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REVIEW: Wicked All Day by Liz Carlyle

Dear Ms. Carlyle:

1416594922.01.LZZZZZZZI have read you since your debut in 1999 with My False Heart. My False Heart remains high of my favorite romances of all time and it is the book against which I measure all of your other titles. The story was so fresh at the time. The heroine, Evie Artevalde, was not a virgin. The hero, Eliot, the Marquess of Rannoch, was a surly, disreputable lord. He lies to her. She turns him off but ultimately they have a memorable happy ever after. Wicked All Day tells the story of of Eliot’s illegitimate daughter, Zoë. Zoë’s mother was an opera dancer whom Eliot paid off. Eliott was not a good father. He had good intentions, but up until his marriage to Evie, he had left Zoë in the hands of a succession of governesses.

Zoë was incredibly spoiled because Eliott didn’t know how to be a good parent. His response to a governness that treated Zoë badly was to cast her out without a reference and order his servants to make sure that Zoë never had another unhappy day. Zoë grew up to be a flighty young woman who seemed to delight in breaking hearts and living on the edge of ruin (ironically, not unlike her father). Zoë snubs society’s conventions as much as she is able because they refuse to accept her. She’s a bastard, an illegitimate and despite the fact that she is beautiful and moneyed, the only offers she can get is from roues and ne’er do wells.

Rannoch, at his wits end and not wanting to see his daughter an outcast, has laid down an ultimatum to either marry a certain gentleman or to be banished to Scotland. This drives Zoë to engage in a reckless and selfish act with her best friend Robin, Lord Rowland. Robin and Zoë have been friends and instigators of each other’s bad behavior for years. While Robin usually doesn’t think of Zoë in a sexual manner, one night at a ball with a little too much liquor and the temptation of a beautiful woman begging him for physical attention, he can’t seem to resist.

Robin and Zoë are caught in a compromising position by Robin’s older brother, Stuart, the Marquess of Mercer, and his recently cast off mistress who is looking to cause Mercer grief. Robin and Zoë are thus affianced making everyone miserable. Robin realizes that he loves his mistress and begins a downward emotional spiral resulting in drinking, whoring, and arguments with Zoë. Stuart realizes that his constant animosity toward Zoë was tied up with his repressed sexual longing for her and his resentment of Robin and Zoë’s closeness. His emotional anxiety is worsened by the recognition that he now lusts after his brother’s wife to be.

And Zoë? She has to face up to her own demons. Her recklessness and selfish act has resulted in making everyone she loves miserable from her best friend, Robin, to her father, to Stuart, and everyone in their interrelated families.

"Robin, it isn’t just Mrs. Wilfred," she whispered. Zoë gathered her reins in one hand, and tried to reach for him, but he nudged away. "Please, Robin. Don’t shut me out. We are best friends."

He shook his head, and turned his face away, leaving Zoë with the most dreadful suspicion he was blinking back tears. "Listen, Zoë," he rasped when he turned back around, "I don’t care if you were with my brother or not. And this bruise"-’Here, he rammed a finger under his shirt collar and yanked it savagely down-’"for this you can thank Jemima. She got a bit out of hand last night. Not that I took any pleasure in it."

The bruise, Zoë realized, was just a small passion mark. "Robin, I don’t care to hear this," she murmured, cutting an uneasy glance at Jonet.

"Don’t you?" His eyes were dark with pain, his voice rising, causing heads to turn. "Well, you can listen anyway. To say her talents were wasted is an understatement of epic proportion. That’s why I came home early. I thought, you see, that I owed my bride-to-be an apology."

"Keep your voice down," said Zoë quietly. "Yes, you owe me an apology, just as I owe you-’"

What I found so interesting about these characters is that they aren’t so driven by their bad parenting but the constructs of society. In other words, would Zoë have been so capricious and reckless if she hadn’t been stigmatized as not worthy. Would Stuart, who was well loved by his mother, have been more apt to go after his heart’s desire if he wasn’t slotted into the role as older, responsible brother? Would Robin have offered for his mistress if he hadn’t, at some point, thought she wasn’t wife material because of her lower station and her widowhood?

All three have to breakthrough the expectations set upon them. For Stuart, it means abandoning his rigid principles. For Zoë, it is fulfilling obligations. For Robin, it’s coming to grips with responsibility.

There is no suspense plot. This is wholly driven by the characters and the society rules of the time period provide much of the conflict. Zoë’s reputation is still hanging by a thread and Stuart’s former mistress could bring ruin upon her even if Stuart married Zoë.

Family has always played an important role in Carlyle books and this one is no different. The familial interactions of Zoë’s family with Stuart’s provide real drama from the anger of Eliot toward Robin and toward himself to the dismay of Jonet, Robin and Stuart’s mother, over her worry that Zoë is marrying the wrong son.

