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The Care and Taming of a Rogue, by Suzanne Enoch

Title: The Care and Taming of a Rogue CareandTaming(Adventurers’ Club #1)
Author: Suzanne Enoch
Length: 371 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read? Re-Read
Rating: 3.25 stars

I don’t like monkeys.

I should just say that from the outset, because the monkey is, well, not an insubstantial part of this book. It’s meant to be endearing, but I find monkeys just inexpressibly creepy. (Now if it had been a lemur, we could’ve talked).

That said, I think I liked this book better on the second go than I remember liking it the first time I read it. That still isn’t a resounding acclamation, mind you, but I felt less distracted while reading than I did the first time. Enoch’s Adventurers’ Series explores the lives of men who have come back from Britain’s imperialist expeditions rather the worse for wear. It’s a fairly good inversion of the cheerful “Rule Britannia” trope. Of course, the focus is still on the effect these things have on the white British people rather than on the conquered, but, you can only expect so much multi-cultural awareness from Regency romance novels, really. Enoch takes a lot of inspiration from actual historical figures, and it does allow her to explore a different section of society than you see in a lot of typical books of this kind.

So. In Book One, Captain Bennett Wolfe returns from an African expedition where his second, David Langley, left him for dead. Langley stole Bennett’s journals and published them under his own name — but with a few revisions that made Bennett look like a bumbling idiot and Langley like a great hero. When Bennett returns from the Congo to find his reputation in tatters, he sets his sights on revenge — but his temper and disregard for polite society’s rules aren’t helping him win his case.

He has a few allies, and among them is Phillipa Eddison, called Flip, an determined bluestocking. Flip has read his previous books and is willing to believe that Langley is perpetrating a deceit upon the public. Unfortunately, Bennett keeps getting distracted by his growing lust and admiration for Flip, and since he’s spent most of his adult life outside of polite society, he takes actions that are decidedly too forward. Flip chastises him for overstepping boundaries, but then spends most of the book doing a really poor job of teaching him better manners. And he’s not helped by the fact that he brought home a monkey who gets into all sorts of screwball-comedy shenanigans.

The biggest problem with this book (apart from the monkey) is that neither of the main characters are tremendously likeable. Flip does do a little too much of the “I read books and think sensibly and therefore that makes me better than Other Girls” thing, a trope which I’m finding increasingly annoying in historical romances. Being a bluestocking doesn’t have to mean looking down your nose at girls who aren’t (I should know). It isn’t egregious, and Enoch does show that she has female friends and isn’t quite as much of an intellectual recluse as she seems to think herself, which mitigates it somewhat. Bennett, who is supposed to be barely civilised, mostly just comes off as unnecessarily aggressive and a bit of a boor. He makes half-hearted attempts at appropriate courtship, but considering that Flip never actually enforces her supposed ideals about propriety. Their romance is more a collision than anything else, which keeps the book clipping along, but which doesn’t make a lot of intrinsic sense, nor does it have the ring of emotional authenticity. Flip has to help Bennett restore his reputation, but the actual conflict between the two of them — his desire for adventure versus her homebody-ness — is never really addressed, but rather hand-waved so that they can get to the HEA.

So — I would call this a thoroughly middle-of-the-road romance novel, good brain candy, but not outstanding. Not Enoch’s best work, but not painful to read, either.

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Rules to Catch a Devilish Duke, by Suzanne Enoch

Title: Rules to Catch a Devilish DukeRulestoCatch
Author: Suzanne Enoch
Year of Publication: 2012
Length: 343 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 4.5 stars

Well, this is one of the best historical romances I’ve read in a long time. I really mean that. I tore through this in about 24 hours because I just couldn’t stand to be parted from it.

Sophia is exactly the sort of heroine I have been yearning for: cheerfully independent, even in the face of difficulties; not a virgin and not ashamed about it; knows what she wants sexually and isn’t afraid of her passions; good-natured and forgiving but not a pushover; decisive and undeterred from pursuing what she wants out of life. Of course, the reason she can get away with being all of these things is because she lives a life outside the bounds of the good ton. Sophia White is the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Hennessey, sired on his wife’s maid. Raised in obscurity, Sophia eventually finds a comfortable place at the Tantalus Club (a gentlemen’s club owned by a woman and staffed entirely by ladies, if you haven’t read the earlier books in the series or my reviews of them) — and she appears in both of the previous books in the series as a supporting character. This was going along well for her until her father randomly chose to care about her existence again — not to acknowledge her, but to threaten her. Tired of being ribbed by his peers about his by-blow’s occupation, he’s arranged for her to marry an alarmingly pious vicar in Cornwall; if Sophia doesn’t agree, he will use his power to destroy the Tantalus Club and everyone Sophia cares about.

