30 June 2015

Put Up Your Duke (Dukes Behaving Badly #2) by Megan Frampton

Summary from Goodreads:
He was once happily bedding and boxing, but in the newest Duke's Behaving Badly novel, Nicholas Smithfield has inherited a title and a bride . . .

To keep his estate afloat, the new Duke of Gage must honor an agreement to marry Lady Isabella Sawford. Stunningly beautiful, utterly tempting, she's also a bag of wedding night nerves, so Nicholas decides to wait to do his duty—even if it means heading to the boxing saloon every day to punch away his frustration.

Groomed her whole life to become the perfect duchess, Isabella longs for independence, a dream that is gone forever. As her husband, Nicholas can do whatever he likes—but, to Isabella's surprise, the notorious rake instead begins a gentle seduction that is melting every inch of her reserve, night by night . . .

To his utter shock, Nicholas discovers that no previous exploits were half as pleasurable as wooing his own wife. But has the realm's most disreputable duke found the one woman who can bring him to his knees— and leave him there?

Nicholas Smithfield becomes the new Duke of Gage by accident of law: the former Duke of Gage inadvertently caused an investigation of his family tree during the course of a lawsuit and the entire ducal branch was nullified. To the benefit of the cadet branch leading to Nicholas. Also by accident of law, Nicholas inherits the Duke of Gage's betrothed, one Lady Isabella Sawford. Isabella is beautiful, well-trained, docile, and the perfect duchess-to-be, emphasis on perfect. In other words, she is a shell of the woman she could be - and Isabella knows it.

Throughout Put Up Your Duke, Nicholas and Isabella circle warily around each other.  Isabella, now married, has the freedom to make her own decisions regarding her household, her wardrobe, her marriage...but isn't quite sure how to proceed or trust that Nicholas won't pull the rug out from under her.  Nicholas, though solicitous of Isabella's feelings and he doesn't wish to force himself on her to consummate the marriage, hasn't the foggiest idea how to get her to tell him what's going on in her head rather than tell him what she thinks he wants to hear.  (Obviously, coming straight out and saying that he knows she is very nervous, and that he doesn't want to hurt her, and that maybe they could get to know each other first before getting-it-on because that is sexier would clearly cancel half the plot of the novel.)

I was a bit hesitant to start this next installment in Megan Frampton's "Dukes Behaving Badly" series (there's a novella, When Good Earls Go Bad, that I skipped).  The first book, The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior, was underwhelming.  While the snippets from the (fictional) behavior guide The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior were funny, the characters felt flat and/or rehashed from other books, the plot was poky, and there were too many basic historical and conventional slips to ignore.  It wasn't a terrible book, just....eh.  But Avon Books gave me access to the DRC for Put Up Your Duke - and asked very nicely if I might review it - so after about three chapters, I settled in for a few hours of enjoyable reading.

Put Up Your Duke is a wonderful improvement on the series.  The characters of Isabella and Nicholas are well-developed, the main plot is engaging, and the legal mess that lands Nicholas in the ducal coronet is a good hook to the start of the novel. While some of the secondary characters still feel one-dimensional (like Isabella's parents), there is enough hinted at for Lord Collingwood (the former Duke of Gage and a nasty individual) to reappear later in the series without making him boring or giving too much away.  I enjoyed this book enough to look forward to the next book in the series (which I believe is called One-Eyed Dukes are Wild, and is set to release at the end of December 2015, but don't quote me on that).

However, I still have to pick a few nits regarding the series title.  "Dukes Behaving Badly."  Megan Frampton's Dukes are almost saint-like in their mild badness.  In The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior, we are told frequently that Marcus, the Duke of Rutherford, is dissolute and shocking but we never actually see him do anything "shocking".  In Put Up Your Duke, the novel opens with Nicholas eating a strawberry out of the cleavage of a courtesan sitting on his lap while two other courtesans fawn over him.  When his brother Griff arrives with the news that Nicholas is now the Duke of Gage, Nicholas leaves the brothel and pays the madam even though he's done nothing but eat a strawberry (literally, not figuratively).  In the novel, Nicholas frequently mentions that he abstained from sex from that moment; he doesn't have a mistress and he treats Isabella with a great deal of consideration in every way, not just in the bedchamber.  So, what makes him so "bad"?  Because Nicholas and Marcus are far less "bad" than many of the minor characters.  The series is set early in Queen Victoria's reign - the "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" Lord Byron has set the bar pretty high for naughtiness. If we want bad noblemen of romance novels, I'll take a few more "Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain"-s.  So more badness in our "Bad" Dukes, please.  It makes their rehabilitation far more enjoyable.

Put Up Your Duke by Megan Frampton is available today, June 30, 2015, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss.