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JOINT REVIEW:  Lady Windermere’s Lover by Miranda Neville

JOINT REVIEW: Lady Windermere’s Lover by Miranda Neville

Janine: Rose and I read Lady Winderemere’s Lover, the third book in Miranda Neville’s Wild Quartet series, around the same time, so we decided to review the book together.

Lady-Windermeres-LoverRose: On his 21st birthday, Damian inherited his late mother’s property Beaulieu – only to promptly lose it to his friend Robert in a drunken wager. By the time Damian recovers from his stupor, Robert himself has lost the property. Horrified by his actions and upset with Robert and their friend Julian, who had done nothing to stop the events from unfolding, Damian confesses all to his father, and decides to break away from his friends and enter the foreign service.

Several years later, Damian, now Lord Windermere, is finally able to regain Beaulieu, but at a steep price: he must wed Cynthia Chorley, the niece of the prosperous Birmingham merchant who owns the estate.

In the short time the two spend together, Damian is resentful and cold to Cynthia, who lacks the skills and polish he considers valuable for a diplomat’s wife. He accepts a posting to Persia and leaves Cynthia behind, a provincial nobody with few friends and no connections in society. Eventually she is befriended by Robert’s young widow, Caro Townsend, who takes her under her wing and introduces her to what is considered a fairly fast artistic set.

Janine: Cynthia also acquires elegant clothes and town polish. She allows Julian to court her – whether because she’s drawn to Julian or because she hopes Damian will hear rumors that will irk him into coming home, Cynthia herself doesn’t know.

As it happens, Damian does return, but at the Foreign Office’s request. There is now a great deal of bad blood between Damian and Julian, but Damian doesn’t yet know Cynthia has become involved in the conflict.

Damian’s superior orders him to do everything possible to help the crown acquire an art collection thought to be in Julian’s possession, so Damian must make nice with Julian whether or not he likes it.

That night, Damian attends he theater with a former mistress, Lady Belinda. Seated across from them are Julian and Cynthia, who erroneously assumes Belinda and Damian are still lovers. Damian doesn’t recognize Cynthia until he returns home to witness an embrace between her and Julian in Julian’s adjoining garden. Damian leaves the house unseen and resolves to get the paintings from Julian and only then confront his wife and the ex-friend he thinks is her lover.

To Damian’s credit, he knows his treatment of Cynthia has been shabby, and as their history is revealed in flashbacks, we see just how much. Damian insisted on speaking only French to Cynthia as a way of putting distance between them, and he didn’t exert himself much in the bedroom. Two weeks into their marriage, he left his wife, little realizing she was pregnant.

Cynthia wrote to Damian about her pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage, but his reply was perfunctory and distant, and Caro and her friends were Cynthia’s only real source of support.

Now Damian moves back into his house, and to wait until he’s certain she isn’t carrying Julian’s child yet prevent anymore illicit trysts, he claims his mattress is uncomfortable and he share hers. As the two lie next to each other for a few nights, they become better acquainted. Damian realizes Cynthia’s not the grasping social climber he thought. Cynthia, too, is attracted to her spouse, and tempted to begin to like him.

But can they overlook the “affairs” each thinks the other is having? Can they heal the wounds of the past? And will Julian stand by while their marriage gets stronger, or will he interfere?

Rose: Obviously, there is a lot here for both the hero and the heroine to work through and some way for them to go in order to build any sort of relationship or to trust one another.

Janine: Yes. It wasn’t until I started writing this plot summary that I realized how many issues complicate Cynthia and Damian’s marriage. One thing we didn’t go into is how gambling Beaulieu away led Damian to shut down emotionally. His Foreign Office mentor then taught him not to reveal his feelings. I thought that aspect of Damian was really well done.

Rose: I liked that Cynthia had not spent her time alone being miserable: she worked hard to improve her taste, her facility with languages, and her social skills, and has acquired a circle of friends along with considerable poise and polish. Julian tempts her, but not enough to stray from her wedding vows – though she does come close.

