Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday Review: How to Entice an Earl

How to Entice an Earl
By Manda Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s
Release Date: January 29, 2013

Lady Madeline Essex is feeling a bit lonely since her cousins, Cecily (How to Dance with a Duke) and Juliet (How to Romance a Rake) have begun living their happily ever afters, but even so, she herself is not quite ready for matrimony. There are things she hopes to accomplish first, foremost among them, completing her first novel. In pursuit of that goal, she uses a bit of sibling blackmail to persuade her brother to escort her to Mrs. Bailey’s, a gambling hell frequented by gentlemen looking for high stakes games and ladies not overly concerned with their reputations. Maddy is not at all happy to discover that the Earl of Gresham is in attendance as well, but she has reason to be grateful to him when she stumbles upon a dying man and the brother who abandoned her at such a moment becomes a prime suspect.

Christian Monteith, still unaccustomed to his new status as the Earl of Gresham, is at Mrs. Bailey’s on a mission for the Home Office because of suspicions that the murdered man and others, including Madeline Essex’s brother, may be involved in a radical organization. He’s furious to see Lady Madeline there, but his concern over her being touched with scandal soon takes second place to his concern over her safety. He’s about to learn that Maddy is not willing to retire to the sidelines while men solve the crime. She may cry in Gresham’s arms in a closed carriage, but she’s soon stubbornly, infuriatingly planning her own investigation.

As Maddy and Gresham work together to find a killer, with Maddy determined to prove her brother’s innocence and Gresham determined to protect Maddy, the simmering attraction between them intensifies at a rate that catches them both by surprise. But they also become friends who talk to one another, who laugh together. Gresham, who is burdened by guilt over his twin sister’s suicide while he was out of the country fighting the French, understands Maddy’s need to help her younger brother. He even sympathizes with her frustration over the strictures society imposes on women. Neither one is willing to call it love, but it’s clear that these two are falling hard for one another. However, there’s still a killer on the loose, one who is all too willing to interfere with their HEA.

How to Entice an Earl is the final novel in Manda Collins’s Ugly Ducklings trilogy. Like its predecessors, it weaves mystery and romance together in a fine balance. The action centers on the mystery, which also serves as a catalyst for the relationship between Maddy and Gresham. But the focus is squarely on the romance, and the reader is privileged to see the romantic relationship develop in a manner that involves humor, a deepening emotional intimacy, and plenty of sizzle.

Maddy’s outspokenness, her courage, her loyalty, and above all, her determination not to be defined by her parents’ disappointment in her or society’s expectations of her make her an engaging heroine. She is also surprisingly sensible despite her determination to fight her own battles. I especially appreciated her recognition, even before she understands that she loves Gresham, that they must marry. She may resent the limitations her world imposes on women of her class, but she recognizes there are boundaries she cannot transgress without giving up more than she's willing to forfeit and without hurting those she loves. She also knows Gresham and values the man that he is. She believes they can build a life together even though she thinks she will miss the love match her cousins enjoy.

She had come to appreciate his sense of the absurd as much as his strength and loyalty. Who would wish to be tied to a man who never laughed, she wondered, leaping ahead to what she knew this interview was truly about. Not their well-being or their absurdity, but their marriage.

I was ready to cheer aloud when on their wedding day Maddy learns something that could have become a Misunderstanding of Great Proportions. But Maddy proves how well she knows her man by rejecting the obvious and intuiting the truth. How rare is that in romance?

And Gresham! I’ll always think of him as Monteith because he was not yet the Earl of Gresham when I first encountered him in manuscript form and fell in love with his humor, his disdain for fashion, his kindness, and his sense of honor. I waited impatiently for his story, and he proved to be the hero I expected.

If you haven’t met the Ugly Ducklings, what are you waiting for? How to Entice an Earl can certainly be read as a standalone, and you can begin with it--although I’ll be surprised if you don’t find the cousins and their heroes so appealing that you’ll want to read their stories too. I highly recommend all three books.

The Big Misunderstanding is a classic romance trope that operates across all subgenres. Some readers love it. Others hate it. I admit I fall in the latter camp and, thus, was thrilled that Maddy avoids the Big Mis. I’ve seen misunderstandings work, but far more often, they leave me wondering how people who don’t talk to one another expect to create a life together. What is your opinion of the Big Mis?


regencygirl01 said...

