My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Jessica Jefferson’s debut novel, Compromising Miss Tisdale, book 1 in the Regency Blooms series, was a solid book with very good writing. Storywise it was enjoyable, thought-provoking and I must say, the author can write her heroines! Ambrosia was a girl after my own heart. Loved her!!! However, can’t say the same about the hero, Duncan. It took him a long time to get to me but when he did, I thought he changed for good. I was interested in this story largely due to a tour I recently hosted for the author and the excerpt instantly got me hooked. I had to read it and I don’t regret picking this up.
Miss Ambrosia, the daughter of an esteemed viscount with old, noble bloodline and the eldest among 4 sisters, is just passing her 4th season. It’s not that she’s not beautiful. Ambrosia is tall with a statuesque figure and has dark hair, blue eyes. But she’s also somewhat... strict and a little on the prim side. When you look at her, you see beauty, grace, poise and a lot of control, be it her behavior or her appearance. It was said more than once that you wouldn’t find even a hair on her head displaced from their tight knot. Ambrosia is also good at pianoforte, dancing, a little singing, sewing, painting... you name it, she knows it. Moreover, she’s very talented in mathematics; a skill not many know about but comes handy to her father when he needs a second pair of eyes to check on his accounts. What no one knows is why Ambrosia maintains so much control over everything she does.
Ambrosia used to be free spirited much as her other siblings once upon a time. But then, she had an elder brother, Thomas. When they both contracted a fever which took Thomas but not her, Ambrosia’s POV on life changed. She was saddened for herself because she lost a brother she looked up to, someone perfect in every way. Also because Thomas was the heir and his death a big blow to her parents. Though, I thought that the Tisdale family is very close knit, Ambrosia still felt the need to fill in the void Thomas’s death left. Hence her try in becoming a ‘perfect’ daughter in every way possible, painstakingly learning things so that she can make her parents happy. Not that they ever pressured her but Ambrosia needed to do this to honor her brother’s memory in her own way.
So Ambrosia has had suitors, quite a few of them but none won her heart. Because of her huge dowry (her family is very rich), Ambrosia is certainly sought after and she has no interest in those fortune hunters. What Ambrosia truly wants is to find love and marry for love. Yet sadly, time is running out before she’s ‘on shelf’ for good. She needs to marry soon if she ever hopes to have a family of her own.
One day, when she’s very sure that she’ll probably never marry, her strictly organized life shakes up completely on the sight of a man’s bare chest... oh yes, the scene that totally got snared me in, when at a ball, she meets Duncan Maddox, the newly minted Earl of Bristol. She only wanted a little air from all the hullaballoo and escaped to the library where Duncan was sitting and drying the rain off his body. This was also a ball given by Duncan’s relatives. Ambrosia knew that Bristol is finally supposed make an appearance. What she didn’t know she has already met him at the library and kissed him too. A kiss initiated by him that rocked her world.
Then we gradually begin to learn of Duncan. He’s a rake, quite dissolute if you ask me. A ‘rake’ is something Ducan... just has been all his life. I think he never really thought beyond this until he met Ambrosia. Duncan’s somewhat dysfunctional family has been a broken thing for long; a family that has never been close and affectionate to begin with. His French-born mother took off with another guy when Duncan and his elder brother were still young. When Duncan began showing quite a penchant for the self-indulgent, rakish life, his father exiled him to a country estate where he continued to live that way, until his father, then his elder brother dies suddenly. Duncan becomes the Earl, only to find that he has debts. Moreover, he now has to live by his exemplary brother’s virtuous lifestyle before his unfortunate demise.
Unfortunately, Duncan doesn’t like this Earl business, more so because there are loads of responsibilities; biggest is the financial situation. Duncan needs to think on a way to improve his situation ASAP. In the meantime, his loving uncle Robert tells him that he’s dying and wants to see heirs before he passes. He urges Duncan to change his ways, marry a good girl and settle down. Duncan decides to appease his uncle, thus beginning his search for a suitable candidate...
Meeting Ambrosia shakes Duncan up too, and rather bad. And a dissolute rake like him doesn’t know how to handle this torrent of emotions. So he decides to ignore this as much as possible... When Lord Kenning, a friend of his (and his brother’s before that) gives him sage ‘advises’ to compromise Miss Tisdale, aka Ambrosia, Duncan sees nothing wrong in it. Well, he’s certainly attracted to her, so marrying her wouldn’t be a big deal. After he solves his financial problems, he can return to his ‘old’ life, can’t he?
Would that things went that smooth!
