The Regency Separation – Guest post by Lily Dalton

I get really excited about debut authors and their books — so much promise and freshness and hope, you know? — so I was thrilled to invite Lily Dalton, author of the new release Never Desire a Duketo come on the blog to talk about things.  And yes, I really was that vague.

Cover image, Never Desire a Duke by Lily Dalton

Take it away, Lily!

Hello there! Thank you for having me here on Reading with Analysis to talk about my debut release, Never Desire a Duke. The book opens with a married couple, Vane and Sophia, the Duke and Duchess of Claxton. Although they enjoyed a happy and passionate first year of marriage, they have become hopelessly estranged in the aftermath of a heartbreaking tragedy. Things are so frigid between them that Sophia can’t imagine continuing on as they are, let alone ever allowing the duke to touch her again. So she makes the difficult decision to ask him for a separation.

Why not a divorce, you ask? In the Regency, a man could submit to Parliament for a divorce by proving that his wife had committed adultery. I have no doubt that numerous wives fell on the proverbial sword and accepted the title of adulteress and the associated scandal that came along with it, just to escape marriage to an odious man, but Sophia would never falsely confess to such a thing. Even if she had, the powers that be thoroughly investigated all allegations and circumstances to be certain the couple hadn’t conspired to manufacture facts so that they could obtain a divorce.

As for women in the Regency, it was nearly impossible for them to obtain a divorce. And when I say impossible, I mean impossible. Really, the only cause under which she could obtain one would be to show “extreme cruelty” which was exceedingly difficult to substantiate, or to prove that her husband was involved in “incest”, which meant flagrantly having an affair with her sister. What if he was neglectful or abusive? It wasn’t enough. If he committed adultery a hundred times? They must remain married. If he went wildly insane? He remained her husband. In a ten year period, there were only 3-4 divorces granted to women and only under the worst of circumstances.

However, for a miserable upper class couple, a separation was always within reach. There were very public separations that resulted in great scandals because details were filed with the courts, and everyone got to hear their dirty laundry and the financial demands being made by both sides. More popular, though, were private separations. Private separations could range from an agreement to continue to live under the same roof, while sleeping behind locked doors, to a more drastic drawing up of documents to specify separate residences, custody of the children, the division of property and payment of alimony. What I enjoyed learning was that women, under these circumstances, could inflict all sorts of terrible punishments on their awful husbands. By my research, the key to this was having the support of one’s influential family, and more importantly, a male member of the family to champion her, which my character Sophia’s loving grandfather, Lord Wolverton, would do without question.

Along those lines, I really enjoyed reading instances where the wives, in their legal maneuverings, could truly string their husbands up by the…er…cojones (if you don’t know Spanish, do a quick Google search!) to obtain the beneficial outcome they wanted. The upper classes rarely married for love, but instead for financial benefit, power and connection. In many circumstances, when the woman had brought a large amount of wealth or source of income into the marriage, it served the man well to woo his wife back, to improve his own circumstances. As such, there are many instances of couples separating, only to reconcile, and then perhaps separate again. Likewise, if a woman felt the financial promises made in a private agreement were not being upheld, she might threaten her husband with a formal petition to the courts and the public embarrassment of having his sins aired publicly for all of society to see.

If you’re interested in reading further, I’d enthusiastically suggest Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England 1660-1857, and Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987, both written by Lawrence Stone. More specific to the Regency period, I particularly found interesting the years-long saga of George and Emily Westmeath, two ill behaved people who spent decades tormenting each other. Mutual seduction! Scheming! Blackmail! Their relationship had it all.

I hope this post has been interesting to your readers, and again, thank you so much for having me!

Thank you, Lily!  I bet George and Emily Westmeath made more than a few dinner parties spectacularly awkward in their day.  (Is it weird that I kind of want to see those shenanigans, were time travel not an issue?)

Anyway, Never Desire a Duke was released on Sept. 24, 2013 as an e-book and mass-market paperback by Forever,   For more information about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  If you’re curious about this Lily Dalton person, and I think you ought to be, please check her out on Facebook or Twitter (or Goodreads).  Or you could be traditional and check out her website.

Lily Dalton grew up as an Army brat, moving from place to place. Her first stop after relocating was always the local library, where she could hang out with familiar friends: Books! Lily has an English degree from Texas A & M University and after graduation worked as a legal assistant in the fields of accident reconstruction and litigation. She now lives in Houston, Texas, with her family. When she isn’t at work on her next manuscript, she spends her time trying out new recipes, cheering on her favorite Texas football teams and collecting old dishes, vintage linens and other fine “junque” from thrift stores and flea markets.

