Blog Tour: All’s Fair in Love & Scandal by Caroline Linden

All's Fair in Love & Scandal

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My introduction to Caroline Linden’s writing was the first book in her Scandals series, Love and Other Scandals, featuring the fiesty and fierce Joan Bennet (and of course, the dashing Tristan, Lord Burke). Joan’s brother Douglas was an ancillary character, but his presence was a wonderful complication to Joan and Tristan’s my-best-friend’s-sister romance. All’s Fair in Love and Scandal marks the return of Douglas Bennet as the hero of his own happily ever after. It’s a great novella with a fantastic heroine who’s making her way to the top of my Awesome Ladies of Historical Romance list.

Never one to resist a good wager, Douglas accepts a smarmy friend’s challenge to expose the woman behind  50 Ways to Sin, the scandalous publication we’d all be hiding under our petticoats and reading late at night if we were gently bred 19th century ladies. The problem: The suspected author is the lovely but notoriously aloof widow Madeline Wilde, who maintains her place as a member of society but never a full participant.

Despite Douglas’ underlying deceit, their romance is quite straight-forward. The motivation of the wager quickly loses steam as Madeline poses less of a challenge and more of a prize. It’s easy to see why Douglas would want her. She’s beautiful and intelligent, witty and sharp, and just distant enough to cultivate the aura of a woman worth pursuing. The question in my mind was always: What does she want with Douglas?

I’ll confess to anxiously awaiting Douglas’ fall into love and matrimony, but as I continued to read All’s Fair I felt less Team Douglas, and more Team Madeline. In a way they are at odds. Madeline is struggling to hold on to her hard-won independence despite her growing love for Douglas; Douglas is not really sure what he’s doing but he knows that he wants Madeline to want him (and yes, he absolutely wants her). Madeline knows her own mind and Douglas doesn’t. Neither is mature enough to avoid the games we all play (and lose) in love, but somehow Madeline just comes out the better person in this novella. She’s a fan-freakin-tastic heroine and I might want to be her when I grow up.

As is to be expected with any Linden novel, the writing is top-notch, the dialogue is stellar and the pacing is spot-on. The novella’s resolution is full of so much YES! that I hesitate to even address it at all in this review lest I ruin it for future readers. I’ll just say that it’s deeply satisfying.

Rating: A- (for my new regency role model, Madeline Wilde)

About Caroline Linden

Caroline LindenCaroline Linden was born a reader, not a writer. She earned a math degree from Harvard University and wrote computer software before turning to writing fiction. Ten years, twelve books, three Red Sox championships, and one dog later, she has never been happier with her decision. Her books have won the NEC Reader’s Choice Beanpot Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and RWA’s RITA Award. Since she never won any prizes in math, she takes this as a sign that her decision was also a smart one.

Loving an Uncomplicated Love Story

Mad About the Duke by Elizabeth Boyle

Title: Mad About the Duke
Author: Elizabeth Boyle
Series: The Bachelor Chronicles, Book 7
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently reading my way through the Outlander saga with True Stories & Make Believe blogger, the awesome Heather DLG. We just finished A Breath of Snow and Ashes, which turned out to be a mega-downer. Obviously, I’ll save our review for another post, but I mention it because it’s been the driving force behind my reading selections for the past week. A girl can only take so much Outlander turmoil before she starts to crave a good ol’ fashioned angst-free happy ending. This girl, in particular was in serious need of a feel-good romance.

I’ve been devouring one after another, reading my way through some old favorites and some wonderful new books, the latest being Elizabeth Boyle’s Mad About the Duke. Thanks to a spot-on recommendation by fellow Avon Addict, Lisa Lin, I snagged this fantastic read a few days ago and haven’t looked up from my Kindle since then. Yes, it is the 7th book in a series of 8, but despite a first chapter that calls back to events in book 6, Mad About the Duke is a completely worthy standalone read. Don’t let it’s place in the series deter you from starting it.

Lady Elinor Standon is one of the three widows brought together to live in a house and find husbands. Lest this sound a little too MTV Real World (am I dating myself with that reference?), don’t worry; it’s a minor background detail. With one widow down (aka married) and two more to go, the pressure is on Elinor, who is determined to snag a duke in hopes that a marriage to a man of power will free her young sister Tia from the guardianship of her despicable stepfather Lord Lewis. In a desperate attempt to further her marriage plot, Elinor hires James St. Maur, whom she believes to be a man of business, to help her scope out a few eligible dukes. But guess what, ladies…HE’S A DUKE!…James Tremont, 9th Duke of Parkerton to be exact. Unwittingly pulled into this odd charade, James can’t seem to find his way out from this lie that brings him a new degree of freedom, and ever closer to the stunning Elinor.

