Review: Brazen and the Beast

Review: Brazen and the BeastBrazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Series: The Bareknuckle Bastards #2
Published by Avon on July 30, 2019
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

“Is there a good time to find a man bound and unconscious in one’s carriage?”

FINAL DECISION: I loved Whit, the hero, and there were moments in this book that were amazing, but it was prevented from being an amazing overall read by the static nature of the heroine who never made a misstep, never grew, and never felt human but rather a was a collection of “ideal” modern women qualities.

THE STORY: On the eve of her twenty-ninth birthday, Lady Henrietta Sedley has declared that this next year will be the Year of Hattie where she will claim herself and her wishes for herself. First, she will begin by ridding herself of her virginity to make herself unsuitable for marriage so that she can convince her father to finally see her as the worthy successor to the family shipping business. But on the way to her “errand” Hattie finds a tied up man in her carriage. The man is known as Beast, one of the bareknuckle bastards the kings who run the criminal enterprises in Covent Gardens. Whit finds Hattie intriguing especially because she is a lead on the man who threatens those he cares for.

OPINION: I absolutely adored Whit and was neutral on Hattie. Unfortunately, she was a static character who didn’t seem to have any growth in the story. Written as too perfect — she might not consider herself perfect for society, but she certainly didn’t need to change at all during the story. In fact, the essence of her story is that she is just great and everyone else tries to keep her down. I honestly found her story boring. The star here was Whit who was simply adorable and spent the book doing everything for Hattie.

Whit, like his siblings, was subjected to an evil game of torture by their father, a duke, in a competition between the duke’s bastard children to become the heir. Whit, however, is the caretaker of the family. Raised by his mother, Whit suffers from having known love and caring and not being able to protect those he loves. At every turn in this book, it is Whit’s desire to care for Hattie. Now she doesn’t always allow him to and she also demands to be an equal and care for him as well, but even when he does things to subvert Hattie’s goals, it comes from a place of care. I just adored him.

There were things I really liked about Hattie. She is an older heroine at twenty-nine. She is plus-sized and rather plain in appearance. She is also a budding business magnet if she could be allowed to take over her family’s business. My complaint is that she is already at her apex before she even meets Whit and doesn’t need to do any personal growth in the book. I like characters with flaws who have to overcome them and Hattie was just too “perfect” already. She is already at peace with herself. I just wanted to see her flaws — not just her perceived flaws which are not flaws at all. And even her business acumen we only get to hear about and not really see her handling the business.

I did love the relationship between Whit and Hattie. They were funny and sexy together. I loved the arguments and how the two just fit together. I did love so many parts to this book, I just wanted more. MacLean has spoiled me, and this is not amongst her best books.

WORTH MENTIONING: I loved the references to characters from prior MacLean books. Not enough to distract from the story for those who haven’t read other series, but certainly Easter eggs for fans of MacLean’s other books.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BRAZEN AND THE BEAST is the second book in the Bareknuckle Bastards series. While the romance here is self-contained and thus can be read as a standalone, there is an overarching story that is better read as part of the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

 

four-stars

Review: No Good Duke Goes Unpunished

Review: No Good Duke Goes UnpunishedNo Good Duke Goes Unpunished (The Rules of Scoundrels, #3) by Sarah MacLean
Series: The Rules of Scoundrels #3
Published by Avon on November 26, 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

NO GOOD DUKE GOES UNPUNISHED is the third book in Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series. It is the story of Temple, known as the Killer Duke, one of the four partners in the Fallen Angels gaming hell. As with all of The Rules of Scoundrels series, the story begins with Temple’s “fall” from grace. Temple’s fall occurred twelve years ago when he awoke in the bed of his future stepmother covered in blood. Temple does not know what happened. While no body is found, but Mara Lowe has disappeared so Temple is believed guilty – even by Temple.

Mara Lowe is not dead. She was 16 when she was to marry Temple’s father (she was to be Temple’s fourth stepmother). Twelve years later, she returns because her younger brother, Christopher Lowe, has gotten into debt at the partners gaming hell and she wishes to save him and recover her money that Christopher has lost.

