Category: book reviews (page 2 of 81)

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]

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]

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