The attraction between Elinor and James starts on the first page of chapter 1 and just keeps getting stronger as the pages keep turning. Yes, there is this odd contrived setup based on a lie–James is playing a solicitor–but there’s no angst, no sturm und drang about his mistaken identity as there would be in other darker romance novels. James rather likes playing the man of business, and despite the false title, he is most himself when he’s with Elinor. Add to that the fact that virtually EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE NOVEL KNOWS HE’S A DUKE, and his deception really becomes more like a little white lie, the equivalent of telling the girl you’re dating that you wash your sheets every week when really it’s more like once every two months. A little troubling, but nothing a good partner can’t fix. It doesn’t stand in the way of Elinor and James getting to know, love, and lust after one another, which is all that really happens in this book.

Boyle keeps the tone of the novel light and comical, with just the right touch of conflict to keep the narrative moving along toward its inevitable happily ever after. Even Elinor’s seemingly dire situation–Lord Lewis really is one hell of an ass–doesn’t feel desperate to the reader, because we know a duke is right under her nose (or under her, depending on the love scene). Despite the potentially disastrous explosion that could happen when Elinor inevitably discovers James’ social standing, you somehow know it just won’t happen. The romance between the two feels too genuine and somehow strong enough to withstand a few minor details like ducal estates and signet rings. It’s the affective bonus in all its shining glory (thank you English lit degree): Elinor needs a duke, but follows her heart instead and gets–surprise!–the richest duke ever! Sounds a little Lizzie-Darcy doesn’t it? And just when I thought the Pride and Prejudice allusions couldn’t get any stronger–BAM!–Boyle throws in a little Lizzie Bennet seeing Pemberley for the first time home-for-owner metonymy in the form of Elinor seeing Colston, one of James’ lovely ducal estates, and immediately falling deeper in love with the man. It’s just fantastic and warms my little English major heart.

As always, Boyle is a master of secondary characters. There’s a whole Peanuts gallery worth of awesome in the people who populate James and Elinor’s social spheres, but my special favorites are James servants. They are a fantastic reminder that in regency England, an aristocrat often lives at the mercy of his or her house staff.

Mad About the Duke is a wonderfully uncomplicated romance. Two people meet, two people lust, and two people fall in love without tumult. If you need a feel-good romance to get you out of a funk, pick up a copy of this shiny, happy book.

Rating: A ( I would have given it an A+, but there was no epilogue! I’m a sucker for those little glimpses into a couple’s future and am always disappointed when I don’t find one at the end of my favorite romance novels. Side note: I am also the kind of concert-goer who will cheer and yell and clap until the band comes back on stage. Coincidence? Probably not.)

In Which Maya Rodale Drops the Mic

What a Wallflower Wants by Maya Rodale - Tasty Book Tour

Did you hear that? That’s the sound of Maya Rodale DROPPING THE MIC at this romance party, because What a Wallflower Wants is Just. That. Amazing.

I am beyond excited to be a Tasty Book Tour stop for the closing installment of Rodale’s Wallflower trilogy. In addition to a review in which I struggle to adequately convey the importance of this historical romance novel, I also have a wonderful excerpt to share with you AND a giveaway for a print copy of Rodale’s complete Bad Boys & Wallflowers series.

On to the excitement!


The Review

Never one to start at the beginning, the first Maya Rodale novel I picked up was the second installment in her Wallflower trilogy, Wallflower Gone Wild. It was witty and engaging, pushing all the right romance-buttons while sort of hinting at a deeper theme of second chances and shattering expectations. Because of this light-hearted introduction to Rodale’s writing, I thought I knew what to expect from What a Wallflower Wants. Yet weeks after reading this final Wallflower novel, I am still thinking about it, talking about it, and clearly, writing about it. In one powerful story Rodale has completely blown away my expectations for historical romance.