The first scene between Mara and Temple is really great. It isn’t a spoiler to state that Temple is a bit annoyed to discover that Mara is alive. The scenes throughout the book between the two are fantastic. Mara is a fighter and certainly a match for the boxer extraordinaire Temple. This book is a bit more plot heavy than the other books of the series and the two characters struggle against one another more. It is more of a prize fight and the reader experiences round after round of action between Temple and Mara. Without giving too much way, the two have some incredible battles in Temple’s boxing ring at the Fallen Angel!

NO GOOD DUKE GOES UNPUNISHED is a dark and emotionally intense novel. Temple and Mara have a long way to go to get their HEA. Temple, a character who has accepted his fate, is now consumed with rage and a lust for vengeance. However, that desire is not natural for Temple who struggles with his desire to redeem himself and his desire for Mara.

I have enjoyed all of MacLean’s novels. She is now one of my favorite writers. I find that her books are filled with incredible, individual characters. They are memorable and no two of her books are the same. I also really enjoy The Rules of Scoundrels in particular because her books are dark and filled with tension. When the HEA finally happens, I feel that I have traveled alongside the characters and rejoice with them.

NO GOOD DUKE GOES UNPUNISHED is the darkest novel in the series because both characters are deeply hurt by their past. In the previous two books in the series, the heroine provided the light in the story. Here, Mara is the catalyst for the darkness in Temple’s life so their romance is much more complicated. In fact, Temple is the victim here and Mara is the one who feel unworthy. She has harmed Temple immensely in the past and continues to harm him throughout the novel. It is Temple who ultimately gives his forgiveness and acceptance to Mara.

To me this book isn’t quite as good as ONE GOOD EARL DESERVERS A LOVER (the second book of the series) but that book is one of my all time favorite novels. That being said, NO GOOD DUKE GOES UNPUNISHED is at least as good as A ROGUE BY ANY OTHER NAME and in some ways I like this more because the characters are now familiar to me. I loved the interaction with all the Scoundrels and their wives. This is the first book of the series where we really get to see all the characters together and the crisis which brings all our characters into the same room was emotional and heartbreaking. These Scoundrels are not only partners but are also a family.

Finally, I give a WOW, WOW, WOW for the Epilogue. This is one book that you want to read without spoilers for the Epilogue. MacLean reveals a big secret about Chase, whose book is the next in the series. My mouth dropped when I read the reveal and I had to read it twice to believe what I was reading. I think that the Reader who does not peek at the ending will get a really great surprise and I can’t wait for Chase’s book.

NO GOOD DUKE DOES UNPUNISHED continues a fantastic series by Sarah MacLean. A reader doesn’t have to read the other books of the series before reading this one, but honestly, this book is more enjoyable if you have already encountered Temple. Start with A ROGUE BY ANY OTHER NAME and then continue with ONE GOOD EARL DESERVES A LOVER (my favorite of the series) before reading this book. Temple is important in both those novels and a reader will have a better idea of his relationship with the other Scoundrels and their wives.

I give this book a 5 plus stars! I only give this rating to books that I love the first time I read them but that are also ones that I will re-read. I’ve already read this one three times and I expect that I will read it again and again.

five-stars

Review: One Good Earl Deserves a Lover

Review: One Good Earl Deserves a LoverOne Good Earl Deserves a Lover (The Rules of Scoundrels, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Series: The Rules of Scoundrels #2
Published by Avon on January 29, 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

ONE GOOD EARL DESERVES A LOVER is the second book of Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series.

I will make a confession before I begin the review of ONE GOOD EARL DESERVES A LOVER. I read this book for the first time four months ago and I’ve read it at least 6 times since then. It is already one of my favorite romance books of all time. The book makes me laugh and makes me cry. I absolutely love the characters and while I understand the complaints that some have about the plot or the motivations of the characters, I don’t agree.

To me the romance between Lady Philippa (Pippa) Marbury and Jasper Arlesey, Earl Harlow aka Cross is magnificent. I love how Cross is just baffled by Pippa. She is a unique character and he is enthralled and bemused by her. Their first meeting, Pippa arrives at Cross’ office while he is asleep and she proceeds to inspect his books and criticize his calculations is so amusing. Pippa is “odd” and Cross is simultaneously fascinated and horrified by her.

Cross is a wonderfully tortured hero. He is a man who was a second son who was happy living dissipated life; a young man who did not take anything seriously. He is tortured because his older responsible brother is killed in a carriage accident while traveling to an event that Cross at first promised and then reneged on attending. Cross then gains his brother’s title. Cross, however, believes that he should have died instead of his brother and thus refuses to take up that life because he does not feel worthy of it.

