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

“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.


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

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.


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

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.