Friday, August 28, 2015

Sarah MacLean-apalooza – 3 Books, Many Thoughts

I can’t believe I’ve dilly dallied so long in writing up my thoughts on three of Sarah Maclean’s books.  I read A Rogue by Any Other Name and One Good Earl Deserves a Lover back in May for Pete’s sake!  Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord was a little more recent but jeezo flip, I loved these books and should have sung their praises earlier. With that in mind, I beg your pardon for not adding my voice to the MacLean Chorus of Love earlier though I have reviewed Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. 

I’m reviewing these in order of how much I loved them from least to most but they all get love! And this is going to get a little long – longer than I was expecting!

Umm…so after that declaration of love for these books, I looked at my notes and most of the thoughts I recorded for this book are pretty negative.  I promise I did end up loving it!  The Set-up is this:  Penelope Marbury is on the shelf after a scandalously broken first engagement from a decade earlier (haven’t read it yet but I’m pretty sure this is part of the story in book 3 of Maclean’s loosely connected Love by Numbers series, Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart).   In the ten years since, she’s longed for real love and become reluctant to accept anything less but as she has gotten older and turned down other proposals, her chances for this have dwindled to nothing. She somewhat wistfully remembers her childhood crush and neighbor, now the Marquess of Bourne, who she hasn’t seen or heard from in years.  That’s because Bourne has been fighting against a scandal of his own that robbed him of everything but his title. He’s worked hard to become a rich man, partner in an exclusive gaming hell, so he can re-claim his lands and take revenge on his former guardian.  And it is because of this that Bourne and Penelope are about to collide again because Penelope’s father has added Bourne’s estate to his daughter’s dowry in an effort to get her married off and be rid of her.  It’s actually a kind of complicated set up now that I’m trying to describe it but it makes sense in the book.

Bourne is your typical Alpha-hole rogue who likes to pretend he doesn’t have a heart.  His whole existence is focused on beating his jerk of a guardian and recovering his family’s legacy.  Penelope is just a means to an end despite the fact that they were good friends as children.  I generally don’t love strongly Alpha male characters but Bourne is written just right.  His personality was shaped by some very traumatic events that happened at an impressionable age.  He does some pretty awful things but his disrespect for other people is not just focused on women – he’s an equal opportunity people-hater.  These two things, a solid reason for his A-Holeness and his lack of misogyny, made him much more palatable for me.  I compare this with a romance I read around the same time, Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens, where Devil was an autocratic asshole because he could be and his opinion of women was that generally they should stay locked up safe and not worry their pretty little heads about anything – HATED him.  Anyhoo…

The character I struggled with at first (like the first 50% of the novel) was Penelope.  I did love how MacLean established Penelope’s long time love for Bourne by including interspersed correspondence between them as children up through her twenties (by which time he had stopped responding).  It was a great way to have the reader buy into the two character’s history with each other and to show how much Bourne has meant to Penelope. Plus the letters are delightful but they did not make it easier for me to empathize with how much Penelope lets Bourne play with her for the first 50 % of the book, constantly getting her hopes up and then being crushed.  It makes sense and sets up the second half of the book’s much more awesome Penelope but I really wanted to hit her upside the head a lot in the first half.   The payoff is worth it so stick with her even when she’s being an idiot.  In the end, Bourne needs rescuing and it is Penelope that is the Knight(ess) in shining armor! 

FINAL VERDICT:  Despite being rather irritated by the first half of this book, it still sucked me in and the payoff in the second half is SO good.  3.5 out of 5 Stars

This book saved my life.  Seriously.  Okay partially seriously.  Back in early July, I had the longest travel day ever which included about 7 hours sitting around in airports.  At the first airport, I cracked this book open and was completely consumed and entertained for the next umpteen hours before arriving home.  Yes I am a slow reader, thank goodness because if I had finished this before my travel was over I think I would have cried.  I think I had roughly 15 pages left to finish when I got home:0). 

Anyhow, the story is this.  Remember Nick St. John?  The twin brother of Ralston from Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake?  The one that’s a recognized scholar of “marbles” (ancient statuary, not the small glass balls)?  With his brother married off, Nick has become the Eligible Bachelor #1 of London society so when an opportunity arises for him to go haring off into the country to look for a Duke’s missing sister, he grabs at the chance.  Because he was apparently some big superspy in the past, known for his tracking skills? His back story here is patently ridiculous but thankfully it’s pretty easy to ignore. 

