Audio Review: The Unexpected Duchess (Playful Brides, Book 1) by Valerie Bowman

unexpected duchessHero: Newly appointed by the crown, Lord Derek Hunt, the Duke of Claringdon, made a promise to his friend Julian, who is dying. His moniker among the ton is the Duke of Decisive for he makes quick decisions and sticks to them – winning many battles and honors because of it, including his dukedom. He will wed Lady Cassandra because it not in his nature to be indecisive or to change his mind. But a kink quickly appears in his plan when a friend of the lady in question insists Cassandra is not interested.

Heroine: Lady Lucy Upton will not let her dear friend be coerced into a courtship with the dashing duke. Cassandra is in love with another and waits for his return from the war. If the duke and Cassandra’s mother had their way, Cass would be wed before the fortnight was out. When Cass asks for help, Lucy does what she does best – interfere and deliver cutting set-downs. But it doesn’t scare Claringdon off. Instead he comes back for more again and again and Lucy’s traitorous heart hopes it’s because of her and not Cass.

Review: One of my favorite scenes is the verbal wit challenge between Derek and Lucy. He asks her to dance and she says “no.” He must then come up with 20 cleverer ways to turn a gentleman down for a dance. I won’t share my particular favorites, because they’re just too good to give away. I also enjoyed Derek wooing Lucy by writing letters to her appearing to be from another suitor. She sees the differences between the letters and the person and can’t quite make them fit, but doesn’t suspect Derek is writing to her.  The friendship between the ladies is strong, which is nice to see. The story itself is silly and very humorous. I would only change the timing of Derek’s change of heart and the start of his pursuit of Lucy sooner. For somebody decisive, he was too hesitant to break a promise that needed breaking.

Narrator: Alison Larkin could deliver on Lady Lucy Upton. She brought much life to the heroine and brought out her personality and wit. She delivered Lucy’s set-downs with a flourish!


Buy: The Unexpected Duchess, The Unexpected Duchess (Audiobook)

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Darcy & Elizabeth: Finding New Aspects of Their Characters to Explore

by Abigail Reynolds, guest blogger and author of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World

Darcy and Elizabeth are wonderful characters for variations because Jane Austen leaves so much unsaid and unexplored about them.  Depending on which passages you choose, you can form very different impressions of them.  Part of the fun of writing variations is finding new aspects of their characters to explore in each book.  Each Darcy and Elizabeth in my books is different.

Does this make the dynamics of their relationship different?  My answer would be yes and no.  There are certain basics about the Darcy/Elizabeth pairing that can’t be altered without destroying the basic dynamic, the one that makes them so magnetically drawn to each other.  For example, Darcy avoids talking about his feelings and assumes Elizabeth knows more about them than she does.  Elizabeth is lively and loves to tease, but because she does that with everyone, it is difficult for Darcy to guess what she means by it.  And, of course, there is the profound sexual attraction – Darcy is fascinated by Elizabeth’s intelligence and wit, but that doesn’t stop him from meditating on her light and pleasing figure.

But within that dynamic, there are details that can change depending on which features I highlight.  In Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World, Darcy’s lack of ability to read social signals, especially from Elizabeth, plays a prominent role. In most of my other books, Darcy is driven to pursue Elizabeth, but in this one, he withdraws.  That means Elizabeth has to take more risks.

Elizabeth is complex, drawing on some passages in Pride & Prejudice often overlooked by readers.  Jane Austen focuses her attention on Elizabeth’s lively spirits, but she makes it clear that her normally cheerful heroine also passes through periods of low spirits.  During her weeks at Hunsford following Darcy’s proposal, Elizabeth ruminates at length on both her own failures and those of her family:

In her own past behaviour, there was a constant source of vexation and regret; and in the unhappy defects of her family a subject of yet heavier chagrin. They were hopeless of remedy….When to these recollections was added the development of Wickham’s character, it may be easily believed that the happy spirits which had seldom been depressed before, were now so much affected as to make it almost impossible for her to appear tolerably cheerful.

After she returns to Longbourn after Lydia’s elopement, she mourns the loss of Darcy in a way that again depresses her spirits and keeps her awake at night:

The present unhappy state of the family, rendered any other excuse for the lowness of her spirits unnecessary; nothing, therefore, could be fairly conjectured from that, though Elizabeth, who was by this time tolerably well acquainted with her own feelings, was perfectly aware that, had she known nothing of Darcy, she could have borne the dread of Lydia’s infamy somewhat better. It would have spared her, she thought, one sleepless night out of two.

© Both Excerpts: Abigail Reynolds, Sourcebooks Landmark, 2010

So in this book, I wrote Elizabeth with a wider range of emotions than I’ve written in my other variations where I focus more on Elizabeth’s impertinence and her tendency to speak a little too much of her mind, but in this book, I worked from Austen’s original description of her reaction to Bingley and Darcy’s minor argument during her stay at Netherfield.  At first Elizabeth participates in the fray, but once she perceives Darcy to be somewhat offended, she checks her laughter out of concern for him, even though she doesn’t like him.   She is impertinent, but she also modifies her behavior out of a desire not to cause pain.  Thus my Elizabeth, when forced to marry the man she still despises, holds her tongue when possible to avoid conflict with Darcy, who she still perceives as ill-tempered and prone to holding grudges.

Writing a quieter, more careful Elizabeth was a challenge for me, but it paid off when the inevitable confrontation between Darcy and Elizabeth takes place, and even more so as they learn to love and trust each other.  I think it gives the ending more power and more joy, but then again, I love all my Darcy/Elizabeth pairs.  After all, who couldn’t love them?

Thanks for inviting me!



In this sexy Jane Austen sequel, Elizabeth Bennet accepts Mr. Darcy’s first marriage proposal, answering the “What if…?” question fans everywhere have pondered

” I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

Famous last words indeed! Elizabeth Bennet’s furious response to Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal has resonated for generations of readers. But what if she had never said it? Would she have learned to recognize Mr. Darcy’s admirable qualities on her own? Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy follows Elizabeth and Darcy as they struggle to find their way through the maze of their prejudices after Elizabeth, against her better judgment, agrees to marry Darcy instead of refusing his proposal.

Two of the most beloved characters in English literature explore the meaning of true love in a tumultuous and passionate attempt to make a success of their marriage.

Buy: Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World (Pride & Prejudice Continues)

About the Author

Abigail Reynolds is a physician and a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She began writing The Pemberley Variations series in 2001, and encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking “What if…?” She lives with her husband and two teenage children in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information, please visit