Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever (book) by Julia Quinn

Synopsis:

At the age of 10, Miranda Cheever showed no signs of Great Beauty. Even she knew that, although she didn't particularly like it when a girl named Fiona rubbed it in her face. It was shortly after this event that she fell in love with her best friend Olivia's 19-year-old brother, Viscount Turner. He told her he thought violet ribbons looked nice in brown hair. He also told her that she should keep a journal, "Because someday you're going to grow into yourself, and you will be as beautiful as you already are smart. And then you can look back into your diary and realize just how silly little girls like Fiona Bennet are. And you'll laugh when you remember that your mother said your legs started at your shoulders. And maybe you'll save a little smile for me when you remember the nice chat we had today." At the time, Turner had only wanted to make Miranda, a serious girl with large, sad eyes, happy. He had no way of knowing that his words would stay with Miranda for the next ten years.

While Miranda quietly suffered unrequited love, Turner fell madly in love with and married a horrible woman who cheated on him multiple times and finally died when she fell off the horse she was riding to meet her lover. The experience soured him towards both love and marriage, and, that night after his wife's funeral, he both kisses Miranda and behaves cruelly towards her. Miranda isn't sure what to think. On the one hand, she loves Turner, hopes his heart can heal, and hopes she can help his heart heal. On the other hand, the Turner she fell in love with may be dead and gone forever - why not consider Winston, Olivia's twin brother, who seems much like Turner was before marriage made him bitter?

In the end, though, Miranda can't seem to help but love Turner. She hates that her love is apparently unrequited, that he can dance with her and kiss her without feeling anything more than attraction, but there are always moments when it seems like he might one day be able to feel for her what she feels for him.

Eventually, the two do end up having sex. Afterward, after coming to his senses, Turner is well aware that, should anyone find out what they'd done, Miranda's reputation would be ruined, so he decides he'll do the honorable thing and marry her. Unfortunately, he dawdles for a couple months, quite enough time for Miranda to realize that she's pregnant and figure out what her next step should be. By the time Turner goes to find her at her grandparents' place in Scotland, she'd already miscarried, but he insisted that the two of them get married anyway. Although it breaks her heart that he still sees their marriage only as his duty, Miranda reluctantly agrees to marry him.

However incapable Turner is of saying "I love you," he has no problems with Miranda in bed, and it's not long before she's pregnant again. He thinks their marriage is a perfectly blissful one, but his inability to say the three words she wants to hear the most weighs heavily on Miranda, to the point where they rarely see each other near the end of her pregnancy. It isn't until Miranda has given birth to their daughter that Turner realizes he really does love Miranda and that this revelation isn't nearly as terrifying and horrible as the thought it would be . Unfortunately, Miranda lost a lot of blood during the birthing, and it doesn't look like she'll live long. To Turner's great joy, she does survive and is able to both name her child and hear the words she's always wanted to hear Turner say: "I love you."

Commentary:

I enjoyed this book, even if my synopsis sounds pretty depressing. It's weird: I alternated between hating Turner (whenever he acted bitter, immature, or just generally like an idiot) and really liking him (whenever he and Miranda actually got along). As far as I'm concerned, Turner's best moment was at the beginning of the book - I wanted to hug him for everything he told Miranda, even as I couldn't believe he didn't realize he was practically guaranteeing she'd develop a major crush on him. After that point, Turner did almost everything else wrong. Even though he knew Miranda wanted him to say he loved her, and even though he knew he couldn't, he still kissed her and slept with her. Even though he went and proposed to Miranda after sleeping with her, it took him two months to get around to it and he only really did it because he felt it was his duty. Every time he turned around, he was saying (or not saying) something that hurt Miranda.

I felt like Miranda deserved better, but, unfortunately, there wasn't really any better to be had. Olivia was like the sun to Miranda's moon - men flocked to Olivia and only went to Miranda if Olivia intimidated them too much or she was surrounded by too many people to make approaching her possible. Winston was the closest thing Turner had to a rival, and he wasn't really all that much of one. Miranda saw Winston as a younger, less bitter version of Turner rather than as himself, something that could never have gone very far and certainly would not have ended well.

The one thing that kept me from completely disliking Turner, aside from his occasional flashes of charm, was that, for the most part, he was aware that his behavior towards Miranda sucked. He knew he hurt her, he hated that he hurt her, he just couldn't make himself say the words he knew she wanted to hear, even though he kind of thought he might even mean those words.

I had never read any other Julia Quinn books before reading this one, although I now think that, the next time I head over to the used bookstore that's got all those 75% off books, I need to pick up everything I can find that she's written. When it comes to what I think is important in a romance novel, the emotional content, this book packed quite a punch. Even when I found myself disliking Turner and wishing that Miranda could just tell him to go to hell and then walk away without looking back, I couldn't put this book down. With romance novels, you always know there will be a happy ending (thank goodness), so I wasn't so much interested in how things would end as how the happy ending would be accomplished. How would Turner come to the realization that he had been an idiot? What would bring him to finally tell Miranda he loved her?

And then Quinn had me in tears when Miranda was seemingly on her death bed after giving birth to her daughter. Turner had finally, finally realized that he loved Miranda and that this was not a bad thing, and Miranda didn't even know. I knew that Miranda would be just fine, but that didn't stop me from crying at the thought that she might not be fine, that Turner would never get to tell her he loved her, and that she would never get to see her daughter.

The title of this book initially had me worried that it would be in diary format - I hate it when authors try things like that, because, in my opinion, it rarely works. However, the diary entries were only a small portion of the book, with the only odd one being the pseudo diary entry Miranda composes in her mind as she is dying (this sort of thing is exactly why I tend to hate books written in "special" formats - it forces the authors to bend over backwards and break the format's rules if they want to present something that doesn't quite fit the format they've decided upon). Overall, this was a really enjoyable book. I plan to read more of Quinn's stuff - I can only imagine how much I'd like one of her books if I liked the hero more.

Read-alikes:
  • Whitney, My Love (book) by Judith McNaught - I have yet to read anything by this author, but I think I may have to try her, because it sounds like her writing style might be similar to Quinn's. I chose this particular book for this list because it also contains a childhood infatuation, although, from the sounds of things, the heroine in this book discovers that her childhood love is not the person she really wants to end up with.
  • Rendezvous (book) by Amanda Quick - Another Regency romance with a hero whose deceased wife had been cheating on him. In addition to that similarity, Quick and Quinn also have somewhat similar writing styles. This book features a suspense subplot, in which the heroine is trying to prove that her brother was not a traitor.
  • Portrait of My Heart (book) by Patricia Cabot - I haven't actually read this one, or anything by the author. It just sort of came up during my search for more books for this list. Anyway, I chose it because it's another historical romance with a heroine and hero who have known each other for years. In this book, it's the hero, Jeremy, who's been wanting to marry the heroine for years, but Maggie, the heroine, doesn't believe herself to be duchess material and ends up getting engaged to another. Like Turner, Jeremy has some less than stellar qualities, and yet he still somehow manages to be endearing.

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