Review of “The American Heiress”/”My Last Duches by Daisy Goodwin

Cover image belongs to Daisy Goodwin and St. Martin’s Press.

Goodwin, Daisy. The American Heiress. New York: St. Martin’s Press: 2011. ISBN-13: 978-0312658656. Hardcover List Price: $26.99 Paperback List Price: $16.99

3 stars

While this book is marketed as serious historical fiction, by an author who currently works as the writer for the Masterpiece series Victoria, and even has the setup to be a more serious historical drama, it is ultimately a romance, and a somewhat weak one at that. However, it is based on real historical figures, and Goodwin did her research into the period Gilded Age New York and Newport and Victorian England.

The heroine of the novel, Cora Cash, is an heiress who is subjected to abuse by her mother, who aspires to see her married to a titled husband  in England, a trend that had become an industry by the 1890s. Consuelo Vanderbilt was the real-life inspiration for Cora, and like her fictional counterpart, Consuelo was coerced into marriage with an impoverished duke by her socially ambitious mother.

consuelo

The novel appears to be set up in two parallel arcs: one following Cora and her less-than-idyllic life as Duchess, and another following her maid, Bertha, who is torn between loyalty to her mistress and the possibility of a romance of her own. I liked this, as it established the parallels and contradictions between “upstairs” and “downstairs” and how they are connected, but also very much separate from one another.

One thing that bothered me, though was that this novel doesn’t seem certain of its identity. On the one hand, it purports to be a historical fiction piece, based on the advantageous, but loveless marriages that occurred between couples like Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough (who would eventually divorce, and later have their union annulled, after twenty-six years). But it also seems to try to make it seem like a romance, where the misunderstandings and past loves between the couple are insignificant in comparison to the marriage between Cora and Ivo, Duke of Wareham. He professes to love her at the end of the book, but I don’t think Goodwin gives enough of a sense of who he is. By contrast, she makes Cora’s longtime friend and onetime love, Teddy Van Der Leyden, a POV character, and imbues him with a sense of honor, which makes him much more attractive in my eyes. I hope that she writes a happier ending for him in the future.

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Review of “If the Duke Demands” (Keeping the Carlisles #1) by Anna Harrington

Image belongs to Anna Harrington and Forever/Grand Central Publishing.

Harrington, Anna. If the Duke Demands. New York, Forever, 2017.

(2-ish stars)

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to review this, given the fact that I found myself actually giving up part way through, and to provide a review of a book I did not finish would not be fair. But I found some obvious problems with the part I did read (I got up to the middle of chapter eleven, so around page 230), so I decided I would discuss them.

My initial impression when I saw this book were, “Oh, yay, another duke *eyeroll*.” And while this book is the first in the Carlisle brothers’ series, they are introduced in her last book, How I Married a Marquess, part of her previous series.

That said, some of my complaints about this book are that the major obstacle keeping the hero and heroine apart is nearly identical to that of HIMAM. In that one, Thomas, Marquess of Chesney, is a future duke, and despite his feelings for Josephine Carlisle, he cannot marry her, because, despite the fact that she was adopted by a baron, she isn’t from a noble family by blood. Her adoptive brother, Sebastian, now Duke of Trent, due to actions explained both in that book and this one, can’t marry Miranda, because she’s simply a niece to one of his tenants. Additionally, Miranda basically grew up as their sister.

But in both cases, they end up sleeping together anyway. I can’t recall why I didn’t have issues with HIMAM, but at one point in this book, he talks about how his father was a great man, not a rake like him and his brothers, and it’s pretty obvious that his parents loved each other. Yet, he seems determined to go through with marry a dull society lady, because he thinks it would make his father happy. That just seemed completely implausible to me. I can understand having this motivation if your father was an exacting man who expected perfection all the time, and could be abusive, but I just didn’t like that becoming duke made him such a stick-up-his-ass prick.

