Review: Beyond Scandal and Desire

Review: Beyond Scandal and DesireBeyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons, #1) by Lorraine Heath
Series: Sins for All Seasons #1
Published by Avon on January 30th 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

“Is there not some part of you, some deep dark part of you, that longs for scandal?”

FINAL DECISION: A bit slow in developing, the romance between Mick and Aslyn builds up to a wonderful finish especially as the two spend quiet time together getting to know one another. In setting up the premise of the series and introducing all the characters, some of the emphasis on the couple is lost for the first third of the book, but the ending was unexpected and made me interested in the next in the series.

THE STORY: Mick Trewlove is the illegitimate son of a duke and a self-made businessman. Determined to get revenge for his father abandoning him to a baby farmer (where he might have ended up dead), Mick intends on ruining the Duke’s legitimate son and seduce the son’s betrothed. Lady Aslyn Hastings has been raised in all comfort and in expectation of marrying the Duke’s heir. But now that her betrothal is at hand, Aslyn feels something missing and is tempted to the scandalous Mick.

OPINION: For me, the highlight of this book are the clandestine meetings between Mick and Aslyn which show growth and companionship and a true relationship. There is great beauty in how these two people find something special together.

Aslyn is a sheltered woman whose future has been planned out since childhood. It was always expected that she would marry her guardians’ son and eventually become a duchess. As this book begins, Aslyn begins to find out that having one’s future planned out means that she has missed so much of her interactions with others (especially men). Because she has never been courted or even flirted with other men because of the expectation in everyone’s minds that she is settled.

When she meets Mick, she is tempted towards the scandalous, but rather than relying on the typical scandal plot line, this book instead focuses on the wrongness of the social rules that brand an illegitimate child with the sins of his parents. This book is deeply interested in the rules and the fates of those illegitimate children and the injustice of the social ostracism.

Mick is up to no good as this book begins, but finds himself challenged by his meeting with Aslyn. As the book begins, he is also trapped by the rules about illegitimacy. He seems to believe that all will be well if he can cause his father to acknowledge him (because being an acknowledged bastard is better). In many ways, his relationship with Aslyn turns his own notions around as well. He is a self-made man who cares about others despite his own perception of himself.

I loved the relationship between Mick and Aslyn as he shows her respect and treats her as a person — not just a beautiful woman. The times that they spent together were gentle and moving. I found their discussions to be a wonderful and quiet way of developing their relationship.

I also really liked the twist in this book which was unexpected and interesting (reading the author’s note at the end gave a insight as well).

The only problem I had with this book was the first third which was slow as it introduced quite a number of characters (which will be the subject of future books). The setup slowed the book down for me, but once the story truly began, I was caught up in the developing relationship between Mick and Aslyn.

WORTH MENTIONING: I love the potential stories of Mick’s siblings.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BEYOND SCANDAL AND DESIRE is the first book in the Sins for All Seasons Series about six illegitimate children raised as siblings. I have hopes that the series will include stories for each sibling.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to prepare a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-stars

Review: The Trouble with True Love

Review: The Trouble with True LoveThe Trouble with True Love (Dear Lady Truelove, #2) by Laura Lee Guhrke
Series: Dear Lady Truelove #2
Published by Avon on January 30th 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“A woman who was shy and plain, who stammered when she was nervous and had never caught a man’s eye in her life, could hardly be splendid at advising people about love and romance.”

FINAL DECISION: A wonderful emotional story about two people who have a mature and adult relationship thankfully free of misunderstanding and drama. The slow burn of this relationship made me so happy.

THE STORY: During the absence of her recently married sister, Clara Deverill has taken the reins of her family newspaper and the Dear Lady Truelove advice column. The problem is that Clara doesn’t know what advice to give to people having problems with love — until she overhears a conversation between two men which convinces Clara to write a column directed toward the poor woman they are discussing. When Rex Galbraith finds out about the column (which is obviously about the conversation with his friend) he comes in search of Lady Truelove. Clara and Rex soon reach an unexpected agreement involving the Lady Truelove column and an orchestrated “courting” between them in order to satisfy Rex’s family.

