Sad I am
I am sad.
I did not like the book I read.
This is a good news/bad news situation. The good news: I read the entire book. The bad news: Um, I read the entire book. The opportunity was there to DNF, but I kept thinking this author was going to pull a rabbit out of her writing hat any minute now and then I would be suitably impressed. Didn't happen. I'm not going to give a detailed synopsis. Instead I'll just list most of the problems I had with Forbidden To Love The Duke. Listing them all is not an option due to time and space constraints.
1. The set up could have been interesting, but for the execution. James, a ducal heir, meets Ivy, daughter of an Earl, at a masquerade ball on the eve of his departure to show Napoleon what-for. He's immediately stricken with lust, stalks her, backs her into a darkened corner, and sticks his tongue down her throat, despite her 'initial resistance.' Because surely it was just token resistance and done to whet his appetite.
2. Neither one knows the other's name during this unfortunate first-meet, though opportunities for introduction were there. In fact, Ivy doesn't even know what James looks like because despite the very thorough tonsil exam he gives her, he is masked. But anonymous groping in a secluded corner seems to be James' forté, his hands running all over Ivy's costume 'to seek the true shape of her body.' Thankfully, Ivy passes James high criteria for bosoms and curvy hips. This is only page 2.
3. James thinks rather highly of himself, dear readers. While Ivy appears 'oblivious to his interest' at first, he has great difficulty believing she's really 'blithely unaware of his existence.' Surely, no young lady could really be that unaffected by his awesomeness.
4. Despite these eye rolling moments (for me, not for Ivy!), Ivy is quickly overcome by James' overwhelming charisma and sexual prowess. Ah, the power of the tongue. She flirts, she banters, she wants . . .moar. But James' rusty conscience perks up and reminds him that a) he's leaving to Go To War on the morrow, b) Ivy is innocent and c) she's probably husband hunting. Why, he could ruin her for any spousal prospects if this continues. So somewhere deep within, he manages to halt any further debauchery and pulls an apology, of sorts, for any possible offense out of his sorry arse.
5. I dunno. Somehow an apology sounds more sincere when 'but I simply couldn't help myself' doesn't immediately follow 'I'm sorry.' Plus, he seems to question whether he'd offended her at all - 'if I offended you.' The subtext of that so-called apology reads something like this to me:
He-Rake/Scoundrel: 'Hey, baby, I was minding my own business, rocking out to a country dance, throwing back a few glasses of tasty wine, picking out my next vic- er, I mean, partner, when you came bouncing in, looking all hot, shaking your bounteous bosoms in that revealing 'square-necked Elizabethan' bodice thing and wiggling those hips in that sexy Farthingale. What's a dude to do but to hunt you down and snog you till the cows came home? Right? But, hey, you weren't offended, were you? C'mon, cupcake, 'fess up. I'm really, really hot! And rich! Did I mention I'm very wealthy? You really liked it, didn't you?' (*sobbing* We're just on page 3.)
6. Then, there's this strange little pact James and Ivy make. Well, I'm not sure she agreed to it after all. You'll see why in a minute. So it goes down like this:
He-Rake/Scoundrel: 'Babe, you know you're hot and all, right? I mean, I'm this totally hot dude who'll be a Duke some day, and I can spot babelicious-ness a mile away. Plus, this canoodling was awesome. *eyebrow waggle* But, I just know you'll have thousands of men at your feet soon. You won't know where to put all those suitors when they come calling. But, if, by some strange twist of fate, you haven't received 'five proposals by noon tomorrow, I shall offer for your hand.'
She: (Good Lord! I think he may be unsettled in his mind, I can't believe I let this fiend snog me senseless just two minutes ago. I'll just say ta-ta, politely but quickly. Remember, Ivy, no sudden movements to startle this lunatic.) 'Ah... Bye!'
He-Rake/Scoundrel: 'Dammit! That feather in her hat poked my eye out!'
Um, why five? What if it had been only two? What would happen then? Inquiring minds want to know...
Alas, it was not to be. Because James apparently drank too much after Ivy ran aw-, er, I mean, left; developed selective amnesia; or just plain forgot because the next day he gallops off on his fine steed to save England singlehandedly from that French terror without even checking on his mysterious lady.
As for Ivy, her father the Earl is called out for cheating at cards at that same ball, is challenged to a duel, and is killed on the field of honor the next day. Ivy and her three sisters return home to Fenwick Manor in disgrace and without a shilling to their name, living hand-to-mouth for the next five years by pawning jewels and priceless antiques, avoiding creditors, and somehow acquiring a local reputation for being 'dangerous women' who 'bend men to their will.' (Cue much cackling and evil laughter)
7. *sigh* Moving on to Chapter One...How is it possible that James Merrit, Duke of Ellsworth of Ellsworth Park, said Park hereafter referred to as Ye Olde Ducal Estate, approaching the ripe old age of his late 20's maybe, (sorry, not sure how old he is) never knew Fenwick Manor, essentially his freaking next door neighbor, was owned by the Earl of Arthur? Further, how did it ever escape the notice of this rake extraordinaire that the Earl had sired not one, not two, but four bee-you-tee-ful daughters, ripe for the debauching?
