Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: A Most Scandalous Proposal by Ashlyn MacNamara (ARC)

Sophia and Julia St. Claire are known for their beauty and also for lack of wealth -- but both sisters do not lack for admirers or proposals -- and they have skillfully maneuvered around both: keeping the former at arms-length and refusing the latter with grace.

Unbeknownst their ambitious mother, the two sisters have plans of their own: Sophia lost her heart to William Ludlowe five years ago and has loved him ever since. But he doesn't know she exists and is of very questionable repute. But Sophia wants him.

Julia is just going through the motions of the Season -- while she supports her sister in her pursuit of a love match, Julia would like a marriage with no affection. Julia has seen the cruel effects of an unrequited love and knows how destructive it can be -- she has kept her heart locked and safe from any and all. Gaining the reputation of an ice queen. Beautiful to behold but cold to the touch.

But fate has other plans for the St. Claires. And, not one but two scandalous proposals are struck:

Sophia finds herself engaged to the Earl of Highgate after they are caught in a compromising situation when he saves her from a fainting spell. Rufus's first marriage ended in tragedy when his first wife was forced into marriage to him by her parents -- he would like to avoid another such arrangement and has proposed a temporary engagement to Sophia. Two weeks and then she can jilt him.

Julia discovers too late the unacceptable agreement her father has made with William Ludlowe, now the Earl of Cliveden. To escape, she turns to her dearest childhood friend, Benedict Revelstoke and asks him to compromise her.

Benedict has always loved Julia and she knows it -- but she refuses to feel love for anyone. Julia's proposal allows Benedict to be a step closer to Julia and it is his chance to teach her that love doesn't have to be a tragedy.

The summary on the back cover and the first few chapters confused me. I thought the story would focus on Julia and Benedict (as is mentioned in the summary) but, instead, it shifts between the two sisters and their two stories.

My other problem was that the more scandalous proposal doesn't happen until Chapter 13 (53% into the book) -- in the first 12 chapters, MacNamara gives us the "lay of the land" -- of the difficult path that lay before the St. Claire sisters. Their position in society is precarious -- and their financial situation even more so, with their father's gambling. Then they have to contend with the jealous who gleefully wait for Sophia and Julia to make a mistake; the haughty who see the sisters as beneath them --

On Julia's approach, the dowager snapped a lorgnette to her face and eyed her from her sleek, honey-colored coiffure to the tips of her slk-clad toes. A frown fit to curdle new milk indicated Julia has passed muster.
- loc 148

MacNamara provides an insightful view into London Society of that time -- and the near-powerlessness of women -- but the sisters defy convention, Julia, especially. She refuses to let her father and society govern her and takes matters into her own hands and makes her own decision about her future.

I did wish the author took more time to develop the relationship between Benedict and Julia. They are childhood friends and, from the brief glimpses into that, it seemed to have been a deep connection -- by focusing on the present circumstances, the love and intimacy that Benedict and Julia experience becomes a bit too sudden and surprising. I wished she showed the transition more clearly.

Sophia and Highgate's story, had more promise: how can two broken hearts come together and mend each other? Sophia believed for so long in the love she felt for Ludlowe -- when his treachery is exposed, it leaves Sophia a bit lost and disillusioned. How does one find a new way, when one was so used to doing and being something for so many years? Highgate has been on that path years before,when he believed that love could grow between him and his first wife. He has had years to learn from his experience and he shares this to Sophia.

"Sophia." He said her name gently, as it was meant to be pronounced, a soft whisper of a name. The eyes she raised to his shimmered with tears. "Sophia, let it out. There's no one here to see."

She swallowed before replying. "No one but you."

"And I shall never tell. Your broken heart is safe in my hands. I know exactly how you feel."

"You do?" she choked out. A lone tear escaped the corner of her eye and traced its way along the contour of her cheek.

"Shall I tell you?"
- loc 2655

They are perfect for each other -- and Rufus proves that 'true love waits' -- he stays by Sophia as she sorts through her emotions. When she finally comes to her realization, it is a satisfying moment.

My issues aside, this was a good read -- (I love that the author uses words like "chivvied" -- and I would be interested to read Ashlyn MacNamara next book. She has a good sense of the manners and mores of the period and uses them well to get her story across.

A Most Scandalous Proposal is Ashlyn MacNamara's debut novel. It will be released on February 26, 2013 Her sophomore work, A Most Devilish Rogue is scheduled for release in August 2013. To find out more about Ashlyn MacNamara and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.

Disclosure: I received the ARC through Netgalley. (Thank you to Random House Publishing for accepting my request.) Yes, this is an honest review.



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