OPINION: I loved this book because it was focused almost entirely on the couple and their developing relationship to the exclusion of everything else. No dramatic external storyline, no external barriers to their relationship. This is purely a story of two people developing a love for one another despite their initial belief that they could never be compatible.

Clara first sees Rex when he is giving advice to his friend (which involves lying to her about his intentions) and Clara sees that Rex is a rake who cannot be trusted. Clara has always wanted what is a traditional role — marriage and children, but her sister’s absence has placed her in charge of the newspaper and she begins to find her footing and the self-satisfaction of having a job. While Clara wants to marry, she is determined that she will marry for nothing less than love.

Rex is a man who has seen nothing but bad things come from “love”. He is determined never to marry, but he finds himself enthralled by an innocent and respectable Clara even as he knows that he must keep his distance from her. Although Rex has been a rake, he is an honorable man at heart. (And I think somewhat of a romantic despite his cynical musings about love and marriage).

I absolutely loved the slow burn of this book. The gentle way that these two draw together and eventually find a happy ending. The story of the shy wallflower who tames the rake is often done in romance, but this book is different. The wallflower finds her own footing and refuses to settle for less than what she wants. She is willing not only to sacrifice but also to forge ahead with her own altered plans.

My favorite books are emotional and focused on the couple. This story is about the growth and change in these characters on their journey and I enjoyed every step.

WORTH MENTIONING: I like this historical era (Victorian) where class distinctions are blurring and womens’ roles are expanding.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE TROUBLE WITH TRUE LOVE is the second book in the Dear Lady Truelove series. It is not necessary to read the first book in the series although there are some overlapping characters.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to prepare a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Where Dreams Begin

Review: Where Dreams BeginWhere Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on November 26th 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 373
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: This was an enjoyable book, with parts that I really enjoyed, especially the hero, but it felt uneven and the plot didn’t flow as well as I would expect. I was annoyed by the heroine’s reasons for rejecting the hero and that was the entire reason for them being apart so it made a difference to my enjoyment of the story.

THE STORY: Lady Holly Taylor is a widow with a young daughter. Entirely proper in every day, Holly is shocked when she encounters a man in a darkened room who, mistaking her for someone else, kisses her passionately. Even more shocking is when she realizes that the man is Zachary Bronson. Bronson is a commoner and a self-made man who is extremely influential but barely tolerated by society. Captivated by Holly, Bronson is determined to spent as much time with her as possible. When he makes her a scandalous offer of employment, Holly is tempted.

OPINION: There was a lot I really enjoyed about this story. The cross-class romance was quite wonderful as Holly begins to see something different that how she was raised and expected to live. She begins to question things about her own life.

I also loved, loved Zachary who is so sweet in how he falls for Holly. He is so taken with her almost immediately but treats her with such respect. His interactions with Holly’s daughter are also adorable. I also liked how he treats Holly as a flesh and blood woman and not as a status symbol. So often this story might be him deciding that he wants to improve himself by marrying into society and trying to coerce her, but that is not how this story works.

The drama is about Holly’s own reticence and that is where I had the problem. Holly is too concerned about what her husband would want and expect from her. I certainly understand that she might be concerned about how she was raised or society’s view, but I don’t get turning over your life to a dead man. There was just too much of that for me.

My second problem is with the secondary crisis in the book towards the end. It seemed manufactured because everything is really resolved and then we have chapters left to finish so we need a new drama — but since the two have already declared themselves to one another, it just didn’t feel that it moved the story forward in any real way.

Despite this, I really liked Holly and Zachary together. They had a sweet romance.

WORTH MENTIONING: A minor character, Dr. Linley, has his own romance in the novella “Against the Odds”.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WHERE DREAMS BEGIN is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: A Duke in Shining Armor

Review: A Duke in Shining ArmorA Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes, #1) by Loretta Chase
Series: Difficult Dukes #1
Published by Avon on November 28th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“She pushed open the window. ‘Adieu,’ she said. And climbed through, in a flutter of satin and lace.”

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book and the characters. Focused intensely on the hero and heroine, this book is about moments which change their lives, fate and chance, and making and living with their choices.

