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REVIEW: The Undoing of Daisy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

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Dear Ms. Kaye:

I might not have started this if I’d realized it was part of the Harlequin Historical Undone line, and that would have been my loss. I think of Undones as short, sexy, frivolous stories; this is short and sexy, but far from frivolous.

Five years after the end of World War I, Dominick Harrington is living a half life. His older brother is dead, his mother remarried and moved to America, his younger sister Grace is running wild, and he just struggles to get through each day. When Grace puts him in charge of a beautiful woman who’s stoned out of her mind, Dominick is moved for the first time in years. “There was something — broken, fragile, lost? — in the woman’s face that I recognized.”

Actress Daisy Edwards hoped that a shot of cocaine would make the world brighter on her 30th birthday — a birth date she had shared with her dead husband. Instead she just blacked out, to wake up in a strange bed with a strange man. Her first dreamy sensation of safety turns to terror about what might have happened, until she realizes she’s still fully dressed.

So he hadn’t even tried. I felt curiously insulted, which was strange, because that was the last thing I wanted. Though as I leaned over just the tiniest fraction to take a look at him, I was taken aback to discover my body and my mind didn’t quite agree.

It doesn’t take long for them to act on their newly awakened feelings:

There was a split-second, as her lips touched mine, when I thought This is a mistake, and I almost drew back. And then I didn’t. Her lips were soft, her skin cold. Her hands were icy through my shirt-sleeves, I remember. She kissed as if she wasn’t used to kissing, and I probably did the same, because I wasn’t.

Then something shifted. I don’t know if it was just me. It felt like both of us. We–we found it. Our mouths matched.

There’s very little plot to this short story. It’s all about the setting and the voice — or perhaps I should say voices, since both Dominick and Daisy narrate. Despite how depressed they are, their voices are vivid and alive: both are interesting, mature narrators, who are introspective without seeming like naval gazers. (The short length probably helps.) There are descriptions of clothes and objects that put us in the 1920s, but the setting mostly comes to life though their feelings and conversations, rather than via mention of fads or incongruous jolts of slang; the upheaval and trauma of the war has affected every part of their world and ever fiber of their being, in an almost tangible way. (I was reminded of visiting New York, and seeing the emotional impact of 9/11 everywhere.)

In this atmosphere of loss and upheaval and guilt, it’s hard for Dominick and Daisy to accept feeling emotions around anything else; as if to deny them, both compare their intense longings to addiction:

Dominick:

She was too much, but I hadn’t had enough. In the trenches, there were boys who were addicted to the morphine we were supposed to save for emergencies. In the trenches, it got to be impossible to tell to the difference between what was normal and what was an emergency.

Daisy:

He was my drug, that was all. I’d found my drug, and I was going to keep taking it until I didn’t need it any longer… Dominic was my drug, and I was Dominick’s drug, and we’d use each other, and then when we’d had enough of each other, we’d be–better? I didn’t think that far ahead. Looking back, my capacity for self-delusion astonishes me.

Nonetheless, their passion evolves into an actual relationship, and Dominick begins to realize that life is too short to wish away.

I’m sick and tired of not raising my eyes beyond the horizon of the next twenty-four hours, of not expecting or planing or anticipating. Of not hoping. Of never taking more than a tiny piece of life at a time. Of not allowing myself to want more. I want more, Daisy. I want you.

The book ends with a tentative Happy-For-Now, which seems absolutely right for the characters and the type of story. B

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. About eight years ago she finally gave in and started reading romance again, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. She loves exquisitely written historical romance, intense m/m, and crazy, over the top categories about equally, and hopes to be buried with her e-readers. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

14 Comments

  1. Joanna
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 11:31:53

    This sounds very interesting – thanks for the review! Extra interest for being set in a more recent historical time period than Regency/Victorian.

    ReplyReply

  2. Willaful
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 11:36:33

    @Joanna: That’s what caught my eye. There’s a companion book too (about Daisy’s sister) set in the same time period in America. Haven’t read it yet.

