Saturday, December 31, 2011

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (book) by Julia Quinn

I was first introduced to Colin Bridgerton in Quinn's When He Was Wicked and just knew I had to read the book in which he starred. This is that book. While I'm glad I finally got to read it, I'm disappointed with how it turned out.

By the way, the title is a bit misleading. It makes it sound as though Penelope purposefully seduces Colin at some point in the book. She does not. What she does is be herself, and Colin finally starts to notice her as more than just a fixture in his life.

Synopsis:

Penelope Featherington fell in love with Colin Bridgerton just before her 16th birthday. He was gorgeous, well-liked, and charming, and she was the awkward wallflower who could barely hold a conversation with people she didn't know. She knew that nothing would ever come of her feelings for him, but that didn't stop her from dreaming, until she overheard him telling his brothers that he wouldn't marry her. It hurt her feelings and crushed her dreams, but she and Colin did remain friends, mostly because Penelope was still friends with his sister Eloise.

Years later, little has changed. Colin travels a lot, and Penelope, now 28 years old, has resigned herself to being a spinster. Lady Danbury (a delightful elderly woman who has popped up in other books by Quinn) has made the exciting announcement that she will give 1000 pounds to the person who figures out Lady Whistledown's identity - Lady Whistledown is the pseudonym for the person who has been publishing gossip about the ton for the past 11 years. While everyone is speculating about Lady Whistledown, Colin is finally starting to realize that Penelope is more intelligent, witty, and fun to be around than he ever gave her credit for.

Review:

Oh, what a difference the second half of a book can make.

I want to be clear on this: when I was still only halfway through the book, I considered it a keeper. Penelope was wonderful: truly shy around anyone she didn't know well, with a few horribly painful/embarrassing moments in her life that Quinn actually took the time to show. I cringed in sympathy when Penelope came upon Colin just as he was telling his brothers that he wouldn't marry her and Penelope did what she could to preserve her dignity and not make it too obvious that he had just crushed her dreams. I enjoyed watching Penelope blossom as she resigned herself to being an old maid. Her friendship with Lady Danbury warmed my heart, and I loved it when they both confessed to attending horrible Smith-Smythe musicales so that the one Smith-Smythe girl who realized they were awful would have someone in the audience who was not making fun of her.

I loved Colin, too. He was a nice guy, and never hurt Penelope on purpose. He felt miserable when she overheard him saying that he wouldn't marry her – it's just that he was too immature, at that point in his life, to know how to best handle the situation. Later on in their lives, when there was another moment when he could have accidentally hurt her feelings, she stopped him, and he took that time to think about the potential consequences of his actions and how Penelope might be hurt by them. Then he deliberately did his best not to hurt her. Colin wasn't in love with Penelope then and hadn't yet realized that a wonderful person had been right under his nose for years, but he still liked her, and I could have hugged him for the kind and thoughtful way he handled that moment.

There's no way I can properly gripe about what Quinn did in the second half (last third?) of the book without spoiling things, so, if you don't like spoilers, stop reading this review at this point (or, don't click the “Read more” link).

There are a few things I really hate coming across in romance novels. Widowed heroes or heroines still mourning the loss of their first spouses, babies and young children, very pregnant heroines, heroines whose physical description likens them to children, and...main characters who are writers. I've only encountered one author, Nora Roberts, who I can consistently trust to include any of these things without raising my hackles. Romancing Mister Bridgerton has shown me that I can't add Quinn to my short list.

I was wondering where the book was going to go when, a little over halfway through it, Colin was already giddily insisting upon marrying Penelope and trying to get it through her mother's skull that, yes, he really did want to marry Penelope and not her sister Felicity. Then I found out, as Quinn revealed the big secret (GREAT BIG SPOILER WARNING): Penelope is Lady Whistledown, the woman who had been anonymously skewering the ton for 11 years.

I could have lived with this revelation (although I was annoyed that Quinn kept the reader in the dark via artificial means, by simply never having Penelope think about it). In fact, I enjoyed some of the angst that came from Penelope wondering if Colin was ashamed of her because of her work as Lady Whistledown. However, I felt that Lady Whistledown and writing in general then hijacked the story.

