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Book CoverLynneC’s review of Invincible (Benedict Brothers, Book 1) by Joan Johnston
Contemporary romance published by Mira 26 Oct 10

Invincible is the story of one of the children of the ‘infamous’ Bella and Bull. Bella is an English duchess who married an American millionaire (squillionaire?). Now she wants to see her children married before she dies. Since she’s 52 and her children are “all over 25,” she must have married at an indecently young age. But it’s possible. Other parts of the story aren’t so possible, but improbability piled on improbability, a preponderance of tropes I don’t like and the clunky style made me give up on this book. I’ve left the boring bit until the end, so those of you who are interested can read it, and if you’re not, then just skip it.

The heroine works for the FBI but is in danger of losing her job. She has a child, the result of one hot night with Max ten years ago. The neon lights started flashing “secret baby,” a trope I don’t hate, but I don’t like either. It has to work well to work with me. Here, it doesn’t. IMO, when a child is involved, it’s the child that’s important, not the parents. When the parents behave responsibly, I can take the trope.

For instance, when the heroine has done everything she can to inform the hero that he’s a father or when the father is presumed dead, I can go along with it, but in this case, Max hurt Kristin and she chose not to tell him about the baby. She told her daughter that her father was dead. No, just no. I can’t like anyone who puts their own feelings above that of their child’s, especially when the father is filthy rich and the child has some realistic expectation of having a more comfortable life. It’s selfish and unacceptable.

So now we have two of the tropes I don’t like. The secret baby and the big misunderstanding.

The heroine, Kristin, can afford to send her daughter to school in Switzerland. On an FBI salary? Maybe I missed something, but by then I’d begun to skim. Not just the title errors or the improbability of the whole thing (a CIA agent working with an FBI agent on a case? As partners?) but the acres of backstory. The prologue is Bella and how she wants to see her children married before she dies (my guess is that she gets a heart transplant and then reconciles with her estranged husband). I found it irritating. I didn’t care, at that point in the story.

Max? He’s a lord, he’s a world-class tennis player, he’s an intrepid ocean-going sailor, he’s a spy for the CIA. He probably does heart operations on the side (I made that one up). Yawn. Far too perfect. I didn’t believe in him. Oh, and he only uses condoms if the girl asks him to. Pardon me? Do I have to explain why I dislike that one? No, I thought not.

At the beginning there is a big scene where Max explains the plot to Kristen and how she has to help him on a case. What writers call a “kitchen table” scene. Not quite in the AYKB category, (“As You Know, Bob”) but close. And nothing happens.

Then Kristen meets her child off the plane. I don’t like stories where children play a significant part, it’s just a personal preference, but it didn’t really endear me to Kristen, who spends a lot of her time whining. At least up to this point. Already I know that Max and Kristen are going to be forced together to do this job, because, otherwise, there’s no story.

After chapter three, I started skimming. I felt obliged to read this book, as I had the galley to review, but already it had hit a lot of my hot buttons, and the style didn’t help. I just couldn’t engage with these characters.
A couple of scenes along, a new character entered, another of Bella’s children. So far, Johnston hadn’t sold me on Max and Kristen. Emma didn’t interest me, either.

I read the reason why Bull left Bella. After many years of marriage. I didn’t buy it. Basically, it was her twin in bed with her lover, not Bella. Another trope I dislike, and if Bull couldn’t tell the twins apart, even when one was pretending to be the other, he didn’t know his wife well enough. Another Big Misunderstanding.

The style of writing didn’t engage me, either. There are far too many dialogue tags for my liking, and after a while I found them intrusive. And the reader is “told” not “shown” too many things. There are too many explanations, not enough interaction between the characters and so the story, for me, became stilted and awkward. And infodumps galore.

Sorry, that was where I stopped reading. The plot contrivances didn’t persuade or convince me, and taken with the inaccuracies, improbabilities, and the tropes (child bringing a couple together, secret baby, big misunderstandings) I didn’t have the heart to go on. The clunky style, frequently stopping to explain things, the complicated plot, and the hero and heroine didn’t engage me at all.

If I’d bought the book, I’d have put it aside and read something else, probably chosen not to review it. But I didn’t, I got this book as a galley. I hate doing negative reviews, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. I searched and searched for something good to say. However, it might work for you, you might love it. I’d never say never, just make your own minds up.

Here’s “the science bit.”

Johnston has done her research, but not well enough. It floored me when she referred to Bella as “royalty” on the first page, because royal girls aren’t duchesses, unless they marry dukes. They’re princesses or nothing. Royalty is different, governed by different rules. The title of Royal Duke is totally different to that of “ordinary” ones. So I dismissed the “royalty” thing as just a silly mistake, and one we’re all entitled to, since I don’t think it was repeated.