    I wonder if anyone has written any historical romance about the 1950s? It was such a weird time…

    ReplyReply

  3. cleo
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 16:46:45

    @Willaful: I was going to suggest one, but I looked it up first and it’s set in the 40s, not the 50s. I can think of romances set in the 50s that were written in the 50s or 60s, but none that were written more recently. Then I got curious (plus, I’m putting off writing a difficult email) and found this discussion on “what do you consider historical” – http://ww.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=238286 – apparently some writers / publishers set 1950 as the cut-off date for what’s historical. It’s kind of hard for me to imagine reading a historical set in the 1950s because my dad was a young man in the 50s.

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  4. Willaful
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 16:53:27

    @cleo: I don’t think a romance written in the 50s would do what I’m interested in, which would require some perspective. And I think they were pretty constrained in style and content.

    Which is the book from the 40s?

    ReplyReply

  5. cleo
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 18:01:02

    @Willaful: The Princess by Jude Deveraux. I think it was published in the 90s, which is when I think I read it – iirc it has the usual Deveraux crazysauce. I have no idea how well it holds up. On second thought, it’s probably not even close to a historically accurate, perspective providing romance, but iirc it was entertaining – and it had girdles.

    ReplyReply

  6. Willaful
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 19:20:49

    @cleo: LOL! I had actually been thinking about a conversation I had with my mom — I told her I was reading a book about the fifties and it was so weird and she said, “You mean how girdled we all were?” Yup!

    ReplyReply

  7. Evangeline
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 05:35:38

    @Willaful: Emma Holly’s Angel at Dawn is set in 1950s Hollywood. It’s slightly paranormal (part of her Upyr series). Holly did a great job with catching the ambiance of the setting.

    ReplyReply

  8. Julie B.
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 10:19:19

    I love Marguerite Kaye’s books. She’s written an excellent Undone set in the 1920s called Temptation is the Night that is also fabulous.

    She has a book of three short novellas called Never Forgot Me published by Harlequin Historicals out in August set during World War I which I can’t wait to read!

    ReplyReply

  9. Willaful
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 11:24:39

    @Evangeline: It’s showing as book 10 of a series, can it be read independently?

    ReplyReply

  10. Evangeline
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 17:40:50

    @Willaful: It can be–even though it’s part two of a duology (which I personally felt could have been a prologue). The hero is a minor character in the FitzClare trilogy.

    ReplyReply

  11. Willaful
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 21:26:06

    @Evangeline: You know, I thought the book sounded familiar… I downloaded it from the library yesterday, and then saw it, right on the very top of my paranormal TBR. That kind of sums up my reading life right there, doesn’t it? But it’s cool, because the main reason it’s still on the TBR is I almost never read print anymore. And now I can use it as a recommended read for the TBR challenge. :-)

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  12. Jayne
    Jul 27, 2014 @ 16:54:43

    I just finished this and will honestly admit that if it hadn’t have been for your strong review, I probably wouldn’t have tried it since the Undone line generally is too short for me. But this little novella is strong enough and emotional enough to feel complete. I agree with you that a HFN is about as much as could be expected for Daisy and Dominic right now but at least they’re thinking of the future now instead of just feeling dead to the world.

    ReplyReply

  13. Willaful
    Jul 27, 2014 @ 21:17:53

    @Jayne: I’m glad you agree that it was an Undone worth reading.

    ReplyReply

  14. pooks
    Jul 30, 2014 @ 13:09:39

    I’ve been struggling with this one, wanting to read it, not wanting to pay that much for such a short book. On the other hand, what is ‘that much?’ I pondered and pondered and suddenly realized, I’ve been study the novella and how to tell a fulfulling romance in that short a format, and the recs for these two books are perfect!

    Bought.

    Rationalization creates a rational world, right?

    ReplyReply

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