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Desperate Duchesses #2

An Affair Before Christmas

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Magic under the mistletoe...

One spectacular Christmas, Lady Perdita Selby, known to her friends and family as Poppy, met the man she thought she would love forever. The devilishly attractive Duke of Fletcher was the perfect match for the innocent, breathtakingly beautiful young Englishwoman, and theirs was the most romantic wedding she had ever seen. Four years later, Poppy and the duke have become the toast of the ton... but behind closed doors the spark of their love affair has burned out.

Unwilling to lose the woman he still lusts after, the duke is determined to win back his beguiling bride's delectable affections...and surpass the heady days of first love with a truly sinful seduction.

400 pages, Paperback

First published November 13, 2007

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About the author

Eloisa James

98 books8,552 followers
New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James writes historical romances for HarperCollins Publishers. Her novels have been published to great acclaim. A reviewer from USA Today wrote of Eloisa's very first book that she "found herself devouring the book like a dieter with a Hershey bar"; later People Magazine raved that "romance writing does not get much better than this." Her novels have repeatedly received starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Library Journal and regularly appear on the best-seller lists.

After graduating from Harvard University, Eloisa got an M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and eventually became a Shakespeare professor, publishing an academic book with Oxford University Press. Currently she is an associate professor and head of the Creative Writing program at Fordham University in New York City. Her "double life" is a source of fascination to the media and her readers. In her professorial guise, she's written a New York Times op-ed defending romance, as well as articles published everywhere from women's magazines such as More to writers' journals such as the Romance Writers' Report.

Eloisa...on her double life:

When I'm not writing novels, I'm a Shakespeare professor. It's rather like having two lives. The other day I bought a delicious pink suit to tape a television segment on romance; I'll never wear that suit to teach in, nor even to give a paper at the Shakespeare Association of America conference. It's like being Superman, with power suits for both lives. Yet the literature professor in me certainly plays into my romances. The Taming of the Duke (April 2006) has obvious Shakespearean resonances, as do many of my novels. I often weave early modern poetry into my work; the same novel might contain bits of Catullus, Shakespeare and anonymous bawdy ballads from the 16th century.

When I rip off my power suit, whether it's academic or romantic, underneath is the rather tired, chocolate-stained sweatshirt of a mom. Just as I use Shakespeare in my romances, I almost always employ my experiences as a mother. When I wrote about a miscarriage in Midnight Pleasures, I used my own fears of premature birth; when the little girl in Fool For Love threw up and threw up, I described my own daughter, who had that unsavory habit for well over her first year of life.

So I'm a writer, a professor, a mother - and a wife. My husband Alessandro is Italian, born in Florence. We spend the lazy summer months with his mother and sister in Italy. It always strikes me as a huge irony that as a romance writer I find myself married to a knight, a cavaliere, as you say in Italian.

One more thing...I'm a friend. I have girlfriends who are writers and girlfriends who are Shakespeare professors. And I have girlfriends who are romance readers. In fact, we have something of a community going on my website. Please stop by and join the conversation on my readers' pages.

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5 stars
1,578 (21%)
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3 stars
2,378 (32%)
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235 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 603 reviews
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews3,951 followers
March 16, 2009
HAHAHAHAHA, so okay you guys, this is the premise: TwwooWuvvv Sexiness is overcome by some itchy hair powder. For four. years. No, really. The hero's supposedly perfect, superior bedroom skillz are overcome by the fact that his wife's hair powder makes her head itch, so the shy heroine is too distracted by that during sex to enjoy it, never responds to his touch for the first four years of their marriage. And never says a damn word about this fact to him! 'Cause, you know, that would be too easy, and then what would serve as our premise for conflict? I want to be able to say "Hair Powder: Enemy Number One," in a pitch meeting and get paid for it. There's also a domineering mother involved, but the heroine manages to throw her off pretty quickly for a girl supposedly dominated by her, so I don't really buy that either- though she is a Grade A bitch. Naturally, everything is perfect once the Case of the Powder is solved, and all is bunnies and rainbows. I liked the scene where it ultimately came about and Poppy (the heroine), got over her shyness, but everything before that... Come. On.

Still loved Jemma and Villiers and Charlotte Tatlock. Jemma and Poppy's relationship was the most loving of the book, Charlotte and Villiers' the sweetest (though also unbelivable). Everyone else's relationships can pretty much fly off to never-neverland and I wouldn't care. I appreciate that James shows geniune female relationships in her books, and her heroines have more dimensions than whatever ties them to men. (In Jemma's case, her chess passion, in Poppy's her interest in obscure naturalism, in Charlotte's, her feel for and interest in politics.) However, in her quest to make them independent beings, she makes a whole lot of people really bitchy to each other, and I honestly can't believe the great majority of them would ever speak to each other again.