The story is a heavy one: For four years Prudence Merryweather Payton has carried the secret of her brutal rape by a peer and forsworn all hopes of love and marriage. With both of her wallflower friends now happily married, the date of her finishing school’s anniversary ball growing closer, and the never-ending societal pressure for a gently bred woman to marry, Prudence attempts a sham marriage as a way to save face. A chance encounter with a highwayman on the road to elopement sends her life into the orbit of John Roark, Viscount Castleton. For a woman who vowed never to trust a man again, his easy smile and gentle nature are far too tempting. For John, this beautiful, intriguing woman is just the kind of distraction he doesn’t need. He too has secrets, and his growing love for Prudence threatens to reveal them all.

The foundation for this love story is simple–two people with secret pasts, thrown together by a rain storm at a country inn–but the way that it plays out is stunning. The courtship between John and Prudence is not about John’s desire (although it’s there) or lust (although he feels it). It’s about Prudence realizing that she is a strong, amazing survivor. Rather than flatter her, John teaches her to fight. Instead of trying to charm her he encourages her to find her own pleasure. There’s no seduction here, only empowerment.

And trust me when I say empowerment is incredibly sexy.

What a Wallflower Wants breaks down traditional historical romance gender roles and makes their boundaries much more fluid. The ideal of manhood John embodies includes all the qualities that really matter: vulnerability, openness, and the desire to love a woman who can take care of herself. Prudence is fearful after suffering such a terrible sexual assault, but she is not broken. She is strong enough to build a life for herself that, although not ideal, allows her to possess some agency in a time when women often had none.

Through Prudence, Rodale calls out the harmful gender expectations that society continues to impose on women. Ladies aren’t angry. Ladies don’t yell. Ladies are biddable, agreeable, and never ever cause a scene. The rules for a 19th century lady sound remarkably like the kinds of qualities 21st century good girls are supposed to possess. Do be polite. Do be kind. Don’t be loud. Don’t be angry. Although it’s John who encourages Prudence to find her anger, he doesn’t allow her to get angry. Only Prudence has that power, and that makes all the difference in this novel.

Without giving too much away I will say that Rodale also highlights the intersections of gender and socioeconomic status, weaving together issues of class and sexism in a way that I rarely see a historical romance author do to such fine effect. In this regard Rodale joins ranks with Courtney Milan, who also isn’t afraid to bring discussions of race, class, and gender into deeply emotional romance.

Needless to say, What a Wallflower Wants left me completely floored. Yes, there is love. Yes, there is romance. And goodness, yes, there are some fantastically sexy scenes to enjoy. But there’s also a commentary on what we as a society continue to expect from women and girls and just how harmful those seemingly innocuous expectations can be.

Rating: ALL THE STARS! ALL THE “A”s! ALL THE PLUSES! Read it now, please. You’ll be glad you did.

Purchase: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes

 


Cover of What a Wallflower WantsEXCERPT from What a Wallflower Wants

This man’s face, with his blue eyes and easy smile, made her think of once upon a time.  Once upon a time when she still believed in heroes that saved the day. Once upon a time, when she still believed that somewhere, out there, was a man who would love her. Once upon a time, when a young girl’s dreams came true and happily-ever-after was just within reach. That was a long time ago. These days, Prudence knew better. She knew that wolves wore rogue’s clothing and they had a taste for young ladies. “Good afternoon,” he said with a tip of his hat and a smile that revealed a slight dimple in his left cheek. He was entirely handsome, from his slightly unruly brown hair down to the tips of his shiny black boots. And he was smiling at her in a way that made her feel like fireworks inside: hot, shimmering, sparkling explosions that left her breathless and entranced.   Prudence managed a tight smile, wanting to be polite but not encouraging. She was quite aware of the fact that they were alone on a desolate country road. “Would you care for a ride, miss? I’d be happy to oblige,” he offered. Of course she wanted a ride somewhere.  At the moment, she wanted nothing more than to sit on the upholstered carriage bench, under the shade of the carriage top. She wanted to set down her bag and sigh with relief.  She wanted to sit beside this impossibly handsome man and gaze up at his blue eyes and think about falling in love rather than being accosted and left for dead, or worse.

She knew about worse.


Maya RodaleAbout Maya Rodale
Maya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Maya is now the author of multiple Regency historical romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

You can learn more about Maya by visiting her website or following her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.


The Giveaway

Win a print set of Rodale’s Bad Boys & Wallflowers series. Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway now!


Follow the Tour

If you want to continue read excerpts from What a Wallflower Wants and hear more about how fabulous this novel is, follow the blog book tour.