A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by MiddleClassManhattan. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Short Historical category.

The summary:

Love takes the stage…

Elise deVries is not what she seems. By night, the actress captivates London theatergoers with her chameleon-like ability to slip inside her characters. By day, she uses her mastery of disguise to work undercover for Chegarre & Associates, an elite agency known for its discreet handling of indelicate scandals. But when Elise is tasked with locating the missing Duke of Ashland, she finds herself center stage in a real-life drama.

Noah Ellery left the glamour of the London aristocracy to pursue a simpler life in the country. He’s managed to avoid any complications or entanglements—that is, until he lays eyes on Elise and realizes there’s more to this beautiful woman than meets the eye. But when Elise reveals her real identity—and her true feelings for him—the runaway duke must confront the past he left behind . . . to keep the woman he loves forever.

Here is MiddleClassManhattan’s review:

A plucky heroine that can shoot a rat from a bazillion yards away and a duke who disappeared from society at age ten. What is not to love about this book?

I’m embarrassed to admit that this is my first book by Kelly Bowen. I pride myself on knowing what historical romance authors are out there, and somehow, until now, Ms. Bowen slipped by me. A Duke to Remember is a great reminder that Amazon reviews mean squat and should not be used to curate a reading list. I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Years ago, our hero, Noah Ellery (the Duke of Ashland), was ridiculed as a child for a speech impediment and, out of embarrassment, his parents kept him hidden away. Noah mysteriously vanished from society completely at age ten and was assumed dead. Fast forward to present day, August 1819.

Our heroine, Elise Devries, works for the mysterious Chegarre & Associates, a company dedicated to solving the elite ton’s problems with discretion. Elise survived the War of 1812 in Canada, and it’s clear that the war taught our heroine how to deal with London’s criminal underworld—how to shoot a gun, how to track a person who wishes to remain hidden, and how to thoroughly disguise herself.

Chegarre & Associates is hired by Abigail Ellery (our hero’s sister) whose father, the Duke of Ashland, has passed away, and whose mother has been committed to Bedlam. Now an evil first cousin is threatening to take control of the Duchy. Abigail has a secret. Her younger brother is actually alive, and she hires Chegarre & Associates to find him and bring him back, thus restoring order to her family. This is where Elise comes in. As an experienced tracker for the British army, she’s the perfect person to assign to the case and find the missing duke. And, spoiler alert, she’s finds him, and he’s not only not mentally incapacitated, but he’s everything Elise would ever hope to find in a partner.

That’s the general novel in a nutshell, and here’s my breakdown:

This story doesn’t follow the standard format that many Regency romance novels adhere to as Elise is not a virgin. Ms. Bowen makes it clear early on that Elise has had previous lovers. Maybe one or two, maybe many, it’s left for the reader to imagine. As someone who likes the trope “virgin reforms the rake,” and “unhappy widow saves recluse hero,” this was a red flag for me, a little “eh, that’s weird.” I was pleasantly surprised to find that Elise’s multiple-lover status didn’t detract from the “HEA land of make believe” I adore. The steamy scenes were just as readable as all the other Regency novels I like and recommend. Elise’s bedroom expertise wasn’t really addressed by either hero or heroine, and that omission was obvious to me, but again, I was fine with it. Elise’s bedroom prowess was a refreshing addition to the scenes and it added to her character. Elise’s ultra-confidence helps Noah decide to reclaim his title, and helps create a relationship built on mutual respect.

Overall Elise’s self-assurance is charming, but at times I did wonder if Elise wasn’t a little too perfect. She’s beautiful, a genius at both of her occupations, a rescuer of the old and young, and our hero essentially falls for her at first sight. I wish that Elise had a more significant flaw than being wistful for a simpler life with less acting and less interaction with spoiled aristocrats. Elise is not necessarily a heroine who sticks with you.

Although the story has snappy dialogue and beautiful descriptions (creating a vivid countryside so it is sharp and lush in a reader’s mind is something Ms. Bowen truly excels at), for me there needed to be more sexual tension between the two main characters. When the situation became even a little morose or will-he-won’t-she, the reader was not left angsty long enough.

I enjoyed the added mystery subplot in the story. I love romance novels, but I am also a sucker for detective novels, and this story had just enough suspense to keep me looking forward to putting the kids into bed so I could get back to it.

Ms. Bowen also does a fantastic job of introducing side characters like Miss Ivory More, The Duke of Alderidge, and even Elise’s brother. All of these characters already have their own novels (which are now waiting in my queue), and I can’t wait to devour them. On the flip side, Ms. Bowen does such a great job with the subplots and supporting characters that I would have liked more resolution on a few of the secondary storylines, especially the one involving Noah’s mother.

Overall, this book gets a solid B+ from me. I will happily await new books from Kelly Bowen each year just as I count down the days for new releases from all-time favorites Eloisa James, Lisa Kleypas, Johanna Lindsey, Sarah MacLean, and Julia Quinn. What a great new author find!

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A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen

July 26, 2016

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