The Discerning Gentleman’s Guide by Virginia Heath

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Choosing a wife is not a task that should be undertaken lightly.”

Bennett Montague, sixteenth Duke of Aveley, is seeking the perfect bride. He’s narrowed his search to five worthy “Potentials”… until the arrival of his aunt’s companion unravels his carefully laid plans.

Having fought for everything she has, Amelia Mansfield is incensed by Bennett’s wife-selection methods. But as she’s forced to spend time in his company, she begins to see another side to Bennett—and that man is infinitely more tantalizing and enticing…

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, November 2016

Time and setting: London 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

I thoroughly enjoyed A Discerning Gentleman’s Guide by new-to-me author, Virginia Heath. It put me in mind of the acclaimed contemporary romance The Rosie Project which also follows the path of a gentleman who has decided that it is time to take a wife and clinically sets out to find one following a written set of rules. In A Discerning Gentleman’s Guide it is Bennett Montague, sixteenth Duke of Aveley, who is following this path – two hundred years earlier – and he is referring to a manual/pamphlet he has actually written, using wisdom gleaned from his father. With its aid he has narrowed down the field of potential brides who might meet his exacting requirements. That is until he meets his aunt’s companion, the completely unorthodox and delectable Amelia Mansfield. She does not tick any of his boxes; nor is there a set of rules to abide by when physical attraction or even Cupid takes a hand.

Bennett is the only child of a distinguished politician who lived by a set of rigid guidelines – to the detriment of his family. The duke’s younger brother, George, had always disagreed with this philosophy and sought – without much success – to mitigate the worst effects of his brother’s teaching upon his son. Years later, Bennett continues to be ruled from the grave by his father’s ethics and opinions and as a result has become a stuffy workaholic. By no means an unkind or uncaring man he simply appears to lack imagination and seems incapable of thinking outside the box – or at least the box his father has created; working himself into the ground, treading his well worn path of duty-above-all-else; without deviation.

Amelia Mansfield has a chequered, tarnished past which is no fault of her own but has survived and lives to tell the tale, albeit with a strong disrespect for the aristocracy and a passionate need to help the less fortunate. She has been plucked from obscurity by Bennett’s aunt and employed as that lady’s companion. Lady Worsted likes Amelia’s no nonsense and outspoken approach to life and they rub along very well together. Inevitably Bennett and Amelia meet when Lady Worsted pays her annual visit to her sister, the duke’s mother. At their first encounter Amelia is outrageously dismissive and under-enthused about being in the presence of a duke. And Bennett, who is not used to such irreverence, is confused by this but also by the fact that he is attracted to her. Amelia is equally confused – because although Bennett is stodgy and pompous, he’s also drop-dead gorgeous and it goes against the grain as she simply cannot like trust or tolerate aristocrats.

Virginia Heath does an excellent job of developing the romance between these two disparate characters and bringing it gently to a point where they meet their prejudices and their growing love – in the middle. Both are warm and likeable and I loved how Amelia opens Bennett’s eyes to her way of thinking and finally takes him into the world of poverty she knows so well and that he thinks he knows exists, but doesn’t really believe until he sees and experiences it for himself. There are some excellent secondary characters, too; Uncle George, the amusing, unorthodox younger brother of the duke who has been the real role model throughout the young duke’s life and Lovett the butler, who regularly imbibes the duke’s port and brandy and is regularly and half-heartedly admonished by his master. The affection between the aristocrat and his servant is obvious and rather touching and from the beginning, this affection gives the reader an insight into Bennett’s real character.

The poverty and despair of the people in some of the worst parts of London are conveyed in a very real and shocking manner and I was impressed by the way Virginia Heath managed to combine authentic historical facts, a warm and sweet romance and even comedy into one novel and make it work. I loved the moment that Bennett actually throws away his manual and trusts his own instincts. I will definitely be reading more of this author’s work.

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