Lady Claire is All That
I struggled to begin this review because I’m still not sure how I felt about Lady Claire Is All That. Did I enjoy reading it and was I entertained? Yes, and yes. But did I like it? I’m still on the fence. I was surprised by Ms. Rodale’s modern style juxtaposed against a traditional regency romance, and I struggled with the book as a consequence. It’s definitely different in tone and style than the majority of regencies I read, and I still can’t decide how I feel about it. That said, this fresh take on the classic Pygmalion story is both entertaining and enjoyable to read. The hero and heroine contrast nicely, the chemistry between them is excellent, it’s nice and steamy (not too much, not too little), and there’s just the right amount of tension to keep the reader on his/her toes.
Lady Claire Cavendish is a fish out of water. An American bluestocking with a passion for mathematics, nothing about Claire appeals to the ton, and nothing about the ton appeals to her. In support of her family (brother James is the newest Duke of Durham), Claire dutifully attends balls, teas and the like under the close watch of her aunt, the Duchess of Durham. Claire has managed to keep would be suitors at bay by talking unceasingly about math, and pretending her dance card is full. Though she has no desire to establish herself in London society, she is eager to meet one of its most popular members – Blake Auden, the Duke of Ashbrooke, inventor of the difference engine.
Maximilian Frederick DeVere, Lord Fox, is confused. Handsome, wealthy and generally considered a catch, his fiancée recently jilted him for an actor. For the first time, he’s worried about what others think of him and uncertain how to move forward. When a close friend dares to mention the end of his engagement, rather than admit it bothers him, Fox confidently brags that with the right amount of guidance, he could make any woman a queen of the ton. His friend, Lord Mowbray, wagers he can’t. Fox, unwilling to back down, agrees to the challenge. When Mowbray picks Lady Claire Cavendish, Fox is arrogant enough to assume he’ll win, despite his very real doubts.
From the moment Fox first approaches her, Claire is suspicious of his motives. Attractive, charming and apparently oblivious to her lack of interest in him or anything he has to offer, she rebuffs him. Frustrated, Fox can’t figure out why his usual tactics aren’t working. After one particularly awkward evening at cards wherein Claire once again quietly surprises him with her intelligence, Fox realizes he might have to radically change his approach or face losing the bet.
Curious as to why Fox continues to pursue her, Claire finds herself confessing to him there’s only one man she’s interested in getting to know – the Duke of Ashbrooke. Once Fox introduces Claire to Ashbrooke, and subsequently offers to escort her to a mathematics lecture at the Royal Society, he realizes it’s just the opportunity he has been waiting for and a valid reason to spend with her. Despite how boring and dull he finds the meetings (and well, anything related to math – Claire’s favorite subject), Fox resigns himself to helping Claire interact with other members of the Society. His PoV on these occasions are delightfully funny, “…Lady Claire and he traveled down a vast corridor to the room where the Royal Society of People Who Were Immune from Death by Boredom of Numbers…”, and add a bit of levity to these sections. When Claire surprises him with a peck on the cheek in gratitude after the first lecture, it quickly transitions into a passionate and intense kiss. They’re forced to part only after Claire’s chaperone knocks on the carriage door.
As Claire and Fox begin to spend more time together, their physical attraction becomes harder and harder to resist. When apart, Claire wonders about Fox and how his kisses make her feel, and Fox worries about the bet, and his surprising attraction to Claire. Neither can deny that when they’re together they can barely keep their hands off each other, and when they’re apart, they can’t stop thinking about when they might be together again. Ultimately, Claire decides to embrace her physical attraction to Fox as merely a means to an end – she’s sexually curious and he’s a skilled lover. Fox, feeling guilty over the bet and genuinely falling for Claire, tries to resist her but can’t.
Handsome, wealthy, charming and all male, Fox is used to winning. Only after he places the bet and shocks himself by falling in love with Claire does he come to realize there’s more to life than women and sport – but even then, he never takes himself too seriously. He’s genuinely confused by how Claire makes him feel. His inability to overcome his desire by working it out in the boxing ring frustrates him so much he’s finds himself asking doing the unthinkable – asking for help from his sister Francesca. Her advice is so spot on, he has to re-evaluate his views on women, their intelligence, and his own ignorance. It’s a neat piece of feminism tucked into this light and fluffy novel. Claire falls hard for her charming, math-challenged champion – and you do too.
At the outset, Claire is a bit hard to like. She’s too good for the ton, never gives any man a chance to get to know her or her mind, she isn’t interested in the latest fashion or gossip, and her favorite subject is math. She’s an unrepentant bluestocking and if her life seems a bit lonely, she doesn’t waste her time worrying over it. That is, until she meets Lord Fox and he tempts her in ways she never imagined. Her intelligence serves her well when she finally just decides to give in and embrace the pleasure of his touch. Though I didn’t think Claire’s transition from never-been-kissed-future-spinster to pleasure seeking math goddess was entirely believable, it was a refreshing change from most Regency heroines and it works in the context of the story. The hurt she feels after learning about Fox’s bet is deeply affecting, but it’s the way she responds to that knowledge – triumphantly facing both the ton and Fox across a crowded ballroom, that resonated most strongly with me. Vulnerable, honest, willing to trust her instincts… Claire truly is ‘all that’.
For those of you familiar with Pygmalion, or really ANY romance novel in existence, it’s no surprise that Fox and Claire eventually realize and admit they’ve fallen in love. ‘The bet’ (and its revelation) is a pivotal plot point, but Ms. Rodale doesn’t linger over it. So I won’t either. I liked her pacing in the second half – keeping the narrative moving forward at a rapid clip without dwelling over the more angsty parts. She chooses instead to spend a good portion of the book detailing Claire and Fox’s emotional struggle as they try to understand how and why they feel the way they do, and she sneaks in lots of great steamy moments whenever they spend any amount of time together.
Though this is book three in the Keeping Up With The Cavendishes series, it takes place at much the same time as the other books and therefore, it works just find as a standalone novel. I enjoyed Lady Claire Is All That despite my confusion over the modern tone of the book, and I think many historical romance readers will too. Appealing principals with good chemistry anchor this fresh take on a classic tale, and I look forward to reading James’ story next.