RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

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Title: Any Duchess Will Do
Author: Tessa Dare
Publication Info: Avon May 2013
ISBN: 978-0062240125
Genre: Historical: European

Book Any Duchess Will Do This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Nerdalisque. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Historical Romance category.

The summary:

Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed this season–or any season–but his diabolical mother abducts him to “Spinster Cove” and insists he select a bride from the ladies in residence. Griff decides to teach her a lesson that will end the marriage debate forever. He chooses the serving girl.

Overworked and struggling, Pauline Simms doesn’t dream about dukes. All she wants is to hang up her barmaid apron and open a bookshop. That dream becomes a possibility when an arrogant, sinfully attractive duke offers her a small fortune for a week’s employment. Her duties are simple: submit to his mother’s “duchess training”…and fail miserably.

But in London, Pauline isn’t a miserable failure. She’s a brave, quick-witted, beguiling failure–a woman who ignites Griff’s desire and soothes the darkness in his soul. Keeping Pauline by his side won’t be easy. Even if Society could accept a serving girl duchess–can a roguish duke convince a serving girl to trust him with her heart?

And here is Nerdalisque's review:

I came back to reading romances a year or so ago after a very long hiatus, and Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series was among the first I discovered. (Thanks, SBTB!) I really enjoyed them. Loved them, actually. (I still haven’t quite recovered from one scene in Beauty and the Blacksmith. Because, the anvil.) But I digress.

I’m happy to say that I loved Any Duchess Will Do. Why? The characters – main and supporting – are well-developed and appealing.  The plot is familiar, but Dare delivers it in a way that makes it fresh. Events move along at a good pace. There’s an economy to the plot: each scene advances the story with no excess. The writing is lovely – creative, descriptive, and often laugh-out-loud funny (the number of things I highlighted is ridiculous). And the sexytimes are quite capable of causing “flutterings,” to quote one conversation between the hero and heroine.

So what’s the setup for the story? Griffin, the eighth Duke of Halford, is hauled off to Spindle Cove by his very determined mother. The Duchess’ plan is to let Griff have his choice of suitable girls, and she’ll make that girl into a duchess in one week. Griff tries to thwart his mother by choosing Pauline Simms, a farmer’s daughter and serving maid. Pauline knows that Griff chose her to spite his mother, but her nature is such that she’s determined to become a player in their game, rather than a pawn.

“Of course, she knew he’d meant to pick the ‘wrong girl,’ but he’d picked the wrong ‘wrong girl.’”

Any Duchess Will Do could be a Cinderella story, but Dare doesn’t go in that direction. Pauline knows she’ll never be a duchess.  She’s amused by the situation and willing to risk embarrassment in London for the promise of a reward that will give her the freedom to build a better life for her sister and herself away from their abusive father. She’s intelligent, funny, caring, and loyal.

As for Griff, I find him appealing because he isn’t obnoxiously alpha. His social position makes him confident and assertive, but I don’t find him overbearing. His relationship with his mother rings true: he loves her, even though she exasperates him.  And there’s this: He smelled so wretchedly trustworthy.  Readers of the series met Griff at the height of his debauchery in A Week to Be Wicked, but in this book he’s not a dissolute rake who changes his ways because he met the perfect woman. He’s already changed into a man who’s nothing like he was before, due to an event that I won’t spoil here – an event that would change anyone who experienced it.

The supporting characters are also well-drawn. I especially like Griff’s mother. The initial impression is that she’s snobbish and domineering, but the Duchess’ real nature emerges in a delightfully funny way as the story progresses.

I had to look hard, but I did find a couple of things to quibble with. First, while I’m thankful that Dare didn’t write Pauline’s speech in country dialect, but instead illustrates it through allusions to things like her dropped Hs; Pauline’s vocabulary and speech sometimes seem too polished for a country girl, even one who loves to read. For instance, she says to Griff:

“Even amid all the ancient, moldering volumes in this library . . . I find you the most unreadable book in the room.”

It’s a beautiful sentence, but to have it be Pauline’s didn’t quite ring true for me.

A theme throughout the book is that Griff and Pauline will always be a duke and a servant. Regardless of how much they love each other, society will always see them that way.  He tells her that he will never forget the difference between them. That leads to the second thing that bothered me. When that concept becomes part of one specific sexytimes scene, it took me out of the story to the point that I missed the subtleties of the scene. Both Griff and Pauline were willing participants, but having the noble-commoner dichotomy pointed out in this context bothered me – because it was an actual difference, not one they were playing at. I will say that on a re-read, I got over my initial reaction and saw how the scene advanced their relationship.