THE STORY: Hugh Philemon Ancaster, Duke of Ripley, has arrived in London for one of his best friend’s wedding. He is one of the trio of dukes known as Their Dis-Graces for their rakish and reckless behavior that had society hiding their innocent misses from them. Tasked with making sure the wedding goes off without a hitch, Ripley has a challenge when the brides slips out a window and disappears. Lady Olympia Hightower is in a position that women envy. Seven years the Most Boring Girl of the Season until she became engaged to one of the Dis-Graces. On the eve of her wedding, she has second thoughts and fueled by too much alcohol she makes a run for it.  Ripley is determined to protect Olympia on her run and intends on returning her to his friend — until he realizes he can’t.

OPINION: I have to admit that while I read all kinds of books and certainly all kinds of romance books, what I read for is relationship and characters. The external drama in this book is small — a woman engaged to one man falls for his best friend. What makes this book extra special is the exploration of how these two characters fall in love and deal with their love and their guilt.

The relationship and dialogue between Ripley and Olympia sparkles with humor and great emotion. The exploration of fate and missed chances and grabbing onto what one wants gave this story depth. It is would incredibly easy to formulate the story of the fiance who is unworthy or a liar or who doesn’t really care. Chase doesn’t take the easy route. These two feel intense guilt and really wonder if they had missed their chance.  Choices are not always easy or clear. There is a real call to action — what will you regret now, what will you regret forever?

There is such a connection between Ripley and Olympia — humor, exasperation, understanding, lust, anger. They days they spend together and the intensity of their experience brings them to love. Usually romances that only last days are difficult to understand. This book works beautifully in that sense. This is not insta-love but a mutual recognition of something more that is built upon years of awareness combined with an intense period of interaction.

There are some laugh out funny scenes in this book — including an indoor race that might be my favorite I’ve read this year. The intensity, humor and deep emotion of this book will stay with me for a long time.

WORTH MENTIONING: Introduced in this book, there are two other couples and the cast off Duke of Ashmont whose stories should be explored in this series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DUKE IN SHINING ARMOR is the first book in the Difficult Dukes series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: The Viscount and the Vixen

Review: The Viscount and the VixenThe Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham, #3) by Lorraine Heath
Published by Avon on November 29th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 389
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: With a heroine who is unusual in historical romances, this book shatters traditional romance tropes. Deeply emotional and difficult, I ended up liking it quite a bit, but had to struggle with it a bit.

THE STORY: Viscount Locksley intends to save his mad father from a mercenary woman who has shown up to marry him. Instead Locke marries her himself because he knows that while he wants her, she is the type of woman he could never love. Portia Gadstone is desperate for security and is forced to agree to marry Locke in his father’s place. Two people who plan never to love find that getting to know one another changes everything — until secrets from the past threaten everything.

OPINION: It’s taken me nearly a year to actually read this book because I made a mistake that I’ve done before and likely will do again — I read reviews that gave away the big secret in the story and I hated it. And then I couldn’t read the book because every word I tried to read was infused with my dislike for the ending.

I know better — especially with Lorraine Heath books. Heath often challenges the assumptions and expected stories. Her characters are imperfect and are put in terrible situations. Yet I love her books for exactly that reason.

While this book never fell into the intense love that I have for some of Heath’s books, I managed to enjoy this book quite a bit in spite of the revelation I knew was coming.

The characters here are complex, especially Portia who is a woman who has been burned by love and has no intention of being vulnerable again. She is different from other heroines and I think that a reader is supposed to learn about her before her secret is revealed.

Locke is wonderful. A dear and caring man who has learned the wrong lesson from his father’s intense sense of loss of his wife. He is so ready to fall in love despite his protestations that he will not. He is kinder and more forgiving than I expected. His character was what made the book for me because through him I could understand how I should respond to Portia.

This is a worthy book to read because of how it challenges the standard historical romance, but I do recommend that a reader approach the story with an open mind, an open heart and without reading spoilers.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a novella about Locke’s father which overlaps this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE VISCOUNT AND THE VIXEN is the third book in the Hellions of Havisham series. This book can be read as a standalone although there are character crossovers.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: A Daring Arrangement

Review: A Daring ArrangementA Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Four Hundred #1
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Do we have a deal?”

