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REVIEW: Debutante’s DIlemma by Elyse Mady

Dear Ms. Mady:

I liked your voice and I liked the character interaction. I liked the idea of the novel but this novella was just that, an idea. It was a sketch and because of the brevity, I couldn’t buy into anything. I didn’t believe that there was an HEA for these three because there was no emotional exploration of such a thing.

Debutante's DilemmaI admit that I looked at this book a couple of times at NetGalley but shied away because I wasn’t sure whether this was a love triangle. Love triangles are not a favorite of mine. But then, you sent me this very nice query with the book attached and I started reading it that night. The story is about seven chapters in length (including an epilogue) and a little under 80 pages. Normally, that would be enough for me in a novella but the issues that this story raises are simply too large in scope for the novella.

Miss Cecilia Hastings is the envy of every girl in London. During her first season, she managed to secure the attentions of Lord Jeremy Battersley, sixth Earl of Henley and His Grace Richard Huxley, fourteenth Duke of Wexford, Both gentleman were wealthy, well favored, and the best of friends. Both fell in love with Cecilia and have offered for her. Their love for Cecilia is the first thing to come between the two friends.

Cecilia is having a difficult time deciding between the two because she wants to have a marriage with passion and neither suitor has attempted one stolen moment with her. I actually liked this because it gives a nod to the restrictive time period when a woman’s reputation could be ruined by spending even a short time alone with a man sans chaperone. So many novels have the heroine gallivanting around the countryside without a worry about her reputation.

Further, you make much of the merest touch of clothing between the two characters which makes sense when the characters have had to confine their romance to dances, stolen tete a tete’s, and sidelong glances:

The ballroom could have been empty at that moment because, for just for an instant, as his strong arms cradled her, his satin breeches brushing daringly against the soft, sheer folds of her gown, he could nearly swear that the passion rushing through his body was flaring in hers too.

I liked that the metaphors and similes used by the characters seemed in keeping with the time period.

If unrequited lust were a terminal disease, Richard Huxley's friends and relations would have been well advised to put by a goodly supply of black-edged handkerchiefs, such was the severity of his affliction.

It is true that some of the writing is a bit florid, but I didn’t mind that. I think that kind of prose, again, gives a nod to the period and to the genre itself. It’s not that I don’t like spare prose because I do, but a little floridity and drama seems appropriate for the genre.

Yes, there was a lot I liked about the story including the setting, the voice. But the story reminded me of some proposals I’ve read for full length novels. Cecilia is a girl who has it all. She is in love with two men. The close friendship of the two men is nearly destroyed by the idea that Cecilia would choose one over the other. In short time, this conflict is resolved and we are on to the HEA with little explanation about how the friendship and jealousy will be resolved. The issue of jealousy is never really addressed, leaving me to wonder what these characters felt; how they would navigate an HEA after the story ended. The issue of jealousy was particularly poignant as there is a scene in which one suitor gives the other suitor the cut direct.

Cecilia, herself, has to make no difficult decisions. She is the picture of having your cake and eating it too. Her agnst at wanting to marry for passion seems almost to be petulant given her abundance of choice and in the short space, not enough of her character is fleshed out for me to be truly sympathetic. Further, because of the historical setting, the resolution of the dilemma would be an  anathema  for most families.

[spoiler]In the end there is a committed threesome but the issue of succession for the characters is never, ever addressed and given the time period, the non marriage and no legitimate issue would be a huge deal.   I’d almost rather have had no epilogue than the epilogue that is given when the three are in a committed relationship and there is no discussion of how one ancient family would end up with no direct heirs.   [/spoiler]

When I read the last page of the novella, I kept thinking, boy I wonder how the real story would have read instead of this outline.   I am giving this a fairly low grade because I felt the story was incomplete, but not because I didn’t like the author’s voice. There simply wasn’t enough romance, plot or character development for me to be satisfied with this story.   I would definitely read another Mady book but this one just left me scratching my head.   D

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

21 Comments

  1. TKF
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 16:09:15

    I’ve been wondering about this one, cause I couldn't see any way for the premise to work, and clearly it didn't. But I have to say, the tiny snippet you give where he’s thinking of his own arms as “strong” cinches my inclination to skip it. I hate those strange “just whose POV are we in” authorial intrusions. They totally trip me up (I had to read the snippet three times to be sure it really was his POV and him thinking of his own “strong” arms).

