The Duchess Diaries
Every once and a while, I review one of those books that takes forever to read because it completely fails to capture my attention in any way, shape, or form. I drag through it, often become irritated by little things, and pray fervently that it doesn’t induce a slump. Unfortunately, Jillian Hunter’s The Duchess Diaries was just that sort of book for me.
Charlotte Boscastle, the headmistress for the Scarfield Academy for Young Ladies, has managed to avoid scandal in her tenure as teacher and mentor. She certainly doesn’t expect to become the fodder for the rumor mills herself, which of course is just what happens. You see, while Charlotte is outwardly refined and demure, she hides a darker, wicked side which she only unleashes on paper by fictionalizing a torrid affair between herself and Gideon, the Duke of Wynfield. She keeps her secrets tales in her diary, which she apparently likes to leave lying around for anyone to find.
Although somewhat attracted to Miss Boscastle, Gideon sees little connection between her proper world and his world of mistresses and easy living. Their paths only cross when, as a favor to a friend, he asks her to dance. Though he’s intrigued, he still intends to acquire a new mistress that very night or at least he does until he finds a certain scandalous diary in his coach. He’s even more surprised and interested when he discovers that the shocking entries are fictional accounts of himself with Miss Boscastle. After reading bits and pieces, he can’t banish the images from his mind. Unfortunately, for Charlotte and everyone involved, the diary disappears once again and choices are made in order to avoid complete ruin. As a result of being caught in a compromising position with the creative Miss Boscastle, Gideon lets nature and society have their way and finds himself at the altar.
Though the plot sounds simple enough, there is so much going on within the story I was quite confused at times and had to backtrack to keep characters and motives from tangling together. Charlotte has to deal with a rival headmistress bent on revenge, a couple of criminal-like characters, a long, lost love, a soon to be stepdaughter, and a future husband with a rakish reputation. Add in all the past character couples, potential characters, and two other developing love stories and the word convoluted quite appropriately fits.
While I understand that it’s hard to bring much authenticity to historicals and be able to market them, I was put out by the sheer amount of 21st Century behavior in a book set in 1819. I couldn’t buy that a proper headmistress from the ton would ever break in to a Duke’s residence to find a diary, even if she’s with a friend with a shady past. I could almost accept a headmistress who writes naughty stories and leaves them lying around more readily than that invented conflict. Also, the vocabulary bothered me especially when the term “hey” would pop up every now and then.
Unfortunately, I never felt any empathy for the characters as I read. Charlotte was simply lackluster while Gideon was a place holder. He’s a rake because, well, aren’t they all? Though he’s a widower with a young daughter, his character isn’t any more multi-dimensional as a result. And while I found some of the secondary characters interesting, there were so many of them that deeper development was practically non-existent.
I wish I had more positive things to say about The Duchess Diaries, but the best advice I can give is to hold off for the library copy if you just have to read it. Uninspiring characters and a tangled, uninteresting plot dominate this installment of Hunter’s The Bridal Pleasures series.