Purple outlines of a man reaching towards a woman wearing a veil on a light green background with toile-esque pattern of houses and flowers.

About the Book

Title: The Runaway Duchess (Duke Undone #2)
Published: 2022

First Impressions: Clashing Colors
What’s Your Type?
Relationships Based On Mistaken Identity; Falling In Love With The Guy AND His Family; Small British Towns; Heroines With Character Growth; Affable, Understanding Heroes
Meet Cute: A Case Of Mistaken Identity
The Lean:
 Opposites Attract
We Need to Talk:
 1000 Yellow Daisies
Was It Good For You? 
So, So Good

First Impressions: Clashing Colors

The solid purple paper-doll outlines aren’t my favorite and feel like they inserted some random clipart over the pastel background, but…at least it isn’t a cutesy cartoon like everything else lately?

What’s Your Type?

  • Relationships based on mistaken identity
  • Falling in love with the guy AND his family
  • Small British towns
  • Heroines with character growth
  • Affable, understanding heroes

Dating Profile

Lavinia Yardley has been utterly disgraced. The upstanding father she thought she had turned out to be nothing but a embezzling, despicable fraud, and now that he’s been goaled their family is destitute. Her mother pushes her towards the Duke of Cranbrook, a thoroughly odious goat of an old man, in order to reinstate their status in society. But Lavinia, a woman who has grown up getting everything she has ever desired, cannot stomach the thought of him touching her.

Neal Traymayne is a botanist—but, like, a sexy kind that goes on dangerous expeditions to places like South America to bring back new species of plants to Varnham Nurseries, the place he works and now (reluctantly) owns. He’s decided that instead of dalliances with people like society women who are utterly wrong for him, it’s time to settle down with someone sensible, who also loves plants and has his sense of adventure. Enter: widowed and famed plant hunter, Muriel Pendrake, his correspondence partner for the last six months.

Meet Cute: A Case Of Mistaken Identity

The day after her wedding, Lavinia and her new, yucky, old duke are on the train to his country estate, when she bumps into Neal at a station stop in Cornwall. Neal mistakes her for Muriel, whom he’s there to pick up so he can escort her on a tour of the Cornish moors and all the fascinating plants it contains. Sensing a way out, Lavinia goes along with Neal’s error, pretending to be Muriel, and lets him whisk her away from a life of handsy husbands and homemade Viagra.

The Lean: Opposites Attract

From While You Were Sleeping, Bill Pullman explains attraction to Sandra Bullock

Obviously nothing significant in their relationship should move forward while Neal thinks Lavinia is this famed plant hunter he plans to propose to, but thankfully the deception doesn’t last long enough for feelings to get too hurt. Lavinia had a dalliance with a hot young duke a few years back and had always expected she would marry him until he drowned, so she’s not some blushing innocent. Common-born Neal is very close to his family and admired his parents’ relationship built on like-mindedness, so he’s looking for the same kind of work/love partnership. But Lavinia, coming from a high-society perspective, definitely has a different set of ideals, and their clashes of class make for some fun arguments. They’re both forced to confront their preconceived notions surrounding class, status, and what a “good” relationship looks like, so that, by the time they get together, there is a mutual respect on an even playing field.

Dirty Talk

Lowell writes what feels like classy spice. The sex scenes are R-rated but not overly explicit in a way that sometimes feels out of place with the rest of the “historical” sounding writing. The emphasis is on the relationship building with a side-helping of smut, which is my personal sweet spot. And since this is a very nature-themed book, I think it will come as no surprise that at some point the characters get busy out on a bed of moss in the wilderness:

“You do like it,” he said, watching her.

“Maybe too much.” She gasped as he curled his finger. “What if I can’t control how I…”

[…]

“If you become completely wild, like a forest creature, or like a pirate queen who takes her pleasure without apology and gives no quarter…”

He pushed her onto her back and loomed over her, so his shadow quenched the light.

“God, I want it.” He almost groaned with the words. “I want to make you come and come apart and forget every goddamn thing but the feel of my mouth.”

Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose

Teacher types on laptop while talking to student
Typing a romance novel on a computer screen

Generally the writing is straight up and easy to devour. But Lowell couldn’t help herself and put in a few flowery—literally—descriptions during the same sexy scene from above that made me laugh:

His touch made her open up like a crocus. He wanted to open her wider, to taste each ridge and fold, parting the lavender-rose of her, heavy with dew.

Like, a bit ew, but that is, I promise, the worst of it. This is also from Neal the plant-lover’s perspective before we switch to Lavinia’s, and her musings have a different tone. I appreciate when authors take those differing personalities and viewpoints into account instead of making their characters sound samey.

We Need To Talk: 1000 Yellow Daisies

Friends, I loved this book. It got to me at just the right time when I needed two characters who were really great. Neal is an excellent hero in that he’s genuinely a good and understanding person with livable flaws (he’s an adventure-hound and, as Lavinia tells him, snobby, which he finds endlessly amusing). Lavinia and her fall from grace began in the first book of this “series” (which you do not need to read to enjoy this story), and she’s very much the vain villain character. But, oh, how she grows up and learns to be a more thoughtful and kind person! And her growth isn’t centered on Neal goading her to be good, but because of her circumstances forcing her to examine what her life actually was like and what she thought she wanted back then to what she’s seeing differently now.

I loved Lavinia’s interactions with Neal’s intellectually-driven family and her longing for their close-knit bonds, especially given how shitty her own parents turn out to be. One of the main characters falling in love the other’s family and that conversely helping them become closer—it’s one of my favorite tropes. (We need a name for this! Does it fall under “found family”?)

I liked The Duke Undone a lot and gave it five stars on Goodreads, but I actually think I like The Runaway Duchess even more! Lowell’s settings still feel real and researched, and there’s plenty of balance between the fluffy and the serious. I remarked in my review of Undone that it got a bit melodramatic at the end, and that some of the discussions on alcoholism felt too heavy for a “romance”, but thankfully, in this book, the scale of the drama felt appropriate to the stakes.

It’s a “small” thing, but I’m grateful Lowell didn’t make us witness any scenes of Lavinia being forced or threatened to be intimate with her creepy husband for shock value. It would’ve been too much and unnecessary.

Was It Good For You? So, So Good

Johnny swings Baby around while they dance from Dirty Dancing.

That is a resounding yes! Joanna Lowell will undeniably be an auto-read for me in the future.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Berkley Books. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Runaway Duchess is available now.

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Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.