the odds that the very same man Joanna refused was also a widower…with a daughter he never saw…who fought in the war…and has the same first name. I mean, really? All these supposedly astute people in the household and nobody even suspects? It’s made even worse because Joanna is supposed to be highly strategic, boasting about always beating her dead husband at chess. She’s not. She’s dim. Just like the rest of the characters.

The story isn’t helped by its dishwater prose, either. Love scenes are uninspiring, and the pacing drags along. Because Joanna is overly chaste and prim, and this is an EC title, extra sex scenes amongst the servants are also included and feel completely out of place. Joanna and Hugh watch a pair of younger servants going at it, and there’s a chapter in the middle between the older pair, told from their perspective, that really does little to advance the plot. We hear them discuss how it would be better for Joanna to marry, and that Hugh is a wonderful option, and then they have sex. None of this was necessary. It was already obvious the servants were behind this option, and the sex is there as padding. It’s all so superfluous that I was bored out of my head. That feeling never abated, especially since everybody kept acting increasingly stupid regarding Hugh’s true identity.

In the end, there’s little to keep me engaged. I can only hope that I pick better books next week.


7/10 – Bland prose meant my mind kept drifting


6/10 – Not nearly as bright as he thinks he is


5/10 – Even dimmer than the hero if she didn’t see who he was right away

Entertainment value

4/10 – A bland and kind of generic romance, based on a lie so transparent it made the protagonists look stupid

World building

6/10 – I can’t attest to the accuracy but it never really came alive for me



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