Category: advanced reading copies (page 1 of 3)

The Rogue Not Taken

The Rogue Not TakenSophie Talbot might be an earl’s daughter now, but she wasn’t always and life in London society rife with whispers and gossip about her sisters, the “Scandalous S’s.” When Sophie unwittingly becomes the centre of a new scandal, she runs away, desperate to try to claim a life for herself away from the ton‘s scorn. Stowing away in the Marquess of Eversley’s carriage, she plans to go unnoticed. Unfortunately for Sophie, Kingscote (the Marquess) quickly discovers her, convinced she’s trying to trap him into marriage. He’s determined to avoid matrimony, Sophie is determined to get away from him as well, and this wild road trip is following rules of its own.

The Rogue Not Taken is Sarah MacLean’s latest book and the first in her new Scandals and Scoundrel series. I have a special fondness for characters and couples in the first books in all of MacLean’s series (e.g., Callie and Ralston, Bourne and Penelope), so it’s no surprise to me that Sophie and King quickly found their way into my heart. This novel combines some of the best romance genre tropes to great effect: a young woman disguised as a footman, a pre-Victorian road trip with carriages rattling towards Scotland, and (one of my personal favourites), the hero and heroine who despise each other – until they don’t at all. But the very best part of this book, for me, was Sophie, because I immediately felt a connection to her.

While reading The Rogue Not Taken, there were three particular threads that stood out to me. The first, and perhaps most obvious, were the parallels between the scandal sheets of Sophie’s London and the tabloids of the 21st century. MacLean herself has said repeatedly that Sophie and her similarly S-named sisters are modelled after the Kardashians, but she also contemplates the idea that the media, whether it’s an 19th century ladies’ newspaper or a 21st century TMZ report, rarely reports the whole story. Scandal sheets and tabloids often distort the truth and package it with the specific intention of selling copies. In MacLean’s novel, Sophie and King both find themselves wrapped up in this environment. Sophie yearns to escape society’s critical eyes, while King clearly judges Sophie based on half-truths and outright lies he’s heard around town. Their relationship grows and develops when they learn to look past preconceived notions.

A second story thread in The Rogue Not Taken deals with Sophie’s feeling of being overshadowed by her more outgoing and scandalous sisters. I self-identify as an introvert, and am surrounded by well-meaning extroverted family members, many of whom have larger than life personalities. So I felt a kinship with Sophie as she struggled to make her own way in the world. At the start of the novel, she has long resigned herself to being the plain and boring Talbot sister, and often finds it difficult to make her own voice heard within her family. It’s bad enough when King automatically (initially) judges Sophie based solely on her family name; my heart broke for her, though, when I realised she believed all the gossip about herself, instead of trusting her own strength. Thankfully, MacLean doesn’t write weak heroines; King has a particular talent for insulting Sophie and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but Sophie routinely calls him out on his rudeness (and, as a reader, I cheered).

The third and final story thread that caught my attention when reading was Sophie’s desire to return “home” – without realising that life changes how we view our past and what was once “home” may no longer be so. We all eventually try to find our own place in the world, but sometimes that means that we can’t go back, because we’ve changed too much. When Sophie tries to reclaim the happiness of her childhood, she’s forced to confront the reality that time, people, and places have all moved on. In contrast, King has spent most of his life outrunning and avoiding his childhood. It’s only when his adventure with Sophie brings him home that he’s able to make peace with the past. Life often takes us in the direction we’re meant to go, but that can also mean letting go of – and grieving – the choices we’re not going to make. Sophie and King confront that truth in The Rogue Not Taken, and the results are spectacularly emotional – in the very best way.

The Rogue Not Taken is yet another triumph from Sarah MacLean. I’m a huge fan of historical romances where the heroine does her best to buck society’s trends and MacLean has added another worthy example to that canon. Sophie is witty, intelligent, stubborn, and independent. At times, it seemed impossible that anyone could deserve her, especially King, but his journey is just as hard-won. The Rogue Not Taken is a fantastic novel and I can’t wait to see what MacLean comes up with next! 

