Review: The Harlot Countess

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The Harlot Countess (Wicked Deceptions #2) by Joanna Shupe

Published May 5, 2015 by Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed on March 2, 2015


Book Blurb

Maggie, Lady Hawkins, had a debut she’d rather forget—along with her first marriage. Today, the political cartoonist is a new woman. A thoroughly modern woman. So much so that her clamoring public believes she’s a man…

FACT: Drawing under a male pseudonym, Maggie is known as Lemarc. Her (his!) favorite object of ridicule: Simon Barrett, Earl of Winchester. He’s a rising star in Parliament—and a former confidant and love interest of Maggie’s who believed a rumor that vexes her to this day.

FICTION: Maggie is the Half-Irish Harlot who seduced her best friend’s husband on the eve of their wedding. She is to be feared and loathed, as she will lift her skirts for anything in breeches.

Still crushed by Simon’s betrayal, Maggie has no intention of letting the ton crush her as well. In fact, Lemarc’s cartoons have made Simon a laughingstock…but now it appears that Maggie may have been wrong about what happened years ago, and that Simon has been secretly yearning for her since…forever. Could it be that the heart is mightier than the pen and the sword after all?


Review

 I like to thank the publisher and the author for kindly giving me an ARC. I sense you understood how badly I wanted to read The Harlot Countess and I mean badly.

Moving on.

I find it harder and harder every time to like the heroine of a good romance story because they’re either too whinny, too stupid, too boring, too exasperating— too something.

With Joanna Shupe’s books, it isn’t the case. Not only is The Courtesan Duchess a brilliant romance story, it has a lovable heroine, whom I am more than happy to label under “kickass heroines.” Sure, I hated the hero to his rotten core, but the heroine rescued the book for me. Hence, I trusted Joanna to present another kickass heroine in The Harlot Countess. Did I get one?

Oh, most definitely.

Even when her reputation was torn to shreds, Lady Margaret Hawkins held her head high for the last ten years, not allowing anyone to get the best of her. She buried the humiliation and pain, deflected the advances of men, overlooked the snubs of the ton, endured the lost of an innocent and happy life. More than that, she buried old “Maggie” when she became Lady Hawkins. She was forced into marriage with a gentleman old enough to be her father, for crying out loud! I know this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence back then, but still, I got to give it up to her for not spending the rest of her life feeling sorry for herself.

It’s admirable that Maggie has somewhat made peace with her past, although she is still hurt by her friend Simon’s betrayal. He turned his back on her, literally to her.

So she turned to art. The growing passion helped her to deal with the past and release her buried emotions as another form (can't decide whether it's entirely healthy or not) and I quote one of my favorites: “No matter what chaotic mess tumbled down around her, there would always be art. Her way of bringing joy and beauty into such a harsh, violent, and oftentimes cruel world.”

From the beginning, I think I instantly had this connection to Maggie, seeing I have a passion/hobby I turn to that gets me through the bumpy times. I can put myself in her shoes: The crush of a betrayal. Being a young girl and having your innocence destroyed by someone else’s pride and greed. Living in a world where people take pleasure in thinking the worst of you. Knowing no one cares about your story and they only hear what they want to believe.

Stubborn (not infuriatingly stubborn) and tough (not too-stupid-to-live tough), Maggie is one of those individual heroines, who boldly reaches out for what she wants and takes matters into her own hands, instead of playing the damsel in distress. Even though she had permitted the scandal to define her; even if she does hide behind her scorned name “The Half-Irish Harlot” and fill her lonely nights with scandalous parties, she isn’t a coward or a widow who needs pity, especially from Simon.

Some people may rage on about why she didn’t just tell him the truth and then none of this would have happened, but I’m glad she didn’t. Why must she explain herself? Why must she justify her pain to people? Why must she seek forgiveness and approval? Why must she have to work to win her loved ones’ trust when they have so obviously relinquished their faith in her?

Besides, if she did explain her side (the truth), she (I) would have never experienced the satisfaction of an “A-ha!” to Simon’s face.

If you haven’t met Simon yet, he is also a character featured in The Courtesan Duchess. He’s a close friend of the Duke of Colton and the Duchess. Upon learning Julia— the Duchess, that is— did something to help him in the past, I was terribly desperate to know what. What is this piece of juicy information that even Colton doesn’t know of? What of Simon’s history can possibly make me dislike him when I’m already very fond of his loyal and laid-back character?

Simon, Earl of Winchester, is more complicated than he appears and is equally as stubborn as Maggie. While women are naïve in their youth, men are stupid in their youth. And then some. Simon is clueless about Maggie’s resent for him, and while I can’t tolerate harassment and believe everyone should at least know why they’re administered to such hatred (no sarcasm intended), it’s hard to care about his feelings when I’m too familiar with the feeling of disappointment. Maggie is more than angry at Simon. She is disappointed, and I believe that is even worse than anger when someone you love let you down at the time you needed them most. Simon didn’t come to her defense when the scandal broke loose, breaking her heart and forming a drift between them ever since. It doesn’t take Simon long to realize he was stupid enough to believed the lies and “proof” presented to him all those years ago and allowed the woman he loves to slip from his grasp.