Janine: I liked that too. I was reminded of a totally different book with a similar plot, Judith McNaught’s Something Wonderful. That book too has an abandoned wife who blossoms into a sought-after beauty just as her husband return from a long absence. The two books couldn’t be more different, but there’s a great “She showed him!” satisfaction to the trope itself.

Rose: There really is. In this case, Cynthia also finds time for charitable works, and sets up a home for young unwed mothers. This is financed by having a merchant overcharge her for hideous furniture and art for Damian’s home and her pocketing the change, which was an entertaining form of revenge on her part.

Janine: Agreed. I’ve gotten cynical about heroines with charitable works but Cynthia’s very personal reasons for empathizing with the unwed mothers and feeling responsible for their fates made this aspect of her character work.

Rose: I’m not sure that the timeframe quite makes sense for the transformation that Cynthia underwent, or allows enough time for travel and the letters that went back and forth between Cynthia and Damian, but I decided to accept it as it was.

Janine: Good point that Cynthia’s transformation happens a bit too quickly. However I think if Damian had abandoned her for two or more years, I would have found it almost impossible to forgive him.

Rose: Cynthia is attracted to Damian, but he has treated her very badly and his efforts to make amends are at first driven mainly by his desire to keep her away from Julian. As the book progressed, I began to feel that Damian’s insistence on clinging to the belief that Cynthia had wronged him had gone too far; for a supposedly astute diplomat, he was rather obtuse.

Janine: I didn’t feel that way since evidence against Cynthia kept piling up.

Spoiler: Show

Between seeing Cynthia and Julian attend the theater alone together, witnessing them share a “tender embrace” in the garden, discovering a financial scheme the two crafted together, catching them in what appeared to be another meeting, knowing their houses adjoined and knowing Julian’s reputation, as well as knowing how badly he himself treated Cynthia, I felt Damian had solid enough reasons for reaching that conclusion.

Rose: At the same time, I could accept Cynthia’s attraction to her husband but had more difficulty accepting any further depth of feeling considering his treatment of her.

Janine: I wasn’t sure Damian entirely deserved Cynthia’s forgiveness, but I could accept her developing feelings for him because (A) he started treating her so much better , (B) she couldn’t have found a another husband without the scandal of divorce and (C) a lot of women find it hard to separate sex and love. Those may not be the best reasons for loving one’s husband, but they are reason enough to give him a chance to prove himself, which Damian did.

With all that said, I would have liked to see Damian work for it even harder than he did.

Rose: I would have liked that as well. Damian does eventually come to his senses and realize that he has wronged his wife, but it takes some time before this is reflected in the way he treats her (though with less external intervention than I’d expected, which was good).

Janine: I thought he knew he wronged her pretty early on, but putting his heart on the line is what took him longer.

Rose: Something I appreciate in Neville’s writing is that her characters usually have interests that play a large part in the books – rare books and politics in her Burgundy Club series, art and archaeology in her current series. Both Cynthia and Damian enjoy art and draw as a hobby, Damian with some talent; the portraits they draw of one another at different stages in the narrative show how their perceptions of the other change over time.

Janine: Yes. I also liked that art was an interest Damian and Julian shared. Despite Julian’s role as the spoke in the wheel of Damian and Cynthia’s relationship, I was glad of the way Damian’s conflict with Julian got somewhat resolved.

One work of art I could’ve done without was the pictorial sex manual Damian brought back with him from Persia. Has there ever been an Englishman who visited a gulf state in a historical romance without bringing back a Kama Sutra style book? I don’t know if the sex manual in this novel was based on a real one or not, but it’s still a cliché and a stereotypical one at that.

Rose: Maybe one or two… she also included a pornographic European book in a previous novel, so maybe it’s just something she likes to throw in on occasion?