Incidentally, Lord Kenning is also Amelia, one of Ambrosia’s vapid brained friend’s elder brother and quite the lecher. He’s a spendthrift to boots. Too bad, he’s a beautiful man with golden locks and clear blue eyes. He has been obsessed with Ambrosia for a long time but before he could ask for her hands, he was forced in a MOC with an heiress. Kenning hates this marriage and this life, and so he’s blatantly cheating away left and right. I really wanted to know his wife’s side of the story, poor girl. :( Ambrosia is in his radars again. He expresses his wish to her in so many ways and with those unwelcome touches, that he’d like to take their ‘relationship’ to the next level. I thought this guy and his unsolicited advances on Ambrosia when he could find her alone were creepy, sometimes quite forceful. I don’t know why she never complained to her parents. Then again, the way her mother tried to push her towards Duncan knowing what kinda rake he is and the fact that he’d never be faithful to her told me plenty. They probably wouldn’t bother. Now Kenning’s plan is to see Ambrosia married off. Once she’s married, they can carry on with an affair without any added social problem. But to Kenning’s utter annoyance, Ambrosia has no intentions of taking on his offer. Kenning is not backing off so easily, and so, he traps Duncan in this game of his.
Duncan, on the other hand, had no idea of course. He begins planning with Kenning’s help because he thought him a friend. I couldn’t really endorse this friendship, seeing how Kenning would invite Duncan to brothels and gaming hells. This didn’t endear Duncan to me at all because I already hated Kenning. Then Duncan stages some stuff, including outings to see Ambrosia, as if those were coincidences. One that particularly annoyed me was on Ambrosia’s regular morning walk. Duncan, who has no interest in either mornings or reading, plans one outing in a way so that Ambrosia finds him sitting in the morning sun, reading a book. Staged to show off his allure... Good God! It works and the poor girl is utterly smitten with Duncan’s manly beauty, even knowing this is not a good idea.
Ambrosia certainly had heard of Duncan’s conquests, though she didn’t believe in most of it, thinking those were merely broadsheet gossips. But a big chunk of those stories were indeed truths as Duncan certainly hadn’t been waiting for her celibate over this supposed ‘courtship’. Ambrosia had no idea of what Kenning and Duncan have planned. So, even though she keeps thwarting Duncan’s more public advances, in private she can’t help but fall for him more and more. She also knew that ‘heartbreak’ is written all over it. Well, she certainly won’t be the first to experience that with a man of Duncan’s reputation.
There were more instances in the story where Duncan and Ambrosia met in private, they kissed and caressed. Duncan, who has previously heard of Ambrosia being aloof, now had the burning proof that she’s anything but. Together with her beauty, grace and innocence, she proves too much for him. He, at one point, forgets to compromise her as planned because he had no heart for it anymore. Duncan felt guilty of deceiving her and agitated because he was feeling things for her he wasn’t supposed to feel. He wasn’t even sure he deserved someone like Ambrosia in his life.
At times, I saw people pushing Ambrosia towards Duncan, as I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier because ‘he’s a rake, handsome and oh-so-exciting!’. But to me, oh-so-unoriginal. It would kill this book for me for sure if Ambrosia gave in just as easily. For a long time, I wasn’t fond of Duncan, doubted if he’d be someone I can trust, respect or adore. I dislike immature, happy-go-lucky rakes who are afraid of responsibilities. Duncan surely was one. Though it was emphasized that he was the product of a childhood lacking any affection or familial bond, I wasn’t entirely convinced. He was man pushing 30 and so, his repeated words/musings on how much he doesn’t want to take on these responsibilities and his wish to return to his old lifestyle was unacceptable. It felt like he was forcing himself to do things he didn’t want to just for Richard’s sake.
Ambrosia was total opposite of him in many ways, yet they were also attracted to each-other like magnets. Opposites attract and all that. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Duncan didn’t want to change. He did. At times, he’d have that longing of having a family, picture Ambrosia as his wife, then kids and he’d again shake it off. After his repeated failed attempts of compromising Ambrosia (to Kenning’s utter disgust), Duncan decides to leave this off. He returns to his rakish pursuits, cozying up with a soprano in a matter of days. Needless to say, I was very disappointed when he did it. It felt like cheating to me because he has already been somewhat intimate with Ambrosia, and his feelings were already beginning to get involved where she was concerned. This was also the point where my attentions were wavering, when Tamsin puts her foot down about the whole matter.
I never introduced Ambrosia’s other sisters. The second eldest, Lilly, the voluptuous one, has gotten married a few months ago with her childhood friend, William. They fell in love and couldn’t wait. Tamsin is younger to Lilly. I absolutely adored this feisty red-head with a fiery temper. The youngest, Rose, is bookish, delicate looking and the most impressionable of them all.
It seemed like Tamsin is the one who saw through Duncan’s charms and was appalled by the tales of his conquests. She made inquiries and knew that not everything written in the broadsheets were gossips. When he stops paying attention to Ambrosia, leaving her somewhat listless (a state Ambrosia has never been before), Tamsin decides to pay a visit to Duncan. The smart girl already surmised that her sister is hopelessly in love, though she denies it vehemently. Whereas nothing can be done to change that, Tamsin wants to make sure that Duncan stops being a jerk and treats her sister right. Her mother has already, very enthusiastically, invited Duncan to their upcoming house party. Tamsin can’t change that either (she’d cancel the invitation if she could) so, instead, she threats Duncan quite seriously that he better behave, or else...........
