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?