Book Review

To Love and To Loathe by Martha Waters

Claudia and Shana both love historical romances, but Shana loves Milan’s prickly heroines and puns, while Claudia’s catnip is the cozy charm of Balogh’s love stories, the fewer puns the better. Shana convinced Claudia that To Love and To Loathe’s “enemies to hookup to lovers” storyline would pull us out of our reading slump.

She now owes Claudia a million lemon bars because this book was a tropeopcalypse. So much potential, but so poorly executed. After starting with some promising ideas, the story made us hate most all the characters. Then the revolting treatment of a queer character near the end nearly made us throw things and made everyone involved seem unredeemable.

Diana, Lady Templeton, is a rich widow at last. Raised by relatives who viewed her as a burden, Diana set out to marry well. She achieved that goal by marrying an older viscount, but in doing so she had to ignore an attraction to Jeremy Overington, her brother’s playboy friend and at that time the impoverished marquess of Willingham. We are not told how Jeremy financially rescued the marquessate, but at the start of the book he leads the comfortable life of a rake until one of his lovers gives him cause to doubt his skills in bed.

When opportunity in the form of a house party arrives, Jeremy decides to act on his own attraction and asks for Diana’s help to rebuild his confidence. The two are flirtatious frenemies within the same close-knit social circle. Neither has any interest in marrying, so when Diana publicly bets Jeremy that she can get him wed in under a year, she knows she’ll need to manipulate him to win.

Diana agrees to offer an unvarnished review of Jeremy’s sexual prowess, as long as they limit their affair to the upcoming house party. She plans to use the party to play matchmaker between Jeremy and their eligible friends, while knowing that Jeremy’s years of experience “evading the parson’s mousetrap” will make him a hard sell. With Diana throwing girls at Jeremy during the day, and educating him in how to give women pleasure at night, it slowly becomes apparent that the best match for Jeremy might be Diana herself.

Shana: “Loathe” is in the book’s title, but this story couldn’t decide if the leads were longtime enemies or friends. Jeremy and Diana regularly express shock at their affair, because they assume that they hate one another. But they recognize their mutual attraction from the first flashback scene, they vaguely like one another, and they surprise none of their friends with their pairing. These two may enjoy tussling over Diana’s matchmaking attempts, but they aren’t actually enemies. There was very little of the will-they-or-won’t-they tension that I associate with falling for someone you dislike. At the same time, Jeremy and Diana don’t get to know each other well until mid-book, so they lacked the wellspring of trust that I need in friends to lovers stories. Do you think this was enemies to lovers?

Claudia: I don’t think their antipathy for each other qualified as hate, and they were also not enemies in the stricter sense of being on separate sides of an issue. The antipathy was more on Diana’s side, too, perhaps because she had to suppress her early feelings for Jeremy to be able to marry her first husband. And it felt Jeremy liked to rile up Diana more out of habit than anything remotely like hate.

Shana: Diana is annoyed by everyone, so I didn’t feel like her teasing vibe with Jeremy was unique.

Diana and Jeremy both say they’ll never marry, because they like the independence of their respective widow and bachelor lifestyles. That’s the only conflict, and they barely mention it. I needed a stronger obstacle to stay interested.

Claudia: I finished this book without really knowing why those two hadn’t started their relationship sooner, or at least in more transparent terms, especially as Diana is supposedly famously direct and not worried too much about her reputation. And once they get it going, they are never truly honest with each other. They exchange the same barbs, and nitpick the same issues. That was when the ride started to feel… less fun. Mostly because their sparring felt like plain old bickering after a while.

Shana: What did you think of Diana agreeing to Jeremy’s plan to have her critique his lovemaking skills? It felt like a stretch for me. I agreed with her initial reaction to Jeremy’s argument that this would help her.

“My point is, you seem not to know how to make men understand that you are, er . . .” The first phrase that sprang to mind was open for business, but he was fairly certain that even he, with his legendary charm, wouldn’t be able to recover from that one. “Open to a liaison,” he settled upon instead. “But a brief, discreet affair with me would send all the right signals.”

Diana looked skeptical. “I’m not certain that the signal I’m looking to send is that I’ve joined the legion of women who’ve lifted their skirts for the Marquess of Willingham. I’m surprised they haven’t formed a society. With matching hats.”

Claudia: Agreed, it definitely felt contrived to me. Obviously they both knew, at least on some level, that the reasons for the arrangement were a stretch, but they both latched on to flimsy excuses to act on their long-repressed desires. I’d much rather see them discuss these desires as adults, without any subterfuge, but at that point I was still willing to go along for the ride even if I was seriously put off by Jeremy’s thinking he’s god’s gift to women.

Shana: This is the second book in the author’s Regency Vows series, and I haven’t read the first. Diana likes to gossip with her closest friends, and I thought these conversations were insipid, and occasionally cruel. Did it help to have read the first book?

Claudia: Not really. We got some of the love-you/hate-you antics between Jeremy and Diana in the first book, To Have and to Hoax, but nothing crucial. Diana was a great secondary character in the first book, and I was disappointed that the girl-gang stuff in this book didn’t work for me either. Mostly because the secondary characters here seemed to exist to forward the plot, or to serve as sequel bait.

Shana: The best part of the book was Diana’s pithy misandry. I also liked that after they decide to have an affair early on, the couple deliciously drags out the consummation of their relationship.

Claudia: The dragging out was indeed delicious. The writing really shone for me at that point because it does a great job amping up the sexual tension.

And it all takes place at a house party! I love house parties in historical romance because usually it gives characters a chance to interact more meaningfully and develop their relationship in close proximity.

For Diana and Jeremy, though, the house party seemed like an opportunity for yet more machinations and mental calisthenics to justify their boning. At some point I began to worry that they would never grow up and own up to their true feelings for each other.

Shana: Yes. I started to hate these two people even as I was increasingly invested in when they were going to bone.

Claudia: The longer the bickering went on, the less I cared. They continued to be mostly at odds with each other for no apparent reason. It felt very juvenile. That’s when I went from somewhat invested to really not caring much about either of them.

And, speaking of juvenile, we must talk about how one of the secondary characters was treated, mostly by Diana.

Shana: Yes. This is where the book became unredeemable.

Jeremy and Diana independently find out that one of the characters is in a queer relationship, and their responses are deeply cruel.

First, the person outs themselves to Diana in an extremely unlikely manner, blabbing everything after misunderstanding Diana’s innuendo. Diana agrees to keep it a secret, but immediately tells ALL her friends. Not only was this icky because she knows how desperate and afraid the queer character is, but her behavior endangers this person acutely. These scenes were excruciating, and made me hate her.

Claudia: Yes, that was definitely when the book went from “oh maybe it’s just me and my pandemic brain” to “nope.”

Diana and friends seemed very callous and happy to gossip about the queer person without a second thought about the implications. They don’t bat an eye about outing and talking about the queer character behind her back. That was when I asked whether you had thrown your copy against the wall because I surely felt the urge then.

That was in keeping with their behavior through most of the book, though, and even with each other. We are told that they are supportive of each other and open minded, but all we see is Diana and friends poking at each other’s sensitive spots and at other people’s perceived shortcomings.

And, tellingly, other than the coerced confession you mentioned above, we never hear directly from the queer character.

Shana: I nearly threw my e-reader once I got to Jeremy’s ridiculous plan to build a long-term relationship with Diana by using the queer character.

Show Spoiler

Jeremy sees Lady Helen, who has been throwing herself at him throughout the book, having sex with her lady’s maid. He’s amused that she’s a “sapphist,” and surmises that her clumsy pursuit of him was designed to allow her to remain safely unmarried. Yet, even though Jeremy believes Helen isn’t interested in him, or in any man, he decides the best way to woo Diana is to marry Helen.

Jeremy’s WTF rationale is that since he loves Diana, and wants to be with her after the house party, he will ask Helen to marry him, explain that he knows about her lesbian lover, and then convince (or trap?) her into marriage so he can have an heir, and keep Diana as his mistress.

Or he could have told Diana that he loves her, and ask if she wants to extend their relationship, but why would he do that when his idea is SO smart?

Diana was not impressed by this plan, and we were even angrier than she was. These people are terrible. Diana outs Helen to Jeremy, again betraying Helen’s trust, unaware that he already knows about Helen’s relationship. When Diana asks how sex would work in this marriage, Jeremy assures her that even though Helen “doesn’t like men,” they would “grit our teeth and do the necessary until she was with child.” How charming.

Ultimately, Diana is appalled, not because it would trap Helen, but because she thinks marrying another woman is a stupid romantic gesture.

Is Helen consulted about any of this, or treated like a person? Of course not. She’s a device to be used by Diana and Jeremy for their own ridiculous, petty machinations and cruel, gossipy conversations.

Shana: This might be the worst plan a hero has ever had in a romance. And yet, Diana’s terrible friends convince her that he meant well. By this point in the book, I was done. I hated everyone, and there was no coming back from this mess.

Claudia: I was ready to give the book a C until the last two thirds or so. The bickering, mean-girl atmosphere, and the poor treatment of a queer secondary character took it from “meh” to appalling very fast. I’ll go with a D.

Shana: My trajectory was similar. Diana’s commentary on the uselessness of men made me laugh, and the sexual tension sucked me into the story, but the characters ultimately felt shallow. Treating a queer character this poorly is unforgivable, so I can’t stomach giving this higher than a D.

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To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters

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  1. 1
    Jill Q. says:

    Ugh, I just DNFed the first in the series because the characters were annoying and the plot felt strained. I was really hoping this one picked up because I liked Helen. Oh well.

  2. 2
    LisaM says:

    @JillQ I also DNFd the first book for the same reasons (and felt at the time I was in the minority feeling that way). Thanks for this review, it’s a hard pass for me.

  3. 3
    HeatherT says:

    What the actual fuck? No.

  4. 4
    Kat says:

    I couldn’t get into the first book, either and ended up skimming most of the latter half. Definitely won’t be trying #2!

  5. 5
    Sydneysider says:

    Whew, no, thanks for letting us know to avoid this one.

  6. 6
    Jennifer says:

    I was trying to read this book (I auto-bought it after book 1) and was just bored, and I hadn’t even gotten to this shit yet. Uck. No.

  7. 7
    Kris says:

    I hated how they treated Helen. It was a real WTF moment. Plus I never connected with the MCs. Their bickering was annoying AF and I disliked both. Thank God I borrowed it from the library. Would hate to have wasted good money on this. DNF.

  8. 8
    chacha1 says:

    Wow. This one would not have been on my ‘maybe’ list anyway because a) punny title and b) ‘enemies to lovers’ but it sounds irredeemable.

    Can I digress with a different complaint? What is with all these historical romance ‘heroes’ who are simultaneously care-for-nothing rakes, financial wizards who can bring an estate back from the brink of bankruptcy (an estate is a Very Complex Business; fixing one is not accomplished on the turn of a card), and sworn not to marry because they don’t want to change their ways? Those character traits are pretty much mutually exclusive. A care-for-nothing rake would think nothing of an expedient marriage to secure the succession, followed by an infinity of philandering. Just for starters. Let’s not even mention the sexually transmitted diseases. Ugh.

  9. 9
    Claudia says:

    @chacha1 I hear you!! Here the whole thing felt even more improbable because there’s zero mention of how he did it!! And it was problem large enough and serious enough that younger Diana didn’t consider marrying him when she was on the lookout for a rich husband.

  10. 10
    Lisa F says:

    Wow, what a terrible plotting choice. Thanks for the advanced warning, y’all!

  11. 11
    Cece says:

    I gave this a similar grade.

    For me, the sexual tension wasn’t convincing. This book’s premise is “let’s have sex to get it out of our system” and “friends with benefits” which suggests it’s going to be a fast burn with high heat, but…it’s a low steam slow burn? Diana and Jeremy spend WAY more time talking about having their affair than actually having it, which leaves a lot of story space that gets filled by mean girl clique antics and childish pranks (a rehash of the author’s debut in a lot of ways).

    I’d also say that the reviewers were more than fair about Lady Helen. I think the titillated discussion about her amongst Diana and her friends is just awful. They go into bizarrely unnecessary detail about the exact mechanics of lesbian sex and it reads as very fetishizing and othering.

  12. 12
    Juhi says:

    Ugh. I made 60% of my way through the first on series because Catherine, whose tastes run similar to mine, enjoyed it. But as I reached 60%, I realized I wasn’t really enjoying the story. So I decided to DNF it. I didn’t think a lot about why but this review put the finger on it: the whole thing felt extremely contrived. . . Like someone put some characters in a box and tried to shake the box and related whatever noise they made together. A much better book I read instead was Quinby Olson’s Firstborn.

    Anyway, glad for this review. I was wondering if I should give the second book a chance but now I know it is not for me!

  13. 13
    Leigh Kramer says:

    I’m another person who DNFed the first book but contemplated reading this one. No longer! Thank you for saving me from the trouble. It seems like there’s been more historical romance lately with horrible representation for secondary queer characters and I want it to stop.

  14. 14
    Michael I says:

    @chacha1, @claudia

    We hear more about the circumstances in Book 1. A non-trivial portion of the recovery happened all at once.

    (Spoilers for Book 1)

    Basically, Audley’s father offered Jeremy a LARGE sum of money if he helped arrange a situation where Audley and Violet appeared to be in enough of a compromising position that Audley would feel obligated to offer for Violet.

    The amount paid is not specified. Jeremy just says that “it was enough to keep me afloat until those investments could pay off”. Note that “those investments” are improvements to the estate that Jeremy’s older brother had made before dying in an accident. The near bankruptcy was because the brother’s death meant that death duties had to be paid after the cost of the improvements combined with the earlier death duties for Jeremy’s father had basically wiped out the reserves. My reading is that the estate (although Jeremy did genuinely put a great deal of effort into it) was actually already on course to long-term solvency when Jeremy inherited it as long as he could get past the immediate financial problems caused by the death duties.

  15. 15
    Kathryn says:

    Also started the first book and then put aside as just was not holding my interest and I really didn’t find the characters that engaging or very believable. Definitely not going to bother to finish it now.

    In that first book I hadn’t reached the reveal about why Jeremy was so poor (and then recovered). That use of death duties as an explanation for Jeremy’s financial difficulties sounds a bit off to me.

    I did grad work in medieval history, including a course on medieval inheritance practices. We did look a little bit in that course at some modern practices, but I’m definitely not an expert on early 19th-century British taxation schemes. With that caveat, my understanding is that death duties or inheritance taxes didn’t become really a problem for Great Britain’s land holders until the end of the 19th/beginning of 20th when these taxes began to be assessed on the actual value of real property (that is on the value of the estate’s land holdings) and at increasingly higher marginal rates. Before then I believe that taxes were relatively inexpensive and moreover they were not assessed on either real property or any wealth that had been settled on the heirs before the death of the testator. (This is one of the reasons for dowries; they are a way of avoiding the death duties charged on legacies.)

  16. 16
    MGW says:

    I really enjoyed the first book and wanted to love this one as well. I didn’t have as many problems with it as the reviewers up until the point where Diana outs Helen to all her friends. I was like “whoa that’s not okay”. Like she explicitly promised Helen she wouldn’t tell anyone and then she goes and tells her two best friends and is just like “hey don’t tell your husband/anyone else about this” but just like she has no way of knowing how they would respond/if they would decide to share this info. Jeremy’s reactions when he finds out were also like “ugh” but in my opinion nowhere near the level of Diana’s. Like jeremys plan is dumb but I see where he was coming from (not that I agree with it just, it. But it’s not actively cruel to Helen. At the point he comes up with it he doesn’t know about Helen’s active plan to stay a spinster). But Diana knowingly breaches helens trust to her friends and then to Jeremy. And obviously given the time period there weren’t (that I know of) social mores re: outing that we have now, buuuuut as a modern reader it’s hard to overlook *and* it really doesn’t paint Diana in the best light.
    I also felt their big fight at the end was kinda contrived and I honestly didn’t like that Jeremy was the one that had to grovel? Which is weird given their argument but like idk.
    I really enjoyed the first book as like a light wallpaper historical, but the treatment of lady Helen in this one really ruined it for me. I think without that whole plot or if it had been done differently I still would’ve enjoyed the book.

  17. 17
    WS says:

    Thanks for this. I removed it from my Amazon “wait until the price drops” list. “I hate you but can’t keep my hands off you” is my catnip, but it doesn’t sound like this really is going to give me that. Sounds like I don’t need to read any of the things that are there, either.

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