Sunday, 22 September 2019

#CBR11 Book 66: "The Wallflower Wager" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lady Penelope Campion lives quite happily alone in London, aided only by an old, pretty much deaf housekeeper and surrounded by her unusual menagerie of rescued animals. There's a highland cow, a goat, an otter, several chickens, a dog with only the use of his front legs, a whole bunch of kittens and a particularly foul-mouthed parrot. Her friends dote on her and even politely try to eat her horrendous vegetable meat substitutes without complaining or making a fuss. So when Penelope's aunt comes to announce are demanding Penelope's return to the family estate in the country, she's devastated. She makes a wager with her aunt that she'll stop being a strange reclusive wallflower, get all the animals re-homed, purchase a new wardrobe and start being seen at social engagements around town again - even balls.

Gabriel Duke grew up in abject poverty and has used his cleverness and guile to become a force to be reckoned with in London society. He's known as the Duke of Ruin after having schemed, manipulated and used his financial savvy to ruin several important and influential families. Now he's bought a grand mansion right next door to where Lady Penelope lives and is having it refurbished, planning to sell it for a fortune, in part because he can boast about the peers nearby. Not that he'll ever be able to sell the house if there's a veritable zoo of strange creatures in the neighbouring house. He demands that Penelope get rid of her animals, and since that works out well with her aunt's already stated demands, Lady Penelope negotiates Gabriel's help in assisting her.

Of course sparks fly pretty much instantly. Lady Penelope and Gabriel's first meeting involves her breaking into his house in the middle of the night to retrieve her sweary parrot, and walks in on him wearing only a towel. They're deeply attracted to one another, but Gabriel doesn't believe he could ever be good enough for Penelope, and she's got some trauma in her past that she needs to work through, and has never really allowed herself to feel attracted to a man before, certainly not to let go and give into her desires.

I liked Gabriel (seriously, romance authors, start picking other names for your heroes, the cognitive dissonance is just too strange when I have to read kissing books starring dudes with the same name as my sweet little boy), who despite presenting himself as gruff and ruthless is clearly just a marshmallow at heart, desperately wanting to be loved. For all that he claims to be annoyed by Lady Penelope and her many rescue animals, he also keeps going above and beyond for her, and has absolutely no time for anyone criticising her in any way. It's quite clear that for all that her friends love her dearly, they sometimes infantilise Penelope a bit too often. Gabriel treats her like an intelligent, adult woman who should take charge of her own life. He also gets massive kudos for the way he reacts when Penelope finally tells him the secrets of her past, although then he goes an alphas it up a bit too far, creating over the top drama towards the end.

Lady Penelope is very cute, but sadly here I think Ms Dare has turned the quirky knob past even eleven and gone too far. The many different rescue animals are funny in moderation, but there may be a bit too many of them. I also the shtick with her vegetarianism and array of utterly inedible meat substitutes just a bit too much. It's shown later in the book that it's perfectly possible to eat a completely meat-free diet even in Regency times without resorting to creating food no one in their right mind would consume. I did appreciate that despite her past unfortunate experiences, Penelope is entirely frank about her sexual attraction to Gabriel and once she decides she wants him, doesn't let anything stop her from having a good time.

There are the obligatory cameos by the previous heroes and heroines in the series. There's a particularly amusing scene in the final part of the book involving all three very manly heroes trying to figure out what to do when faced with a goat in labour. I thought this was better than The Governess Game, but nowhere near as good as The Duchess Deal (which, for all its Tessa Dare crazy, utterly worked for me). It'll be fun to see what happy ending is in store for our final heroine of the series, some time next year.

Judging a book by its cover: OK, Avon cover designers, have you actually just given up now? There is NOTHING on this cover that suggests that it's a historical romance set in the Regency era. Nothing! The female cover model is wearing what appears to be a negligee and the male model looks, well, just like a male model. From the 21st Century. There have been a lot of romance cover trends that annoyed me, but using a cover that could pretty much just as easily fit on a contemporary is a new low. Additionally, the weird effect where they've made it look like the couple are glowing is not a good feature - it makes me worry the couple are faintly radioactive, or possibly aliens.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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