Adam Baswich, Duke of Greaves, unwittingly provides Sophia with an opportunity for one last hurrah before her sentencing. He invites her to a Christmas house party at his estate in Yorkshire, ostensibly to keep Camille and Keating (see Taming an Impossible Rogue) company. But as Sophia is traveling to the estate, the bridge over the river collapses, dunking her in it. Adam rescues her, but that leaves them as the only people on the correct side of the river until the bridge is repaired, except for Adam’s unbelievably snotty elder sister. (And I do find this a bit of a plot stretch — I mean, really, no one could build a raft or a pontoon or something? I mean, this is the River Aire they’re talking about — not exactly a huge impediment — but I’m willing to forgive it because of what it leads to). Now, why was the Duke giving such a large house party? Apparently it’s his custom at Christmas, as he’s someone who clings to company so as not to be left alone with his own mind (I empathise, Adam); but this year, there’s something more pressing: he also invites a dozen eligible young ladies so that he can choose a bride from among them. His father’s will stipulates that he marry by age 30 and produce an heir by age 31, or else all the property and money goes to his sister’s son. (Side note: I know I’ve read another book in the past year with that exact same stipulation. I think it might’ve been one of Mary Balogh’s? I don’t appear to have reviewed it, if I did, but regardless — I find it very odd and improbable. The requirement to marry makes sense, but surely any English peer would know what a dicey thing getting an heir is, and would not set a time limit on that). But since none of the eligible ladies can get across the river until the bridge is repaired, Adam has to settle for Sophia’s company. And what company it turns out to be.

The most excellent thing about this book is that Adam and Sophia are so beautifully well-suited for each other. Their interactions while they’re alone at his estate are just gorgeous — warm and funny, passionate and teasing, thoughtful and challenging — everything that a marriage should be. But they can’t see it, bless ’em. They do build a real friendship, which is so important and honestly pretty rare in romance novels. Adam is astonished to discover that there’s a woman he actually enjoys spending time around and conversing with, and Sophia is pleased not to be treated like a leper or a whore. They are so gorgeous together. The friendship is there, but powerful attraction is as well, and it doesn’t take long for them to fall into bed together — but the way it happens is sort of fantastic. They’re playing cards and wagering kisses, until Sophia — Sophia! — suggests playing strip piquet instead. I thought it was brilliant. Enoch does a great job turning up the heat in that scene, too — not just giving in to the hormones immediately, but letting it simmer, then bubble, then broil over. I know that feeling, the long tease, knowing precisely where the night’s going to end but suspending gratification to make it all the better — and Enoch captures the tantalising delight of it so well. The sex scenes throughout this book are magnificent, not least because we don’t have to deal with any of that “teach the virgin to accept pleasure” nonsense. Nope, Sophia knows what she wants and grabs at it, quite literally in a few cases. It’s so refreshing.

But, the bridge gets repaired, and Adam and Sophia have to face the music. Adam sets to trying to pick a bride out from the herd he invited over, but though he tries to reconcile himself to the idea of Lady Caroline Emery, least offensive of the bunch, he of course can’t stay away from Sophia. Sophia, meanwhile, is having to fend off all kinds of gross behaviour from men and women alike. If she’s not getting sneered at and insulted, she’s being propositioned. The men all want to know if she’s Adam’s mistress — and I actually really enjoy the interplay around this. Because she isn’t. She doesn’t want to be, and she lets Adam know that right from the start. A lover, but not a mistress, not someone who’s kept and paid for. Unfortunately, because of the circumstances of their world, that also leaves her unprotected. And that creates quite a bit of drama for them both.

I knock half a point off because the end is a little unsatisfying — it all crashes together very quickly, with literally no denouement whatsoever. I want to know more, to be assured of their future happiness! How do they deal with the vicar? How do they handle life back in London? Does Adam manage to get the heir he needs in the fourteen months remaining to him? Enoch had better wrap those details up with a cameo in the next book, or I might have a bit of a hissy fit. And I also dock for an unflattering portrayal of Cornwall, which really is a lovely region with gorgeous landscapes and the nicest people I’ve ever met anywhere in the world. On the whole, though, Rules to Catch a Devilish Duke is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it.

I’m excited for the next book in the series to come out in a few months. I’m curious who the next heroine will be (as Enoch’s website doesn’t say and I haven’t looked it up elsewhere yet) — my money is on Emily Portsmouth, because far too much has been made of her keeping her true identity a secret for her to just be a side mention, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Lady Caroline Emery get a story of her own. She seems a likely sort.

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Taming an Impossible Rogue, by Suzanne Enoch

Title: Taming an Impossible Rogue (Scandalous Brides #2)TaminganImpossibleRogue
Author: Suzanne Enoch
Year of Publication: 2012
Length: 352 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 2.5 stars

I still enjoyed dipping into the world of the Tantalus Club, but this one just didn’t do it for me. I found the heroine lackluster and the hero hard to like, and that impeded my enjoyment.

The basic outline of the story isn’t bad: Camille Pryce ran away from her wedding a year ago on the sudden realisation that she did not want to spend her life with the groom. Not hard to believe, considering that the marriage was arranged when she was three days old, and yet the groom, the Marquis of Fenton, never saw fit to so much as introduce himself to her at any point in the past twenty-one years. Turned away by both friends and relatives, Camille eventually ended up at the Tantalus Club, a scandalous gentlemen’s club owned by a woman and exclusively staffed by women (see Scandalous Brides #1, A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes). It takes Fenton a year to decide he would still like to marry Camille after all — and his reasoning here is less-than-flawless. He’s tired of his peers poking fun at him for the runaway bride, but I can’t imagine that any Marquis with a stick up his rear as large as the one Fenton seems to have ramroding his spine would take a supposedly fallen woman back rather than dissolving the betrothal and finding someone else to marry. So the rationale is a little odd, but whatever his justification, he wants her back — but he can’t get into the Tantalus Club to see her, as Camille has had him barred. Fenton decides to send his cousin, Keating Blackwood, instead, for reasons that are equally unclear. You’d think Fenton could convince somebody to help him out who didn’t have such a thorough reputation for seduction, and probably for less than the ten thousand pounds he promises Keating. But Keating is charming and therefore that will lure Camille out or… something? Like I said, Fenton’s powers of decision-making are really far from flawless.

It doesn’t help matters that Keating, apart from being a notorious rake, is also a sot and a murderer. Yes, you read that right. Six years ago, he had an affair with a married woman, her husband found out, pursued him back to his house, and Keating shot him in self-defence — but definitely killed him, and has been skulking outside of polite society ever since, apparently at the bottom of a vodka bottle. It’s hugely unattractive. For the first few chapters, most of what we know about Keating is that he has an unpleasant attitude, is constantly either drunk or hungover, and doesn’t bathe or change his clothes often enough to mask the odor of alcohol. And this is our supposed hero. Now, don’t let anyone think I’m saying that alcoholics can’t change or aren’t deserving of love — but none of that is ever addressed, except that he just magically stops drinking once he starts falling in love with Camille. The entire problem — and at the beginning of the book, it’s a huge problem — is glossed over. It’s like Enoch wanted to give herself a huge challenge and set out to make as thoroughly unredeemable a hero as possible, but then instead of actually going through the effort to work through his manifold flaws, just sort of hand-waves them all with The Power of Love. It’s unconvincing and wildly unfulfilling.

Anyway. Keating needs the ten thousand pounds to pay off the woman whose husband he kills, not for herself but for the son she claims is Keating’s. He takes Fenton up on his offer and starts trying to reconcile the couple — but, of course, starts falling for Camille himself. Honestly, this book might’ve been better if Fenton was a little less of an overt jackass. If he hadn’t been totally unsuitable, Camille’s dilemma might’ve made more sense. As it was, I could really see no impetus whatsoever for her to go back to him. Clearly she had already gotten used to living outside the bounds of proper society, and clearly she did not really want to go back to a life where she would be continually punished for her supposed “error in judgment”. This book might’ve been more interesting if she’d had more of a spine and done something wonderfully shocking and unexpected, like proposing to Keating rather than waiting for him to come to his senses about her. She almost looked like she might’ve been headed on that road, when she decided to sleep with him because, hey, if everyone figures she’s ruined anyway, why not? But no. Instead, she endures all manner of insults, first from Fenton, then from her family and other ex-friends, about her “shameful” actions. It’s perfectly clear that no one in her life will ever let her live this down, even if the public scandal subsides, but she — for no good reason whatsoever — agrees to go back to Fenton and be downtodden forever.

