Review – A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

So, I’d heard of Cecilia Grant, of course.  I read her amazing post about feminism and romance, and I admired her for opening up a discussion on the issue to explore the nuances of culture, feminism, romance, love, gender, story, ideology, etc.  But I hadn’t read any of her books until last month when I saw this book come up on NetGalley and thought, gosh, that author’s name seems familiar, somehow.  I think I’ll read that one.  I didn’t put the dots together until after I’d finished the book (and bought and read her first two books).

Cover image, A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Kate Westbrook has dreams far bigger than romance. Love won’t get her into London’s most consequential parties, nor prevent her sisters from being snubbed and looked down upon—all because their besotted father unadvisedly married an actress. But a noble husband for Kate would deliver a future most suited to the granddaughter of an earl. Armed with ingenuity, breathtaking beauty, and the help of an idle aunt with connections, Kate is poised to make her dreams come true. Unfortunately, a familiar face—albeit a maddeningly handsome one—appears bent on upsetting her scheme.

Implored by Kate’s worried father to fend off the rogues eager to exploit his daughter’s charms, Nick Blackshear has set aside the torch he’s carried for Kate in order to do right by his friend. Anyway, she made quite clear that his feelings were not returned—though policing her won’t abate Nick’s desire. Reckless passion leads to love’s awakening, but time is running out. Kate must see for herself that the charms of high society are nothing compared to the infinite sweet pleasures demanded by the heart.

You know how sometimes you read on autopilot, without devoting your full (or even a majority share) attention to the book?  Other readers will have a different mass of distractions, of course, but here’s my typical list: when reading at home, my kids playing and calling for my attention, TV on in the background, the mountain of housework I don’t feel like doing sitting there staring at me with judgement in its figurative eyes, my husband looking back and forth between that mountain and me with a book in my hands, my thoughts about the day I just had and the one that faces me tomorrow, my never-ending to-do list scrolling through my mind, etc.; when reading at work on a break, emails popping up on my screen, music playing in one ear, my phone, Twitter, my never-ending to-do list scrolling through my mind, etc.  And most of the time I can enjoy a story even with that distracting and desperate soundtrack playing in the background, but sometimes I stumble upon a book that is so much bigger, in its narrative, than my life’s soundtrack.  These books drown out all that background noise and leave me feeling refreshed and energized, the way I’m supposed to feel after reading a book.  (Also, I can’t read them around my kids, because I don’t feel right completely ignoring them…)

A Woman Entangled is one of those books.  It grabbed my interest by the fourth page, and it didn’t let go until I’d finished the book.  Even then, I was still caught up with thinking about it.  It has:

  1. Pride and Prejudice references galore, and the story foils P&P except that the roles are a little bit reversed with Kate playing proud but vulnerable Darcy and Nick playing worthy but mortified Elizabeth.  That makes Kate sound just awful, but she isn’t.  
  2. Humor, but the author’s voice is rather serious.  The humor is witty and a bit wry, and I loved it.
  3. Discussions about women in (Regency) culture (that have applications to our culture today).  Kate and Nick have a memorable conversation about the impossible cultural need for women to be beautiful (and thus receive the attention of countless menfolk) yet remain in ignorance of their beauty (despite all that male attention).  There are plenty of other discussions, but that’s the one I bookmarked.
  4. Friendship between women whose conversation does not revolve around the male characters (this book passes the Bechtel test with flying colors.).  Even better, the book proffers the idea that friendship with a worthy woman could be just as desirable and helpful to a woman looking to find some security in the world as marriage to a worthy man (more, perhaps, as friendship doesn’t involve the transaction of one’s self into another’s keeping).

It’s that last point that is so interesting and important.  As the romance builds between Kate and Nick, I found myself waiting for the moment when Kate would realize that all her goals were less important than the power of love or that Nick was a more worthy prize than social acceptance.  I kept waiting for Kate to have to compromise her values or to discover that her long-held values were actually wrong somehow.  I waited in vain.  I even began to worry that the book (a romance novel!) wouldn’t have a happily ever after.  The ending was so unexpected, and in a way that’s sad.  It’s sad that I kept expecting the novel to bow to patriarchy — to devalue Kate’s feminine drive towards social acceptance, to force Kate to subject her desires in order to have a relationship with Nick, to confirm the idea that Kate’s happiness can be achieved only through her relationship with Nick (and her letting go of her other goals) — and it’s sad that I was so surprised by the book’s resolution.

Bottom line: I loved this book, and Cecilia Grant has earned a spot on my auto-buy and my ‘authors I want to high-five’ lists.

A Woman Entangled was released as a mass-market paperback and e-book  on June 25, 2013 by Bantam Dell, a division of Random House.  If you’re interested in learning more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Cecilia Grant, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Bantam Dell via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*