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REVIEW: What a Gentleman Wants by Caroline Linden

Dear Ms. Linden,

A while back, Jane reviewed your second novel, What a Gentleman Wants, and gave it a B. After enjoying your debut, What a Woman Needs (a B- for me), I thought I'd give your second book a try. I wish I liked it as much as Jane did, but for me, What a Gentleman Wants wasn't quite as enjoyable as your debut.

The first scene in What a Gentleman Wants introduces twin brothers David and Marcus Reece. Marcus is the Duke of Exeter, while David is merely his heir and scapegrace, ne'er do well brother. When Marcus catches David with a married woman, he sends him to Brighton. It's on his way there that David has a carriage accident in the Hamlet of Middleborough. Because he can't be moved, Hannah Preston, the vicar's widow, takes him into her cottage until his recovery.

During his convalescence, David realizes what an admirable woman Hannah is, hardworking and responsible. Although she is not a member of the nobility, he realizes she is a better person than he, and decides that he can too become a better man, with Hannah as his inspiration and his role model. So David asks Hannah to marry him.

Hannah isn't in love with David, or even attracted to him, but economic constraints are about to force her to move into her father's house, and she does not want her four year old daughter Molly to grow up under his roof. So Hannah agrees to marry David, little realizing that soon afterward he changes his mind.

Under the influence of his friend Percy, David has a brainstorm and decides to do something he hasn't done in years: forge his brother's signature, this time on a marriage license. In this way, Hannah will end up with money when Marcus inevitably pays her off, and David will have a chance to tweak his annoyingly perfect and autocratic brother.

After the marriage ceremony, David brings the unsuspecting Hannah and her daughter to the house of Marcus's mistress and leaves them there. He sends Marcus a letter, a marriage announcement to the Times, and another missive to his stepmother and sister, filled with a tall tale of Marcus and Hannah's whirlwind courtship.

When Marcus discovers what his brother has done he is furious, but he can't bear to break his stepmother and sister's hearts by revealing David's deception, so he makes a deal with the equally infuriated Hannah. If Hannah, who wants no part of Marcus, will remain in London for a month pretending to be his wife and then retire to the country, Marcus will settle a dowry on her daughter, and give Hannah a cottage of her own. Although Hannah has misgivings, she agrees.

It takes over a hundred pages for the book to come to this point, and over forty pages go by before Hannah and Marcus even meet. While I liked the premise, I felt that this was too long for the book to come to this point, and I did not become engaged in the story until a good sixty pages into it.

Part of that was because I was impatient for Hannah and Marcus to begin interacting, and part of it was because I felt that there were some unnecessary explanations of David and Hannah's characters and their feelings in that section of the book. I would have preferred to see these aspects of the characters revealed through actions and gestures, so that I could then infer my own conclusions about the characters. Subtlety engages my imagination in a deeper way, and I wanted more of that in this book, and especially in its early sections. I nearly gave up and stopped reading during that beginning portion of the book.

You have a pleasant voice that I enjoy reading, so I persisted, and once Hannah and Marcus began their masquerade as husband and wife, you did a wonderful job of evoking the unwanted attraction that developed between them. There are some terrific scenes in which Marcus and Hannah are thrust into one another's company, and later, other ones in which they begin to seek reasons to be in each other's sphere. You have a genuine gift for depicting romantic longing, and here I had all the subtlety I could want –" a look here, a touch there, a near kiss, all had me melting.

Unfortunately, this section of the book does not last as long as I wanted it to. While I'm glad that no immature misunderstandings or contrivances got in Hannah and Marcus's way, I'm also disappointed that the question of their love for one another was settled rather quickly, and the book soon detoured into a suspense plot about counterfeiting that didn't feel well-integrated into the story. This then goes on for well over fifty pages.

In the end, I feel that the book is like a sandwich, with its slow beginning and suspense plot ending comprising two rather stale pieces of bread and the middle a delicious and very appetizing gourmet filling that I want a lot more of.

I'm also left with questions about Marcus's stepmother Rosalind's eagerness to welcome a nobody like Hannah into the family and the role of duchess. The reason given is that Marcus refused to ever marry, but that too, doesn't quite ring true to the times, and to his position, without a deeper look into his character than just the mentions of his annoyance at women's pursuit of him. I kept expecting a deft psychological exploration of his motives, like the ones you provided for the main characters in What a Woman Needs, but in this case, there wasn't one.

I enjoyed parts of What a Gentleman Wants very much; others, not so much, and I'm left with a difficult decision as to what grade to give the book. The writing is clearly better than average, but I know I won't reread it, and so, looking once again at our review grade explanation I settle on C+.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

8 Comments

  1. Sybil
    Apr 27, 2007 @ 15:55:44

    I liked this one more than the first but I enjoyed the first one as well. I can’t decide out of all of them which I like most. It will be interesting to see what you think of David’s book.

    LOL of course the important thing is I liked it ;).

