The Premise: Following a whirlwind romance and a Christmas proposal in Paris, Perdita “Poppy” Selby marries the Duke of Fletcher. Their “happily ever after” is complicated by the fact that Fletch has a taste for enthusiastic lovers and Poppy believes that it is not ladylike to have sexual desire. Four years later, they’re still in love with each other but their sex life has crashed and burned. When Poppy catches Fletch trying to take a mistress (unbeknownst to him, he’s approached one of her friends), she insists their marriage is over–but Fletch wants to give it another chance. (Cover image from www.avonromance.com.)
Bonus Factors: crazy Georgian hair, terrible communication, lack of sexual desire, atrocious mothers, costume balls, Drama-with-a-capital-D, lady scientists, curiosity cabinets
My Reaction: I have Feelings about this book! Poppy’s mother emotionally abuses her and weaves a very, very negative opinion of sex into that abuse. Poor Poppy genuinely believes that upper class ladies don’t experience sexual desire and has really, really messed up ideas about what her husband wants from her (crazy powdered hair that makes her scalp itch unbearably during sex!). She’s also a closet nerd with a passion for the natural sciences, and I love that her separation from Fletch helps her embrace her nerdery. The resolution of the “incompatible sexual desires” plot was unsatisfying, though. (Spoiler: Fletch pretends he can give Poppy the sexless marriage she wants and then suddenly her desire explodes after a lifetime of being nonexistent?) Maybe that’s realistic, but I really wanted something that seemed more plausible and less serendipitous. Sexual dysfunction is a complicated beast and I highly doubt that resolving it is quite that easy in real life.
We also get more Villiers development (WILL HE SURVIVE THE FEVER BROUGHT ON BY HIS DUELING WOUND?! Spoiler: yes) and a nice subplot involving the highly underrated Miss Charlotte Tatlock. Plus, Jemma and Beaumont keep inching their way towards reconciliation. And Isadore is STILL waiting for her husband to come back to England. I think An Affair Before Christmas might be my favorite book in the series. Either that or it’s a very close second to This Duchess of Mine.
Rating: 2/4 chili peppers (1 being a step above a sex-free gentle romance, 4 being an all-sex-and-no-plot romance).