Can't wait for Manda's book. I think it depends on the author whether big misunderstandings work I have great books where they work and others where not so much

MsHellion said...

I can handle a Big Mis toward the beginning of a book--because people are proud and a lot of Big Mis comes from having more pride than willing to be vulnerable to hear the answer. And I think lots of people suffer from this; there is a lot of learning to communicate all the time. I think even as much as you learn to trust and engage with someone who is your friend and your lover, sometimes you don't want to burden them with information--and the trouble can be begin that way. There can be instances.

However, if we've been going along for 300 pages and you've set the hero up as HEROIC, then it doesn't make a lot of sense for the heroine to suddenly believe something bad about the hero without at least having a conversation with him. I dislike instances like that because it shows a lack of respect for character to plot--you're using something convenient to move your plot rather than having character make it.

quantum said...

I quite like a big misunderstanding. In real life it is unlikely to draw a couple together, but romance fiction is fantasy .... isn't it? So when fingers touch accidentally and that jolt of electro-chemical energy flags that romance could blossom, then I celebrate the mystery of love. Misunderstanding mixed with a little serendipity shows that love is a powerful force in our universe, one that mere human logic will find difficult to resist! LOL

I do hope the other books release in the UK soon. But as this one works as a stand alone I will gratefully download it! I was a huge fan of Manda's drabbles and just know that this book is going to be stunning. I can feel those electro-chemical vibes tingling across ciber space already!

Delighted to see another Bon-Bon making the grade.

Perhaps I was confusing the two Sarahs in the previous blog or perhaps Sarah MaClean appeared on the author spot.... my memory is definitely starting to fade.

Another great review Janga!

Janga said...

Regencygirl, I nearly always agree that it depends on the author, but I've been disappointed in the way even some favorite authors have handled misunderstandings. I do think they work sometimes, but for me--more often than not--they fail.

Janga said...

Trust is key, Hellie, and fear of rejection, and some people just operate by denial too. I'm still bothered by how often the misunderstanding is just based on assuming the worst of someone. One of the novels in which it bothers me most isn't even romance. It's Edith Wharton's House of Mirth.

Janga said...

Q, I love remembering those drabbles and thinking about how many now published authors were involved. The bb has quite a distinguished alum list.

I knew when I read Manda's first snippet that I'd be reading her books some day. And being proved right is wonderful. :)

Deborah Stein said...

I dislike the big misunderstanding trope as well. I can think of a book or two where it comes early and as the characters get to know eachother they figure it out--think about Annabel realizing that Ewan is rich and not a spendthrift in Kiss Me Annabel-- but mostly I find the lack of faith deeply disturbing. On the other hand, I can think of some books where the refusal to go along with the big misunderstanding is quite moving . As when Jemma goes to her husbands office to straighten out his misunderstanding in When the Duke Returns.

Janga said...

Great examples, Deborah, of both sides of the question. And the fact that they are from one of my favorite authors makes me appreciate them ever more. :)

Thanks for commenting.

irisheyes said...

I missed this discussion, Janga, but had to comment because I ran into a twist on this just last week that I LOVED!

I almost always hate the Big Mis. It's pretty much exactly as Hellie stated - I feel like it's pretty much a weak plot device used to avoid character development. When I do like it - and it's happened very rarely - is when it's used and the characters don't do what you think they'll do. Example - Sarah Mayberry's THE OTHER SIDE OF US. I absolutely loved Oliver's reaction to Mackenzie's ex being back in the picture. It all made perfect sense - he hadn't healed yet from what his ex put him through and he didn't want to feel the way he did but couldn't help it. But the key is that he acted like an adult and admitted it to Mackenzie and then in turn Mackenzie acted like an adult and went to help him through it. And... the whole reason they acted as they did is because at the base of everything they were FRIENDS who cared for each other more than they cared about being hurt. And in my mind when you love someone you think the best of them not the worse and you always give them a chance to explain themselves.

Whew... okay my rant is done! LOL I just loved the way she worked that whole situation out and wish more authors would choose that path instead of the one that makes the H/H look like adolescents fighting after the 8th grade dance.