Tempting Juliana
by Lauren Royal, historical (2006)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21824-8

Lauren Royal takes on Jane Austen's Emma in Tempting Juliana although I find Juliana Chase more bratty and immature than I can remember Emma Woodhouse ever being.

Juliana Chase, the middle Chase sister who is from a family that make supposedly magical food that can inspire true love, is twenty-two but thinks like a fourteen-year old Livejournal blogger: she wants to marry for love and her husband must not hold a job so that he can devote all his time in one day to her. Needless to say, James Trevor, a doctor who just happens to be the Earl of Stafford because his father and older brother all croaked, is not the man for her even if he makes her heart beat faster because he's always hard at work trying to get smallpox vaccination made compulsory in England when he's not hard at work at the charity-run clinic in town.

Juliana's friend Amanda Wolverston is a shy young woman who shares with her the unhappy news that Amanda is going to be forced by her father to marry the much older Lord Malmsey. Juliana decides that the best way to help Amanda is to get Amanda compromised by a handsome young man - that Amanda loves, of course - and be discovered so that the wedding to Lord Malmsey will be called off. Juliana decides for very little good reason that James will be perfect as the man for Amanda and goes about setting those two up. Meanwhile, Juliana wants to get married herself so she sets her cap on David Harcourt, the Duke of Castleton who's rich, handsome, and most importantly, doesn't hold a job and therefore can worship at her pedestal all day long. I'm sure you can imagine how everything will blow up in Juliana's face.

A part of me feels quite sorry for Juliana because she is absolutely, totally, and completely wrong, wrong, wrong in this book when it comes to matters of the heart. Will it kill Ms Royal to allow Juliana to be right a little more often? It's a good thing that Juliana wears a mantle of self-absorption so thick that she doesn't seem to suffer much dent in her self-esteem by the end of the story because despite how wrong she always is, I find myself liking Juliana's confidence in going about doing things that she is sure are right and how she doesn't completely debase herself and make herself a martyr when she realizes how wrong she is. Instead, she says that she will make things right and tries to do so. I like that about her.

James is also a very nice guy who's an activist for all the right causes. He just wants to save the world, how noble and sweet of him. He also loves his late wife and feels guilty about falling in love again because he views such an action as a betrayal of his late wife's memory. However, he doesn't behave like an ass or fights love like a tenacious mule, so really, he's a nice guy, the Albert Schweitzer of the London ghettos or something.

Because his romance with Juliana is part of the big circus that is the comedy of errors in this story, the author doesn't quite succeed in making it believable to me since she's more busy cooking up various ways to make Juliana's plans backfire. Juliana is a big contrast to James' late wife in terms of maturity, behavior, and outlook in life and James claims to hold his late wife as an ideal of sorts, so I find it hard to believe that he will fall for Juliana that easily. I can see how Juliana's zest and joie d'vivre can initially attract a man like James, but it's hard to see how Juliana's can keep him intrigued for long. This boils down once again to Juliana being always wrong. She isn't as good a reader of character as she claims she is. There are many instances when it's clear that Juliana views marriage and family as something like a game. Juliana also often acts or makes promises without thinking about whether she can actually carry out what she says she can do. And in this story, since Juliana cannot be right even once, she can't. As a result, I find it hard to imagine how a man with a sober outlook in life and who takes his responsibilities very seriously can put up with someone like Juliana for long. Opposites attract, yes, but how long can such an attraction last without something stronger to bind those two together?

Tempting Juliana is a pleasant and pretty enjoyable read and the main characters are likable in many ways, but I find the book perhaps too focused on the comedy. As the result, the romance is not as well-developed as it should have been.

Rating: 79

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