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

When a Scot Ties the Knot

When a Scot Ties the KnotWhen she was 16 years old, Madeline Eloise Gracechurch faced her looming debut of her first London season….and panicked. Eager to escape the demands of society (and desperate to avoid making herself look foolish), Maddie invents a fictional suitor – Captain Logan MacKenzie and begins writing letters to a man that doesn’t exist. So, though, her small, innocuous fib turns into an elaborate lie, one that continues for years, until Maddie pretends to mourn his death. Imagine her surprise, shock and disbelief when one Captain Logan MacKenzie appears on her doorstep many years later, very much alive – and very determined to turn their imagined courtship into a real one.

Like many young girls, I kept a diary when I was in middle and high school. I wrote about my life, my friends, and yes, even my crushes. I recorded all the little details that seemed so incredibly important at the time and which, in retrospect, make me laugh and cringe at my younger self – who apparently spent an inordinate amount of time pondering the trendiness of my fashion choices (it was the 90’s – there was a lot of flannel). Thankfully, though, these diaries remain in my possession, stored away in a box, never to see the light of day. The heroine of When a Scot Ties the Knot, Madeline Eloise Gracechurch, was not so lucky. 

For Maddie, her letters to her imaginary suitor become a diary of sorts; she unburdens herself in these letters, writing things she’d never tell anyone else, because she is convinced the letters are going nowhere. For Maddie, the letters to Captain Logan MacKenzie (and all his various nicknames: MacWhimsy, MacFantasy, Imaginary MacFigment, and perhaps most telling, “dear, silent friend”) represent a chance to be completely honest. Naturally, she’s mortified when it turns out Logan is very real, very handsome, and very determined to marry her. When a Scot Ties the Knot (the third book in Tessa Dare’s Castles Ever After series) is wonderfully, romantically typical Dare: funny and sweet, with just the right blend of humour and heart. It presents a new spin on that old adage: be careful what you wish for.

“She felt as though she’d spent her youth stuffing heartfelt wishes into bottles and tossing them into the ocean – and suddenly, years later, they’d all been returned.”

Dare excels at writing unconventional, offbeat heroines who don’t quite fit in, and Maddie is no exception. Painfully shy with a paralysing fear of crowds, Maddie cannot stand to spend much time in society. And while she is a talented artist, she prefers drawing the natural world (bugs, insects and the like) to more “proper” subjects. Most of all, she’s never really felt beautiful or special, which is why she’s driven to continue her masquerade for so long. Her letters to the not-so-fictional Captain MacKenzie gave her the ability to pursue her passions and carve out a life for herself in a world that would have rather placed in her a specific and confining role.

“Sometimes a woman doesn’t quite fit in with her expected role. We do what we can to make our own way, carve out a space for ourselves.”

I loved how Dare developed Maddie’s character, demonstrating that while she may have been odd (who else keeps two pet lobsters named Fluffy and Rex?), she was wonderful just as she was. And, most importantly, Logan comes to love her precisely because of who she is – not who she could be – even while he helps Maddie find the strength to become an even better version of herself. As for Logan….well, he’s not a romance hero for nothing. He maintains an unwavering loyalty to his men, with a steely determination to provide them with a better life. There’s also the fact that he’s an avid reader (!) – which, incidentally, turns out to be a major aphrodisiac for Maddie and *ahem* myself. Sure, he blackmails Maddie at the beginning of the novel in an attempt to get what he wants, but when Dare begins to reveal more of his past and his reaction to Maddie’s letters, it’s not difficult to forgive the man who is only just learning how to find his own dreams and desires.