FINAL DECISION: Big and brash and exciting, A DARING ARRANGEMENT is a great start to a new series set in America’s Guilded Age with characters who are navigating a new world with new rules and fall in love despite all their good intentions.

THE STORY: Lady Nora Parker, the daughter of an earl is sent in disgrace to America to find a husband, but Nora has no intention of conceding to her father’s wishes. Instead, Nora intends to find a thoroughly scandalous fiance that will make her father bring her back to London where she will be reunited with the man she loves. Nora finds the “perfect” candidate for fiance in Julius Hatcher, a rich self-made financial wizard who gets a lot of press for his notorious actions. Julius finds himself agreeing to Nora’s scheme because she can gain him entry into the social elite in New York, where Julius intends to discover the identity of the men who ruined his father. But instead of being the scandal that Nora wanted, she finds that Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiance and perhaps a man that Nora herself finds irresistible.

OPINION: I have become a great fan of Shupe’s Guilded Age books. In an era not often explored in historical romance, these books and characters feel fresh and innovative rather than relying on the same scenarios. The Guilded Age is a time of great change and disruption which is something that Shupe explores to great effect in A DARING ARRANGEMENT.

The collision in this book of the self-made man and the aristocratic woman brings a lot of energy to this story. Nora especially is asking herself who she is. She is a new woman in a time where the roles of women and especially aristocratic women are changing. She has strength and determination and wants to control her own life beyond expectations and social norms. Sexuality, social mores, gender roles and self-determination are all deftly explored here are Nora begins to remake herself in America. She finds support for her organized, bold and even wicked personality. She is brighter and stronger and different.

In the same way, the relationship between Julius and Nora also is involved in remaking norms. Their relationship feels more contemporary in many ways as the Guilded Age begins to move towards the modern world. Julius is just adorable in this story as he struggles with his feelings towards Nora while being determined to avoid marriage and entanglements. He is protective and caring and really sexy.

I found this story very compelling because it feels different. The stakes are murkier and so are the standards. The rules are being remade and worked out and it makes the relationship between Nora and Julius more unpredictable. These two have to work to figure out what their relationship will be as rules are being subverted all around them.

I really enjoyed this one and can’t wait for the next in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: Even though this series takes place in the same world as Shupe’s Knickerbocker series, there is no overlap since she moved to a new publisher.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DARING ARRANGEMENT is the first book in the Four Hundred series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Wilde in Love

Review: Wilde in LoveWilde in Love (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #1) by Eloisa James
Series: The Wildes of Lindow Castle
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 416
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Frankly, she might as well have waved a red cloth in front of a bull. The uncivilized male inside him, the one who hated wearing a wig, had got wind of a hunt.”

FINAL DECISION: This was a lovely story that was incredibly funny and romantic. The characters were amazing. I generally prefer my books with more personal angst, but readers looking for a fun romantic historical romp will love this one.

THE STORY: In Georgian England, Lord Alaric Wilde, the “spare”, has returned to London after traveling the world to discover that he has become a sensation in his absence. He has become a true celebrity to his distress as he is chased by women all over the country who want a glimpse or a souvenir from the rakish explorer. Escaping to his father, the duke’s, castle, Alaric finds himself enamored of Miss Willa Ffynche who doesn’t want anything to do with the notorious Lord Alaric. Willa is a private person who keeps herself well disguised among society and has made herself a social success and wants nothing more than a quiet man to spend her life with. Definitely not Alaric — but his pursuit of her tempts her in ways she never expected.

OPINION: I had to think a lot about this book after I read it. I was not certain where to rate it and how to explain my feelings about it. I wavered between giving it 4 stars or 4 and a half stars because while the book wasn’t as dramatic as I tend to like them and the romance builds very slowly, I came away from the book still thinking about it. As I reviewed parts of it to write this review, I loved the characters and the humor so much that I think this book will grow on me as the series develops further.