Pippa is amazing. She is clever and strong and quirky. She is a scientist and looks at the world in a curious manner. She is engaged to marry an earl (who is nice enough but no match for Pippa’s intellect) because she is settling because she believes that no one could really want her because of her odd nature.

I love this book. The dialogue is the best part. The conversations are so fascinating that I could just continue to read them again and again. Cross and Pippa are both intellectuals and they discuss things in such an unusual manner. I am both fascinated and amused by their conversations. I especially like the fact that Cross is so bemused in Pippa’s presence. He is a man who has denied his passions and yet has such incredible passion inside him.

MacLean always has such vivid characters, but I find Pippa and Cross to be incredible examples of her expertise. They are unusual people and I understand their motivations because MacLean does such a great job of bringing the reader into their minds. I know that Cross’ actions are the subject of some confusion and criticism by some readers. I feel, however, that Cross has made a life for himself of denying himself. He refuses to be happy because he feels unworthy. Eventually, he concludes that he is not worthy but that he is enough of a scoundrel to take what he wants anyway. Thus, the HEA. It doesn’t bother me when characters make swift changes in decisions because I find that realistic in that Cross is so used to denying himself happiness that he does so by habit until he is shaken from his routine.

I also really enjoy all the secondary characters. Chase and Temple have important roles in the story and I enjoy the interaction between the partners. My only small complaint is that Penelope and Bourne only have a small role here. I would have liked to have seen what their reaction to Pippa and Cross was, and I missed that payoff.

While you don’t have to read A ROGUE BY ANY OTHER NAME first, the story certainly gains from having the background from that story – plus, any reader of ONE GOOD EARL DESERVES A LOVER must read the Epilogue of A ROGUE BY ANY OTHER NAME where Pippa and Cross meet. While their meeting is summarized in the first chapter of this book, the Epilogue is so amazing that for me I always read that before I start to read ONE GOOD EARL DESERVES A LOVER.

I recommend this book highly!

five-stars

Review: A Rogue by Any Other Name

Review: A Rogue by Any Other NameA Rogue by Any Other Name (The Rules of Scoundrels, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Series: The Rules of Scoundrels #1
Published by Avon on February 28, 2012
Genres: Historical
Pages: 386
Goodreads
five-stars

A ROGUE BY ANY OTHER NAME is the first book of Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series. The four books of the series tell the stories of four partner who have been exiled from society. The four are partners in a fabulous gaming hell known as the Fallen Angel.

Each book begins with the story of the fall from grace of each of the partners. In A ROGUE BY ANY OTHER NAME, we learn the story of Michael Lawler, Marquess of Bourne, who was orphaned at the age of 16. At the age of 21, he lost everything on a turn of the cards at vingt et un. Exiled from society, he has built a new life for himself as the games manager at the Fallen Angel.

The heroine of the story is Lady Penelope Marbury, who was the ex-fiancé of the Duke of Leighton from ELEVEN SCANDALS TO START TO WIN A DUKE’S HEART. Penelope has spent the eight years since her broken engagement searching for the kind of love that the Duke found in that book. She and Michael were friends when they were growing up, but she hasn’t seen him in 16 years.

“[T]hey’d been friends once. Long ago, before he’d become handsome as the devil and twice as cold.”

The two meet again because Penelope’s father has acquired a portion of Bourne’s family estate and Bourne wants it. He compromises her and forces their marriage.

This book is much darker than MacLean’s previous Love By Numbers Series. Bourne is a dark, cold man when the book begins. He doesn’t try to disguise his motives but rather takes what he wants. What he wants is his land and revenge on the man who took everything from him. Bourne is obsessed with revenge and doesn’t really care who gets hurt in the process. I confess that I like dark, sexy, tortured heroes. Bourne is definitely of the dark and tortured variety and he is a jerk a lot in this book. I like that though because I love that he is redeemed by his love for Penelope.

Penelope has grown and changed in the eight years since ELEVEN SCANDALS TO START TO WIN A DUKE’S HEART. I found it very interesting that it was the love story in that book that changed Penelope. It made her dissatisfied with the unemotional life that she had expected to live. It made her want love. I also really liked how strong Penelope is. Bourne tries to intimidate her and yet she refused to yield. Even when she cannot win against him, she is strong and makes the best deal she can.

I also really like that it is Penelope that is the heroine in the story. She is the one who takes the actions to help Bourne. She is the instigator of much of the movement in their relationship. She is the powerful one.

The secondary characters are strong and pull at the reader to know what their stories are. I also really enjoy that MacLean uses secondary characters from her other novels. It is always a nice surprise for a small character to make an appearance. The book also leaves small questions about the other partners in the series which makes me want to read the next book.

And speaking of the next book….This book has a fantastic epilogue that is really a prologue for ONE GOOD EARL DESERVES A LOVER.

five-stars

Review: How the Dukes Stole Christmas

Review: How the Dukes Stole ChristmasHow the Dukes Stole Christmas by Joanna Shupe, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, Tessa Dare
Published by Rakes Rogues & Scoundrels LLC on October 15, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 416
Goodreads
four-stars

This is an anthology of four short stories with a Christmas theme. The stories are not connected to one another (other than a recipe for a special shortbread and the holiday theme) so each can be read on its own.

MEET ME IN MAYFAIR by Tessa Dare: Louisa Ward has one night to catch the eye of a wealthy gentleman and only weeks to convince him to marry her before her family will be evicted from their home by the Duke of Thorndale. A turn of fate, however, puts Thorndale in Louisa’s path.  I enjoyed this one because the hours the couple end up spending together which felt sweet and romantic. Although the story is short, I did get the connection between the characters. The story is also funny at times, as it is a series of adventures and misadventures. I enjoyed this one. Rating: 4 stars.

THE DUKE OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT by Sarah MacLean: Eben, Duke of Allryd is obsessed with work and his wealth. Twelve years ago, this obsession led to the love of his life leaving him. Now the ghost of Christmas past has returned to Eben in the form of Lady Jacqueline Mosby. This is a wonderful adaption of A Christmas Carol (but with a happy ending for the romance). Eben is a sad, lonely man but is not a bad person. He is a man who focused on saving his dukedom from financial ruin and yet forgot to include the woman that he loved. I loved the relationship between Eben and Jack which was sweet and so perfect and I grieved as Eben let it slip away until Jack left as well. Then Jack returns and ends up saving Eben from himself. This is the best of this anthology and a Christmas romance that I will return to again. Rating: 5 stars.

HEIRESS ALONE by Sophie Jordan: Annis Bannister is mistakenly left home alone by her family. When her Duke neighbor comes to rescue the servants from a roving band of thieves, Annis is forced to seek refuge with him as well. This one was just okay for me. I never really felt a connection between the characters and thus the quick progression in their relationship didn’t work for me. The hero always felt indistinct to me and thus I couldn’t really understand his connection with the heroine. Rating: 2.5 stars.

CHRISTMAS IN CENTRAL PARK by Joanna Shupe: Rose writes a column as Mrs. Walker who gives advice on households and cooking. Rose, however, is not married, doesn’t have a house and certainly can’t cook. When the newspaper’s owner, Duke Havemeyer, requests that Rose host a Christmas party at her home, Rose has to acquire a house, a husband and the ability to cook a dinner. The problem is that a “married” woman shouldn’t be so interested in her boss.  This one was mixed for me. I thought the setup was really good and things went well until the dinner party. Once that was over, the entire resolution was so quick that I didn’t feel it was in characters with the rest of the story. I was disappointed in that because I thought the beginning of the story was so interesting that I would have liked something better than Rose making demands and the hero just giving in to her. Rating: 3.5 stars.

four-stars

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower

Review: Wicked and the WallflowerWicked and the Wallflower (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Series: The Bareknuckle Bastards #1
Published by Avon on June 19, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 396
Goodreads
four-stars

“Felicity Faircloth,” he said, “in the few days I’ve known you, I’ve learned one, unimpeachable truth. You are no kind of ordinary.”

FINAL DECISION: Enjoyable book with an emotional center, but suffers from introducing all the conflicts and thus loses a bit with the couple in this book. There is clearly an overarching storyline so this book misses a complete resolution.

THE STORY: Lady Felicity Faircloth keenly feels the loss of her social position. Impulsively, she claims to be engaged to the catch of the season — a reclusive duke. A mysterious and dangerous man, Devil, comes to Felicity and promises that he will make all her dreams come true — for a price. A bastard and the king of the dangerous streets of London, Devil intends to use Felicity for his own purposes to destroy his enemy, but Felicity might be Devil’s own downfall.

