Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart by Sarah MacLean

Book Description:
She lives for passion. 

Bold, impulsive, and a magnet for trouble, Juliana Fiori is no simpering English miss. She refuses to play by society's rules: she speaks her mind, cares nothing for the approval of the ton, and can throw a punch with remarkable accuracy. Her scandalous nature makes her a favorite subject of London's most practiced gossips . . . and precisely the kind of woman The Duke of Leighton wants far far away from him.

He swears by reputation.

Scandal is the last thing Simon Pearson has room for in his well-ordered world. The Duke of Disdain is too focused on keeping his title untainted and his secrets unknown. But when he discovers Juliana hiding in his carriage late one evening—risking everything he holds dear—he swears to teach the reckless beauty a lesson in propriety. She has other plans, however; she wants two weeks to prove that even an unflappable duke is not above passion.


I've been looking forward to reading Juliana Fiori's story ever since I heard it was coming up next in MacLean's Love by Numbers series. Juliana has been a favorite of mine as the feisty Italian half-sister of the Marquess of Ralston and his twin brother, Nick. From what we see of her in the first two books in the series, I knew her opposites match up with the horrid Duke of Leighton would make a good story. Indeed, it did not disappoint.

Juliana has a knack for finding scandal - or rather scandal finds her, and Simon Pearson, the oh-so-respectable Duke of Leighton cannot resist her. Ever since their first meeting at a bookstore months before, he has been unable to forget her. Like a Siren (his pet name for her) her beauty and vivaciousness has tugged at him. He cannot stop himself from wanting her, knowing there cannot be a more unsuitable mate for him in society. Battling between his sense of familial duty and the unexpected passion that is unleashed as he gradually falls in love with Juliana, I grew to like Simon. My congratulations to the author for pulling this off, for Leighton was such a loathsome snob in the previous books, I didn't know how she'd make me like him in this one.

But, she did!

This cold and austere aristocrat won me over.  I marveled over his complete transformation and enlightenment.  Every word and interaction between Juliana, an adorable and effervescent heroine, and Simon, the Duke of Disdain, was a treat that I looked forward to.  It was simply a pleasure to read on until the very end!
Juliana is a captivating heroine. I kept picturing Sophia Loren with her gorgeous dark looks in my mind.  Shades of the movie "Houseboat" with Cary Grant came to mind - yumm. No wonder the Duke of Leighton couldn't resist her!  Constantly getting into scrapes and mishaps, Simon was always there to rescue her.  Whether it was finding her in his carriage after she'd been hiding from a overly friendly drunken lord or saving her from drowning in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, all too soon, he couldn't resist the lure of kissing her.  Where there's one kiss, passion leads to another.  Still, he can't let this go on.  Juliana, the daughter of a marchioness who deserted her family and ran off with an Italian merchant is no one he can possibly consider marrying  He cannot fall for her, he cannot have her because he has his duty as a duke and he must secure his family's respectability by marrying well.  Why?  Because his sister has done the unthinkable.  She has gotten herself pregnant and is about to have a baby girl in secret - out of wedlock.  When the ton finds out, it will mean social ruin, so he must find himself a respectable wife in order to offset the scandal before the world knows of his family's fall from grace.

As you can imagine, Juliana knows nothing about his sister and is hurt over and over again because Simon keeps rejecting her - even though it's obvious he's into her!  Her insecurities regarding her parentage worsen as the mean-spirited gossip mongers of the ton take every opportunity to hurt her if they can.  Juliana takes the high road and tends to ignore them, even rubbing it in their noses by acting scandalously, but deep down it's getting to her.  Her one shining light in it all is the thought of Simon and the way he makes her feel.  Does he care for her or not?

At one point he does the honorable thing and impulsively offers for her when her brother finds them together kissing in the stable.  Juliana doesn't want him that way - out of obligation and refuses his suit.  Torn by his own feelings of wanting Juliana and wanting to do right by his family, Leighton becomes engaged to an impeccably suited young woman of the ton the next day - before he can change his mind.  His future is secure - until his sister has her baby and he must go to the country and see her.  Once there, he realizes what's really important in life.  His priorities change almost overnight when he holds his newborn niece in his arms.  He cannot turn his sister away and he can no longer deny his love for Juliana, who conveniently happens to be visiting her half-brother Nick and his wife Isobel at the same country house in Yorkshire.  Leighton's sister, Georgiana has been staying there as a refuge during her confinement. 

While in Yorkshire, Juliana and Simon come to terms with one another and have one special night together - but what about the future? His betrothal? What about Juliana's scandalous mother who has returned to London to wreak havoc?  Even though Juliana knows Simon cares for her and wants to marry her instead of the respectable Penelope, she cannot say yes.  She is afraid that in time he will come to hate her, for society will never accept her, or any of their future children.  They will be outcasts.  Will Simon still love her if and when that happens?  Juliana flees, leaving Simon to think about the choices he must make.

I really love Sarah MacLean's storytelling.  Not only is the plot well done but there are a lot of little details that add to the richness of the story that make her characters real and likable.  Little things like Simon's dog Leopold.  Leopold has a tendency of hogging Simon's favorite chair and lets out a long suffering sigh when he's ousted from the master's seat (any dog owner knows that canine sigh so well!)  I chuckled when Simon converses with his dog before kicking him out of the chair.

"Oh, I'm sorry, am I disturbing your rest?"

Been there, done that.

I love Juliana's Italian mannerisms, her little shrugs, her accent, the way she adorably mangles the English language - I found it funny and endearing!  I love her, can you tell?  Lastly, my favorite part of the book is Leighton's third and final proposal - so romantic and heartfelt and just really good! It brought tears to my eyes.  He had already won me over by that point, but this was the icing on the cake!  I was truly happy for them.  He has such a complete turnaround - be still my heart!

I'm leaving tons out, but trust me it's a great story!  It had me going all the way up to the very end and epilogue!  For once, no kidnappings or murder plots in the last third of the book!  There were a few loose ends that could have been dealt with and a few unbelievable situations that would never really happen in real life.  But, this is a romance afterall and I often resort to suspended disbelief while reading romances.  Still, I'd love to know what Leighton's mother, an über snob, did when she found out her son had married someone so common!  And whatever happened to Juliana's scandalous mother, maybe we'll find out in the next book?  Another loose end - Penelope, Leighton's fiancée.  She didn't want to marry him and was unhappy at the idea, but this was never expanded upon. Why?  Is she going to get a book of her own eventually?  I'd like to see if Georgiana finds love - maybe with Benedick - Callie's gracious older brother who offered for Juliana in a gesture of kindness.

I'm really enjoying this series, I preferred this book over the last one, but I do wonder how the author is going to keep this numbers naming thing going - it's kind of gimmicky, but I don't care as long as the actual stories are good. *Aha, just found out this is the last book in the series!  No more numbers and alas, I guess no stories for some of the side characters I liked!  One last thing, as much as I loved this book, the color on this cover is hideous! Bubble gum pink!?  Aack!  What were they thinking?  Still, don't judge a book by it's cover, this is a real winner!



Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

Sounds like it's awesome!! i have the first two but haven't had a chance to read them yet.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

I loved the first one! The second was okay, not as good. This third comes in a close second to the first! Now I'm dying to know who number 4 will be about! (Sorry, all these numbers!)

Blodeuedd said...

Oh no, what?! No more numbers? I really wanted his sister's story :(

But perhaps she then is a non number book

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Blodeuedd - yes, that's what I read in an interview with her. She's starting a new series now.

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