However! I'd already bought the third one, and thank goodness. It is much better! I really like Duchess by Night, so this book is not a reflection of the quality of the rest of the series.
Profile Image for Tina.
1,742 reviews280 followers
December 7, 2010
I had so many problems with this book. First I thought the heroine was an idiot. I know, I know, she was young and dominated by her mother. But that only works for me in the beginning. This was a woman who was married for four years to a man that adored her and tried to do everything in his power to please her sexually, only for her to rebuff him and show him nothing but distaste. Because she was an idiot. So she goes off to "find" herself, telling him that she really wasn't in love with him when they married and she only married him because her mother browbeat her into marrying a Duke.

I can't think of any book I have ever read where I wanted the hero to go find a mistress and cheat, repeatedly, on the heroine.

And then toward the end of the book we finally find out why the heroine couldn't really enjoy sex, I just....well, I just...I had no words. But remarkably she suddenly realizes (75% into the book) that she feels desire for her husband. I guess that makes everything ok then.

Ihe only reason this book gets 2 stars is because the A-plot with this idiot only takes up about half the book. The B & C plots are much more interesting with the intriguing yet dysfunctional marriage of The Duke and Duchess of Beaumont who were intensely more interesting than the main couple. And the Duke of Villiers. I had the fortune of reading his book A Duke of Her Own first so I was already pre-disposed to like him. I had heard he was a bit of a villain in the earlier books so I was glad to see him in his larger than life personality in this book. So his 'As I lay Dying' subplot was quite entertaining.

Profile Image for Luana ☆.
491 reviews74 followers
October 1, 2020
Really, I don't understand why I keep trying to read the Desperate Duchess series. They are just such a mess... its so many characters in one book that you don't really have time to like anybody... I guess I read them only because it was an audiobook 🤭
Profile Image for ♥ℳelody.
600 reviews582 followers
June 2, 2017
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It takes a lot for me not to finish a book, no matter how much I'm frustrated with it but this one really pissed me off and for several reasons.

I'm a Eloisa James fan first and foremost so part of my frustration and bafflement with this book was trying to wrap my head around why she would write a story like this with a premise and heroine like that. I'm a huge fan of her work and every book I've read of her's so far has not disappointed except this one. I kept going why why WHY? while reading this because it was so disappointing to the point of unbearable to get through at times (one of the reasons why I couldn't finish it). I've never not-finished reading one of her books because she is just glorious at writing yummy hysterical regency romance books but this one was just...

The fact that the plot or I should really say main 'tension' is centered around the heroine's itchy hair powder and damaged hair but refuses to tell her husband of FOUR YEARS is just hysterically wrong and annoyingly ridiculous on so many levels. It's completely unrealistic above all else. Your husband thinks you can't stand his touch and you're frigid in bed so why not TELL HIM the truth instead of pretending to be coy and giggly about 'marital matters'. It's very simple and could have been solved in one chapter instead of dragging it out through the entire book.(I already know this given the hints here and there in the book and reading some of the reviews beforehand) I generally don't let reviews make a decision for me before or while reading a book but this one I just couldn't finish.

I kept thinking EJ was trying to be funny and comical in her witty way by doing this but it ended up falling completely flat and silly. The heroine Poppy is my biggest problem in this. She's incredibly naive and childish. The naivete I can understand given her psychotic lunatic satanic mother who fills her head with such misguided exaggerated nonsense about the marriage bed. I lost count how many times the woman ranted and spitted about what 'disgusting pigs' men are. Good grief. And what's worse is Poppy sitting there like a good little girl and listening to all of it and actually taking her advice. The whole thing was just too bizarre and I felt Poppy came off more like a confused 15 year old then a young married woman. I never reached the part where she finally supposedly stands up to her raving bitch of a mother but I just drew the line where she decided to leave her mother to Fletcher as 'punishment' simply because she caught him flirting with a woman. Whaa? Oh give me a break. Ugh grow up.

I wasn't a fan of Poppy before even reaching the middle of the book. Your hair itches so you can't enjoy making love to your husband? Well tell him and don't keep it a secret for four years! I'm sorry while it was a *creative* attempt at moving away from typical HR tropes, this one for me was just plain silly and unrealistic. Seeing all the grief it was creating for the hero and heroine over something so silly and minuscule was just not worth it to me. That being said I was preparing myself for it and tried to read through it but ended up taking a break and read another book. I was planning to give it another try and try to finish it but I had to return it to the library so oh well! I don't see myself checking this book out again to continue it already knowing where it's going to lead.

I liked Fletcher I understood his frustration, while I wasn't crazy about his complete obsession with finding someone to sleep with, I understood him, more then I did Poppy. Wish I could have gotten through the book to read more about him cause he sounded delicious. I should be more lenient towards Poppy given her misguidance and cruel mother but her character alone and her antics leaved a lot to be desired for me. I think it's safe to say this is my least favorite from the DD series.
Profile Image for boogenhagen.
1,981 reviews651 followers
November 3, 2015
What can I say, I really like fluffy airhead h's who want to debate whether or not kangaroos are possums or dogs and I really like perfect Sartorial Sprigs of Fashion who may or may not wear red heels. I had a lot of fun with this book.