The trail for the missing ducal sister leads him to a small village where he encounters Lady Isabel.  Isabel is the daughter of a disreputable jerkwad of a father who made a habit of gambling off his daughter’s hand in marriage and essentially killed his wife (Isabel’s mother) by breaking her heart.  The only good thing about him is that he never ever visits his country estate leaving Isabel to do as she pleases while trying to raise her younger brother to be a better lord than their father.  She also has established a halfway house for women who find themselves in trouble and at sea for any reason.  The most recent addition is a certain missing ducal sister.  Things are always a little unconventional at the estate but they have become more so with the death of Isabel’s father.  Needing to secure a bunch of cash in a hurry in order to take care of all the house’s occupants before her father’s appointed estate manager arrives, she resolves to sell her family’s world class collection of marbles.  Lucky for her, noted expert on such things, Nicholas St. John happens to be in town and available to value the collection.  Hijinks ensue. 

I loved Lady Isabel.  Experiencing her mother’s weakness (because of love) and her father’s treachery has made her fiercely protective of her heart and her independence.  She clings to her ability to be self-sufficient though every once in a while, in a weak moment, she wishes there was someone, a partner who could help share the load with her.  I totally identified with her and appreciated her situation even if it was perhaps pretty unlikely for that time period.  I also loved the household she had created  - run on a shoestring budget, some of the women who had found shelter there had picked up staff roles in the house – groom, cook, foot”man”.  Nick is a good hero as well though there isn’t anything particularly unique about him.  He is a good partner for Isabel.

My one major complaint is that there is actually a secondary romance that occurs in the book between Nick’s Turkish companion and Isabel’s best friend and cousin.  This one held just as much interest if not more for me but it was kept very, very secondary. 

FINAL VERDICT:  Kept me totally absorbed for hours while traveling for a day. A very easy heroine to love, a good partner for her and of course lots of witty banter and UST shenanigans.  4 out of 5 stars

Now for my favorite!  Oh how I love the hero and heroine in this book and the set-up is also pretty great.  The blurb starts out with “Lady Philippa Marbury is odd.”  It’s a great beginning and is actually 100% true.  It’s not just that she is more interested in science than parties she’s also very awkward socially though not really shy.  She just says strange things and thinks about things that most in polite society do not.  She knows she’s odd and she thinks of herself as being dispassionate and objective so marriage for her is just something she must do…not anything to get worked up over.  Luckily she has found a suitor who is pretty well perfect…he’s not very smart but he’s kind, accepting of her eccentricities and they both love dogs.  Is there anything else needed in a marriage of convenience?  The problem is Philippa is anxious and nervous and feels wrong and she’s not really sure why.  It’s not a common state for her to be in.  She decides it is because she is nervous about the physical side of marriage and her lack of experience.  Being a scientist she sets out to investigate the problem and in that way relieve her nerves.

She does some research and decides that Cross, the bookkeeper for the Fallen Angel gambling hell is the person to investigate with.  He has a reputation for being a ladies’ man and he is also considered to be quite brilliant and scholarly so should be swayed by her scientifically framed arguments.  He is appalled and refuses her vehemently but he is also very, very tempted.

This book is special because of the journey both characters go on, particularly Philippa.  This book is all about her journey, discovering that she has a heart AND that it is just as important as her brain.  Everybody is concerned about her match with her fiancé because he is not her intellectual equal but what is most missing is love and passion.  The dance between her and Jasper and how they finally come together is really lovely. 

Cross is also on a journey, learning to forgive himself and put the past in the past.  He was a selfish jerk as a younger man and ended up hurting people in his family.  He has spent years trying to make up for it and he has not allowed himself to recognize that he is now a very different, and much better, man. 

I did love this one but there were a couple of negative things that kept this from being a 5 star read.  I read A Rogue by any Other Name and One Good Earl… back to back which ended up being a detriment.  Cross is a great hero, because MacLean writes great heroes BUT he was very very similar to Bourne – same endearments (darling, love), same reactions to particular situations.  We are told that he is a big old nerd and there is some appropriate window dressing (office overflowing with books, in depth knowledge of astronomy and the classics) but I would have liked if he had been a tad geekier and we had actually seen him indulging his nerdy pleasures.  Same with Philippa, actually.  Her behavior is more decidedly odd and unconventional than Cross but we don’t actually witness much scientific geekery. 

FINAL VERDICT:  This was the only one of the three that while writing the review I got a strong urge to re-read.  A quirky heroine and a romance that involves personal growth and witty banter.  I loved it!  4 out of 5 stars.

Phew!  That’s a lot of thoughts! To wrap up, I’ve noticed a trend that MacLean likes heroes that screwed up when they were young and foolish and it has had repercussions on their adult life.  Refreshingly, all the heroes take responsibility for their own actions even if there was also someone else to blame and it is their acceptance of their own stupidity that has helped them be more decent human beings and less judgmental of others.  It makes for some good, swoon-worthy heroes.  She is also one of the best at keeping her tone light and playful while still having intelligent heroines with backbone and pretty involved plots.  It’s a perfect blend that is catnip for me!  If you are interested in started one of MacLean’s series, from my personal preferences, I would say start with Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake because I liked it a tad better than A Rogue by any Other Name as a series starter.

Enough!  What characteristics would your perfect romance hero have? 

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