The “twist” ending for Keating is something I saw coming two hundred pages away, and the climax is a hastily thrown together jumble. Overall, Taming an Impossible Rogue was a huge disappointment. The side characters were more interesting and more likeable than the main characters — Keating enlists his friend the Duke of Greaves as a support, and Camille clings to Sophia, a friend from the club. A lot of what propelled me through this book was the promise of getting on to the next in the series, where those secondaries become the main characters. On its own, Taming is skippable.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes, by Suzanne Enoch

Title: A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes (Scandalous Brides #1)BeginnersGuidetoRakes
Author: Suzanne Enoch
Year of Publication: 2011
Length: 352 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 3.25 stars

Okay, so this book was actually closer to 4 stars until about the last thirty pages.

A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes is the first book in Suzanne Enoch’s latest series, Scandalous Brides. Though, having glanced at the back covers of the other two, I suspect it would be better named the Tantalus Club series, since that seems to be the common thread yoking them all together. What is the Tantalus Club? Precisely the question that Diane Benchley wants you asking. The lovely widow has just returned from abroad, where her bankrupt husband died, leaving her with a mountain of debts to settle. She managed to do it by selling off almost all of his unentailed property except one location, a home in London. That, she gets into her own hands with a bit of clever forgery — illegal, but deserved, she feels, since her husband ignored her and then left her with nothing. She intends to transform the house into an upscale gaming hall, staffed entirely by women — but she needs some cash to get the enterprise started. So she approaches one of the wealthiest men she knows — Oliver Warren, Marquis of Haybury, who also happens to be her ex-lover. She and Oliver met in Vienna just after her husband’s death. They entered into a torrid affair, but after two weeks, he fled back to England, leaving her heartbroken. Why go to him? Because she has a sworn statement from another man labeling him as a cheat, an accusation which could ruin him. Oliver agrees to loan Diane the money — but with some hesitations and stipulations.

This book actually reminds me a lot of another Enoch book, The Rake — the focus on wagering, the antagonistic former lovers reuniting, the odd living circumstances — but it is, on the whole, more tightly plotted than that book. The characters’ decisions and reasoning, on the whole, make better sense, and they at least seem aware of their own hypocrisies and ulterior motives. It lacks some of the sharp comedy, though, which is why I still think I like The Rake better, but A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes is still thoroughly enjoyable. Diane is smart and savvy, and if she hangs onto her belligerent dislike for Oliver rather longer than I expected — well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Oliver really has to work to get her affection and her trust back, and to his credit, he realises that. Ultimately, you really do get the sense that they suit each other very well — they’re both far from perfect people, but they’re imperfect in similar ways and in ways that work well together. Diane’s club meets with both success and condemnation, as is probably to be expected (and here it also reminds me of Kathryn Schmidt’s A Game of Scandal, another romance where the heroine runs a gaming club, and of Lisa Kleypas’s Then Came You, which features another deliberately scandalous heroine), and she has to negotiate both her business and her rediscovered romance. Trouble comes when the brother of her dead husband makes a play for her property — and Diane has to choose to trust Oliver and rely on him to help sort things out. It’s a good plot, not standard fare, and the characters are, if a little bit brittle and sharp with each other, at least unusual and well-rendered.

All of that said, there are some flaws. Enoch seems to have discovered the word “chit” and refuses to let it go; it got distractingly repetitive usage in this book. More significantly, however — remember how I said the plot hung together better than that in The Rake? That was true until the last thirty pages. Diane and Oliver’s plot to entrap Anthony makes… almost no sense. I had already thought of about six better ones before it was revealed. It sort of seemed like the convolutions of the plot got away from Enoch, and she wasn’t quite sure how to tie them back together. The solution is haphazard at best, and if we’re meant to believe this is the best two very clever people could come up with? It definitely falls short.

On the whole, though, I enjoyed this book, and I’m excited to see where the rest of the series goes. The Tantalus Club provides an interesting backdrop, and there’s a lot of potential there for out-of-the-ordinary heroines. (I’m hoping for more non-virgins; bonus points if they actually had *gasp!* pre-marital sex; and even more bonus points if that sex was *gasp!* not an earlier “indiscretion” with the eventual hero; and even more bonus points if they *gasp!* don’t regret it. But that may be hoping for far, far too much).