And that is where I want to start this review — with the series. As the first book in the series, this book serves as an introduction to the Wilde Family. And I loved them. The characters are so big and bright and romantic that I immediately wanted to know all their stories. These are likable people and have such a family spirit together that endeared them to me.

Alaric is such a sweet, sexy and romantic character.  He falls for Willa so quickly and spends much of the book trying to win her. (I have to admit that I enjoy the books where the hero falls for the heroine early). His willingness to open himself up wide to Willa is so sweet. And he truly wants to know Willa which is so sexy. He is interested in her — her thoughts, those parts of herself that she hides from others, and he wants her to be herself with him.

Willa is a heroine who is discovering how to be herself. Her background has led her to present a social face and to keep her true self hidden. So much so, that she doesn’t really expect to be herself in life. Alaric desperately wants the imperfect Willa. The real person hiding behind all the Georgian finery and social polish.

This book is not only romantic but also laugh out loud funny. A bawdy farce of a play about Alaric’s life (including cannibals!), a pet skunk and mangy cat, naughty etchings of Alaric’s life, a hero that won’t be deterred from the woman he wants and a heroine determined to avoid him at all costs.  But this book not only has humor but has a deep heart to it.

The story is a slow build and you have to commit to it. The story isn’t slow, but the drama is smaller than in many books (Willa’s determination not to fall for the big public notorious Alaric) and therefore the book is more personal to these characters. While I prefer more dramatic stories generally, I really loved the humor and big romantic gestures of this book.

My final word on this book is that the cliffhanger as a prelude for the next book was so shocking that I don’t know how I’m going to last until the next book comes out.

WORTH MENTIONING: While the main romance is complete at the end of this book, there is a cliffhanger which sets up the story for the next book about a different couple.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WILDE IN LOVE is the first book in the Wildes of Lindlow Castle series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap

Review: Dirty Dancing at Devil’s LeapDirty Dancing at Devil's Leap by Julie Anne Long
Series: Hellcat Canyon #3
Published by Avon on August 29th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“He’d had nothing but good-natured scorn when she’d told him about her fantasy of slow dancing on Devil’s Leap to what she thought of as her namesake song, Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon’, ‘Of, Avalon. That’s just ridiculous. No one actually does that kind of thing in real life.'”

FINAL DECISION: Another simply lovely addition to the Hellcat Canyon series. Long has such a lyrical and beautifully emotional way of depicting characters who have come to Hellcat Canyon with their world ripped apart. A second chance at love romance filled with humor and deeply emotional moments, Avalon and Mac’s story is a welcome addition.

THE STORY:  Avalon Harwood has (temporarily) returned to Hellcat Canyon after her perfect relationship and business partnership has blown up and she needs time to make decisions. She comes home and finds an opportunity in purchasing the Coltrane estate. She intends on flipping the house as part of her dealing with her heartbreak. The estate has memories for Avalon. Her younger self worshiped the rich son Mac Coltrane until he broke her heart. After his father was convicted of fraud, the family fell apart. Mac has returned and when Avalon snaps up the house under his nose, he is determined to convince her to change her mind.

OPINION:  I can hardly express how much I love the Hellcat Canyon series. Each of the books has such a different romance. This book is a second chance at love story. Avalon and Mac had a chance together when they were younger, but Mac was spoiled and insecure and unable to recognize the value of what he had.

But he has recognized it in the intervening years.

“It took him a long time to adjust to her absence. He hadn’t realized that she was the lens he’d begun to see nearly everything through. That even though she was kind of a secret, she was also, in a way, his center of gravity. And when it was clear he was just never going to see her again, life had taken on a peculiar, almost dreamlike quality. What he did had ceased to matter because nothing had consequences in a dream.”

Both Avalon and Mac in this story have lived a non-consequential “dream” world in the intervening years. Life has happened to them. When they reunite, it is like they wake up and rediscover a life of meaning and value.

The story really revolves around the idea of living a life of active participation.  Avalon sees her “perfect” world fall apart and finds herself yearning for a life that reflects what decisions she makes — what she actually decides she wants rather than what happens to her.

