Catherine's Reviews > The Second Duchess

The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas
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Feb 14, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction-vixen-reviews, first-reads-arcs-won-a-copy, crime-police-mystery-private-invest, historical, mystery, read-2011
Read from March 06 to 10, 2011 — I own a copy

I am…conflicted over this book. I had some issues with it, and they were very much “me” issues, so I had a hard time rating it. But then I figured I should just do what I always do and grade it based on my enjoyment. I did enjoy it, but I’m going to detail the “me” issues so you can see if they’ll bother you too.

When I picked this book up I didn’t know anything about it other than what I read on the back blurb. Part of the fun for me in reading historical fiction is becoming intrigued by facts in the book and researching to see if they’re true. I find it really interesting to see the little tidbits that the author found during research and included to make it authentic. You might find this odd because I run the risk of spoiling myself, but I can’t see how I’d spoil myself on historical record. LOL.

During the book Barbara has a painting done of her. The painter, Fra Pandolf, also did one of the first duchess and I was really hoping they were real so I could see them. I googled them and found that Fra Pandolf wasn’t a real person. He was a fictional character taken from Robert Browning’s poem, My Last Duchess. This really threw me for a loop until I talked to another friend who told me that the whole book was based on the poem. So the painter and the sculptor mentioned in the book were pulled directly from there.

I don’t know why that bothered me so much, but it did. I know that I’m going to get some fiction with my history in a book like this (of course), but I was not expecting to read fiction based on fiction. I just wish I could have known that going in because it continued to nag at me through the book. Once I figured out that I was reading characters based on a poem that was based on real people I didn’t bother to google anymore. I just lost enthusiasm for it. This won’t bother everyone, though. The same friend who clued me into the fact that the book was based around a poem thought it was pretty cool. So different strokes for different folks and all.

There was also a very unwanted pov that was featured in every chapter. I won’t get into whose pov it was—because I don’t want to spoil anything—but it never grew on me. I found it clumsy and rather irritating in an otherwise interesting book. I just thought that it was a rather lame way to keep the reader interested in the mystery. I also thought it was included as a convenient way to dump facts and outside knowledge without making them flow with the story.

Another thing that bothered me but was very much a “me” thing was the relationship between Barbara and the duke. I don’t think I can think of another book that I’ve read like this that has tried to sell me so much on the relationship. The crazy thing is that the author almost did! But then the duke would crack the whip again and we would be back to square one. The duke was not an evil man, but he was very much a man of his time. He was the master and his wife was his property. She didn’t breathe without his say-so.

That’s where the whole “me” thing comes in. I can’t complain about historical accuracy in a historical like this. That would be incredibly stupid. But I also had an incredibly hard time reading about Barbara falling for a guy like that. If it hadn’t been such a large focus of the book it wouldn’t have bothered me so much. But the duke could be charming in a cold sort of way and I found myself being drawn in only to get pushed back out once he bent her to his will.

I guess I’m just used to reading biographies and historical fiction where the heroine never fell in love with the jerk who mistreated her. She may have been stuck with him, but she made herself happy in other ways. It was hard to adjust to a woman who accepted her situation despite hating Alfonso at times.

You might be having a bad feeling about this by now. But wait! I’m about to get to the good stuff. :)

This book was incredibly readable. It started a tad slow, but I quickly got sucked in. Even when I wished I could reach through the book and throat punch the duke, I still couldn’t stop reading. Barbara was really easy for me to like. I liked that she wasn’t a hysterical ninny. She was fully aware of her position and her husband’s consequence and didn’t let anyone run their mouth with rumors. She was a nice duchess, but she was also firm and knew who was at the top of the pecking order. I liked that about her. She felt real.

I was really into the mystery of what really happened to the first duchess. I liked watching all the facts slowly reveal themselves. Especially about the duke’s interactions with her. I didn’t know what would happen and how things would resolve until the end. I liked being surprised by it. Speaking of the end… It rocked! The end was fast paced and I loved getting to know the truth of everything. Plus, what happened to Barbara and the duke’s reaction to it was very awesome. I really think it was my favorite part of the story because everything flowed together so well. Very nice.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters we got to meet. Watching the political games and hidden barbs thrown around was really interesting. Even unlikable characters were interesting to get to know.

See why I was so conflicted? There was so much to enjoy, even with the parts that bugged me. I was pretty set on giving this 3.5 hearts until I got to the dramatic ending. I really enjoyed that part and it swayed my grade. So this gets 4 hearts from me after all!

Favorite Quote:
"His reaction had been nothing but pride, of course--his self-importance had been stung by his friend's open contempt for the Duchess of Ferrara, and at the same time he had been gratified by that lady's dignified response. The humiliation of Barbara, a living and breathing woman, his wife, was nothing to him."


Review originally posted on Fiction Vixen.
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Reading Progress

03/06/2011 page 9
2.0% "Oh my, that was a clumsy introduction. Hello odd pov. :\"
03/06/2011 page 31
8.0% "

"Take more care of your tongue in the future." ... "Loose words are a fault in a woman."

