Desert Isle Keeper
As a fervent anglophile and Janeite, I was ALL in to read Ilsa Madden-Mills’s Pride & Prejudice-inspired steamy New Adult romance, Dirty English the first in her British Bad Boys series.
I was instantly hooked by the epigraph – “You have bewitched me, body and soul.” Reading Mr. Darcy’s words affirmed my confidence that Dirty English’s love story would live up to its tagline as “the passion of a lifetime.”
We first meet Elizabeth Bennett on prom night following a sexual assault that destroys her trust in men and her faith in love. Two years after this traumatic event, Elizabeth is a college student living in North Carolina. She is still plagued by guilt and shame and lives in virtual isolation, and instead of going out on dates, Elizabeth prefers to initiate casual sex with guys who fit the criteria of her self-imposed rules. Her ideal one-night stand is an average guy who is not popular, rich, or too good-looking.
Enter Declan Blay – a college student by day and an underground street fighter by night – who breaks every one of Elizabeth’s rules and then some. Declan is gorgeous, beautifully sculpted, come from a wealthy British family and is well-known on campus. An aspiring UFC fighter with dreams of owning his own mixed martial arts gym, Declan hasn’t the time for distractions of the female persuasion. Besides, since his last girlfriend cheated on him, he has trust issues.
In an effort to behave like a ‘normal’ twenty-year-old, Elizabeth attends a frat party where she meets Declan. They are immediately attracted to each other, and sensing an inexplicable connection, they reveal glimpses into their broken pasts.
Subsequent chance encounters amp up Elizabeth and Declan’s mutual lusting while also deepening their special bond. They happen to be next-door neighbors, which fans the flames of sexual tension in tornado-like torrents. Their close proximity leads to tender moments, such as a sweet ‘n’ sexy dance party in the rain and platonic sleepovers.
Elizabeth and Declan are also in the same English Lit. class, which is currently discussing Pride & Prejudice. (How very meta.) We learn that Declan is a romantic at heart and counts Austen’s classic novel among his favorite books. In fact, his in-depth understanding of the work arouses Elizabeth to the point of wanting
“…to toss him down on the floor, crawl on top of him, and ride him like the Jane Austen reader [she is].”
Eventually, Elizabeth is irresistibly drawn to Declan’s kindness and hot masculinity, while Declan is enamored by Elizabeth’s spunk and the strength beneath her vulnerability. Despite their feelings for one another, they are convinced that becoming involved in any way, shape, or form could potentially cause their fragile hearts unimaginable pain. Of course, the more they resist loving each other, the harder they fall.
Madden-Mills delivers a true love story of kindred souls learning to let go so that they can move forward. It also explores the damaging effects of dysfunctional families, parental loss, and sexual assault with sensitivity and insight. The harsh contemporary realities of the novel are balanced out with healthy doses of hope, humor, and romance, but its real strength lies in the author’s stellar character development. Madden-Mills succeeds in crafting likeable protagonists who strive to heal their emotional wounds and overcome fear of intimacy. I genuinely rooted for Elizabeth and Declan to work through their pain to find “forever love” together. And, it was a pleasure for me to observe the parallels between the characters of Pride & Prejudice and Dirty English. Declan possesses Mr. Darcy’s swoon-worthy intensity and protective nature, as well as Mr. Wickham’s air of danger and bad boy deliciousness. Elizabeth embodies Lizzy Bennet’s quick wit and strength of character. She also shares Mr. Darcy’s propensity for delivering awkward soul-bearing speeches.
Although the overall plot structure is solid, the climax takes an unexpectedly melodramatic turn, which seems somewhat ‘off-brand’ given the novel’s otherwise realistic tone. The resolution is a bit too tidy, but it contributed to a complete and very satisfying ending.
I highly recommend Dirty English to readers who enjoy heartfelt stories of redemptive love and arousing passion.
Buy it at: Amazon
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