I could only scream ‘bravo!’ to this girl; so young, yet so wise. I enjoyed this scene so much and thought someone should’ve done that a long time ago! Good news was, Duncan was not as happy a rake anymore because he was missing Ambrosia. Yet, he feels unsure if he should actually attend the house party. This time Robert takes steps so that Duncan doesn’t change his mind. Admittedly, Duncan never had the heart to break the news to his uncle that he has already given up his mad scheme of marrying Miss Tisdale, something Robert wholeheartedly approved of.
In that house party given by the Tisdales, Ambrosia and Duncan come closer than before. Ambrosia tries her best to ignore Duncan, yet it was not that easy when the only thing you want is to throw yourself at him. I thought there were some sweet moments in this part of the story. But then the news arrives that Robert is very ill and possibly dying. Duncan leaves that instant. Ambrosia is worried sick, thinking how sad it is for Duncan, how lonely to lose the only loving relative he’s left in the world. If I had any doubt of Ambrosia’s love for Duncan (and I had none), this proved to me that no matter, she cared about him way too much. While Duncan was away, Ambrosia decides to look into Duncan’s financial matters, the papers he brought back with him to work on but never had the chance... and there she finds some damnable evidence of Kenning’s treachery. A man Duncan truly thought his friend. I still wonder why, though.
Ambrosia is determined to inform Duncan and with Lilly’s help, she leaves for London. At first, she stops at Kenning’s house and confronts him. Of course, the guy is a shameless jerk, admits everything, making it sound like he’s the injured party here with debts and all that, so he thought it perfectly ok to help himself with some of Duncan’s money, before that his brother’s! He, again, talks about the liaison he wants with Ambrosia. This time Ambrosia makes sure he knows that she’s not at all interested in him, never was. You almost feel sorry for Kenning when he says he really wanted Ambrosia but never had a chance to live a life of his choice, making me actually consider if he has any redeeming qualities for a while. But then I remembered everything he has done so far... that was enough to kill any sympathy I might’ve felt for him.
When Ambrosia next stops by at Duncan’s place, he is nothing less than relieved to see her, and exceptionally happy. In these past days, sitting beside a dying Robert, Duncan’s POV of life has shifted dramatically. The more he mused on his past, the more this pointless rakish life that he has led so far lost its charm. And more and more, a life with Ambrosia seemed to shine in his mind. So, on seeing Ambrosia, Duncan promptly proposes her. Ambrosia accepts, confessing that she’s in love with him. This mere fact impacts Duncan so deeply (he never dared to think that Ambrosia was that deep into him) that he can’t wait to make her his own. And he doesn’t care for Kenning’s obsession over her anymore. Yep, Duncan knew about it and at first, didn’t care all that much. But now, things have changed.
I wish Ambrosia didn’t take long to tell Duncan of Kenning’s treachery. They make love soon thereafter, and though she keeps telling Duncan that she has something very important to tell him, the first thing next morning, what she does is leave to start packing for moving into Duncan’s house. While I was contemplating why she’d do it, Kenning drops by, very unsurprisingly, to say stuff about Ambrosia to Duncan. He’s momentarily taken aback by Duncan’s announcement of an impending marriage and his protectiveness towards Ambrosia. After all, Kenning always thought Duncan an idiot who looks up to him, as he has always taken his so-called advises to heart. That Duncan can be manipulated just as easily as his gentle and trusting brother. But none of Kenning’s advises were selfless. He also thought Duncan would lead a life like him, seeing how Duncan has more often than not been a partner to him on such misadventures... But, afterwards, when he then starts disparaging Ambrosia vehemently, their ridiculous scheme comes out in the open, and Ambrosia, who has just returned, accidentally eavesdrops.
This is the first time we actually see how hurt Ambrosia is by this revelation... She lets Duncan know it too; not being rude or insulting, just calmly breaking off the engagement and leaving him, telling him not to communicate with her again. She doesn’t give him any chance to explain, but come to think of it, Duncan had nothing substantial in his defense. Not yet IMO. His behavior was pretty damning right from the start. Those don’t portray a man a girl like Ambrosia can trust and rely on... can love. My heart was breaking for them both, because at least I knew that on the inside, Duncan wanted this as much as Ambrosia.
Must say, I loved that he does his best to prove to Ambrosia that he’s a deserving man and would like to have her back in his life. His gesture in front of a church full of people was soo sweet and heart-warming that it made me all teary-eyed. I was willing to give him a chance by then, as was Ambrosia. Finally, he was a changed man; a man in love who wasn’t scared of saying it out loud to the world.
Right now, I’m eagerly waiting for Tamsin’s story, which is supposed to be the next book as per the author’s website. Can’t wait! Meanwhile, for Compromising Miss Tisdale, 4 stars. I absolutely recommend it.