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.*

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7 thoughts on “Review – A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

  1. This book sounds amazeballs! I love that the roles of Darcy and Elizabeth are gender-reversed. I always thought if I was in P&P I would be Darcy just because I’m very reserved around people I don’t know.

    • It’s a fantastic book. If you haven’t read any of Grant’s books yet, you should totally pick them up. A Lady Awakened, in particular, is stunning in the way it breaks through our expectations of the genre yet delivers an undeniably romantic story (on its own terms).

  2. It’s funny, Tim and I were having a sort of similar discussion about the Disney princesses and how happy endings are only achieved through getting a man. With the exception of Brave, all the female leads require a romance and/or marriage to achieve their happily ever after (even Mulan, to a lesser extent). I would love to see some more stories that end with the female lead finding happiness through finding a love for themselves and a strong sense of identity, or in furthering their female friendships or bonds of sisterhood. Not that I’m down on men or love, but does every story have to be about finding fulfillment only through getting a man? Can’t a girl save China without having to bring home a boyfriend? /rant

    • The Disney princess stories have gotten better over time… Tangled is a particularly good one, I think. Someone gave Allie a story book anthology with 6 classic Disney stories (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, and it was actually horrifying for me to read the three earlier stories. Snow White was the worst… other than when she’s cooking and cleaning at the dwarves’ place, her dialogue is restricted to uttering the surprised-yet-demure, “Oh!” She says it when she meets the Prince (and runs from him), when the woodsman gets all homicidal on her, when the dwarves surprise her, when she eats the apple, when she sees her prince again… etc. It was nauseating.

      I read this excellent blog post over at Romance Novels for Feminists about Brave and how it’s not as feminist as one would assume. The author’s point was that the specimens of manhood proffered to Merida were so regrettable that she made the only reasonable choice (and not necessarily a feminist one) in rejecting them as suitors. If she had chosen her own path over marriage to a viable candidate, it would have been a different story. (Also, a story that Disney is never going to tell.)

      • I’ve always hated Snow White, even as a kid. Though, I have to admit that I loved Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella (movie versions). I really enjoyed Tangled, but again, the romance is a large part of the story. I agree that Brave isn’t an example of feminism. I only mentioned it because it’s the only Disney story I could think of with a female lead that doesn’t end with a romance. As much as I love Disney movies, it is a little frustrating that true love conquers all. I’d rather ingenuity, strength of character, and being a genuinely awesome character being enough to conquer every now and again.

  3. So happy for you that you have discovered the incredibleness of Cecilia Grant. I’m now saving A Woman Entangled for a total immersion read – probably on vacation later this summer. I might re-read the others first. Even a re-read will likely have me ignoring my children, laundry, etc.

    • I envy you your vacation! It’s difficult for me to find the time to do a cover-to-cover, no distractions read of a book, but that kind of reading is essential to my mental well-being. Books like Cecilia Grant’s that, with their nuance, truth telling, and beauty, force me to let everything else go, are a joy to find. Have a great time re-reading and reading these books!

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