I really did not mind Poppy's immaturity or Fletch's resentment -this is a coming of age romance after all, and I felt each of the main characters grew sufficiently enough that I totally rooted for them and their HEA. I thought the hair issues were very interesting to say the least as I couldn't even imagine going around with all that in my hair. EEK!

I could also believe Poppy's problems with sex, if my hair had all that gunk in it I wouldn't want to be smexxing anyone either. I thought Poppy really did a great job in establishing her independence from her rotten mother and I found her struggle pretty believable. It is never easy to get out from under the influence of a dominating personality and I thought the conflict was realistically portrayed but I am really not sure why Fletch just didn't have Poppy's mother's bags packed up and her escorted out of his house.

Yes, ideally Poppy should be the one to kick her mum out and she eventually does, but I wasn't sure why Fletch was so complacent about her living with him. Anyhow who cares? It worked out happily and I had a great deal of fun with the banter and the further insights into Jemma, Villiers and Beaumont. This book is a great lighthearted Christmas read and I laughed through most of it, I had a lot of empathy for the main characters and I still LOL when I think of Fletch asking Poppy if he can come live with her and Jemma.

ETA: So I have read this book multiple times and I still love it. A word here about the hair issue - a lot of readers were disgusted that Poppy's problems with her hair powder caused her to forgo any type of truly intimate sexual experience with her husband for four years. (Poppy did not respond well to passion because the elaborate hair dressing she underwent irritated her scalp and was very uncomfortable.)

The hair problem is really a symbol of the underlying problems that Poppy has to free herself from her abusive and domineering parent in order to really become herself and engage in her marriage.

Poppy has been abused by her mother all of her life and the hair dressing problem is symbolic - Poppy's hair is tortured and constrained to fit a certain image created and demanded by her mother - this hairstyle and the dresser who maintains it were hired by Poppy's mother to reassert her control and Poppy's abandonment of the elaborate hairstyle and the expensive dresser are symbolic of Poppy's maturation and ability to free herself from the abuse and the abuser.

That it took her four years isn't really surprising when you think that survivors of abuse can take decades to really take control of their lives and free themselves from their past and some people never do.

This book isn't only a funny tale of reaffirming a marriage, it is also a pretty profound path to healing, being strong enough to throw off the mental shackles of childhood abuse, and a woman liberating herself from her abuser in a way that doesn't perpetuate the abusive cycle but starts an new one of caring and love and commitment.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Want to read
April 3, 2019


Jen's review
Heather's review

For those of you who don't know what safety means I'll say this: Goodreads isn't the best place to find information about books as it's a heavily sales-oriented websites. Reviewers, especially the top ones (who get there because the number of likes of PR teams accounts and of course of the fans of certain authors) tend not to inform about anything that discourage sales. Reviewers who try to post honest, constructive negativity, or in my case, useful information about pornogr@phic content in the Goodreads choice award "young adult" winners get attacked by the "fans" real or fake of the authors. They also get attacked by a few (not all) Goodreads employees. I have evidence of this as they hid some of my reviews and notifications. As a result books with problematic content such as pornogr@phic content in books marketed to 11-15 YO people, or "romance" featuring rapist heroes, pedophilia, terrible endings, get nothing but good ratings.

Booktubers, Common sense media, Top GR reviewers, The Good reads Choice Awards and the Good reads ratings aren't the best reference if you have any sort of trigger. Why? Because Some bloggers, Goodreads top reviewers and booktubers are writers hoping to get in good terms with publishers and agents. Or they are trying to "support" the publishing industry and they don't want to discourage book sales. Other good reads members are expecting to receive free books in return of hiding the information over problematic content that a casual reader who pays for their own books need. A perfect example of this kind of behaviour are books such as Carve the Mark, A Court of Mist and Fury, and plenty of romance books.

So if you're a casual reader and you visit the GR page of any given book you might get deceived by the positive ratings and dive into something different than what you paid your hard-earned dollars for.

A little piece of advice? Use key search of the amazon reviews to search for triggers. If you can't stand cheating or other woman or graphic sex search that. Not everyone can post a review on amazon. Follow the reviewers that you think are being honest. Don't rely on GR info as that info is tainted by a drive to sell books.

Does that mean that GR info is useless? Not if you create a safety net of trusted reviewers around you. Some romance books with my triggers get insanely high ratings in GR but a more realistic average rating among my friends because I made sure to add as many people who share my OW trigger with me as I could.

How can you create a safety group around you ?

