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REVIEW: The Beginner’s Guide to Rakes by Suzanne Enoch

Dear Ms. Enoch:

I’m not certain who named your book but I am convinced it is by someone who has never read it because you can tell by the first chapter that the heroine is no ingenue who needs lessons in handling men. The really wonderful thing about this book is the challenging heroine who blackmails, connives, and fraudulently achieves stability for herself in a world in which women can ordinarily only achieve security through birth, marriage or the selling of her person.

A Beginner's Guide to Rakes Suzanne EnochDiane Benchley’s family married her off to the Earl of Cameron, Frederick Benchley, a man who gambled so much that they had to flee England and then he died, leaving her destitute and alone in a foreign country. She sought solace in the arms of Oliver Warren in Vienna and she loved him.  Oliver Warren did not feel the same way and when  he inherited the marquisate, he ran away from Vienna without a word to Diane. Feeling battered, rejected, she picks up the pieces of her life after a bout of serious of depression and starts anew. Forging her husband’s signature, she bequeathes herself Adam House, an unentailed residence of the Benchleys. She creates an alliance with a notorious gamester, to provide with her 5,000 pounds to start a unique gaming house staffed by all women. The notorious gamester dies and leaves Diane in a fix.

She decides to blackmail Oliver Warren, now the Marquis of Haybury, into funding her start up costs and training her staff of women dealers.  Oliver agrees because Diane’s blackmail is fairly potent and because Oliver Warren has never really gotten over Diane.

Why this romance works is because neither Diane nor Oliver really care about society. What Oliver feared was being tied down to a traditional woman and while he may have had feelings for Diane, he did not want what he thought she represented and at the time that they had originally met, that may have been true but adversity had changed Diane into a different person with different perspective.

I loved that the heroine was the blackmailer this time rather than the hero.  It was a fun twist on an old trope.  Another fresh outlook was that Diane didn’t intend or really care about being a haven for women who are looking for a safe place but she becomes a haven.  Initially she wanted only safety and security for herself but she gained a certain amount of enjoyment as she began to see that her gaming club became safety and security for others (these are obviously heroines in future stories).

However, I would have liked to have seen more of the heroine’s road to self reliance. Her character arc seemed more about overcoming her fear of losing her independence and learning to trust again. His was more about coming to terms with his feelings.  One element I found odd throughout the story was the way in which Diane kept throwing how Oliver broke her heart back in her face.  I felt that showed her soft underbelly to someone whom she thought was cruel and heartless. Why would she expose herself repeatedly like that?

The hero was a bit more of a standard romance hero. Wealthy, bored, and dissatisfied. He liked the trappings of his title, the money, but he wasn’t interested in being part of polite society. He wasn’t looking forward to fulfilling the obligations of his new responsibility.

Oliver and Diane engage in not only a business partnership but a courtship with each one trying to keep the other off balance. Diane does a better job of this because she is now acting in a way outside of any woman in Oliver’s experience. While she often makes him fume, he can’t deny the appeal of this new cagey Diane.

When Diane’s enterprise starts to become profitable, her security is placed in jeopardy by her brother in law, the new Earl of Cameron who is suspicious of Diane’s inheritance of Adam House.   While this plot provided some suspense and urgency in the story, the way in which it was resolved was farcical.  Given the thoughtfulness of the rest of the story, the hamfisted way in which the danger to her finances etc was resolved put a pall over the ending. “Really” was all I could mutter when I read it.  This is a B read for me because of the smoothness of the prose, the freshness of the heroine, the ripe sexual tension.  But there are definite flaws throughout the plot that reduced my enjoyment so it could easily have been a B-.

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

38 Comments

  1. Kim
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 12:57:10

    That’s too bad about the title. It could have been the perfect name for another kind of story. In reading the review, it also seems cowardly to simply run away from a situtaion with no explanation. Did Oliver ever adequately explain why he couldn’t just tell Diane it was over? Not wanting to be tied down sounds rather lame.

  2. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 12:59:54

    so a mistorical, then?

  3. Barb in Maryland
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 13:25:22

    Lynne–
    I doubt it would earn the “mistorical” tag. For one, Jane isn’t moaning about historical errors. Also, the author doesn’t have a degree in history–so she doesn’t puff herself as an ‘authority’–one of the requirements, so it seems, for something to be tagged “mistorical”.

  4. Janet W
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 13:38:12

    Boy I’m sick of seeing the mistorical tag thrown around loosely — won’t it lose all meaning (and I think it does have meaning) if it’s applied willy*nilly? What I would like to ask, if it’s appropriate, is how does this rank against Enoch’s *imo* best work (and as a point of reference, London’s Perfect Scoundrel & the short story she wrote in the first Whistledown anthology). I felt she somehow didn’t capture my interest in recent years.

