The Chase (Brides of Beadwell #3) by Sara Portman

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

According to his father’s terms, Michael Rosevear’s duty is to be ignored–until such time as he is useful. Now that the earldom is in need of funds, Michael is to be sold off in marriage to the daughter of a crass but wealthy merchant willing to pay for any connection to nobility–even one from the wrong side of the blanket . . .

En route to his fate in London, Michael does not plan to board an extra passenger. Yet there is something in the young miss’s desperate plea that tugs at his conscience–though he is certain her story is a fabrication . . .

Juliana Crawford has fled her father’s cruel home. Using a false name to evade pursuit, she must find a private traveler with whom to complete her escape. Chance matches her with a dark and wounded young lord who guards his own secrets just as carefully. The unlikely pair embark on a journey filled with revelations and unexpected adventure–one that may lead them to question whether to part at their destination–or change course entirely. . .

Rating: D

When one reads a lot of books, one learns to take book blurbs with a pinch of salt.  Those that give a basic outline of the plot are fine, but those that proudly proclaim how ‘exciting’, or ‘unforgettable’ or ‘unique’ a story is always see me raising a sceptical eyebrow and thinking, ‘yeah, right.’  Or wrong.  As is the case here.  The cover copy of new-to-me author Sara Portman’s The Chase promised a ‘thrilling romance’, but I think whoever wrote that must have lost their dictionary, or got hold of one in which the definition of ‘thrilling’ was ‘the feeling one experiences when watching paint dry.’ Because there is nothing remotely thrilling about a story featuring quite possibly the wettest, wimpiest, weepiest heroine I’ve think I’ve ever read, who is completely dependent on the hero to get her out of every single difficulty she faces.

Miss Juliana Crawford has spent all of her adult life acting as her father’s skivvy.  Hers has been a very lonely life, but throughout it all, she has had one thing to look forward to; the small inheritance that will become hers on her twenty-fifth birthday.  She knows her cruel, cold father will never allow her to receive it, so for years, she has hoarded every penny she can in order to buy herself a ticket that will take her away from her home village of Beadwell in Derbyshire.  She can’t afford to purchase a ticket to take her to London, (where she plans to visit the family solicitor to claim her inheritance) but hopes instead to be able to inspire the kindness of a random traveller to take her there.  Juliana has lived a very sheltered life, but I’d have thought her father’s example of bad-tempered selfishness would have been sufficient to tell her that relying on the kindness and good intentions of others is not really the way to go.

Anyway. Watching the various arrivals at the Bear & Boar coaching inn in Peckingham, Juliana surveys the available prospects (a large family, a mother and son) and in the end, approaches a well-to-do gentlemen who is travelling in a smart carriage with a coat of arms on the door, and asks if he will convey her to London.  The man is very surprised at her making such a request of a stranger, and warns her that her reputation will be ruined if she is known to have travelled with a man without a chaperone; Juliana insists she is not worried about it, and the man allows her to enter his carriage.

Michael Rosevear is the bastard son of the Marquess of Rosevear (and yes, the names and titles in this story are all over the place) and is on his way from his Yorkshire home to his father’s house in London.  He’s not best pleased at having to make the trip, but is determined this is the last time he will dance to his father’s tune.  All his life, the marquess has treated Michael as someone to be used when needed and shoved aside when not, and he has had enough of it.  He knows he is expected to marry a wealthy tradesman’s daughter in order to bring her money into the family, and he’s prepared to do it in exchange for his father turning Rose Hall in Yorkshire over to him.  He is frustrated and annoyed; and decides that if nothing else, the strange young woman who has asked him to take her to London will provide some diversion on the rest of the trip.

Alas, this is not to be.  His companion is taciturn and evasive; even though she is clearly frightened of something or someone, she refuses to tell him what it is which frustrates him – and bugged the hell out of me – no end.  Yet Michael’s protective streak is roused full force; his companion is an odd mixture of timid and fearless (so he thinks; I never saw anything to suggest the fearless part) and he is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding her.

We all know where this is going; the problem is that the way it gets there is so unengaging.  With the exception of Michael’s precocious younger brother and his step-mother, the characters are bland, the writing is wooden and the deus-ex-machina employed towards the end made me roll my eyes so hard they hurt.