Ménage à review – Kelly, Kim and Tasha take on Secrets and Lords by Justine Elyot

Joining me on the blog today are my buddies Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and Tasha from Truth, Freedom, Beauty and Books.  We had a lot of fun reading this book together and discussing it on Twitter, and we had even more fun writing this review together.  But enough introduction…the title says it all, honestly.

Cover image, Secrets and Lords by Justine Elyot

Summary, courtesy of Goodreads:

The summer of 1920 brings illicit liaisons to stately home Deverell Hall. Lords, ladies, butler and maids all succumb to the spirit of the roaring 1920s as sex and scandal take over.

From the author of bestselling Mischief titles ‘Kinky’ and ‘Game’, Justine Elyot’s ‘Secrets and Lords’ is a historical erotic novel that will seduce anyone who loves period drama Downton Abbey and delight fans of The Great Gatsby.

Lord Deverell’s new wife has the house in thrall to her theatrical glamour. His womanising son, Sir Charles, has his eye on anything female that moves while his beautiful daughter, Mary, is feeling more than a little restless. And why does his younger son, Sir Thomas, spend so much time in the company of the second footman?

Into this simmering tension comes new parlour maid, Edie, with a secret of her own – a secret that could blow the Deverell family dynamic to smithereens.

Kelly: So why did three seemingly normal women decide to read a book based on that description? Are we so far gone that we’ll read anything?  

Tasha: Yes.

Kelly: Good point.  Anyway, it was either this or Office Toy.

Kim: Or Forced By Bears.

Tasha: Or a reread of Spank Me Mr. Darcy?

Kim: Dear God we’ve read a gauntlet of bad books recently. You’d think we’re masochists or something.

Tasha: We read them so others don’t have to.

Kim: Good point. We’re like book reading heroes in some way!

Tasha: We provide a valuable public service!

Kelly: Speak for yourselves… sometimes I encourage people to read the awful books, just so I can talk about them with people who share my horror.  That said, I’m not encouraging anyone to read this one.

Tasha: Aw come on. It was definitely one of weirdest historicals I’ve come across in a long time. It had an identity crisis.

Kim: That it did.  It was at times trying to be an erotica novel, other times trying to be some type of book that made a stance on issues (it failed here terribly), I got a feel of Downton Abbey fan fiction, as well as an attempt at historical satire.  I’m not sure it succeeded in any of these things….

Tasha: Yeah, the satire part was weird. I felt like I was reading The Perils of Pauline sometimes.

Kelly: Yes, and that tone really clashed with the attempted erotica.  I didn’t know whether I was supposed to take a prurient interest or be disgusted by it all. (I opted for the latter.)  You know, my least favorite thing about it, identity crisis notwithstanding, was the writing. For a book without a clear idea of what it wanted to be, the writing was consistent and consistently bad.

Kim: Just to give you an example of the bad writing – I’d like to provide my favorite passage: “….before arriving at the well-named Green Drawing Room.  It was very green, and very golden, and very velvety, and very cold – in style rather than temperature.”  Seriously?

Or, you can have this quote “…flexing her hips in shameless come-hither.  Although, she thought half-coherently, he already was hither.  Could she beg him to come more hither?”  Umm…really?

Tasha: “The act of love. The thing she despised and feared, and yet was fascinated by.” LOL

Kelly: See what I mean? I liked the made up words, myself.

Kim: “Her bare shoulders were treated to the featheriest of kisses up to her neck and she shivered, looking at the bed through half-closed eyes.”

Kelly:“She shut her eyes tight when he discovered her nipples, undisguisably hard and swollen. ‘Mmm, how’s that?’ he whispered, and her answer came by way of her bottom…” Yeah. Featheriest and undisguisably. Just… No.

Tasha: You are undisguisably upset by this featheriest description. lol

Kelly: It’s true. After I finished that scene, I started skipping around. The combination of undisguisably dull prose describing every detail of the maids cleaning or setting up for the dinner service and uncomfortably detailed purple prose during the sex scenes just grossed me out and bored me, in turns.

Kim: Not only was the writing bad, but the characterizations were horrendous as well. Edie, the main heroine, is supposed to be this woman who’s all about women’s rights.  There is no evidence supporting this beyond the sentence that told us she was big with women’s rights.  That’s how the characterizations go with most of the characters.  A sentence about them is written and that’s it. I’m a reader that enjoys being shown things, not told.

