Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James

N.R.’s review of An Affair Before Christmas (Desperate Duchesses, Book 1) by Eloisa James
Historical romance published by Avon on November 13, 2007

Image and video hosting by TinyPicMagic under the mistletoe . . .

One spectacular Christmas, Lady Perdita Selby, known to her friends and family as Poppy, met the man she thought she would love forever. The devilishly attractive Duke of Fletcher was the perfect match for the innocent, breathtakingly beautiful young Englishwoman, and theirs was the most romantic wedding she had ever seen. Four years later, Poppy and the duke have become the toast of the ton . . . but behind closed doors the spark of their love affair has burned out.

Unwilling to lose the woman he still lusts after, the duke is determined to win back his beguiling bride’s delectable affections . . . and surpass the heady days of first love with a truly sinful seduction.

I’ve been putting off writing my review because I didn’t enjoy this story, and I’ve been having a difficult time pinpointing the reason, or reasons, why. The story should hit all my sweet spots, it’s a second chance at love story with a subplot that has characters even more delicious than the main hero and heroine. It has a woman growing into herself. A hero who truly is all about his partner’s pleasure. And it starts and ends during the winter holiday season. So why was the book just meh for me? 

The story centers around Poppy, the Duchess of Fletcher, and her husband Fletch, the Duke of Fletcher. Poppy was raised with one goal in mind, to marry as high of the aristocratic food chain as she can, so when she meets her Duke and they fall in love, it should have been a match made in heaven. She starts the story hopelessly naive and seems to never question the “truisms” she learned from her extremely overbearing mother, especially the truism that seems to show up in many historical romances, that a woman doesn’t enjoy sex. Poppy is the quintessential, naive good girl who follows the rules without question, trying to live her life as the best Duchess her mother has taught her to be.

Fletch is equally as naive, really. He’s a good landlord who cares about his tenants on his family seat. He loves Poppy so much that the thought of sleeping with someone else appalls him. Fletch even has political aspirations, wanting to become more involved in the House of Lords. He’s a romantic at heart but has grown weary of what his marriage has become when compared to his dream of a passionate marriage. His big flaw, in my opinion, is that he doesn’t seem to value communication with his wife, or to know her beyond his perceptions of who she is. 

There is much this book has going for it. Ms. James does a beautiful job describing Georgian England, and her prose is both entertaining and compelling. I learned a lot about curiosities and naturalists, which were actually some of the more humorous parts of the story. There are also several secondary characters who were very well drawn, and who I know get their own books. If not for these secondary characters I don’t think I would have finished my read. That, and the story does starts and ends with Christmas. The last third of the book was by far the best because here we are gifted with some solid communication between Poppy and Fletch, without interference from friends or Poppy’s overbearing mother.

Communication. In one word, this is why I didn’t enjoy this book. As well written as the book is, neither the hero or the heroine really tried to communicate with each other until the last third of the book. I know I’m judging this by my twenty-first century standards, and that there is probably much evidence that this lack of communication is historically accurate for an aristocratic couple. However, that doesn’t change the fact that every time there was an issue that could have been more quickly resolved through some quality communication I wanted to shake these two characters silly. It felt to me that Fletch and Poppy were bit players in the story of their lives, if that makes sense. They let life happen to them instead of wresting control of their relationship and their destinies and making their story bend to their wills.

I also felt the pacing of the story was very slow in the first two thirds of the story. The pacing picked up when we had scenes about several of the secondary characters, which made me want to focus on them instead of Fletch and Poppy. I could feel myself skimming any scenes that didn’t center on these secondary characters, I was so disinterested in Fletch and Poppy. I didn’t feel I really got to know them as three-dimensional characters. This may be my bias regarding the lack of communication, I’ll admit that.

I may not be the intended audience for this story. Given what worked for me in the story – the prose, the secondary characters – it may be that this couple was never going to be a couple I could root for. So, because of the balance between what I enjoyed and what I found tedious, I’m giving this book a D+. Maybe it will be more your cup of tea than it was mine.

Grade: D+

You can read an excerpt of the book here, or purchase a copy here. (The kindle edition is currently on sale for $2.99.)


3 thoughts on “Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James

  1. Dorine

    Kudos for taking the time to figure out why the book didn’t work for you. I think those are the hardest reviews to write. I hope you find something that better suits you for January. 🙂


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