Rules of Engagement
2000, European Historical Romance (1830s [Victorian] England)
Avon, $6.99, 351 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380811987
Part of a series
There is a staff review of this book as well
Rules of Engagement is the second book in Christina Dodd's series about the Distinguished Academy of Governesses. It follows Rules of Surrender. Here we find Devon, Lord Kerrich, who must become respectable or risk losing large sums of money that Queen Victoria has deposited in his family's bank. He decides that the best way to impress Victoria is to adopt a foundling and hire a governess to train him. Since he is really handsome and charming, he insists that the governess must be older and unattractive. Young, attractive Pamela Lockhart is desperate for money (and business for The Distinguished Academy) so she disguises herself as an older woman, and comes to work for Devon.
Blythe: Linda, I've got a surprise for you - I really enjoyed Rules of Engagement! I am surprising myself here as well, because I did not care at all for Rules of Surrender, or the Dodd book I read before that, A Well-Pleasured Lady. But Rules of Engagement (ROE) is just so darn funny that I enjoyed it from start to finish, even though I thought there were some parts that required a lot of suspension of disbelief.
Linda: LOL, that is a shocker, Blythe. But, we will still have an area of disagreement - I loved Rules of Surrender (ROS)! I just loved Wynter - the non-savage savage and his children were adorable. Charlotte was a force of nature. Best of all, Dodd didn't use two of my least favorite plot devices - separation and misunderstanding - both of which are in ROE. But, I did like ROE a lot. It grabs you from page one and doesn't let go. It just rollicks along.
Blythe: Don't even get me started on Wynter - I just couldn't stand that guy! He just seemed hyper-alpha in a bad way to me. But what I found interesting is that Devon, the hero of ROE actually has some of the same qualities as Wynter. Devon is certainly arrogant and sure of himself. But somehow his character worked for me in a way that Wynter's didn't, perhaps because Devon lacked that "noble savage" vibe that so annoyed me in Wynter's character. Also ROE has no forced seduction, which is a big plus in my book.
Linda: Funny you should mention forced seduction; I just didn't see it. In A Well Pleasured Lady it was obvious and was a very borderline scene for me - the only thing that saved it was the "Lady" was having such a good time very quickly. <g> I saw Charlotte painting herself into a corner and expecting Wynter to force her - her stubbornness bordered on the ridiculous, especially since she was obviously enjoying their foreplay in the weeks leading up to the wedding. It was obvious she wanted him. Wynter wrestled with her but made Charlotte admit that he didn't force her - this was very important in their relationship, I think. I liked Wynter's arrogance and his dedication to his children and I liked seeing him get his comeuppance - I loved it when Adorna, his mother, called him a jackass. What I like in ROS is the same scenario that is in one of my DIK's. In Garwood's The Prize, the hero gets exactly what he thinks he wants and then discovers it isn't enough and that things didn't turn out as he planned. It's so much fun to watch these arrogant men admit they were wrong.
As far as ROE, I liked Devon a lot. But he was so conceited! Of course he did have a lot to be arrogant about.
Blythe: I think the reason I saw the seduction in ROS as forced is that I didn't like Wynter, so when Charlotte said she didn't want him I took her at her word! Devon is totally conceited, but for some reason I liked that about him. I like to see handsome, charming heroes - the types who think it's "all about them" - suddenly wake up and smell the coffee, and realize how full of themselves they are. One of the most powerful scenes in ROE comes at the end when Devon's grandfather sets him straight about some things that happened in the past. Devon's reaction to what his grandfather tells him shows the growth that he has made during the course of the novel.
Linda: Yes, Devon definitely grows in the book and I loved the secret that Queen Victoria was blackmailing him with - - a full moon on a foggy night - truly hilarious. I liked the heroine a great deal as well; she was the feisty and spunky kind of survivor heroine that I adore. I also loved her disguising herself as a dowd. It was fun that the hero was attracted to her even when she was ugly. This was a particularly nice touch and a very romantic one.
I also thought Beth, the orphan, endearing and just loved Grandpapa; he was one sly fox. One of Dodd's best characteristics is the development of her secondary characters; she creates wonderful characters that you can care about and her stories rarely drag, which is a big plus for me.
Blythe: I noticed the pacing, too. This story really just zipped along, which is a huge contrast to many of the books I've been reading lately. I think the humor is truly what kept the pages turning for me. I agree about the full moon on a foggy night - what a hilarious thing to have happen, and in front of the queen (or future queen) no less. I also thought the dialogue between the hero and heroine was terrific. One of my favorite scenes was when Pamela tried to reprimand Beth for using profanity, and Devon instead corrects the flaw in her grammar! (Don't say the b*tch what ran the orphanage; say the b*tch that ran the orphanage!) Many times I found myself laughing out loud, which is a change from the other Dodd books I've read.
Linda: She has several that are on my keeper shelf that have humor in them - favorite is probably The Greatest Lover in All of England. I just love that book and read it at least once a year. What made the humor work ROE is that it was an intrinsic part of the characters. Devon is so gloriously conceited (perhaps with reason - he is rich, titled and gorgeous), but I loved the fact that he was attracted to Pamela because he could talk to her. The first time he kisses her, she is still wearing her ugly disguise and it makes the moment very tender and meaningful. I think this series is going on my keeper shelf, I can imagine wanting to visit these people again in the future.
