After having read MANY historical romance novels with a bit more substance and intriguing plot lines in the past, I found this book to be very lacking and am surprised at all of the positive reviews and/or lack of less than positive reviews. Honestly, the plot wasn't particularly interesting to me.
A "plump and plain" 28-year-old spinster, Calpurnia Hartwell, hits midlife crisis and decides to rebel and live a little. She creates a list of 9 items to do:
1. Kiss someone-passionately
2. Smoke cheroot and drink scotch
3. Ride astride
5. Attend a duel
6. Fire a pistol
7. Gamble (at a gentleman's club)
8. Dance every dance at a ball
9. Be considered beautiful. Just once.
She gets the notorious rake, the Marquess of Ralston, a man she has had an infatuation with for 10 years, to complete #1. Ralston agrees to kiss her but only if she will (with her impeccable reputation) present to society, his recently-discovered half-sister. They strike a deal and the rest of the book is mostly about Ralston himself attracted to Calpurnia and Calpurnia going on one escapade to another to complete her list, as well as helping his half-sister make her debut to the ton.
The minor plotlines were weak facades. It's very obvious that the whole book is centered on developing the romance between the two main characters. Although that's what romance novels are usually all about, I generally like to read books that actually have a real story and substance to them besides focusing on always getting the female and male leads together all the time. I think romance books like these are what give romance novels a bad name.
Also, I'm not even going to mention how many times the author alludes to the main character's physical appearances. I highly respect books which can reveal the beauty of a person and get readers to like a character without constantly mentioning a their perfections and imperfections. Ironically, a main point in this book seems to be seeing beyond the cover of a book, but it's hard when the author keeps referencing the main character's "cover". I found it to be hypocritical and superficial. This was more of a pity-me book. And honestly, when most of the story is simply about poor-old-me-who-isn't-the-belle-of-the-ball-but-is-nice-generous-kind-and-perfect-in-every-way-so-why-shouldn't-I-deserve-a-hot-handsome-titled-rich-man, I get a little bored and my eyes will start rolling. It was just so clear that there really was no story to this except the plain, plump girl going on unusual escapades and getting the attention of the handsome marquess.
Seriously, the whole facade of a story regarding launching the marquess's half-sister out into society is a bit weak considering he chose Calpurnia for her perfect reputation and throughout this, she is constantly doing things on her list to tarnish and endanger her reputation. AND the marquess catches her several times but just goes along with her plans. The author describes the marquess as a cynical, jaded, serious, stereotypical titled lord so this just doesn't make any sense. If he's like that, then he's dealt with a bunch of women who have smoked cheroots, drunk scotch, etc, etc. I didn't find anything interesting about Calpurnia.
The writing style of this book isn't bad, but the author does throw in a few SAT words to make the book seem a lot more intellectual than it really is. No offense, Ms. MacLean, but I would recommend sticking to your YA audience.
~ YAY!! FINALLY A GOOD NEW RELEASE, A WONDERFUL NEW AUTHOR, AND A FANTASTIC SHY-WALLFLOWER-HEROINE (4.5 stars) ~
"Plain" and spinsterish 28-year-old Lady Calpurnia "Callie" Hartwell is sick of being seen as an old spinster, on-the-shelf, passive, and uninteresting - and thus THE LIST is born. On this list of nine things are activities that normally-shy Callie would never have dared to even contemplate, let alone actually do (gamble at a gentleman's club, drink scotch, smoke a cheroot, attend a duel, kiss someone passionately, etc.). Her partner in crime becomes Gabriel, Marquess of Ralston, the notorious rake whom she has secretly had a crush on for ten years.
Gabriel - unlike most HR heroes, of course! - is completely opposed to the idea of love due to his parents' disastrous marriage. He is somewhat elusive and inaccessible, and does not easily open himself up to others or have the approachable demeanor that his twin brother does. A recently discovered half-sister has left him in a quandary, as her background will make it hard for the ton to accept her. So who better to help him launch her in society than the spinster with the perfect (-ly boring) reputation - who happens to conveniently have shown up at his house in the middle of the night seeking a kiss. Callie, on her end, wants to live life and experience some adventure; she is more than willing to help with Gabriel's sister, so a deal is struck and the rest is history!
This book has wonderful leading characters, great supporting ones as well (especially the siblings - they're stellar), there were many laugh-out-loud scenes, the witty banter and teasing between Gabriel and Callie will leave you smiling, and the tension/romance was great.
So great to find a new author and it was wonderful to finally read a good "new release" book after such a string of bad ones by some of my favorite historical romance authors. MacLean has a new book coming out again soon - October 26th to be exact - and I can't wait (!!!). The book is TEN WAYS TO BE ADORED WHEN LANDING A LORD (yes, are we sensing a pattern here with the titles?) and it will feature Gabriel's twin brother, Lord Nicholas St. Justin, and Lady Isabel Townsend (who we have not yet been introduced to). We also have Gabriel's sister's and Callie's brother's books to look forward to!
