George Pembroke, Viscount Sedgewick, lost his beloved wife two years ago in childbirth. Heartbroken, his only consolation is his daughter; he neglects the small son born at his wife's death. After spending his mourning period drinking, gambling, and whoring George is finally ready to take up the responsibilities of fatherhood again.
Sally Spenser is the spinster daughter of a deceased vicar. Her brother's attempts to marry her off to a disgusting old man have led her to consider becoming a governess. Plain, poor, and only faintly connected to a noble house, Sally has few other options and is staying with her oldest friend Glee while she tries to decide what to do with her life. Glee is George's sister, so Sally has known (and been in love with) the handsome George most of her life. After the death of George's wife (who Sally was secretly jealous of), Sally has made an effort to reach out to George's motherless children.
Because George's children love Sally, Glee suggests that he hire Sally as his governess. Realizing that won't work because he's a single man and she's still a young woman, George instead proposes a marriage of convenience to Sally. It's really an interesting arrangement, because while George likes Sally he can't imagine being attracted to her and the two of them also have a tendency to argue as Sally isn't afraid to criticize George for his behavior toward his children. I admire the way the author sets up their marriage, it really feels like a marriage of convenience and not just a plot device.
George is a difficult hero to take. While he is fairly real and flawed, the fact that he has held a grudge against his baby son is difficult to swallow. Not that he's been overtly cruel, he's mostly just neglected him, but then again, that's a terrible thing to do. My feelings for George are mixed. I'm sympathetic about his wife's death and enjoy the way he falls for Sally, I just wish he had treated his son a little better. The neglect could have existed without being quite so extreme.
I like Sally. She's tough emotionally, but still vulnerable. I love her interaction with his kids. There's never a time when she comes across as too "goody-goody" or "heart-of-gold", she's real, but she's nice, and I like that. Again, I appreciate that she isn't magically made an heiress or discovers that she's a beauty in the right clothes or anything. She simply is who she is and manages to get her guy anyway.
I liked "An Improper Proposal". It's one of those stories that could turn into a self-pitying disaster--or turn out to be a case of ugly duckling turns beautiful swan, but it doesn't. There's also the factor of the first wife; George really was deeply in love with his first wife, she isn't found out to be an evil slut post-mortem or anything, she was a nice woman he truly adored. The author doesn't take any of the dangerous routes with this story, but instead creates a sweet and satisfying romance where the heroine really is plain and poor and has been truly overlooked, and where the hero honestly loved his first wife and thought he'd never love again. I enjoy stories like these where the author doesn't cop out with melodrama or drastic make-overs. There were many great things about it, but there were problems too.
I had trouble with the author's style of writing. Her prose is simple, not necessarily a bad thing, but she seemed to have trouble portraying the grittier side of a tale like this. The prose and the characterization were a bit shallow, which detracted from what this story could have been. I've read some truly poorly written books, and I don't want to say that the author comes anywhere near being a bad writer. I guess essentially my problem is that her style didn't quite match her story. This is probably more an issue of taste.
The only other problem that sticks out in my mind was with her knowledge of English titles. Despite some usage by modern royalty and some variations found with medieval nobility, except in the case where a noble family's surname happens to be the same as their title, a peer and their family would not use their title in place of their surname. If Sally is George's wife, she would be Sally Pembroke, Viscountess Sedgewick--formally addressed as Lady Sedgewick, her name is Sally Pembroke, not Sally Sedgewick. Along the same lines, George Pembroke, Viscount Sedgewick is only addressed as Lord Sedgewick or George Pembroke--he is not called Lord George Pembroke or Lord George Sedgewick. The use of the courtesy title of "Lord" before a first name is reserved for the younger sons of Marquesses and Dukes (occasionally for the eldest son if no other titles are possessed by the line, but that's rare).
In the end, I give "An Improper Proposal" three stars. It is readable--in fact for me it was a page turner--with a great story told the right way. Apart from the hard to like hero and some inaccuracies, my problems were mainly with the depth of the characterization and the writer's style being a bit lighter than the story she was trying to tell. I think I'd recommend this book to fans of this type of story, or to anyone who's read as many lousy books lately as I have, because despite my somewhat lukewarm review, this book was a welcome and enjoyable read. I will most likely read Ms. Bolen again.