Blythe: I also liked the kissing scene, and there is another where Devon is appalled at himself because he has had an erotic dream about Pamela, who he still thinks is an ugly crone. When he sees her the next day he can't bring himself to look at her. I can imagine other authors handling this scene in a way that would be offensive, but Dodd just makes it so funny.
Linda: I only have a couple of quibbles with Dodd's choices in ROE. First is that she cheated on the villain - there were no real clues as to who it was and the identity just kind of seemed dropped into the story - I would have liked more clues. But, the main quibble was what seemed an artificial separation of the couple. I think it bothered me because these people talked to each other all through the book and then they just clam up and separate, irritating, but it was blessedly short-lived. Of course, this might not bother some other readers - I just hate separations!
Blythe: Separations can annoy me too, but in this case the fast pacing of the book saved the day. We didn't really have long to wait for them to work out their differences.
As far as the villain went, I wasn't really too bothered by that, probably because I enjoyed the book so much in other respects. I had a harder time believing the Pamela could really make herself that ugly with make-up. There is also a scene in which Beth runs from Buckingham Palace and produces an Irish doctor. Did you wonder how she found him so fast? Was he waiting outside the gates just in case?
Linda: I wondered about that too - the scene implied that Beth knew him from the foundling home, but it's hard to imagine the "*itch that ran it" calling a doctor, perhaps he treated her mother? In fact, I thought the whole ending seemed a bit contrived and rushed - which was the same feeling I had in That Scandalous Evening. But, the final chapter gave a nice wrap up and left me with a smile - not as big as the "exhibition" scene in Rules of Surrender - I just loved the way Wynter figured out how to tell Charlotte he loved her. In fact, perhaps I notice these slight let downs because Dodd is such a good writer, who has a wonderful grasp on her characters and story - so the "rushing" at the end jarred me just a tad.
Blythe: I did feel like we dodged a bullet with the potential misunderstanding about who revealed the "full moon on a foggy night." When I saw it coming I really groaned, because I just have so little patience for misunderstandings lately. Happily, it's cleared up in no time and they actually handled it like adults.
Linda: I gave a sigh of relief too - but that's what made it so annoying when they didn't talk to each other at the end, especially since Beth's future was at stake. But, I couldn't put the book down and just laughed and chuckled all the way through ROE.
One thing that I like about both of these books is the strength of the two heroines, Pamela and Charlotte. These women have been dealt terrible hands and they persevere, survive and eventually win the life and love they deserve.
Blythe: Both of these books do have strong heroines, but what made ROE work so much better for me was that I liked both the hero and the heroine. Since I couldn't stand Wynter, I had a hard time relating to the woman who was in love with him. But in Pamela's case I found myself falling for Devon's charms right along with her.
Linda: That's funny, because for me it was just the opposite. I liked Devon, he was so full of himself - only a man so completely arrogant could come up with such as crackbrain scheme as pretending to adopt an orphan to make himself respectable. But, I liked Wynter better - probably because "beauty and the beast" storylines are favorites of mine. You mentioned before that the separation was short-lived, which did make it tolerable - but I would have preferred them to talk to each other and not separate at all. I wonder why authors think we need one more bit of angst before we have earned our HEA ending.
Blythe: Sometimes it almost seems like separations are a way to make the book the "right" length. <g> I'm so glad you enjoyed ROE too. I whole-heartedly recommend it, especially for fans of humor. As far as ROS goes, we'll have to agree to disagree. I thought Wynter talked and acted like a hero from a Hemingway novel, and from me that's not a compliment.
Linda: I think that is the fun of reading and comparing notes - it is amazing how we can all have such different opinions. I loved Wynter's devotion to his children (he came back to England because of his daughter) and just loved it when he "kidnapped" Charlotte after the wedding. Actually, I think both Charlotte and I would have been very disappointed if he hadn't shown up <g>.
I think Dodd has got a wonderful series going with the Governesses and I can hardly wait to see the next installment. BTW, one of the nice touches in ROS was seeing Adorna, Jane and Ransom from That Scandalous Evening. When I finished that book I thought it needed an epilogue showing us Jane and Ransom together down the road - ROS gives us that peek into their future and I loved it. I thought Adorna being widowed and having a late in life romance was a nice touch too.
What are we reading next month, Blythe?
Blythe: Next month we will be reading The Star King by Susan Grant. This is Susan's second book. Her first one, Once a Pirate, generated a lot of buzz online, and it will be interesting to see if this one is as successful. I haven't read her first book, so she is a completely new author for me. I know LLB, who reviewed her first one, thinks this is an author to watch for - she's enjoyed both her books and has a review for The Star King waiting in the wings.
Linda: I will give the standard bookaholics answer on her first book - it is in my tbr pile but I haven't read it yet. I am looking forward to The Star King as it is a futuristic with an interesting twist on the storyline and a heroine who is a fighter pilot turned suburban mom - my kind of gal! See you next month.
Blythe: Happy reading!
--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for
-- Pandora's Box
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