OPINION: MacLean has a deeply emotional and dramatic style of writing that I always enjoy. Her characters have complex emotional lives and the emotion is strong and deep in the relationship. I enjoyed this book, but because it feels like the first book in the series which is setting up relationships and because there is much unresolved at this book, it doesn’t feel complete.

On the positive side, I really connected with the world that MacLean has chosen to explore. The seedy side of London and the aristocratic world are combined in interesting ways. I believe the set up of the overarching story has definite possibilities. In fact, I think what is probably the big set up in the story is a drag on this story because I was more interested in the secrets yet to be revealed than the romance here.

Felicity is an interesting character. She is growing beyond the bounds of the aristocratic world while yearning to be part of it. When she meets the hero, she finds the place where she actually can be her truest self. But part of that growth is shedding the protective cocoon of what her entire life has been directed to prepare her for. One thing I especially liked was the realism of Felicity’s feelings towards her family. It felt good to have her examine the complexity of her feelings rather than being docile and accepting. One thing her character lacked, however, was that her willingness to toss away what she claimed to want felt too quick for me.

I really loved Devil, but the fact that secrets are still being kept about the past means that we still don’t know everything about his character. I never felt his conflict as well as I wanted to. We are being kept in the dark towards some future revelation and I don’t think that worked to the advantage of Devil’s story. The exploration of the BKB’s business gave the story some historical interest and I loved the relationship between the siblings.

This is a book that might improve once the series is done but I’ve been especially disappointed with some overarching stories lately so I’m reserving some judgment until I see how things play out.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book introduces and sets up some of the conflicts with the bastard siblings which clearly will play out through the series. This book does not resolve those conflicts so there are unresolved issues as this book ends.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WICKED AND THE WALLFLOWER is the first book in the Bareknuckle Bastards series. The heroine, however, appeared in THE DAY OF THE DUCHESS. It is not necessary to read that book to understand everything in this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Day of the Duchess

Review: The Day of the DuchessThe Day of the Duchess (Scandal & Scoundrel, #3) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Scandal & Scoundrel #3
Published by Avon on June 27th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

“I am Seraphina Bevingstone, Duchess of Haven. And I require a divorce.”

“The only woman he’d ever loved. The only woman he’d ever hated.”

FINAL DECISION:  Fabulous. The villain of the first book becomes a hero and the woman he wronged becomes a strong, independent woman who makes him pay for being an ass. The book just works on so many levels, but a reader has to be willing to give the jerk a chance.

THE STORY:  Seraphina and Malcolm Bevingstoke, the Duchess and Duke of Haven, have been apart for over three years.  Mal viciously sent Sera away when he discovered that she planned to have them found in a compromising situation in order to force their marriage.  Now Sera has returned demanding a divorce. Mal has promised her the divorce she wants if she helps him find her replacement.  The two are to spend the summer together, but Mal has no intention of finding a new wife when he has finally gotten the one he wants to return to him.

OPINION:  This is a powerful and angst filled book. There is no easy road for these characters who are complex and not always the easiest to cheer on.  This book is not for everyone.  Before this book even begins, readers of the series know that Haven has been unfaithful.  Caught in the act, he was pushed into a fish pond by his sister-in-law (kicking off the events in A ROGUE NOT TAKEN).  I will be honest with you friends.  There is no mistake, no wishy washy out, no hidden secret to take away that truth.  The hero of this book was unfaithful to the heroine after they had met, fallen in love and married. For some readers, that might be a deal breaker which turns them away from this book, but I hope not.  This book deserves a chance because the reality is rich and complex and the journey difficult and worthwhile.

The reality of what happened between Mal and Sera in the past is dark and nuanced and has an explanation.  Not an excuse, not a justification, but an explanation and an understanding.  There is no justification for Mal’s actions and, in truth, he doesn’t seem to want to justify his past actions.  The question this book is interested in is different.  Is there a way forward in a relationship where the foundation was intertwined with lies and deceit and betrayal?

The structure of this book interweaves the past and the present.  Beautifully conceived, the very structure and form serves to tell the entire story of Mal and Sera but also clearly demonstrates how the past haunts these characters.  Their obstacle is the past which is both horrible and beautiful in parts.

