So the book is Duchess by Night by Eloisa James. It is not very old and hasn't been in my TBR pile for long, but it's okay, right? :) I'm not a die-hard fan of Ms James... I bought a couple of books of hers because other bloggers enjoy her. Then, she had this new series, the Desperate Duchesses, and I bought the first book... and the second... without reading any of them. Then, I wasn't sure whether I would buy the rest or not, but I found myself through different circumstances buying them LOL. So I own Duchess by Night thanks to Ames who loved it :D
Duchess by Night by Eloisa James
published by Avon in July 2008
A Mischievous Charade...Genre: historical romance
Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, is tired of her title and the responsibilities that come along with it. Enough with proper tea parties and elegant balls; what Harriet really wants is to attend an outrageous soiree where she can unleash her wildest whims and desires. But to attend such an event—especially if the event in question is Lord Justinian Strange's rollicking fete, filled with noble rogues and rotters, risqué ladies and illicit lovers—would be certain scandal. That's why she must disguise herself...
Looking forward to a night of uninhibited pleasure, Lord Strange is shocked to discover that beneath the clothes of a no-good rake is the most beautiful woman in the room. Why is a woman like her risking her reputation at his notorious affair? And can he possibly entice her to stay... forever?
Series: Desperate Duchesses, book #3
The Story: Harriet is the Duchess of of Berrow and also a widow, her husband having committed suicide after losing a game of chess. She is still the Duchess though because the heir, her husband's nephew, is still too young to assume the responsibilities. The problem is that Harriet is bored and finds herself boring. She's tired of people avoiding her, pitying her because of her husband's suicide... At the same time, Isidore, the Duchess of Cosway, is tired of waiting for her Duke to return from wherever he is and planned to force his hand: attend to one of the most scandalous house party hosted by Lord Justinian Strange, aka Jem. Harriet jumps on the occasion to accompany Isidore as her chaperon, disguised as a man to experience some adventures...
My Opinion: LOL, there's just something about cross-dressing stories LOL :) I've read many in kung fu novels and manga and enjoyed them a lot... I understand that in reality, it's much harder to do - especially in contemporary novels, but it was done quite well in Duchess by Night and I really loved it :)
I really liked Harriet's character. She's a simple woman and all she wants is to love and be loved. Her marriage was never passionate, she's tired of being pitied and ignored by the ton. What she wants is an adventure and she jumps on the first opportunity that presents to herself, i.e. attending Lord Stranger's party. She's a smart woman and I liked that she enjoyed herself, the freedom and anonymity that the men's clothes provided.
I also loved Jem's character. I liked his love for his daughter. Sure, he's not raising her in a conventional way, but at least, he's paying attention to her, spending time with her and he loves her, which is the most important. I think it made him stand out a lot for me. He's an eccentric and did not care about what people thought of him. He doesn't care about titles and aristocrats and the ton... He has money, but does not seek power. I felt that he assumed the responsibilities that money brought to him, in his own way. Definitively an interesting character. Like Ames, what I loved the most is that he even acknowledged his feelings when he thought that Harriet was Harry :)
I thought the first half of Duchess by Night was great. I loved the chase between Harriet and Jem, their interactions, the attraction between them... In With Seduction in Mind, I complained that there was no chemistry between the H/H... Well it definitively was not the case in Duchess by Night. It was even better when Jem and Harriet became lovers. You could see the tenderness between them and the playfulness. They seem so carefree and in love.
Villiers, Harriet and Isidore's dynamics were also very interesting, especially between Villiers and Harriet. The friendship between them is unlikely after the death of Harriet's husband, but it does occur and it was touching to see.
Oh and the whole thing was just sooo funny. I mean, can you imagine the situations that can happen when a woman dressed as a man? LOL, especially when other women hit on her. I think the funniest was when Kitty was seducing Harriet and she admitted: "I'm not a man" and Kitty thought Harriet meant she was an eunuch. LMAO.
I have to say, it's unfortunate that the second half lost momentum. I thought the storyline in the second half of the book was a bit forced, first with Jem's daughter's sickness and then the conflict. I understand the use of the child's sickness, bring all the characters closer and emphasized the love between Jem and his daughter... but at the same time, I felt it didn't fit the mood of this story. It was drawn out and too passive. As for the conflict, I also felt it was forced. Jem doesn't care about titles and nobles, so why would he cares that Harriet was a duchess? Did he really value the Games? I find it hard to understand why Jem rejected her exactly. Also, when he finally realized that Harriet was more important and came to apologize, I don't know, he could have grovel a bit more. I thought the whole situation - discovering she's a duchess and finding a way to be together, could have been more poignant. It takes two to fall in love, so why can't it take two to work to get their HEA ending?
So I definitively liked the first half of the book, the idea was great and interesting. I loved the characters, especially Harriet and Jem. They were a great couple and I had many laughs. Unfortunately, I thought the second half of the book was weak. It definitively could have been more and better, it had potential.
My Grade: B+.