Title: An Affair Before Christmas
Author: Eloisa James
Published: 2007, Avon
Category: Historical romance
I am so behind on my reviews. But I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, even though I sprinkled salt instead of sugar onto the top of the apple pie. (Oopsie. It will be a family joke forever. And hey, didn't Anne of Green Gables do the same thing once? I'm in good company.) But onward! (as Cindy says) To the new Eloisa James.
An Affair Before Christmas, of course, begins right before Christmas with Fletch (that's the Duke of Fletcher) and Poppy Selby head over heals in love with each other. They both have stars in their naïve little eyes as they head off to be married. Four years later they find their marriage on the rocks. A large part of the problem appears to be that Poppy can't enjoy sex, no matter what Fletch does. He's gotten more and more bitter about it until one day he makes a horrible joke in front of some friends. Poppy is hurt and doesn't understand her husband and is tired of trying (unsuccessfully) to make him happy, so she leaves him and goes to live with the infamous Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont. Fletch wants to just write her off and go get a mistress, but despite everything he's still very much in love with her. Out on her own, Poppy starts to loosen up and discovers a lot about herself, things she enjoys doing when she's not so obsessed with being the perfect duchess.
I didn't love this plot line, but I think it does point out something that must have happened often back then. Women's sexuality was such a taboo subject that lots of women surely felt as Poppy did – sex is something only men enjoy and you just had to grin and bear it. James always takes a refreshingly grown-up and realistic view of marriage among the aristocracy, and she also somehow manages to make a HEA believable within that setting.
This is the second in James's duchess series (after Desperate Duchesses) and it is more closely connected as a series than you sometimes find. The story of Jemma and her husband, Elijah; the Duke of Villiers; and their chess tournaments started in DD continues. Jemma and Elijah's story doesn't advance too much, but we do learn a lot more about Villiers, who is sick unto death from the sword wound he received at the end of Desperate Duchesses.
Definitely pick this up if you liked Desperate Duchesses, and I'd say skip it if that one didn't do much for you. I loved the Georgian setting and I always enjoy James's clever characters and dialogue. It's another ensemble piece, with lots of jumping around among storylines, but I think it's all really well done.
Next in the series is Duchess by Night, out in April. About Harriet, Duchess of Berrow. Is she the one whose husband killed himself?