- Jerk" 10 comments
03/06/2011 page 53
14.0% "Learned a new word! Fottere." 6 comments
03/07/2011 page 133
36.0% "Had to go googling for some facts." 9 comments
03/08/2011 page 168
46.0% ""His reaction had been nothing but pride, of course--his self-importance had been stung by his friend's open contempt for the Duchess of Ferrara, and at the same time he had been gratified by that lady's dignified response. The humiliation of Barbara, a living and breathing woman, his wife, was nothing to him."" 13 comments
03/09/2011 page 260
71.0% "I like how things are more open now. It's nice getting to know the duke too." 9 comments
03/09/2011 page 280
76.0% "Holy crap. O.O"
03/09/2011 page 315
86.0% "This is starting to feel a bit like the movie Clue. One scenario is presented only to have it proven wrong with a new, detailed explanation. Rinse and repeat." 3 comments
03/10/2011 page 368
100.0% "The end really picked up. I remain conflicted over this book and will probably have to muddle through my thoughts in a review later." 7 comments

Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead I think I put the book down at the point you are at. Very odd start huh? I didn't know what to do about the other pov either. It's needed, you'll see. Stick with it!


Catherine It was just clumsy. Very, very clumsy. I'm sure I'll ease into it with time.

Have you noticed how all the random girls in these historical fiction books describe other girls' bodies? It always strikes me as odd. "What breasts, rosy and firm, like two white peaches bursting with sweet juice." <--Indeed. *rolls eyes*


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead Catherine wrote: "It was just clumsy. Very, very clumsy. I'm sure I'll ease into it with time.

Have you noticed how all the random girls in these historical fiction books describe other girls' bodies? It always ..."


I did notice that, it is a bit strange and disturbing.


Catherine Michelle wrote: "Liking Alfonso? LOL"

LOL. I'm hoping he's just tweaked out and stops being such a jerk soon.


Catherine (view spoiler)


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead Catherine wrote: "[spoilers removed]"

(view spoiler)


Catherine (view spoiler)


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead Catherine wrote: "[spoilers removed]"

true.


Catherine I still like the book in general though. :) I would much rather not have the (view spoiler).


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead Catherine wrote: "I still like the book in general though. :) I would much rather not have the [spoilers removed]."

(view spoiler)


Catherine Will do!


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead Catherine wrote: "Will do!"

You have about 60 or so more pages, and if you still feel the same, then I'll worry. :)


Catherine Don't worry. Even though that pov is irritating me (and so is a certain jerk), I'm still pretty into the book. I was bummed when I had to put it down for bed.


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead Catherine wrote: "Don't worry. Even though that pov is irritating me (and so is a certain jerk), I'm still pretty into the book. I was bummed when I had to put it down for bed."

Oh good. Not good that your irritated by the POV but good that you are sticking with it!


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead What would we do without Google? So what did you discover?


Catherine Michelle wrote: "What would we do without Google? So what did you discover?"

I would be a sad girl without Google at my fingertips. Discover about what? Are you referencing my last status update?


message 20: by Nissie (last edited Mar 29, 2011 11:52PM) (new)

Nissie Catherine, I look up the facts,too. I also go to an etymology site and check words and phrases to see if they were actually used during the time period of the story. Even though I realize I'm reading fiction, I like to know that the author took the time to do the research on those details. Great review! :)


Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker  Queen of the Undead Nissie wrote: "Catherine, I look up the facts,too. I also go to an etymology site and check words and phrases to see if they were actually used during the time period of the story. Even though I realize I'm readi..."

So I have a question for both of you and anyone else. When you "google" historical fiction books and you find the representation of historical events/characters to be way off, do you continue to read? If not, would you continue to read if the story was really good just not based on facts?

I'm just asking since an author has asked me to read her manuscript. It is based on a historical figure but she did tell me that the only fact in her book is that the character did exist and that is it. I'm not sure I want to read the book. I like my historical fiction to be based on some actual facts.

Ok, I'm rambling now so I'll stop. I'm just curious.


Catherine Michelle wrote: "So I have a question for both of you and anyone else. When you "google" historical fiction books and you find the representation of historical events/characters to be way off, do you continue to read? If not, would you continue to read if the story was really good just not based on facts?

I'm just asking since an author has asked me to read her manuscript. It is based on a historical figure but she did tell me that the only fact in her book is that the character did exist and that is it. I'm not sure I want to read the book. I like my historical fiction to be based on some actual facts.

Ok, I'm rambling now so I'll stop. I'm just curious. "


In the case of the manuscript you've been offered it'd be a no for me. I can forgive small changes, because obviously there's supposed to be some fiction in historical fiction, but having no historical facts other than a name would be a total turn off to me.

I really prefer most facts to stay set in stone. I expect things to be added that aren't true just for the sake of fiction and fleshing out the story, but well known facts about the character should not change. I know it's not like the authors can interview the historical figure, so some guesswork is involved.

But when they start changing the order of events in the character's life or change little things it bugs me--like in Exit the Actress: A Novel Nell is portrayed as literate, although everything else I've read says that she was illiterate and that's what makes her ability to memorize lines so remarkable.

Or if I read a book on Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire and she was portrayed as biddable and retiring and devoted to her husband? It would not work for me at all.

I read historical fiction as a way to get an overall picture of someone without having to read about them textbook style. It's nice to hear about them in a story--it makes them feel more approachable than a straight biography does. But if the historical fiction book interests me enough I'll move to biographies to learn more.


Catherine That turned into a book, sorry!


Catherine Nissie wrote: "Catherine, I look up the facts,too. I also go to an etymology site and check words and phrases to see if they were actually used during the time period of the story. Even though I realize I'm readi..."

Exactly! I like to look up words too. It fascinates me how authors can insert these little facts and words and make it feel natural. I love great research!


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