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REVIEW: The Marquess of Cake by Heather Hiestand

Dear Ms. Hiestand,

I was having a rocking good time with this book until exactly the 58% mark, at which point it seemed to jump some sort of storyline river, where extra development should have been or was and then got massively cut. It annoyed me so much I noticed the rest of the inconsistencies in characterization throughout the latter half of the book more than I would have otherwise.

Note: I first read this book some months ago and wrote most of this review then (and forgot I had), but I couldn’t help feeling like I had exaggerated the annoyance I felt. So I decided to read it again (I never re-read) to see if I had been unfair. I hadn’t. I feel exactly the same way on re-read as I did then. But I didn’t know how to grade this then and I’m still not sure.

Coffee . . . tea . . . or a pastry chef sweeter than any confection . . .

Scotch trifle fit for Queen Victoria, scones with clotted cream . . . Alys Redcake knows the way to a man’s heart. Yet she is unaware that with each morsel—and flash of ankle—she is seducing the handsome marquess frequenting her father’s tea shop. Unmarried at twenty-six, Alys’s first love is the family business. But thoughts of the gentleman’s touch are driving her to distraction . . .

With his weakness for sugar, the Marquess of Hatbrook can imagine no more desirable woman than one scented with cake and spice. Mistaking Alys for a mere waitress, he has no doubt she would make a most delicious mistress. And when he finds himself in need of an heir, he plans to make her his convenient bride. Yet as they satisfy their craving for one another, business and pleasure suddenly collide. Will Hatbrook’s passion for sweets—and for Alys—be his heart’s undoing?

Alys’s father has climbed his way to wealth from the pits of poverty via pastry, to the point he has been granted knighthood by Queen Victoria. Part of his method was to work his oldest three children in his fledgling factory beginning at the age of 8. As a result, they are not given an education. The oldest child was physically weak and perished, leaving Alys and her twin, Gawain, behind. Once the family achieves some wealth, their father sends Gawain to India and along come two more girls to the family, both of whom, because of the family’s newfound wealth, get educations and finishing school so that they might attract the attention of a noble in need of funds and not particular that it comes from the merchant class. Because Alys has always worked in her father’s factory and then in the storefront bakery he later opens, and is uneducated and unrefined, she is seen as an object of derision by her younger sisters.

All that aside, Alys loves her occupation as a cake decorator and her gift for charming nobles into spending money on her confections. Because of an event that happened years before, she does not want to marry, but at twenty-six, she really has no reason to think she is in danger of such a state. Until her father decrees that, as the eldest daughter of a newly minted knight, she is unfit to work at her chosen occupation and fires her, breaking her heart and putting her future in a flux not of her choosing.

In the meantime, she has met Michael Shield, Marquess Hatbrook, who is a sugar addict with a bad case of either hypoglycemia or early-onset diabetes type 2. I don’t know where I read this tidbit, but it’s the reason I picked up this book because not all disabilities revolve around ones people can see. He is unreasonably aware of and craving different pastries almost nonstop, it seems. In fact, he is initially attracted to Alys because she smells like cake.

Her body pressed against him. He scented that delectable perfume of hers. Eau de Redcake’s.

The writing is lovely. There are many little sections that I found clever, particularly when it comes to Michael’s attention to pastry:

Michael [toyed] with Theo’s plate. It was covered with crumbs and he wondered what Theo had been eating. It looked like a red, seedless jam had been involved.

Michael’s illness is handled very well, especially for the time period, as Alys is observant and insightful, and, with good ol’ common sense, can put two and two together to come up with a decent meal plan to help him (and his mother, who has the same problem). I would not be surprised if the author has some close experience with hypoglycemia and diabetes and its progression.

The characterization is consistent and I really feel for the position her newly knighted craptastic father puts her in. Alys is no-nonsense and Michael is a sweetheart. The sex scenes were lovingly drawn.

But then we hit the part where Alys has a personality and/or motivation transplant, and a previously smart and pragmatic woman does something out of character, and then compounds that by turning stupid.

She has sex with Michael, which would be fine and all, but it was at an odd place in the story, as if someone had said, “We need a sex scene at 58%. Put it in.” And to do that, Alys’s previously bad experience and subsequent inexperience, and all her previous ruminations about what she wants out of life, has to get tossed by the wayside on a moment’s notice.

Then, when circumstances change so that Michael feels he should offer her marriage, this previously smart and pragmatic woman says no, for no good reason. She has a reason, but it’s flimsy at best. It was as if someone said, “Now that they’ve had sex, make her refuse his offer of marriage because reasons.”

Michael is a good communicator. He tells her exactly what he wants from her and why (because he’s very attracted to her and she’s smart and he likes that), but she refuses to believe it. Instead, she decides he must want A, but then she thinks he must want B, but then she thinks he must want C, and none of them are what he flat-out told her he wanted at the 58% mark. And she’s doing this for no reason I can tell. It’s as if someone said, “And I want a Big Misunderstanding here.”

After the 58% mark, the rest of the book was an exercise in frustration and I may have acquired whiplash from all of Alys’s back-and-forthing. Because up to that point, everything was progressing logically and I was seriously invested in the story (as in A-grade invested), I was that much more frustrated with the rest of the book.

I’ve read the book twice now, months apart, and my opinion didn’t change. A for the first 58% and a D for the rest of it for needless trope mongering. C+

~July
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July

July reads a lot.

16 Comments

  1. Laura hunsaker
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 12:25:34

    Hi Jane! I had the author on my blog back in July and she said that he does have diabetes. She explains it further if you wanted to check out the interview:

    http://gotfiction.com/feature-heather-hiestand/

    I agree with your review though, and I think that as the series continues it’ll be interesting to see how Hatbrook’s mother acts (will she change her behavior?) and to see how Redcake’s fares without Alys at the forefront.