I'm a big fan of the shy-wallflower-intelligent-plain heroines - I know, unlike almost every other historical romance reader out there ;-). Anyway, here are more of my favorite books that have the same type of heroine; they're not in order of preference, but they were all 4-5 star reads for me:
~ Lisa Kleypas --- DEVIL IN WINTER, DREAMING OF YOU
~ Suzanne Enoch --- ALWAYS A SCOUNDREL, LONDON'S PERFECT SCOUNDREL (this book doesn't totally fit into the category, but the books are similar and it is one of my top five favorite HR books of all-time)
~ Christina Dodd --- ONE KISS FROM YOU, RULES OF SURRENDER, THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS
~ Julia Quinn --- ROMANCING MISTER BRIDGERTON
~ Sabrina Jeffries --- A NOTORIOUS LOVE
~ Judith Ivory --- THE PROPOSITION
~ Jane Feather --- THE LEAST LIKELY BRIDE
Oh, and P.S. did I mention how FABULOUS it was to finally have a character named Juliana whose name is spelled the same way as mine and is NOT one of the book's evil characters?!?! Totally looking forward to her romance with what we can only assume will be the horrid Duke of Leighton.
I hate to criticize because I know that this book is currently getting a lot of rave reviews, but whatever the charm, it was totally lost on me. It basically read like a 432 page romance novel cliche. To call it something I've seen before is really an understatement. It would actually be more appropriate to ask where I HAVEN'T seen it before. You certainly couldn't include in that any one of numerous books by Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn, Jo Beverley, etc. etc. etc...
A plain-ish, plump-ish debutante falls head over heels for a rake (the hero, Gabriel St. John) in the midst of her spectacularly unsuccessful come out season. Nevermind that she spies him in a somewhat graphic clench with another woman, or that she's basically gone from his memory two seconds after he turns his back on her. Cupid has fired his arrow and she's going to nurse a deep & abiding love for him for the next ten years. Oh goody...
Flash forward ten years and Callie (the heroine & confirmed spinster) drafts her infamous list of nine scandalous things she would do if there were no consequences to face, starting with #1, kissing - Gabriel of course - so she sets out to accomplish this by sneaking into his house (and his bedroom).
I can't believe I spent ten minutes trying to figure out how many times I've seen this plot before. I settled on somewhere between 10 and 100, and then finally decided it hardly mattered. The fact is that I have seen it before, and pretty much everything that follows, from the bargain that Gabriel & Callie strike for her to sponsor his illegitimate sister in her own debut (in exchange for helping her to fulfill the items on her list), to his growing respect & attraction to Callie as a truly unique & beautiful woman in her own right.
Yeah, I know - it gave me a bit of a headache too...
As premises go, it's not a bad one, even if it's familiar. It would have been nice however, if there had actually been something unexpected on Callie's list. Nothing anachronistic like water-skiing, mind you, but something NOT involving things like dressing as a man and gambling in a gentleman's club, attending a duel, riding astride or fencing. Somewhere along the line it went from somewhat tediously familiar to so annoyingly predictable, it was like brushing my teeth with aluminum foil.
To be absolutely fair, I don't think I'd have been so critical of this book, had I read it 5 or so years ago, and well before I'd read a dozen other wallpaper historicals just like it.
Unfortunately, it comes well on the heels of a great many other stories nearly identical to it in plotting & writing style - hence the term "wallpaper". In light of that, I can't call it anything approaching fresh or innovative, or the author's voice distinguishable from that of a dozen others who continually churn out book after book just like this one. I would say that Maclean is a very competent writer for a relative newcomer to this specific genre, but in terms of originality, she's just one more in an already cumbersome list of meat & potatoes writers, cranking out formulaic regency fluff.
Not that formulaic regency fluff doesn't have its place...
If nothing else, it's a guaranteed easy & unchallenging read, and you don't have to think a lot or always be paying attention lest you miss something really integral to the plot. Not everyone likes to be kept on their toes, as they must be when reading a Sherry Thomas or Meredith Duran - in other words, crafty, intelligent writers who like to throw their readers a few curves.
This book, and Sarah Maclean, will appeal to many because her writing is straightforward & uncomplicated, and it won't keep you up, red-eyed & anxious until 4am. It's also relatively clean and error free - which there is a lot to be said for as well. As long as you aren't looking for anything that tests any boundaries or takes you, as a reader, outside of your usual comfort zone, I think you'll be well served here.
I personally rate it a solid C - in other words, just ok.
Sensuality Rating: R
Cute story. Lady Capurnia Hartwell goes on a mission to break rules and "discover" herself as she is now 28 and on the shelf.
I liked the story line fine enough. The h/h were together a lot, the dialogue was nice, the protangonist didn't steal the story.
I just wish the characters would've been a little stronger. As the heroine progressed, she did become less passive, but I would've enjoyed more umph from the start. The hero is better, but I still wanted a little more - maybe for him to feel more chemistry with her from the start??
That said, the prologue was sweet and the ending was great.
All I have to say about this book is LOVED IT, LOVED IT, LOVED IT! I could not put this book down! It was a great read and the story flowed so easily. Can't wait for the next book by this author!