When it comes to historical romance, I look for one of two things: one, a compelling love story with some scenes that make me blush and fan myself; or two, a light and fluffy clean romance, sometimes with a touch of humor. What I demand from all historical romances is for both the romance and the setting to be believable. I’ve started to wonder if my standards are too high. When I went into this book, with the cute cover and hints at a curse, I figured this one might fall on the fluffy side of the spectrum (the cat on the cover may have influenced this assumption). I was sadly mistaken.
The characters seem so non-committal, not just with each other, but with upholding any of the values they claim to have. Catherine was constantly complaining about how she needed peace and solitude to write, but in the first half of the novel whenever she had it she didn’t do it. She blames family for her difficulties with not being able to be the next great novelist, but the problem was really with the fact that she was not all that committed to doing it. Just like she apparently was not all that committed to being a spinster, despite preaching about it constantly. I found Catherine’s character to be frustrating at every turn and had a hard time rooting for her.
Unfortunately, the other half of this love story was hardly any better. Marcus is dreamy for all of a few minutes, until he started talking about his manhood… Which he proceeded to do all the time. Every time the narration would switch to him, inevitably a thought would end with some note about what his cock wants. I suppose Marcus’ raw desire was supposed to be tantalizing, but I honestly just found it vulgar. It didn’t help that everything about Marcus and Catherine’s romance was a lust at first sight sort of scenario. I didn’t feel any real chemistry between them, even by the end when they are apparently in love with each other I still wasn’t feeling it. Literally everything always boiled back down to sex. The rest of the story and dialogue was not even all that funny, clever, or witty, it was just two stubborn people wanting to get in each other’s pants the entire book while being really over dramatic about, well, everything.
“But can you understand at all how fleeting a woman’s existence is? We give up our lives and possessions – even our names – to our husbands. Our bodies become little more than vessels for children, to continue our husbands’ lines.”
Then there is the curse plot line, which I could suspend my belief and go with it for a while, but even that felt like it was poorly thought out. Marcus has to control his desires and avoid marriage because he’s fearful of accidentally impregnating a woman, thus ending his life. Though somehow, he has no problem with brothel women and the risk of impregnating any of them? Because bastard children can’t be heirs? Sure, at that time period they certainly had a harder go of it, but it wasn’t unheard of. And even if that was the case, didn’t the curse start with an illegitimate child born to a woman jilted by her lover? The number of plot holes was staggering and it wouldn’t have been such a big deal if it wasn’t the central focus of the story.
I also didn’t buy the mildly magical ending with the cat. No I don’t hate the cat, on the contrary the cat was perhaps the best character in the entire book. It just seemed too convenient, too hastily put together. I was also bothered by the fact that, in order to I guess create some tension, Marcus had absolutely no interest in finding out the truth about the curse. That alone basically undid all of the effort, all of the worry, all of the focus this character had on this family curse that has weighed so heavily on him for his entire life. It made absolutely no sense for his character. I don’t even want to go into how his character contradicts himself again once the mystery is solved. I hated Marcus.
I almost put this book down after the first couple of chapters, but things picked up around the half way mark. After one scene that actually made me chuckle with the eye brow waggling old ladies, I had hope that maybe the story would redeem itself with the added bit of comedy. I was disappointed that things started to go downhill again once the book attempted to flesh out the curse and develop the romance between Catherine and Marcus. Which, while I’m on that subject – I absolutely hated how that turned out. Catherine spends the entire novel preaching about never wanting to get trapped in a marriage and to never have children, then finds herself trapped. It wasn’t romantic, it was just frustrating.
On a slightly random note, I also noticed at one point an expletive is used that I was fairly certain did not exist in the context that it was used during that time period. After looking it up my assumption was correct – while the word had existed in the more vulgar sense that it is commonly used, as a curse or slang word it didn’t come about until the 1920’s. I know it’s being overly nit picky, but things like that really ruin the immersion in the time period for me.
Title: What To Do With A Duke
Series: Spinster House #1
Author: Sally MacKenzie
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Format: ARC / Ebook
Welcome to the charming, fatefully named village of Loves Bridge, where a woman destined for spinsterhood can live a life of her own choosing—or fall unexpectedly, madly in love…
Miss Isabelle Catherine Hutting would rather be lounging in the library than circling the ballroom in search of a husband any day. So when Cat hears that the town’s infamous Spinster House is open for a new resident, she jumps at the chance to put all this marriage business behind her. But first she must make arrangements with her prospective landlord, Marcus, the Duke of Hart—the most handsome man she’s ever seen, and the only man who’s ever impressed her in the least…
With her wit, independent spirit, and not least of all her beauty, Marcus can’t help but be stirred by Cat. It’s terribly unfortunate he’s not looking to marry, given the centuries-old curse that left his family with the Spinster House to begin with. No duke shall live to see his heir’s birth. But is there a chance the curse could be broken—in true fairy-tale fashion—by an act of true love? The race to Happily Ever After is about to begin…