Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen - or "Really, you should ignore that cover and grab this one for the adventure"

The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen
Copyright 2010
Sourcebooks Casablanca - Historical Romance
368 pages

Wait just a minute there, partner. The cover is turning you off, right? You hate those so-called "bodice rippers," don't you? So, which do you hate worse, snap judgments based on irrational assumptions and ignorance or a cover that honestly doesn't fit the content of a book? Because I have to say, that cover is pretty, but it doesn't describe the content ---->

He awoke to fire. Peasants shouted and chased him with pitchforks and swords. That terrifying night will stay with Julien Harcourt, duc de Valere for the rest of his life. Unable to save his brothers from the rioting peasants, he escaped to England. But, Julien still doesn't believe his brothers are dead. When he receives a message from a former servant telling him his brother Armand is still alive, Julien is willing to do anything to find his way back to France to save his brother. He will keep searching until he finds the truth.

Sarah Smith is a governess. She's happy in her latest position, teaching and caring for Sir Northrup's young children, Anne and Edmund. Then Sir Northrup calls her into his office and tells her she has a new assignment. She is to spy on the on the duc de Valere, who is thought to be a traitor. There are no agents available and she is expected within three days. Sarah will pose as a houseguest, the daughter of French aristocrats who escaped to Italy during the early days of the Revolution.

Sarah is flabbergasted and tries to turn down her boss, but Sir Northrup threatens to turn her out into the street if she doesn't do the job. She's an orphan, trained to be a governess in the Academy at which she was left as a child. Turned into the street, she would have nowhere to go, nobody to protect her. Sarah has no choice but to pose as a spy. But, neither the duc or the governess know what is in store for them when intrigue meets attraction.

She narrowed her eyes at him, obviously annoyed. "A gentleman would not have mentioned that incident again," she said, tone frosty.

He shrugged, not feeling the least compunction to act the gentleman when she was the one who had invaded his library. He took another drink from his glass and studied her. "You don't have any accent," he said, finally.

"What?" She frowned at him, probably thinking he was foxed.

"Your English." He sat forward now. "You have no French accent, not even a trace." He was always keenly aware of his own accent, knew no matter how perfect his English it would always mark him as a foreigner.

She put a hand to her throat. "Well, I was so young when I left France that--"

"For Italy."

"Yes. My parents live in Italy."

"And yet you have no Italian accent."

She opened her mouth then closed it again.

"Say again?"

"We speak English."

"Your parents are French. You live in Italy, but you speak English."

She shrugged, a dainty gesture that caused one ribbon of hair to fall over her shoulder and caress his desk. He stared at it.

"We're eccentric." She looked him full in the face, daring him to question her.

He raised his glass in a mock salute. "That must explain why you're wandering about in my home in the middle of the night, creeping into my library."

Seriously, just ignore the cover. The Making of a Duchess is the kind of book that led me to once write an essay about my former prejudice against the romance genre, in general, and how and why I'd learned my lesson. There are many, many forms of romantic writing and a stunning number of subgenres. The Making of a Duchess contains all the elements of a typical romance (the meeting, unexpected attraction, dark moment and happily-ever-after) but there is a great deal more action and fun than gushy love and . . . sigh . . . cupping of breasts and all that crap. I do detest the same old wording from one book to another in romance, but this author was, I thought, surprisingly inventive -- even during those worthless sex scenes (which don't occur till later in the book), although there's a bit of the standard wording.

Note that Sarah, posing as Serafina in the above passage, appears to have been caught sniffing about in Julien's library nearly at the beginning of her time as a spy. That is actually one of the things I adored about the book. Rather than carry a poor bumbling character through repetitive conversations and motions, stretching out believability till you're certain you can hear it snapping in two, the author allows her characters to screw up, get caught and find a new way of going about the job until things work out. Wonderful!! Well done, Shana Galen!