I find myself most satisfied by books that delve deeply into the emotional life of the characters and MacLean is a master of this type of story.  Can these characters understand and accept the past and move forward?  Is it even possible for forgive the past which will never be forgotten?  For that is at the heart of the conflict.  Sera and Mal will never be able to forget the past.  They can only accept is and decide if they love one another enough to be willing to build a future together.

This was a difficult book for me.  I finished it a week ago and knew that I would give it a 5 star review, but I didn’t know how to approach the review.  I needed to let the story and the characters settle with me.  I ultimately loved this book because the conflict these characters have is real and genuine and seemingly insurmountable.  But that is also its beauty.  They can move forward, they can love one another again in a better and more honest way. Perhaps that is what I most like about this book.  Flawed and damaged people also can find love and are entitled to their happy endings — even if they have done terrible things, even if they have made mistakes and are not perfect.

Isn’t that hope for all of us?

WORTH MENTIONING:  Spoiler! Spoiler! Content Warning!

There is a miscarriage depicted in this book for those who might be sensitive to the content.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DAY OF THE DUCHESS is the third book in the Scandal & Scoundrel series.  While this story is independent of the others of the series, Mal and Sera’s story is part of both of the prior books in the series.  This book is just better if you have read the others (especially A ROGUE NOT TAKEN).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: A Scot in the Dark

Review: A Scot in the DarkA Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel #2) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Scandal & Scoundrel #2
Published by Avon on August 30, 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

Raw, Powerful Story of the Scot Who Rides to Rescue of the Scandalous Woman Who Can Save Herself

“Of course, she was the instrument of her own saving.

She was magnificent enough to save herself and the world in the balance.

If only she could save him, as well.”

FINAL DECISION:  Simply awesome.  A book I will read again and again, I loved this story of a man who comes to save a damsel in distress and finds a woman who ends up saving him.  A story about embracing the human mistakes that we make and being worthy of love.

THE STORY:  Lillian Hargrove was reputed to be the most beautiful, perfect woman in England.  Perhaps for that reason, society is thrilled when it is revealed that Lillian has scandalously ruined herself by posing for a nude painting that will be exhibited in public.  At this moment, Alec Stuart, who had inherited the dukedom of Warnick, unexpectedly and unwanted.  Alec learned that he also had inherited a ward, Miss Hargrove.  Alec comes to London to save Lillian from her own foolishness.

OPINION:  I can’t speak highly enough of the beauty and power of these characters Lillian and Alec.  They both are highly damaged people as the book begins. Unwanted, ignored, rejected, they both make bad decisions in their lives that cause them shame even as both Lillian and Alec assert their independence.

“Flaws saw flaws.”

Like sees like and Alec and Lillian recognize in one another in their pain and flaws.  Alec recognizes Lillian first and his response to her “transgression” is more understanding than she expects.  I fell in love with Alec because he doesn’t judge Lillian in the way the world does.  Despite what one might expect from the storyline of this book the conflict between the characters is not about Lillian’s mistake in posing for the portrait or her sexuality.

As the story begins, Lillian seems like the stereotypical damsel in distress who is waiting for a man to come rescue her.  Appearances are not truth, however.  Although Alec comes to rescue Lillian in the ways of men, she neither wants nor needs to be redeemed by him.

“I am in the market for neither guardian nor savior.  Indeed, if the last few years have taught me anything, it is that I would do well to save myself.  Play my own guardian.”

Lillian is the heroine of her own story.  But she is not immune to needing Alec.  Lillian doesn’t need Alec to rescue her, but she does need him to believe in her, support her, show her an example of a decent and caring man.

Both Alec and Lillian desperately want love.  It leads them into their “scandalous” activities.  Alec and Lillian’s relationship allows them to accept their own failings and recognize that mistakes allow them the ability to recognize true love and the unfailing decency in one another.

What I loved about this book is that there is no magic wand, no pretending that the scandal did not happen.  These characters look beyond scandal, accept the mistakes themselves and each other have made, and find decency and love.

This book is deeply emotional and completely engaged in the relationship between these characters.  MacLean has a way of writing angst and pain that breaks my heart, engages my mind and makes my spirit soar when the happy ending arrives.

