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REVIEW: Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea by Sophia Nash

REVIEW: Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea by Sophia...

Dear Ms. Nash:

So. I’m thinking that I’m not quite the right reader for your books. “Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea” is meant to be a comedy, a piece of frivolity. It’s a tale of frippery, if I can borrow a period phrase. There is nothing wrong with frippery but sometimes it can be too overdecorated or too flimsy. I thought this story was both.

Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea Sophia NashThis book starts out with Prinny ordering six bachelor Dukes to marry. Who knew that Prinny was involved in making a gaggle dukes get married? This was the set up for the Kieran Kramer series (among others). In the Kramer series, Prinny stumbles through a secret door and commands all the members of the room to marry one after the other. In this book, the first Duke to marry is Alexander Barclay, the newly minted Duke of Kress, who lost his newly acquired fortune in a debauched bachelor party that has made the monarchy look bad. The debauched bachelor party led the Duke of Candover to miss his wedding and jilt an unknown bride at the altar. Har de har har. (I never knew when I was supposed to laugh in this book but I presumed this setup was supposed to be witty).

Alexander is a city boy and he does not want to be sent to Cornwall to rebuild, in one month, a crumbling estate while also hosting a house party so that he and his fellow ducal miscreants can find wives. Prinny is allowing Alex to use the treasury to restore the estate until such time as Alex can find a wealthy heiress. Alex isn’t a particularly nice guy. One reviewer at Amazon called him a frat boy and that is the perfect description. He doesn’t think much of the country folks (calling them tin as opposed to the gold of the burnished town folks, or in some cases fool’s gold). He is often prosing about making generalities about women being complaining, whiny, and overreaching. Unfortunately, none of these are recognized as flaws through which he must grow. Instead, they are part of what is supposed to make him charming and witty.

Alex comes across Roxanne Van­ derhaven, the Countess of Paxton, (Vanderhaven, really?) when she is hanging off the side of a cliff after her husband had tried to kill her. She realizes her husband’s murderous intent after she falls and he doesn’t return with the promised help. Instead Alex finds her hanging off the cliff and saves her. Roxanne begs for Alex to hide her after he tells her he will spirit her to a magistrate who will, of course, see that the Earl of Paxton is brought to justice:

He bit back a smile. It was unkind to find humor in any part of this unfortunate lady’s circumstances. “All right. Here is what I propose,” he continued. “Let us get you to the magistrate of the parish. He will sort this out and mete out the justice your de­ lightful husband deserves. No one is above the laws of the land, no matter what his station.”

After Roxanne convinces Alex that a magistrate is not the answer, they journey to his home whereupon hijinks occur. I’m pretty sure that the story was a mistorical. There was the outspoken valet of the newly made Duke of Kress who interjected his opinions in front of Prinny and six dukes, a couple of them royal dukes. There was the last name of Roxanne. Vanderhaven as the last name of British nobility seems quite rare. The entire modern tone of their discourse. The scene were a squatting crofter comes up to the Duke (Alex) and tells him that his family has been squatting for centuries and he’d like to go on squatting and Alex gives his blessing.

The story had a thing about details. It takes a fierce dislike to details. Who cares how Roxanne would dress at this house party attended by dukes and maids meant for Dukes. Why she would wear Alex’s Great Aunt Meme’s clothes. Or how Roxanne got her male disguise to attend her own funeral complete with a fake mustache. Or how she managed to take a horse from the Duke’s stable. Or to whom Alex lost his fortune or how Alex had even become a duke. Or why the Earl had a burial with no body. Or how Roxanne intended to assert ownership to her deceased father’s hidden fortune of gold guineas which were not left to her in the will.

Probably the most troublesome aspect of this story was its huge cast of characters and the non stop heavy handed sequel baiting. Not only are there several dukes at the party but there is one missing duke and everyone took turns wondering where he was. Things would occur that aren’t well explained to the reader but are clearly to be set up for later books. The unrequited feelings one of the guests had for another guest was more interesting than the furtive actions to be revealed later and the missing duke.