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  2. Janine
    Apr 27, 2007 @ 16:43:10

    I will have to see what I think of David’s book, but David didn’t appeal to me that much in this book. I thought What a Woman Needs was more fresh, myself. :)

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  3. CindyS
    Apr 28, 2007 @ 01:02:31

    I would be very impatient with a story like this. I have a hard enough time when a couple chapters go by without any interaction between the H/H. I better stay far away from this one!

    CindyS

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  4. Robin
    Apr 28, 2007 @ 18:15:39

    This book was a B read for me. I read it before What A Woman Needs, and I loved Hannah and Marcus’s maturity. I still vividly remember the scene at the party where Hannah overhears the other women talking about her, and instead of concocting some passive aggressive scheme to wheedle a confession of love out of Marcus or dropping into a corner in tears, she actually tells Marcus straightaway what she heard and he explains to her how things are. LOVED IT!

    I thought this book was so quietly competent, not announcing itself in big bold strokes or melodramatic excess, it was a relaxing pleasure to read. I didn’t find myself having to pick through awkward prose to get to the stories; I didn’t have to negotiate a hundred improbably roadblocks to the happy ending; and I didn’t have to ferret out actual character development. These two characters got to know each other, talked, learned about each other, and revealed themselves in the process. How refreshing it was for me to see a character like Marcus, who, while somewhat brusque, didn’t find all ladies annoying, who loved his stepmother and sister with real affection.

    I didn’t wonder at Rosalind’s willingness to embrace Hannah, because wouldn’t she be able to rely on Marcus’s judgment? And, I must say, I found the whole set up for this book charming. But then again, I haven’t read nearly as many Romance novels as many other readers have, which, I’ll freely admit, makes me more receptive to certain characters and plot devices, simply because I haven’t the same level of exposure. I don’t know if that happened here, but I was definitely hooked right from the beginning, and actually like the way Linden started by developing the relationship between David and Hannah, NOT because I thought David was going to be the hero, but because it allowed me to see what kind of person Hannah was and to be her ally by the time she does meet Marcus.

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  5. Janine
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 14:33:07

    I still vividly remember the scene at the party where Hannah overhears the other women talking about her, and instead of concocting some passive aggressive scheme to wheedle a confession of love out of Marcus or dropping into a corner in tears, she actually tells Marcus straightaway what she heard and he explains to her how things are. LOVED IT!

    I liked this too. In fact I loved the entire section between the moment Hannah and Marcus agreed to work together until Marcus left to pursue the villains. But I just looked at the book now, and that section is perhaps 150 pages. The rest of the book didn’t work nearly as well for me.

    I thought this book was so quietly competent, not announcing itself in big bold strokes or melodramatic excess, it was a relaxing pleasure to read. I didn't find myself having to pick through awkward prose to get to the stories; I didn't have to negotiate a hundred improbably roadblocks to the happy ending; and I didn't have to ferret out actual character development. These two characters got to know each other, talked, learned about each other, and revealed themselves in the process.

    I enjoyed all these things too, while they were going on. But I didn’t enjoy the initial interactions between Marcus and Hannah, when they were being antagonistic to one another, as well.

    How refreshing it was for me to see a character like Marcus, who, while somewhat brusque, didn't find all ladies annoying, who loved his stepmother and sister with real affection.

    That high-and-mighty brusque duke character felt a little familiar to me. I was reminded a bit of Wulfric Bedwyn, from Balogh’s Slightly series, for example.

    I didn't wonder at Rosalind's willingness to embrace Hannah, because wouldn't she be able to rely on Marcus's judgment?

    For a duke to marry outside his class was no small matter, no matter how sound his judgement, and someone in his family would be bound to, if not object, at least not welcome Hannah with open arms. I felt that Linden was trying to brush this potential obstacle aside by having Rosalind worry that Marcus wouldn’t marry at all. But I didn’t see good reasons for him to have decided not to marry at all beyond that, so it felt contrived to me.

    And, I must say, I found the whole set up for this book charming.

    I’ve read a book with a similar set up before, but I do like it and agree that it is a good set up.

    I don't know if that happened here, but I was definitely hooked right from the beginning, and actually like the way Linden started by developing the relationship between David and Hannah, NOT because I thought David was going to be the hero, but because it allowed me to see what kind of person Hannah was and to be her ally by the time she does meet Marcus.

    I can understand that, but the interactions between David and Hannah did not hold my attention very much. I felt there was a bit too much telling there, and not as much showing as I would have liked.

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  6. Caroline
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 19:55:58

    I don’t want to intrude on the discussion, but someone emailed me about this review and indicated she wondered about one point raised here, so I thought I’d go ahead and post.

    I'm also left with questions about Marcus's stepmother Rosalind's eagerness to welcome a nobody like Hannah into the family and the role of duchess.

