Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons #4)
By: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Harper Collins


Exactly two days before her sixteenth birthday, Miss Penelope Featherington fell desperately, irrevocably in love with Colin Bridgerton. The shy, quiet, awkward, and plump Penelope fell and fell hard for the dashing, devil-may-care brother of her best friend Eloise -- a love that was destined to remain unrequited (and undiminished) for the next twelve years. Never considered a social success (the infamous Lady Whistledown once memorably described a younger Penelope as resembling an "overripe citrus fruit"), and now rapidly approaching her twenty-eight birthday, Penelope has resigned herself to being considered firmly "on the shelf." She's embraced her impending, perpetual spinsterhood with a great deal of equanimity -- or so she thinks, until Colin returns from his latest round of travels and the gossip begins to swirl once again around the Bridgerton family's most eligible -- and determined to remain so -- bachelor. When she stumbles upon Colin's dearest secret, she begins to wonder if she's ever really known the man she's loved for nearly half her life -- and if she can trust him with a secret of her own.

Colin Bridgerton leads a charmed life and he knows it -- but that is precisely what irks him most. A popular mainstay in Whistledown's columns, Colin is renowned for his easy-going nature and perpetual good humor, but he's desperate for something more substantial than the social regard of the ton. As the third Bridgerton son, he finds himself well provided for but lacking purpose, a void he despairs of ever filling until his little sister's best friend stumbles upon his travel journals. Her passion for his writing -- and his surprising passion for her approval -- awakens within him an...awareness of Penelope as an individual, a woman whose quick wit, intelligence, and compassion he finds himself craving like never before. But the unassuming Penelope harbors a secret of her own, one that Colin fears could destroy her in the eyes of the ton -- a fate from which he's determined to save her. For the confirmed bachelor and traveler has discovered the rarest of jewels in his very own backyard, one he's determined to make his own -- a gorgeous, blossoming wallflower.

Since first discovering Julia Quinn's superb -- and highly addictive -- Bridgerton series earlier this year, I've attempted to make my first read-through of the series last as long as possible in order to prolong the enjoyment of discovery. But I'm quickly discovering that is a losing battle, because the more I read Quinn's writing the more I crave, and when I finished the the third Bridgerton novel -- An Offer From a Gentleman -- and realized that Colin's story was next, I dived into it immediately. Colin fast became a favorite character of mine from the moment of his first introduction in The Duke and I, with his irrepressible good humor and penchant for (lovingly) needling his siblings, particularly brothers Anthony and Benedict. While each Bridgerton book can stand alone, as far as reading these novels as a series goes Romancing Mister Bridgerton offers readers a huge pay-off, a love letter to anyone who has ever felt overlooked, undervalued, and dared to love impossibly.

Quinn is a master at developing a heart-stopping romance that develops out of friendship and mutual interests. These Bridgerton books are smart romances, where that elusive spark of intellect and delight in one another's companionship play just as much a role -- usually more -- than simple physical attraction (which, never fear, Colin and Penelope share in spades regardless). Penelope is a heroine for anyone who has ever been a wallflower, who has ever struggled to shine in company and whose greatest desire is to be known and loved for oneself above all. Quinn has touched on this issue to some degree in each of the previous Bridgerton books -- after all, being "recognized" and claimed by one's true love is a trope of the romance genre -- but here she delves into her deepest exploration yet of the facades one constructs in order to protect one's heart, whether perennially popular like Colin or painfully shy like Penelope. I particularly loved how Colin had to work through a sense of shame in admitting his dissatisfaction with his (admittedly) blessed life. In lesser hands he would have easily come off as a petulant child instead of a swoon-worthy hero, but Quinn's deft characterization results in an honest exploration of the depths of his struggle to find personal fulfillment and purpose.

In addition to her superb character and relationship development, Quinn positively excels at peppering her novels with with a host of delightful supporting players, from detestable villains like Penelope's arch-nemesis Cressida Twombley to the warmth and individuality of the Bridgerton siblings. But here she brings fearsome society matriarch Lady Danbury to the fore, with her audacious bet offering a thousand pounds to the member of the ton that uncovers Lady Whistledown's true identity. That bet serves as the spark that ignites an unlikely -- and utterly delightful -- friendship between Lady Danbury and Penelope, one in which the older woman's strength and no-nonsense wisdom gives a late blooming wallflower the strength and confidence to shine. For, as Lady Danbury tells Penelope, "Isn't it nice to discover that we're not exactly what we thought we were?"

Woven throughout Colin and Penelope's story is the search for Lady Whistledown's true identity, and an examination of that columnist's impact on their lives and more importantly, their perceptions of each other. As I mentioned earlier, this novel offers a huge pay-off for series fans in that regard -- but a culmination, if you will, of the previous three books, there is a great deal of recapping that occasionally slows the pace of this otherwise effervescent tale. That very slight issue aside, Romancing Mister Bridgerton is Quinn at her best -- effervescent, breezy writing, a whip-smart sense of humor, and a sizzling romance made up of equal parts passion and intellect. For, as Lady Danbury tells Penelope, "Isn't it nice to discover that we're not exactly what we thought we were?" -- and therein lies the utter magic of this charming read. Colin and Penelope's slow-burning love story, founded on friendship and mutual interests, is a study in the heady, transforming power of love's ability to bring out the best in a couple. A romance to savor, Romancing Mister Bridgerton is a love letter to romantics, escapist wish fulfillment, yes, but a fantasy laced with a heart-tugging exploration of the risk and joy found in emotional honesty.

About the book:

Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend's brother for . . . well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret . . . and fears she doesn't know him at all.

Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of everyone's preoccupation with the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can't seem to publish an edition without mentioning him in the first paragraph. But when Colin returns to London from a trip aboard he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same—especially Penelope Featherington! The girl haunting his dreams. But when he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide . . . is she his biggest threat—or his promise of a happy ending?

The UK cover!


Kaye Dacus said...

I guess maybe because it was several months (five or longer, I don't remember exactly) between #3 and this one, I didn't really notice the recapping from the previous books---I think I found it more beneficial than not.

Just finished On the Way to the Wedding this morning while waiting for Comcast to rewire my house. Surprisingly, Benedict and Sophie are mentioned several times in that one after having pretty much disappeared throughout the rest of the series.

Now I've got to decide if I want to read all of the "epilogues" or if I want to move on to the Smythe-Smith series.

After my great distaste for the epilogue in On the Way..., I'll probably just move on to the SS series.

But this means that (though I skipped #6, When He Was Wicked) I've finished the series and I can say definitively that, for a first read-through, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton is my favorite out of all of them. A second reading, or reading the first four books closer together, might change that based on some of the things you pointed out here, but that'll have to wait another year or more. So many other books to read! ;-)

Unknown said...

@Kaye - LOL! This is what I get for not having the self control to make myself wait at least a month between books to prolong the enjoyment. ;)

I'm glad to hear that Benedict & Sophie make a reappearance in #8! My faith is restored. :)

Looking forward to your thoughts on the Smythe-Smith Quartet!