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REVIEW:  Redemption of the Duke by Gayle Callen

REVIEW: Redemption of the Duke by Gayle Callen

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Dear Ms. Callen,

Redemption of the Duke was a good, solid read for me. While I’ve gone through a handful of your books, I had not read the other two in this series. I’ll probably pick them up soon, having enjoyed this one.

It was a shaky start, with a couple pages of blatant exposition, but it improved soon enough. Regarding the plot itself, you used none of my favorite tropes, but it still grabbed my attention continually. I don’t drift towards lady’s companion plots, mostly because I’m not huge on down-on-your-luck heroines. However, yours had a solid perspective on her experiences and wasn’t a blushing maiden afraid of her body. Thank you for sparing me that headache.

It’s also hard for me to build enthusiasm about one more duke in a sea of dukes. And don’t get me started on all the rakes; the romance genre could open a gardening store. It would be a very good-looking one with a number of interesting products for perusal, and an enormous section at the front called ‘Dukes’. Walking through the store, one would be like, “Seen it. Seen it. Got twelve at home. Ugh, they’re still producing that one? But it’s so cheap and it never lasts. They’re charging money for it?” It’d be a fun store to visit but very hard to find the right rake to bring home with you to…help maintain your…garden.

Although at first glance, it didn’t seem my type of romance, what caught my eye about your rake and made me want to read this novel was that he was trying not to be one anymore. Very soon into the book, I recognized his true effort to maintain the image of a mature adult in the face of his wild youth. He wanted others to realize he wasn’t the same person. Usually, you enter a novel with the hero at the height of dissipation. He meets the heroine, who changes him for the better, because god forbid the hero be able to change without the aid of a good woman guiding his morality. It was refreshing to see a man who was genuinely past his excessive days from the start of the novel. Adam longed for a more substantial life and wished others believed his sincerity.

Then with a sigh, Sophia rested her head against his shoulder. “I hear others talking about you.”
“Still eavesdropping?” he teased.
“How can it be eavesdropping when they’re speaking in normal tones? But I am not the only one who noticed the change in my big brother when he returned home from India. They keep asking when the real Adam will return.”
“Never,” he said simply.
“I don’t know about that. I’m not sure you’ve quite found the real Adam.”

The duke made a legitimate mistake in war and Faith’s brother died. Nothing was hidden. There were no misunderstandings. He was honest about it and no hidden truths gave the situation a more noble light afterward. No, it happened. He screwed up and it was ugly and Faith suffered, and he knew it. He kept wishing he could reconcile things with Faith because of his guilt, but he didn’t go overboard.

I didn’t like Faith as much as Adam because I saw her as sort of a doormat. She let others take liberties with her all the time and just passively withstood it: her former employers, her childhood friend, and even people who didn’t want to take advantage of her. She nearly encouraged it. I can’t stand a heroine who lets everyone walk all over her, as though it’s her due. I’m unable to respect it. Of course, she finally snaps with the duke, and I did value that change in her. I just thought it took too long to manifest and would have appreciated her realizing that he brings this out in her: the will to stand up for herself. That is powerful and I think it could have been delved into more deeply.

I saw the care you took in all your characters, neatly packing each one with flaws and virtues. It’s a subtle crafting, and I couldn’t help but be interested by every single character. The antagonists had curious, redeemable traits, and I enjoyed the mystery of the main antagonist’s hidden identity more than I thought I would, considering I usually don’t care for these evil mastermind schemes. It just made sense this time and the red herrings were well-played.

I loved the tension inherent in the situation you wove for Adam. He wants to be seen as mature and responsible. He tries so hard to honor Faith’s brother’s memory and respect Faith herself, as well as her position as his aunt’s companion. He is drawn to her. Not artificially drawn to her, like in some novels, where you’re supposed to nod and go along the supposed claims of foolish, besotted foolishness. No, he’s genuinely infatuated with her, and dislikes it. These are real, significant stakes at play. It’s a true man vs. self struggle, because if he takes advantage of the lady’s companion in his household, it means he hasn’t changed nearly as much as he hoped he had, and everyone is right in their assumption of his decadent reputationexcept it won’t be based merely on past actions if he gives in now. His claims of change would be invalidated. And all the same, he must see her again, because she lifts that darkness inside him and makes him feel almost normal. I can understand exactly why he falls for her.

It’s a no-brainer why she falls for him as well. I honestly couldn’t find one thing I disliked about Adam as a character. He was kind and struggling and fiercely protective. He held a nightmare inside of him and wanted to shelter everyone else from it. He was good and fair with people who were not good and fair with him, as though he hoped, deep down, that someday they would like him. He was vulnerable but acted in strength. I wanted to hug him and tell him it’s okay, that he’s a good man and he’s worthy of Faith and of his station, and he can have both and still be good.