One thing I loved was when both characters, independently, started changing their perceptions about each other and how what irritated them the most about the other was some of their greatest traits.     It’s a beautifully written and crafted romance and one that I know I’ll revisit again and again. A-

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

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

29 Comments

  1. Kat
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 05:42:30

    There is no suspense plot.

    Sold!

    I went on a Liz Carlyle glom earlier this year, and after reading this review I’m not going to be able to resist buying this book.

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  2. Emmanuelle
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 06:19:03

    ditto Kat !!
    There is no way I’m not buying this book !
    Thx Jane for the great review.

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  3. mdegraffen
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 06:31:19

    I am so looking forward to getting this bookthis weekend!

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  4. KMont
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 06:41:23

    I’m a huge Liz Carlyle fan although I haven’t read her in quite some time. I’ve got several of hers in the TBR waiting and I’m definitely adding this one now. Loving that cover.

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  5. RStewie
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 06:52:14

    I’d love to read this one, but I kinda want to read the initial about her father, too. Is it still available?

    Liz Carlyle is awesome with characterizations, I love her writing.

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  6. Bonnie L.
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 08:05:55

    I must say that beyond what appears to be a great return to what I love most about Carlyle’s writing, that cover is one of the most appealing I have seen in a long time. The look on the woman’s face is perfect and that dress she is wearing is gorgeous and different.

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  7. Kalen Hughes
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 09:08:40

    The look on the woman's face is perfect and that dress she is wearing is gorgeous and different.

    Different and impossible to place historically (is it supposed to be a costume, aka fancy dress?). I’m curious about the setting for this book. The plot sounds Victorian (the Vickies being far more snooty about illegitimacy than the boisterous Georgians, who married well dowered bastards with nary a blink), but the cover is really throwing me.

    Putting the cover aside, I'm in alt about a book with no suspense plot!!! I'm so going to grab this ASAP!!!

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  8. vanessa jaye
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 09:57:12

    I made a mental note to buy this one. Thanks for the review/reminder.

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  9. Jennie
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 12:17:25

    I’ve not read Carlyle in a while, but I may have to pick this up – it sounds really good. Thanks for the great review.

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  10. Rose
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 12:41:50

    IIRC, Evie was a virgin in My False Heart. But she was certainly an interesting and unconventional heroine, and I enjoyed the book, as I did most of Carlyle’s earlier titles. After The Devil to Pay, the quality just dropped, and I didn’t even read the last one. I was curious about Wicked All Day, though, and I’m glad to read a good review. I’ll be ordering it soon.

    Kalen, re the setting – I think A Woman Scorned takes place in 1816, and Stuart is about 9 years old in that one. So Wicked All Day is probably set in the 1830s, but I’m not sure when exactly.

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  11. SonomaLass
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 14:04:08

    I have one unread Carlyle on the pile already, and I’ll be adding this one. Hooray for no suspense plot!

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  12. dunnettreader
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 14:21:04

    I wholeheartedly endorse Jane’s review. Liz Carlyle is an auto-buy for me, but this is one of her very best, reminiscent of some of her earliest in how character-driven it is.

    It’s a very simple, classic storyline — girl gets herself into scandalous situation with a good friend, tries to make the best of it, but discovers she’s being forced into marriage with the wrong brother. There are no gimmicks or big plot hooks, like an exotic background for the H/H or a sadistic villain or a terrible secret. No action/suspense or heroic rescues or Big Misunderstandings. No big external plot drivers or deus ex machina solutions.

    Rather, it’s all about the characters’ choices — choices that have been impulsive or thoughtless, whether from immaturity or as a way of dealing with repressed anxieties, or overcompensating for unhappiness or societal constraints. Even the external “villainess” of the piece is only in a position to do harm because of choices made by the hero. And then all of the main characters (not only the H/H) have to face the consequences of their choices — consequences not just for one’s self but others. In the process, each of the main characters learns about him or herself, about what’s really important, and how to make better choices.

    As Jane noted, part of what makes Wicked All Day special is that much of it deals with how the families of Zoe and the brothers, Stuart and Robert, handle the situation. Key family members are as well-developed and important characters as the leads. As Jane noted, Zoe and her parents are from the very early novel, My False Heart. But Carlyle readers also know the other family well — they’re Jonet and Cole Amherst, and Jonet’s sons, from another early Carlyle, A Woman Scorned.