♣ stalk the profiles and comments of the people who share your triggers. Let's say you hated a book because a sex scene with OW (other woman). Search for reviewers who had the same problem.
♣ Ignore ratings, ignore friend invites unless the person who invites you shares your same triggers, search for disclaimers.
♣ write reviews mentioning the cons of every book you read as soon as you finish it as often as you can. It's likely you'll get likes and comments from people who share your opinion. It doesn't have to be a long review. Just mention the triggers.
♣ If necessary, unfriend people who rave about books that made you angry. I unfriended so many bloggers who defended the author of The wild saying that "it was just a book" and that the people upset by it were being unreasonable. I'm okay with you liking a book but I'm not okay with the way you defend an author who promotes rape culture by blaming it on the readers who JUSTIFIABLY didn't like her book. Or in the book retailers that JUSTIFIABLY stop selling her books. Pedophile, rapist cr@p should be sold exclusively in the author's websites or sites for like-minded people. Not in the major retailers. That's not censorship, it's just following the law.

It may take some time to gather a safety group around you, but it's a time well spent. You can avoid books that you know you won't like and got faster through your TBR pile.
Profile Image for Geo Marcovici.
1,217 reviews290 followers
August 7, 2021
“Magia unei nopți” este o poveste despre iubirea pusă la încercare, despre maturizare, despre preconcepțiile epocii.
Poppy este eroina principală, o tânără crescută după toate cutumele epocii, ferită de anumite realități. Mama ei i-a inoculat atâtea idei încă de când era mică, încât nu este de mirare că mariajul ei cu ducele de Fletcher se destramă.
Ambii au parte de suferințe, de înțelegeri greșite ale anumitor situații, iar lipsa de comunicare între ei se reflectă în faptul că la patru ani după ce s-au căsătorit constată că mariajul lor este terminat.
Apoi, urmează ceea ce era de așteptat: se despart.
Acest lucru pare a fi de folos celor doi în moduri neașteptate.
O lectură interesantă, deși cam imposibilă, după părerea mea.
Poppy se dovedește a fi o tânără captivă în mintea unui copil care nu se poate rupe de influența mamei sale.
Ducele de Fletcher în schimb, mi-a plăcut tare mult. Un bărbat sigur pe el, care-și iubește cu adevărat soția și care este dispus să îndure multe sperând la șansa unei căsătorii reușite.
O dată cu dispariția mamei ei din viețile lor, treptat lucrurile încep să se schimbe...
O carte drăguță!
Profile Image for Zumbagirl.
154 reviews3 followers
December 30, 2011
The Desperate Duchesses series is one that needs to be looked at for what it is - and it's exactly what it is named - desperate duchesses, all with different problems, and how things work out for them. This second book in the series (which I read out of order, 1 then 3 and now 2) started out kind of slow - and sad. It's a sad story: Poppy and Fletcher are unhappily married and living separate lives. Neither one wants to communicate or work things out. They're just upset at each other and generally hurt and angry. Add to this already bad mix the world's worst mother/mother-in-law. This woman is pure evil (the only parent that is worse is Meredith's dad in Paradise (Second Opportunities, #1) by Judith McNaught ). I'd like to think she's mentally unbalanced, but she's too malicious to blame it all on that. So the beginning of the story was a downer, but because I'm emotionally invested in this series, I had to read it and get my history on this couple, as well as my favorite characters, Jemma and Villiers, who we see often (can't wait to read their books). Thankfully, the story had lots of other characters and events unfolding: Villiers was injured in a duel with Damon and is recovery poorly from his injury and things are looking like he may even die. Getting to know Villiers more was a treat - the way he initially presented is not who he really is and every layer gets peeled away to reveal a truly kind person, who wants to love and be loved (I know I already said it, but I can't wait to read his story!). Jemma and Elijah also appear, but their relationship doesn't progress much. It's really a progression of Jemma's friendship with Poppy. Also, the friendship that Elijah had with dying Villiers, who regrets his loss of friendship with both Elijah and Benjamin (he committed suicide after their chess game). With Villiers facing death, his whole perspective has changed and he wants to right all the wrongs.

Poppy is the kind of heroine that I don't love, but understand. Her mother totally dominated her, both in the past and the present, and Poppy can't make good decisions because of this. Unfortunately, one doesn't get to pick one's parents. This is a huge problem and I think at the root of all the marriage problems.

Steam level: Warm, maybe PG-13. It's all married couple sex and not graphic or explicit. Ms. James does a good job of making it sensual and loving without being vulgar (this is how I like my romance books).

So I'm glad I read this book, despite being fearful of such a sad topic, and can't wait to read the rest of this series:) I love the way Ms. James writes and describes the styles of that era - even the hideous hairdos! Now should I go to book 4 or straight to 5, Jemma's book? Hmmm...
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews388 followers
February 10, 2020
Yikes! No.

