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?
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….
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.