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REVIEW: The Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James

REVIEW: The Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James

Dear Ms. James:

I confess that my dislike for the portrayal of one character in this book really overshadowed everything else.  I haven’t been following this new series of yours closely but I understand that you are revisiting classic fairy tales.  This story is based on the Princess and the Pea.  The Princess and the Pea is about a woman who is constantly tested for her worthiness as a partner to the prince by the prince’s mother.  Olivia is invited to the home of the Duke of Sconce so that her sister, Georgina, can be evaluated as a bride for Tarquin, the Duke of Sconce.

The Duke is Mine by Eloisa JamesTarquin was madly in love with his faithless first wife and after she died, he retreated to his mathematical studies.  His mother is relentless in her desire to see him remarried.

Olivia is betrothed to the heir to the Dukedom of Canterwick and has been since she was fifteen.  Rupert is five years younger than her and is dimwitted, short, slender, with a “potato shaped nose and penduluous lower lip.”  Rupert is clearly not all there and is the subject of scorn and mockery.  He is also about the only physically unattractive person in the book. Not only does he have the bad nose and puffy bottom lip, but his nose “just seemed to force one to pay more attention to his mouth. Which invariably hung open, his lower teeth visible in a glistening pout.”  Rupert’s father choose Olivia because of her “hips and brains”.  He tells her to bed the duke’s heir before he goes off to fight in the war.  Rupert, the heir, can’t get it up.  The heroine mocks him to her sister saying “neither two of his most important organs are functioning.”

What makes Olivia’s mockery of Rupert even more distasteful is that she is aware that he had lost air at birth.  The duke told her that to reassure her that her children would not be similarly affected.  At times, Olivia shows concern for Rupert but primarily because mockery of him reflects poorly on her.  When Tarquin is commenting on Rupert’s lack of mental faculties, Olivia decides to put up a resistance.

Of course she agreed, but she had realized when the duchess was so dismissive of Rupert that she could either spend her entire life listening to sniggers behind her husband’s back, or she could make it clear that no one should dare to insult Rupert to her face.

It’s not out of true concern or care for Rupert that Olivia defends him, but because she doesn’t want to listen to sniggers about him.  She can snigger, though, calling him a “little beardy-weirdly bottle –headed chub” and a “buffle-headed fool” and having “the brainpower of a gnat” and assigning him not so clever acroynms like “FF” (Foolish Fiance) or “HH” (Halfwit Husband).

When Olivia and Georgina arrive at the Duke of Sconce’s residence, Olivia and Tarquin aka Quin immediately are attracted to each other when Tarquin rescues Olivia from the rain.

I’ll insert a spoiler tag here although I don’t feel that the stuff is particularly spoilery.

 

[spoiler]Quin and Olivia spend much of the book  flirting and laughing and kissing each other even though Olivia knows that Tarquin is supposed to be for her sister who wants to be married but has been out for five seasons with no offers.  The sister even calls Olivia on her flirting and says she feels pale and lifeless next to Olivia. While Olivia feels bad for a second or two, it doesn’t stop her from continuing to flirt with Quin in front of her sister as well as engaging in inappropriate touching behind her sister’s back. The tension is supposed to come from  Olivia’s sister and Olivia’s betrothal to Rupert, although neither of which stop the Quin and Olivia  from engaging in their illicit activities.

Tarquin and Olivia have a moment of recognition that what they are doing might affect Rupert, acknowledging that for all his idiocy even he might understand the repercussions of Olivia throwing him over:

She nodded, but realized he was looking straight ahead, and said, “Yes.” It came out a croak. “He-he would be very hurt if I were to . . . It wouldn’t do.”

“A very English response,” he said, glancing down at her. “It wouldn’t do. But you’re right. The very worst thing any man could do to another, especially one serving his country, would be to steal his future wife. Perhaps when he has returned safely, we might discuss this further?”

But then later:

 I do feel some remorse about stealing you from Montsurrey. Stealing a man’s fiancée while he is serving his country is not entirely honorable.”

Olivia leaned against him, letting his heat warm her whole body. “Rupert lost air at birth,” she offered. “He will never be all that he could be.”

“He’s more than enough,” Quin said simply. “He’s serving his country, risking his life to protect England.”

A few more tears dropped onto Quin’s coat. “You’re right.”

“We will always be friends to him.” It was a vow of sorts. “He had you, and now I’m taking you away, and I will never forget what I forced him to give up.”

Olivia sniffled ungracefully, took the handkerchief he gave her. “Rupert might be more resentful if you took Lucy.”

Quin laughed.

“I mean it,” she protested. “And Georgie agrees.”

So Rupert is so dumb, so baffle headed, that while he can be a war hero and execute strategic military maneuvers, while he went to fight for the glory of his family name “Must win glory for the sake of the family name”, while he was clever enough to make up a story about the two of them and keep a secret, he’ll not comprehend the insult that Tarquin and Olivia will have imposed on him. Yet, they will remain friends with Rupert.  How gracious!  The internal inconsistency of Rupert’s idiocy was played up and down for effect.