So disappointed. This sounded delightful from the blurb, a rekindle the old flame romance. Trust me, after being pair bonded for many years, you need a match every once in a while. And this was Georgian, not Regency--so all the delicious, ridiculous costuming and men in heels and bedecked in splendor as gorgeous creatures.
What he needed was a bout of enthusiastic sex with someone. Anyone who desired him. He met Lord Randulf's eyes and changed that sentence. Any woman who desired him. His crafted eroticism, he had quickly discovered, pleased indiscriminately.
Poor thing. It's not easy being pretty. And on the flip side of that coin...
There was a limit to how many times a woman wanted to be complimented for her husband's beauty. It always made Poppy feel like a bracket-faced harpy who had managed a miracle.
Here, here!

Stage set with all these lovely bits and it was just dreadfully dull. Bad sex permeates James' married couples stories, each a slight different twist of the kaleidoscope with it's own flavor. And Perdita and Fletch's story was not to my taste, frigidity and mother meddling. Meddling is too kind a term, Perdita's mother is a harridan, who wants her daughter to live like she thinks she should and wishes she could. Sorry, but the whole point of being the Duchess is not putting up with nonsense.

And the interleaved storylines with the main couple barely eeking out the lead by a nose made this a mess for me. My Romance Week Madness continues. I will find something good or die trying.


Maybe not die, but I'll try really hard.

Favorite snippet:
"Are you yourself again?"

"I am always myself," Villiers said promptly. "It may not be pleasant, but it's the only choice I have."
Profile Image for Madison Warner Fairbanks.
2,120 reviews275 followers
March 8, 2020
An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James

A darling historical romance. A bride that knows little of the physical nature of marriage and a groom that has endless patience because he’s in love.
Once Poppy is out from under her mother’s harsh criticism and heavy hand, Poppy finds herself pursuing educational knowledge and curiosities. As she learns more of being a naturalist and understanding her own emotions and herself, Poppy’s interest in her husband expands as well.
An enticing and entertaining story where you root for the couple to win.
A touch of religion in the story of the birth but puts the emphasis on the Christmas holiday and the joyous feelings of love and family.

Two main storylines and two couples.

I listened to the audio version performed by Susan Duerden in a mostly French accent.

Book 2 of the Desperate Duchesses series. Can be read as a stand-alone.
Profile Image for Elaine.
965 reviews38 followers
January 29, 2016
I have a hard time deciding how to rate this book. On one hand, the story about our main heroes, Poppy and Fletcher doesn't deserve more than 2 stars, but on the other hand all the subplots and secondary characters in this book were wonderful. So I'll compromise and give this book 3 stars.

I really can't buy the fact that Poppy felt NO PLEASURE at all because of for FOUR YEARS. Really? And how can you be so oblivious to the fact that your hair is freaking nasty?
I appreciate the humor in the book, as well as the female relationships and the way James develops her characters.

And even if I didn't much care for the main roamnce in this book I have to give points to Eloisa James for attempting to portray the evolution of relationships after marriage, which is something a great many romance novels pointedly ignore.
Profile Image for Elena.
162 reviews31 followers
December 2, 2021
Не знам в какво умопобъркано състояние е била авторката, за да напише тази глупава книга, но историята изобщо не струва. Отделено е много повече внимание на второстепенните герои, за които си има отделни книги, отколкото на главните действащи лица в тази история. Така и до последно не можах да ги разбера, толкова студени бяха един към друг, а уж влюбени от самото начало. Попи ме дразнеше от първата до последната страница. То бива задръстени по онова време, но чак пък толкова...
Флечър пък беше такова дърво, студен, малоумен и т.н, и т.н. Изключително бездушни образи! И как така изведнъж нещата им се наредиха??? Цяла книга драма, драма, а накрая всичко им се получи. Пфу!
Второстепенните герои ми бяха в пъти по-интересни и затова давам 2*
Profile Image for Anzû.
550 reviews1,106 followers
March 24, 2011
This is really difficult to rate. First of all I really like the universe Eloisa James created. Her characters are usually really interesting but this time I was disappointed.

I didn’t like the main ones at all. Poppy is an idiot and Fletch is a bigger idiot for drooling after her for years and yet not getting anything in return. Seriously?!?! You give up on your husband because your hair is itchy and your mom is a psycho? WTF?!

The only thing I liked about it was poor Villiers. He was the main reason for me not giving up the book.
Profile Image for Arzu.
121 reviews
August 29, 2021
Kitap bence daha yüksek alırdı ama aldatma unsuru o kadar göze sokuluyordu ki midem kalktı. Aldatma bu kadar normal bir olay değil bu şekilde anlatılamaz hadi bunu geçtim o tarihte kadının kocasının yanında aşıklarını anması normal mi yahu? Biri beni aydınlatsın. Eşitlik kisvesi günümüzde bile bu kadar gelişmedi yahu! Kitaptaki kocalara tek laf diyesim yok zaten hemen başka kadın! Yalnız bizim esas adam da çok çekti be 4 yıl nedir yahu? 4 yılda nasıl çözemezsiniz ki bu sorunları?Hayır Poppy de az öğrensin yahu ne bileyim ama yine de ona üzüldüm. Ve 4 yılın sonunda çapkınlık yaparken karısının ilgisini çekmesi? Kitap aslında daha güzel yazılabilir gibi geldi. Jemma da zavallım ya ne halde şero kocası uyuz etti beni. Ve kitap bana kadını zorla adama yaptı gibi geldi bir noktada ama bilmiyorum yine de aralarında güzel bir etkileşim vardı adam baya seviyordu karısını. Neyse okunur mu? Okunur ama çok büyük beklentiyle de okunmaz.
Profile Image for kris.
932 reviews179 followers
August 12, 2017
Lady Perdita "Poppy" Selby marries John, the Duke of Fletcher. It's love! ROLL CREDITS—ha, just kidding. Fletch and Poppy are having Marital Strife because John wants teh sex and Poppy just lies there. They go their separate ways for most of a year before Poppy discovers that she's allergic to hair powder and John discovers that a prostitute won't make his Boner Pop. This, obviously, results in the Sex of True Love©.

1. Fletch's introduction—a man who refuses to communicate using words and is looking for an affair—makes it SUPER HARD to think he's a worthy hero. I mean, even the prologue had me flinching because Fletch refuses to USE HIS WORDS LIKE A BIG BOY and instead expects Poppy to just go along with whatever he wants. Or to talk to her friends. Or to divine it from the moon & the stars. AAAARGH.

2. I liked seeing Poppy strike out on her own and do the things she wanted to do. That said, I did not get nearly enough of the emotional weight of this striking out. She goes and has some adventures...and then the book cuts right to one of its 300 other plots without allowing her growth to happen on page. Instead, we're told that she's growing into her own and my response to that is annoyance. PUT IT ON PAGE.

Also, Poppy's itchy head is presented as a the only reason she wasn't enjoying sex. A) USE YOUR DAMN WORDS POPPY. I forgive her this slightly more because of her mother and just how sheltered she was. STILL. B) I JUST—REALLY? REALLY? REALLY.

3. I have Thoughts on the mother plot. Mostly that I am SO HAPPY to see a story that lets the character cut off a toxic relationship. Yes, there's guilt, and yes, there's regret, but there's also that overwhelming sense of rightness, of freedom. So that was worth a solid round of applause for me as a disgruntled reader of Happy Family Books.

HOWEVER, undercutting that decision with Fletch's plot to disgrace her in society was ridiculous and frustrating. I think (and please acknowledge the size of the benefit of doubt I am giving this thing) that it was an attempt to keep her from forcing herself back into Poppy's life, as well as a revenge for Poppy's abuse at her hands. Except...it completely undermines Poppy's original decision to cut her out. Does Fletch not think that Poppy has the backbone needed to stand up to her mother? Does he think that she'll just allow things to go back to how they were? If he does, then that's hugely problematic because—here's that problem AGAIN—USE YOUR FUCKING WORDS, FLETCH. TALK TO YOUR WIFE YOU PIECE OF TRASH!!

Also, there was this whole "Poppy gets severe anxiety when faced with disagreements" thing which first of all, makes PERFECT SENSE in light of her shitty mother, but second of all, was dropped due to too much other shit. So I'm giving negative points for acknowledging the realities of long-term emotional abuse without actually following through on them. SHAME.

4. The 300 other plot points were, ultimately, not great and distracted from the main romance. Which I think wasn't enough to carry a full book, hence the 300 other plot points. My complaints, in no particular order:

+I liked Charlotte and thought she was deserving of her own book / novella. I was more into her story than I was into Poppy's at points because she USED HER WORDS and ugh her strange attachment to Villiers! Fighting with him to keep him alive! Her sensation of being "set", of being trapped in what and who she was! BE STILL MY SOUL.

+Jemma's ongoing drama was—fine.

+WHAT ABOUT LOUISA, HUH? She's introduced and since I've already read the next few books, I know she's dropped again like nothing. UGH I LIKED HER.

+Having the results of the second chess matches wrapped up OFF PAGE is EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING. Either waste my time entirely or don't bother: don't give me half a story and then summarize. How utterly disappointing.

It's a good thing I read book 3 before this one.
1,326 reviews19 followers
December 15, 2020
I was really into this. I don't know why. The start is problematic to say the least. Fletch is just plain unpleasant a couple of times. And realistically, he and Penny needed to have any number of conversations in the first four years of their marriage.

