Book Review

Lessons From a Scarlet Lady by Emma Wildes

C+

Title: Lessons from a Scarlet Lady
Author: Emma Wildes
Publication Info: Signet January 2010
ISBN: 9780451228796
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverLessons from a Scarlet Lady is a romance that features protagonists in a rather different way. Brianna is a newlywed duchess who wants a more passionate marriage. She finds a used copy of Lady Rothburg’s Advice, a book so salacious and so frank in its discussion of sex and sexual power that it was banned – so Brianna promptly brings it home to read so she can try to seduce her husband and crank the homefires to burning hot damn. The Duke, Colton (Colton? Is that really a historical English name?), is shocked to his dukely toes by his wife’s bedroom behavior, and finds himself fascinated by his bride when he’d expected to go back to his pre-marital routine of work, work, a little more work, and additional work. Meanwhile, among Brianna’s friends is a young woman named Rebecca, who has it mighty big and bad for Colton’s brother, Robert. Robert has a bit of a reputation, and has no idea Rebecca exists, but that doesn’t stop her from turning down several marriage proposals last season, much to her parents’ displeasure.

I loved that the narrative featured both an unmarried couple (Rebecca and Robert) and a married couple (Brianna and Colton). The idea that a marriage requires some of the same effort as a courtship and that a relationship grows and strengthens with attention paid to it is one that isn’t featured often in romance. I liked watching Brianna and Colton’s relationship grow and evolve. The wedding is often part of the happily-ever-after at the end of the book, but marriage itself takes an equal amount of effort and attention to be a happy one. Even though Brianna and Colton were already married to one another, I didn’t feel as if their relationship was stale, or that the risk was absent because of their marital status. Brianna runs the risk of alienating Colton, and is prepared to lose the cordial status quo of her life as his duchess on the chance that the attraction between them, which is real, could evolve into something more powerful. The emotional risk was palpable for her, and ultimately for him. Consider me shocked: I was worried about a couple that was already married! How… realistic! How unlike the romance genre, particularly historicals!

Rebecca and Robert, on the other hand, were a watery reflection of Brianna and Colton’s story, and I wish their story had been stronger, more present, and more detailed. Ultimately, it is Brianna and Colton’s relationship that is the center stage of this book, not the unmarried couple – a rare thing indeed. I wanted to read more of Rebecca and Robert, but found that so much of Rebecca and Robert’s key plot developments happened offstage. For example, when Colton and Robert have a terribly important meeting with Rebecca’s parents, it is offstage – and I missed the tension and the risk for the couple’s happiness that was played out at that meeting.

I very much like the idea of a scandalous manual to sexuality and gender dynamics making its way from woman to woman. Even better, some of the excerpted chapters read as a manual to manipulate men, and those methods didn’t quite work out for anyone who tried it in the course of the book. Lady Rothburg’s advice was either sexually descriptive, or encouraged direct conversation, or at the very least empathy toward the other party.

There’s one mention of a chapter that is SO scandalous the women themselves can barely speak of it. I AM DYING TO KNOW WHAT IS IN THAT CHAPTER, OMG. It would be quite a lot of fun to have portions of the book itself available – I almost want to implore the author to write a few chapters of the book (PLEASE CHAPTER 10?!) to go along with the novel. Lady Rothburg is as much a character in the novel as the rest of the protagonists.

So why a C+? Because even though I found the book very readable, and enjoyed it as a light and diverting novel, I found myself yanked out of the book so many times I had to push myself back into it. Every time one of the male characters showed a marked propensity toward psychological self-analysis, one step out, one push back in. Every time the men were comfortable revealing their inner squishy interiors to one another, one step out, one push back in. Every time one of the female characters bemoaned her lack of independence, one step out, one push back. Every time any character made a comment as to the state of female ignorance to all things sexual, one step, one push. I was doing the electric slide by the time I finished the book.

Also, the word “politesse” was used WAY too much. Like, 8 times or some crap. Every time you see the word “politesse,” take a drink. Because oy.

The bizarre self-analysis and frustrated grumbles for independence yanked me back and forth in and out of the story—but I liked reading it and while it didn’t viscerally move me, it was entertaining. It’s an easy and fun book that engaged me, but didn’t hook me and compel me to keep reading.