    The boys in A Woman Scorned are two of my favorite child characters in romance fiction. We are now meeting them almost twenty years later (which places the new story in the mid 1830s). The adult Stuart and Robert are clearly recognizable personalities, both in behavior and speech patterns, as the boys from twenty years before. Carlyle has quite realistically made them into plausible adult characters, adjusted for the experiences each would have had after the end of A Woman Scorned, with Jonet as their brilliant, fiercely protective but demanding mother, and Cole as a beloved, intelligent, stabilizing step-father. Some of the scenes with Jonet, Cole, their butler Charlie Donaldson, their nurse Nanna, and the two sons are particularly amusing or poignant if you’ve read the earlier novel.

    The centrality of the families in the story is one of the ways Carlyle deals with what is a frequent theme in her writing — love in all its myriad forms, not just romantic love. Here, the possibility of true, deep, abiding friendship between a man and a woman is one of the central drivers of the story. But also the love and loyalty between two very different brothers; intense, passionate maternal (Jonet) and paternal (Rannoch) love; marriage as companionship and partnership; the acceptance of half-siblings and step-children and other forms of extended family; and the importance of clan.

    It’s all packaged with Carlyle’s trademark dry comedy, entertaining dialogue, strongly evocative sense of place, and deep affection for her characters.

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  13. Jane
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 14:30:53

    @dunnettreader I should have enlisted you to write the review. This comment is so marvelous. You are absolutely right that this book relies solely on the attachment of the reader to the characters. Additionally, you point out that there are no real villains in this story making us acutely focused on the decisions of the main characters. It’s really a story about choice and consequences.

    Rannoch’s choice to live a dissolute life resulting in the birth of his illegitimate daughter had a negative consequence for Zoe. Zoe’s choices to flaunt society’s rules as much as possible. Stuart’s choice to ignore the feelings he had for Zoe when he KNEW he could make society’s judgment disappear. Robin’s choices to take the easy route, always.

    I love the point that you made about Stuart and Robert being so different. It’s true and it accurately reflects their positions in their family as well as the roles that they are supposed to play.

    The scenes with Jonet and Rannoch played true to their past characters while acknowledging the passage of time.

    I couldn’t tell at the end if I thought Jonet played a heavy handed role in her machinations to get Stuart to realize he has always longed for Zoe but she was very manipulative even in her own book.

    Thank you for commenting! I loved reading it (and yes, in part, because it validated my feelings and thoughts on the book)

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  14. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 14:41:08

    Does it make sense if you haven’t read any of the previous books?

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  15. Jane
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 14:49:58

    @Sarah Frantz That is such a hard question since I’ve read everything Carlyle has written (and My False Heart I’ve read many a time). I’d like to say yes.

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  16. dunnettreader
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 15:19:02

    @Jane: Delighted you liked my comment. Thanks for elaborating on the theme of choices/consequences for all the main characters, not just the H/H. I think Carlyle’s willingness (or perhaps, better, her insistence) on expanding her thematic material beyond the H/H is what gives both her stories and her characters such satisfying complexity and depth.

    As for Jonet’s manipulative role, I think she tried to be cautious — just manipulative enough to get the job done. ;) I don’t think Jonet would have been so careful twenty years before — as I read Carlyle’s characterization of Jonet, she’s mellowed a lot, thanks greatly to Cole’s stabilizing influence. But she’s still powerfully driven to achieve what she believes — usually with considerable accuracy — would be in the long-term interest of both of her sons.

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  17. dunnettreader
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 15:57:21

    @Sarah Frantz: I don’t think there’s any threat of the new novel “not making sense” if you haven’t read the earlier novels. Carlyle gives you all the basic facts of the backstory you need to know. And all of the characters are so well-developed, that you don’t have to have met them in a prior story.

    However, I’m also certain that the new novel will be much richer and satisfying if you’ve read the novels that introduced the characters — My False Heart (Rannoch and Evie), A Woman Scorned (Jonet, Cole, the brothers and their household), and her penultimate release, Tempted All Night (Phaedra and Tristan’s story in which an adult Zoe is an enchanting, “fast”, mischievous troublemaker and friend to the extremely repressed Phaedra).

    For example, the complexity of the emotional bonds between the brothers is quite understandable in the new novel — you’re given the information that Stuart and Robin lived through the grueling aftermath of their father’s murder when most of the world suspected Jonet or her supposed-lover Delacourt of the murder. But the brothers’ bonds hit the reader with much more power, if you’ve seen nine-year-old Stuart take on the responsibility of being his mother’s “little man” and protector of his imp of a brother. Or if you’ve watched how each child dealt with the emotional crises and mysterious threats that forged a profound loyalty and mutual reliance among the boys and their mother, and eventually their stepfather.

    And lots of little moments have echoes from earlier stories, which give them an extra sweetness or pang or remind you of personality traits — such as seeing Stuart and his dogs, if you recall the boys with their dog who almost died of poisoning.

