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REVIEW: Wedding of The Season by Laura Lee Guhrke

Dear Ms. Guhrke:

When I read a couple of books in your bachelor girls series, I wasn't sure your historical voice was compatible with my reader's ear. Then Jane started urging me to read your new back-to-back releases, which are set a few (crucial) years later, starting with Wedding of The Season. And I am glad I did, both because I wish there were more Romances set in the early years of the 20th century, and because I found Beatrix and Will's story quite entertaining and appropriately modern.

wedding of the season laura lee guhrkeIt was never in doubt that Lady Beatrix Danbury would marry William Mallory (now the Duke of Sunderland). Until, that is, the groom hied off to Egypt mere weeks before the wedding, persuaded to follow his love of archaeology rather than his love of childhood sweetheart Beatrix and his duties as the Marquess of Richfield. Besides the humiliation of having her prospective groom flee so precipitously, Beatrix must also deal with the emotional devastation of losing the only man she could imagine herself ever truly loving. So six years later, when Will returns to England to manage some of his ducal responsibilities and raise more money for his archaeological endeavors, Beatrix is slightly less than happy to run into him. And by "run into him," I mean she literally almost runs over him with her Daimler, which she drives through the countryside with all the joy she is not feeling about her second upcoming wedding to the handsome and serious Duke of Trathen (Aidan).

This time Beatrix is determined to make it to the altar, and she and Aidan share a mutual respect she believes will make for a solid partnership and ample security for her and their children. He wouldn't run off like Will did, and he wouldn't abandon his family and the duties of his title. So when she find Will sprawled in front of her car, thrown and kicked by a hot young gelding, she cannot imagine what has brought him back to England, let alone, straight into her path:

"You, sweet pea. What else?"

She made a sound of obvious skepticism. "I should have known not to expect a serious answer from you."

"None of your business. Is that answer serious enough for you?" He tried to stand up, but pain shot through his knee, making him grimace. "Damn, he muttered as he sank back down to the ground. "I really took a tumble this time."

She seemed indifferent to his pain. "I'd have thought six years away would have given you some measure of maturity, but I was obviously mistaken."

Will bit back the angry words that hovered on the tip of his tongue, and strove to maintain his careless air. "Six years?" he drawled after a moment. "My, how time does fly."

"Doesn't it? I'm surprised you would even bother to come back after all this time."

"I don't know why you should be surprised, old thing," he answered, and gave her a wink, "You didn't really think I'd miss your wedding, did you?"

Aaaaaand we're off. The first half of the novel is bright with these kinds of exchanges between Will and Beatrix, as well as more poignant expressions of the main obstacle to their mutual happiness, namely that Will wanted a life of travel and adventure, while Beatrix wanted a life of security and stability. Will accuses her of being afraid, reminding her of the things she wouldn't do as a young girl (riding a horse without a sidesaddle, diving off a cliff into the sea), for fear of disapproval from her very strict father. Beatrix explains that there is an enormous difference between riding astride and relocating to Egypt:

"I wanted children, Will. Just where was I supposed to have them? In a tent?"

"I told you I would build a house for you!" he shouted.

"No, Will…Not for me. It would have been an expedition house with bedrooms for your staff. I was engaged to a duke, not an archaeologist! And I had every right to continue to expect the security for me and my children that your position afforded us."

Even as we recognize that this novel will be a reunion story, the obstacles are real and the conflict understandable from both sides. First there is the issue of the new engagement, which is very real, even if Beatrix and Aidan do not share a great romantic passion for one another. Aidan is an honorable and upstanding man, a kind man, as well, and Beatrix knows that marrying him will give her the material elements of the life she desires. And since her experience of love was so emotionally disappointing, she does a fair job of convincing herself that such a feeling might be more of a hindrance than a help to a successful marriage and family. And even if Beatrix were not engaged, there are hurt feelings, wounded pride, and lack of trust on both sides.