And did I mention Miranda is being chaperoned by his mother in town for the Season during the course of this book, and that she is technically his responsibility as well? I am almost grateful for stories where we have fathers and guardians who look out for their daughters’ interests in other books, but it is a shame that Miranda did not have that.

But that’s not to say this is a book I absolutely hated. Despite the fact that I did not finish it, in the parts I did read, I found myself being charmed by the dynamic between the Carlisle family, especially the brothers. The banter early on works really well, but the hero was too much of an asshole, and the heroine, while a strong character initially, just kind of melted into his embrace, despite the fact that she would be ruined, and he CAN’T MARRY HER.

 

 

Review of “Mogul” (Knickerbocker Club #3) and “Tycoon” (Knickerbocker Club #0.5) by Joanna Shupe

Image belongs to Joanna Shupe and Kensington Publishing Corporation.

Shupe, Joanna. Mogul. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1420139884. Print List Price: $7.99.

Note: Though these are two separate works, as they appear in the same volume, I have chose to include them within the same review.

Mogul

(3 stars)

Once again, the publisher makes a vital error with casting for a model on the cover, casting a dark-haired woman when Lily is repeatedly described as blonde in the book. But this has no bearing on my belief that this one is the weakest of the three books in the series.

This story seems to want to be a second chance romance, which also includes deception and blackmail. But I found myself much more interested in the blackmail plot and how it would resolve itself than whether Calvin and Lily would end up together.

It seems like everything that separated them was lies and the pressure of the class divide, which didn’t really make the story unique, especially after having read the other two, which dealt with that similar issue, but each gave it their own twist. I didn’t find Lily compelling, in comparison to Shupe’s other Knickerbocker Club heroines, despite the fact that she is a businesswoman in a time that is still very sexist towards men. I admire Calvin, as he was able to go from nothing to becoming a newspaper tycoon, and still cares deeply about his friends, particularly Hugo. But I just did not feel like I cared whether or not he and Lily got back together, especially as I could not think of anything that really connected them.

One thing I did like, though, is the impact real historical events play on this story. This is the case in all three novels, but this one is the most interesting, because it shows how racism and immigration restrictions based on race impacted people in society. Historical romance is not always known for being diverse, even in its background characters, so I appreciate Shupe including characters from different ethnic backgrounds in this book, showing the injustice of this time period, showing both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go as a society.

Tycoon 

(5 stars)

I found the placement of this novella, which was published in e-book form in early 2016, prior to the publication of either Magnate or Baron odd. As someone who likes to read books in order, but refuses to convert to e-books, I worried that going back to read Ted and Clara’s love story after reading the others where they are married would be off-putting. But I ended up adoring this novella.

Ted is proof that you don’t have to be a hulking alpha to be a great hero who cares about the woman he loves. Despite being thrust into a strange situation he did not expect when she approaches him and pretends she’s his wife, he goes along with it, and protects her, even though he doesn’t know the whole story. And though he does doubt her, he fights for her when things get tough. And that ending! It’s so wonderful!

Review “Baron” (Knickerbocker Club #2) by Joanna Shupe

Image belongs to Joanna Shupe and Kensington Publishing Corporation.

Shupe, Joanna. Baron. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publshing Corp., 2016. ISBN-13: 978-1420139860. Print List Price: $7.99.

(4.5 stars)

I would like to start off this review by discussing the cover for a bit. For the most part, the publisher has done a good job of not falling into the trap of including a shirtless man on all the covers in this series, and actually dressing the models up in something that represents the period. But the way they depict William Sloane on here is a miss. He is described in both Magnate and Baron as having sandy blonde hair, not dark brown hair, as the model has. I am aware of the trend toward “tall, dark, and handsome,” but that does not apply in this case.