But I also kind of liked it? I liked that Fletch being an absolute jerk spurs Penny into action. And then Penny being spurred into action both 1) teaches her a couple of things about herself (this admittedly could have been much more clearly done), and 2) gets Fletch to sit up and take notice, and evaluate his life.

And I like their trip to the Ashmolean. I also love the later moment of Penny buying things for her curiosity cabinet, and hoping Fletch will drop by and see them, then being disappointed when he doesn't (to be fair - by this point in the novel, had he known she wanted him to, he'd have been knocking on her door like a shot).

I also really like the secondary characters, generally. Although they get a bit convoluted.

It's a book whose problems I can see:
- Fletch and Penny's arc could be a lot more explicit - I'm well aware I'm probably mentally backfilling to address gaps because I'm a sucker for reuniting spouses (to be fair what I'm mentally backfilling is consistent with the narrative)
- there's probably at least one too many secondary plots (but they don't get in the way of the one I care about, and I'm kind of intrigued by the structure of the series now)
- the start is seriously problematic, and the ending may be a touch too easy.

But I don't care. I enjoyed it a lot.
Profile Image for fay.
386 reviews
May 17, 2022
3.5 stars 💫
I'm a sucker for marriage in trouble stories, especially when the reason for the conflict it's not cheating and this one was quite enjoyable except for the many subplots and many side stories.

Half of the book was about another couple that I truly didn't care for and wasn't interested in reading their story but was unable to avoid it here and it's not the first book in this series that got the same thing with the same couple.
Profile Image for Meghan.
284 reviews4 followers
June 3, 2022
This one was definitely better than the first one. I think what I was missing was the drama though. Yes Poppy’s mom was just awful but there wasn’t as much drama as I would have liked. I felt bad for Poppy because she was such a good daughter and her mom was horrible and ruined her self esteem.
When things went wrong with her husband I’m glad she left so he could miss her and make things right. And she got the freedom she deserved especially from her horrible mother.
Profile Image for Penny Watson.
Author 12 books502 followers
November 10, 2009
I have discovered the most ludicrous central conflict ever to grace a romance novel.

A hairdo.

Yes, that is correct. Eloisa James' An Affair Before Christmas explores the failing marriage of Poppy and the Duke of Fletcher. Why, you ask, is their marriage failing? Well, Fletch thinks Poppy is frigid in bed, when in actuality, her hair is itchy and she is unable to concentrate on the pleasure he is attempting to give her.

(Yes, I was speechless, too). Hee hee hee heeeeee.....Oh my goodness, this is so absurd it is delicious. Truly!

In Poppy's defense, her hairdo is one of those big, perfumed, powdered monstrosities, with glued-on feathers, etc. And there are a few other reasons the marriage is not working out, but suffice it to say, once the hair conflict is resolved, everything else "falls into place"--pun intended. In spite of an overabundance of sub-plots involving dukes, duchesses, mother-in-laws from hell, etc., Eloisa James manages to spin a remarkably romantic tale. I was completely engrossed in Fletcher's determination to win back the woman he loved. The end is very sweet and satisfying and very romantic. I just adored this snippet of dialogue....


"Poppy, what did you think that Christmas was for?"

"Nibbling on gingerbread men?" she whispered.

"I'm your Christmas gingerbread man," he said.....


Love it! What a great line! :)


Profile Image for Celeste.
740 reviews58 followers
February 6, 2017
I normally love Eloisa James and I've read the Desperate Duchess series in a totally random order. What I can say is that this series gets better further down the line and no one will have to put up with heroines that are quite as annoying and silly as Perdita. Also, there will be not so much of a mish mash between all the other relationships which is something else that bothered me about this story. It just seemed all over the place. Definitely one of my least favorites in this series.
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,048 reviews25 followers
October 6, 2018
I really loved how realistic the main story felt for the time period. I feel like this series is just reading one long book with the way there are continuing stories through every book. It's been an enjoyable start to the series.
Profile Image for Anesa.
99 reviews3 followers
December 4, 2021
Kitabın yarısından fazlası yan karakterlere ayrılmamış olsaydı 4 puandı. Poppy ve Fletch’in hikayesi güzeldi. Fletch kurabiye adamım. 💛 Sonuç olarak yazar güzel bir konuyu ve ilgi çekici karakterleri kötü bir kompozisyonla harcamış.
Profile Image for Arlene.
1,155 reviews643 followers
November 18, 2015
An Affair Before Christmas is an entertaining holiday historical from the Desperate Duchess series, which I haven’t read yet, but I’m now eager to pick up. I think this is how many authors entice you to pick up their novels, which is by writing holiday stories that tie into their series in order to whet your appetite. Well it worked!

During a beautiful holiday afternoon, Lady Perdita Selby, otherwise known as Poppy to her friends and family, accepts a betrothal from the Duck of Fletcher with the hopes that she is lucky enough to marry someone she’s in love with. To all of the ton, Poppy and Fletch are the perfect match, but after the vows are exchanged and the relationship is taken behind closed doors, their romance has fizzled out completely. Fletch has no idea how to entice his wife Poppy behind closed doors and after four years of a cold response, he begins to drift away and give up on his marriage.