    So the new novel is certainly a stand-alone that I expect will be enjoyable for anyone who likes character-driven romances. But undoubtedly even more satisfying a reading experience if you’re familiar with an already well-developed cast of characters.

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  18. Kalen Hughes
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 16:25:59

    Kalen, re the setting – I think A Woman Scorned takes place in 1816, and Stuart is about 9 years old in that one. So Wicked All Day is probably set in the 1830s, but I'm not sure when exactly.

    Thanks! I’m just going to go with “dress makes even less sense than normal” then. *sigh* Why is this so hard for art departments? It's not like it's HARD to find out what the basic silhouette of the era was (and 1830s is NOTHING like what's pictured).

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  19. GrowlyCub
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 16:53:17

    I’m holding it in my hands now. Going offline to read and will be back to read the review and comments after I finish. I’m so glad to hear it’s good. I really liked ‘Tempted All Night’ and I have high hopes for Zoe’s story.

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  20. Caligi
    Sep 23, 2009 @ 17:38:26

    I have A Woman Scorned sitting here – strangely one of three Carlyles I haven’t read – and I want to read that first. Super excited to hear that it’s a return to form. I thought Tempted All Night was better than the novels since The Devil to Pay, but it still wasn’t as good as the Rutledge novels and earlier. Bentley is still one of my favorite characters.

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  21. GrowlyCub
    Sep 24, 2009 @ 11:56:41

    Finished it this morning and loved the first 3/4s. After that it kind of fell off for me a bit. Not sure why, but it might have to do with the behavior of Robin.

    Even though I don’t like suspense subplots, I’ve decided I like ‘Tempted All Night’ better.

    Does anybody know whom/what she’s writing about now, something related/something totally new? I’m on her mailing list but I can’t say I’m getting much info from it.

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  22. Robin L. Rotham
    Sep 24, 2009 @ 12:18:04

    I absolutely adored this book, as I have others in the series. Thanks for helping me find Rannoch and Evie’s story — I started in the middle of the series, the book where Rannoch heaved the bust out the window and the subject’s nose (“never his best feature”) broke off and skidded over the floor. That was so damn funny, I KNEW they had to have their own story somewhere. (Off to Amazon…)

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  23. Giselle
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 11:43:50

    My False Heart is one of my all time favorites too. Can’t wait to read up on Eliot and Evie once again!

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  24. Anita Chax
    Sep 29, 2009 @ 06:48:12

    @ Jane and Dunnettreader
    Wonderful reviews both… i’ve never read Liz Carlyle. But she sure seems to be a writer one can happily glom for ages. Thank you.

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  25. jessica
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 16:26:17

    I thought the book was amazingly good and I didn’t realize how much I don’t like suspense subplots until now.

    I’m sure I read the other books that precede this–in fact, they are probably on my bookshelf–but I don’t remember them and this book was still perfect.

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  26. Dear Author Recommend Reads for October 2009 | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Oct 07, 2009 @ 12:10:15

    [...] Wicked All Day by Liz Carlyle recommended by Jane [...]

  27. Rebecca
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 14:14:40

    I just finished this book yesterday. I have never read any of Liz Carlyle’s work before picking up this book. I LOVED IT! I love the style in which the author paints the scenery and the moods. Also, I really enjoyed that there was no suspense plot. A much nicer and enjoyable read for me as of late.

    I can’t wait for her next book!

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  28. dreamweaver
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 15:49:09

    Well, it saddens me to say, given that I have loved almost everything I have read by Liz Carlyle, that this was a clunker for me. I kept reading, hoping it would get better, but it just didn’t – sorry. Too many pages of brooding, pouting, whining for my tastes. I didn’t buy Zoe and Mercer’s HEA and thought Zoe deserved better. I also thought, frankly, that Robin didn’t deserve an HEA at all. That one has a hell of a lot of growing up to do. I thought not only Jonet and Cole, but Rannoch and Evie were nothing more than window dressing, and were completely lethargic and uninspiring throughout the whole ordeal, which, frankly, should have and could have, been resolved by Mercer simply being man enough to say from the get go that he wanted to and would marry Zoe. The whole mistress and the issue of her maybe being pregnant was kind of Huh?!?!? – so, what, it’s not like Mercer could have married her and made the child legitimate – she was already married for crying out loud! So, all in all, a frustrating read for me, with characters that came across as so superficial and self-indulgent.

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  29. RITA Open Thread | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 26, 2010 @ 14:03:43

    [...] loved Wicked All Day and enjoyed Not Quite a Husband (we did two reviews, here and here).  Make Me Yours (reviews here [...]

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