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Lady Wesley's Salon

Historical romance.

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The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #6)
Jennifer Ashley
Any Duchess Will Do  - Tessa Dare Sometimes, when I’m reading a new book, I just know that I’ll have to write a review the minute I finish. Usually, that happens when a book is either remarkably good, or stupendously bad. As I was reading Any Duchess Will Do, I realized that I would write a review as soon as I had read the last page, because this book is remarkably, stupendously wonderful –- perhaps the best of the Spindle Cove series.

In truth, I had this feeling up until I hit the 75% mark on my Kindle, after which I became annoyed. I had been thinking to myself, “there is absolutely nothing to criticize here,” but then all of a sudden there was. And the thing is I can’t really explain it without completely spoiling the plot. So I won’t; I’ll just say that I found Griff’s rationale for never marrying unconvincing. Nevertheless, this book overall is 5+++ stars, so even if I deducted points for annoying plot turns it wouldn’t matter.

The outline of the story is best explained in the blurb, but that doesn’t communicate what wonderful, multi-faceted, fully-realized characters Dare has created – Griffin, the Duke of Halford, his mother the Duchess, and Pauline Simms, a serving girl at the Bull and Blossom in Spindle Cove. Griff is a rake, but not really, while Pauline is an ignorant barmaid, but not really. And while I generally find cross-class Regency novels to be unconvincing, Dare comes up with some clever and credible reasons to explain why Pauline is actually a diamond in the rough.

The love/hate, but not really, relationship between Griff and his mother is funny and touching. She is longing so for grandchildren, but her efforts to marry off Griff have been unavailing:
I’ve tried to find the most accomplished young beauties in England to tempt you. And I did, but you ignored them. I finally realized the answer is not quality. It’s quantity.”
“Quantity? Are you taking me to some free-love utopian commune where men are permitted as many wives as they please?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I was being hopeful.”
Her lip curled in a delicate scowl. “You’re terrible.”
Later, when the duchess feigns illness in order to throw Griff and Pauline together alone, Griff sees through her:
On his way out of the bedchamber he addressed the vigilant butler. “Higgs,” he said, “see that my mother does not move from that bed. And summon the doctor. Not the gentle-mannered one, either. The one with the leeches.”
Indeed, the duchess is so desperate for grandchildren that she vows to make Pauline the toast of the ton in one week. (Nod to Pygmalion) Griff comes to admire Pauline and fiercely defends her against anyone who disrespects her. (Nod to Pretty Woman) And although Pauline attends a grand ball at Carlton House, waltzes with Griff, and loses a shoe after fleeing the ballroom (nod to Cinderella), Griff does not become a handsome prince who sweeps her off to his castle. This book is not that simple.

The plot is clever; surprising events occur, and while I knew there would be an HEA I wasn’t certain how it would occur until the last page. The pacing is excellent; there was never a moment I wanted to put the book down and do something else. The trademark Tessa Dare humor is present on almost every page, but then there are also beautiful, serious passages, such as when Griff tells Pauline she’s beautiful:
“I have seen myself. That’s the snag, you see.”
He shook his head. “No, no. Not in a mirror. I know how mirrors work. They’re all in league with the cosmetics trade. They tell a woman lies. Drawing her gaze from one imagined flaw to another, until all she sees is a constellation of imperfections. If you could get outside yourself, borrow my eyes for just an instant . . . There’s only beauty.”
If you’ve enjoyed Spindle Cove thus far, you’ll love this installment. It isn’t necessary to have read the previous books, but I think it’s more enjoyable that way. And if you have read the earlier ones, you’ll appreciate this exchange between Colin and Minerva (now Lord and Lady Payne) when they fear that Pauline has been abducted by the wicked duke (Colin’s former pal in debauchery):
[Colin]“And if our little fact-finding investigations turn up nothing, we’ll perform an experiment. We’ll call at Halford House tomorrow.”
She nodded. Her eyes misted with tears.
“Darling Min.” He stroked her cheek. “Are you truly that concerned?”
“No,” she said. “Oh, Colin. I’m just so proud.” She squeezed his hand. “You’re using the scientific method.”