Book Review

Review: To Charm a Naughty Countess by Theresa Romain

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Title: To Charm a Naughty Countess
Author: Theresa Romain
Publication Info: Sourcebooks May 2014
ISBN: 978-1402284021
Genre: Regency

Book To Charm a Naughty Countess

There goes Theresa Romain, kicking me in the feels again. I don’t know what it is about her books, but I always have this moment of anxiety where I think the hero and heroine might not actually get together.  And my anxiety was appropriate to To Charm a Naughty Countess because the hero suffers from social anxiety.

This book is all kinds of Elyse bait. It has a tortured virgin hero. It has a badass heroine who is, for all intents and purposes (or intensive purposes, as my coworkers like to say), a rake. It has witty Regency sass-banter. I’d probably get into a sketchy panel van for this book, to be honest.

The thing I liked most about To Charm a Naughty Countess was that Romain flips the gender roles. I’ve read this story before: shy country virgin needs to marry ASAP and a sophisticated rake offers to help find a match—all in an attempt to get closer to said virgin. Except in this book the virgin is Michael, Duke of Wyverne, and the rake is the heroine, Caroline, Countess of Stratton.

Michael has spent only one Season in London eleven years ago. He’s been devoted to running his dukedom. Despite all his hard work the estate is suffering due to unseasonable cold (the book takes place in 1816, the Year Without a Summer). He’s out of credit and options, so he needs to marry money fast. Being a duke this shouldn’t be too hard—except he loathes the ton, the balls, the unspoken rules of society.

He meets Caroline at a party. She and Michael have a shared history—more on that later—and she’s never really gotten over him. When she finds out he’s bride-shopping, she offers to be his matchmaker. She believes that by helping Michael find a wife, she’ll be able to get him out of her system.

Michael has a reputation as Mad Michael due to his behavior eleven years ago. This is compounded by the fact that he suffers from social anxiety and panic attacks. Faced with a crush of strangers at a ball or marriage-minded-mamas, Michael starts stammering, floundering, and gets horrible headaches.  He isolates himself, behaving eccentrically (taking apart a lamp versus socializing) to spare himself the trauma. When he is truly emotionally overwhelmed midway through the novel (and after getting his V-card punched by Caroline), he has a panic attack.

And here’s something else super cool that Romain did. Instead of the stereotypical tortured hero who suppresses his feels and just stomps around the moors wailing, “Cathy!”, Michael wears his heart on his sleeve. His anxiety prevents him from suppressing his response when he’s emotionally fraught. And the fact that one really knows about panic attacks makes his ‘episodes’ particularly horrifying. I’ve had panic attacks. You literally feel as though you are going to have a heart attack and die. If you don’t know what’s happening; it’s terrifying. So sometimes Michael wonders if he is indeed mad.

Anyway, Caroline knows that Michael is nervous and that he legitimately doesn’t pick up on social cues. She’s the darling of the ton, rich, witty and beautiful. A widow (her marriage was to a very old man) she has freedoms most women don’t and takes lovers to please herself. She guides Michael through society, and because she acts as though she has zero fucks left to give, everyone assumes she’s better than them and respects her. I totally see Caroline played by Emma Thompson in the movie version of this book.

Since she’s so busy molding society to her whims, Caroline has missed out on having suitors who are genuinely interested in her, and that’s where Michael is different. He’s so upfront about his need for money and his shortfalls regarding socializing, that he might be the only person she’s with who isn’t putting on some sort of show. Similarly, Michael finds his ability to confide in Caroline and not have act a part with her refreshing. Just as every maiden she brings before him falls short, every lover she’s taken pales in comparison to him.

Like all good Regency rakes Caroline is struck by how shallow her previous relationships were. Just like all good Regency virgins, Michael realizes only Caroline makes his Netherfield tingle.

There were some things about this book that didn’t work for me. Namely the Very Bad Thing that happened eleven years ago between Caroline and Michael. The reader doesn’t find out what that Thing is until the very end of the book, at which point it was anti-climactic. I thought it would have better served the story had I known straight off, and it certainly would have added depth and context to Caroline and Michael’s relationship.

I also felt there were parts of the book where Michael’s social ineptitude bordered on naiveté that was unbelievable. Sort of like if Sheldon Cooper was a duke (someone write that for me). Okay, not quite that bad, but I think he would have known some things—with regards to the Very Bad Thing—were not okay by virtue of his upbringing.

Still these were minor concerns in an otherwise lovely story. This is the second book in Romain’s Matchmaker trilogy, and I am eagerly looking forward to the third. 


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    LenoreJ says:

    I just picked this up with my groceries yesterday, planning a weekend read. Now I know I am going to be up way too late tonight!

  2. 2
    mochabean says:

    Thanks for the great review.

    Only Caroline makes his netherfield tingle

    was genius.  Agree with you that the reveal of the very bad thing should have been earlier, it was anti-climactic.

  3. 3
    LauraL says:

    I have this one on my wish list. The idea of someone like Sheldon Cooper as a duke has probably moved it up a few.

  4. 4
    CarrieS says:

    LOVE the gender reversal.  Why must you add to the TBROD (To be Read Pile of Doom)?  Don;t you know it’s about to topple over onto my head and kill me?

  5. 5
    redheadedgirl says:

    Carrie, if we get killed by our TBRODs, you have to join us.  It’s only fair.

  6. 6
    Jennifer Robson says:

    “I’d probably get into a sketchy panel van for this book, to be honest.” Sold!

  7. 7
    Cate says:

    I am so pinching that fabulous line …” making his Netherfield tingle”. Love it :)

  8. 8
    Cordy says:

    Overall, I really liked this, but here is where I admit that that the bit at the end that makes explicit that the hero’s condition was social anxiety was really confusing to me. Because the whole time I had been assuming that the hero was someone with very high-functioning Asperger’s. And it was such a great characterization of someone who is very smart and very grown-up, but neurologically atypical and fantastically strange – I really, really enjoyed it. So I was surprised to find out that he was actually supposed to be suffering from social anxiety, in part because I, too, found some of his social naivete unbelievable for someone suffering from anxiety, as opposed to someone for whom social forms were baffling and arbitrary and invisible. Say the scene where he visits the heroine while she holds court among her male admirers, and everyone has brought flowers, and he has a complex set of theories he’s working out about flowers, and if he made a mistake, and so on. And that seems to me something that is more than “social anxiety”, where you’d be like “Oh God I’m the only one who didn’t bring flowers I am an idiot I’m going to fall down and hyperventilate”. Instead he just started to fix a chair in the drawing room.

  9. 9
    Elinor Aspen says:

    Romain inverted the gender roles in more ways than one. The first sex scene is told entirely from Michael’s POV. In that way, it’s like an Old Skool romance, where the heroine’s deflowering is told entirely from her POV (only in this book, Michael functions as the heroine). I’ve read other romances with virgin heroes, but I don’t recall any of them withholding the woman’s POV in that way.

  10. 10
    Stella L. says:

    I just got this yesterday.  Can’t wait to read it.  Sounds delightful with the role reversals.  Sheldon, hmmm.  What could he do differently if he was the hero?  Anyway, I know what I’m doing this weekend! ; )

  11. 11
    Christie says:

    You had me at “tortured virgin hero.”

  12. 12
    Susan says:

    Thank you, Elyse.  This was the best review I’ve read in a long time.  Since I just finished a series this morning, I downloaded the book and it’s next on the list.  If it’s half as good as the review, it’ll be great.

  13. 13
    laj says:

    I loved the part where he took the lamp apart at a dinner party. It was priceless! I was disappointed about the “social anxiety” explanation too. I wondered if the author was pressured by publisher/editor to do this?

    Terrific review!

  14. 14
    Elinor Aspen says:

    @Cordy and laj, I agree that something else must be going on. Michael’s odd behavior seems consistent with avoidant personality disorder. His social awkwardness may be due to willful denial rather than ignorance. Even simple and expected social overtures (like bringing a lady flowers) can be extremely stressful for avoidant personalities, so it is more comfortable to pretend the requirement does not exist. I suspect that Theresa Romain knows someone with similar quirks but doesn’t realize there is more to it than just social anxiety.

  15. 15
    Maria B says:

    So,  I just finished this last night, and I’m honestly super disappointed with the hero. Romain’s writing is gorgeous, as it always is, and I loved Caro and the setting to bits. But, speaking as someone with an anxiety disorder, the way Michael was written just constantly rubbed me the wrong way. As Cordy said, his thoughts and actions fit being on the spectrum far better than anxiety—and he just didn’t think or react in ways that felt true to my experience or what I’ve heard from other people.

    I really wanted to like this book—the year without a summer! No one ever plays with that! Caro!—but it just left me frustrated. I’ll just have to reread Season for Surrender to get my fluff back.

  16. 16
    Heather S says:

    I enjoyed this book SO much (thank you to my work for letting us check out books!). I agree – I thought Michael really seemed more like a person with some form of autism than someone with social anxiety. He was very smart, very detail-oriented, very methodical, and he didn’t do well outside his usual routine. I found him to be a very refreshing character and I will definitely read more by Teresa Romain. (I picked up “It Takes Two to Tangle” a couple of days ago and look forward to it).

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