Tuesday 23 February 2016

#CBR8 Book 22: "Romancing Mister Bridgerton - with 2nd Epilogue" by Julia Quinn

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Miss Penelope Featherington has been in love with Colin Bridgerton for almost half her life. Ever since her bonnet blew off in the park and hit him in the face, causing him to be thrown from his horse, yet reacting to the whole incident with a shrug and a laugh. After years of being dressed in ghastly, unsuitable colours and outfits by her ambitious mama, Penelope has survived a number of seasons without a single marriage proposal and is firmly on the shelf. Her best friend, Eloise, Colin's younger sister shares the same fate, although not for lack of proposals. Penelope is quite glad to no longer be an eager wallflower desperately hoping someone will notice her and dance with her. Now she can chaperone her younger sister Felicity instead. Colin is off travelling the world and barely ever home, and she's almost convinced herself that she might be over him.

Then he decides to stay put in London for a season, mostly to please his mother. At a ball where more than the usual amount of guests complain that everything is so dreadfully dull, the aged and meddlesome Lady Danbury decides to cause a stir by offering a challenge to London society. She will give a thousand pounds to whomever unmasks the infamous gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who has now been writing for over a decade without her (or his) identity being uncovered. Suddenly everyone is peering suspiciously at one another, and Colin suspects that he may know who is behind the sharp and insightful words of the gossip reporter. Used to Penelope being a constant presence on the sidelines of his life because of her close friendship with his sister, he's suddenly seeing her in a new light. He notices how clever and observant she is, unnoticed by people in general. Surely she might help him uncover the truth behind Lady Whistledown.

While An Offer from a Gentleman is my favourite Bridgerton novel, Penelope Featherington is hands down my favourite heroine of the whole series (with Hyacinth Bridgerton a close second - more on that when I get to her book). Probably because Penelope is the one who I most closely identify with. She's been a frequently occurring supporting character in most of the other books, certainly mentioned in the Lady Whistledown sections more than once. Brought out into society while she still had her baby fat, dressed in shades of red, yellow and orange that made her look sallow and awful, often with frilly dresses that made her look enormous, Penelope is used to being either an object of mockery at worst or mostly ignored in general. As Eloise Bridgerton's best friend, she always had the support of the family and could probably be guaranteed at least a dance if any of the eligible brothers were available at a ball, but being danced with out of pity isn't all that fun in the long run. Especially when the person doing the pity dancing is the very nice and charming man that you're madly in love with.  

This is the third time I read this, and on previous occasions, I used to think Colin was a bit too glib. For much of the decade Lady Whistledown has been writing her hugely popular and talked about gossip column, Colin has been off travelling. He tends to get restless and has trouble setting down roots. Unlike his two older brothers, who are both married with families of their own, who both have their sets of responsibilities - Anthony the viscountcy and Benedict his art - Colin doesn't really have much of anything, except the journals of his travels. He's well-liked and popular wherever he goes, and doesn't really have anything at all to complain about, yet feels a niggling sense of dissatisfaction and has no idea what to do to change things. Penelope accidentally reads a couple of pages of his most recent travel journal and is amazed at how well he captures the feeling of being on a beach in Cyprus. She encourages him to get the published, but Colin is worried that no one would be interested in them. Previously, I thought Colin was a bit spoiled but he does acknowledge that his problems are negligible at best, he nonetheless can't help feeling rootless and discontented.

He discovers that while she may appear to people in general as an overlooked wallflower, Penelope has achieved a lot more than it may appear and most people completely underestimate her cleverness, wit and observational skill. He himself only saw her as Eloise's mousy and shy friend, dancing with her whenever his mother pestered him to do so. Now he begins seeing her as a genuine friend, and the more time they spend together, the more he starts noticing what no other man apparently has, that she's really quite remarkably attractive in a quiet way. Being allowed to choose her own dresses now that her mother has given up ever getting her married off, she can dress herself in blues and greens that actually flatter her figure and complexion rather than make her look chubby and sallow.

I've always liked this book, but found myself enjoying it a lot more this time around and have subsequently rated it a full star higher, because while Benedict and Sophie's book is still my favourite, this is not far behind in terms of enjoyment. Because of some of the revelations over the course of the plot, I think readers may enjoy parts of it more if they've read at least one or two of the earlier books in the series, but I might be wrong. I always read the series in order, so I honestly don't know if this makes up a good starting point.

The bonus second epilogue is, rather unusually, set not all that long after the main story. In fact, I think it may be set before the ACTUAL epilogue in the book and involves Colin's and Penelope's presence at Eloise's sudden wedding. Without wanting to spoil too much of Eloise's book - she disappears without a trace towards the end of this book, and by the time she is located by her frantic family, she must get married to save her reputation. Penelope, as her best friend, is her matron of honour.

As I publish this, you can still get the book on sale for $1.99 at most major e-book retailer. I suspect the offer is limited (the other ones have been on sale for about a week or so), so rush out and get it while you can. It's well worth a read.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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