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The Rake, by Suzanne Enoch

Title: The Rake (Lessons in Love #1)
Author: Suzanne Enoch
Year of Publication: 2002
Length: 375 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 4 stars

This is one of my all-time favourite romance novels, and not for any really good reason. The book has some very definite flaws (the embarrassing cover being only one of them), and yet — I flipping love it.

Georgiana and Tristan hate each other, in that tremendously obvious way which indicates they’re really in love with each other and have been for some time. What Georgie has kept secret for six years is that they were lovers, briefly, before Georgie found out that he’d bet on winning a kiss and a stocking from her and then lied about it, which led to their parting and feud. For years, Georgie’s been worried that Tristan might expose her as a “ruined” woman — but nothing’s come of it. Still, she doesn’t feel she can marry anyone else, because she can neither reveal herself as a non-virgin nor deceive a potential husband by marrying him when she knows he has expectations of that virginity. Oh, here, I’ll let her explain:

“Explain.”
“Why should I?”
“Because you’re blaming me for something that –”
“I could marry someone who only wants my money in an instant,” she said in a low, tight voice.  “I’ve already told you I won’t marry for that reason.  And I can not marry for love.”
“Someone who loved you would understand.”
Stopping her, cheeks alarmingly pale, Georgiana snatched her hand from his grip.  “I would never trust anyone who said he cared for me.  I’ve heard it before.”

My empathy, Georgie. Six years later, Tristan hasn’t married, either, but it’s becoming a dire need, as his father’s debts have left his estate extremely strapped for cash; as such, he’s on the hunt for an heiress. He’s looking at Amelia St. John, who by all appearances is right much of a bubble-head, but has an enormous portion and is herself hunting for a title, so that would solve problems pretty neatly — Tristan just can’t quite resign himself to yoking himself to her for the rest of his life. Amidst this, Georgie and her friends Evelyn and Lucinda decide to impose some good behaviour on the errant men of England, and each determines to find a man to teach a lesson in manners to. Georgie, tellingly, chooses Tristan as her target. She aims to pay him back for hurting her years earlier, and decides the best way to get herself in proximity is to offer herself as a companion for his maiden aunts, one . This (apparently) allows her to live in the same house as Tristan and his brothers without impropriety.

I knock a bit off the rating because the book has some elements that stretch even the credulity of a romance novel. Actually, the entire conceit of the novel doesn’t make that much sense — both in the “lesson-giving” idea and in Georgie’s becoming the aunts’ companion when she’s still clearly on the Marriage Mart, hardly a retired spinster. There’s not a lot of logic there. And the book’s eventual resolution makes even less sense in some ways. But I forgive the book all of that because the characters are just so much fun. Just like Beatrice and Benedick, Georgie and Tristan “never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them”. Georgie’s also fond of treading on Tristan’s toes and breaking fans on him. Their conversations crackle with lightning wit and sexual desire, the constant parry, thrust, and feint of two people who know just how to hurt each other but don’t always want to. Enoch clearly conveys their familiarity with each other and the extremely tangled emotions involved in their situation.

I also appreciate the idea of a non-virgin heroine, someone finding her way back to love after a broken heart. Despite the ire she aims at him, Georgie’s never been able to get Tristan out of her head or her heart. Part of the challenge of the book, for him, is to prove himself worthy of her — to earn her trust, which he seriously fumbled on the first attempt. And so I enjoy that double-message that the book provides — that the hero has to make some effort, has to pay the penalty for his own bone-headedness and then make an honest new start, and that the heroine overcomes her own hesitancy and have the bravery to take down defensive walls (to let in the very man who prompted their construction in the first place). These aren’t the most typical tropes for historical romances, but I always enjoy seeing them in play.

And then, there are the Carroways — Tristan’s family, four brothers (two of whom we’ll see as the central figures in later books), all with fantastic personalities. I love when a writer can convincingly create a family atmosphere, and Enoch has a triumph in the Carroways — they’re probably second only to the Bridgertons when it comes to my favourite romance novel clans. Their fraternal patter is natural and engaging, which makes them a whole lot of fun to watch in action.

All of these factors make The Rake a delightful read, despite the somewhat bizarre conceits of the plot. Skate on through those, and you have a book populated with wonderful, witty characters, unbridled and effervescent. Not the deepest of reads, perhaps, but a thoroughly enjoyable one.

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