Michael’s situation as the bastard son of a peer is an interesting one, and had that been more fully explored, I suspect it could have added some badly needed appeal to the story.  By focusing on the wimpy Juliana, who is easily one of the dullest, least relatable heroines I’ve ever come across, we’re dragged instead in to a vat of insipidity; the woman doesn’t even know how to hail a cab, and is too stupid to understand how to do such a simple thing as raise her hand, because someone else has to show her how to do it!

There’s no character development and no romantic development; the first kiss happens with almost no build up, and the book’s two love scenes are uninspiring and devoid of any sexual tension.  Not only am I disputing the word ‘thrilling’ in the blurb, I’m calling into question the word ‘romance’.  I read an advance copy in which I spotted a number of typos, incorrect word choices, inconsistencies and sudden PoV switches, which I hope may be fixed at the copy-editing stage. Quite honestly though, even if that happens, it’s not going to turn this poor effort into something worth your time and money.

Advertisements

The Royal Conquest (Scandalous House of Calydon #4) by Stacy Reid (audiobook) – Narrated by Anna Parker Naples

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After being cruelly jilted by a lord who claimed to adore her, Miss Payton Peppiwell swore her future husband would be as ordinary as she. Now if only her family would listen to her. Then she meets Mikhail Konstantinovich, an untitled horse breeder, in a highly improper and scandalous encounter. Never had Payton expected to be so attracted to the dark, intriguing man, who seduces her to recklessness with a mere stare.

Mikhail abhors anything to do with intimacy. Yet Miss Peppiwell stirs hunger and a need long forgotten in him. But Mikhail has a dark past-one that means his lust must be sated in a way entirely unsuitable for a lady. But his biggest secret will be the hardest for Payton to overcome: Mikhail is not only titled, he’s a prince…

 

Rating: Narration – D- Content – D

 

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Stacy Reid’s The Royal Conquest is far and away the front runner for the title of “Worst Audiobook I Have Listened to This Year”. I’ve listened to mediocre stories performed by excellent narrators and excellent stories ruined by poor narrators, but this one has it all – a mediocre story performed by an inept narrator. It rarely gets worse than this.

But such is the reviewer’s lot. Sometimes when looking for titles to review, I think – “oh, I’ve not listened to that author/narrator before, so let’s give it a go”, and sometimes I’m lucky – like when I thought “oh yes, Alex Wyndham – I’ve seen him on the telly, so let’s see what he does with an audiobook” – and sometimes I’m not. This is one of those times.

Normally when I write a review of an audiobook, I spend a bit of time talking about the plot and characterisation and leave the discussion of the narration until the end. This time, however, I am going to reverse that, because even if this book had been the best ever written – and that isn’t the case by a long chalk, I assure you – the narration is so dreadful it would have rendered it completely un-listenable-to. (I may have made that term up – put it down to my still being traumatised!)

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Hot Pursuit (Black Knights International #11) by Julie Ann Walker


This title may be purchased from Amazon

He puts the hot…

Christian Watson, a former SAS officer and current BKI operator, never thought he would return to England after a terrible turn of events forced him to abandon his homeland. But now he’s back on British soil where old enemies are determined to do him in. Fighting for his life is pretty much SOP for Christian. Doing it with the beautiful, bossy Emily Scott in tow is another matter entirely.

In hot pursuit.

Emily lost her coveted job at the CIA because of a colleague turned rogue, and now she has just one rule when it comes to men: they’re for recreational purposes only. But when she and Christian are thrust into very close quarters while evading two mysterious men who want Christian dead, she can’t help but question all her ideas about love and life lived on the edge. Battling the bad guys is hard enough, battling her feelings for Christian just might prove impossible.

Rating: D-

Hot Pursuit is the latest in Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. series which features a group of ex- special forces operatives who now work for a covert government defence firm set up by a former US President.  The book is billed as romantic suspense, but disappointingly, it’s neither romantic nor particularly suspenseful; the central characters are supposed to be in their early thirties and yet act like a pair of hormonal teenagers much of the time, and Ms. Walker has a tendency to talk directly to her audience through the heroine, which is odd and the exact opposite of endearing.