As a result, Poppy takes their estrangement as a time to find herself and indulge in her own peculiar interests, including her curiosity cabinet and intellectual conversations about different species of animals. Fletch finally comes around to court his wife after he discovers her new adventures and realizes he’s dealing with a new person.

I really enjoyed Poppy and her odd interests. I found her quite entertaining and intriguing as she indulged in her hobbies and interests. I admired her for taking the time to discover what she enjoyed rather than worrying about her mother or husband’s preferences and wants. The second half of the novel, I saw Poppy develop in character from more of a child to a young lady, which was refreshing to see.

Fletch, being the more mature of the two, I’m surprised he didn’t communicate better with Poppy when it came to their marriage and wants. It was disappointing to see that their spark and romance died out over a simple miscommunication, or lack thereof.

There were a cast of secondary characters that I really enjoyed meeting, which is why I want to continue on with this series including Charlotte and the Duke of Villiers, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Beaumont, Jemma and Elliot.

Overall this holiday read was very entertaining. It had all the elements of a perfect winter getaway, which I’m glad I picked up!
Profile Image for Ne.
496 reviews50 followers
December 8, 2011
Cada vez que leio algo do género me apercebo que é o tipo de livro que me dá prazer. Adoro os bailes, as regras de etiqueta, as relações entre sexos opostos ou homólogos, as casas, as paisagens, as viagens... tudo. Aqui Eloisa James consegui reflectir bastante bem a diferença entre homens e mulheres na sociedade, tanto a nível de educação, como a nível de como se comportam e são vistas pelas massas. É engraçado perceber que muita coisa não mudou, apenas diminuiu.
O único defeito que tenho a apontar é o conteúdo, i.e, a história. Achei um pouco oca, sem grande desenvolvimento, podendo ser resumida em poucas linhas. Fiquei sem perceber a alteração dada em Poppy, pois não li ou me apercebi de algo que provocasse tão grande mudança nela. Foi a influência das amigas? O viver sozinha? Nada disto me parece muito credível, pois a transformação dela foi bastante significativa.
De resto, todo o texto é bastante agradável, divertido e fluído. Adorei os jogos de sedução, principalmente entre casais já casados - achei bastante original.
Recentemente fiquei a saber que este é o segundo volume de seis. Vou, de certeza, procurar os restantes para ler, e talvez o defeito apontado anteriormente seja esclarecido.
Terminando, a capa é linda, mas a sinopse é bastante incompleta e "sem sal".
Profile Image for Jocelynereadsromance.
516 reviews27 followers
December 21, 2020
This Eloisa James book is certainly a different brand of romance. It takes place in the Georgian Era where men and women wore wigs and lots of frills and adornments. It was also a time with a lot of sexual liberation where both husbands and wives had lovers outside of their marriage.

This book (and the series) focuses on a large group of characters who help drive the story in each book, even though they all eventually get their own book for the conclusion of their love stories.

I feel like this series is best read in order, mainly because of the inner woven-ness of all of the characters. Reading it in order will help you to learn and understand all the people in this world as you build up to each of their own stories.

This was a decent second chance romance for a married couple who has been together for four years. The hero and heroine both view their marriage in a different light and when the heroine realizes that the hero does not feel the same way as her she finally takes her own life into her own hands and decides to discover who she is on her own.
Profile Image for Chris.
621 reviews9 followers
November 30, 2010
I didn't really enjoy this, partially because books where the couple loves each other but everything falls apart because they just can't connect with each other make me sad, and partially because the conflict between the couple in this book had the potential to actually explore and solve real problems, but then it's wrapped up artificially and I barely noticed it happening.

As with the first book, the book is also diminished by the focus being spread out across too many other stories. I know it's supposed to make you all anticipatory for those upcoming books, but it's a little annoying. I'd rather have those pages dedicated to the main couple and a deeper exploration of their relationship.

That said, EJ is able to make me laugh at certain lines, and these are far from the worst books ever, so I'll keep reading.

(Also, apologies to anyone who shares these names, but the women in this series have atrocious names - Perdita, Roberta, Jemima, Harriet?)
Profile Image for Mary C.
160 reviews29 followers
July 1, 2009
OK I did not like this book. There was just too much goign on and not much of the main romance that was described on the back of the book. I wanted to read about Fletch and Poppy putting their marriage back together. Not about other people playing chess, and this Duke dying and that Duke unfaithful and blah, blah blah. I realize this is part of a series but there was hardly any of the main couple in the book. In fact it seemed like they spent most of their time apart. I just didn't like any of the characters and really didn't care if they found happiness or not.
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