What to Do With a Duke by Sally MacKenzie

September 16, 2015 
Curses and Friends and Gossip – Oh my!

What to Do With a Duke is the first in Sally MacKenzie’s new series called Spinster House. While I was not all that enthralled with her last Naked series, I like Ms. MacKenzie’s humor enough to pick up her latest.

What we have in What to Do With a Duke is a curse, a cat, and a spinster or a should I say a trio of spinsters.

The curse is that all of the Dukes of Hart will die before the birth of their heir, unless the curse is broken by “true love.” The curse must be true because when this story begins it has been going on for 200 years.  So, it comes as no surprise that the current Duke of Hart, Marcus, is in no hurry to walk down the matrimonial isle. However, he is lonely, blue and sad. He doesn’t know what the problem is, but something is missing in his life – except matrimonial-minded women. These women keep throwing themselves at him in the hopes of entrapping him into the bonds of marriage. Which is what happens when this story begins. Another woman has tried to trap him, she is caught with her clothes half off and him standing over her. Her outraged father tries to force him into marriage, but Marcus says a firm no, nope, never and in so doing creates a small scandal. It is at this time that Marcus and his two friends, Nate and Alex, decide now would be a good time to take a hike. Before they do Marcus receives word from his estate that he needs to choose the next spinster of Spinster House.

Now this is part of the story that is a little confusing. There is a house on Marcus’ property that was established by the same woman who put a curse on the Dukes of Hart. I’m a little unclear as to why she established this house, because it doesn’t have anything to do with the curse, but there is a magical cat that lives there. In between licking its hind quarters, the cat communes with people and walks around the house as if it owns it. Anyway, back to the Spinster House. For some reason there has been a spinster living in the house for 200 years. Not the same spinster - that would be silly because there’s no such thing as a 200-year-old spinster. I think. Anyway, for some reason the Dukes of Hart must be the ones who choose which spinster lives in the house. In the past there has always been only one woman interested in living in that house, so Marcus believes that he won’t be at his estate all that long. Then he and his friends (future heroes), can go traipsing off for a walk through the countryside. Enter Catherine, aka Cat.

Poor Catherine lives in a house with nine other siblings, or most of them since two of them are married. Even though Catherine has been raised in a loving family, she is tired of sharing space with them. She is tired of the noise, the sharing of a bed, the disorder. She can’t write her great novel because of the constant cacophony. She wants the Spinster House. Who should arrive on her father’s doorstep? Well, you see Marcus must talk to the Vicar (Cat’s father) before he can choose the spinster. Well, Catherine jumps at the chance to become the spinster of Spinster House. Marcus doesn’t have a problem with it either, less work for his brain to do. So they agree, however there is a fly in the ointment (or should I say “flies”). Two of Cat’s friends, Jane and Anne, want to be by themselves also. I’m assuming we will find out when their books come out what their reasoning is. Now Marcus has three women to choose from for the Grand Spinster job. It is written in a contract somewhere that they must draw straws to choose who will be the spinster if there is more than one applicant. Cat wins the draw. It is at this time that Cat finds out what friendship is all about, because her friends turn into vicious harpies. They become frenemies and start some really nasty gossip about Cat.

There was a lot going on in this book, a lot of humor but also a number of things that irritated me.  Let’s start with Cat. Even though she is surrounded by a crowd of people, she is really a self-centered person. She has no conception of how her leaving the loving, affectionate family will upset her younger siblings. She has never let on how much she wants to leave, so it comes has quite a shock when she announces it at the dinner table. Her lack of perception makes her a very unlikeable heroine. The only saving grace at this point is that when she finally moves into the Spinster House, she is unable to do any writing because of the quiet. Spoilers ahead. While we are talking about Cat, let me just say this: she turns into one of those heroines who cannot marry the hero. At first it’s because she wants to be alone, but then it’s because if she does he will die. The curse only works if there is marriage and a baby. I found Cat to be a very tiresome character.

Speaking of tiresome, let’s turn our attention to Marcus. Yes, Marcus the cursed Duke who can never hold his heir because of the curse. He is doomed, doomed, doomed. Of course he could marry for love, but he doesn’t know what that is, even when it’s staring him in the face. He is downright depressing. But that doesn’t stop his overactive Mr. Toad from erupting every time Cat enters the room. No sirree, Marcus’ trousers were constantly tented. And, while we are talking about tents, let’s talk about a “c” word which rhymes with rock. Let me say right up front, I am not offended by this word. I’ve read enough romances to become almost immune to the word.  But here’s the problem: Marcus thought about his “c” a lot. Everywhere he went it was up – all the time. But did it ever get to do anything? Nooooo. Did the heroine ever notice it? Noooooo. Was there enough sensuality in the book for this troublesome creature to blend into? Nooooo. It was like a sore thumb just flopping around in the breeze and didn’t really have a purpose. Except it did concern Marcus – a lot.

What’s with all the heroines writhing around? Almost all the heroines in the romance books I’ve read lately are writhing. The word even looks odd. Someone needs to hold these poor ladies down. How can any of those poor heroes find any orifices with all the squirming that’s going on?

Gossip. There was some really mean and explicit gossip in this book. There were all these supporting characters who were asking mighty explicit questions. I think that maybe they were supposed to be humorous, but I had to raise my eyebrows and question the kind of questions coming out of the mouths of these women from this time period. Sure there were busybody, in-your-face women in this time period, but I think they hid their words behind other words. Words that would have the same meaning but not fall so harshly on one's ears.

Finally, yes finally, I am almost done with my rambling. We have a stupid misunderstanding, jump to the wrong conclusion moment in this book. It is the heroine who jumps to the wrong conclusion and throws a tantrum. She jumps to the wrong conclusion about the woman who caused the scandal in the beginning of the book. It was silly and not needed. One last thing – where’s the epilogue? Yes, we believe Cat and Marcus love each other and that the curse is broken and that he won’t die. But, gee-willikers we need to have it in black and white right in front of our faces. I needed to see a baby bouncing on Marcus’ knee to be satisfied.

I was disappointed in What to Do With a Duke. There wasn’t any chemistry between Marcus and Cat. Marcus was overly concerned with his Mr. Toad and for no particular reason because he seemed to be the only one who knew he had one. The “I can’t marry you” routine became tiresome. The secondary female friends were mean. Not even the humor in this book could save it for me.

Time/Place: 1817 England
Sensuality: Cardboard

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