    It’s not really that Rosalind doubts Marcus will marry–she laughs it off, the idea that he would never marry, because she knows he’s too responsible not to, and he’s only 32. But Rosalind wants Marcus to fall in LOVE, not just get married. She knows him well enough to know this is far less likely to happen, just because he’s…well, so uptight and conscious of his position and duty. But David writes to her that Marcus has fallen head-over-heels crazy in love for this country woman, and *that* gets Rosalind interested. Why do you think she goes haring off to London to see Hannah for herself? She’s a romantic and a matchmaker. She would rather exert herself to turn a commoner into a duchess than put up with a social-climbing Society woman who just wants to marry a duke. So Rosalind and Celia (another romantic at heart) rush off to London to see if it’s true. Rosalind queries Hannah closely about it, and that’s when Hannah’s story about not knowing who Marcus really was backfires–THAT is what appeals to Rosalind, the idea that Marcus is so mad for this woman that he didn’t even use his title and wealth to win her. And that’s why she welcomes Hannah to the family.

    There’s a fine line between subtle and vague, and I’m sorry if I fell on the wrong side of the line at times for some readers. Thanks for giving it a read, and I’m so glad some people did enjoy the book.

    Best,

    Caroline

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  7. Robin
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 23:08:50

    But I didn't enjoy the initial interactions between Marcus and Hannah, when they were being antagonistic to one another, as well.

    Why not, Janine? I kind of liked the edge on the two of them, and I especially liked that Hannah wasn’t TSTL in those early sections of the book.

    That high-and-mighty brusque duke character felt a little familiar to me.

    Oh, I agree; it was the extras that made him feel more real to me, especially the way he was able to demonstrate affection for his stepmother and sister, the real struggle he feels regarding his loyalty to David, and the real friendship he builds with Hannah.

    For a duke to marry outside his class was no small matter, no matter how sound his judgement, and someone in his family would be bound to, if not object, at least not welcome Hannah with open arms.

    Ah, I see what you’re saying. I also see what Linden is saying in her explanatory post, but I agree with you that Rosalind’s innate romanticism doesn’t negate her understanding of what Society will expect of Marcus and how unusual his choice is, especially after so many years of confirmed bachelorhood. I agree with you there, Janine.

    the interactions between David and Hannah did not hold my attention very much. I felt there was a bit too much telling there, and not as much showing as I would have liked.

    This may have been the case, Janine, but since it’s been a few months since I read the book, instead what has stuck in my mind are certain scenes that I liked from that first section. For example, I liked the opening scene; it grabbed my attention and set up the dynamic between David and Marcus well, I thought. And I really liked the way David wanted to be responsible, but once his old life entered his new life, he just didn’t have the resolve he thought he did. Sure that set him up for his own book as merely weak rather than downright evil, but I still liked it because it made sense to me.

    Now I do remember thinking that some of the scenes at Hannah’s cottage dragged, and IMO the ending was the weakest part of the book (contrivance took over a bit too much there for me), but most of what I remember of the book is positive, thus my higher personal grade, I think.

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  8. Janine
    Apr 30, 2007 @ 16:57:56

    Thanks for explaining, Ms. Linden.

    Robin, to answer your questions:

    Why not, Janine? I kind of liked the edge on the two of them, and I especially liked that Hannah wasn't TSTL in those early sections of the book.

    I liked that Hannah wasn’t TSTL also, but she and Marcus seemed almost too at odds. After all, David had duped them both, and I expected them to be more united by their anger at him than they were. Their antagonism felt a bit too familiar to me. It may also be that since it took them so long to meet, I was impatient for their warm feelings for one another to begin.

    Oh, I agree; it was the extras that made him feel more real to me, especially the way he was able to demonstrate affection for his stepmother and sister, the real struggle he feels regarding his loyalty to David, and the real friendship he builds with Hannah.

    He felt real to me too, but of the things you mentioned, only his friendship with Hannah caught my interest and made me care about him, and that took over a hundred pages to get going.

    Ah, I see what you're saying. I also see what Linden is saying in her explanatory post, but I agree with you that Rosalind's innate romanticism doesn't negate her understanding of what Society will expect of Marcus and how unusual his choice is, especially after so many years of confirmed bachelorhood. I agree with you there, Janine.

    Thanks; you put that better than I did.

    I liked the opening scene; it grabbed my attention and set up the dynamic between David and Marcus well, I thought.

    As I recall, Jane liked the opening scene. But I was left relatively unengaged by it. Maybe I’m too jaded. But here’s an example of what I mean:

    The man on the chaise had recovered from his shock enough to sit up and turn. “Marcus, old man, how kind of you to join us,” he said in a voice sharp with sarcasm. “To what do we owe the displeasure?”

    I can tell from the dialogue itself that David is being sarcastic, so I don’t need to also be told that he is being sarcastic. I like to be left the room to come to my own conclusions about the characters, and that was what I wanted more of.

    And I really liked the way David wanted to be responsible, but once his old life entered his new life, he just didn't have the resolve he thought he did.

    Yes, I liked that too, but my appreciation was more intellectual than emotional.

    most of what I remember of the book is positive, thus my higher personal grade, I think

    I would just like to say that a C+ is not a terrible grade here. It’s above the “Not bad, but I won’t reread it” and below “I would buy it again, given the chance.”

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