When a Scot Ties the Knot is delightful, charming and entirely enjoyable – and Maddie is easily one of my favourite Dare heroines, if not the favourite (watch out, Minerva Highwood!). It’s a novel that celebrates women who don’t fit into moulds, soldiers who need someone to help them believe in a life beyond the battlefield, and the kind of love the blooms when you least expect it. This book is an excellent addition to Dare’s body of work and a highly recommended read for romance fans.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. 

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy

The Secrets of Sir Richard KenworthyIris Smythe-Smith doesn’t usually stand out in a crowd. She’s happiest on the edges, observing people and figuring out what makes the tick. Which is why she loathes performing in her family’s annual musicale. She knows exactly how horrible they are, and she’d rather hide than face an audience. So it’s strange when Sir Richard Kenworthy spends one such musicale starring at her. She can’t imagine why he finds her so fascinating. Because he does – Sir Richard thinks Iris is intriguing and perfect. Perfect because he needs to marry and quickly. He’s hiding many things from Iris and she’s intelligent enough to know it, even when she also knows she’s in danger of falling in love.

At last! The final book in Julia Quinn’s Smythe-Smith Quartet brings readers Iris’ story, and it’s a wonderful conclusion to the series. With her trademark humor and simultaneously sweet and sexy romances, Quinn once again proves why she’s such a beloved author. The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy includes plenty of hilarious escapes with the Smythe-Smith cousins – if, like me, you’re a fan of Sarah’s sisters, you’ll be happy to know that Harriet’s disastrous play involving Henry VIII and unicorns (yes, unicorns) makes an appearance. There are also new characters to get to know, a hastily arranged marriage to salvage and, as the title implies, secrets to unravel. 

As a longtime fan of Quinn, I’ve generally adored all of her heroines, but I especially felt an immediate kinship to Iris. While certainly not ugly nor untalented, she is somewhat overlooked in a family filled with so many other outgoing personalities. Iris is a bit of a wallflower and happy that way. She’s quite at home showing off her sarcastic quips and humor among family, but feels a bit out of place in large crowds or with strangers. I completely empathized with her as she struggled to make sense of Sir Richard’s sudden attention – while also wondering what he was keeping from her. I loved Iris’ dry wit and her keen mind; all that time observing on the edges of ballrooms clearly served her well because she’s perceptive as well. Most of all, I loved how Iris was determined to be loved for herself – even if that meant walking away from a man she wasn’t sure could love her.

I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of Sir Richard. While I’ve almost universally loved Quinn’s heroines, Sir Richard is one of the first of her heroes that I truly had a difficult time liking. I was endlessly frustrated by his determination to hide his secrets from Iris, and with the way he seemed to confuse and hurt her by his actions. He certainly believed he had a good reason, but like Iris, I felt he insulted her intelligence by keeping his secrets as long as he did.

The thing about secrets is this: they have a way of coming out, no matter how hard someone might try otherwise. Quinn did an excellent job of keeping Sir Richard’s secrets vague enough that it wasn’t easy to immediately guess what they were, while also making them somewhat plausible (though desperate). The slow build to the reveal towards the end of the novel felt natural and while I didn’t necessarily agree with Sir Richard’s actions, I do think Quinn did a good job of exploring why he thought he had been right.

As always, Quinn manages to sneak in little nods to her previous books in small bits and pieces. I particularly love this habit of hers and it’s become a fun game to read her novels and try to find all the little bread crumbs left for Julia Quinn fans. The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy features blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances by some members of the Bridgerton family, as well as a more substantial appearance from Winston Bevelstoke, brother to one of Quinn’s previous heroines. I love when authors make conscious efforts to subtly link their novels together and Quinn especially excels at this.

I’m sad to see the Smythe-Smith family collection of novels come to and end. With all those cousins, I’d certainly love to see more stories (certainly Harriet needs someone who can keep up with her imagination and will Daisy ever recognize the truth of her non-existent musical talents?!), so I hope Quinn does revisit this family from time to time. The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy is a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to this series and a must-read for any Julia Quinn fan.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

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