The plot is tissue-paper thin.  After a mission gone wrong, Christian Watson, together with two other members of BKI, their office manager, Emily Scott (who apparently tagged along to keep them out of trouble), and a former marine turned charter-boat captain are forced to hole up in a small cottage in Cornwall until they can safely get out of England and back to the US.  Their anonymity is shot to hell, however, when a bunch of reporters turn up on the doorstep trying to get to Christian, to get the story of what happened when he was captured towards the end of the war in Iraq.  The timing was politically sensitive and the mission to rescue him was messy;  Christian was blamed for the incident (although his identity was never divulged) and quietly left the SAS. He has spent the last few years living well under the radar, so someone must have discovered his identity and location and fed it to the media.  The question is, who?

Watching the news on TV not far away are Lawrence and Ben Michelson, brothers of the soldier killed when the mission to rescue Christian went pear-shaped.  Both are police officers, but Lawrence is a loose cannon – he has never forgiven the unknown SAS officer for his brother’s death and the later deaths of both their parents, and is out for revenge.  Lawrence and Ben make for the cottage hide-out, just in time to witness Christian and his team make their escape, and then follow them to Newquay airport, where a jet is waiting.

Following a violent confrontation during which the pilot is shot, Christian et al get away and end up making for an Elizabethan manor house that is owned by the National Trust.  Christian spent a fair bit of time there as a boy and is sure they can break in and hide out for the night while they make arrangements for another flight to get them out.  The book was already on shaky ground, but this was where it completely fell apart.  They break into a 500-year-old house, and find rooms in which they can actually sit and lounge about on the furniture and in which Christian and Emily find a bed they use for energetic, loud sex. There’s a reason these things are normally roped off – they’re old and probably fragile.  They’re definitely not to be used for hot monkey sex. And don’t get me started about the fact that Christian has to wash the sheets afterwards in the washing machine in the basement.

That’s just the start of a long line of things that took me out of this not-at-all-gripping story.  The pacing leaves a lot to be desired, because a huge chunk in the middle of the book – my Kindle shows it’s about 40% of it – takes place at the house, and nothing much happens other than Christian and Emily getting it on, and two of the other team members who are also suffering from a huge dose of unrequited lust, yelling at each other most of the time.

Christian and Emily find time to talk to each other about their pasts; his growing up with parents who were alcoholics, while Emily’s parents and grandparents were serial monogamists with more than a dozen marriages between them, which has made her think there’s something in her genes that means she can’t fall in love. (Oh, for the love of Pete…)

Emily spends most of her time looking at or thinking about what’s in Christian’s trousers, and then telling herself that no, she mustn’t think of him that way because she can never have him.  Every bloody page is filled with endless mental lusting which bored the hell out of me incredibly quickly.  Their sexy, flirty banter is neither sexy nor flirty.  They are supposed to have that whole ‘you-irritate-the-hell-out-of-me-but-I-fancy-you-like-nobody’s-business’ thing going on, but the author’s attempts at flirtatious humour are very wide of the mark and the couple sounds like a pair of kids who are trying to come up with clever insults, but don’t have the requisite vocabulary.  Worse than all that, there is no romance in this book whatsoever.  There is no relationship development or progression from not being in love to being in love.  Christian and Emily start the book in lust with each other, everyone around them knows it, so really, the only thing that changes is that they decide to have sex.  And to tell their friends about it.

And the language… oh, my god, the language is cringe-making.  Do women of thirty really say things like “That kind of thinking was totally crazypants”, or “it was totally amazeballs” and actually MEAN it?  Sure, I’ve said things like that, but only when I wanted to take the piss out of something.  Or how about you look at a guy and think he’s “A breaker of hearts.  A slayer of vaginas”.  A slayer of vaginas?!  What is this – Muffy the Vagina Slayer?!  Or this – “How would she ever be able to look at him, talk to him, work with him knowing that he wanted to, in the parlance of their time, introduce his boy part to her girl part?”  The parlance of whose time?  Eight-year-olds in the school playground?  I could find many more examples of such utterly dreadful phrases (there’s plenty of panty-melting and panty-slicking), but here’s a final doozy:  “He did that humming thing and it hit her directly in the uterus.”   Oh, good grief.

Still on the subject of language, I appreciate that Ms. Walker has tried to make Christian sound English, but his use of the word ‘fancy’ is grating and incorrect.  We might say ‘I fancy him’ or ‘I fancy a bacon sandwich’ or ‘I fancy a coffee’, but we don’t use it as a substitute for ‘like’ in the way Christian does –“He assumed it was because she fancied keeping the people around her off-balance” or “What I fancy is for the woman to stay precisely where she is”.  Plus when using the ‘f’ word to swear, we English usually pronounce it as ‘fucking’ not ‘fecking’. (And according to the Urban Dictionary, ‘fecking’ has a totally different meaning.)

