A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: With This Ring by Carla Kelly

The theme: an author with multiple books on your TBR

Why this one: Despite frequently reading Kelly for the challenge, I still have plenty left. And unlike many other authors on my TBR, I still like her. :-\

I read a few more recent Kelly titles last year and found them sadly meh.  I was intrigued by how similar this older book was to those, in terms of plotlines, yet how infinitely superior it was. (Now even more, I think Coming Home For Christmas would have more aptly been titled Phoning It In For Christmas.)

With This Ring is a little unusual for Kelly in being almost entirely from Lydia’s point of view. And it’s very much her emotional journey. When the book starts she’s Cinderella, basically a downtrodden servant to her self-centered mother and sister. She flabbergasted by her own life — often thinking thoughts like, “I do not understand these people I am related to” —  but has no concept of escaping it. But when she has to accompany her sister on a “fashionable” excursion to visit — ie, gawk at — wounded soldiers, she takes the first steps in fighting for what she knows is decent and humane behavior, by insisting on actually tending the wounded.

She also meets Sam, an Earl who’s far more concerned with taking care of his men than his title or his own severe wound. Though he does occasionally ponder on how to find the wife he’s already told his family he married (and had a child with!)

Lydia’s new independence leads to a serious rift with her family, and desperate straits that make her finally take Sam’s whimsical proposal seriously. This is where Lydia and “Cinderella” really part ways. Because rather than rescuing her from hardship, becoming Sam’s wife will force her to face incredible challenges, and show her how strong and capable she really is.

The romance-while-nursing theme works really well here. Much of the time Lydia’s taking care of Sam, which doesn’t make for much standard courtship. (Except when he gives her a hat.) But his down to earth conversation, which makes no concessions to her ladylike status, is rather adorable. We can feel them becoming a team, with similar goals because they’re both caring people. Sam lets us down a bit in the end though, putting other priorities ahead of Lydia; he’s punished for it, but doesn’t really repent or redeem himself, which is disappointing. He’s still sweet enough to be worthy of her, and and least can appreciate the amazing woman she becomes.

 

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Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

I love reformed villain romances in theory, but in practice find that too often the villains get watered down in their own books. Duke of Sin did not disappoint. Val, Duke of Montgomery, might not be a textbook sociopath (he seems to embody aspects of both sociopathy and psychopathy) but he’s pretty damn close. He’s made more palatable with a ghastly backstory, love of his illegitimate sister, and a fastidious dislike of rape, but his lack of a moral compass is genuine.

What makes him stand out amongst historical romance’s other so-called blackhearted rogues, rakes, and scoundrels is not just how genuinely wicked he is — blackmail, abductions, premeditated murder — but his enjoyment of his own wickedness. Although he does have have some moments of tortured brooding, most of the time he’s either amused or bemused by himself, having been so thoroughly twisted that he embraces his own amorality. His gleeful self-satisfaction and mercurial temperament make him a lot of fun to read, even if you’d never want to actually meet him. (Oh good grief, is he a handsome, historical Donald Trump? Sorry! Forget I said that!)

So how does he get reformed? He’s matched with a woman with the courage and ability to tell him what’s what. A housekeeper in the old-fashioned sense — one who supervises a household — Bridget, nicknamed Seraphine by Val, is exceptionally competent and mature (although implausibly young.) She’s also self-contained and courageous, and though unable to resist Valentine’s golden charms, always sees him with a clear eye. And she’s the perfect person to provide him with moral guidance, though perhaps it might be confusing at times:

“‘But I don’t understand. You’re saying that at times it’s perfectly all right for me to kill a man.’

‘Well…’ She bit her lip and he could tell she was trying not to say it, but in the end she had to. ‘Yes.’

He smiled very slowly at her. ‘Seraphine, are you making these rules up?'”

I just had to quote that, it made me laugh so much.

There are some parts of the story I thought could have been fleshed out more, generally reactions or decisions by Val that we didn’t get to see. But overall, I’d put this in the top ten list of historical romances titled Duke of Sin.

 

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