  5. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 14:18:14

    @Kim He admitted he was scared. His uncle, the Marquis died, and he took it as an opportunity to flee. He admits (and she throws it at him) that his move was cowardly.

  6. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 14:19:23

    @Lynne Connolly I’m not a historical expert and I don’t think I have claimed that title. Someone else would have to tell me if it was. There wasn’t anything in the story that stood out starkly as being anachronistic.

  7. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 14:20:30

    @Janet W I’ve never read the short in the Whistledown anthology. I liked it but not as much as London’s Perfect Scoundrel.

  8. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 14:45:47

    I found this book to be filled with too much anger. Diane is very antagonistic.She’s always threatening. A hard character to warm up to. Oliver, on the other hand, is shown with more sympatico. You’re just waiting for ok – What have I done now?

  9. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 14:46:13

    It’s just that while gentlemen could have shares in things like clubs, and some of them did, they wouldn’t be involved in running the place, and also be part of society. By society’s rules, you don’t serve the people you run with.
    That’s why I said a mistorical.

  10. DS
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 15:16:00

    I was wondering about the heroine’s dower interest in her late husband’s property. What happened to it?

  11. Moriah Jovan
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 15:44:48

    Angry and hard to warm up to? Must get this book.

  12. swati
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 15:51:10

    I am already loving the heroine. I am fed up of reading about 17 year old ravishing beauties whose smiles make the heroes heart ache. And of course she is sweet and kind and witty and brilliant though she does nothing to deserve the adjectives.

    .. Do you think book with “rake” or “duke” in the title sell more ? As well as books with “guide/ numerical list” imply a smart,humorous book ?

    As there are many people from the publishing industries on this site, i am curious – is there some sort of an official survey/ research available to publishers on what kind of titles sell more?

  13. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 16:00:29

    @Lynne Connolly Ah, well, at one point, Oliver says to Diane when they are at a party that once her gambling house opens, she won’t get invites to parties like those anymore and Diane replies she doesn’t care. Oliver never ran the place, only Diane. And she does have a lot of disdain for society. Like Jane, the previous poster noted, Diane is antagonistic and angry (which is why I liked her but can see how she would be offputting to others) and she didn’t give a rats ass about “society” except for how it could make money for her.

  14. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 16:01:40

    @DS IIRC (and it has been a while since I read this), they were broke and whatever small amount of goods she did have, she sold to pay off debts. The house was supposed to go to her brother in law as part of the estate and instead she produced a forged document that her husband, Frederick, had signed it over to her before his death. I assumed that meant something but don’t know.

  15. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 16:03:16

    @swati Yes, I actually do think that Duke and Rake sell well for some reason and it’s that Oliver wasn’t a rake, he probably was. He’s fairly disreputable. But she doesn’t need a guide to handling men, or Oliver. In fact, the entire book is about using women to fleece men into losing sums of money in her gambling house. The use of women as dealers, waiters, would set her house apart from the others.

  16. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 16:41:41

    So they’re not looking for society to come as customers? Besides, society meant more than parties and getting rich husbands. It was where all the networking takes place. It’s a bit like saying, “I’ll write the books, but I won’t go to any of the conventions, or talk to anyone else.” It was a business network, not just a frivolous place. Antagonise them, and you won’t get much business.
    A dower is the money the woman brings to the marriage. In the settlement, it’s put aside to provide for her widowhood and invested for any daughters of the marriage. It’s so that the widow’s portion doesn’t detract from the estate, and to ensure that she has something to fall back on.
    I haven’t read this book, but I did read another Enoch a while back, one with spies in, and the history wasn’t well done, so I didn’t read any more.
    I think titles with duke and rake used to sell well, but these things change over time. People tire of them and move on. However, if it works, it works. Until it stops working, that is.

  17. Cheryl
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 17:02:59

    After reading this last week, I told a friend the title made no sense. And while I didn’t like how the ex brother in law situation was resolved, I did like the book overall.

    In my opinion, Oliver’s reasons for leaving Diane in Vienna made complete sense. When he left Vienna, his uncle, the Marquis, was still alive and Oliver was forced to return to London to repair his relationship prior to the Marquis’ death. One reason Oliver left was because he had no income (he had been cut off) and no way to provide for someone else. As it was, in order to keep from starving himself, he had to be dishonest. It was the single event that provided Diane the opportunity to blackmail him.

    And I have to say the axe scene was my absolute favorite. :)

  18. DS
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 17:48:01

    @Lynne Connolly:

    A dower is the money the woman brings to the marriage. In the settlement, it’s put aside to provide for her widowhood and invested for any daughters of the marriage. It’s so that the widow’s portion doesn’t detract from the estate, and to ensure that she has something to fall back on.