    ReplyReply

  2. Madd
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 12:30:46

    My husband, is of the opinion that all romance books that have sex scenes seem to have one in the same area. He will look at one of my romance books while holding it closed, find a spot in the book that he has deemed likely, flip it open to a page and, at least 80% of the time, there is a sex scene beginning or in progress where he has opened it to. It’s never occurred to me to go through my romance books and find at what percentage of the book the first sex scene happens. He might be on to something.

    ReplyReply

  3. JN
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 13:04:45

    I am stuck at that exact spot and I can’t seem to force myself to finish this book, no matter how many times I try.

    ReplyReply

  4. Angie
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 13:28:04

    I had the same exact experience. Which is such a shame, because it really was charming up until they all broke character and fled for parts unknown.

    ReplyReply

  5. KarenF
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 16:28:40

    Yeah, that’s right about when I put the book down to take a break, and never got around to picking it up again.

    ReplyReply

  6. Divya S
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 16:35:04

    I completely agree with this review. I bought the book a while back in the daily deals and loved the first half. The whole premise and writing was so lovely at first, and then became completely puzzling and weird in the second half. Hopefully the author’s next effort will mirror the beginning of this book, because I truly enjoyed her writing style.

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  7. July
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 16:39:23

    @Angie: I originally wrote something like “I grieved for what could have been,” but I’m always hesitant to say things to the effect that the author didn’t write the book I wanted. In this case, I can’t shake that because more than “wasn’t the book I wanted,” it was that it didn’t live up the potential established in the first half. Or maybe that it didn’t deliver on its promises.

    I find it interesting that three people in this thread actually put it down at that exact point. I was partially afraid I was imagining things. I didn’t stop because the prose was quietly lovely AND I was hoping that that left turn at Albuquerque would be explained to my satisfaction.

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  8. MissE
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 17:17:56

    I was just happy that the aspect of Alys working in trade being detrimental to her family’s social prospects was not completely swept under the rug. Her father was an asshat and her sisters pretty awful to her about it, but the true reaction of society was at least acknowledged. I’m so sick of modern enlightenment being applied in historicals so that everyone can have the perfect happy life. Granted, I have to ignore the ending, but at least it was addressed as a source of conflict.

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  9. July
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 18:02:38

    @MissE: I agree with you completely. But this is how I saw it and why it aggravated my aggravation:

    1. Alys had been worked as a common factory laborer from the time she was 8, and treated that way all her life. Her father acquiring wealth happened in her background. But the SPENDING of it was a sea change for her.

    2. Her father achieving a knighthood, and Alys being thrust into the realm of Quality was another sea change. Since she WAS still laboring (only on something she liked), I don’t think she ever saw herself as anything but a low-class laborer. She did toy with the idea that the best the likes of her could hope for was to be a noble’s mistress.

    3. But then her father not only fired her from her IDENTITY, he put forth a couple of matrimonial prospects that were abhorrent to her particularly since she didn’t want to get married and didn’t think anybody would want her anyway. And it’s clear her father just wants to get rid of her because he thinks of her as a nuisance has-been laborer, and he doesn’t care who it’s to, just that she’s gone and the way is clear for her sisters.

    So then that leads me to my problem:

    1. She’s got her father breathing down her neck with at least two gross candidates.

    2. The best she can hope for besides marriage is to take her savings and go hide in the country for the rest of her life.

    3. She’s had sex with a man she likes, respects, cares about, and is very attracted to (despite her past experience) who reciprocates all those feelings for her.

    Then why does she say “no” to this dude she’s all but in love with and is eligible to marry because of her new status and he tells her he WANTS to marry her? It makes no sense. The Alys we’re given in the first half of the book would not do that.

    ReplyReply

  10. July
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 18:03:39

    @Laura hunsaker: Hi Laura, and thanks for the link. It was interesting. FYI, Jane didn’t write this review. July did.

    ReplyReply

  11. Laura hunsaker
    Oct 02, 2013 @ 19:20:47

    I saw that and I feel so embarrassed! I tried to edit it but couldn’t do it from my phone. I’m sorry:(
    But that being said, I couldn’t pinpoint what it was that made me rate this book a C instead of higher and your review hits the nail on the head! It’s like a personality change for the last third of the book!

    ReplyReply

  12. KarenH.
    Oct 03, 2013 @ 05:46:29

    Well, dang it. I’d love to read the first 58% of the book anyway.

    And I think we need to make “needless trope mongering” a permanent member of the “critiquing romance novels” lexicon. File it near “plot moppets” :)

    ReplyReply

  13. Alicia Barne
    Oct 06, 2013 @ 23:09:03

    Unfortunately, I had the same experience, which was very upsetting. I really love it, and then I just hit some sort of plateau.

    ReplyReply

  14. Junne
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 06:57:04

    Please someone spoil for me the “bad experience” she’s had in the past? I like to know these things beforehand, to decide whether or not to read the book. Thanks.

    ReplyReply

  15. July
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 13:14:02

    @Junne: I’m going to put this in spoiler tags, although in my opinion, it was well-hinted-at-enough that it wasn’t a shock or surprise. Just part of her internal conversation.

    [spoiler]
    She was raped when she was a teenager, in that “I swear I love you and I want to marry you and give me some” way. She then tells Michael this, who says, “You were raped,” but she doesn’t believe that because she believes she consented. [/spoiler]

    And so she swore off marriage and men.

    ReplyReply

  16. Junne
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 13:48:52

    @July:

    Thanks! So fitting that July should answer to Jun(n)e :)

    ReplyReply

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