Tour’s Books Blog

August 12, 2009

Book Review: Four Dukes and a Devil by Cathy Maxwell, Elaine Fox, Tracy Anne Warren, etc.

  • Title: Four Dukes and a Devil
  • Author: Cathy Maxwell, Elaine Fox, Jeanene Frost, Sophia Nash, Tracey Anne Warren
  • Type: Romance Anthology
  • Genre: Regency, Contemporary, Paranormal
  • Sub-genre: Long short stories
  • My Grade: C (3.3*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Where Available: Everywhere books are sold

I’ve been reading a lot of collections and anthologies lately, something I usually avoid as there is no room for character or plot development.  But thanks to Paperback Swap, I’m well supplied with both multi-author and single author anthologies aplenty this summer.  When a short story or novella is extremely well done, it can be a gem.  Look at O. Henry’s work or Guy de Maupassant.  Can you even get out of grade school without reading The Ransom of Red Chief and The Gift of the Magi? Alas, romance and short stories are very tough to do, and this anthology is no exception to my basic Rule of ‘Meh’ on the genre – with one glaring mispositioned piece.

Accomplished author Cathy Maxwell gives us a traditional rags to riches Regency tale with The Irish Duke.  Yes, it’s fluff, but it’s very readable and fun.  I like both the ‘plucky heroine’ and the ‘handsome Duke’, even though many issues, such as the usual religious differences between the English and Irish, are not even touched on.  Miss Susan Rogers is the impoverished sister that was left at the alter when the parents of the three Rogers girls died in a carriage accident and the cousin who inherited refused to pay the dowry.  Selling all she owned, she managed to contract advantageous marriages for both younger sisters and is repaid with by their condescension and scorn for her budding match-making business for eligible young ladies.  The ‘hook’ she has settled on this year is using the Order of Precedence in Royal and State occasions where the last are the Irish Dukes.  She neglects to mention they are still ahead of all the other nobility, including earls and marquesses.  But with only 2 Irish dukes about, and neither in the marriage market, she feels quite safe.

Roan Gillray was solider until he inherited his uncle’s title and fortune.  Life as a professional solider makes him long for his one place and his one woman to fill it, so he’s on the London Marriage Mart and finds himself cut out by social elite because he is The Irish Duke, the one a certain matchmaker has warned everyone about.  Furious, he gets a friend to take him to a ball where she will be with her charges and finds not the old spinster he was expecting, but a lovely young woman.  He demands a dance from her to show the Ton he is, in fact, highly eligible.  She refuses because it would destroy her business.  He decides the Ton likes nothing better than a good bet, so he goes to White’s and places a huge wager that he will dance with Miss Susan Rogers within 2 weeks.  She’s caught between a rock and the a hard place, Irish Duke.  The expected happens.  Well paced and well written, but predictable.  On its own, a C+

Next up was a contemporary romance by Elaine Fox set on Cape Cod and done with a paranormal twinge and a conniving dog.  The Duke Who Came to Dinner might be the best of the lot here.  The characters have some depth, though Gray Gilliam is better developed than Sam Gregory, but overall, this was well done.

Cynthia Gray Gillian is a staid, shy, introverted, grade school techer who has a comfort zone as small as her classroom.  Determined and just a little desperate to try and live a more adventurous life, she’s house sitting for her friend Rachel on Cape Cod.  The old beach house is for sale, but ghost stories and weird noises have scared potential buyers off.  By having Gray there, they hope to prove the place isn’t as spooky as everyone thinks it is.  Her first experience with daring – skinny dipping in the ocean, ends in humiliation when a white dog runs off with her sundress and she has to bike home naked but for pair of tiny panties.  Thank heavens it’s too early for the town to be up, because there’s no way around it to reach the house.  Sam Gregory is enjoying his morning coffee when he chokes at the sight of Lady Godiva on a bike.  That evening he finds her in a local bar trying to order Pinot Grigio for a bartender that barely knws red from white.  He strikes up a conversation and she’s not at all what he expected.  Both are guilty of judging each other by appearance and neither is exactly what they seem, but attraction is undeniable.  There is the problem of his having her dress, that’s to the stray dog, Duke, he adopted – or who adopted him – and left him with the prize.  Despite the attraction, there’s just n polite way to say, “Hey, nice skin!”

