Friday, January 19, 2024

Mini Book Reviews: Women vs. Society's Expectations

You all know that one of my goals for 2024 is to read more books from my shelf, so I started with The Henna Artist, which has been on my "audio bookshelf" for quite a while. It examines a woman's place in society and how that can sometimes be difficult to navigate against family responsibility and expectations. That is the same with Harper St. George's historical romance, The Duchess Takes a Husband. Camille, a widow, wants to remain unmarried and has taken an interest in the suffrage movement, which is unconventional for the Gilded Age. While both books are from different periods historically, they both have two bold female protagonists who are paving their own way. Have you read these books?
The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George
Pages: 336
Genre: Adult Historical Romance
Pub. Date: May 23, 2023
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Heiress Gets a Duke,
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "A scandalous arrangement between a London rogue and an American duchess leads to lavish stakes. Despite her illustrious title, Camille, Duchess of Hereford, remains what she has always been—a pariah. Though her title means she’s technically accepted by London Society, the rebellious widow with her burgeoning interest in the suffrage movement and her American ways isn’t exactly high on every hostess’s guest list. But Camille starts to wonder if being an outcast is not without its perks when the tantalizing answer to her secret fear appears in the shape of Jacob Thorne, the illegitimate son of an earl and co-owner of London’s infamous Montague Club. Jacob is used to making deals with his club members—he’s just not accustomed to them being beautiful women. Nor have the terms ever been so sweetly seductive as Camille’s shocking proposition. To finally buy his own club and gain the crucial backing of investors, Camille offers Jacob the respectability of a fake engagement with a duchess. In return, the tempting widow has one condition: she wants Jacob to show her if it’s possible for her to experience pleasure in bed. The lure of such a bargain proves too delicious to resist, drawing the enterprising rogue and the wallflower duchess into a scandalous game and an even more dangerous gamble of the heart."
Readers of The Gilded Age Heiresses series will remember Camille as being down on her luck. In The Duchess Takes a Husband, the fourth book in the series, things are about to turn around for her. Her husband has died and she is relieved as he was monstrous to her. She is getting her life back on track and is interested in the suffrage movement as well as helping other women, but sex has always been disappointing to her. So, she reaches out to her friend, Jacob Thorne, who is an illegitimate son of an earl and owner of the notorious Montague Club. Surely he can help her out and clear up any confusion she might have. Normally this would be right up Jacob's alley as he is propositioned a lot; however, Camille's best friend is married to Jacob's brother, so this could get a bit awkward. Once he finds out that he needs stability to enter a promising business deal, he realizes Camille would make the perfect fake fiancé. Perhaps this arrangement can help them both out? Readers of the romance genre will expect sparks to fly between Camille and Jacob despite their initial hesitancy and they surely do in The Duchess Takes a Husband by Harper St. George.

I remember feeling so sad for Camille in the previous novels in the series, so I am very happy to see she gets a happy ending in 
The Duchess Takes a Husband. She originally wants just a relationship with Jacob based on pleasure alone as she has already been married to a mean man and doesn't want to go down that road again. Jacob has his eyes on this new business venture as well as a move to Paris, so something serious doesn't suit him either. However, once the two are together, there's no doubt about it their chemistry. The Duchess Takes a Husband felt a bit steamier than the other novels in the series, but I was rooting for Camille so much so that it never felt like too much. I also appreciated the feminist undertones in this novel and Camille's focus on the suffrage movement. Readers of the The Gilded Age Heiresses series won't be disappointed with this final novel and while I enjoyed the first novel in the series the most, I still loved all of the installments in this swoony romance series. Have you read The Duchess Takes a Husband? Are you a fan of Harper St. George? Do you like historical romances? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction/Audio
Pub. Date: March 3, 2020
Publisher: Mira Books
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars  

Goodreads says, "Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel. Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own… Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does."


Lakshmi Sastri flees a bad arranged marriage and the life she knew for a new one in bustling Jaipur. She slowly builds a new life and a new business as a henna artist. She also sells herbs on the side. Parvati, a wealthy woman and client, is her benefactress and she refers Lakshmi to many others in the upper class as she is an exceptional henna artist. Lakshmi is doing well and has plans for her future until her husband shows up along with Lakshmi's sister, who she didn't even know existed. Her parents have died and now it's up to her to take care of her younger sister. This throws Lakshmi for a loop as now she has to balance her family responsibilities with her budding career. Also, to complicate things further, Parvati's husband, Samir, brings her some clients for her herbs, which include teas to help abort unwanted babies. Things start to get very complicated for Lakshmi as it's difficult to handle it all in The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

I listened to the audio version of The Henna Artist, narrated by Sneha Mathan, which was outstanding. I think she brought an added layer to the story that I think I would have missed if I simply read it. The descriptions of the henna, the market, the silks, the food, the tea, and the memorable setting were so evocative, lush, and atmospheric. I can't say I have read many novels that take place in 1950s India, but I thoroughly enjoyed such a unique setting. Lakshmi's struggles can still be appreciated by women even though this is a historical novel. Balancing personal goals with family responsibilities as well as society's expectations is difficult. Lakshmi's story really sucked me in along with the beautiful setting of India. I am glad that I finally got around to reading one of the best novels of 2020. I hear The Henna Artist will be adapted for Netflix and I can't wait to see it on the small screen.

Have you read The Duchess Takes a Husband or The Henna Artist? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.



  1. I have The Duchess Takes a Husband on my shelf right now and almost picked it up as my next read. I think this series is a lot of fun and so happy to see Camille find some happiness!

    1. Yes! I was too! It was a great ending to such a fun series. Thanks for visiting, Angela!


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