Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: Scandalously Yours by Cara Elliott

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This is not the first time Cara Elliott has featured a group of smart, incredibly talented women in her series -- she did this with her Circle of Sin stories, but, what makes her Hellions of High Street series different is the injection of lightness and humor.

I'm a sucker for smart women in my romances, and the Sloane sisters are incredibly so. Olivia is an activist, and very passionate about her causes. This novel started out very well. I liked how independent-minded the heroine was, and how disinterested she was in the marriage game -- but, sadly, still needed to participate in the social activities for the sake of her younger sister (and their impoverished family). Olivia's younger sisters aren't much different from her: one is secretly a gifted poet (who is engaged in a word war with another poet, who happens to be a lord), and the other sister is secretly a romance writer. I love how distinct each sister is, and I can't wait to start reading their stories.

Olivia expelled another sigh. Unlike herself, who all too often wasn't smart enough to hide her rebellion against Society's rules, Anna was blessed with both beauty and brains. Her sister's manners were charming, her temperament sweet, and her appearance angelic. No one would ever guess that such a demure, dainty figure was, in fact, the author of the wildly popular racy novels featuring the intrepid English orphan Emmalina Smythe and Count Alessandro Crispini, an Italian Lothario whose exploits put Giacomo Casanova to the blush.
- Chapter 3

Olivia's first meeting with the Earl of Wrexham was over a game of chess, and I love how the game actually reflects our main characters. There's a lot of strategy involved as Wrexham tries to find a second wife (and mother to his young son). There's also a lot of thinking and planning as he also prepares to make a potentially policy-changing/world-changing speech in the House of Lords, but he needs the help of The Beacon, a famed reform writer for one of London's leading newspapers.

"Do you think that ladies are incapable of conceiving a plan of attack that requires thinking three or four steps ahead?" She knew the answer of course. Most men were predictable in their prejudices, assuming the fairer sex had naught but feathers for brains.

Which made his reply all the more unexpected.

"I have a sister," he said slowly. "So I am acutely aware of how sharp the female mind can be." A rumbled chuckle softened his solemn expression for just an instant. "Indeed, their skill at riding roughshod over an enemy's defines put the efficiency of many of my fellow officers to blush."
- Chapter 1

Wrexham is an interesting study: the world views him as a perfect hero, but he knows he isn't. He knows he is about the shatter this illusion once he makes his speech and he looks towards that event with both excitement and fear. I loved the metafiction at work here: Wrexham is the hero of this story, and, on paper, he's supposed to have everything (ergo, perfect): a title, money, the respect of his peers, etc. But, as we read how woefully inadequately Wrexham interacts with Olivia and how terribly he is botching up fatherhood, we know he isn't perfect.

But this is where the story gets a bit confusing: there's a little bit of everything in this story and I didn't know where to focus on: The dynamic between Olivia and Wrexham are an odd-couple pairing: one is footloose and fancy free and the other is stiff, unbending and all about the rules. This, perhaps, was the most promising theme explored in the story, and I wished the author had just focused on this. (This actually reminded me a bit of The Sound of Music with the Steel Corset (Lady Serena), a lady Wrexham is considering to marry, but who has a very extreme view of where children ought to be -- like The Baroness in The Sound of Music.)

This situation gets complicated when Wrexham's young son, Scottie, is included and there's a bit about an ad placed in a newspaper about a man seeking a wife. It reminded me of Sleepless in Seattle. While enjoyable, it made me wonder what the focus of the story was: is it the reform? is it the love triangle? is it the odd-couple pairing? The element of suspense and action is also introduced much later, and requires our hero and heroine to chase through the countryside chasing after a villain.

There are two obstacles for Wrexham: a group of lords are unhappy with the reforms he plans to introduce in his speech, and are taking drastic measures to stop him. Wrexham's son is also involved in some hi-jinx as he tries to find the lady he believes would be a perfect match for his father. There's also Olivia and her secret, and how it would affect her sisters' prospects of marriage if anyone would know the truth about her.

A testament to how talented a writer Cara Elliott is: the story works. It's a bit unwieldy and weighed down by so many story threads, but she succeeds in making you interested in the sisters and their stories. She also succeeded in giving Wrexham and Olivia a very good happily-ever-after.

Scandalously Yours is book 1 in Cara Elliott's Hellions of High Street series. To find out more about Cara Elliott and her books, click below:


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