REVIEW: The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn
Dear Ms Quinn,
I don’t think I’m alone in having wondered what you would do next after the last Bridgerton novel was released a year ago (and I don’t count the flimsy 2nd Epilogues as really doing anything). “The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever” doesn’t appear as though it will lead to the sequelitis of the Bridgerton novels but it does take us back to some familiar territory you covered in them with a Regency setting, featuring a less than beautiful heroine who writes (though she keeps a diary) and who secretly worships her hero from afar for years. The hero, I will admit, is more of a departure in that he’s darker than most of the Bridgerton heroes while at the same time being not as sympathetic to me.
Miss Miranda Cheever has been BFF with the daughter of a neighboring family, the Bevelstokes. It’s at the eleventh birthday party of Lady Olivia and her twin brother the Honorable Winston Bevelstoke that Miranda finally meets their older brother, Nigel, better known to all (and much preferred by him) as Turner, as in his title Viscount Turner. Twenty year old Turner finds himself amused by this gangly, dark haired friend of his sister and after settling some of her feathers which had been ruffled by another girl at the party, he encourages her to keep a diary so that when she’s older, she can look back on this day and laugh a bit. Miranda takes his advice to heart and her first entry paves the way for the rest of her life when she writes, “Today, I fell in love.”
Ten years later, Turner has fallen in love with and married another woman only to be bitterly and cruelly deceived by her. It is on the evening after her funeral that he first kisses Miranda and begins to break her heart. She still loves him and knows now that she probably always will but after his disastrous marriage, Turner has little desire to marry again. So, resigned, Miranda heads to London with Olivia as the Countess has offered to sponsor Miranda along with her own daughter. She occasionally runs into Turner as their mother ropes him into “doing the pretty” by his sister and continues to love him from afar. Another ghastly encounter ensues on an evening when Turner’s drunk too much and it’s then, after he almost ruins his sister’s BFF, that he decides to avoid her for the rest of the Season. But fate takes a hand and throws the two together at a weekend house party where real ruin occurs. Can Turner’s heart be softened and true love win out or is Miranda doomed to love well but not wisely?
I ended up liking Miranda much better than Turner. She reminds me a great deal of Penelope Featherington as she writes, sort of stays in the background and observes a lot, is best friends with his sister and loved by his family, and has loved Turner for years but never thought she had a chance with him. There are some touching scenes featuring her and she generally has her head on straight. I did wonder at why you had her balk at marrying Turner once he offers for her. Why have Miranda put up any resistance to marrying Turner after losing the baby since he so easily overturns any and all objections and steamrolls his way to what he wants? It just makes her a weaker character in my mind. But you did turn away from the usual claptrap about avoiding or postponing a wedding night until they got to know each other better.
As for Turner, there were times when I could have gladly watched him being tossed into the Thames right before it goes under London Bridge. Early in the book you say that he was raised to be a gentleman and knew how to be one yet he spends much of the book being a complete ass to almost everyone. I know his wife was a shrew from the depths of Hades who treated him horribly but, by God, Miranda wasn’t and he treats her as if she was. After the weekend houseparty he just disappears for 6 weeks. Sticks his head in the sand and grabs any opportunity to duck his responsibilities to her. Then heads off to find her and strong arm her into marriage. What a catch.
As I said earlier, there are some great moments (Miranda and Turner’s coach ride to weekend party), poignant moments (Miranda’s diary entries) but also a lot of wandering around in verbal circles (ton Season parties). Those often seem to be in your books and usually occur in these party scenes. I got very tired during last 100 pages of Miranda feeling sad that Turner won’t say he loves her and of Turner feeling guilty for not being able to say it. Endless rounds of same thing all over again. Blah. And how could nothing be said or hinted at or gossiped about after Turner and Miranda disappear for so long during the scavenger hunt at the weekend party. They’re the only ones missing (or only ones mentioned), would have come back at least slightly disheveled and no one says anything? At all? Not even Turner’s mother or Olivia who always seems to have a lot to say any other time?
Olivia skirts around my dislike fairly closely. More than once I wish Miranda had whacked her with a pillow and yelled at her to stop asking questions and leave me the hell alone! Are English gentlemen really as totally clueless as Miranda’s father is portrayed? I’m so tired of this stereotype I could scream. You never once mention him visiting Miranda after her marriage or making any kind of appearance after the birth of his first grandchild either.
At least Miranda’s childbirth experience is a departure from the usual nonsense you offer up (the epilogue from the last Bridgerton novel was particularly nauseating).
Sigh. Despite the fact that your books are often held up as examples of Regency Lite, I usually adore them. Or at least like them a lot. Not this one, I’m afraid. I’m not sure if you were trying for something different? Darker? Whatever but it was, it didn’t work so well for me. C+