For some readers, these will be minor points or perhaps will not register at all.  But I mention them because I was taken out of the story on pretty much every single page, and given it’s a story that doesn’t have a lot going for it in the first place, that made it practically unreadable.

Hot Pursuit isn’t hot and there isn’t much pursuing going on.  It gets a D for ‘Dreadful’.

You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne (audiobook) – Narrated by Carolyn Morris

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow “The Penhallow way” – find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

Rating: Narration – A- Content – D+

I admit that I picked up You May Kiss the Bride for review solely because of Carolyn Morris. Reviews for this début historical romance, the first in Lisa Berne’s Penhallow Dynasty series have been mixed, but I knew I’d at the very least enjoy the narration, so I decided it give it a go. In the end, my opinions about the story are pretty much along the same lines as the less than glowing reviews; it’s nothing I haven’t read before and the author’s inexperience shows clearly in terms of the storytelling and characterisation.

Livia Stuart hasn’t had an easy life. Orphaned in India when she was a child, she was sent back to England and resides with her listless aunt and drunken uncle, who never really wanted her and who wouldn’t miss her if she disappeared. She is constantly patronised by her neighbour and local mean girl, the Honourable Cecily Orr, who pretends friendship but in reality does everything she can to make “dear Livia” aware of her inferior situation, insisting on giving her her cast off gowns and never missing an opportunity to point out Livia’s status as a poor relation.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Duke’s Society #1) by Madeline Hunter (audiobook) – Narrated by Charlotte Gray

This title may be downloaded from Audible.com.

Notorious nobleman seeks revenge

Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton. Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes. Family history: Scandalous. Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge. Ideal romantic partner: a woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon. Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

Faint of heart need not apply

Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: She’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married – especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere – along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Rating: Narration – D+ Content – B+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Madeline Hunter’s books and I count myself among her fans, but given she’s one of the biggest names in historical romance, she’s being very poorly served when it comes to audio. Her last series, the Wicked trilogy, started out well, with His Wicked Reputation being excellently narrated by Mary Jane Wells, but went downhill when Ms. Wells was not used for the rest of the series. I was so disappointed by Lulu Russell’s lacklustre performance in book two, (Tall, Dark and Wicked), that I didn’t bother listening to the final book and stuck to the print version. And for her new Decadent Dukes Society series, Ms. Hunter again gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop, this time with a narrator who sounds like a teenaged girl. Maybe casting youthful sounding narrators works in some genres, but it doesn’t work in romance and it REALLY doesn’t work in historicals, where you need someone who can inject those aristocratic males with a sufficient degree of hauteur while at the same time making them sound attractive enough to appeal as a romantic hero. To cast for the ingénue heroine (although the heroine in this book isn’t an ingénue) almost always means getting someone with a very narrow range, whose voice lacks the necessary resonance and colour to be able to render the hero and a range of supporting characters from formidable dowagers to old family retainers. Ms. Gray has a vocal range of about half an octave, and her ‘hero voice’ is higher in pitch than my normal speaking voice. In the book, Adam, Duke of Stratton, is supposed to be dangerous – he’s fought lots of duels, he’s got an unpredictable temper, he’s dark and brooding and sexy – but he sounds as though he’s barely out of short trousers. I wanted to warm him some milk, ruffle his hair and ask if he’d finished his homework yet.

If I were Madeline Hunter, I’d be seriously displeased.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Anthony Blake is in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot. But his plans to court her are put on hold when he is forced to resume his role as an undercover spy for the Crown. A secret document listing the names of the entire network of British spies-including his own-has been stolen. To protect Sophia, Anthony cuts off all ties to her and exchanges his life as an honorable earl for the façade of a flirtatious playboy.

Heartbroken and confused, Sophia travels to India, hoping to find healing in one of the most exotic regions of the British Empire. But the exotic land isn’t as restful as she had hoped. Instead, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery of a missing sea captain, a possible murder, and a plot that could involve the prince of India. And when Anthony appears at the British Residency, asking questions and keeping his distance from her, she is stunned.

She still loves him, and, in her heart, she knows he loves her too. But how can she rebuild her relationship with him if he won’t confide in her? Does she dare offer her heart to him a second time, or will their love be lost under the India sun?

Rating: D+

Nancy Campbell Allen’s The Secret of the India Orchid appealed to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, much as I enjoy historical romances set in Europe, I’m always happy to see ones sent in more far-flung locations; and secondly, the premise of a dashing spy forced to conceal his true nature and purpose beneath the façade of a wastrel in order to protect his nearest and dearest is a trope that I enjoy when done well. Sadly, however, neither of those elements is particularly well-executed, and, together with weak characterisation and poor plotting, made for a plodding, insipid read overall.

Anthony Blake, Earl of Wilshire has been in love with his best friend’s sister, Sophia Elliot, for some time and is about to ask for permission to court her when his former boss and spymaster, Lord Braxton tells him that he must undertake one, last mission. Anthony, who was relieved to get out of the spying game a couple of years earlier upon assuming his title, is not best pleased at being drafted back into service, but when Braxton tells him of the theft of the Janus Document – which contains sensitive information about British agents, their families, their habits and every aspect of their lives, any of which could potentially be used as leverage against them – Anthony reluctantly agrees to retrieve it.

Two years later, still heartbroken over Anthony’s sudden departure and wanting to get away from her memories of him in England, Sophia lands in India, intending to spend some time there under the sponsorship of Lady Pilkington. She is, however, destined not to be able to use distance to lessen her attachment to Anthony because he’s recently arrived in Bombay on the next leg of his tour of carefree fun and frolic (as she thinks), and in reality still on the trail of the Janus Document. All Braxton could tell him about the theft was that he believed it had been perpetrated by someone who worked for him, Harold Miller. Anthony has received word that Miller’s uncle, a sea captain, is a guest of the Pilkington’s, hence his presence in Bombay. He believes the nephew may have passed the document to Captain Miller and intends to meet with him and interrogate him, but before he can do so, the captain is murdered and the contents of Lord Pilkington’s safe mysteriously disappear.

With the help of his friend, Captain Dylan Stuart of the First Light Cavalry, Anthony now has to find a murderer as well as the missing document, but in order to maintain his cover as a carefree wastrel, has to make it seem as though Stuart is conducting the investigation and he’s just along for the ride, which annoys him no end. Almost as much as it annoys him to see Sophia singled out for attention by other men.  And Sophia, who was deeply hurt by Anthony’s assertions (in his “Dear John” letter) that he viewed her as nothing more than a sister and good friend, twists the knife further when she asks him to help her to select a husband from among her admirers.

*sigh*

The problems with The Secret of the India Orchid are many, and add up to this; it’s a clichéd, dull book with no action, no sense of time or place and no romance to speak of.  Anthony and Sophia are in love from the beginning and stay that way; there is nothing in the writing to suggest their attitude towards each other has changed during their two year separation apart from Sophia’s slightly sarcastic responses to him when they meet again, and their relationship is pretty static.  All that happens is that Anthony finally tells her the truth (and I confess I did rather enjoy it when Sophia refuses to believe him at first) and they return to their former lovey-doveyness; and as characters, they’re bland and too good to be true.  In terms of the setting, other than the mention of curry, the odd Indian custom and the use of Indian names, there’s nothing to suggest the location and quite honestly, the book could have been set anywhere.  The mystery is weak and its solution depends on an overheard conversation; the identity of one of the perpetrators seems to be the result of drawing names from a hat, and the other is telegraphed from a mile away.

Ms. Campbell Allen’s writing is decent, but that can’t compensate for the books’ other deficiencies.  I read it so you don’t have to – give it a miss.

Her Favourite Duke (1797 Club #2) by Jess Michaels

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Simon Greene, Duke of Crestwood has been obsessed with Margaret Rylon for years. There is only one thing standing between them: her fiancé, who also happens to be his best friend. He is desperate not to destroy everything in his life by giving in to his desires, but when Meg and Simon are trapped alone together overnight during a storm, the resulting scandal not only breaks Meg’s existing engagement, but forces Simon to offer for her instead.

Margaret is sorry to have hurt her family and her fiancé, but all she’s ever wanted was Simon. Her determination to make a happy life with him is only heightened

when they submit to passions that have long dwelled beneath the surface. But while Simon may give her his body, he withholds his heart out of guilt and fear of what a connection to her may expose.

And if he doesn’t learn to fight for her soon, they both may lose a chance at happiness.

Rating: D+

I freely admit that I am not averse to a good dose of angst in the romances I read.  Because I know that everything will turn out in the end, it’s a safe way to indulge in a bit of heightened emotion and maybe even to reach for the Kleenex while knowing there’s that safety net of the eventual HEA.  So angst is fine.  Continual misery,  mental self-flagellation and navel-gazing? Not so much.  And that is almost all that this latest book from Jess Michaels offers.  Her Favorite Duke is based on the classic trope of young woman in love with her betrothed’s best friend; young man in love with his best friend’s betrothed, and oh, woe is we, for we can never be together.

Lady Margaret Rylon has been in love with her brother’s friend, Simon Green, Duke of Crestwood, for years.  They are great friends, sharing many interests and a sense of humour, and even though she is only sixteen, and he three years older, she dares to hope that perhaps one day they will be able to make a life together.  Her hopes are dashed, however, when her brother James arranges for her to marry another of his best friends, Graham, Duke of Northfield.

Seven years later – yes, you read that right, SEVEN years later – Meg and Graham are still not married.  I’ve heard of long engagements, but that seems pretty excessive, even though Meg was only sixteen when the betrothal took place.  There are no reasons given that make sense for this, and it’s hard to believe in all that time that neither Meg nor Graham ever wondered why they hadn’t set a date or that Meg’s brother – who obviously cares a great deal for her –  never questioned them or asked them to set one.

But if they had married, then there would be no book – and quite honestly, I think that might have been the better option. Anyway, now we’re in chapter one, James can encourage the pair to set a date, which finally makes things real for Meg.  Her friendship with Simon has become very strained and she is miserable; when she storms off during an outing, Simon can’t let her go alone and goes after her, without taking account of the vagaries of the English weather.

During the mandatory storm, they have to take shelter in the equally mandatory hut in the forest where they guiltily eye each other up once they have shed their sodden clothes and exchanged them for blankets.  All that happens between them is a passionate kiss, but when, the next morning, they are found by James, Graham and one of the ton’s (and note, referring to the ‘Upper Ten Thousand’ as the author does throughout is incorrect  – that term was coined in America later in the 19th century) biggest gossips – and I had rhetorically ask myself why the hell they took him along if they knew he’d blab about whatever they found – there is no alternative but for Meg and Simon to get married.

Having pined for each other for more than seven years, you think they’d be happy about that, wouldn’t you?

Alas, no.  Because now, Simon is eaten up with guilt because he’s betrayed one of his closest friends (I repeat – no horizontal mambos were performed) and thinks he doesn’t deserve to be happy.  He hates himself for what he’s done (which was actually just a kiss), and his failure to hide his misery from Meg makes her unhappy as well.  Adding in the worry about the scandal they’ve created and how the gossip will affect the family just makes things even worse.

Simon’s self-loathing doesn’t stop him from getting Meg into bed as fast as he can after their engagement is announced, and doesn’t stop him from shagging her as often as he can after that; but as soon as the deed is done, he turns back into Mr. I-am-not-worthy, his eyes cloud over with all that guilt and self-disgust and he’s off like a shot, leaving Meg sad, worried and – eventually – angry.

Meg is, fortunately, made of much sterner stuff than her spineless new husband, and soon gets seriously annoyed by his attitude.  It seems that Simon’s upbringing is largely to blame for his reluctance to fight for what he wants (although it’s a pretty lame excuse) and it’s another nail in the book’s coffin when brother James and sister-in-law Emma have to prod Simon and Meg in the right direction because they are incapable of seeing the truth for themselves.

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be ‘dull’.  Or ‘dreary’, because the first three-quarters of it really are sluggish as both protagonists stew in their long drawn-out and repetitive misery.  The final few chapters improve (relatively, so that isn’t much) as Meg finally takes a stand and Simon realises he must learn to fight for what he wants, but quite honestly, I was past caring at that point and just wanted the book to be over.

Before I read Her Favourite Duke, I had very recently finished another novel that has a similar premise, and in which the hero also has to come to terms with the feelings of dishonour and the scandal associated with ‘stealing’ his friend’s bride.  But oh, my goodness, how different are the executions of that premise.  Whereas the other book was deft, delightful and charming, reading this was like wading through vast quantities of sludge in lead-lined boots.

I wouldn’t recommend subjecting yourself to it.