Ultimately, I felt that Cynthia and Damian were headed in the right direction at the end, but they still had quite a bit to work through when Neville threw in a wholly unnecessary (and fortunately brief) plot twist. This is not the first of her books to feature what I considered a fairly unneeded suspense subplot, and I wish she’d leave those out; the stories rarely need them. In this case, the plot twist mainly serves to set up the next novel in the series, and has little purpose in the resolution of this one.

Janine:

Spoiler: Show

I thought this plot turn served to help resolve the Damian/Julian conflict as well as to push Damian to make a romantic declaration to Cynthia.
It worked for me.

What did you think of the appearances or mentions of characters from the other books in the Wild Quartet series? I liked seeing them and I thought the characters we saw on stage were well integrated into the storyline, but there were enough of them that I also wondered if a reader who hadn’t read the earlier books would be lost.

Rose: Other than Julian, who is really necessary for the story to work, I felt that past characters didn’t play so large a role as to confuse new readers. I see the Wild Quartet as being not only the romance but also the characters repairing their relationships with each other – they had been very close once, and their lives apart were really quite lonely. So it makes sense to me that their stories aren’t only about the romantic relationships but also about rebuilding their friendships and trust.

Janine: “Lost” might not have been the best word for me to use, but I think this is the kind of series I’d rather read in order.  I look forward to Julian’s upcoming book, The Duke of Dark Desires.

Rose: My issues with some of the pacing of Damian and Cynthia’s relationship, as well as the resolution, kept this book out of the A-range for me, but it was an enjoyable read and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. My grade is a B+.

Janine: It’s a B and a recommended read for me.

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REVIEW:  The Ruin of a Rogue by Miranda Neville

REVIEW: The Ruin of a Rogue by Miranda Neville

Dear Ms. Neville,

Last summer, while in the midst of a reading slump, I tried to read The Ruin of a Rogue. I think I got about two and half chapters in before I gave up. Since I don’t usually care for con artist characters and hadn’t yet come to know and like the hero, who schemed to seduce an inexperienced heiress and either marry her for her money or allow himself to be bought off by her guardian, it was hard for me to stay engaged.

ruinofarogueStill, I have enjoyed your books in the past, and you have a new book in the same series coming out on June 24th of this year, titled Lady Windermere’s Lover. I wanted to try it, but since I hate reading out of order, I decided to give The Ruin of a Rogue a second chance.

Happily, by this time my reading slump was over. Even more happily, this time I found that while the beginning didn’t engage me as much as what came later, I was able to enjoy this section for its amusing humor.

The year is 1800 and Anne Brotherton, “granddaughter and heiress to the last Earl of Camber,” is much pursued by fortune hunters. Among them is Marcus Lithgow, a gamester and adventurer who plans to go about his fortune hunting more cleverly than the rest. To that end, he has read up on antiquities, Anne Brotherton’s passion, and has learned enough to appear knowledgeable on the subject.

Marcus first engages Anne in conversation during a social occasion by discussing their host’s small Greek and Roman figures which have caught the heiress’ attention. Anne, whose fortune is controlled by her strict guardian, has been warned against fortune hunters and she is cautious.

But when Marcus mentioned a book on the subject of antiquities found in Bath, Anne decides to search out the volume. She fails to find it, and Marcus, who has “accidentally” bumped into Anne at the circulating library, offers to accompany her to a bookstore where he has seen the book.

The bookstore is in a seedy neighborhood and Marcus has given the book to its owner and paid him to sell it to Anne. He also pays the driver of a cart to very nearly run them over on their way out, so that Marcus can “rescue” Anne and hold her close.

The trouble is, Marcus likes Anne. He wouldn’t even mind being forced to marry her. His plan is to let her guardian buy him off since it’s doubtful the guardian would allow such a marriage. Marcus, whose father has taught him cons, generally prefers to gain money by winning honestly at card games, but he is in the middle of the worst losing streak of his gambling career and he dislikes cheating.

Even a letter from his dead father, claiming to have left Marcus hidden riches at his uncle’s estate, fails to convince Marcus to change course. An heiress’s fortune is far more reliable than Marcus’s dishonest father, and Anne is beginning to fall for Marcus.

