An Affair before Christmas (Desperate Duchesses Series #2)

An Affair Before Christmas - Eloisa James Ay! What to say about this book? If only I'd read the reviews here at Goodreads first, perhaps I wouldn't have bothered. I wasn't a huge fan of the 1st book in this series, but I usually adore Eloisa James' books, so I thought I'd give it another go.But, alas. Trying to get through the 1st 2/3rds of this book was almost like torture. I've adapted a rule about giving up on books if they don't capture my attention, but somehow, I didn't give up on this one. And once I pushed through in the last 1/3rd, I can't say that I was altogether miffed. If only we could have gotten to that point much, much earlier!!!Here are my complaints:1. The main REASON that Poppy can't enjoy sex with her husband... really? I'd think that a desirable man who truly loves you and tries virtually everything to please you.... I just can't imagine that Poppy wouldn't be able to experience pleasure, despite her REASON. She does seem to mention a memory or two that pleasure might have begun to break through. But REALLY? OK, James makes it clear in her Author's Notes that the hair issue was likely an issue in Poppy's time. And Poppy is obviously very naive and very influenced by her mother. But as CLEAN as Poppy is, I find it ludicrous to believe that she wouldn't realize that her hair and all that itching was interfering with her marital relations. I can't imagine that if she really loved her husband and enjoyed his attentions that she wouldn't have at least TRIED to have sex once without the hair powder. And not to know what was in her hair? UGH!2. Poppy's mother - especially setting herself up in Poppy's house after Poppy leaves Fletch. Once again - REALLY? Wouldn't the ton simply go mad with gossip about Fletch and his mother-in-law? Especially since Poppy's mother continually claimed to be more beautiful and have a better figure. I really believed that she had designs on Fletch, believing that after her daughter left him that she (Poppy's mother) would cause Fletch to fall in love with her. It was... obscene and gross the way that she took over as if she WERE the Duchess. How Fletch allowed it to go on so long is beyond me. Didn't he have every right to demand she leave at once - especially after taking over his entire household and redecorating each and every room?Or...were we supposed to believe that Fletch set her up all along? The "boy" who caused Poppy's mother to flee to France in such shame must have been seen by at least one servant in that house before. The "boy" claimed to have been the decorator - was that true? Did Fletch allow his mother-in-law to redecorate with this scandal in mind all along? Or was it simply that Fletch got the support of the household staff to back him up on the bluff? If the staff was still Fletch's household staff, I'd be inclined to believe it; but other than the butler, his MIL has replaced everyone else. And with a reputation such as his MIL had, it seems unlikely that unless she'd been seen in the "boy's" company more than once in the house, the MIL would have fought back tooth-and-nail to decry his claims. Except that... it's late in the story when Fletch and Gil go off to Mrs. Abernathy's house (?), where we're led to believe he's going to finally take a mistress after all. Fletch alludes to that being when he hired the "boy"; so... it seems like perhaps just a last-minute plan on his part - part of his plan to win Poppy back. How it could be done so well in such a short amount of time speaks ill of the ton, doesn't it?Besides which all the damage she did to poor Poppy over the years. Did Fletch really NOT know how she treated her own daughter? He certainly heard her abuse against Poppy and everyone else. Why wouldn't he come to her rescue much sooner? Why wouldn't Fletch go out of his way to separate Poppy from her mother? He must have known that SHE was at least partly responsible for his sham of a marriage.3. The overly long played out business with Villiers. I understand Ms. James was making a point about medicine in that time. And it's obvious that Villiers hadn't a choice but to be taken in by the London quack, since no one else knew any better. And Villiers was in the throes of fever so often. It *is* a testament to his will to live that he lived for so long! But I grew weary of his feverish tirades and the shenanigans of his butler (except when he dressed up as Jemma); it was just downright depressing. For Jemma to not even visit him was atrocious!The only bright spot was when Jemma's husband, Elliot, did visit Villiers. It was touching to see the two men somewhat reconciled after so long. And I suppose that Villiers' regret about Benjamin and Harriet were part of the plan, too. But Villiers already had regret about that - why did it take almost dying to say it out loud?4. Charlotte Tilton. It seemed particularly cruel to throw her into the story this way. We all believed she was Elliot's mistress, so I suppose it was some relief to discover that she was only a starry-eyed groupie. At least Elliot showed some restraint. And the mix-up to get her to Villiers was... contrived. I didn't especially like Charlotte, despite her attempts to help Villiers rally against his illness. And the whole thing about her "romance" with Villiers' heir seemed almost an afterthought - thrown in simply to keep Charlotte from marrying Villiers.5. Jemma. While there's something to be admired about Jemma's fortitude to live her life on her own terms and to not allow her broken heart over her husband's betrayal so soon in their marriage to define her (certainly not in public), there's a cruelty Jemma that for me undoes all her so-called "goodness". As previously mentioned, why didn't she visit poor Villiers in his sick bed? Especially after her husband had already been there? It would have been perfectly legit for her to accompany Elliot. No, while some might think that Jemma's reputation is unfair, I find it to be most fair. She is a wanton at heart. She thinks only of her own pleasure and what she might do to snub the ton and her husband. I just don't like her.6. Poppy and John (Fletch). It was sigh-worthy when they finally discovered themselves and each other. The steamy scenes were oh so satisfying, if I might blushingly say so. And I suppose one of the major points of this story was that both Poppy and Fletch had to grow up and learn to like themselves before they could truly have a marriage. But I did feel so sad for Fletch - it seemed he tried and tried and tried; I couldn't blame him for his snappish behavior, not even in public. It might have been cruel, but it was true. I admired that he couldn't take a mistress, despite trying.Poppy was just such a... child. Even when she tried to take her life back into her own hands, she just threw herself to the wind. Pursuing her passions didn't make her any less girlish. Back to point #1, Poppy seemed so foolish and naive. It was gratifying for her to discover herself, but it took up waaaaay too much of the book for her to get there.-------------Can I go on to read the next book in this series? Not sure. I'm not overly invested in the "main" characters, so while I might be tempted to learn more about Lord Strange (what a name!), I'm not sure I can stand to read more about Villiers, Jemma, and Elliot.