Ruth Ryan Langan
2006, Turn of the Century (1890s New York)
Berkley, $6.99, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425208893
Normally a book cover does not influence me, but I thought the cover of Duchess of Fifth Avenue was quite stunning. Would the story inside be as good as the cover?
Lana and her best friend Siobhan escape their harsh lives in Ireland and settle in New York City. Unfortunately, Siobhanís husband, Billy, a charming but selfish man, creates nothing but misery for his family. Lana becomes an anchor for Siobhanís young son, Colin, giving him much needed love and attention.
Siobhan tells Lana she's afraid that Billy will leave his family when he learns she is pregnant again. Lana searches for and gets a higher paying job to afford a place for her, Siobhan, and Colin to all live together before Siobhan can no longer hide her pregnancy from her husband. Two weeks into Lana's new job at the wealthy VanEndels' residence, however, tragedy strikes; Siobhan and Billy are killed in an accident, and little Colin is taken to an orphan asylum.
In a remarkable, but somewhat plausible coincidence, Mrs. VanEndel, taken by the sad eyes and blond curls of Colin during her regular charity visits to the asylum, decides to adopt the orphan boy. Considering the VanEndels' neglectful upbringing of their own son, now a cruel and arrogant young man, Lana fears for Colinís future welfare. When she loses her job at the VanEndels, Lana turns to a con artist she knows by the name of Stone, whom she saw impersonating an English royal duke named Jesse Hanover. Lana wants Stone/Jesse to teach her how to impersonate a rich, titled English lady to compete with Mrs. VanEndel for custody of Colin.
Duchess of Fifth Avenue is a very romantic read, the first one I have read in some time. Itís so appealing to read and feel a real romance blossom between Jesse and Lana, not simply the lust which is ubiquitous in romances nowadays, although the two show plenty of mutual attraction. A beautiful post-bedroom scene is just lovely, showing intimacy, anxiety and humor.
Though Jesse denies it to himself, itís clear that he has fallen for Lana like a ton of bricks. Jesse is one of those heroes with A Big Personal Hang Up which prevents him from getting seriously involved with a woman. However, he never treats Lana badly, rather, as he grows to care about her, he treats her with much thoughtfulness. Jesse never expected to come across a woman completely unlike the self-centered, shallow women he has known before. His happiness becomes dependent upon her happiness, and his self-worth increases in the gaining of her respect.
Lana is a wonderful character; strong, capable, loyal, and most of all, loving. She is a steadfast friend to Siobhan and a loving surrogate mother to Colin. Lana knows that the materialistic, snobbish VanEndels would end up destroying the sweetness in Colin, so she is willing to do anything, even this deception, to extract him from them.
One last thing I must mention is the book's gorgeous setting. Any historical romance reader addicted to glamorous Regency England society should check out the opulent lifestyles of the fictional millionaires living on New York Cityís Fifth Avenue. The descriptions of the clothes, furnishings, and mansions are dazzling.
Thereís a Big Secret in the story, which I was able to guess too easily due to the authorís heavy-handed clues, but that didnít detract from my enjoyment of the story. What did detract from my enjoyment, however, was Siobhanís initially milquetoast character that caused the trouble in the first place and Lanaís unnecessary guilt for failing Siobhan and Colin, but those annoyances were minor ones in an otherwise wonderful story.
While coming across three such little annoyances would normally bump a book down into "B" territory, I so enjoyed the very romantic story of Jesse and Lana, and know that this is a book I will enjoy rereading in the future. So, despite its problems, it has a place on my Keeper Shelf, which makes it a DIK in my books. A strong heroine, a caring hero, a compelling story, and a gorgeous setting - what more can you ask for? When Iím lucky enough to read a terrific romance like Duchess of Fifth Avenue, "life," as Lana would say, "is grand."
For those interested in a historical look at New York during this period, please check out articles by Ellen Micheletti and author Linda Francis lee on New York in the Gilded Age in our Historical Cheat Sheet.
-- Jeanne W
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