But one day, Anne is in the garden of her chaperone Lady Windermere’s house when Marcus is visiting a friend next door. Despite oblique warnings from her cousin Caro, and additional ones from Lady Windermere, Anne has all but decided to run off with Marcus and evade the boring marriage her guardian wants her to enter when Marcus and his host, the Duke of Denford, step into the neighboring garden, and Anne overhears Marcus boast of his success at bamboozling her.

On hearing Marcus describe her as a “spoiled heiress,” Anne decides to bamboozle him—and show him how a spoiled heiress would really behave.

Just how bad a time will Anne give Marcus? And how will Marcus react? Will they find his father’s hidden treasure? Will they find something even more valuable in each other? And will Anne make an honest man out of Marcus in more than just the figurative sense?

I’ve said in the past that I find your characters charming because they have flaws and foibles and vulnerabilities. Generally speaking, your characters goodhearted people but they make human mistakes.

Marcus starts out more self-serving than most of them, and at first I was a little bored by that. I prefer to feel invested in a character’s fate right away, but initially Marcus was neither awful enough to be reluctantly fascinating, nor likeable enough for me to care if he got his heiress.

Fortunately as I continued reading I began to understand why. Marcus had a moral compass, but it was a bit rusty, and he didn’t always go in the direction in which it pointed. This had much to do with his upbringing—his father spent Marcus’ formative years up to no good, and not above using his adorable child to reel in women whom he would later fleece.

What helped me like Marcus was that I began to see that he wasn’t happy with the life he led. He envied honest people their lives, but he didn’t believe he could be one of them. Still, secretly part of him wished he could, and eventually he started believing that it might be possible.

I greatly appreciated the fact that Marcus didn’t change his stripes for Anne—ultimately he did it for himself. Anne served as an incentive and a source of encouragement, but it was at least as much the case that she allowed her attraction to Marcus to grow when she saw evidence that Marcus wanted to be better than the choices he’d made in the past.

The seeds of Marcus’ transformation were there before he ever met Anne. That is what I consider a redemption story done right.

Anne herself is in some ways harder to sum up than Marcus. A high concept character like Marcus whose arc involves putting aside the temptation to win money unscrupulously in order to live a life of personal integrity is easy to describe, but on paper Anne, an inexperienced girl who has no control over her fortune, sounds like a hundred other heroines, though in reality she stands out.

Here’s what I appreciated about Anne: she wasn’t foolhardy, and she didn’t lack a sense of self preservation—or lack sense more generally. She started out cautious, and even when she first became infatuated with Marcus, she thought to marry him in order to escape marriage to another man to whom she wasn’t attracted. She wasn’t rushing into a disastrous situation for no reason other than infatuation.

Later, once she figured out what Marcus was up to, she became even more cautious. She got her revenge on Marcus, and if it was a little mean and inconsiderate, it was also no less than he deserved, and later she apologized for the effects her own con had on his situation.

The more I read, the more my respect for Anne grew. She was smart enough to have insights into Marcus’ character—to see his flaws and his strengths. And when she began to allow herself to trust him, she knew she risked her heart and she also knew what she was risking it for.

The secondary characters enhanced the book, especially Marcus’ droll valet, Travis, whose life Marcus had saved and who had adopted Marcus as a result. Later in the book, Caro and Thomas from The Importance of Being Wicked appear, and some loose ends from their own book that pertained to Marcus are wrapped up in this one.

The steaminess level is not what I’m used to from most of your books—this one was hotter and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that. It’s hard to articulate, but Marcus and Anne were so real to me that as with Caro and Thomas in The Importance of Being Wicked, I felt a bit like I was intruding on their privacy.

The Ruin of a Rogue has the same light feel as your earlier novels, but like them it also has something to say. It has charm and sweetness, but it’s also satisfying. B/B+

Sincerely,

Janine

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