It took an effort to find the things I didn’t like, and they weren’t enough to affect my enjoyment of the book.  I’m charmed by Tessa Dare’s writing, especially her original humor and realistic dialogue. Really – many of her lines made me laugh-snort while I’m reading, like when Griff says of the a barnyard goose, “This bird is possessed by the spirit of a dyspeptic Cossack.”  I also love Dare’s ability to paint evocative pictures of people and places with a minimum of well-chosen words. For the quality of the writing, the well-rounded characters, and most of all the humor, I’ll happily recommend this book to my fellow readers.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sarita says:

    Going on the list.

  2. 2
    mochabean says:

    Thanks for a great review—you made me want to re-read the book!  Also I know just what you mean about that one scene—it worked better on re-read for me as well.

  3. 3
    Cate M. says:

    Ooh, this sounds excellent. Damn it, another one in the to-buy column…

  4. 4
    Caty B says:

    Lovely review – and I still remember that great line about the goose. I wanted the goose to follow them to London and keep showing up whenever Griff wasn’t expecting it, as a whole man-versus-ornery-goose subplot. Griff showing up at the House of Lords, goose in close pursuit: “Is that a—” “Yes. Ignore him. He’s a glutton for attention.” QUACK.

    You know, that could be a whole side novella: how the goose went to London and found love with another spirit-of-a-dyspeptic-Cossack goose (gander?).

    Thanks for reminding me of all the things I’d loved about this book!

  5. 5
    Layla says:

    YES THAT ONE SCENE

    I haven’t re-read the book yet, but that also struck me as weird (if not icky) when I was reading it.

    Great review!

  6. 6
    Tam says:

    I actually didn’t love this one much – I got a bit stuck on the central premise, in which not just the Duke but his mother were completely OK with a commoner as Duchess (not just a girl from the middle classes, not even a girl from wealthy farming stock, but even lower on the social rung). This was an era in which people genuinely believed in the whole notion of ‘blood’ – blue blood, good stock, good breeding, bad blood – and married their children with as much care as we’d breed pedigree horses today. I know it’s ridiculous, but I just can’t suspend disbelief when everybody seems to have such cheerily modern and egalitarian notions about class in Regencies. (‘Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?!’ Remember, Elizabeth Bennett’s eligibility to be the wife of an untitled member of the landed gentry was still considered a bit dicey because her mother’s people were connected to trade.)

    There’s a terrific line in one of the Poldark books (which centre around a minor untitled member of Cornish gentry marrying, oh horrors, his scullery maid) in which one of the local petty lords generously says that said scullery maid must have some good breeding somewhere (trans: upper-class heritage on the wrong side of the blanket) because she’s got long legs and nice bone structure. If she’s bright and attractive, she CAN’T really be from working class stock. I thought that the way those books worked through the apparently huge differences in class was really well done, but that was a much smaller gap than the vast gulf between hero and heroine in this book.

  7. 7
    Francesca says:

    Although this book does sound funny and cute and I am tempted, certain things make me hesitate. As mentioned above, the class discrepancy is just too huge. Very few things annoy me more in historicals than a former servant/guttersnipe/prostitute etc., who effortlessly enchants high society (with a few endearing gaffes). One book hit the wall many years ago when our heroine, who had grown up dirt poor in Medieval Scotland, but somehow knew how to read and write, was able to manage a spirited horse in spite of never having been on horseback in her life. There seems to be some sort of presumption of “inner fineness” on the part of the author that endows the heroine with these abilities.

    Also, why do the heroes always cave in to their mothers under these circumstances? I am willing to believe these guys love their mothers, but, in this instance, he could have pointed out that, as head of the family (and a duke), he could have her put away if she didn’t stop messing around with his personal life. I know that sounds harsh and very unheroic, but how is it worse than making a choice that seems to be setting his mother up for public humiliation in the arena most important to her?

  8. 8
    Mardee says:

    I loved this book. My 1st read of Tesse Dare. I loved the dialogue,wit and steamy,steamy love scenes. Unlike the other readers, I thought the scene referenced was so sexy. I totally loved who both characters were in that scene and how they used it outside of normal definition and convention…again…so sexy.

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