    You are thinking “dowry” not dower. Dower is a lifetime interest that a widow has in the property of a deceased husband. Prior to his death it’s inchoate and after his death its absolute. The usual language refers to real estate “. . .of which her husband was seised as an estate of Inheritance at any time during the coverture.” I always thought coverture sounded a little dirty.

    But if the estate was one of inheritance then dower would attach unless a jointure had been agreed to. Jointure was a plan for the support of a wife after the death of her husband that was entered into before the marriage. It was used in part to keep the real estate free of the dower interest.

    I know I’ve run into jointures in Georgette Heyer’s books– Unknown Ajax for one. They are usually inadequate and the cause of widows having to live with disagreeable relatives in fiction. I think dower might come up in Bath Tangle.

    Dower still causes problems with property transfers in my state mainly because it has just been abolished long enough for people to forget it ever existed, but there are still properties that are subject to the interest.

    And I am sure that is more than anyone really wants to know about dower.

  19. cecilia
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 17:48:59

    Enoch used to be an auto-buy for me, but it seemed like she had several extremely young heroines in a row, and I just couldn’t muster up any interest in them. It’s nice to see a more sophisticated heroine for a change. I might give this one a shot.

  20. DM
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 18:23:15

    I have been hitting A LOT of nonsensical titles lately. Usually they’re “mistress,” “duke,” and “rake,” titles. Only the books contain no mistresses or rakes, and the dukes in question don’t do any duking. It did puzzle me, because while those keywords might sell well, if you’re not delivering mistresses, rakes, or functional dukes, what does that do to your brand as an author?

    I think the keyword marketing is good for publishers. It encourages readers to think in terms of, “I like rakes!” rather than in terms of, “I like Suzanne Enoch,” because you can always put “rake” on the cover but you can’t put Suzanne Enoch on the cover unless she signs another contract with you. It puts more power in the hands of the publisher, less in the hands of the author, and if we buy that way, less in the hands of the reader too, because it sends the message that we’ll buy anything with “rake,” in the title.

    I suspect we’re actually buying fewer–not more–of these titles, because the last time titles were this uniform outside of category lines, was during the twilight of the “savage” era. When everything was “savage” or full of “rapture” or “ecstasy,” but nothing was terribly original, and the titles served to tell you that if you liked Rogers et al, you’d be sure to love this next offering with a darned similar title…but of course you didn’t because the trend had devolved to formula. It’s a way of hiding the ball when the prevailing trends in a niche are nearly tapped out.

  21. Emily
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 19:09:06

    Worse than the title, I think its says “the scandalous books” as the series. Both the title and the series title seem generic titles that readers of this genre at getting ennui with. The words Scandal and Rake are two of the most ubiquitous and overused words in titles these day
    Also does this book take place in foreign country or in England?

  22. Amber
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 19:37:16

    The throwaway nature of the title made me a little irritated. There were all kinds of obvious/funny titles to be had with this plot setup.

    And no, Enoch is not well known for her historical accuracy.

    As for getting customers to patronize, she does attend *one* party at the very beginning where she makes her plans known. Then uses the ‘lure’ of an all female staff to keep the men attending.

    I don’t usually care if something is improbable as long as there aren’t any obvious goofs with the language.

  23. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 20:28:01

    @Emily No, it takes place entirely in England.

  24. Jane
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 20:28:41

    @Amber She is a mistorical author I enjoy then. I’ll put her in the my “enjoy but historical improbable” category where Julie Garwood resides.

  25. dick
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 09:27:19

    For the dialogue alone, the book is well worth a read. As for its being a “mistorical,” all fiction about the past, by the nature of fiction, is.

  26. Suzanne Enoch
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 11:16:49

    Thanks for the review, Jane. And as for the title, I never said that the “rake” was Oliver Warren. *g*

    But yes, of course the titles mostly come through conferences involving the marketing department, editors, the art department, etc. The book has to sell in order for me to be asked to write another book — which I want to do. And the series title is “The Scandalous Brides”, not “The Scandalous Books”.

  27. Kim
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 14:10:29

    It’s always refreshing to see that an authors is okay with differing opinions. Kudos to Suzanne Enoch for taking this post in stride.

  28. Junne
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 14:24:15

    I love Mrs Enoch’s books, will probably get this one.

    @ Lynne Connolly: Could you please stop acting like you know everything there is to know about Regency and english history in general? I swear that in like every comment you post on this site you feel obligated to show off your extensive knowledge. A little humbleness would do you good, seriously.

    Sorry to hijack the thread, though. Feel free to erase my comment if you don’t like it, Jane :)

  29. rachel
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 15:00:21

    I loved this book. Diane was an amazing character and a total breath of fresh air. The scenes between Oliver and Diane had so much energy and were a treat to read. I really hope she shows up in the next book in the trilogy.