This story has a ghost, classical music, two ordinary people, one de riguer Cape Cod local eccentric and, of course, Duke.  On its own, a B-

Next up was the longest entry in the anthology ,by Jeanene Frost, Devil to Pay.  To be honest, the opening pages were just such dowers I lost all interest and skipped the whole thing.  I did read the last few pages and was left wondering what possessed the editors to include a dark paranormal story about someone with the devil in his body in an anthology of light romance stories.  I might like vampire stories, but this rather grim tale was hopelessly out of place here.  The jarring change of pace was not welcome by me.  Put it where it won’t give the reader whiplash with the complete change of genre and tone.  Under other circumstances, this would have been a good story, but surrounded by gentle Regencies and an equally gentle contemporary, it stood out like a Goth-chick warrior complete with weapons at a church ice cream social.

Next up was another Regency by Sophia Nash, Catch of the Century.  Here we have a teacher in a London foundling home taking 3 boys to apprentice with a man hired to build Wallace Addy, an extension the foundling home where Victoria works and where she was raised after her mother’s death from consumption.  Victoria is a fish out of water in the countryside.  London born and bred, she’s no clue what’s she’s doing walking the stage road to Wallace Abby, but neither she now her 3 charges have a choice.  There bags were on the post coach and that left while she was arguing with the innkeeper over his charges which ended in a brawl when he made a lewd suggestion that patrons took exception to.  Now they have no money, no clothes and some badly driven coach nearly mowed them all down.  Angry and upset, she gives the man who steps from the coach the sharp edge of her tongue and eventually has him agreeing to take them to their destination.  It isn’t until she sees the coat of arms on the coach that she realizes that she has just browbeaten the new Duke of Beaufort into hauling her and the boys some 60 miles to their destination.

John Varick had taken a small inheritance from his mother and built himself a massive fortune before he inherited the estate, title and money of his uncle, the prior duke.  His wealth, title and good looks – and his repeated escapes from the clutches on matchmaking mamas and marriage minded young ladies – have caused the papers to dub him The Catch of the Century.  The duke has more weighty things on his mind, like building a new mill and convincing his difficult neighbor,  to sell a tiny piece of land so the road to the canal can be short and easy.  The managing Miss Givens is a distraction and he feels responsible for her and her 3 young charges.  He is absolutely fascinated by those expensive and delightful half boots she’s wearing.

We have rain, collapsed roofs, flooded floors and uninhabitable buildings.  A snake bite leads to an impromptu lovemaking session and a proposal from the duke, which Victoria turns down.  She’s completely unsuitable.  She isn’t completely self-sacrificing but she is very determined to do what accounts to be the right hing and she even takes time to go to his neighbor and make a proposal on the mill that finally got the two together.  John is not the usual type either.  Fashion conscious, a businessman, not a solider or spy or sportsman.  The Catch of the Century was one of the best crafted stories in the book.  The story had depth, character and a certain charm.  The boys were little more than props, and the series of unfortunate events stretched the credulity a bit, but that’s typical of this genre.  On its own a C+ to B-

The last story in the anthology was written by another well established historal romance writer, Tracey Anne Warren.  Another Regency, this story is more the classic ‘virginal schoolroom miss’ attracts the notorious, and mature ‘Devil Duke’ and he runs from her and himself.  Charmed By Her Smile is a bit of fluff that is exactly what this book needed to finish it off.  Yes, the trope is old and well used, and yes, we’ve seen these characters before, but the writing is smooth and highly readable and it was rather like a comfortable visit with an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile.

India Byron has done all she can to discourage a deeply unwanted suitor in Peter Harte.  In desperation, she flees her cousins house for the gardens, sees a man in an arbor and demands he by kiss her.  Quentin Marlowe, the Duke of Weybridge, lost in the ever present ennui and is wondering why he bothered to attend the party for his recently married friend, when a preety miss comes racing out the doors to the garden.  Her sable hair marks her a Byron for sure and he’s willing to bet she’s just out of the school room, much too young for the likes of him.  But after several chaste kisses he takes his reward in a proper one as his reward and leaves India dreaming about him for a week.

At the Pettigrew’s house party, India finds herself once again fending off Peter.  She claims that Weybridge is an old family friend and plans to offer for her.  He refuses to believe her.  Now that she’s dug herself into a hole with no escape, she’s shocked to see Quentin again and even more shocked to learn he really is a friend of the family.  Once again Weybridge finds himself willing falling into the lovey young miss’s plots and plays the doting suitor.  Until they go fishing together and he gets carried away.  He avoids her the next two days and Peter steps in to take her back from a picnic only to abandon her when she finally refuses him in no uncertain terms.  Weybridge once again comes to the rescue, nearly compromises her, tells her she doesn’t really love him and leaves the next day without so much as a goodbye.

This May-December tale was well done.  There are no distractions from the core story and the story flows easily from one part to the next.  One its own this is a C+

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