In terms of Will and Beatrix's own priorities, Will has a passion for archaeology, and in an era where the aristocracy was in serious decline, his interests have the potential to create new economic opportunities. His search for Tutankhamun may be a bit historically precipitous (Theodore Davis found the first Tut artifacts in 1905, and Tut's tomb was not a common object of search this early), there was certainly a lot of work going on in Egypt, and quite a few riches making their way back to England, during this time. Beatrix's passion for a sedate English life is also heartfelt, for she is hardly a sedate woman herself, but she truly loves England and the rhythms of her life there.

It is a conflict that is both interesting and not easy to resolve (this the six year separation and unresolved feelings), especially for two likeable but stubborn characters. It is not merely that Beatrix is engaged to another man; even were that obstacle not present, there is a very real problem of how to negotiate a stable, happy marriage and family between two people who have such seemingly different life goals and values. And for much of the novel, the way these differences are handled feels fresh and engaging. Even with the clichéd phrases I've noticed in past books, as well, there is a modern feel to the authorial voice in this novel that fits the modern characters and the modern setting. Beatrix wears Turkish trousers (i.e. bloomers), drives a car, and has scandalous friends (most notably the unconventional Julia, aka Baronness Yardley, from whom she received the car and the driving lessons). But she is content to let her wildness be expressed within the confines of a more conventional life). And while Will's flight to Egypt can reasonably be seen as selfish and irresponsible (in terms of his family duties), his unabashed love for Beatrix and the character growth he demonstrates through the course of the novel, makes it difficult to disregard the importance of his dreams – in his own way, he is striving to be a self-made man, a very modern ambition for a man of his class.

The problem – for me, at least – is that this wonderfully earnest conflict ends up being resolved in a way that does not do the set up much justice. I cannot go into a lot of detail here without spoiling the main thread of the novel's plot, but I will say that the resolution came across to me as both abrupt and emotionally unsatisfying. Further, it undermined the smart characterization of Beatrix as a woman who had good reasons for valuing the life she pursued. It was especially frustrating for me because so much of my engagement in the novel was grounded in the clever construction of the character conflict and my anticipation at how it was going to be unraveled. Had the earlier sections of the novel not been so fun for me to read, my overall grade would have been much lower. Given my enjoyment of the first two-thirds to three-quarters of the book, however, it averages out to a B-.

~ Janet

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isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

12 Comments

  1. Meoskop
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 11:25:37

    Great revie. I disliked the book but I agree with everything you’ve said. You’ve highlighted what I did like well.

  2. Joy
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 12:06:06

    One of the things I did like about the original conflict in this book is that both the hero and heroine felt like the other one had abandoned *them*. I always enjoy it when 2 narrative points of view actually point to radically different perceptions of the same underlying event.

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  4. Sandra
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 13:28:27

    You’ve worried me. I’m a Guhrke auto-buyer, and I’ve had this book since Monday. Normally, I blow right through her books, but this one I pick up, read a few pages, put it down, come back to it later. I can’t seem to get into it. I like Will so far, but Beatrix really annoys me for some reason. And now it sounds as if she does something that’s TSTL.

    I’ll finish the book, if only to see what’s going to happen. But now I also wonder about the next book in the series, which releases at the end of this month. Aiden (fiance #2) is coming across as a real stick in the mud so far, yet he’s the hero of the next book. I’m afraid I’m going to be disappointed yet again.

  5. Robin
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 13:37:24

    @Sandra: Did I suggest Trix did something TSTL? If I did, I didn’t mean to. For me, though, the first half of this book was the strongest. I can’t go into how the conflict is resolved without spoiling the fun, but I will say it wasn’t, IMO, because of a TSTL move on Beatrix’s part. Still, I do think the resolution compromised Beatrix’s previous characterization. Once you finish the book, hopefully what I’ve said here will make more sense. Sorry for being so vague.

    Also, I liked the next book, Aidan’s book, a bit more, although I’m still grappling with the grade. It has some of the same issues this one does, IMO (structurally, that is), although I loved Aidan and Julia.

  6. joanne
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 16:54:41

    @Robin: I passed on this when it was first released because of the cover that – although it’s gorgeous – doesn’t show an early 20th century bride, but most of all because of the 6 years between the wedding date and his reappearance. I’m still feeling that his “unabashed love” wasn’t real. I dunno, that just didn’t, and still doesn’t, ring like true love for me.