This book will end up on my favorite books of the year list.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of Sarah MacLean’s other books get some glimpses of some familiar (and perhaps unfamiliar) characters.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  A SCOT IN THE DARK is the second book in the Scandal & Scoundrel series.  Although there are some appearances by characters from other books, this book operates as a standalone.  No prior information is necessary.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: The Rogue Not Taken

Review: The Rogue Not TakenThe Rogue Not Taken (Scandal & Scoundrel, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Scandal & Scoundrel #1
Published by Avon on December 29th 2015
Genres: Historical
Pages: 419
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Romantic Romp with a Woman in Men’s Livery, Highwaymen and Naughty Carriage Rides

“She hated him then. Hated him for involking the ridiculous moniker. For being just like all the others. For believing that she wanted the life into which she’d been thrust. For believing that life worth something. Worth more than the life she’d been born into. For refusing to see — just as the rest of London refused to see – that Sophie was different. And that she had been perfectly happy before. Before titles and town houses and teas and the trappings of the ton. Before those trappings had trapped her.”

FINAL DECISION: What romance reader can resist a bookshop buying hero? Decidedly lighter in tone than her Rules of Scoundrels series, THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN returns MacLean to her Love by Numbers series tone of hot encounters, humor and lighter drama. A delicious carriage journey through Northern England, King and Sophie sometimes experience the roadtrip from hell and at other times a great romantic journey toward love.

THE STORY: Sophie Talbot one of the Soiled S’s, daughters of a newly minted earl who themselves thrive in the world of scandal. When Sophie unintentionally causes a scandal by pushing her duke brother-in-law in a fishpond when Sophie catches him with another woman shaming his pregnant wife, Sophie is ruined. Running from the scene, Sophie seeks a ride to her home in Mayfair. She encounters Kingscote, the Marquess of Eversley fleeing from the window of a woman he has ruined and demands that he take her home. When he refuses, Sophie arranges to masquerade as an outrider for his carriage by buying the position and livery from King’s footman. But King isn’t going to Mayfair, he’s leaving London – but Sophie doesn’t realize it until it is too late.

OPINION: This book is a humorous romp until the tone turns serious towards the end of the book. Funny with crazy adventures and situations, this is a book that makes a reader smile and laugh. Even the serious parts are not too dark. Unlike the darker and grittier Rules of Scoundrels series, THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN is filled with light humor and farcical situations. It marks a return to the lighter tone of MacLean’s breakout book NINE RULES TO BREAK WHEN ROMANCING A RAKE.

The inspiration for this new series is the modern tabloid news which according to MacLean mirrors the scandal driven news of the 1830s when this novel is set. The scandal seeking and manipulating Soiled S’s are sisters whose names all begin with S mirroring some scandalous modern sisters whose names begin with K. The scene of Sophia’s scandal – attacking her cheating brother-in-law in public is inspired by a similar celebrity scandal. Historical readers can be assured, however, that while modern events might have inspired MacLean, the characters and events of THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN remain grounded in 1830s England.

What this book does is ask the question “who are the people behind the scandals?” Both Sophie and King have reputations which do not accurately reflect who they really are nor the pain and dreams of their lives. After Sophie suffers her disgrace, she decides to leave London and the ton and return to the village where she lived a common life until her father gained his titled when she was ten. Sophie believes that she will find a life there where she belongs and intends to open a bookshop. Searching for that sense of belonging, Sophie just wants to be known for who she is rather than who others expect her to be.

King’s reputation as the “Royal Rogue” also hides a great deal of pain and a good man using his reputation to protect him from women who might want more from him. And there can be no doubt that King is reluctantly a good man. In fact, by the time the final obstacle for this couple arrives, the pain and disillusionment that he experiences is difficult to read because he has been hurt before and barely recovered.

Filled with so many great tropes (highwaymen, Sophie dressed as a man, carriage shenanigans, pretend married couple, reluctant traveling partners, bickering and witty banter, forced marriages and disapproving fathers) but this book throughout makes the clear statement that these characters and this story is more than what might be expected.

Plus, you just have to love a hero who buys the heroine a bookstore and where books play such a seductive part of the story.

WORTH MENTIONING: Readers of MacLean might recall that King and Sophie first danced in NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER. The events of THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN take place in June 1833 soon after the events of the main narrative of NEVER JUDGE A LADY BY HER COVER. There are some small references to their first dance and other events in the Rules of Scoundrels series, but no appearances by characters from that series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE ROGUE NOT TAKEN is the first book in the Scandal & Scoundrel series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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four-half-stars