Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-185207-7
Historical Romance, 2011
It is very disappointing to see that Avon is publishing books with such short abbreviated titles that don’t even hint at the plethora of clichés littering the story. Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart – what kind of truncated nonsense is that? I can’t even tell the synopsis of the story just by looking at it!
Juliana Fiori’s mother is an Infamous Woman whose reputation turned Juliana into a victim of vicious gossip. She’s determined to remain in England and fit in, since she’s just discovered her half-brother. She is also keen on sharing her cookies with Simon Pearson, the Duke of Leighton. Since everyone needs a nickname when living in Regency-era England, he’s called the Duke of Disdain on the account that he is a pear-shaped ass who abandons his sister and treats all women like crap in this story. Don’t worry – it’s all his cold-hearted bitch mother’s fault, of course. Remember, there are no asshole heroes in the genre – only woobies with bitch mothers.
This story starts out a pretty mesmerizing tale of two people who are at the surface polar opposites, who discover that, deep inside, they are both lonely and unhappy individuals who are dogged by their own unhappy legacies. Unfortunately, for reasons only she will know, Sarah MacLean then proceeds to commit character assassination on these two until by the last page, these two poor sods are barely recognizable. Since this is an Avon book and the cosmic rule is such that two out of three Avon historical romances read the same, this one naturally has the heroine all of a sudden shrieking that she is no good for the hero and, abruptly after she’s given that guy the taste of her cookies, goes from throwing herself at him at every opportunity to berating herself for daring to love someone who is so far above her station.
Thus, after the first third of the story, Juliana morphs from a defiant and unconventional woman who tries to challenge society into a self-inflicted victim determined to play the martyr and constantly screeching that she needs to protect her family’s reputation. Her character transformation is such a complete 180 that I actually pause to check whether I’ve somehow read a different book without realizing it. The only explanation I can give for Juliana’s abrupt personality switch is that she most likely suffers from split personality.
Of course, if the Duke of Pear-shaped Assholes were a real man and broke things off with her for good, then this story will be only 200 pages long and will be shelved alongside the collective masterpieces of Robert James Waller under “unintentionally comedic tragedies”. So Simon continues to string and molest Juliana while insisting that he’s going to marry some proper woman. In other words, he’s being an asshole to both women, his fiancée and his addled girlfriend. The man who is slowly starting to thaw and show complex grey emotions underneath his hardened exterior morphs into a one-dimensional jerk at the same time that Juliana turns into Victim Barbie. It says a lot that of all the abuse Juliana gets in this story, she has it worst from him because he’s gotten under her skin and, therefore, he can hurt her really badly if he wants to. And of course, he wants to because he isn’t above punishing her for his own loss of control. By the time, Juliana is a professional martyr though, so naturally she can’t be any happier being treated like his punching bag.
The first third or so of Eleven Ways to Cry Me a River and Go Upstream without a Paddle, You Jerks is a good read, but the rest of the book is strictly a disposable by-the-number regurgitation of the same old, same old formula of Avon’s historical romances. It is as if an actual human being wrote the good parts, only to let some kind of word processor finish the remaining two third. Hopefully the real Sarah MacLean can break free from the aliens that have captured her and come home in time to repair the next book before the Great Avon Word Processor completely takes over.