That said, Wilde succeeded in securing my affection for a married couple and I felt the risk of Brianna’s efforts, though I wish I hadn’t felt that uncertainty more than I did Rebecca’s. However, if Lady Rothburg has any more advice, I’m all ears. PARTICULARLY CHAPTER TEN.


Lessons from a Scarlet Lady is available in January from Amazon.com, Indiebound,Book Depository, and Powells.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    ShellBell says:

    Is this a reissue and/or rewrite of another story by Emma Wildes? I have read a story by Emma Wildes called Lady Rothburg’s Advice that was in an anthology called Lust.

  2. 2
    Ros says:

    Politesse?  Not even a word that should be used once.  Also, Colton=as much of a historical English name as Brianna, so I suppose they deserve each other.

  3. 3
    Brianna says:

    There is not much that I hate more than inappropriate names in historical fiction. 99% of the time I won’t bother reading the book. And my own name in a historical piece? It is a modern name, from what I can gather. I could maybe get over it, if the character was Irish. Don’t even get me started on Colton. Sheesh!

  4. 4
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    There is not much that I hate more than inappropriate names in historical fiction.

    This.  It’s just one reason (of several, actually) that I can’t bring myself to watch Inglourious Basterds—Shoshanna?  Really?  For a Frenchwoman in the 1940’s?  She sounds like an Eighties pop star.  And don’t even get me started on Whitney My Love—if the reviews I’ve read here hadn’t already turned me off, the inappropriate name would have done the trick.

  5. 5
    Vicki says:

    I bought a great book called Baby Names for Dummies that I look at as (when) I continue to write all the rejected books that will eventually lead to my first (published) novel. Why? Because one of the things it does is tell you what names were popular when. I love that you can pretty much guess the publication dates of Harlequins by the names of the protagonists. However, I agree with you all that historicals should have names closer to the era they are supposed to portray. Though I suppose most of us don’t find Gertrude that much of a turn-on. (With apologies to any Gertrudes reading.)

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    This was always my favorite historical names page, the Regency names page by Jo Beverly mostly because of the enormous, unending possibilities of the tumultuous love story between Uriana and Busick.

  7. 7

    Re: the real Regency names:

    Albina? I can visualize her alabaster skin now. Has there been an albino hero or heroine yet? I bet there has. Romance is so damn thorough.

    As for the male name Peregrine, authors should be all over that! I’m so sick of the name Hawk for a hero, Peregrine would give me a chance to roll my eyes in the other direction. Oh and Rawden! I mean, it’s got RAW right in it! He sounds like an Angry Boner Man if ever there was one.

    Thanks, Jo Beverly!

  8. 8
    xaipe says:

    It’s just one reason (of several, actually) that I can’t bring myself to watch Inglourious Basterds—Shoshanna?  Really?  For a Frenchwoman in the 1940’s?  She sounds like an Eighties pop star.

    Isn’t Shoshanna Hebrew (= English Susanna(h))?

  9. 9
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Has there been an albino hero or heroine yet? I bet there has. Romance is so damn thorough.

    I recall a couple of heroines with prematurely white hair—the heroine of Isolde Martyn’s Moonlight and Shadow goes to great pains to conceal her white hair, which is considered the mark of a witch (fifteenth century England.)

    Isn’t Shoshanna Hebrew (= English Susanna(h))?

    OK, how about Suzanne?  Or Suzette (though the latter sounds a bit stripper-ish.)

  10. 10
    Lindleepw says:

    I’m just jealous you’ve already read this book. I LOVED this author’s last book (loved, loved, loved. Did I mention I loved her book?) so I’ve been looking forward to reading Lessons From a Scarlet Lady. And the problems you have with it, I don’t think they’ll bother me so much. So yeah!!

    On an unrelated note, I was at the ARR Romance website looking at their recent reviews. There was a review for Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan, but I read the title as Poof by Seduction. So now I really want to read Poof by Seduction. Anyone want to write it for me?