  30. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 15:20:22

    Junne, I believe I’m allowed my preferences, as you are allowed yours.
    Basically, it’s my history, not yours, and I’d love a little more respect shown to it. It’s shown to American history, so why not the Regency and the rest of British history?
    As for knowledge – try some of my compatriots in the RNA. They can stamp what I know about the period into the dust.
    I feel passionate about it, and I love it. I feel obliged (not obligated) to fight for what I love.
    I leave many threads alone, and I am in no way “showing off.” I will continue to ask for more accuracy in historical novels, as it gives me more to read, and it makes for a better book.

  31. Sabrina H
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 16:02:39

    I loved Diana in this novel. I am so tired of heroines who just melt and forgive the hero anything because he’s a good kisser. This guy was with her constantly for two weeks and then left her, without a word. Plus, he left her (the supposed love of his life) penniless in a foreign country. Yeah, I understand he was scared of his feelings, but, just leaving her stranded and penniless? He deserved everything she threw at him, and I would have hated this book if Diana just forgave him without some major groveling on his part. As it is, I loved it, and I really bought their HEA.

    I will agree, though, the resolution of the brother-in- law part was kind of lame. But I am still going to buy the next book in this series. I love scandalous women!!

  32. Lynn S.
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 20:09:38

    I’m not sure when the silly titles got started, but I think of it as the Sarah MacLean Syndrome.

    @Moriah Jovan: That sold me on it too.

  33. Janet W
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 21:13:49

    It’s hard for me to take the title talk seriously — by that I mean, I do and I could, but then I’d just be hitting my head against the wall. Balogh had rakes and other “key” words in her titles, so as someone so eloquently said, it’s not a new phenomenon. I may not like it but I daresay the fad will last until it doesn’t work for book marketers. Same with contemporaries. So I try to truly not judge a book or an author by a title.

  34. Jane
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 21:16:33

    @Janet W If titles and covers weren’t important it wouldn’t have been named The Beginner’s Guide to Rakes but rather Lady Diane’s Revenge or something like that. Titles and covers are extremely important marketing tools and I would venture to guess becoming more important every day.

  35. Janet W
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 22:02:55

    Jane said, “If titles and covers weren’t important it wouldn’t have been named The Beginner’s Guide to Rakes but rather Lady Diane’s Revenge or something like that. Titles and covers* are extremely important marketing tools and I would venture to guess becoming more important every day.

    Trust me not to be clear. I fully understand how important titles are — what I was trying to say was that I personally am trying not to get furious about how insulting and stupid and uninformative the titles often are. What’s the point? I have no power to change it. When Harlequin Historical titles started sliding into Harlequin territory, I was totally annoyed, but I was told at the time that titles were an important identifier of the content within and that titles moved books off the shelf so I might as well save my breath to cool my porridge. Which I’m trying to do.

    It does annoy me when authors change the titles of their older books, which sometimes happens. And if self-pubbed authors choose titles that are as dumb as the traditional ones I don’t like now, that probably won’t sit well with me either. But I understand the business: titles are chosen for their marketing magic. I get it.

    * I’m pretty sure no one wants my opinions on covers :)

  36. Amber
    Oct 17, 2011 @ 09:05:05

    @Jane:
    “@Amber She is a mistorical author I enjoy then. I’ll put her in the my “enjoy but historical improbable” category where Julie Garwood resides.”

    I enjoy her books quite a lot, too.

  37. DM
    Oct 17, 2011 @ 12:07:52

    I totally agree that titles are important, but I think publishers are being disingenuous when they say that particular types of titles, in this case, Scandal/Duke/Mistress/Rake titles, “sell” books. Because they don’t really sell individual titles. They don’t sell Suzanne Enoch’s book in particular–they sell books like hers in general. I think Courtney Milan posted about this on another thread, but what gets lost when we talk about sales is that publishers don’t necessarily want to maximize the sales of one particular book or one particular author. They want to maximize sales of their list overall. And it doesn’t serve their interest in any way for readers to say: wow that Suzanne, she sure does write a terrific story! I think I’ll hold out for another book like that! What serves their interest is creating the impression in readers that the next book with a similar title and cover, will indeed be similar. This is a bit of a trap for authors, because it puts pressure on them to write books that are in fact very similar to other books out there. So when publishers claim “rakes sell” or “readers won’t accept a book without an aristocratic hero” etc, I’m always a little bit suspicious of where this wisdom is coming from, since it so neatly dovetails with publisher interests.

  38. Daily Deals: Once Upon a Ballroom by Caroline Linden and other historicals (with a YA PNR)
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 04:01:31

    [...] A Beginners Guide To Rakes by Suzanne Enoch. $2.99. In the “Scandalous Bride” series, Enoch is presenting a series of women who try to make a world for themselves without marriage. This is the first book in the series and the heroine, Diane Benchley challenges genre norms. I reviewed the book here. [...]

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