What I Did for a Duke (CBR13 #4)

What I Did for a Duke (Pennyroyal Green, #5)

I was inspired by last year’s reviews of What I Did for a Duke by Emmalita and Malin to move this one up my to read list. I’m still struggling in 2021 with finding my ability to sink into books and last year I was able to most easily focus on Romance novels, so I was comfortable betting the same would be true now. It had been quite awhile since I was actively seeking time to dive back into a book, and What I Did for a Duke did that for me this week (to the point where I was annoyed when my phone rang and was cranky with the person on the other end of the line. I should have just ignored the call).

Let’s get the important business out of the way first. This is a fantastic book, period. Separate from its genre, separate from its time of publication (a decade ago next month), separate from its place within a larger series – this novel fires on all cylinders at all times. The writing is beautiful, the characters have depth and nuance, the plot isn’t afraid to go against your expectations while still getting you to a believable and earned resolution – this is the stuff of the best of fiction writing. It also is a stunningly good Romance novel for those reasons and its ability to play around in its genre sandbox but not be limited by it.

What we find in What I Did for a Duke is the story of two people coming to terms with the public versions of themselves while finding the places that those personae line up with their interior lives, and then finding (and deciding they’ve found) the match for who they really are, beneath the artifice.

The book opens not with our main couple but instead Ian Eversea who is engaging in a tryst with the fiancée of the Duke of Falconbridge. It is a neat bit of writing by Long to have this section be told from Ian’s point of view as it serves as an introduction to the pieces of the puzzle to come. When the assignation is discovered by the Duke, Alex Moncrieffe, he vows the punishment will fit the crime and then he quickly and quietly ends his engagement.  The punishment Alex intends is that he will ruin Ian’s younger sister Genevieve. The entire time through this early section we the reader are in understanding of the motivations, if not on the side of the Duke, and what remains to be seen is how Long will plot her way through.

We meet Genevieve at the beginning of a house party and her parent’s home, where she is getting her heart thoroughly broken by the man she loves, Harry, as he tells her he plans to propose to their friend Millicent. From that point the story runs in parallel fashion until the two parts collide: Alex is determined to seduce Genevieve; Genevieve is trying to figure out how to survive the end of her personal world as it has been upended by Harry’s imminent engagement.  Everyone, save Millicent who is largely unaware of the dramatics surrounding her, is on edge – Ian on hypervigilant watch for whatever the Duke has planned; Harry seems to be putting off proposing and is visibly upset about the attention Alex is paying to Genevieve. There is disquiet amongst Genevieve’s parents, her sister remains in many ways withdrawn from the world save her causes, and neither Genevieve nor Alex is sleeping well.

Relatively quickly, the revenge plot is let go as Alex sees Genevieve for who she truly is and refuses to harm her in order to harm her brother. Alex sees in her what everyone else has missed, which is quietly infuriating Genevieve as no one who is the closest to her notices her heartbreak, but Alex does. She is the quiet Eversea, but Alex sees and brings out, her passion, her wit, and her kindness, and discovers in the younger woman a match for himself he didn’t expect.

What Long does so well here is tell a story of owning emotions. Each character must make a choice, or several choices, and the consequences of those emotional choices are what push the plot forwards. There are misunderstandings and moments of beautiful honesty. We see characters chafe under expectations and decide to act out, if only for themselves. Some characters are incredibly good at paying attention to the world around them, and others are oblivious to much of it. But everyone believes they have a firm idea of what is right, what is needed, and everyone comes out the end in a different place than they expected to, and the reader gets to go along for the ride.  

Pirate Stew & A Study in Emerald (CBR13 #2-3)

Pirate Stew (2020) – 2 stars

Meet Long John McRon, Ship’s Cook the most unusual babysitter you’ve ever seen. Long John has a whole crew of wild pirates in tow, and—for one boy and his sister—he’s about to transform a perfectly ordinary evening into a riotous adventure beneath a pirate moon. It’s time to make some Pirate Stew.

