Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean (The Rules of Scoundrels #4)

Big, big note: If you have not read the three previous books in Sarah MacLean’s The Rules of Scoundrels series – A Rogue By Any Other Name, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, and No Good Duke Goes Unpunished – you are warned that this last book in the series is a bit of a game-changer.  So if you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading this review now, go get the first three books in the series, read them, and then come back and read this review.  Actually, just buy this new fourth one, too, while you’re at it.

So, you’ve been warned.

Summary from Goodreads:

She is the most powerful woman in Britain,
A queen of the London Underworld …
But no one can ever know.

He is the only man smart enough to uncover the truth,
Putting all she has at risk . . .
Including her heart.

The fourth book in New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean’s incredible Rule of Scoundrels/Fallen Angels series. These four dark heroes will steal the hearts of their heroines and the readers alike! This is the last in the Rules of Scoundrels series—Chase’s story

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.

The very last paragraph of No Good Duke Goes Unpunished blew speculation of Chase’s identity wide-open.  We see what we wish to see and, in Chase’s case, readers of Sarah MacLean’s The Rules of Scoundrels series assumed that Chase was a man given that the three previous heroes, Chase’s fellow owners of the Fallen Angel, were all male.  Very, very male.  Instead, Chase “smoothed her skirts.”  Boom.

The mysterious Chase is Georgiana, first introduced to us as a frightened teenager in Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord from the Love by Numbers series.  It is now ten years later and Georgiana is determined to re-enter Society, the same nest of vipers who turned on her and who willingly spill dreadful secrets for the chance to try their luck at the Angel’s tables, all for the sake of her nine-year-old daughter, Caroline.  A titled husband would help Caroline to find a husband with a rank worthy of a duke’s niece so Chase puts aside her breeches (yep!), dons a proper corset and evening gown, and steps into the harsh glare of the ton.

And it is harsh indeed.  A gossip rag has previously published a cartoon of Georgiana as Lady Godiva – and included Caroline.  At the first ball, Georgiana overhears a hoity, snotty ton miss putting her down.  When the vicious girl oversteps and brings the subject of Caroline into the conversation, the lioness in Georgiana rises up and pounces.  Chase decides she will ruin the girl, as she has so many of the ton over the last decade.

Duncan West witnesses the tongue-lashing Georgiana has doled out.  Lady Georgiana is far more woman than the secluded, ruined, woeful young lady Society has expected.  The newspaper magnate is intrigued – he offers to make amends for damage the cartoon has caused.  With the help of his Society papers, he can help Georgiana to find the type of titled husband she requires, the type who won’t ask any questions (because, secrets) and the type very unlikely to require many “wifely” duties.  Georgiana, who has previously interacted with Duncan in her guise as “Anna,” the madam of the Angel, agrees.  Duncan, of course, has no idea she lives a double, even triple life.

The well-defined layers of Georgiana’s life now begin to twist and shift.  By happenstance, Duncan’s curricle is directly behind Georgiana’s carriage when it leaves the ball and heads straight for the Fallen Angel, also Duncan’s destination.  He is stunned to see the glittering Anna emerge from Georgiana’s carriage and breeze through the Angel’s entrance.  Armed with what he thinks is Georgiana’s secret, he presents her with a second bargain: get him truly damaging information on a certain aristocrat (he won’t tell her why) or he will unmask her.

Thus begins the back-and-forth dance between a man and a woman who each have secrets, damaging, potentially life-threatening secrets, and a taste for vengeance.  Can Georgiana trust Duncan with her true identity?   Can Duncan trust Georgiana with the truth of his origins?  Neither is willing to come clean and engage in outright confession.  Each time a layer of disguise is lifted away, Duncan and Georgiana are drawn closer together.  So close, they might unwittingly bring disaster upon themselves.

Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover is a brilliant conclusion to the Scoundrels series.  Chase is such a multi-dimensional character, with a life is so compartmentalized – ostracized single mother, guilty parent, breeches-wearing casino owner, alluring courtesan, brilliant social engineer – that she steps right off the page.  We, the readers, know all her secrets from the beginning and that makes us her allies.  We can watch with relish as Duncan makes wrong assumption after wrong assumption until we just want to shake him because the truth is staring him in the face…then turn around and shake Georgiana for denying herself true happiness.  We can laugh as Bourne, Cross, and Temple needle Chase about her attraction to Duncan and chuckle as Caroline adroitly puts all the adults to shame.  We can sigh when…well, that one is too good to spoil but there’s a pool….  The conclusion to the novel is a parallel to Chase’s favorite casino game – roulette, the only game that is truly a game of chance and cannot be predicted.

I cannot say enough good things about Never Judge a Lady or the Scoundrels series as a whole.  They are four of my favorite historical romance novels with unique, vibrant heroes and heroines.  So I conclude this review with one word: perfect.

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover is on sale today, November 25, from your favorite retailer!

Dear FTC: I received access to a digital ARC via Avon Romance and Edelweiss.

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stuff I read

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Summary from Goodreads:

Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

This is my second-ever outing with David Mitchell (the first being, of course, Cloud Atlas) and I’m not exactly sure where to begin.

Do not mistake hesitancy for dislike: I liked this novel a lot.  A. Lot.  But where to begin a review….

The Bone Clocks feels very much like two novels working in tandem.  One is a realist novel centered around a working-class protagonist, Holly Sykes, who may or may not have heard voices and whose little brother disappeared the weekend that Holly ran away from home.  The second novel is that of an epic battle between good and evil played out on the metaphysical world that exists under our own reality, but centered around Holly and the “radio people” she heard as a child.  It’s like the magic trick with the two rings – they appear separate but through sleight-of-hand they intersect.

The characters in this novel are vividly drawn, starting with Holly herself.  If she had seemed like a stock character, or one that could have been replaced with a “sexy lamp” (to borrow from film criticism), this novel would have failed in spectacular fashion.  Because Holly, even though she is difficult and mouthy, takes no shit off anyone, least of all Oxbridge poseurs and psychic body-snatchers.  Even when she wasn’t the narrator I kept reading in the hopes that I would get back to Holly’s voice.

I am in a bit of a quandary, though.  I read an ARC copy of The Bone Clocks (and started out with a DRC) but I have heard that the advance manuscript differs from the finished edition in a number of ways (particularly those characters from other books who make cameos).  I don’t have time for a re-read now, but do I go back later, after I’ve read more of Mitchell’s backlist to see if I can recognize changes or meta-fiction elements I hadn’t seen on this read?  Decisions, decisions.

Dear FTC: I started with a DRC of this novel via Edelweiss then finished reading with a paper ARC that was sent to my store.