Tasha: The thing with Edie was, none of her actions ever made sense. She wants to know her mom, so instead of like, writing her a letter or something Edie’s going to pretend to be a servant in her mansion? Makes perfect sense! Not. And then she sneaks around and spies on her employers at night–through actual key holes! I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character so stupid before whom I was actually expected to root for.

Kelly: I wanted awful things to happen to her.  Let’s talk about women’s issues for just a second. Part of what bothered me so much about this book (or, to have full disclosure, the parts of this book that I read) was that Edie was ostensibly all for women’s rights but actually she ends up perpetuating all of the awful stereotypes.  TSTL, unable to think around Charles’ manly charms, utterly controlled by her (bizarre) desire for a douchebag…

Tasha: …saying no when she means yes…

Kim: YES! Not only that but she’s boring as hell.  I’m not sure what anyone saw in her.  Her personality is so whiney and uppity. She thinks she knows what is best for EVERYONE and tries to force everyone into actions that she approves of for them.  It got hella annoying after awhile.

Kelly: Edie isn’t the only unsavory character (actually, all of the characters are rather awful).  Charles is basically a douche-canoe.  He has no redeeming qualities (other than his ability to bone, I suppose).  

Tasha: Hey, never underestimate an ability to bone.

Kelly: I don’t know… I’m usually skeptical of anyone who’s basically a walking penis. Anyway, he’s set up in the narrative as a dilettante who seduces (and impregnates) all the pretty maids. Edie is repeatedly warned to stay the hell away from him. Then she (very creepily) spies on him having sex with his own stepmother….

Kim: Creepy!

Kelly: For reals…. and that’s when the shit gets awkward.  You see, Charles’ stepmother is Edie’s mom.

Kim: Oh snap!

Kelly: And Edie doesn’t think it’s right that Charles and her mother are doing the horizontal nasty, so she — and I’m not fucking kidding — offers herself to Charles if he promises to stop fucking her mom, and, because she doesn’t want to tell anyone that she’s Lady D’s daughter (and not just a housemaid), she explains her objection as a moral one. It’s wrong that Charles is fucking his stepmother, so instead he should fuck Edie. Makes perfect sense, right?

Kim: She’s totes a martyr.

Tasha: Well, someone has to sleep with him or he’ll go blind.

Kelly: True story. And then they have all kinds of awkward sexual encounters.  Just how awkward could it be, you ask?  Well… take it away, Kim!

Kim: Let’s just say after Charles spends an evening pleasuring Edie, he decides to stake his claim and shove his fingers in the step-mother/mother’s face.  She proceeds to lose her mind with jealousy.  Edie’s all pissed and Charles is like “BABY I DID IT FOR YOU” and Edie’s like “aww yeah you did. It’s coo”

Kelly: Yeah.  See? Awkward!

Kim: Did anyone else feel that this book was misogynistic?

Kelly: It was dripping with misogyny.

Tasha: Among other things. LOL I was more creeped out by the mother/daughter dynamic and how Charles was modeling Edie in her mother’s image, honestly. But it’s true that all the female characters are either catty (or murderous) bitches or stupid. Or both.

Kim: Oh God the whole Edie/Mom dress up thing. Tasha, I’m leaving that fabulous Freudian scene in your lap.

Tasha: Thank you, I think… So it doesn’t take Charles–or the reader–long to figure out Edie is actually Lady D’s daughter, since they look EXACTLY ALIKE. And seeing as how Edie’s hard-to-get routine has captivated him, soon they’re sleeping together and then he’s like, Hey! While your mom’s out you should try on some of her clothes. And once Edie’s dolled up like her mom Charles is all, “HOT.” But things become even more awkward when he suggests they have a little fun bump-and-grind in her mom’s bed. NOT FREUDIAN, not Freudian AT ALL.

Kim: “Come on babe. Put on your mom’s clothes!” “No, Charles! What would she say if I put them on?” “BABE. IT’S HOT.” “Aww yeah…I guess. It’s coo”

Tasha: Oh! And then he takes her, a servant, to dinner with the family dressed in her mom’s clothes. Awesome idea.

Kim: Not only are there creepy parts like that, but the ending of the book could literally make your head explode with all the craziness.  

Kelly: And how. Actually, I’m OK with everyone I know slogging through this book just to get to the end. It’s pretty dang awesome.  Ready for a spoiler?  Good.  

So Lady D (Edie’s mom) takes the crazy train to murder land because Edie stole her man and because Lady D thinks Edie tried to sabotage Lady D’s marriage , and so she tries to kill Edie after rather creepily spying on Edie and Charles getting it on outside, in full view of anyone, by a pond.  But Lady D is really bad at murder. Her best plan consists of saying to Edie, once Charles has left, Hey girl, you need a bath. Oh look! Let’s swim in this pond! So Edie is all, LOL, k.  So they get nekkid–and that’s not weird at all, right?–and then Lady D tries to drown Edie. But Charles comes back (for no stated reason) and knocks out Lady D, then gives Edie mouth to mouth. Then they go back to the house to take a bath.