As I read the book I often thought to myself that there were definitely readers who would find the book funny and there were moments of humor and times in which the dialogue could bring a smile to someone’s face. I wondered why I couldn’t just lose myself within the text. Clearly this book wasn’t to be taken seriously. I kind of feel like the No Fun Police by pointing out the flaws in a book like this but every time I resolved to try to set aside my issues, a new problem would arise such as when it was revealed that the Duchess of March (clearly modeled after the Duke of Marlborough’s progeny) was only 17. Yet she was “the only female in the prince’s entourage”, the one female attending the morning after debauchery; the one female that was present with a bunch of men in a state of dissolute repair and undress after their bachelor; the one female who was present in His Majesty’s bedchambers with all the other dukes and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Oh, and the valet of Alex. I mean, What. The. Fuck.

The good thing is that Roxanne goes from trying to be the perfect wife to taking life into her hands, traipsing about as a man; helping rebuild (literally with her own hands) the crumbling manor; saving people from drowning. There are some nice women in the story with whom Roxanne forms a friendship. These ladies, of course, will be married off to the Dukes in latter books. The main conflict of the story I thought would be Roxanne being a) alive and b) married but it was primarily that Alex was instructed to marry someone wealthy and titled. The book was too crowded and the characterizations too weak for me. D

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh

REVIEW: The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh

Dear Ms. Balogh,

I first read The Temporary Wife, one of your most beloved trad regencies, several years ago. At the time, I liked it but was distracted by an initial similarity to another of your regencies, The Ideal Wife, which I had read first and liked even better.

The Temporary Wife/A Promise of Spring 	Mary BaloghThe opening premises of the two books are very much alike, but they shoot off in very different directions soon after that. Still, the similarity in how they begin makes it difficult not to compare them and choose a favorite. I suspect that in many cases, whichever of these two books a reader reads second will feel somewhat less original to that reader as a result of having read the other first.

Now that The Temporary Wife is finally being reprinted in a 2-in-1 edition along with A Promise of Spring, I was curious to revisit it and see how I would like it since it’s now been over a decade since I read The Ideal Wife and that book has faded from my memory. Happily, this time I enjoyed The Temporary Wife even more.

The Temporary Wife begins with the following sentence:

It not being quite the thing to advertise in the London papers for a wife, Anthony Earheart, Marquess of Stuanton, eldest son and heir of the Duke of Withingsby, advertised instead for a governess.

Anthony omits his title from the advertisement, which entertains his friends no end. They tease him mercilessly about his apparent need for a governess, when he has no children. It’s only later that he explains his purpose to one of them, Lord Rowling. He requires a wife, one who is a gentlewoman, but at the same time “impoverished, plain, demure, very ordinary, perhaps even prim,” with “all the personality of a—a quiet mouse.”

Lord Rowling asks if Anthony feels a strong need to dominate his future wife, and the marquess replies that his father the duke has summoned him home to marry a seventeen year old girl. Although the duke is ill and Anthony is his heir, they had a bad falling out eight years earlier and have not seen each other since. The family, under the duke’s influence, has remained in the country in all these years (something I found unlikely) while Anthony has lived in London, establishing a reputation as a rake.

To Rowling’s protestation that “you cannot marry the dullest creature you can find merely to annoy your father,” Lord Staunton replies “Why not?” He explains that has no intention of spending his life with the woman he marries. She will be pensioned off to the country. His brother will serve as an heir. The woman he chooses will only remain with him for the length of his visit to Enfield, his father’s ducal mansion. She will be a temporary wife.

After interviewing five unsuitable applicants, Staunton finds his dull mouse in Miss Charity Duncan, whose self-effacing mien is matched by her drab and brown clothing. Miss Duncan keeps her eyes downcast and her voice is soft.

Her face looked pale and ordinary in the shadows. The brown of her hair blended so totally with the brown of her bonnet that it was difficult to know where the one ended and the other began. Her garments were decent and drab. He was given the impression that they were not quite shabby but very soon would be. They were shabby-genteel.

She was perfect. His father would be incensed.

What Anthony doesn’t know is that Charity is less timid than she looks. In fact, she was dismissed from her previous position as a governess for reporting to the mother of her charges that their father molested a maid.

But Charity needs employment badly. Due to a debt her father left behind after his death, her family is impoverished. Her brother has had to find work as a clerk and she insisted that she could also seek employment to help support their younger siblings. Charity dreams of finding a get rich quick scheme that would actually work, but since such a thing isn’t possible, she is resigned to doing whatever she can to find another position, even if that includes keep her eyes lowered and her voice quiet.