Mac, too, has had to confront the absence of meaning in life. Growing up privileged, Mac accepted everything that his privilege entailed and tossed away those things that could bring meaning. Losing everything has forced him to figure out how to start from the bottom and create a life that he wants. He has done this in the financial world and in his business life, but it takes the reappearance of Avalon for him to find out what actually has meaning in life.

I loved these characters and I loved their interaction. A book that is almost entirely centered on the estate, the “claustrophobia” of Mac and Avalon’s interaction allows them to have some of the funniest banter and one-ups-man-ship that I have read. These two are completely competitive with one another and they know one another so well (and yet they have so many secrets and mysteries from the intervening years), that they can needle one another. I laughed and snickered at Avalon and Mac’s antics.

In a wonderful manner, the humor and lightness turns into deeply emotional and revealing events. Mac and Avalon not only know one another, but they have hurts which can only be healed by one another.

As the title itself expresses, this book is about finding meaning. As we learn, Mac has mocked Avalon’s dream of dancing on Devil’s Leap seeing it as hokey and silly. One might guess that through his examination and refocusing on his life and encountering true relationship with Avalon, he invests Avalon’s dream with intense meaning and significance on a personal level between them.

The worst part of this series is having to wait to read the next book.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I really missed the Eternity Oak in this story along with the quirky town characters since this book is really focused on the Coltrane estate.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DIRTY DANCING AT DEVIL’S LEAP is the third book in the Hellcat Canyon series. The series has continuing characters, but this romance is completely self contained. In fact, this book is only tangentially related to the rest of the series and most of the continuing characters don’t make any appearances so this book can be read completely on its own.  (But this series is so good, go ahead and read the others as well).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-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: The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband

Review: The Girl with the Make-Believe HusbandThe Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (Rokesbys, #2) by Julia Quinn
Series: Rokesbys #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Husband? They were calling him her husband? Was he married? He couldn’t be married. How could he be married and not remember it? Who was this woman?”

FINAL DECISION:  Behind the British lines in the American Revolutionary War, this intense and emotional story of a husband and wife learning one another is a winner.  The twist? They aren’t actually married but only she knows it.

THE STORY:  Edward Rokesby awakes in a military hospital in the American colonies, he has a hole in his memory of what he was doing on an assignment in Connecticut.  Months are missing during which he apparently also acquired a wife he does not remember — Cecilia Harcourt.  The sister of Edward’s best friend, she has come from England in search of her brother who is missing.  There is a good reason that Edward doesn’t remember marrying Cecilia — they are actually not married.

OPINION:  An usual Julia Quinn book with less humor and more seriously emotional content.  Quinn’s books always have an underlayer of seriousness but usually there is more amusing events.  This book is quickly more serious than I expected.  With a different setting (the colonies during the American Revolution) and much of the action taking place in confined settings (so much happens in the four walls of a room) and a different emotional temperature, this book feels more fresh and different than other Quinn books while retaining the wonderful and likeable characters.

One of the best parts of this book is that both Edward and Cecilia are such nice people. Yet, circumstances twist them up and make them do things that they don’t anticipate.  This story is how two people who seem like they should have an easy road to happiness together become so mixed up that it seems like their happily ever after will pass them by.  The story goes deep into these characters as these semi-strangers begin to get to know one another.

I would say that this is a slowly developing story, but I don’t want to give the impression that the story is boring.  No, this is the story of two people who are discovering one another.  The deception that lies between them and the search for Cecilia’s brother has enough drama to keep the story interesting even as these two talk and laugh and cry and know one another.

I also especially enjoyed the change in venue to the colonies — especially because we get a glimpse of the British side of the war (which is not the usual side in this time period). Moving away from the expected place gives energy to the story as these new details suffuse the story was new relationships and details.  (Plus, I’m glad that we finally get a glimpse of a significant event that is often missing from historical romance books of the period).

I liked this book much better than the first in the series primarily because I really liked these characters who feel like nice people trapped in a situation that they cannot control which challenges their essential goodness.

WORTH MENTIONING:  It is pretty obvious who the next book in the series will be about.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND is the second book in the Rokesby series.  It is not necessary to have read the first book in the series since this book is only loosely connected and the other characters of the series only make a very brief appearance.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to provide a review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars