Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Desperately Seeking a Duke by Celeste Bradley

Dear Ms. Bradley:

Desparately Seeking a DukeI admit that this is my first experience with you so despite your big backlist, it’s like a debut for me. Unfortunately, the book is like it’s title–trite and predictable. I suppose for fans of the regular regency historical, this book will fulfill that jones. The one good thing about this book is that there are scenes with strong emotion but those could not overcome the predictability of the story.

I felt like I read this story before. Everything about it seemed stale, from the cover, to the setup, to even the hero’s name: Raphael. I think we need to put a moratorium on hero names. No more Lucien, Damon, Demon. No more Gideon, Raphael, or any kind of heaven/hell based etymology.

Miss Phoebe Millbury is a vicar’s daughter who is one of three grandchildren of Sir Hamish Pickering, a man with a great fortune. The first granddaughter to marry a duke will inherit the money. So begins the trilogy of Duke hunters.

Phoebe is in London for the season. At a ball, she spots the luscious backside of a man and watches him move through the room. Later on, she and the man, Lord Raphael Marbrook, are out on the balcony and apparently fall in love. “Marbrook had met her, talked to her, taken her into the dark garden and proceeded to make her fall entirely in love with him-‘had almost-not-quite kissed her!” Rafe points her out to his half brother, the legitimate heir to the Duke of Brookmoor. Half brother decides to marry Phoebe and Phoebe accepts because of a misunderstanding.

Despite being in direct competition to her cousin, Millbury is being sponsored by the controlling, greedy, grasping aunt. I didn’t understand why the aunt would do this as she wanted the money, and the dukes, for her own daughter. There were awkwardly used phrases such as “Lord Raphael Marbrook, titled by courtesy if not by legitimate birthright” and even more awkward pacing. I.e., Rafe and Phoebe have these intense longings for each other after having met on the balcony for a few moments. Those moments included Phoebe relating some kind of fairytale and the two looking longingly into one another’s eyes.

Another problem for me was a stylistic one. There was heavy use (possibly abuse) of the ellipses:

Again. I want to sin again-and again… and again-

She pushed her hands on his broad shoulders to lift her bosom away from his chest. I will not be a creature of animal passions. I will be a-

His shoulders were rigid with muscle, hard and flexing beneath her palms. He would be a miracle of manliness without his shirt-‘like one of the workers of the fields when they thought no women were about-

Stop it! Obviously a firm grip was needed, for she was-

While the individual scenes of angst and despair by the characters could have been moving, the lack of set up failed to get me to invest in the characters and their journey. I kept asking why the characters were so full of angst given their short encounter instead of being torn emotionally by Rafe being out manuevered and shunted behind the legitimate brother yet again which could have been a powerful story. Instead, the whole story seemed very scripted. C-

Best regards,


This book can be purchased in mass market. No ebook format.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Marg
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 16:22:09

    Celeste Bradley was one of the first romance novelists I read, and I loved her early spy novels. The last two have been a little more average. I will read this book, but I am not sure whether to let myself anticipate it or to just read it when I am ready and see how things go.

  2. Barbara B.
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 17:22:26

    Jane said-
    “I felt like I read this story before. Everything about it seemed stale, from the cover, to the setup, to even the hero's name: Raphael. I think we need to put a moratorium on hero names. No more Lucien, Damon, Demon. No more Gideon, Raphael, or any kind of heaven/hell based etymology.”

    The romance publishing business is so cynical. They see us as sheep who will read the same g’damned story again and again. They’re right, too. At least it’s true of a significant portion of the readership. Publishers KNOW that they don’t HAVE to give us original stories. Many of us will keep reading our favorite authors long after they’ve ceased to be original or interesting. Witness the played out series that go on and on and on. Many times I’ve seen readers say that they continue reading a series gone bad because they hope the author will get back on track.

    I mounted my own plea for a moratorium on certain names over at RTB a while back. Since you have a lot of Romanceland cred I hope your plea works better than mine did! I’ve also begged for a moratorium on the most overused storylines and tropes, but that too was a no go. Jane, I know you went to that convention in Dallas last year. Was there a session where the writers decided which names and storylines they’re going to flood the market with next? I’d appreciate a heads-up on that.

    Lucien, Damon, and Demon have also had dubious runs as Regency romance heroes and vampires. Are they now popular demon names?

  3. Marg
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 18:07:08

    A demon called Demon – surely there is more imagination than that around!

  4. Patricia Briggs
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 19:07:04

    Not commenting on the book, which I haven’t read yet. I would say that it is possible to take an overused premise and make a very good book out of it if the storytelling is good enough. Take Wildside by Stephen Gould (he also wrote Jumper, an excellent novel). The premise of Wildside is a small group of high school age kids discover a gateway to a parallel universe — a gateway they must protect from the Evil Authorities who would misuse it. Anyone who ever watched a Disney movie or read a selection of 1950’s SF for boys will find that premise familar — but the book is fantastic.

    I have a great deal of respect for authors who write for the romance lines, where so many rules have been place upon them, who still manage to write entertaining, wonderful books that feel original.

  5. Janine
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 20:48:06

    I agree, and I always find those books that manage to absorb me completely despite an overused premise fascinating. I think it takes a lot of skill to do that.

    On another note, I haven’t read Bradley’s book and can’t offer an opinion on the ellipses issue, but I liked her turns of phrase in the section that you quoted, Jane.

  6. Barbara B.
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 23:57:27

    Patricia Briggs said-
    “I would say that it is possible to take an overused premise and make a very good book out of it if the storytelling is good enough.”

    It certainly is possible.

  7. Jill A
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 10:58:19

    “A miracle of manliness”? If this is a typical example of the prose style in this book, I think I’ll leave it off my TBR list. Not my cup of tea at all.

  8. Celeste Bradley
    Mar 13, 2008 @ 00:31:32

    Well, I’ll admit I am an ellipse junkie. This might result from the fact that I actually think that way, in bits and fragments. No excuse, I know, just a possible explanation.

    Yet I like this book. I think that over the last ten years I may have written better and I may have written worse. Every story is different because every heroine is different. At least no one can complain that they’re all the same!

    A beautifully written sentence is only as good as the story it is in. I will always be disdained by grammar-gurus, probably deservedly, but I do know that I can tell one hell of a story. I consider myself an entertainer, delivering delicious escapist fiction to hardworking women. I do my best to write the truest characters and most entertaining story I can. The grammar flaws, well, those are embarrassing to be sure and I will always endeavor to be a better and more writerly writer–but never at the cost of telling my story my way.

    And to tell the truth, until I became a writer I never noticed a single ellipse in my reading. I just read right through them.

    BTW, “miracle of manliness” wasn’t me talking, it was Phoebe. She’s very romantic. It was all I could do to keep her in line. Be grateful that I wouldn’t let her say half the gooey things she wanted to say!


  9. Carole C.
    Apr 07, 2008 @ 08:37:15

    Well, I have read quite a few historical romance and Celeste Bradley one of my favorite author. She is funny, her premises are always original.
    I will admit that “Desperately Seeking a Duke” is not my favorite but it is still worth reading it.
    I like her early spy novels best but I understand that she might want to try some new themes. Her books have always been very pleasant to read. Her elipses keep the books lively.
    I would not judge any grammar flaws as english is not my mother tongue.
    Celeste, please keep entertain us!

    Carole C.

  10. Trish G
    Apr 11, 2008 @ 20:55:10

    I’m a die hard Bradley fan and I was very disappointed that I didn’t love (or even like) this book. At first I was hooked, and then everything just fell apart for me. The part I absolutely hated was the storyline with the solicitors. Everytime I saw their names come up I cringed. I know what a good writer Bradley is though and I have every intention of reading the next two books, and I have faith that they’ll be better. I’m especially looking forward to Sophie’s story. Deidre never really grew on me, but the excerpt seems promising. I think Bradley just let this storyline get out of hand.

    Also, I highly suggest that you read her other books. The beginning of the Liar’s series and most of the Royal Four books are tremendous. I’ve read To Wed a Scandalous Spy multiple times and it still makes me go “wow” everytime.

%d bloggers like this: