Book: What Would a Duke Do? by Collette Cameron (2019)

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Regency Romance

Reading Accoutrements: You can’t go wrong with tea and biscuits (cookies) for a regency romance!

Content Notes: Child neglect and abuse

It’s easy for me to identify the type of book I feel like reading on any given day based on how I react to the blurbs of items on my to-read list. After finishing Melinda Gates’s The Moment of Lift, which I recently reviewed, I thought I might be interested in another non-fiction book. That idea belly-flopped quite magnificently when I couldn’t even bring myself to pick a title, let alone read a blurb. SO, I decided a fluffy romance was probably what my brain needed following the weighty material I had just finished. Unfortunately, I fell down a rabbit-hole of entirely uninteresting sounding contemporary romances on my to-read list before I landed on What Would a Duke Do? by Collette Cameron.

I want to tell you that the blurb had me feeling inspired to fall in love with a couple of adorable characters and read a sappy, lovey-dovey, adorable romance novel, but the description for this book actually made me say, “This is going to be so bad…I can’t wait!” Without making you read the blurb, let me see if I can tell you why:

Gabriella Breckensole and her twin sister have lived with their grandparents ever since their parents died when they were children. Growing up next door to several titled families, including that of a duke, the girls were friends to many titled ladies and gentlemen who would normally be considered above their station as granddaughters of a poor baron. Their connections, however, ensured that they were welcomed at more exclusive parties than they might have otherwise expected. Still, it seemed quite incredible that a duke would have any interest in marrying Gabriella.

Maxwell Woolbright, Duke of Pennington, grew up with the myriad of expectations and pressures that one might expect of a duke. He took his responsibilities very seriously, aware that he would one day be responsible for the lives of the large number of people who lived on his estate. He knew Gabriella from the local house parties that were thrown by other noble families in the area, and found himself fascinated by and attracted to the exuberant girl despite the differences in their stations. He had begun courting Gabriela when he found his grandfather’s journal.

Out of curiosity, Maxwell read the journal and discovered something appalling. Gabriela’s grandfather had blackmailed Maxwell’s grandfather out of the property where Gabriela grew up. To make matters worse, his grandfather attributed Maxwell’s grandmother’s death to the loss of that house. According to his grandfather’s journal, Maxwell’s father grew up without a loving mother and with a drug-addicted and angry father – all because of Gabriela’s grandfather. Maxwell, reading his grandfather’s journal, begins to blame Gabriela’s grandfather for the dearth of love – and the abuse – that Maxwell was raised with. His only thought is for revenge.

He is so caught up in his desire for revenge, that any thoughts of discretion or secrecy go out of his mind. So when he drunkenly rants to his friends at a houseparty, of course Gabriela overhears. Suddenly, Gabriela is determined to avoid the Duke at all costs. She won’t be party to his plans, so she shuns him at every opportunity. Maxwell, unaware that Gabriela knows of his plot, is surprised by her sudden change in temperament…and also intrigued.

Here’s the only line of the blurb I’ll make you read: “Can Max make the impossible choice between retribution or forever losing the only woman to ever touch his heart?”

Gah! It sounds so deliciously terrible, doesn’t it? Silly revenge-plots and star-crossed lovers! I couldn’t wait to laugh hysterically at over-dramatic soliloquies about broken hearts and betrayed trust. I really wanted to see if she’d dump warm lemonade on him or deliberately stomp on his toes during an obligatory dance. I was ready for an almost Jane Austen-style book…What I got was even better.

One of the primary things I dislike about Pride and Prejudice is the overall tone of the story. Every time I read the book – or watch the movie (or, heaven forbid, the 6-hour series) – I feel this general grey cloud hovering ominously over every scene, even when the scene includes blue skies and bright sun. The tone of the story is so gloomy and dismal that I feel as if I have 3 dictionaries stacked on my head, just weighted down and depressed. What Would a Duke Do? doesn’t make me feel like I’m living in a sucking mire of despair and self-loathing, so already we’re off to a better start.

Here’s why: where Austen chooses to dwell and revel within Elizabeth Bennet’s feelings of oppression and self-loathing for falling into the very stereotype she despises, her bitterly sarcastic humor intended to wound, Cameron allows her characters to use sarcasm and biting comedy to lighten the issues with humor. The characters themselves recognize the absurdity of the situation that society – and in this case, their elders in particular – have put them into. And, the best part of all, Cameron’s characters take the time to think through their choices and make the decision that will make them the happiest. That’s right, instead of choosing the stupid route, based entirely on some sense of obligation and that will inevitably lead to misery and unhappiness, the characters choose happiness! Yay! Granted, Cameron’s characters make a couple of wrong turns along the way, but they typically adjust with good humor and learn from their mistakes.

I know, I know! Those of you who have read my reviews in the past are probably reminding me that I typically dislike this kind of internal drama that completely centers around misconceptions and miscommunications. I usually go on a diatribe about the fact that TALKING TO EACH OTHER OPENLY would likely have resolved all of the trouble. Usually followed by a comment about the fact that, if the characters had practiced open communication, there probably wouldn’t have been a book for me to review. No, I did not hit my head. No, my preferences haven’t changed so drastically all-of-a-sudden.

I think the reason I can stand the internal drama in this book more than in others has to do with the characters themselves. Gabriela has chosen to turn away from Maxwell because: 1) she thinks he’s being petty to seek revenge (although, to be fair to Maxwell, she has no idea what his reasons are…or what proof he has), 2) she refuses to fall in love with and marry a man who is only using her for revenge (you go, girl!), and 3) she wants to remain loyal to the people who raised her with love and care. Her reasoning is sound and, in my opinion, she is practical about her options and her refusal to settle for a revenge-seeking lout.

On the other hand, Maxwell was raised with a much different set of circumstances, which had long forced him to choose duty to the family name and responsibility to the family legacy over love or any other “soft” emotion. He blames Gabriela’s grandfather for that fact, and I can’t fault him for wanting something to focus his otherwise ineffectual rage on. Plus, Maxwell was well on his way to falling in love with Gabriela before he knew about their families’ history, so I found him to be an acceptably redeemable scoundrel.

So, now that you all have witnessed my inconsistencies in opinion about acceptable internal drama I’ll leave you with this: What Would a Duke Do? is a light-hearted regency romance with an adorable couple and a happily ever after. If you’re looking for a fluffy read to get you through a bath or a flight or maybe the longest and most boring webinar of your life, this is a good one to put on your to-read list.

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