Emma Jensen is one of those authors whose name on a book I look for, (ok, eagerly seek out), whenever I go shopping. Though small paperbacks, her books are generally an absolutely joy to read, with intelligent, independent heroines and strong, smart leading men who go down the more unusual paths to true love together. And Best Laid Schemes is no exception. Even though I’ve read it over and over again, I still get a silly grin on my face whenever I pick it up.
Reading it is like watching an old black and white screwball comedy with Cary Grant or Carole Lombard, but set in the English Regency period. A stiff, stuffy man reluctantly succumbs to the charms of a free-spirited woman during a series of funny adventures that usually end with the man losing his dignity as well as his heart.
Sibyl Cameron, the book’s heroine, is a charming misfit even in a book full of misfits. She’s a plain, practical person from a family of Romantics (with a capital R), but has learned to be comfortable with who she is. Unfortunately, she wasn’t always that way, and we quickly learn that during her teenage years when she was trying desperately to be crazy and whimsical, she caused more than a few accidents. As a consequence, Tarquin Rome, the very serious and dignified sixth Earl of Hythe, as well as the man Sibyl happens to be in love with, has developed a loathing, (or should I say fear?) of her and her whole family.
To make things worse, Tarquin has come up with the brilliant plan of inviting three Incomparables to be his home to choose a suitable bride and sees Sibyl’s presence as annoyance. Sibyl has only a few weeks in which to knock some sense into his thick head and show him what he really needs—her.
Tarquin is a perfect leading man, controlled but not mean or domineering. You honestly feel sorry for him when his perfectly laid schemes don’t work out as he had planned. At the same time, you’re rooting for Sibyl, who seems well aware of the odds stacked against her. The tension between them is understated enough at the beginning that we could see how Tarquin could not have seen it all these years, but slowly builds so that the ending seems natural and right as well as sweet and funny.
The side characters are all fantastic as well. Just when you think that the debutantes are cardboard cutouts, they do something to surprise you. And the whole cast seems to enjoy watching Tarquin stumble around in total confusion as much as I do. Emma Jensen obviously has a great love for her characters, depicting them lovingly but still gently poking fun at their foibles at the same time. It shows in her writing, and makes the book all the better.