    I liked some of this author’s work but it may take me a while to get around to actually buying this one. (and priced at $8 for an ebook doesn’t make the decision any easier). Interesting review though, thank you.

  7. Sandra
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 18:42:52

    @Robin: I’ve finally reached that section of the book, and you’re right, it’s not TSTL. But this action is totally out of character for Beatrix and happens entirely out of left field. It’s almost as if Guhrke wrote herself into a corner and had to find a way out. Will’s departure is imminent and the two of them were as far apart as ever. Guhrke needed something to move the story along. I’m not sure this was the right choice, though.

  8. quill
    Jan 06, 2011 @ 19:17:49

    So glad to see a review of this book. I just finished it the other day and I feel very much as you do; almost let down by Trix and, I suppose, Guhrke. I so loved the first part, loved Will, loved Beatrix and was really interested to see how a compromise would be reached at the end.

    I suppose I feel that Beatrix and her desires were devalued and Will…well, it is like his character was cheated out of a chance at real growth. It is because, as you said, the first half of the book was so good and the characters drawn so well, that the ending was such a disappointment to me.

  9. Evangeline Holland
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 18:17:31

    I am absolutely aggravated by Guhrke’s latest books. I own her entire backlist, and while my reaction to them varies from hated it to loved it, her Avon releases leave me frustrated by the lack of emotion they stir within me. The writing is competent and lyrical, the plotting is well paced, the characters are sufficiently unique, but the elements combine to create a book much too perfect for the messy emotions of falling in love and creating characters who leap from the page.

    Though I disliked Will and found Beatrix unformed, for a plot hinging upon the childhood sweethearts/reunited lovers trope, there were no surprises or roller-coaster emotions or even real consequences for what their broken engagement did to one another.

    First and foremost, Will returned to England only to obtain another loan for his dig (and was anyone else yanked out of the story by his search for King Tut? I guess I would have accepted his involvement had the book taken place in 1922, but I digress), not to pursue Trix. I also found it a cliche for her relationship with Aidan to be so bland and passionless, which made the path for Trix and Will to reunite much too easy and predictable.

    Wedding of the Season was, I admit, a nice historical romance, but I’ve seen Guhrke write books full of humor, passion, pain, and historical detail (IMO, her Avon releases all sound vaguely Regency to me. So far, Jane Feather has best captured to tone of the Edwardian era), and reading this book makes me feel further and further away from the author who wrote such gems as The Dream Again and Breathless. :(

  10. Robin
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 19:45:04

    @Sandra: What was strange to me about the ending was that IMO she didn’t need to do it that way. And I think there could have been a lot of pleasure in working things out more slowly and in a way that reflected the build up.

    @Evangeline Holland: The Tut thing didn’t throw me out of the story so much as confuse me. Why name such a famous tomb, especially when it’s still a few years before Davis finds the first stash of artifacts? I would have been totally happy with Will pursuing archaeological digging in a more serious (aka respectful to the artifacts and the historical significance) way than so many wealthy and/or titled men did.

    I haven’t read Guhrke’s early books (although I bought Breathless on Kindle recently), so all I really had to compare to were her Avon late Victorian books. Compared to those, this book just seemed much more appropriately voiced and stronger overall. The one thing, actually, that drives me nuts in her books is the cliched phrases, which are plentiful and often sound anachronistic to me, whether or not they are. There seemed fewer of those here, too, although I still got caught up on them.

    @joanne: I actually liked the amount of time that had passed, because it gave both parties a chance to really move on. If Will had not come home, I suspect the two would have married other people and probably been okay. For me, at least, the long time that passed gave them an opportunity to see each other through different eyes. Whether or not the novel succeeded in that is debatable. ;D

    TOTALLY agree with you about the price, though.

  11. Jay
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 20:25:22

    This was the first Guhrke book I’ve read and while it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, I enjoyed it well enough. I liked the time period it was set in, on the cusp of old and new, but I did find the King Tut angle odd. The ending didn’t bother me, but I ended up enjoying Scandal of the Year much more than this.

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