And yet, that knowledge seems to be ...missing as he meanders home to Ye Olde Ducal Estate, happily contemplating and 'anticipating months of uninterrupted bliss in a bedchamber' with his soon-to-be mistress, Elora, who will follow in a few days. But for mysterious reasons, he orders his coachman to make a small detour (humming theme from Gilligan's island), driving by a 'majestic Tudor house', which had been right there for centuries. He is immediately persuaded that he wants that house and he wants it now despite the fact that it has fallen into such disrepair as to appear uninhabited! Upon closer inspection, James sees a womanly figure, or in 'James lingo', a'goddess', in the garden.
Once again he gives chase when his shy goddess runs away, thwarted in his pursuit by an obelisk hiding behind overgrown hollyhocks, a sack of weeds and stones, set upon by jackdaws in the chimney, angry bees, and finally threatened with a sword before he gives up and goes on to Ye Olde Ducal Estate.
Yes, that handsome if decrepit Elizabethan manor is ...Fenwick Hall! And that 'goddess' is Ivy. Shocking, no?
8. (Patience, dear readers, I'm almost finished.) The mistress . . . dum dum dum . . . Elora is not portrayed as a very admirable character. First, I'm told she loves to partay like it's 1799 which seems to indicate she's something far worse than merely a 'fallen woman', if that's possible. I mean, this girl loves her diversions and entertainments of all kinds. Routs? Count her in. Masked balls? Elora's your gal. She adores London's hustle and bustle and 'thrived on gossip' of all kinds: who's cheating on whom, whose jewels had been lifted/pawned, who had pockets to let/punting on the River Tick/rolled up/in the hatches. You get the idea, I'm sure. So I was ready for Elora the Vamp, but it seemed the author couldn't quite decide if she's a vamp, a victim, or both, and how exactly she fits into the treasure purportedly hidden at Fenwick Hall.
9. When Elora shows up at Ye Olde Ducal Estate after James writes to tell her their potential FWB arrangement is off, she undergoes a series of startling transformations. She's a former friend of Ivy (they came out together). Then, she's James and Curtis's (younger brother) family friend. She professes to have a long-held tendre for Curtis even as she agreed to being James' mistress. That kind of squicked me out truthfully. So I was ready for Elora the Vamp, and I kind of liked Elora the Not-So-Vamp, but it felt like the author couldn't quite decide how Elora fit in to this story. Events and revelations in the last few chapters just had me scratching my head in puzzlement and wondering 'What the hell just happened?' Grumpy, I was.
Look, I like ambiguous characters in books. They're usually way more interesting than Goody-Two-Shoes or Evil Meanie and are generally given more fun diverse things to do and be than those other two extremes. But this didn't feel like ambiguity. Elora felt splintered and unfinished and more like a plot device at the end than anything else.
10. Last one, I promise, and it's back to James. James is given guardianship of his niece and nephew because his younger brother Curtis has gone off to war, and his wife abandoned their children to run off to Sweden with a lover. I'm not sure why Sweden is the hot bed for lovers to seek sanctuary, but I was just going with the flow by now.
James is still hell bent on cavorting around Ye Olde Ducal Estate with the passionately and (hopefully!) exhaustingly satiating and satisfying Elora even after learning his niece and nephew are already in residence at Ye Olde place. His solution is to hire a governess to care for Mary, age 11, and Walker, age 7, while he, er, is occupied. Even Carstairs, Ye Olde blah blah steward, offers a suggestion that now might not be a good time for Miss Denman to visit. But no, a governess will be interviewed and hired to 'protect' the children from both their mother's appalling behavior as well as their uncle's.
Would you like to guess who the governess is? Ding. Ding. Ding. Correct! Ivy! Ivy also raises a weak objection to James' fooling around with his mistress at Ye Olde Ducal Estate, but indulgently dismisses any concerns because the '[p]oor decadent duke' has had a spoke thrown into his naughty scheme and is grumpy. Hmm. I think I know why he felt he just 'couldn't help himself' from assaulting Ivy at the ball five years ago. He never learned what 'No' means because the answer, if one was required, was always 'Yes.' Ugh.
That's it. Finit. Why, you might be wondering, did I read the entire book if I had so many problems with it? Well, because I've read Jillian Hunter's books in the past and especially loved those early Boscastle adventures. Though the last three or four books of hers haven't exactly shone as brightly as those earlier books, she was still an author I hadn't abandoned even if her 'auto-buy' status for me had faded. I'm sorry I read Forbidden To Love The Duke. And . . . so sad I am. I am sad. I did not like the book I read. (Sorry, Dr Seuss, wherever you are!)
2 1/2 stars