Maggie is not completely blameless because like Simon, she lacks the common sense to communicate (which is no loss on readers’ enjoyment since it gives us a good story). Therefore, she holds onto a grudge against his good character and bullies him through a political cartoon, dubbing him “Winejester." When he asks for her help to uncover the cartoonist’s identity, she jumps on the opportunity to set him back on his search and takes satisfaction in deceiving him. Basically, Maggie lives on deception, and as far as she’s concerned, no bodily harm has been done to others by being Lemarc and the Half-Irish Harlot.

But where does the deception truly lie?

In making him believe he isn’t anything to her before he breaks her heart a second time.


Speaking of harlots and broken hearts, there are a few details bugging me. In other words, these are my downsides with the book:

• The communication.

Miscommunication is a fundamental part of the formula to a romance story. While the misunderstanding is cleared up for readers as well as the characters in The Harlot Countess, it’s really not. If you get where I’m going with this . . . For example, there’s a scene where Maggie asks Simon why he didn’t married and he answers there was once a girl, but it didn’t work out. Does he ever confess the girl is her? Of course, he will, but we don’t get to see it. Another example is when Maggie learns about Simon’s duel from Julia, but the two of them don’t ever talk about it and the story comes to an end. Then there’s the fact that Simon got pissed poor drunk on the day of Maggie’s wedding and didn’t leave the brothel for three days. Does she ever learn about that? How will I know? I’ll never see her reaction. So many unspoken things are left unsaid and it’s fairly unsatisfying.


• Is it just me or does everything has to do with three?

Three offers of marriage. Three people knew of Maggie’s hidden talents. Three young ladies entered the shop. Three mermaids. Three men singing. Three men laughing at Simon. Three girls wanted an apprentice. Three new wardrobes. Three years of sucking money dry. Three estates Simon owned. Three days Simon stayed at the brothel. Three young men surrounded the table. Three years of Cora’s employment. Three days ago of receiving an update of so-and-so. Three years ago (again) when the errand boy’s parents moved from Pruissa. Three locations searched. Three weeks Maggie spent in Paris. Three years since Maggie seen her last lover. Three nights since the masquerade ended. Three hours spent inside a touch. Three men being the number of men Maggie slept with. Three thousand pounds. Three o’clock.

No, I’m not being missish or critical about numbers. An author has the right to use whatever numbers she wishes! I’m merely pointing out an unnecessary observation. One can’t help but notice.


• Simon never apologizes. Events aren’t explained. (Refer to bullet point #1)


• Will Lady Amelia, Countess Cranford, learn that her husband is a lying douchebag who tarnished Maggie’s reputation for his own gains? How will Maggie react? Although I highly doubt Maggie will ever reconcile with old friends like Amelia.


• Simon is another alpha male whose lust outperforms his personality. And that’s not a fine quality.


• Maggie never tells Simon she loves him. She doesn’t need to, but I just thought to point it out.


More bullet points will be added later on.

In the meantime, let me regard the steam in The Harlot Countess. Whoo! What a delicious experience!
Page 155 to 156 and beyond: I blushed hard and couldn’t read for a good few minutes. I don’t remember ever reacting this way before. Me? Blush? I haven’t blushed since high school. No, no, scratch that. I’ve read too many romance books to count and I only have the decency to blush now? Dear me.

Oh my, Joanna Shupe, you are stealing my heart with your exquisite writing, powerful heroines, and sensual heroes. You are officially on my “auto buy author list,” a list which so far had only one spot reserved for the fabulous Julia Quinn. The Wicked Deceptions series belong on my shelf and I can’t wait for The Lady Hellion. I’ve been crushing on Viscount Quint since The Courtesan Duchess. An intelligent, poorly dressed, adorkable man is my type, I daresay. He’s been helpful for the past two books, yet sometimes he can say the most unhelpful and surprising things. His lines are funny and charming, even when he isn’t even trying to be. He’s being unapologetically himself and I like that about him.


Here's my review of The Courtesan Duchess if anyone's interested.
  

Rating

4 Blushing Stars!

Nancy Her

Blogger/Reviewer

Cee named The Mistress Case after Sherlock (BBC with Benedict) and Supernatural (Dean, baby). She writes mainly book reviews. On occasions, movies and TV shows. She reads and reviews in many genres, including fantasy, historical, contemporary, romance, erotica, mystery, etc. She personally rains more love on fantasy and historical romance and hopes you won't hold it against her. Caoi.

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