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Wednesday, December 10, 2008:
"When the Duke Returns" by Eloisa James (2008) - not quite a review

Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Avon (November 25, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0061245607
ISBN-13: 978-0061245602

The Duchess of Cosway yearns for a man she has never met . . . her husband.

Married by proxy as a child, Lady Isidore has spent years fending off lecherous men in every European court while waiting to meet her husband. She's determined to accept him, no matter how unattractive the duke turns out to be. When she finally lures Simeon Jermyn back to London, his dark handsomeness puts Isidore's worst fears to rest—until disaster strikes.
The duke demands an annulment.

Forsaking his adventuresome past, Simeon has returned to London ready to embrace the life of a proper duke, only to find that his supposed wife is too ravishing, too headstrong, and too sensual to be the docile duchess he has in mind. But Isidore will not give up her claim to the title—or him—without a fight.

She will do whatever it takes to capture Simeon's heart, even if it means sacrificing her virtue. After all, a consummated marriage cannot be annulled.

Yet in forcing Simeon into a delicious surrender, will Isidore risk not only her dignity—but her heart?
  • beautiful, alluring, spirited heroine: check
  • mysterious, handsome and magnetic hero: check
  • delicious plot where both are virgins and now the Duke has come home to claim his bride: check
  • obstacle in that heroine is too bold and opinioniated for Duke's peace of mind and he wants an annulment: check
  • determination to conquer obstacle in that the Duchess wants her man after all this time patiently waiting and remaining chaste: check

The elements are all there. It sounded like a truly delightful romance waiting to unfold. The Duke practices the Middle Way which is about avoiding conflict, passion and arguments with his outspoken wife, and he decides to annul their marriage before it is consummated. The Duchess is righteously pissed, since she's waited 11 years for her darling husband to come home and finally make her his, and she's more than ready to fulfill her end of the bargain. After much consideration and with the help of her dear friend Jemma, she decides she is going to seduce her inexperienced husband and that will be that.

Only then there's all these bills that have piled up, going back over 5-6 years, that his now deceased father never bothered to pay and his mother decided not to either, and this is a complicated and time-consuming process that Simeon painstakingly muddles through, with some assistance from his meddlesome wife. The dowager Duchess is appalled to discover that her son, who has now returned home from his adventures, is nothing at all like his father, and this rejection saddens Simeon greatly. The family estate is practically in ruins, and the noxious odor from the water closets is enough to make the inhabitants feel dreadfully ill. And soooo much time is spent resolving these issues instead of bringing Isidore and Simeon together to at least indulge some kind of personal interaction that I wanted to pull my hair out. Not only that, but the characters tend to be separated for weeks at a time in this series, and it makes me wonder how could they ever fall in love when they never encounter each other but for short periods of time?

Okay, I admit, I know I'm trying way too hard to like these books. This is the 4th one (out of 6)in the Desperate Duchess series, and despite my almost favorable review of the first 3 stories, I have to ask myself why I continue to read them when they just doesn't engage me enough in the characters or in what happens to them. I really need to face reality and move on here, but I have a problem doing that sometimes. It makes no sense, but there it is.
Not that I think Ms. James is a horrible writer in any sense, it's just that she tells a story that does not move me as a reader. I know there are others out there that love her books, and in the past I have enjoyed a few of them myself, very much so in fact. But this last series especially has left a "meh" feeling that I cannot shake, except for those brief moments when she intrigues me with a detail that completely lures me into believing I need to find out what happens in the next one. Like Isidore's mysterious husband and the fact that they are both virgins. Oooh, I thought at the end of "Duchess By Night", this idea appeals to me. I wanted to find out more. And I reluctantly gotta tell you, this story just left me feeling like something was missing. Something significant and engaging. I know fellow reviewer PJ liked it a lot, and I had such high hopes that I would finally break out of this rut with her books this time around. Alas, that was not to be. I almost feel guilty about it, because I do want to like them so badly, but the truth is, Ms. James is probably no longer my cuppa. But I'm just too stubborn to let it go.
So does that mean I will read the next one, to be released in June? Yes of course, because I desperately want to know what happens with Elijah and Jemma. And if I understand it correctly, the book after that should be the story of Villiers. There has been some speculation as to the fate of Beaumont, Jemma and Villiers, and I will say this: if Elijah ends up dying, I will never pick up another EJ book again. Personally, based on what I've seen at her website, I don't think it will happen, but I've heard a few people say otherwise, and if that's the case, then I am done. I've come to really like Elijah, and if he dies, there's just no coming back from that. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he gets a HEA and lives to enjoy it. And despite everything I just said, I'm really hoping I'm going to really like it. Eternal optimist, thy name is moi.
Rating: **** out of *****

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  1. Stacy - I've had similar feelings with other authors and I just couldn't let go. It happened to me with Christine Feehan - and I suffered through about 3 books that were 'meh' for me. I didn't read the next 2 and then got the ARC for her last book Dark Curse. I gave it one more try. And I'm really glad I did - I loved it. So I took a break and I came back loving her books again. I'm not sure if the book was better then the previous 4 I didn't like, or I was in a better place to read her again - or if it was a combination of the two. What ever it was I'm so very glad I enjoyed the book. It's great to re-connect with a favorite author after time away.

  2. Stace - You know, I finally ended up having to admit that EJ just isn't to my taste. It always makes me feel like I'm missing something, but I always have the sensation of slogging through her books, not so much enjoying them. And I'm quite sure that's not what she intends. So, I finally gave up. No point in frustrating myself and wasting the money to try my best to enjoy her writing. She's just not for me.

  3. I have to admit that I have her new series but haven't read them yet. I like this type of storyline. Do you know if I have to read the earlier books in this series or can this be a stand alone book.

  4. I couldn't agree with your assessment more, Stacy. I haven't read this newest one yet, but I know I will, and dammit, why? For all the reasons you stated. This series isn't doing it for me, but I just can't seem to help myself.

    Your entire review of the series itself is dead on.

  5. Marisa, I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. There are some of her books I really liked (Kiss Me Anabelle, Much Ado About Love) and wish I could experience that feeling with her newer books. It's hard to let go!

    Kati, I know you mentioned that before, and I totally hear ya. I just have to learn to get over it.

    Danielle, I think they are pretty much stand-alone, but it does help to have the background if you plan to read about Jemma & Beaumont & Villiers, coming up in Books 5 & 6.

    Thanx Lori. I feel the need to complete them, but I really don't think I will read anything else after this series. There are too many other books I could read (and enjoy) instead.

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