Geek Girls Don't Date Dukes
You know the stereotype of the Ugly American, a tourist from the U.S. who travels abroad but instead of immersing herself in the culture and trying to really experience the uniqueness of her environment, she expects everything to be like it is “back home”? Geek Girls Don’t Date Dukes is the literary equivalent of the Ugly American.
Unlucky in love, Leah Ramsey envies her best friend Jamie, who traveled back in time to snag herself a real life Earl. When Mrs. Knightsbridge – the housekeeper who helped Jamie with her adventures in time travel in The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl – offers to send Leah back to Regency London so that she can find her true love in the household of the Duke of Granville, Leah jumps at the chance. With no indication to us readers of how or when she’ll ever get back to the present, Leah finds herself falling through a magic mirror into the Duke’s bedchamber and the arms of a handsome man whom she assumes is the Duke himself.
Avery Russell has troubles. He’s trying, with little success, to sever his ties to the boxing world where he is a proven champion and moneymaker for unscrupulous people who blackmail him to keep him fighting. His aunt is suffering from a horrible ailment and requires expensive medicine to ease her pain. He continues to feel guilt over the accident that killed his mother, and his father was an oppressive monster. While he’s managed to secure respectable employment as the Duke of Granville’s valet, Avery knows that those around him still see him as an unrespectable ruffian from the wrong side of town.
When a beautiful blonde girl crawls out of the Duke’s new bureau mistaking Avery for the Duke and claiming they are meant to fall in love, he finds her a bit odd to say the least. But despite her crazy talk of being from the future, Avery sets Leah straight about his true position as a simple valet and helps her secure a conveniently just-vacated job as a housemaid.
As a servant in a Duke’s manor, Leah faces more work than any one person could complete in months. The surly housekeeper hates her, and pre-teen housemaid Henrietta is actually bullying her. Leah certainly has no idea how she’s going to capture the Duke’s attention when she’s too busy emptying icky chamber pots and sweeping floors.
After a few days slaving in the Duke’s home, Leah’s luck changes. While working a rout thrown by the Duke’s mother, Leah meets Lady Chesterfield. Recognizing that Leah is a very special girl – one from the future – Lady Chesterfield invites Leah to move in and promises to position her in such a way as to secure the Duke’s interest. While Leah is thrilled that she won’t have to empty any more chamber pots, she’s surprised at how much she misses Avery. For his part, Avery knows that Leah deserves much more than a valet with poor prospects, but he can’t deny the attraction he feels for her.
It eventually dawns on Leah that while Mrs. Knightsbridge had said she’d find her true love in the Duke of Granville’s house, perhaps she hadn’t meant for Leah to end up with the Duke himself. Perhaps Avery is the man she’s meant to be with. By this time, however, Lady Chesterfield has worked hard to secure Leah a respectable match and the Duke seems to be interested. Meanwhile, the people who want Avery to keep on boxing are willing to stoop to any means necessary to make that happen.
My problem with this book is that it treats the time travel premise as merely a way to stick a modern heroine into a Regency setting. Other than dressing in the clothing of the day, Leah does absolutely nothing at all to indicate that she’s in any time period other than her own. She speaks like a modern woman (one who swears freely), comports herself with a much more relaxed social code, and even touches Avery in ways that would have been considered scandalous by anyone of that time. She doesn’t even try to fit in.
This wouldn’t have been so bad if anyone at all in 1817 London would have had a problem with this. Everyone around her completely accepts Leah’s modern sensibilities and behavior without question. From the beginning, Avery is perfectly fine with this strange woman who just appears out of nowhere claiming to be from the future. In reality, he would have thought her to be a lunatic or maybe even a witch and had her locked up rather than agree to help her get a job.
While I give Lamm props for featuring a working class hero instead of having Leah snag herself an honest-to-goodness duke, Avery comes complete with the standard inferiority complex. A victim of his past who is truly a noble guy, he believes himself not nearly good enough for Leah. Why this is was a mystery to me because other than being generically beautiful, Leah’s only personality trait is her contemporary-ness. Even Avery doesn’t seem to know what he thinks. On page 128, he muses:
“If he survived this hellish afternoon without the chit causing herself irreparable damage, it would be a miracle send straight from God himself.”
A few pages later (pg. 135), with no other action happening that would demonstrate he’d been worried for no reason, Avery has other thoughts:
“She had proved tonight that she was quick, clever and strong enough to pursue the best in the land.”
I kept rereading to see if I’d missed the paragraphs where Leah had acted quickly, cleverly or strongly, but I never did find them. As far as the “geek” thing from the title, I still have yet to figure out how Leah qualifies for that status. She’s a drama teacher at an elementary school (elementary schools can afford those with today’s budget cutbacks?), so I guess maybe she’s a theater geek.
There was the occasional shining moment that teased what this book could have been. A scene in which an arachnophobic Leah encounters a spider was downright funny and the one instance where I would have completely accepted her reverting to her 2013 self. Too, when Avery first takes Leah to see his aunt, her horror at the dismal living conditions of the impoverished of London hinted at a great story about a woman from the present learning how hard people suffered in the past. Alas, none of these threads were ever followed to my satisfaction.
In the end, I needed a bit more time travel related conflict than this time travel romance provided. At least Leah didn’t spend any time looking for the nearest McDonald’s in 1817 London, but I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if she had.