October 9, 2013

Review: A Man Above Reproach by Evelyn Pryce

Similar to when Elias sees Josie for the first time, I fell in love with this cover the moment I clapped eyes on it. And, like Elias, I was nervous, given that I knew next to nothing about it and the level of affection I was feeling extended way beyond our limited introduction. But something in its lines, in the lovely design had me thinking it just might be something I could love long term. I immediately ran down the usual sites, routine investigation, you understand. Happily, it wasn't long before a copy landed in my lap for review. I have to say, I'm kind of crushing on the elegance of this cover. As someone who doesn't gravitate toward super-romancey covers in general, I'll admit this one was something of a breath of fresh air. A Man Above Reproach is Evelyn Pryce's debut novel. It recently won Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award in the romance category and it is due out in paperback from Montlake Romance later this month. I don't think I've ever read any of Amazon's award-winners before (I'm not entirely sure I even knew they existed), so I figured it was high time I checked one out.

Elias Addison, newly minted Duke of Lennox, has no use for houses of ill repute. He had no use for anything that smacks of too little to do and not enough will power to follow through on one's responsibilities. Rather, he has spent the past year setting his estate to rights after the unexpected passing of his somewhat dissolute father. Which is to say he's been paying off the old man's debts, making sure his younger sister has a proper debut when the time is right, and ensuring his tenants are paid and looked after. So when his best friend and hopeless lothario drags him to the notorious Sleeping Dove one night, he is far less than pleased. But it is at this famed bordello that he makes the acquaintance of the woman known in certain circles as the Bawdy Bluestocking. Ensconced behind the piano, Blue performs in the background while the more vivacious ladies of the Dove ply their trade. Blue's standoffish nature and firm privacy barriers are legendary. And Elias has next to no interest in female companionship. Nevertheless, he finds himself drawn to the piano bench, to the invigorating conversation he finds with the mysterious woman in the blue stockings. And so begins a most problematic, mostly unwelcome friendship between the studious but socially inept duke and the independent woman who wears a thousand masks.

A Man Above Reproach was precisely what I hoped it would be. The writing, the characters, the story all delivered on the promises of that lovely cover. I particularly enjoyed the prose itself, which felt structured without being fussy, thoughtful and humorous at just the right moments. For example:
So the Bawdy Bluestocking was the proprietress of her own shop, selling lurid novels to ladies in the front and more esoteric fare in the back, from the looks of the shelves around him. He spied Pope and Crabbe, Shakespeare, of course, and names he did not recognize at all. He wondered how she chose her stock and where it came from. She must spend her days in endless research. The thought was unaccountably lovely to him. 
Far be it from me to be able to resist a bluestocking bookshop-owning, piano-playing woman who publishes her own books. Eli's fascination was a foregone conclusion. But it was the writing that allowed me to believe in Lennox and Josie and their gradual transformation. They were such an awkward, magnetic pair. I was sure they belonged together even as I was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt it could not work out in a way that would not cost one or the other of them their principles or place in society. Not that either of them seemed to care, but they cared about it for the other's sake. And it was that innate anxious concern that fed my fondness for them and their plight throughout the book. I believe I was happiest when they were sitting side by side on Josie's piano bench, arguing in hushed tones about the state of the instrument or the number of rules Elias was breaking every time he threw his lot in with hers.
He kept playing, wincing at the wrongness of the sound. Even warming up, she could tell he had true talent. She had never known a man of nobility who wished to put in the practice that playing well took, but this man was an oddity in so many ways. Every time he leaned for a farther key, he gained more ground, making sure that he had his share of the bench. Josephine moved another inch to her left so that they were not touching.

"Then you must understand that I cannot continue hosting you in this way." She lowered her voice. "And you may never come to my store again."

"They," he glanced up, looking around the room, causing dozens of eyes to skitter away. "They think me a lovesick fool, coming over here after you cut me, in full view of a quarter of the beau monde. Grant me an explanation, Miss Grant."

"Explanations are too expensive, Lennox. Even for a duke."
She is so straightforward and earnest for a girl with so much to hide. I loved how she always said and wrote exactly what she thought and pressed forward unashamed (and almost always alone) because of her beliefs and opinions. The first two-thirds of the book are perfectly delightful. I did, however, feel that the characterization faltered somewhat as time wore on. Eli started out an intellectual, somewhat haughty and awkward young man with too many burdens on his shoulders. But by the end he was coming off at times petulant, at times growly alpha male. The shift left me feeling a bit discombobulated, and I wasn't at all sure I liked it. The same goes for a few of the unnecessary antics in the final third of the book. They struck me as silly, and I missed the restrained gravity and building tension of the earlier portions. That said, I truly enjoyed my time with this book and will be keeping my eye out for Ms. Pryce's next projects. Recommended for fans of Rose Lerner and Julia Quinn.

A Man Above Reproach is due out October 22nd.

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14 comments:

  1. Sounds like one I should read! I think most of the Amazon winners I've read have been pretty good.

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    1. Which others have you liked? I'm curious now.

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  2. I love the way you talk about books. :) It's like a crush that's blooming, which is how most of us, who really love a good book, truly feel. You're awesome, and I now need to track this one down, even with the last third's silliness. Thanks!

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    1. Aw, thanks, Becky. That's definitely how it feels to me.

      Think you might enjoy this one. :)

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  3. Oh I have been wanting a new historical fiction type book to read. And I love Julia Quinn so...Thanks!

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    1. Ah, then I think it might be a very safe bet. Enjoy!

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  4. I love this cover, too! And I'm so glad you read and reviewed it, because I'm not sure I would have paid any more attention to this book, except to not that I like the cover. I'm a huge Julia Quinn fan, so I definitely need to be checking this book out.

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    1. Isn't it just so nice?

      I feel like the Quinn similarities are real. So I hope it suits!

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  5. I'm kinda really in love with the title. And a Julia Quinn comparison never goes astray with me.

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    1. Sigh. I really love the title. And it's woven in well. :)

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  6. This one looks good, Angie! I really like the cover as well. I'll probaly enjoy reading it even though you said the last part wasn't so well-written. I checked and it's available on NetGalley so I've requested it. Fingers crossed that I'll get approved. :)

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    1. It is, Chachic! I saw it was up on NetGalley. Definitely give it a go. I'd love to hear what you thought.

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  7. I love Julia Quinn and Rose Lerner, so I'll definitely be checking this out. I hadn't heard of it before but the descriptions hits all of my favorite trope buttons. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Perfect! I hope it's just the thing, Jen.

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