Thank you for giving me this experience with your hero. He was the highlight of a carefully-written novel. I was never blown away, but I was continually engaged. It’s a respectable entry in your repertoire and I’m glad to have read it.

Best regards,
Suzanne

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REVIEW:  He’s Come Undone by Theresa Weir

REVIEW: He’s Come Undone by Theresa Weir

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“Penniless and behind on rent, college student and once famous child actress Ellie Barlow takes on the role of a lifetime when she’s hired by a group of young women to break the heart of the campus player who cruelly dumped them.

Transformed from slob slacker to jaw-dropping beauty, Ellie is dressed, styled, bleached and waxed, her chunky glasses exchanged for violet contacts. Along with physical prepping, she’s coached on Julian’s obsessions, which include long-distance running, Doctor Who, and J.D. Salinger.

In no time, Julian is in pursuit of his custom-made next victim, but when Ellie goes off script and begins to fall for her target the newest broken heart in this risky game could be her own.”

Dear Ms. Weir,

Can you get me to want to read a book with a hero who sounds like an ass? Yes, you can. Do I want to read about a heroine whose physical transformation only needs contacts instead of glasses to suddenly look dazzling? Again, yes I do. Revenge plot? I hate revenge plots but I’m reading this one. Am I still hoping that we’ll get the third cat novella with Sam and Max’s sister? Please! Oh, please!

Ahem. Now back to our review already in progress.

So here I am diving into a novella that ought to have me running in the opposite direction and I’m diving in, voluntarily, head first, into waters of uncertain depth. Let’s examine why the issues that should have canned this one actually didn’t. Revenge plots are common in Romancelandia but instead of the usual hero who will wreck havoc on the heroine, here it’s women aiming to bring down the man they think treated them like shit. I know that to some it might seem like a stereotypical cat fight of women angry at a man but I choose to look at it as women who aren’t going to passively take being dismissed. The way in which they orchestrate the whole affair also seems very modern – using Craig’s List, a notarized contract, and detailed notes for Ellie, the actress, to study. However, I’ll be honest and say the plot is one that just has to be accepted until the action gets going.

Ellie’s transformation from a 6 on a good day to a 10++ smacks of the hated “we’re supposed to believe that all it takes is removing her glasses, letting her hair down from a tight bun and putting her in sexy clothes to turn her into a knockout?” trope. But Ellie is also a real actress, used to the camera, used to being transformed by makeup. And a properly fitted bra can do wonders to change a woman. Ellie’s also smart and realizes that her “change” is only surface deep – inside she’s the same person with her good and bad points and her own scared past.

Julian is first presented to us by others and we see him as a beautiful, fuckwad user who has deeply angered several women. Then his redemption in the eyes of the reader starts. Very quickly it’s obvious that there is some dark secret in his past, dark enough to cause him to be seeing a psychiatrist, dark enough to be on anti-depression medication, dark enough to have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Julian’s got issues but to me they are believable ones.

So we’ve got two broken people who need to be salvaged in my eyes. Two? Well Ellie isn’t lily white pure here either as she’s taking money to try and get someone to fall in love with her solely in order to then break his heart. The reasons given for Julian and Ellie’s actions are ones I can accept. Ellie’s might not be noble but it’s understandable. Poverty can get you to do things you might otherwise never stoop to. Julian has – and is still – going through his own private hell. One that his psychiatrist believes has arrested his emotional development to the age when the event happened. He feels the sexual contact he has with the women makes him feel alive instead of internally dead and he truly believes his casual attitude towards relationships is normal. Watching both of them grow, understand the wrongness of what they’re doing and change is part of the emotional satisfaction of the book.

I thought the novella was also well crafted. The characterization is consistent and I enjoyed the first person POV chance to actually get inside each person’s head. Ellie, Julian and the scorned women might not understand the motivations, changes and evolution of each other, but we do. Readers who want more of the hero’s feelings will appreciate how much time is spent seeing things from Julian’s perspective.

But wait, there are also other things I like about it. Things are shown vs being told such as when Julian first began to notice and become interested in Ellie. The changes in the characters seemed to flow naturally and build slowly instead of conveniently appearing. The trauma in Julian’s past is delicately revealed but the revelation is all the more powerful for its lack of details which leave a reader free to fill in the blanks, or not. The issue of Julian’s mental health, both in what he’s already suffered and the new consequences from what happens in the novella, feel realistic and hurrah for the fact that twue lurve isn’t shown as fixing it all.

Can readers overcome the fact that Julian did, even in his own eyes, treat these young women badly? Will people believe that Ellie’s reasons for what she agreed to do, and signed a contract for, are good enough? I did, in both cases, because of the fact that I believed in their changes by the end of the novella. Despite a few nitpicks – what else Ellie could have done first to make money and the interchangeable feel of the disgruntled women – it was a fast and enjoyable read for me. B

~Jayne

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