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Review: A Lady Awakened by Cecelia Grant

January 19, 2012

A Lady Awakened
Author: Cecelia Grant
Publisher: Random House / Bantam
Pub. Date: December 27, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0553593839
Pages: 368
Digital Price: $7.99
Print Retail Price: $7.99
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Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all . . . love?

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REVIEW

I am a person with opinions. I don’t apologize for that; I know what I like and what I don’t like, and I don’t dither around trying to decide. People who shilly-shally, who can’t make up their minds annoy me.

And that, dear readers, is why I am absolutely flummoxed by Cecilia Grant’s debut novel, A Lady Awakened. The sad fact is, I can’t decide whether I love this book or whether I hate it. For a person who prides herself on her snap judgments, this is an odd and uncomfortable state of being.

The story is straightforward. Martha Russell’s husband has died, leaving her childless and, as a consequence, soon-to-be homeless. Her husband’s heir is lurking in the wings, waiting only for confirmation that Martha is not pregnant before he swoops in to turn her out and take over the property. When Martha, a very proper woman who devotes herself to helping the less fortunate, discovers that the heir is a lascivious wretch who has ruined several servants in the past, she resolves to block his inheritance. How? By giving birth to a boy, of course. Martha goes to the new rake in town, a ne’er-do-well nobleman, and hires him as a – well, lets’ be frank! – as a sperm donor. Because this is a romance, you know that Martha and her stud, the unfortunately-named Theophilus Mirkwood, will end up happily-ever-after, and all that. Which they do, with some fairly satisfying twists and turns that wrap up loose ends.

But somehow, the story just didn’t work for me as a devotee of historical romance. Martha, prim and pious to an uncomfortable degree, didn’t seem the type to commit not only fraud but adultery. And it is particularly joyless adultery, as Martha does not enjoy the physical act; her only interest is, as she puts it Mirkwood’s “seed.” Mirkwood, by contrast, is a nobleman of the frat-boy mold, only out for whatever fun and games he can find, ready to hire himself out as a prostitute because his father has banished him to the family’s country estate.

I didn’t like either of the main characters, and though they do, as you would expect, learn from each other’s approach to life and become more three-dimensional, it was hard to keep reading in the early pages. In many ways, the book read more like a literary fiction work – all about unhappy people in difficult situations. Call me shallow, but when I read romance, that’s not what I’m looking for. If I wanted to hear about people I don’t like having unpleasant sexual relationships, I would still be a divorce attorney!

On the other hand, the book is beautifully written. Ms. Grant has a flair for the secondary characters: the kind churchman who wants to leave his profession, the bitter, poverty-stricken and overwhelmed mother of a tenant family, and the best literary pig since Charlotte spun a web for Wilbur. Her research was solid, her descriptive language was lyrical, and her voice was clear and enjoyable. I have to say, the story was believable, and it took some of my favorite tropes (the rake and the reformer, the childless widow, and so forth) and gave them truly innovative twists. But, judging A Lady Awakened as a romance, I’m not completely satisfied.

Rating: 3.5 (Good)

Heat-Level: 5 (Scorching)

Reviewed by Donna

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