Of course, when Anthony offers Charity five thousand pounds a year for the rest of her life if she marries him and accompanies him on his visit to Enfield for a few weeks, Charity accepts. Charity finds the dour and businesslike Anthony unlikable, but to support her family so well, she is willing to marry him. She doesn’t realize until after they marry that Anthony is not just wealthy, but also a marquess.

Anthony and Charity journey to Enfield together (Charity having told her brother that she got the position, but not what the position was). They stop to spend the night in an inn where only one room is available and there they share a bed. At first, all they intend to do is sleep, but Charity can’t fall asleep and Anthony gets the idea that sex could solve that problem. It is their wedding night after all. Charity wants to experience sex and knows she may never get another opportunity. And so, they go for it.

The sex is spectacular, but the next morning Anthony kicks himself for having suggested it. He noticed Charity’s blue eyes and lovely hair in the process and now he can’t think of her as a drab mouse any longer – and yet that is what he needs her to be when they reach Enfield. Charity, for her part, cannot believe that Anthony is just as dour and abrupt with her as he was the day before.

But once they arrive in Enfield, Charity is in for worse shocks. The house is palatial and imposing. The housekeeper takes in Charity’s clothing and mistakes her for a servant. But worst of all, the family members are toplofty and cold. Charity immediately senses undercurrents of anger and resentment in the way they treat her husband, and being a kind-hearted meddler, she decides to try and heal this breach.

But can there be mutual forgiveness between Anthony and his siblings? Will Anthony make peace with his ill father before the duke dies? And will he realize what a gem he has in his wife before their temporary marriage comes to an end?

I enjoyed The Temporary Wife immensely though for me at least, this is a book that reflects fantasy at least as much as reality. The premise of a duke’s heir advertising for a wife is quite far-fetched. This was probably the biggest hump I had to get over in the book, but it was not the only one. Still, I can usually go with the flow if something unbelievable is presented from the beginning as the premise of a story.

Doing so wasn’t easy in this case, but after I got over it, I found a thoroughly rewarding emotional journey for the main characters. Charity, although courageous to begin with, comes into a family alienated from its eldest son. Not only does she have to close that rift, she first has to get to know them despite their standoffish exteriors. In the process she discovers that the man she married does have a heart, and that he was badly hurt when the falling out took place. She also, very gradually, falls in love with Anthony.

As for Anthony, while he is a less overtly sympathetic character than Charity, he is fascinating. His expression is often described as “shuttered” and his is the journey of a closed man gradually opening up. He doesn’t believe he needs love, but of course he does need it, and he very gradually allows himself to be convinced of this. His love for Charity also grows in slow steps but once he falls for her, he is head over heels in love, which is all the more satisfying since he began the book pretending (and even convincing himself of) complete indifference to love.

As readers of this review may be able to tell from the above two paragraphs, the growth of the romantic relationship is thoroughly blended with the family’s healing, to a point where it is hard to separate the two. I think the first time I read the book, I wasn’t expecting this and therefore felt it took something away from the romance, but this time I loved this aspect of the book.

Besides the premise, a couple of other things also struck me as difficult to buy. I thought Charity’s boldness in calling the duke “father” rather than “your grace” and interfering in the affairs of such a forbidding and high-in-the-instep family was unlikely given that she came from such a different background, but I was able to suspend disbelief because courage and meddling were presented as integral aspects of her personality.

The other instance involves a spoiler:

[spoiler]Late in the book, Anthony’s father suffers a heart attack that comes shortly after Charity forced a confrontation between him and Anthony. The confrontation went badly, and Charity later blames herself for having precipitated the heart attack. Anthony assures her that his father had a weak heart and therefore she was not at fault, and although I thought this may have been inserted to reassure readers on that score, I was left somewhat skeptical toward Anthony’s statement.[/spoiler]

Finally, one of the biggest pleasures of this book is the writing, which is sharply observant and true to the characters. In this regard, as well as in the transformation of Anthony and his family from joylessness to joy, I feel that this book is one of your strongest. Despite its imperfections, The Temporary Wife is now among my favorites of your books. B+/A-.

Sincerely,

Janine

PS The Temporary Wife has been reprinted in a 2-in-1 edition with A Promise of Spring. While The Temporary Wife is a DA Recommended Read, A Promise of Spring is not.

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