Category: advanced reading copies (page 1 of 2)

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]

What a Wallflower Wants

What a Wallflower WantsWhile all her friends and classmates from finishing school have gone on to get married, Prudence Merryweather Payton remains single. Most assume it’s because she’s a wallflower; only Prudence knows its because her hopes and dreams for the future were ruined the night a gentleman forced himself upon her against her will. After being deserted by a less-than-ideal man (and her only proposal to date), Prue vows to buck convention and remain single. But when she gets stranded at an inn with a handsome, blue-eyed stranger (who happens to be a viscount), Prue realizes her vow might have been hasty. As for that viscount, John Roark, he has secrets of his own that could prove dangerous. What’s a wallflower to do?

[Reader warning: This book contains scenes that might trigger emotional issues. Please be aware.]

Maya Rodale’s What a Wallflower Wants is the third and final novel in her Wallflowers series that also included a trilogy of linked contemporary novellas as well. Prue’s story is darker and much more emotional than the previous two books, owing to her rape by a nobleman. Understandably, this event colors Prue’s view of love, romance and marriage, as well as her own self-worth. While What a Wallflower Wants is still a romance and Prue does ultimately get her happily ever after, it’s not without a cost or a lot of angst. That said, Rodale has still crafted a satisfying story with two wonderful main characters.

I’ve read a number of Rodale’s books by now and she has created a number of fascinating heroes and heroines, but since reading this book, Prudence has become my favorite. Sure, she’s been labeled a wallflower, but in truth, she’s only shunned suitors and romances because she fears she’s ruined beyond saving and because, as one might expect, she still experiences residual fears from her attack (in today’s world, we’d most likely diagnose her with PTSD). In Rodale’s Regency world, young women were prized for their purity and virginity. When Prudence’s innocence is violently taken from her, she believes what she’s been taught to believe – that no man will have her now, even if the attack has remained secret. Moreover, her childish fairytale beliefs were shattered and she believes, however cynically, that she cannot rely on anyone else to take care of her.

In a twist, though, that same belief strengthens her. Prue isn’t weak or sad or stupid; while it’s heartbreaking that she thinks she must fend for herself, it also means that she’s remarkably strong, intelligent, self-sufficient and funny. She’s learned to hold her head up and continue on with her life, when I certainly wouldn’t have blamed her for hiding in shame or being depressed. Moreover, she’s a survivor above all else and I loved that Rodale emphasized this aspect of her personality. Most of all, though, I truly loved that Rodale gave Prue unequivocal support in the form of the other characters. Prue’s friends and family stand by her and make it clear that she is not to blame at all. Just as importantly, Rodale gives Prue the means to give voice to her past and speak up, something that was often denied young women of the time. (It helps, of course, the Rodale’s own Derek Knightley – known for giving women a voice in unconventional ways – makes an appearance in this novel.)

Though What a Wallflower Wants has been published for a number of months, I don’t necessarily want to give away Roark’s secrets in this review. However, the twists and turns Rodale introduces in the last part of the book, particularly in regards to Roark’s character, were fun and even a bit unexpected. (Though I knew Roark had secrets, I do admit that I didn’t guess correctly until just before they were revealed.) And I was especially glad to see Rodale avoid predictable choices with this romance; I appreciate an author who strays from the well-worn path and makes her characters different. There’s no love triangle, no elopement to Scotland and no overbearing father denying the relationship. Prue and Roark are meant to be together; they simply have a few obstacles to overcome first.

What a Wallflower Wants concludes this series, and I’m interested to see where Rodale goes with her next book. But in the meantime, I’m going to spend some time hiding from the rain in a country inn where an unassuming but marvelous young woman and an intrepid young man are busy falling in love. You should try it too.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. It’s entirely my own fault that it look so long to read it.

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

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