This should be a fun little tale of pirates, flying ships, doughnut feasts and magical stew but it falls flat. For me, the real problem of this book was Neil Gaiman’s rhyming text. It did nothing to hold my intention, and worst sin of all had me thinking of other options for the couplets. It lacked patterns and had a strange rhythm. I think I know what Gaiman was after (pirates are an unruly bunch after all) but it had me itching to skim. The good news? The illustrations by Chris Riddell are very engaging.

A Study in Emerald (2018) = 3 stars

Drawing from both the Sherlock Holmes canon and the Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos, this Hugo Award-winning supernatural mystery set features a detective and his partner as they try to solve a horrific murder. A Study in Emerald draws readers through the complex investigation of the Baker Street investigators from the slums of Whitechapel all the way to the Queen’s Palace as they attempt to find the answers to this bizarre murder of cosmic horror. There are carefully revealed details as the consulting detective and his (unnamed) narrator friend solve the mystery of a murdered German noble.

This graphic novel is aimed to fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H. P. Lovecraft as they are the creators of the source material. This work takes the two worlds and smashes them together, to accomplished but bland effect. Not the fault of the illustrators, who are able to capture the atmosphere of the story in artwork I quite enjoyed, and in the theme of my review of these two Gaiman penned works, the art outpaced the story.

Gaiman does a great job of imitating Doyle’s style, but basically reuses the plot points and details as A Study in Scarlet without much original work. The unnamed narrator’s back story is exactly like Watson’s and is introduced in the same way, some of the major plot points are the same. It falls short on the retelling metric: what’s the point of doing a re-telling if you’re telling the exact same story in very similar words with minor additions from a second body of works. Until the ending, then there’s a switcheroo against expectations and in retrospect you get the retelling component.  It has merit, but it did not work for me.

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke (CBR13 #1)

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke (Difficult Dukes, #2)

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke is the second book in Loretta Chase’s Difficult Dukes series. Much like A Duke in Shining Armor, we’re dropped into action already in progress, but this time much of that action is the events at the tail end of the first book in the series. I read A Duke in Shining Armor in February of 2018 and while you don’t need to revisit the first to enjoy the second, part of me wishes I had. The three-year delay had a lot to do with Chase going back to the drawing board with its hero, and the wait was worth it.

The story focuses on Cassandra Pomfret and his dis-grace, the Duke of Ashmont. Cassandra is a headstrong character; she holds strong opinions and isn’t shy about voicing them. It’s the voicing them that has caused one of her current problems – her exasperated father, hoping a husband will rein her in, has ruled that her beloved sister can’t marry until Cassandra does. Following a further series of unfortunate events, the last shreds of Cassandra’s reputation are about to disintegrate, taking her sister’s future and her family’s good name along with them. The titular Duke is Ashmont, he who was jilted in the first book, has character flaws beyond counting, exceptionally good looks, and the ability to plan perfect pranks. Cassandra runs into him (again) the morning after he nearly killed one of his two best friends in a duel, but troublemaker that he is he knows that damaging a lady’s good name isn’t sporting. In his various attempts to do the right thing he ends up falling for her, but can he win her?

Chase writes historical fictions book that happen to feature sex. She’s a Romance author, in that her plots are primarily focused on the emotional lives, but this book is definitely low on the steam but high on the pining. Low angst slow burns work for me, particularly the kind that Chase writes which are chock a block of historically accurate information and poke at the larger feminist themes of the 1830s and now. This book is introspective, and for the days around the New Year it was just the kind of thing I was hoping to read.

I also remain very excited and interested in the third book in this series as it will focus on reuniting a married couple in Blackwood and Alice who we got more time with this book as well. Chase is working on it, but we have no indication of presumed publication date. I’ll happily wait three years if that’s what it takes, but I remain hopeful that its sooner.