Book of Love (x 2) by Erin Satie

She’s trying to make ends meet. He’s out for a bit of fun.

Cordelia Kelly is busy, focused, worried about the future of her fledgling bookbinding business. When a handsome man stops her on the street to pester her with questions, she gives him the consideration he deserves: none.
That handsome man happens to be the Duke of Stroud, and he finds Cordelia’s hostility hilarious. He gives chase, if only for the pleasure of provoking her again.

He thinks life is a game. She doesn’t play around.

Within days of meeting Cordelia, Stroud sets a marching band on a matchmaking mama, defaces a local monument, and ropes Cordelia into a round of his favorite game.
In that same time, Cordelia stitches together the complete works of Mary Wollstonecraft, enthusiastically devotes herself to a petition demanding expanded legal rights for married women, and beats Stroud at his own game.

She defies all expectations. So does he.

Most people dismiss Stroud as a fool—himself included. When Cordelia sees past his lighthearted facade, he’s terrified and also… in love?
Stroud barges into Cordelia’s life, offering her all the material and sensual temptations she’s learned to do without. She usually has willpower to spare, but turning him down takes all of it, and then some. He’s oddly irresistible.
Or maybe they’re just perfect for one another.

Dear Erin Satie,

Your latest Book of Love was a marvelous surprise—more so because I had vowed never to read it!!! I am a fan of your books and writing, and so when The Book of Love was released in 2021 I downloaded it right away. But I was immediately put off by the description of the hero—in fact so put off, that I started a whole discussion about hero descriptions here. Here is my reaction and the off-putting description just to get it out of the way.

“I started it [the book] and had a very visceral reaction which I have never had towards a hero— disgust. Even the opening description of what he looks like was gross or off putting to me. “Biscuit colored from head to toe, with skin the color of fresh dough and hair the color of warm golden brown of bread crust baked to perfection, all capped off by a blinding smile. Very white teeth.” What the……. comparing his skin color to dough did not come across as sexy or handsome and biscuit colored— I had no idea how to picture that!! He did not seem attractive at all.”

So what happened to change my mind? I was on an airplane without a Wifi connection, and was scrolling through my unread books and found your beautiful cover. I started reading at the point at which I stopped, and was slowly drawn into the story. The writing is so good—it contains romance and sensuality, clever matching of wits, lots of pranks and friendships, and an interesting cast of side characters. It’s also a book that balances between the serious and the funny—which is not an easy endeavor at all! At its heart, the book is about Cordelia the heroine’s growth, her moral and philosophical growth and complexity. It is also about a real historical event— it contextualizes the Petition for Reform of the Married Women’s Property Law which was presented to Parliament in March of 1856.

Cordelia is from a small town, a gently bred well to do family, and her father is a brilliant well regarded judge. From him she gets her logic, her acumen with words and people, her ability to argue and truth telling. She leaves home for reasons I won’t enumerate here (you must read the book to read about her very compelling reasons!) but suffice it to say they involve her best friend and the way that her family—her father in particular—failed to live up to their moral and philosophical ideals. She is a very principled person—truthful, incisive, clever, and takes no BS. She is a really unusual heroine. At first I really didn’t like her. This is what I wrote about her when I first picked up the book.

“What I couldn’t stand and why I couldn’t keep on reading was the sense of contempt that Cordelia emanates. She’s not just purposeful and opinionated — she came across as joyless and cold and kind of bitter. The book binding scenes were interesting but again she seemed to have more love for book making than any real person in her life”

Readers, I was wrong. My mind is completely changed and I stand corrected—she is not joyless and cold but a warm and loving friend and partner, and a person who appreciates beauty, cleverness and good books as well as pranks. She is incisive—she sees to the heart of things and to the hero’s depth and I absolutely adored that quality in her. In one scene, this comes through powerfully. She is at a country party and the hero admires her fortitude and strength of character. She eviscerates idiots, hypocrites, the grandiose and misogynistic.

“He did hear about her. Often. Given the sheer volume of chatter about Coco, one would imagine she’d been circling the house like a shark from sunup to sundown, shouting radical slogans from a blowhorn.”

In no other novel have I read a heroine being likened to a shark as a form of praise. Stroud likes and admires her courage, her convictions and her uncompromising beliefs.

At the start of the book we see Cordelia working as a tradeswoman binding books for money. She lives on her own and is independent but we see how difficult that is, how much money and security always elude her, how much she has sacrificed for her principles. She meets the Duke of Stroud by chance on the street, when he is engaged in pulling off a prank. He is known to be a big prankster, most everyone in society discounts him disparaging him as big and dumb and she thinks he is too at first. But as the story unfolds, she sees to his heart—that he is kind and clever and strong and loving. That his pranks are a way to diffuse tension, to cleverly manipulate social situations. He is loyal to his friends, loyal to his sister and a very empathic and sensitive person, despite his enormous size.

This book was a marvelous revelation—like eating a piece of dark chocolate you thought you wouldn’t like, but instead it melts in your mouth and resonates with fragrant notes of sweetness, spiciness and depth. I came to like the unconventional hero and heroine—I came to see Stroud as sexy, not some gross gingerbread man but a very unusual hero—lighthearted but with depth, goofy but strong and well meaning, masculine without being domineering. The heroine is also a unique and original character, seemingly cold and aloof, she is strong and warm, layered and loving, fierce and uncompromising and also tender. The writing is strong with descriptions and analogies that flowed on the page and with a straightforwardness that unpacked complicated historical issues.

Finally, I want to note that I appreciated the book’s depiction of marriage. Reason and romance are married here. When the hero and heroine discuss marriage, they do so practically but also with a clarity of emotion. There was no playing games, no artifice no elaborate miscommunication or obstacle to overcome. When they agree to marry its lovely in its elegant simplicity and unadulterated honesty. There was not a lot of sex, but a lot of cuddling, sensuality and intimacy (which is more important to me than graphic sex that doesn’t advance the emotional relationship!). In the end, I came to really enjoy this book and I look forward to reading more in the series!
I also want to note that Jenni wrote a marvelous review of it here.

My grade: A

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