  2. Sunita
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 16:14:15

    I read this at some point in my last 2 weeks of airline travel and had much the same reaction. I found the combination of semi-historical writing style and menage plot really odd, especially when the resolution wiped out all the rivalry and competition which had preceded it. And the heroine was too close to a Mary Sue for me to warm up to her. But there was definitely talent there. So, all in all, a strange mixture.

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  4. Jane
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 18:17:59

    @TKF Is that akin to the heroine looking in the mirror and commenting on her appearance in the first few pages?

  5. Jane
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 18:19:04

    @Sunita I liked the writing style and thought the author did a good job of using the writing itself to create a historical atmosphere. I thought it was an intriguing dilemma but…where was the resolution?

  6. Barbara
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 18:35:41

    When I read it, I just didn’t read it seriously. I don’t know if that’s flattering to the author, but I thought the characters were all ridiculously perfect and silly and the setting and ending were implausible, but the writing style was (my word was earnest, I think) interesting enough that I didn’t consider it that much of a waste of time.

    I didn’t expect a resolution; for that period, how could there be for a threesome? I just expected the whole thing to be sort of a fluffy story. Like I said, I don’t know how flattering it was to the author as far as my critique of the story itself, but I thought her style was something.

  7. Jaclyn
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 21:18:28

    This “sketch” idea is something that comes to mind frequentl–since I’ve become an ebook reader I read a couple short stories or novellas a week. They are the perfect length for the commute to/from work.

    I often find myself wondering if authors tackle plots that are better suited to full-length novels, given the amount of emotional exploration, possibly world-building, and plot development that a specific story needs to be fully realized.

    Even though the plot didn’t resolve well for Jane, this is a review that will lead me to go read something by Ms. Mady because of Jane’s enjoyment of her voice.

    Something I’d love to have writers respond to is whether the process of writing a short story is different than writing a full-length novel? Do you ever have an idea and think it’s better suited to one form or the other? I’m fascinated by this aspect of the craft of writing.

  8. TKF
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 21:41:58

    @Jane: Actually, it’s worse IMO. At least when she’d looking in the mirror, it makes sense. We all do that at some point (the gee I wish I wasn’t having yet another bad hair day). But when characters make bizarre observations about themselves that seem semi-subconscious and are really what the OTHER character would be noticing, it just pushes me right out of the book. It’s outside the POV of that character and it just irks me. It’s poor writing (which is at least as bad as poor plot for me).

  9. Silvia
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 22:16:59

    She is in love with two men. The close friendship of the two men is nearly destroyed by the idea that Cecilia would choose one over the other. In short time, this conflict is resolved and we are on to the HEA with little explanation about how the friendship and jealousy will be resolved.

    That’s a big problem for me in threesome fiction. I want understand how they would get drawn into an unconventional poly relationship. And I don’t want jealousy muddying the waters.

    I was just discussing the other day with someone about what we look for in poly romance. And we decided that two of the biggest components in what we end up enjoying the most are:
    (a) the dynamic where 1 of the 3 people is emotionally vulnerable and has Issues and has been secretly pining away for the other two– who are the type of people that can provide emotional caretaking for this person and open them up into a committed relationship of equals
    and (b) there’s a lack of jealousy, in this fantasy-fulfilling way where each segment of the threesome is just so full of love and secure in it that there’s no threat from including another person.

