tl;dr: sexier than the movie it’s based on, but consent is iffy
This book is literally the very first historical romance novel that I’ve ever read. I don’t enjoy historical anything. I don’t watch period dramas. I don’t get the appeal of Mr. Darcy. Fancy dresses with breeches or corsets or petticoats and layers of whatnot does not appeal to me. My preferred romances feature lots of angst, sex, and pain (with a HEA!). I like a romance that makes me feel deeply, where I get invested in the characters and their misery, and feel elated when everything turns out in the end. The harder the fight to the HEA, the better. And I don’t want any thees and thous and “I dare says” getting in the way.
And I probably chose the wrong book for my first historical, because I can’t muster up more than an underwhelmed “meh” about this one. I was excited about the idea because it’s a play on one of my favorite romantic comedies, While You Were Sleeping. The story is not identical, and I think a lot of the changes were good choices for the genre, but in general, I wasn’t a huge fan of the setting.
Poppy Fairchurch has admired the Duke of Autenberry from afar for a very long time. She works as a shopgirl in a flower shop, one that the Duke frequents quite a bit. Poppy isn’t stupid, she knows that he’s sending flowers to loads of different women, and he still seems dashing and sentimental regardless. But when she sees him get into a street brawl with another man, she dashes out of the shop to try and protect him, which seems a little misguided and rash. Anyway, it turns out that the other man is his half-brother and they do not get along because Struan Mackenzie reminds the Duke that his father was actually a pretty horrible person. Punches are thrown and then Poppy shoves the Duke out of the way of an errant carriage, which ends up with a bump to his head that knocks him out cold.
As with the movie, someone overhears Poppy lamenting jokingly that she and the Duke were supposed to be married, and they all take it at face value, except Struan and Lord Strickland, who happens to be the Duke’s best friend. Poppy is about to tell everyone the truth, but Lord Strickland asks her to wait, to keep the family’s spirits up. Struan makes it his goal to seduce Poppy, and they get up to some very not-PG-like activities in the meantime that definitely were missing from the movie.
Overall, the writing was fine. I feel like I can’t judge this sub-genre very well since I don’t read historical. There didn’t appear to be any sort of time frame that this story landed in, and I’m not even sure I know what country they were in. Struan was Scottish or Irish or something other, and they were somewhere else, presumably England. I felt like the sexual tension was pretty well drawn out, and the smutty scenes were pretty hot, although I’m a little meh on the dubious consent. Contemporary romances have a lot more free reign to be sex-positive since that’s the culture that we live in. (At least, women losing their virginity isn’t publicly referred to as ruination, although that may still be the secret belief.)
I should probably explain the consent portion. I don’t know if that’s the way with historical romances, if it’s a given that the heroine will say no no no but mean yes yes yes (which is awful and makes me cringe), but that’s essentially what kept happening here. And the hero frequently thinks about how he just needs to ‘have her’ once, get this lust out of his system, so he can discard her and move on with his life. And any time they start to get sexy together, he pushes her beyond what she says she wants although her body ‘responds’ to him. I just really didn’t like that aspect. He does kind of pull back and doesn’t completely go through with ‘ruining’ her until she begs him to, but I can’t help feeling that if he’d listened to her before she was too aroused to think straight, she may have made another decision? Is this the type of romance people want to read?
As far as romances go, this one was pretty light. There are several other stories in the series, and I believe the next book picks up with Lord Strickland and the Dowager Duchess (the Duke’s stepmother), but honestly, I don’t think I can read any more about comely maidens or carriages.
Find it at your local library! I can’t recommend another historical romance because I haven’t read any others, but I’ve got some enemies-to-lovers to recommend!
First, Act Like It was phenomenal, and one of the best of the trope in my opinion. I also highly enjoyed The Love Potion despite its silliness, or you can always go old school with Pride and Prejudice.