I began this book somewhat hesitantly, unsure if I would like William Sloane that much, As I said in my review of Magnate, while the setting is different, American historicals share some of the same conventions with their British counterparts, particularly in terms of the sense of hierarchy and the need to “marry among your own class.” But I started to see that Will isn’t really this stiff upper-lip upper-crust sort, but he had been conditioned to be that way by society and his father’s exacting expectations. He makes himself physically ill trying to bend backwards to be what is expected, being a railroad tycoon and trying to run a successful political campaign without scandals, while also fighting the attraction he has for Ava.

Ava is a great heroine. You see the life of someone who is still trying to make ends meet within the late nineteenth century America through her, and I admire that even though she could have taken the easy way out and become Will’s mistress, she keeps trying to fight the passion they have for each other.

Again, I find myself wishing she was continuing with the series, as this book baits us with the possibility of puppy love between Ava’s brother, Tom and Emmett’s sister, Katie. It would be nice to see how over time it might develops, and if it grows it something more, or if it remains an adolescent infatuation.

Review of “Magnate” (Knickerbocker Club #1) by Joanna Shupe

Image belongs to Joanna Shupe and Kensington Publishing Corporation. A portion of this review also appears on Goodreads.

Publishing Information:

Shupe, Joanna. Magnate. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2016. ISBN-13: 978-1420139846. Print List Price: $7.99.

(4 stars)

I love historical romance, but I have always avoided American historicals, due to the perceived differences between them and British historicals. But I found that, despite the shift in setting, many of the conventions are the same, although the make-up of New York society is different from British society, with new moneyed individuals competing with old families for influence. Someone who wants to read about heroes like Lisa Kleypas’ Derek Craven, would love this book.

I loved the heroine, Elizabeth, who is called Lizzie by almost everyone except her husband. She very much reflects what I think of when I imagine some of the women at the end of the nineteenth century, still being subjected to societal pressures to marry but also forward thinking in wanting to pursue a career. Shupe states that her character was inspired by sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, who founded their own stock brokerage firm. In an interesting turn of events, which Shupe did not mention in her acknowledgements,  Woodhull also ran for president over a century and a half before Hillary Clinton.  Lizzie’s brother, Will a railroad tycoon, is considering going into politics himself by the end of this novel, and this is a major part of the next book, in which he is the hero. I’m not sure if Shupe chose to do this intentionally, but I found it a fun fact.
As for the hero, Emmett, I had mixed feelings. The alpha hero (alternately called the AlphHole or AlphaHole) has become like a plague among the romance market, with far too many heroes dealing with overly tragic pasts. I am aware that part of the appeal of the romance is the escapism aspect, but there’s only so many books you can read with a tortured hero with trust issues.

In his defense, however he’s not a terrible hero, as he does encourage Elizabeth in her career while other men in her life don’t, and he is ten times better than the slimeball snob who is also interested in her, but there were moments where I was like “Really?” One example was when there’s a slanderous cartoon printed about her in a paper, he plans to ruin the cartoonist’s life. And here’s direct quote of her reaction: “Her husband was promising retribution, likely physical, and she found it…arousing?” (256) I mean, sure, trying to get them to print a retraction or something makes some amount of sense, or even confronting the guy, but the idea of physical retribution (she even asks at one point if his guard is going to kill the cartoonist) is going a bit far.
I absolutely adore both Kelly (his guard) and Brendan (his brother), and I’m so sad that we likely won’t be getting full novels for them, as she has since changed publishers. What won me over about Kelly is that he seems to have a sense of humor, and really bring that out in Emmett as well, but he is also incredibly loyal to him. He also lost his wife, so I would have loved to have a story that explored his character a little more.

As for Brendan, I mostly want to see his story because it would present an opportunity for more career and character diversity among the heroes of Romancelandia. Unlike the dukes and billionaires, he is someone who works as a doctor and has a physical disability as a reminder of the tragic past he and Emmett shared growing up in Five Points. But unlike his brother, who spends most of the book really damaged by the trauma, we see someone who encourages his family and friends to open themselves up to love, even being the catalyst for the Emmett and and Lizzie ending up together.