[/spoiler]

But shallowness is the byword for this book. Olivia’s big problem is apparently that she was fat. She self describes herself as fat frequently but no one ever slights her for it.  There was no indication that any one (but her mother) thought she was overly large, not her sister, not her fiance and not the hero, Tarquin.

Tarquin’s emotional arc was supposedly that he loved his first wife, but she cheated on him so he’ll never again marry a woman that he doesn’t love.  Right, that makes no sense to me.

Finally, the ending was completely bizarre and included two pages that involved whether some French woman was the best baker of bread in all of France.  Two pages.

What was the point of Rupert in the story? Was it to put on display the mistaken and ignorant attitudes of society toward mentally handicapped individuals and how some of those same attitudes exist today?  If so, where was the lesson in why these attitudes might be mistaken or ignorant? Further, why portray Quin as an absent minded scientific mind without drawing some parallel between Rupert’s disengagement with society and Quin’s similar path? “For example, he [Quin] seldom knew what the people around him were feeling. He had a formidable intelligence and rarely found other people’s thought patterns very surprising. But their emotions? He greatly disliked the way people seemed to conceal their emotions, only to release them in a gassy burst of noise and a tearful exposition.”  I think Tarquin was supposed to be written as if he had Asperger’s but it didn’t come across that way in any significant fashion.  Perhaps the tone of the book was too light hearted (interspersed with too many clever witticisms from Olivia) for mental disabilities to be of anything but a joke.

Was it to highlight the contributions mentally handicapped people provide?  If so, why do it in such a way that allowed Rupert to be torn down for most of the book?  Mocked and criticized by the characters?

Was it to provide a pivot point for Olivia’s character arc?  If this is the correct answer, I have to say, how distasteful.  Through Olivia and others, Rupert was mocked for being “dimwitted”, “limp”, and unattractive featured.  And where was the pivot?  Was it when Rupert went off to war and Olivia breathed a sigh of relief.  Was it when Olivia was sleeping with her sister’s intended?  Was it when Olivia worried that she wouldn’t be able to break her betrothal as conveniently if Rupert was a hero?  Was it when Olivia and Quin lay in bed and Quin felt somewhat guilty for cuckolding Rupert while Rupert was sacrificing his life for England?

Importantly, while Rupert is a central figure to the story, his point of view is never shared.  We only learn about him through the eyes of others.  Strangely, Quin is portrayed as having difficult time concentrating, his thoughts moving quickly from one topic to another.  But because he is an attractive, sexually powerful man his mental acuity is never in question, nor was his desirability.

Having said all that, the book is readable and readability is tough to pull off.  I’m giving the book a reluctant C-.

Best regards,

Jane

 

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REVIEW: A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

REVIEW: A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

Dear Ms. Grant:

I don’t remember reading a book like this lately. I’m sure that there have been ones written, after all, romance has been published for decades at a clip of several hundred a month. There are no new stories, only new ways to tell them. However, Marta Russell and Theophilus Mirkwood are two characters that seemed entirely new to me; characters I hadn’t met in fiction before.

A Lady Awakened Cecilia GrantThis story read to me about two things: connections and opposites. Connections, particularly in this book, prevent seeing the world in black and white, seeing one person as wholly villianous or virtuous. The way in which the connections to people make us better and how, left to our own devices, our viewpoints and life experiences can be narrow and limited. The best part of an opposites attract story is this idea that the other can fill in where one is lacking, making the duo better than an individual. That is definitely true in “A Lady Awakened”.

The story is fairly simple. Martha Russell of Seaton Park is newly widowed and she is childless. While she regrets that she doesn’t have a child and that she will likely have to go and live off her brothers, she is prepared to do so. Her plans are forestalled by suggestion of her lady’s maid and the local clergy that everyone will need to wait to see if she had quickened before her husband’s death. The seed of fraud is fostered when Martha hears that the heir is a disreputable man who had taken advantage of the servants of the house many years ago and that her husband had shunned the heir prior to his death.

Martha learns that Theo Mirkwood has been sent down by his father after an escapade. She propositions Theo and offers to pay him money to father her a child. Theo is bemused but he is in need of money and impregnating his neighbor seems like a jolly way to pass the time until he is forgiven or he has enough money to return to town. Martha and Theo don’t think much of each either. Martha isn’t the merry widow that Theo would like her to be and Theo is far to reckless and irresponsible to appeal to Martha. Theo thinks quite a bit of his sexual prowess but Martha is unimpressed:

He was watching her, hands on his hips, satisfied to be the object of a lady’s scrutiny. “It’s all yours, darling, bought and paid for,” he said with what was probably a rakish smile.

