We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “Project Duchess” by Sabrina Jeffries
Publishing Info: Zebra, June 2019
Where Did We Get This Book: The library!
Romance Trope: Grumpy/Sunshine
Book Description: A series of stepfathers and a difficult childhood have left Fletcher “Grey” Pryde, 5th Duke of Greycourt, with a guarded heart, enviable wealth, and the undeserved reputation of a rogue. Grey’s focus on expanding his dukedom allows him little time to find a wife. But when his mother is widowed yet again and he meets the charmingly unconventional woman managing his stepfather’s funeral, he’s shocked to discover how much they have in common. Still, Grey isn’t interested in love, no matter how pretty, or delightfully outspoken, the lady . . .
Beatrice Wolfe gave up on romance long ago, and the arrogant Duke of Greycourt with his rakish reputation isn’t exactly changing her mind. Then Grey agrees to assist his grief-stricken mother with her latest “project”: schooling spirited, unfashionable Beatrice for her debut. Now that Beatrice is seeing through Grey’s charms to his wounded heart, she’s having trouble keeping him at arm’s length. But once Grey starts digging into her family’s secrets, she must decide whether her loyalties lie with her family . . . or with the man whose lessons capture her heart . . .
Ostensibly, this book should have been for me. When I do read romance, I generally prefer historical romance, with all of those grand ball scenes and the obsessively weird culture of manners. I find that the overly formal way of moving through life in these books is a nice balance to the actual bodice-ripping romance of them. Sadly, this book wasn’t for me though.
There were a few problems that I had. Firstly, the romance itself doesn’t feel very well built up, with the “hero” pretty much sexualizing the heroine immediately. Obviously, some of this is expected in romance novels, so it’s not the fact that it happened that was the problem. More, it was the fact that it was right off the bat which just immediately set him up in a bad light for me. Beyond that, the book is very “tell-y” with this character in general. We’re told over and over again that he’s this “rake-ish” individual, but we never see any evidence of this “bad boy” persona.
Much of this problem comes down to the fact that the entire book takes place on the family’s country estate. That’s right! There are no grand ball room scenes or society gossip, because the entire story is removed from all of that. Instead, we have only Grey’s family and Beatrice’s brother for any and all social interactions. Not only does it feel limited, but it was very obvious that the author was almost equally devoted to setting up all of these other characters as potential leads in her future books as she was with telling the actual story on hand. It all played against me becoming at all invested in Grey and Beatrice.
I also didn’t love the mystery that was included in this story. Again, this probably should have been a hit for me as, when I do read mysteries, they’re often historical mysteries of just this sort. But here, by cramming the mystery in alongside the romance, the author missed the mark on both. The romance was lukewarm. And the mystery was unappealing. Not only did we always know that the main suspect would be innocent, but the story ends on a cliffhanger in a misguided attempt to get readers to pick up the next book. In my case, that just worked against it. I felt even more put off by the story in not having this resolved. This plot line took up a ton of page time and arguably reduced changes to increase my interest in the romance of the story, the thing most readers who pick up this kind of book will be looking for. Fans of historical romance can likely find better options out there.
Okay, we have officially moved into romance territory that I rarely dare to tread. I can count the number of ‘bodice ripper’ romance on one hand, including this one… And I think that the number is 2. MAYBE 3 if we want to be a little loosey goosey with our time periods. And while thus far our book club romances have been mostly contemporary (with one fantasy), I knew a Regency romance would probably have to happen. So I went into “Project Duchess” trying to have an open mind. But by the time I was finished, I realized that this subgenre of romance really… REALLY isn’t for me.
I have a lot of the same thoughts as Serena, from the clunky way that the characters are used, to the telling vs showing, to the isolated setting (though I admit that I had NO idea that this was a thing until it came up in book club; it wasn’t until Serena pointed out that keeping it on a country estate with no dances, urban gossip, or new characters was incredibly limiting. Once she pointed it out I was like ‘oh hey, yeah!!!’). I also thought that giving Beatrice a darker backstory involving her lecherous uncle wasn’t handled super well, as it was there to make her tragic but wasn’t examined in a way that felt healthy. One good fuck probably isn’t going to wash away trauma. I know it’s a romance novel and a little unrealistic storytelling isn’t a crime (in any book really), but it just didn’t sit right with me.
AND I am going to echo my frustration with the mystery. I, being a gal who loves a good murder plot, wanted to know what HAD happened to all of Lydia’s husbands! Once it clicked that we weren’t going to get any answers in this book, as the story was setting up a whole series involving all the boring characters (excluding Gwyn. I liked Gwyn), I was pretty frustrated.
“Project Duchess” was a miss for me. I would say that maybe it’s just because it’s not my genre, but seeing Serena’s review above, it makes me think it’s maybe a miss all around.
Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me, which was a shock considering that, on paper, it should have been right up my alley.
Kate’s Rating 4: I wasn’t expecting too much but was still disappointed.
Book Club Questions
- How well do this hero and heroine fit the “grump/sunshine” romance trope?
- What did you think about the mystery at the heart of the novel? What predictions do you have going forward?
- Beatrice’s history with her uncle is quite dark. How well do you think the book tackled this topic?
- What did you think of Beatrice and Greycourt as a couple and the various iterations of their romance that we saw throughout this book?
- This is clearly the first book in a set-up series. Will you continue reading? What character are you most interested in reading about next?
Next Book Club Book: “Beach Read” by Emily Henry