Category: book reviews (page 2 of 81)

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]

Say Yes to the Marquess

Say Yes to the Marquess For the past eight years, Miss Clio Whitmore has waited – first patiently, then not-so-patiently – for her fiancé, Piers Brandon the Marquess of Granville, to return to England and set a wedding date. Finally determined to live her own life, Clio sets out to end the engagement. Doing so, however, requires the signature of Piers’ brother, Rafe. Clio is adamant to end the engagement; Rafe is just as adamant that the engagement go forward, for his own (admittedly selfish) reasons. A former champion prizefighter, Rafe wants nothing more to go back to his life of winning fights and not caring about polite society. But with Clio threatening those plans, he’ll do whatever it takes to make her wedding happen, even if he has to plan it himself.

The second book in the Castles Ever After series, Say Yes to the Marquess is yet another clever, funny, and delightful novel by Tessa Dare. Thanks to Rafe’s madcap scheme to plan Clio’s wedding no matter her thoughts on the matter, the novel is filled with plenty of laugh-aloud moments with witty one-liners. Rafe’s trainer, promoter and erstwhile valet, Bruiser (*ahem* sorry, Bruno Aberforth Montague….Esquire) gets some of the best lines while attempting to plan a society wedding with the help of Clio’s fashion-obsessed and status-conscious sister, Daphne. (Clio’s other sister, Phoebe, is much too busy being a mathematical savant to care much about the wedding one way or another.)

As usual, Dare has created wonderfully well-rounded, imperfect and flawed characters that capture a reader’s attention. Clio is, in my mind, the best part of Say Yes to the Marquess. As a young woman finally coming into her own and learning to stand up for herself and her own desires, Clio is easy to relate to and root for. She’s loyal, kind and goodhearted, but with a hidden backbone that keeps her focused on her own goals, instead of someone else’s. I especially loved how she took her less-than-ideal upbringing (all those lessons!) and turned into a real talent and skill that she could capitalize on as a young woman of means. She managed to turn unhappy memories into opportunity. For his part, Rafe is honest and honorable – in some cases to a fault – and he does protest a few too many times about his unworthiness. But Dare does an admirable job of showing his struggle to find his own way in the world. In this respect, Rafe and Clio are perfectly well matched, and poor Piers never had a chance.

Dare excels at setting a scene in her novels (I’m still convinced Spindle Cove is a real place I might visit one day) and Say Yes to the Marquess is no exception. From Clio’s old but well-kept castle – complete with portcullis, handy for keeping out aggravating sisters – to the chapter in which she lovely described a host of delicious perfect cakes, it’s easy to get lost in her world and imagine yourself in Kent during the spring. And, as mentioned throughout this post, the secondary characters are hardly secondary at all – from Bruiser and an old, unfortunate dog to Clio’s very different sisters, Dare brings every character to life. (Except, perhaps for Piers, but since he’s absent most of the novel, we’ll let him off the hook.)

Say Yes to the Marquess is another fabulous, romantic adventure from Tessa Dare. Even if, like Clio (and me!), you’d be perfectly happy with a “good enough” wedding in the middle of the field, you’ll still enjoy the amusing, heartwarming, ultimately foolish attempts at wedding planning as Rafe and Clio find their way to love. Plus, there’s cake! Things are always better with cake. 

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

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

Never Judge A Lady by Her Cover

Never Judge a Lady by her CoverFrom the publisher: By day, she is Lady Georgiana, sister to a Duke, ruined before her first season in the worst kind of scandal. But the truth is far more shocking—in London’s darkest corners, she is Chase, the mysterious, unknown founder of the city’s most legendary gaming hell. For years, her double identity has gone undiscovered . . . until now.

Brilliant, driven, handsome-as-sin Duncan West is intrigued by the beautiful, ruined woman who is somehow connected to a world of darkness and sin. He knows she is more than she seems and he vows to uncover all of Georgiana’s secrets, laying bare her past, threatening her present, and risking all she holds dear . . . including her heart.

