Desperate Duchesses—Eloisa James
"Just look at her," the duchess said. "She carries that head with all the jaunty air of a tavern maid."
"It must be Judith and Holofernes," Roberta said. "Under the circumstances, Judith looks rather cheerful, don't you think?"
The duchess strolled over to the picture. "Actually, I think she looks rather drunk. Don't you think she looks tipsy?"
"I believe that Judith first brought Holofernes some wine," Roberta said. "Before she took off his head. Though I would hate to cast disparagements on the artist's skill, her drunken aspect might have to do with the fact that her eyes do not appear to be level."
"Her face is also remarkably rosy."
"Probably the hard work," Roberta pointed out. "I would guess that it takes a strong arm to sever a man's neck." (26-27)
Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind
Roberta St. Giles is the daughter of a poetry-writing, courtesan-loving marquess. Unfortunately, that reputation is not doing her any favors in the old romance department. Luckily, she falls in love at first sight while at a ball, with the Duke of Villiers who is a notorious rake. But staying with her father is not going to get her anywhere, so Roberta takes off to London to stay with a duchess who is a very distant relative, Jemma, in hopes that Jemma can put Roberta on the right path. Things get a bit complicated when Roberta meets Damon, the Earl of Gryffyn and Jemma's brother, who admires Roberta and doesn't want to see her naively fall prey to Villiers. Spoiler alert: Roberta ends up with Damon, because she realizes that one glance at someone maybe isn't the best basis for a long-lasting relationship.
Whew! I lost a little bit of momentum there, but I'm back! As Felicia said in the Hangout, this was a month of "smut-tastic historical fiction." This was the main book when Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake was the alt. I quite enjoyed this one. Kiala had talked a lot about Eloisa James throughout the Vaginal Fantasy Hangouts, and I finally read A Kiss at Midnight (another James book) a bit ago to get a taste, completely forgetting that I had this one coming down the pike on VF Rewind. But I'm glad I read both of them.
I wrote very few notes while reading this because I was engrossed in it. While I initially found Roberta a bit inconsistent—she seemed rather whiny at the beginning, but then went down into servants quarters during a ball?—it became clear that her interactions with her father are understandably quite different from how she was as a general character. I found her bold and intelligent, and appreciated that she wasn't just inherently awesome at interacting with children because she's a woman. But I did love her interactions with Damon's son Teddy.
Even though I liked Roberta fine, Jemma was definitely my favourite.
When Damon offers to help Roberta learn to kiss so that she's prepared for notorious rake Villiers, I instantly flashed back to my favourite scene from one of my favourite movies as a teen, John Hughes' Some Kind of Wonderful. There's a scene where the male lead, Keith—an auto-mechanic nerd in love with the popular girl—finally gets a date with said popular girl. His best friend, Watts—a tomboy who is secretly in love with Keith—offers to help him practice kissing because he will obviously want to be prepared to blow this girl away with his kisses. But she doesn't know what she's in for, because his kiss blows her. Now that I think about it, this book mirrors that movie in a lot of ways, because in the end, Keith realizes that he doesn't even know the popular girl and she's not how he imagined she was. No, who he really loves is, spoiler alert, Watts. (I totally wrote this before I rewatched and Bonnie even mentioned John Hughes!)
I agree with Kiala in that I loved the chess subplot, with the games between Jemma and her husband, as well as Jemma and Villiers. I appreciated that Jemma was a master chess player, and really an overall strongwilled and independent woman, during a time when women were still considered property. And as Felicia said, I also saw shades of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde (one of my favourites).
As Veronica said, I enjoyed that Damon had a lot of the same aspects that we love in romantic leads (funny, caring, etc.) without being a creepy alpha male. Also, I'm a sucker for a father to a small child, and Damon had that. The kind of blundering but loving way that he cares for Teddy, when during that time it was more common for people of this echelon to farm that work at, was endearing.
I really enjoy Eloisa James' writing style. (She has an impressive pedigree.) The back and forth between romantic leads has been on point for both of her books that I've read. Unlike many romance books, hers seem to be written with no need for alpha alpha males (repetition intended). While they may occasionally get caught up, the ladies have a lot of agency and control in the relationships, even if they may be a bit inexperienced. The sexy scenes are romantic and steamy, without some of the coercion or power shift that we sometimes see in historical romance books. As Kiala says, James' books are "written for smart, sexy ladies." I didn't love everything about it—HATED the epilogue, as did the VagFan ladies—and in the end felt kind of neutral about it. But I do want to go and read further in this series now, because I was intrigued by the relationship between Jemma and Beaumont, her husband. I wanted to see where that ended up, and was sorely disappointed that I didn't find out during this book.
Thirteen down, nineteen to go.
Watch the Hangout on Desperate Duchesses AND Nine Rules to Break...
What was your favourite scene from a teen romance movie when you were younger?