Why? Who knows.

After their bath, Charles sends a footman after Lady D, but she’s already dead by the time the footman finds her (suicide? Who knows.). Then Charles and Edie take off in his car to get the magistrate, but instead the car crashes and rolls breaking their legs or something.  

Tasha: LOL And like, the next day they’re fine.

Kim: Even though a car legit crushed Charles’ legs.

Tasha: My favorite thing about the ending was where Edie was like, “Oh, I just realized I couldn’t possibly live a mansion and be rich–even though that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the whole book–so I’m going back to London. And if you want me, you have to give up your inheritance and your title, Charles!” And then he totally does it. Like, What?

Kim: “CHARLES. WHY DOES ANYONE WANT MONEY!? GIVE IT UP! I’m worth so much more than a warm home, servants, and the best of everything.” “But babe I love money. And cars. And women. And your mom.” “But I still need you to give up everything. Penniless existences are so much better.” “Ok babe…it’s coo.”

Tasha: AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Kim: Aww yeah they did. OH – have we mentioned that there is also an obligatory gay character? Who’s having a relationship with the footman? OH OH and that the chauffeur runs away with Charles’ sister? Any of these storylines sound familiar?  That’s right….it’s straight out of Downton Abbey.

Tasha: So would you two read another Justine Elyot book?

Kelly: Oh HELL no. (Unless it was once again a choice between that book and Office Toy or Forced by Bears.  Then… maybe.)  (Or if y’all read it first and pinky swore that it was more interesting.)

Kim: I’m going with HELL YEAH. I laughed SO HARD through SO MUCH of this book.

Tasha: LOL I think I would, too. If she narrowed down what she wanted to do with the novel it would be good. Or better. Or less bad.

Kelly: Or maybe just more boring?

Tasha: That’s a possibility, too. I guess if it wasn’t for the trainwreckiness this novel would have been undisguisably boring.

Kim: I’ve looked at her other books and nothing sounded as humorous as this one. Whomp whomp.

Kelly: Either way, if you guys end up deciding to read another of hers, I’ll join in, too.

Kim: Simply for the made-up words, right?

Tasha: It’s creativity!

Kim: All in all I was totally entertained by this book. Because it was funny. Even though it didn’t mean to be. And was crazy. And weird. And velvety.

Tasha: And green. And there were secrets. Also, lords.

Kelly: And highly detailed ormolu cleaning.  But my favorite part was when Edie and Charles got their legs crushed. It felt like justice.

Tasha: True. My favorite part was when Charles stuck his smelly fingers in Lady D’s face. Or when Edie actually looked through a keyhole, I can’t decide. So many memorable moments and we learned how to clean on top of it!

Kim: It takes a lot of scrubbing. While on your knees. With your ass in the air. Scrubbing. And scrubbing. Followed by some more scrubbing.

Kelly: While a douche-canoe looks on.

Kim: Thank God we read this book. Apparently I’ve been cleaning all wrong.

Tasha: It just wasn’t hard enough. HAHA

Secrets and Lords was released on May 30, 2013 by Mischief, a division of HarperCollins UK.  If you’re curious, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.

Kim, Tasha, and I send our thanks to the publisher for sending us copies through NetGalley.

Review – A Rake’s Midnight Kiss by Anna Campbell

I know you read and memorize every word I write here, so you know I was a bit ambivalent about Days of Rakes and Roses, my introduction to Anna Campbell’s writing.  Don’t get me wrong: the writing was good, but I had some issues with the hero and with the book’s apparent acceptance of the double standard that allows men to screw any woman who doesn’t move faster but expects women to sit around chaste (and bored) until such time as a man sees fit to give them something to do (if you know what I mean).  One of my book buddies suggested I try out some of Campbell’s earlier books, especially Untouched.  I did, and I loved.  So I was very pleased to see A Rake’s Midnight Kiss come up on NetGalley, and I rushed to request it.