What on earth did one say in reply to that? It wasn’t even accurate — she hadn’t paid him yet — but really, the less said on this subject, the better. Yesterday had been rather excruciating in that regard. Your skin is like silk. You smell like flowers. He must seduce chiefly on the strength of his good looks. He couldn’t expect to overcome any lady with poetic invention.

As the two spend each afternoon in bed, they begin to learn more about one another. Martha learns that Theo’s easy amiability makes it easier to connect with the tenants, to assist them in the manner in which Martha believes is important for the gentry to do. Theo learns from Martha that taking care of the land and tenants is more than a responsibility but a calling.

In reading the negative Amazon reviews, one of the negatives that is brought up is that Martha is engaging in a fraud. She is. She is trying to steal an inheritance from another person who is rumored to be a bad man. This is not without its troubling morality and is an issue that Martha acknowledges, even unto the end.

Another negative comment was that Martha is cold. She is. She is distant from others. She does not make friends easily and her lack of ability to make connections pushes her to further withdraw emotionally. But she is earnest in her desire to provide for those people around her. She feels their reliance keenly. Moreover, Martha recognizes the perilous position of a woman and seeks to set up a school wherein girls can gain an education, empowering them. Theo is distant as well, for all his amiabiity. His connections, while easily made, are superfluous.  Martha and Theo are subtle ends of an emotional spectrum.  Theo was undisciplined, but generous.   Martha was uptight, but thoughtful.

There is this great subplot involving Theo and a single laborer on his property. He learns that because the man has no family, when the man is older and can no longer work the tenant properly, he will be sent to a workhouse. It brings home to Theo how fortunate his birth and what kind of responsibility he holds in his hands. Theo has the ability to prevent Mr. Barrow from being sent to a workhouse. Theo’s transformation doesn’t come at the hands of Martha. She merely opens his eyes.

“The smaller families with older sons are fortunate,” he said as he and Granville moved along. “Two or more wages, and fewer people to divide them among.”

“The shape of your family makes a great difference, doesn’t it? I’m sorry the Weavers have no grown-up sons.” They were walking a path that followed a rail fence now, and from time to time the man rapped at some part of it, presumably to test the soundness of its joints.

“Mr. Barrow has no family at all? Not even nieces or nephews, I mean?”

“No.” This brought an extra gravity, he could see, to Granville’s weathered features. “He had sisters, I know, but they married long ago and settled somewhere far north.”

“No one to take an interest in caring for him, then.”

“It’s not as uncommon a case as one might like it to be. Reminds a man of the importance of marrying. Not a man of independent means, of course — you may look after yourself and then pay others to do so, if you choose.”

This sounded a dismal prospect. He must remember to think seriously of marriage, in five or ten years, and in the meantime, to ingratiate himself with his sisters’ children. “But Mr. Barrow,” he said. “There will come a time — soon, perhaps — when he can no longer earn a wage.”

“Aye, and after that, a time when he cannot keep house, and a time when he cannot care for himself.” Granville stopped, having found a place in the fence that did not make the proper reply to his knock. He rapped at it again, and then took out a pencil and a folded bit of paper to make some note.

Theo waited. “What happens to such a man at that time?” he said when the agent had finished.

He shook his head without looking up. “If a man does live to that age, and has no connections, like as not he ends in the workhouse infirmary.”

“Workhouse.” The one word was all he could manage.

Another negative is that the sex that Martha and Theo have is quite unsexy. This is also true. Martha hates sex initially. So much so that by the third coupling, Theo is having a difficult time even becoming aroused. The sex is actually a source of humor but it provides a marker for Martha and Theo’s intimacy. Initially the sex is horrible because neither have any feelings for another. As the two begin to like each other, the sex becomes better (although Martha begins to feel guilty about this) and then when the two fall in love, intercourse becomes both pleasureful and painful. Sex is almost a chore for both of them, something to get through in order to get to the good stuff which is the talking that they do after sex and the intimacy that grows between them because of the post coital discussions.  The sex in the book ranges from awkward to erotic, a range that I’ve rarely seen in one book.

I just appreciated so much watching Theo and Martha change, subtly, into better versions of themselves. How they found in each other something of value. There are so many wonderful small scenes in the book such as Theo watching Martha’s interaction with the vicar and thinking to himself that he wanted to see that look of admiration and respect on Martha’s face directed toward him. Or Martha learning how to make friends with Theo’s assistance.  The one small part of the story that I felt wasn’t as well integrated was Martha’s desire for a school for girls. I wasn’t convinced that her school would provide the empowerment that she desired and it lacked the flavor of the tenant / land management issues in the book. I also thought that the first three chapters started off a bit slow and I worried that Martha would be preachy and insufferable for the whole book (she’s not at all).

I don’t think I can really convey how amazing this book is. I hope people just give it a chance. Read the first chapter in the store. Take advantage of the “Sample” feature for ebookstores. It’s worth that small effort to see if the book captures a reader’s attention. I was captivated from the first chapter. A-

Best regards,

Jane

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