For those who think sex doesn't forward a plot, there is less than average in this particular novel, although I'm sure it's enough to satisfy those who crave romance. Even better, the couple remains chaste until married. I don't think that's a spoiler because even when they do marry, there's some question whether or not it's merely temporary. At that point, it becomes PG-13 to R for short stretches, most of which are bookended by action.

Bottom line:

I loved this book. It's witty, romantic and adventurous without veering into "trite" territory. Sarah is likable and just a little goofy but she quickly discovers her hidden strength. Julien is a man who is fixated on duty but full of heart. The author's particular flair is in knowing her timing, not only in dialogue but in plot. Beautifully paced, full of action, charming dialogue and pure fun. Many thanks to Danielle at Sourcebooks for the review copy!

In other news:

I finished The Passage by Justin Cronin on Monday -- or maybe Tuesday -- and I've since been toying with when to post. Yesterday was impossible; I was sidelined by a migraine and that gave me a bit more time to ponder the fact that I've been "behind" on book reviews for quite some time. The Passage is getting a tremendous amount of press and the other books have been waiting around in the hallway, muttering about the fact that I keep putting them off. So . . . I'll review The Passage after I've reviewed the other ARCs I've received. I originally planned to review it on its release day, but then it occurred to me that there's no hurry. People will still be twiddling their thumbs, saying, "To buy or not to buy?" in a week, right? Are you a twiddler? If so, feel free to ask my opinion before I actually take the time to write about it.

Next up, then, will be two books about Secret Lives: The Secret Lives of People in Love and The Secret Lives of Princesses. Then, I'll try to say something, anything positive about Winging It and move on to A Place for Delta, which won't require scrounging for kudos. Since I've barely read a word, this week, that should get me all caught up on review books and then I can move on to those I read for other reasons (like the fact that they've been sitting on a shelf for eons or just screamed, "Read me! Read me!").

Recent arrivals:

Liar by Justine Larbalestier - from PBS

I'm Fine with God . . . It's Christians I Can't Stand by Bickel & Jantz - from PBS

Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds - from Sourcebooks

The Stress Effect by Henry L. Thompson - from Jossey-Bass

Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts by Cici McNair - from the author

In the Shadow of Lions by Ginger Garrett - from a friend

Off to do something exciting. Yes, laundry. It thrills me, I promise. Happy reading!


  1. Wow! Thank you so much for the wonderful review. I'm humbled--and off to do laundry myself.

  2. Shana,

    You're very welcome. Laundry . . . it never ends. Have fun, if that's possible. :)

  3. I agree with all of this! It a was fantastic book.

    And The Making of a Gentleman was dropped off on my doorstep today and it's taking all my self control not to dive into it right now!

  4. Christy,

    Wasn't it wonderful? The pages just flew. I'm waiting on The Making of a Gentleman and I know what you mean. It's going to be hard to put it on the shelf and tell myself to wait.

  5. Unfornately I'll have to pass on this one. I am trying to keep my books really clean and that means no sex in books what so ever if I can help it. It bums me out but there's a reason for that, if you want to know I'd be happy to explain that in an email. :)

    I put Simon's book in my box of books to read next so hoping to get to that this month.

  6. Krista,

    I think I can surmise the reason, since I know your recent history. Makes perfect sense to me. I try to emphasize whether or not books are clean in that way, since I kinda hate sex scenes (but love a good story).

    Yay! Simon's book!! You'll love it. I just know it. :)

  7. The cover might be misleading but then you said the fateful word romance. Ick.

    Don't tell me Krista's reasons. I want to speculate wildly. It's my favorite hobby.

    Hope the migraine is all gone!

  8. Carrie,

    You should drop by more often. I miss you like crazy.

    Yes, yes, I know you hate romance. Someday I'll sway you. You'll have to wildly speculate because Krista's business is not for me to share. Have fun with that. :)

    Migraine's gone but I'm convinced I'm near death. If I die in Vicksburg, I am sooo going to haunt my husband for the rest of his living days.


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!