    However… beggers can’t be choosers? I think I’m putting this on my TBR list anyway, because at least it’s not erotica and it’s decently written.

  10. joanne
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 07:13:09

    This sounds more like Historical Fantasy rather than Historical Romance.

    I wish I liked triangles better because I know I’m missing some great writing- but I always think one of the three HAS to feel less than the others and that is not the stuff of HEAs, at least for me. It makes me sad for the ‘third’. I probably worded that wrong but I avoid triangles and menages for that reason.

    A different trope would have me buying from from this author because the snippets of her writing in this review appeal to me.

  11. TKF
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 10:52:58

    @joanne:

    A different trope would have me buying from this author because the snippets of her writing in this review appeal to me.

    Proof positive that there is no universal taste, since the writing in the snippets is what tipped me into avoiding this writer.

  12. Barbara
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 11:13:08

    I think what evened the “score” more for me was that this was her first piece, plus it was such a short one.

    There wasn’t time to do much with it, it was obviously a whole lot of plot packed into a super short space and the author still managed to convey some good atmosphere. The emotional relationship between the three participants of course lacked depth; I didn’t expect any, so maybe that’s why I wasn’t disappointed. I just liked the way the author dove in and went for the story, for what it was.

    I’m not as eloquent as Jane and I don’t have the same grasp of all of the nuances of writing, but my feeling after reading this was that the author just went, for lack of a better term, balls to the wall with this and loved it. I scarf up those goofy HP books and they have those silly perfect billionaire CEOs, and this has these silly perfect men and a perfect woman and a perfect plot, but I felt like the author made what she could with it.

    I wish she’d had more space. I assume she was given a space limit, but I hope she’ll be given a chance to work with something longer at some point and she’ll slow the story down. I know she’s lost some readers with this, and it’s a shame. This was an odd little story, but for some reason, it made me smile and I liked her style. I’ll probably pick up something by her again, hopefully in a longer format to see if she sustains it.

  13. joanne
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 13:37:03

    @TKF: You needed proof? All I’ve ever had to do was look around a book store.

  14. Angela James
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 17:40:22

    I wanted to leave a huffy comment and call you an ignorant slut for not liking a Carina Press book, but I was afraid someone who didn’t know me would take me seriously.

    So even though I know you don’t like it when people thank you for reviews, I’ll say thank you anyway. You know we always appreciate your reviews of our books and value the conversations they generate. And I especially appreciate the positive things you said about this author’s voice and her potential. We happen to agree and I hope you’ll check out her next book, which is a contemporary romance, Learning Curves, coming in 2011. /advertisement

  15. Bianca
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 18:33:16

    I’ve always, always wanted to read a historical threesome novel, history be damned. I feel a little bad about this, though, considering some of the earlier comments, lolz.

    So, I’ll probably put this on my list. Great review, Jane. ;)

  16. joy
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 19:47:38

    I read this one and was intrigued, by which I mean frustrated, that ONE particular central thing was not revealed even in the Epilogue. Unless I’m more dense than usual and couldn’t figure it out after 2 readings.

  17. Kaetrin
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 20:21:32

    @ Jane – do the men have a relationship (other than friendship) too?

    I think I’d be likely to have too much difficulty with the lack of information re the succession, marriage, etc as you did but I will look out for the contemporary next year – maybe that setting and the full length will be a better fit.

  18. Jane
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 22:12:58

    @Kaetrin Like a sexual one? Not that I could tell.

  19. Jane
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 22:14:11

    @Angela James I know what you truly think of me anyway. I did like Mady’s voice and I’m excited to hear that she has another story coming out.

  20. crazylass
    Dec 25, 2010 @ 19:56:19

    I agree with everything said here, especially with joy. I still can’t figure out with whom she ends up with and it’s damn frustrating.
    Could someone help me ? thanks

  21. Jane
    Dec 25, 2010 @ 19:58:42

    @crazylass: I think the author left it deliberately vague.

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