There is always a risk, when you finally get the book you’ve been waiting such a long time for, that the reality will not match up to your (exceptionally high) expectations. For one, brief, fleeting moment, I did worry that Sarah MacLean’s Never Judge A Lady By Her Cover would somehow disappoint or fail to live up to the picture I had imagined in my head. I was wrong. Never Judge A Lady far exceeded my hopes for this final book in MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels series. It was a phenomenal conclusion to the story of the Fallen Angel and well worth the wait. And while I feel certain I declare every MacLean novel the “best one yet”, I am convinced she really did save the best for last with Chase’s story.

The world is filled with doubters, critics and cynics when it comes to romance novels. They call is “fluff” (or worse) and deride the genre’s ability to tell a well-crafted, well-written and deftly plotted story. These people are idiots, of course, and I would shove a copy of Never Judge A Lady in their hands to prove them wrong. This story is filled with so much depth, and so many layers, it’s inconceivable to me that anyone could read it and think it’s “just” a love story. 

Of course, it is Georgiana and Duncan’s love story, but it’s so much more. Georgiana herself is glorious – a powerful, strong, bad-ass woman in her own right, faced with navigating the very world she ran away from. Her fierce devotion to and love for her daughter drives her in this novel, but she also struggles with what she wants for herself – and with who she wants to be, after years of juggling multiple personas. MacLean deftly explores Georgiana’s frustration with living in a society that prefers not to give women power – all while she is also being Chase, one of the most powerful people in London. MacLean carefully balances that with Duncan’s growing acceptance of Georgiana as she is, even in all her “Chase-ness,” even while he desires to spare Georgiana from society’s gossip and “fix” her problems. It takes a strong, self-assured man to equal a woman like Georgiana and Duncan rose the occasion.

“I think you want saving.”

“I can save myself.”

Naturally, with both an alpha heroine and an alpha hero, MacLean treats readers to a delicious battle of wits and wills. The banter between Georgiana and Duncan was my favorite part of the novel, as it provided a quick-witted backdrop for Georgiana and Duncan to wrestle with secrets, strive for control, and circle each other with increasing intensity. The fact that Georgiana knew what Duncan didn’t (i.e., that she was Chase) for most of the book just added to the sexual tension.

(As a side note, I’m now completely convinced that MacLean couldn’t and likely wouldn’t write a weak or meek heroine even if she tried. That’s just not how she rolls.)

As the last book in the series, Never Judge A Lady does feature several appearances by our favorite Scoundrels Bourne, Cross and Temple. And – of course – MacLean made me fall in love with them all over again. Throughout the series, there have been plenty of indications that these men treat Chase as an equal. Finally seeing it through Georgiana’s eyes, in her story, confirmed it. I’m not sure I can express how much I loved how Bourne, Cross and Temple treated Georgiana. For them, she simply IS Chase, gender be damned. And while they care for her and want her to be happy, they never once presume she can’t take care of herself. I just loved the idea that these strong, alpha men accepted Georgiana as one of their own.

There were a few parts of Never Judge A Lady that I liked less than the rest. As much as I adored Caroline, I did wonder if she was a bit too precocious at times. I understood the necessity of Tremley as a villain, but would have happily done without him, and for a supposedly intelligent man, it does seem to take Duncan an awful long time to connect the dots about Chase’s identity. I also would have loved more detail on how the club was founded. But compared to all of the good in this novel, I don’t even care. All I know is that I wanted more. More Chase, more of the Fallen Angel, more Scoundrels – just…more. I’m sad to see this series end, but thrilled that it ended on such a high note. Brava, Sarah MacLean!

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

Note: somewhat irrelevant information: (1) I went out of my way to re-arrange my study schedule so I could have a whole afternoon free to read this book from start to finish, knowing I wouldn’t want to put it down once I started. It was worth the headache of cramming two days worth of studying into one. (2) I finished reading, took a short break, then sat back down and started over from the beginning. All of my MacLean paperbacks are worn with love, but I have a feeling Never Judge a Lady is going to be particularly well-loved.

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