Thursday, July 4, 2013

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥

Warning: There is a bit of d-baggy snarkiness up front but then I'm nice again.

Publisher: Hey, you know what story hasn't been written yet? Something about a duke who reeeeeeally doesn't want to marry but gives in just to get his mom off his back, who then falls in love with a commoner

You should totally write a book about that! 

Oh wait, you know what would make it even more original? 

If the commoner wasn't really "common" - what if she had the grace and intelligence of someone in a much higher class who had a lot more education? So, slap some pretty clothes and a shiny jewel or two on her and she walks and talks pretty much as any lady of goodly breeding would except for the occasional adorably charming gaff or wobble with proper etiquette that would make her seem all the more fresh and unique. Yeah, you should write that. I don't think anyone has read anything like that before!

I know. I am SUCH a jerk. I need to get over myself, right? I agree. And I promise that I WILL get over myself and just appreciate a story for what it is. Right after this one last thing I have to say. No, you don't understand. I HAVE to get this out of my system before I de-jerk-ify myself for the rest of the review because I might bust my spleen - which, as everyone knows, is where all the bad blood and angst pools like a whole lot of chocolate sauce at the bottom of an unstirred glass of chocolate milk.

Here is the last mean and ornery thing I will say about this: A duke (nay, any gentleman of Quality) would never, ever, ever, EVER wed a barmaid. He maaaaaay marry a courtesan, a mistress who has so bewitched him by her bedroom accomplishments that he simply can't let her go. Maybe even some lesser baronet's daughter. But NEVER a daughter of a poor farmer who births calves with her bare hands as a matter of course. Ever. I don't care how motivated she is to exceed her circumstances. I don't care how beautiful and innately graceful she is. Or how much charm and wit she has. It would NEVER happen. I mean, a serving girl in the Regency era would barely be able to read, and would have had less than a couple years of formal education.That education would have been limited to reading Bible passages. Her diction would be a lot worse than simply dropping a few "h"s and uttering some colorful swear words every now and then. Certainly nothing that could be My Fair Lady'd out of her in a week. So yeah. This would just NEVER have happened. 

Hang on. I fear I may not have been emphatic enough. Allow me to be clearer. This would NEVER happen - not in a million zillion years.

Phew. Ok. That's the sum of my angst all puked out, I can move on to happier things.

Like saying that I really did enjoy this story. A lot! It was beautifully, sympathetically written and everything moved along at a nice clip with a lot of humor and sensitivity. The H & h were both extremely likable characters and for ONCE, I found that the "meddlesome older female" character (the duke's mother) was portrayed with a lot of heart and depth.

Here are the highlights of the H & h and conflict:

He: Griff, the 8th Duke of Halford convinced he will never marry even if that means the Halford line dies with him. There is a tragic backstory about why excatly he is so anti-matrimony. His mother, however, is convinced that he MUST be wed. And more specifically, that he must produce little mini-me's for her to care for and coddle. 

She's driven to such desperation that she agrees to accept ANY woman of his choosing and declares she can turn any girl into a duchess.

To punish her for her meddling, he decides to be difficult and chooses the least duchess-like woman he can - a barmaid and the daughter of a small-time farmer. 

She: Although born to a poor-ish family with a terrible and cruel father and a defeated mother, Pauline Simms is determined to rise above her circumstances. She's saving for a future for both her and her sister.

She's charming, beautiful, impertinent - you know the drill.

Conflict: She's a poor serving girl and he's a duke. Never gonna happen. 

What I liked:
1) The opening scene where Griff is getting kidnapped by his mom and dragged off to get a wife was genuinely adorable. And hilarious. I think it really helped set the mood, like someone holding up a sign at the beginning of a play saying "Please turn all cell phones and electronic devices to Fairy Tale Mode." For me, the scene went a long way in silencing that niggling voice at the back of my head that kept saying "Dude. This would never happen" in this bitchy tone of voice, so that I could actually read and enjoy the story.
2) I don't want to sound like a raging sex-crazed ho-bag, but the one sex scene in the duke's library where he dirty-talks all the way through this rather erotic master/servant scenario was the turning point for me. That was the exact moment where I just decided, to hell with it, I'll go for it. This IS a great story. They SHOULD be together. Duke, servant? Heck yeah. This could totally happen. 

Also, it seems like there would be a market (me) for a lot more fantasy role play scenarios in historicals. They could play duchess and the footman, or queen and stableboy, duke and chambermaid - the possibilities are endless! My poor husband is quaking in fear as he reads this over my shoulder.

3) The writing, editing, pacing and characterizations were superb. To be able to take about 153 cliches and turn them into this lovely, sweet romance so that even the worst sort of Skeptic like me could just say, shove it, I'm IN, sistah! That was just superlative.

So. Bottom line is that this book is wonderful fun - sexy, charming and adorable - which is a hard combo to pull off. It's eating chocolate covered snowdrops while sitting on a pillowy nest of cumulus clouds with a bunny in your lap while reading about Cinderella and Charming's sexy-times. Naughty, but SO nice. 

Skeptic's last word: My advice would be to acknowledge the preposterous premise of farm girl/barmaid + duke up front and then just go with it. If for that dirty talk scene if nothing else. <Rapidly fluttering fan to cool heated cheeks>

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