Johnston later explains how Bella has the title:

When all the male Blackthorne heirs had died heroically during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War, Parliament had amended the Letters Patent creating the Dukedom of Blackthorne so the title would pass “to all and every other issue male and female, lineally descending of or from the said Duke of Blackthorne, to be held by them severally and successively, the elder and the descendants of every elder issue to be preferred before the younger of such issue.

Which meant that either males or females could inherit the dukedom. This prevented the title from being extinguished by the death of the last male Blackthorne during the war. It was the first time such a thing had been done since the Dukedom of Marlborough was preserved in the same way for similar reasons in 1706.

As the elder of twin sisters, his mother was the current holder of the title. Max’s eldest brother, Oliver, would succeed her as the next Duke of Blackthorne. As the eldest son, Oliver currently held one of the Duke of Blackthorne’s lesser titles, Earl of Courtland, and was often referred to simply as Courtland.

Erm no, or at least, not exactly. I wasn’t sure, so I took advice on this one. Letters Patent can’t be altered or amended, and these questions aren’t usually dealt with in Parliament, they’re dealt with by the Crown. The Marlborough title was set up that way in the first place. It was never altered. The title could have been re-created with new Letters Patent, but that’s not what it says. And all titles are subject to the laws of primogeniture. Stating a different method in the Letters Patent isn’t going to cut it. Titles are always inherited by the eldest male in direct line. Failing any male heir, then a female may be allowed to convey the title to her sons, but she doesn’t usually use the title.

Why is it so important to the story? Why bother twisting the inheritance laws to that extent? Am I supposed to be impressed that she’s a duchess? Also, I’m informed by the expert I consulted that the property wouldn’t go with the title, it would most likely be tied up in entail and go to the nearest male relative or back to the Crown.

The Dukedom of Marlborough was amended that way because the Duchess of Marlborough was the lover of Queen Anne. At that time, the Queen would have done anything for Sarah. And since the duke was a war hero, that gave her the excuse. Even the Marlborough title carries the rule of primogeniture, that only in the event of no male heirs, can females inherit or convey the title.

If Bella is British and Bull is American, then their children will carry American citizenship by birth. They would have to renounce that citizenship in order to inherit a peerage, although courtesy titles being virtually meaningless, they could use them if they wanted to. It’s just a bit pretentious. The American constitution forbids its citizens to hold anything but honorary titles. And British law forbids anyone but a British citizen from inheriting a British peerage and the land that goes with it. Which, since until recently peers were an important part of the law making process, only stands to reason, really.

Max, the hero of this book, is a covert agent for the CIA. I thought that only American citizens could join the CIA. If he’s British, and Lord Max, then he’d surely be recruited via MI6?

Yes, nitpicking, but since the author seems to want her heroes and heroines to have everything, she has to jump through some convoluted hoops to get there. And it detracted from the story for me, kept me wondering when I should have been concentrating on the heart of the story. Even if it’s possible, it’s not a detail that would make me care about the characters more, or anything that adds to the story.

And they sleep in a bed that has been slept in by Henry II. A bed over eight hundred years old? Something that precious and fragile belongs in a museum, properly preserved. And it most definitely doesn’t belong in a house designed by Robert Adam. It would make Adam revolve in his grave at great speed, this man who even designed the doorknobs in rooms he created.

There was something about jewels, but I didn’t care enough to find out. I think the jewels are supposed to bind the stories in the series together, but I didn’t get that far in. Or, in skipping yet more infodumps, I missed it.

The book reminded me of this passage from  “Alice Through The Looking Glass”

Alice laughed. There’s no use trying, she said: one can’t believe impossible things.

I daresay you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

I guess I’m out of practice.

LynneCs iconGrade: DNF


Bella Benedict’s five grown children are scattered around the world like a handful of precious jewels. Now she’s dying and she has one last, secret wish. To bring her children home. And to give them what she once had: a marriage of passion.Wealthy playboy Max Benedict has no interest in long-term commitment. He had his heart broken once and that was enough. Instead, he travels the world, working as a sometime spy for the CIA. When he’s asked to investigate a foreign threat against the president, he doesn’t think twice about accepting—until he hears who he’ll be working with in London.

FBI Special Agent Kristin Lassiter is under investigation and on the verge of losing everything—her savings, her job, her beloved father. So when Bella Benedict approaches her with the offer to pay her mounting debts, she’s tempted to accept. But there’s a catch—a big one. Bella wants Kristin to win the heart of her son Max, the very man who destroyed Kristin years ago. A man unaware he fathered her nine-year-old daughter. If Kristin succeeds, she’ll get the money she needs—and the priceless Blackthorne rubies Bella has offered to sweeten the deal. The only problem is, can she win Max’s heart without falling back in love with him?

Other books in this series:
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