  11. 11
    Kat Sheridan says:

    Loved the review, loved the concept, and seriously love the discussion on names. Colton is more common as a surname, but as Jo Beverly pointed out, surnames sometimes got used as first names. Colton is related to the word for ‘charcoal’, so especially appropriate if the hero is dark.  Brianna is the feminine form of Brian. Given a choice, I’d rather be Brianna than Wilhelmina (William) or Edwina (Edward). And Shoshanna is indeed the Hebrew form of Susana (meaning lily). Whitney is also a surname used as a first name, is gender neutral, but yeah, probably wouldn’t be used during that period. At least we’re no longer dealing with heroines named Flame and Starr and stuff!

  12. 12
    L. Clair says:

    Re: the real Regency names:

    Googlebooks yay!  I’m the weird type of person who loves reading through the peerage lists and the Royal Navy lists of the time era and choosing the names of my characters from them.  The lists are great for browsing and character description.  And they’re free from your local googlebooks.

    My word: “say84”—Just sayin’…

  13. 13
    Suzanne says:

    meh…its not just the unlikley period names…doesnt anyone ever get bothered by all the many many dukes that crawl out of the woodwork…. good lord if there were that many dukes back then we would all be related to one nowadays.

    hehe… my word is federal39… the website agrees

  14. 14
    Deb says:

    (May be a double-post—the spam filter and I got into a fight and the spam filter won, so I’m reposting from memory.)

    I don’t like anachronistic names in historicals, they seem to take over the book and make it hard to follow the story line.  Yes, there were some exotic names in the past (one of Edith Wharton’s noblemen in “The Buccaneers” is named Ushant), but mostly there were long lines of Janes, Marys, Elizabeths, Georges, Williams, etc.

    Keep in mind that until the last 100 years or so, it was not common for people to refer to each other by first names (remember Scarlett O’Hara’s parents calling each other Mr. and Mrs. O’Hara? Or Emma’s sister referring to their father as Mr. Woodhouse?)  Noblemen were usually referred to by their land—so the Duke of Breadycakes would be called “Breadycakes,” even by his wife.  I remember giving up on one historical with a heroine named Skylar.  I mean, Skylar in 19th Century England?  Come on!

    On the other hand, some of the names from back in the day, like Agnes or Gertrude, are now considered so old-fashioned, I don’t know that we’d want a heroine with that name.  (With all due respect and apologies if your name is Agnes or Gertrude.)

    Spam filter: big46.  That’s in milimeters, right?

  15. 15
    JamiSings says:

    @Deb – I think I’d read about an Agnes or Gertrude. Especially the latter if the hero, seeking to get under her skin, shortens her name to “Rude” instead of the usual “Gertie.” And finally she can’t take it anymore and socks him one in the nose.

  16. 16
    katiebabs says:

    Colton? I think of Colt 45. LOL

    Where’s a Duke Billy Dee Williams when you need one?

  17. 17
    Ros says:

    I like http://thepeerage.com/surname_index.htm for historical (and contemporary) names – there are entries going pretty far back, but you do have to do a little bit of work deciding which country the names go with, since it includes European as well as UK peers (and quite a lot of non-peers too, actually).

  18. 18
    ShellBell says:

    Finally found my copy of Lust. Definitely has a novella called Lady Rothburg’s Advice. –  featuring Colton Northfield, Duke of Rolthven, and his new wife Brianna. I remember enjoying the novella, so I’ll probably check this expanded story at some stage.

  19. 19
    Laurel says:

    Albina? I can visualize her alabaster skin now. Has there been an albino hero or heroine yet? I bet there has. Romance is so damn thorough.

    Yes! Just read one. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber. Not available on Kindle so I got the paperback.

    Not quite steampunk but set in 1888 London with an interesting mystical premise. I liked it.

  20. 20

    A married couple?  Politesse aside, I am sooooo buying this book.

  21. 21

    Laurel:  Just seconding the Percy Parker love.

  22. 22

    @ Laurel—I knew it! What rare physical condition (please note, I’m being careful to not imply that albinism is an affliction) hasn’t romance covered? I’ve read about burn victims, amputees, blind, deaf, mute, massively scarred of course, limps, epileptic, angry boners, Republicans… Is there a physical condition too far? Has anyone written about a heroine who was a victim of female circumcision? Man, that’d be a challenge.

  23. 23
    Jami says:

    @Cara – I still haven’t seen a convincing fat woman romance. Where she at some point goes off in a tirade about how she’s ugly and not even good enough for Jack The Ripper and he’s not sure if he should try to heal years of damage from bullying and verbal abuse or just smack her and leave her.

    One of the many reasons I fantasize about being the inspiration behind a Great Romance Novel Heroine. How many overweight, Star Trek watching, big band & disco music loving, comic book reading, Republicans (yes, I’m one of “those people” *blows raspberry*), owned by her dog, lives with her parents at 33 heroines do you see?

    None! None I tell you!

    I have, however, seen married couples in romance novels before. Usually they had split up years ago and he wants her back and they’re still legally married. Or, the one I picked up in a dollar store that struck me as unbelievable even if it was set way in the past. (Either Henry the 5th or Henry the 8th was in charge.) Girl gets forcably married at 4 years old to a 13 year old boy. They don’t see each other again until both are adults and she wants a divorce so she can marry someone else.

  24. 24
    Tam says:

    Brianna’s a modern name.  I don’t care if it’s a feminisation of Brian, you won’t find a Brianna pre-1900, and certainly not in England; from that point of view, an ‘Edwina’ would be welcome.  I’d find that name on a historical character more irritating than ‘Colton’.  Seriously, authors, use Georgiana and Will, or Harriet and Charles, or SOMETHING vaguely accurate?!  If you want something more unusual, make them Melusina and Piers, or Annis and Godfrey, if you must – but take it from a historical source.

    It’s funny, I can suspend disbelief in historical romance novels when all the characters invite each other cheerily to abandon formality and use each other’s Christian names.  But I was wildly irritated while reading the Bridgerton novels when the feminine characters used their maiden names as their new middle names – ‘Francesca Bridgerton Stirling’.  No, no, and no.  Modern Englishwomen don’t do this, and Regency Englishwomen certainly didn’t do it.

  25. 25

    Is it too crotchety to get in a huffpo about all the heroes in romances right now with names nobody gave their kids in the 1970s? I’m thirty, around the same age as many heroes, and none of my real-life male contemporaries are named Aiden or Jace or Braden. Ditto, none of my female friends are named Gemma or Madison. Sometimes I wonder if authors are getting a little too excited with their ©2009 baby name books.

  26. 26
    AgTigress says:

    Married couples:  romances in which the hero and heroine were already married at the start of the story were not uncommon in the 1950s.  Quite often the heroine was still a virgin because of some ridiculous misunderstanding. 
    The fact that the protagonists were already legally wed enabled the author to allow them to retire to the bedroom to consummate their resolution of all their problems without offending against the morality of the time.  Of course, what went on in the bedroom was not described.  That would have been illegal in a widely available novel published in the UK before 1961.

  27. 27
    Laurel says:

    Cara:

    I know a Gemma! In her thirties! In the interest of full disclosure, she is Spanish.

    And Jennifer Armintrout regarding Percy Parker: Read anything similar? Ish?

  28. 28
    Lynda says:

    This.  It’s just one reason (of several, actually) that I can’t bring myself to watch Inglourious Basterds—Shoshanna?  Really?  For a Frenchwoman in the 1940’s?

    Actually Shoshanna is a very traditional Hebrew name, meaning lily.

  29. 29
    Jami says:

    Can I just say watching you gals snark on the name issue is so much fun it makes me wish that either our lovely SBs would give us a blog where we can have a free-for-all-snark on things we hate in romance novels, or that SBTB had a forum that’s seperate from the blogs where we can chat about anything that comes to mind, from HABO subjects to Romance Snarks, without it having to be a blog first.

  30. 30
    Nadia says:

    Cara, if authors want to be accurate, every third contemporary with a thirtyish couple should be Jennifer and Jason, LOL.  I remember thinking similarly years ago when I was in that thirtysomething range; instead of the plethora of soap hero-esque names, there should have been an assload of Davids, Michaels, Erics, and Christophers – just like in all my classes growing up. 

    I continue to be surrounded by Dave/Davids, which has turned into a rather Beta name, I think.

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