Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday Review: How To Dance with a Duke

How To Dance with a Duke
By Manda Collins
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: January 31, 2012

Cecily Hurston has a goal—to dissipate the cloud of suspicion that surrounds her father since his return from Egypt without his secretary, William Dalton, brother of a duke. The first step in reaching her goal is to read her father’s journals, which are somewhere inside the Egyptian Explorer’s Club, a society that bars unmarried women. Cecily tries the direct route first, only to find herself summarily ejected from the club. Since the direct approach failed, Cecily is prepared to try indirect means—finding a husband who is a member of the club. The wives of club members are admitted.  Unfortunately, from Cecily’s view at least, this means allowing her step-mother to transform an ugly duckling scholar into a proper miss with beauty enough to attract the right men.

Lucas Dalton, Duke of Winterson, has a goal—to find out what happened to his younger brother who disappeared while he was in Egypt with Viscount Hurston. He mishandles his first meeting with Cecily, who, is the closest he has come to contacting the man he holds responsible for his brother’s disappearance. He determines that he will make amends if by chance Miss Hurston should be one of the guests at the ball he plans to attend that evening. But he is unprepared for the green-eyed beauty in the latest fashion who has replaced the woman he initially mistook for an impoverished widow when he saw her outside the Egyptian Club.

It doesn’t take Winterson long to deduce Cecily’s marital plans, and for reasons he finds inexplicable he is offended by the idea of her succeeding in her plan. Despite his reservations, he agrees when days later Cecily proposes that he help her find the best man for her to marry among the membership of the Egyptian Club in exchange for her help in discovering what happened to Will.  As they spend time together, a friendship develops between the two of them, and the attraction between them intensifies. But as they work to solve the mystery of his brother’s disappearance, the questions multiply—and so do the dangers. Someone is determined that the truth remain hidden at any cost.

Both Cecily and Winterson are engaging characters. Cecily combines two of my favorite heroine types—the scholar and the ugly duckling. Not only does she possess a native intelligence but she had the discipline and determination to develop her intellectual gifts against the expectations of her world and her father’s opposition. I found her transformation from dowdy to divine completely credible because it’s a matter of using the right clothes, the right colors, and the right haircut to reveal her best qualities. And what woman doesn’t know what a difference such things make. I was also delighted that one of her strengths, determination, intensifies to become one of her flaws, stubbornness. I often find in real life that strengths and weaknesses are like two sides of the same coin.

Winterson is a wonderful hero: intelligent, honorable, handsome, and witty. I consider his devotion to his brother and his mother a plus, and I must say I was delighted to have a loving mother in a romance. He was brought up as a vicar’s son, and, after his father’s death, as the son of a dependent poor relation. Thus, he lacks the arrogance that so often accompanies a dukedom. Because he and Cecily come to like each other enough to talk and laugh together, I believe in their HEA. Don’t misunderstand me, I want to believe the desire the hero and heroine feel for one another is strong and sizzling, but I also want to believe they have a relationship that involves more than hot sex. I can see Cecily and Winterson growing old together, enjoying the children and grandchildren they talk about.

I also delighted in the mean girl adversary and the dance card trick. I love the relationship among the cousins and look forward to both How to Romance a Rake and the third Ugly Duckling Tale. If you like your romance with wit and heart and characters you can believe in, with a touch of mystery adding to the interest, you can’t do better than the books of Manda Collins. Today she’s a romance writer debutante. I predict her tomorrows will see her become one of the genre’s enduring successes.

In the interest of full disclosure, Manda Collins is a friend. We first met on Squawk Radio, shared moderator duties on the Eloisa James/Julia Quinn bulletin board, and traveled together in the Romance Vagabond caravan for eighteen months. All these online gathering spots are now things of the past, but our friendship has endured. I have believed since I read the first snippet of Manda’s writing that today would come. However, none of these things would have persuaded me to write this review unless I loved the book. I did. I do. I will.

I am celebrating with a happy heart, a ton of congratulations and best wishes for Manda, and a giveaway of a copy of How to Dance with a Duke to one randomly chosen commenter on today’s post. The winner will be announced in Friday’s post.

Today definitely ranks as a Squee Day in my world. What romance debut have you celebrated?


PJ said...

Like you, Janga, HOW TO DANCE WITH A DUKE is a debut that I celebrate with great joy. My friendship with Manda also goes back to Squawk Radio days. It's been wonderful to watch her talent grow over the years and be recognized with a publishing contract. I adored this book (as you know from my review) and can't wait until the rest of the romance reading world discovers what the two of us already know: Manda Collins is a gifted writer who is going to take the romance world by storm!

**Please don't include me in the giveaway.

quantum said...

I eagerly headed off to Amazon kindle only to find that March is the release date in the UK.
Damn. What a tease!

Janga, I trust your crystal ball, and will follow Manda's progress with great interest.
It wouldn't surprise me to learn that a supernova appeared in the sky at the time of her birth.

Ever since the EJ-BB and her stunning drabbles, the omens have been good.

Manda, If you read this, Many congratulations from another admirer! *smile*

Janga said...