Cover image, A Rake’s Midnight Kiss by Anna Campbell

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

It Takes A Lady

Brilliant scholar Genevieve Barrett knows how to keep a secret. Her identity as the author of her father’s academic articles has always been her greatest deception—until a charming housebreaker tries to steal the mysterious Harmsworth Jewel from her. She doesn’t reveal that she recognizes her father’s devastatingly handsome new student as the thief himself. For Genevieve, this will be the most seductive secret of all…

To Catch A Thief

Sir Richard Harmsworth has been living a lie, maintaining a rakish façade to show society that he doesn’t care about his status as a bastard. Yet long haunted by his unknown father’s identity, Richard believes the Harmsworth Jewel will confirm his claim as the rightful heir. But when Richard sets out to seduce the bookworm who possesses the stone, he instead falls for its beautiful owner. But even as she steals Richard’s heart, Genevieve will be in greater danger than her coveted treasure…

There was one (big) thing that I took exception to in this book, but there were lots and lots things that I liked about it.  I’ll start with that list, because it’s a lot less ranty.

  1. Genevieve is a scholar, and her expertise, while problematic for her relationship with her father, is acknowledged by all the menfolk in the book.  It’s particularly telling that Sr Richard notices and values Genevieve’s scholarship. (That was one of the things I liked best about him, through the book’s first half.)
  2. Genevieve and her father have a difficult relationship, and I liked how Campbell wasn’t afraid to make it messy.  Genevieve is conflicted by her simultaneous love for and disgust with her father.  Her father’s not all that conflicted in return, but I found him rather believable as a benevolent villain suffering from a case of narcissism.
  3. After years of being used by her father, Genevieve determines to break free and support herself on her scholarship.  Further, she finds a publisher and has her future all lined up.  I loved how self-sustaining Genevieve is.
  4. The chemistry between Sir Richard and Genevieve was great.
  5. Genevieve is a fantastic character, and I grew to appreciate Sir Richard.  I thought it was neat how my experience as a reader mirrored Richard’s development as a character — as he displayed and thereby discovered his hidden depths, I transitioned from thinking him a useless douche to a nuanced and interesting character.
  6. The second half of the book was very well done.

That last one implies that the first half was not so well done, but that’s not quite it.  The book is well crafted, well plotted, nicely paced, and interesting throughout, but I had a couple hangups that put a damper on my ability to enjoy the first half.  They are:

  1. Sir Richard first meets Genevieve when he breaks into her home in the middle of the night to scope out the Harmsworth Jewel.  He scares the bejesus out of her but leaves without stealing the jewel or harming her.  Then he places himself in her family’s home (as a pupil to her father) and proceeds to run through all the ways he can use Genevieve to get control over the jewel.  He could seduce her — not ruin her, mind, just play with her feelings a bit — in order to convince her to sell it, for example.  That’s awesome. Also, super heroic.
  2. Fairly early on, Genevieve figures out that “Christopher Evans” is the thief, but she doesn’t out him because, quite frankly, she doesn’t trust anyone (who would, in her position?).  She certainly doesn’t trust him, but that doesn’t stop her from falling prey to his seductions.  I had a hard time accepting the idea that Genevieve would fool around with a guy that she was fairly certain was trying to screw her over in other ways.
  3. There were a few too many mentions of how odd it is that “Christopher Evans,” a handsome and elegant man, has a nondescript mutt for a dog.

But my biggest issue with the book involves the first kiss scene.  Richard as Christopher stumbles upon Genevieve on a midnight skinny dip and concludes that he just has to see her naked.  So he takes her towel and hides near where she stashed her clothes so that he can be sure to get more than a glance.  Genevieve feels violated by Richard’s lack of respect for her privacy, but he ends up getting rewarded by a kiss.  The narration makes it clear that Richard’s actions are presumptuous and a little nefarious — he doesn’t have the right to see her naked, after all, even though he behaves as if he does — but Genevieve’s response is self-directed anger and mortification.  Richard couldn’t help himself… he’s a man!  But Genevieve should have known better, so it’s all her fault that she was violated by “Christopher” the peeper. Then Richard manipulates Genevieve into a kiss, and all of his presumption is rewarded.  The benefit to Genevieve? Her sanctuary from the world is ruined.  Awesome.

I’ll be honest.. I was sorely tempted to stop reading when I got to the end of that scene.  I’m glad I kept going because Richard’s redemption is rather well done, and the second half of the story was gripping, interesting, and rewarding.  But is it too much for me to hope for a book not to poke me in the eye with historically (and currently) accurate misogyny that gets rewarded by the heroine and narrative?  Oy.

Anyway, the bottom line is that lovers of historical romance will enjoy this one, but only if they aren’t wearing feminist pants while reading the book.

A Rake’s Midnight Kiss was released on August 27, 2013 as a mass-market and e-book by Forever, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing.  For more information on the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  If you’re curious about Anna Campbell, go check out her website!

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