This book has a grand total of one sex scene, which occurs prior to Colin and Penelope's marriage. They spend 70 pages of the book married – most authors would have found a way to fit a sex scene, even a fade to black one, in those 70 pages. I'm usually on the side of “more sweet romantic moments, less sex,” so I wouldn't necessarily have minded that Quinn only included one sex scene, if it weren't for the fact that it felt like there could, maybe should, have been one, and it was glossed over. Here is the moment when the book really made me angry:

“The wedding had been magical. It was a small affair, much to the dismay of London society. And the wedding night—well, that had been magical, too.
And, in fact, marriage was magical, Colin was a wonderful husband—teasing, gentle, attentive...
Except when the topic of Lady Whistledown arose.” (298)
There were still 70 pages to go in the book. I had to reread the passage just to be sure that, yes, Quinn really had just glossed over Penelope and Colin's wedding, wedding night, and at least the first few days of their marriage...all because Lady Whistledown was suddenly the more important part of the book. Seriously??

I finished the book because I do not DNF books when I'm that close to finishing them, but when I reached page 298 I decided that I could care less about all the Lady Whistledown stuff. I also began to find Colin's jealousy over Penelope being published (anonymously published, but still published) annoying. The writerly ego stroking scene that occurred when Colin finally let Penelope read his writings and she, of course, found them wonderful made me want to gag. That's probably a personal thing – I have a feeling that, if Colin had been worried about Penelope's reception of, say, his woodworking skills, I would have felt more sympathetic. Quinn just hit the wrong buttons with me when she made not one, but both her main characters writers, and then made that aspect an important part of the book. And, of course, Colin's writing was wonderful through and through – another thing that got my back up.

Others may not feel the same way about the ending that I did. However, because of that ending, a book I had initially considered a keeper is now one I'll be offloading in order to free up shelf space.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Jewels of Sun (book) by Nora Roberts - Roberts' writing has a feel similar to Quinn's. This book is a contemporary romance with some fantasy aspects, but, like Romancing Mister Bridgerton, it also has a writer main character (the heroine). The heroine has taken a trip to Ireland to try to get her head on straight, figure out where she's going to go with her life, and work on the book she has always wanted to write. While in Ireland, she meets a gorgeous pub owner and becomes part of a faerie prince's quest to break the spell that keeps him from his true love. Those who liked Colin's awkwardness over his own writings might enjoy the next book in the trilogy, Tears of the Moon.
  • Never Been Kissed (live action movie) - Another contemporary romance. In this one, a shy copy editor is given a chance to actually write an article for the newspaper she works for. She's told to go undercover at a high school and report on the most interesting/shocking thing she comes across. When that thing turns out to be a teacher who may be falling for a student (the student being her - he has no idea she's not a teenager), she has to decide whether to do her job or follow her heart. It's a very sweet movie that may appeal to those who'd like something else with a shy heroine who's keeping a big secret from the guy she's fallen for. I've written about this movie.
  • The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown (book, anthology) by Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, and Mia Ryan - It feels like cheating, including this on the read-alikes list. Anyway, this book features 4 novellas, each starring a different couple, all held together by passages with Lady Whistledown's observations. There is also another anthology, with the same authors, called Lady Whistledown Strikes Back.
  • The River Knows (book) by Amanda Quick - I added this to the list because Quick's writing has a feel similar to Quinn's, and because this is a historical romance with a heroine who is an undercover reporter for a sensational newspaper. Those who liked the idea of Penelope as Lady Whistledown may enjoy this book. I have written about it.
  • The Devil in Winter (book) by Lisa Kleypas - I don't think I've ever read one of Kleypas's books, although I've heard that her writing is similar to Quinn's. I added this book to the list because it features a shy heroine. The heroine is a wallflower who is about to become very rich. She offers her inheritance to the hero in exchange for protection of marriage and more immediate protection from her uncle, who plans to marry her to a cousin, kill her, and then take her inheritance.
  • The Rake and the Wallflower (book) by Allison Lane - I know nothing about Lane's writing, but I added this to the list because it's a Regency romance with a shy heroine. The heroine is forced to accompany her beautiful, vain sister to London for the season. She meets the hero, a supposed notorious rake, while trying to hide behind a potted palm. Unlike others, who assume they know what the hero is like based on his reputation, the heroine actually gets to know him and starts to think there's more going on with him than he lets on.

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