We think alike on so many things, PJ, but none more so than on Manda's gifts as a writer. I loved your review. :) Hasn't it been great to watch Manda make this journey? And it's only beginning.

Janga said...

Q, just think how many now-published writers we read in those drabbles. Fond memories! I'm sorry that you have to wait for How To Dance with a Duke, but it is well worth the wait.

MsHellion said...

Wonderful review. It always takes a few more days for books to arrive in the BFE area I live, but once I get my hands on a copy, I'll read it with pleasure!

I love the Egypt stuff--reminds me of Mr. Impossible, which if I recall is one of Manda's favorite books--and I'm sure she's as witty. :) But the hero is different, since he's not arrogant, perhaps more like a Julia Quinn hero...but there's mystery!--so perhaps a little of The Spymaster's Lady too.

It's like she's taken all the best things she's read and loved and made something new and her own! :)

irisheyes said...

Very, very excited about Manda's debut! If her insightful, witty and touching blogs at the Vagabonds was any indication of her talent we're all in for a treat.

Kathleen O said...

I have not had an opportunity to read Manda's books, but this one lookes like it will have to go on my tbr list.

Congrats on you release Manada..

Penfield said...

I haven't read Manda's book, but it sounds interesting. Sherry Thomas, Julie James and Beverley Kendall are just a few authors that had great debut novels and went on to write more stories.

Manda Collins said...

Aww, thank you so much, Janga! A lovely review and not just because you are my friend!

Thanks again, PJ!

Q, I'm sorry about the delayed release on Kindle UK. Total bummer. But, at least it *will* be released in the UK! If you want a print copy there's always Book Depository. Thanks for the cheers!

Hellion, you know me and my Mr. Impossible love. I didn't want to ape it too much so I set it in England. I totally understand about waiting for books to arrive in the stores. We aren't on the top of the list either when it comes to the latest releases. Hope you can find it soon. And when you do that you enjoy it.

Manda Collins said...

Thank you so much, Irish! Seems like forever ago when we were all Vagabonding!

Thanks for the good wishes, Kathleen!

Wow, Penfield! That is some exalted company you're putting me in. If I do half so well, I'll be pleased!

Janga said...

Hellie, I sympathize with the wait for new releases. I spent years either waiting or driving into the city to find the books I wanted. That's one of the reasons I love my Kindle.

HTDWAD is worth waiting for though. I loved it, and I'm already eager for the second book, which will be released in late July, I think.

Janga said...

Irish, those Vagabond days are more fond memories. And you're right: Manda wrote some awesome blogs for the RVs.

Janga said...

Kathleen, thanks for stopping by. I think there's something special about starting to read an author's books with her debut and following her career. I began reading Mary Balogh and Jo Beverley with their debut books, and I'm still reading their new releases all these years later. I love the idea of readers doing that with Manda's books.

Janga said...

Penfield, How To Dance with a Duke really is a wonderful read. I agree that Thomas, J. James, and Kendall all had outstanding debuts. In fact, Private Arrangements is still my favorite Thomas book, although I've loved them all.

Janga said...

Thanks for taking time out of what I'm sure must be a hectic day to stop by, Manda. Reviewing is easy when I love the book as I did HTDWAD. I hope you're having fun today.

fsbuchler said...

I have been waiting for this on for a long time, Janga and Manda! SINCEREST CONGRATULATIONS!

fsbuchler said...

It's so nice to see your old and new friends come out for your special day!

Cathy P said...

Congratulations, Manda! I have been looking forward to your release, Beverley Kendall's, Sabrina Jeffries, Kat Martin's, Nicole Jordan's, and Charlaine Harris's.


Jane said...

Happy Release Day, Manda. Congrats on all your success.

JulieJustJulie said...

Happy Release Date, Manda! I am so excited for you …. And for me! Why? Because I have been looking forward to reading a book written by Amanda Collins for quite some time. Like Janga, I too knew after reading just a bit of Ms Collins writing that today would come. CONGRATULATIONS!

JulieJustJulie said...

Wonderful review, Janga. Thank you for sharing your insights.

“I was also delighted that one of her strengths, determination, intensifies to become one of her flaws, stubbornness.” I love the of strengths and flaws.
“ Thus, he lacks the arrogance that so often accompanies a dukedom. “
My kind of guy.
“Because he and Cecily come to like each other enough to talk and laugh together, I believe in their HEA.”
Believability? This is the kind of romance I like to recommend to my non romance reading friends.
“If you like your romance with wit and heart and characters you can believe in,”
Sounds like heart and wit and a bit of wisdom too! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

Janga said...

It's always good to see friends of any duration. :) Thanks for stopping by, Flora.

Janga said...

An interesting list, Cathy. I'm trying to remember if I read Charlaine Harris's debut novel. I know I read her books long before the Sookie phenomenon. I haven't read those. I know they have been hugely popular from the first, but I'm allergic to vampires. :)

Janga said...

Hi, Jane! Isn't it exciting to share Manda's debut? I know you were with us through the RV days when Manda's journey was in its early stages.

Janga said...

Thanks, Julie. I think you're going to love Manda's book. Thanks, too, for stopping by. I miss your comments when you're not here.