Narrated by Carolyn Morris
The first book in Laura Lee Guhrke’s new Dear Lady Truelove series, The Truth About Love and Dukes is an enjoyable opposites-attract story that sees a very proper and oh, so correct duke finding love with a most unlikely young woman. The “uptight lord gets the stuffing knocked out of him by unconventional young lady” is a familiar trope, but it works quite well here; the central couple has great chemistry and the author takes a good look at the difficulties inherent in having a relationship outside your class. On the downside, however, you do need to get past the rather improbable catalyst (a duchess writing a letter to a ‘lonely hearts’ column and agreeing to its being published) and a heroine who, in her quest to maintain her independence and snap her fingers at social convention, is sometimes insensitive to the possible effect of her actions on others.
When Henry Cavanaugh, Duke of Torquil reads the letter written by his mother to the popular advice columnist, Lady Truelove, he is outraged. The duchess publicly writes about having found love for the first time in her life and her intention to marry the man she loves in spite of her family’s disapproval. When it appears that the advice dispensed by Lady Truelove has inspired the duchess to an elopement, Henry is appalled at the thought that his own mother could be so careless of her reputation and of the way her actions will reflect on her family – especially her unmarried daughters. He is absolutely furious and immediately heads to the publisher’s office, suspecting that the columnist may know his mother’s whereabouts and is surprised when he is greeted by a stunning young woman who calmly informs him that she is the publisher of Society Snippets. Henry also suspects that she is Lady Truelove, but she will not admit to that, and takes offence at his high-handed expectation that she will reveal his mother’s secrets simply because he is a duke and must therefore be obeyed.
When Miss Irene Deverill refuses to cooperate, Henry realises he’ll have to take a different tack. In an underhanded move, he goes behind her back to her father, who, in spite of being an habitual drunkard, still owns the family newspaper business. Henry offers to buy the business AND to facilitate an introduction for Irene and her younger sister to their maternal grandfather – a viscount – who disowned his daughter when she ran off with their father.
Irene is furious and couldn’t care less about regaining her social position, but can do nothing; her father owns the company and can dispose of it as he sees fit. But Henry makes her an alternative offer. If she – as the voice of Lady Truelove – can persuade his mother not to marry her lover within the next two weeks (at the end of which the wedding is due to take place), then he will back out of his deal with her father and she can continue to run her newspaper. And in order to bring her into his mother’s orbit, he informs Irene that she and her sister will be staying with his family for the whole of that period.
This naturally brings Henry and Irene into frequent proximity, too, and as they continue to spar and disagree, the sparks fly and the sexual tension that has been simmering since their first meeting starts to come to the boil. Henry is infuriated by some of Irene’s ideas, but is irresistibly drawn to her intelligence and drive, while Irene is unimpressed by all the pomp and circumstance of life in a duke’s household, but can’t help finding Henry incredibly attractive, especially when she watches him interacting with his family and starts to see the man beneath the starch.
While the author does a fantastic job of building the mutual awareness and sexual tension between Henry and Irene, there are a few things about the story and characterisation that didn’t quite work for me. In the attempt to satisfy a twenty-first century audience’s requirement for independent, strong heroines in historicals, an author can sometimes shoot herself in the foot by making the divide between the heroine’s more progressive outlook and the hero’s less progressive one impossible to breach in a way that is satisfying in terms of the romance. Irene’s support for women’s suffrage is admirable, as is her desire for independence and the fact that she is fiercely protective of her newspaper business. But her insistence on defying convention and challenging Henry about every single thing makes it difficult to believe that a relationship between a woman like her and a man like him can ever work. I’m not saying Irene should have been a doormat or unenlightened. Just that it’s a difficult line to walk in an historical romance, and I don’t think Ms. Guhrke manages it here.
She does, however, do a good job when it comes to exploring the problems of a cross-class relationship in the 1890s. Henry has been brought up to believe in duty and responsibility and to take them seriously while Irene doesn’t care about rules and wants to shake things up. Even after they have acknowledged the depth of their mutual attraction and agreed to act upon it, the differences in their social positions and outlook stand between them and one of the best, most heartfelt scenes in the story is the one in which Irene finally comes to a full understanding of what they can and cannot have together.
With all that said, though, I enjoyed the story more than I expected to, which I suspect is largely due to the engaging performance delivered by Carolyn Morris. She’s one of my ‘go to’ narrators for historical romance, bringing both technical accomplishment and emotional nuance to her work and clearly demonstrating her affinity for the genre. Her pacing in both narrative and dialogue is spot on and she differentiates well between the various characters, especially between Irene and her sister, and between the ladies and Henry’s snobbish sister-in-law, catty Carlotta (which I thought was rather an odd name for a lady in a late Victorian historical – we’re not told she has Spanish origins). I’ve always been impressed with the way Ms. Morris portrays the heroes in the books she narrates; her natural speaking voice is more of a mezzo than a contralto, yet she manages to imbue them with just the right degree of masculinity by means of a very small drop in pitch – only a semitone or two – a darkening of timbre and an alteration in her manner of speech, perhaps making it a little more deliberate and adding a slight drawl. Her interpretation of Henry brings him vividly to life in all of his aristocratic sexiness, and her performance as a whole is attractively animated and expressive.
The Truth About Love and Dukes gets a recommendation on the basis of the performance and the strength of the writing and chemistry between the central characters. I ended up liking and sympathising with Henry – who experiences the most character growth – more than I did Irene, but there’s nonetheless much to enjoy in this late Victorian-era romance.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Harper Audio
The Truth About Love and Dukes was provided to AudioGals by Harper Audio for a review.