It’s unfortunate that I posted my Top Ten Reads of 2020 on Tuesday, because I finished The Duke Undone by Joanna Lowell that evening, and let me tell you, it made the top ten for me! This romance novel had a rich, detailed plot, a hero and a heroine with direction, flaws, and full personalities, loads of sexual tension, fun banter, and steamy love scenes. What more can a reader ask for?

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The summary, from Amazon:

An artist stumbles upon a naked duke and an unlikely love story begins in this captivating Victorian historical romance.

When Royal Academy painting student Lucy Coover trips over a naked man passed out in an East End alley, she does the decent thing. She covers him up and fetches help. Trouble is, she can’t banish his muscular form from her dreams as easily. Compelled to capture every detail, she creates a stunning portrait but is forced to sell it when the rent comes due. What could be worse than surrendering the very picture of your desire? Meeting the man himself.

Anthony Philby, Duke of Weston, is nobody’s muse. Upon discovering the scandalous likeness, he springs into action. His infamous family has been torn apart by shame and secrets, and he can’t afford more gossip. Even a whisper may jeopardize his inheritance and his chance at independence. His plan is simple: burn the painting, confront the artist. Or rather, it’s simple until he meets Lucy and decides to offer the bewitching young artist a devil’s bargain.  He’ll help save her foreclosed home, if she’ll help repair his family’s brutal legacy.

An irresistible passion ignites between them, but when danger strikes, Lucy and Anthony must risk everything… for a love that might destroy them both.

Buy The Duke Undone here.
It will be released on April 6, 2021.

WOW. This is one of those books where after reading it, I immediately wanted to sit down and retell the entire story to someone. I’ll spare you the full details, because #spoilers. But what a wonderful, romantic, swoon-worthy story. When art student Lucy comes across a passed out, naked man in an alley she covers him up, but not before taking him in. The Royal Academy allows female students, but does not allow them to take nude drawing classes. She immediately has an idea for a painting featuring this very attractive man, and she goes about creating it. When her aunt needs money for a new sewing machine, Lucy has to sell her beloved painting, and that’s when all the trouble begins for Anthony.

Anthony recently inherited his title, but despite being 29, when it comes to his financial affairs, his father’s will marked him as a legal child until he turns 30. Anthony must adhere to his father’s strict rules, including no drinking alcohol, until his birthday in order to come into his money. This would not have been a problem for him some years ago, but mourning the loss of a difficult older brother and hunting for his missing little sister have led to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. He can’t have a whisper of scandal associated with his name, or his finances will still remain in control of Mr. Yardley, a family friend. When another man calls Anthony out for having an affair with his wife, who purchased the nude painting of him (not knowing the subject would be him), he has to find the artist and confront her. Once he and Lucy meet, the passion between them is undeniable. (There’s also an excellent conversation about consent and how he did not want her to have created this nude painting of him. Lucy apologizes, and though there are some threats and blackmail involved in this story, the power dynamics between the two are clear, so anything Lucy does that might seem “villainous” she must do to survive.) The two realize how they can help one another. Lucy can help Anthony find his missing sister, who indicated she might be working and living in Lucy’s working class neighborhood, and Anthony can use his newly found political power to make sure Lucy’s block isn’t wrongly condemned, its tenants evicted.

I know! That plot sounds like quite something, and trust me, it was even more than that. Joanna Lowell weaves a web of scandal and lies that takes the reader from the Royal Academy to the slums, from dress shops to theatres, from mansions to the mental hospital. I was in awe of her skill and how each piece of the puzzle fit together. I also loved the frank discussion of power dynamics, mental health, emotional abuse, addiction, PTSD, and learning disabilities. Lucy is very hesitant to start a relationship with an alcoholic, as her father was one. Anthony has had a difficult upbringing. His father was cruel towards him because of his learning disabilities, he deals with gaslighting for many years, and he watched his mother be hospitalized with a nymphomania diagnoses. I loved that men’s mental health was really brought to the forefront of this novel. While the women, who very well might not have mental illness, are wrongly diagnosed and treated for it, Anthony deals with addiction and PTSD from war and the way he’s been treated over the years.

Oh, and the LOVE SCENES. From the first kissing scene to the three love scenes that followed, I was swooning. This was a solid 5 star read for me, and I really hope that the author turns this into a series. There were so many interesting characters introduced – feminist Kate, selfish Lavinia, troubled Effie, snobby Maude, aloof Gwen, artsy Augustus, forgiving Cecil. I want them all to find love, even if they were antagonists! My thanks to the publisher, author, and NetGalley for giving me a copy in exchange for my honest review.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

The Duke UndoneThe Duke Undone by Joanna Lowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wrote a blog post about my top ten books I read this year and published it today, and this one should have made the list. I need to sleep on it before going into my full, gushing review, which will be on My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for giving me a copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Club Questions

  1. How do power dynamics come into play in Lucy and Anthony’s relationship?
  2. This book talks about mental health quite a bit. How do we deal with mental illness and mental health differently or the same in the 2020s than people did in the Victorian era?
  3. How would the lives of the hero and heroine turned out had they never met? Would Anthony have followed Yardley’s decisions? Would Lucy and her aunt be evicted?
  4. Lucy and Kate are working towards equality for women in their field, but are also critical of a lot of the women in their classes. Are they internalizing sexism, or is there room for this within the feminist movement?
  5. Do you feel any sympathy for the antagonists in this book? What will happen to the family of the main antagonist in the aftermath?

Interested? Buy The Duke Undone.
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