Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on May 9, 2015
This book kept me awake all night. I guess that's my punishment(?) for starting it at 10:30 pm? Well I ain't even mad.

As if it wasn't enough that Miss Grace Cabot is the second of the beautiful, scandalous Cabot sisters, the circumstances of her marriage make her altogether the most inappropriate bride imaginable for Jeffrey Donovan, the Earl of Merryton.

Sunny, irrepressible Grace is in a bit of a bind. Her mother is slowly going insane and she and her eldest sister fear their stepbrother's fiancée plans to retire them all to the countryside leaving their mother forgotten, the older girls banned from society and no opportunity whatsoever for their younger sisters to make good marriages. Destitution is imminent. This is what leads Grace to be discovered (by her own engineering) in tea shop in a passionate embrace with a total stranger. Of course they are forced to marry.

Grace isn't shocked that her plan worked, but she is shocked to discover that stranger she lost control with in the dark isn't her original target but her target's older brother. And he's quiet, gruff, intimidating - hardly even civil. Grace makes a concerted effort to get to know him but she encounters wall after wall.

Jeffrey is not happy to be saddled with a wife who wasn't of his choosing, but now that he has Grace he supposes he will make do. He suffers from what we today recognize as OCD. It keeps him ensconced in his country home where he can control his environment and limit interaction with the chaotic outside world. He also understandably lacks social skills, constantly fearing he will say or do something offensive or wrong or expose his madness to the world. Gradually Grace begins to reach him. She really has to fight for him, but once Jeffrey finally frees himself, revealing his secret once and for all, he begins to fight for her as well. These two definitely became a favorite romance couple. They were fantastic as single characters but together they shined. Two is better than one; isn't that why we read romance?

Things I loved about this book:
1. The relationship between Grace and her sisters, in particularly her eldest sister (and closest in age), Honor. It was funny and heartwarming and entirely realistic. The Cabot girls are definitely 21st century women, and I appreciated that beneath the fluff and innocence how smart and strong they are, but most of all how they care for each other.

2. Grace reminded me a lot of Karen Marie Moning's urban fantasy heroine, MacKayla Lane, from her wildly popular Fever series. These two leading ladies are certainly alike in their naiveté, but the comparison stems more from the fact that Grace does some pretty foolish things that could have greatly harmed multiple people yet I couldn't help but love her, pushing TSTL at times and all. She also has Mac's penchant for pretty things. Because this is Romancelandia, of course everything worked out okay, but Grace examines her actions and the multiple consequences of them more than once, and she is suitably horrified at how things *could* have turned out. She also tries to make amends. She feels guilt. She certainly grows as a character.

3. Jeffrey is a classic tortured hero but he's not the kind of tortured hero who holds onto grudges. He isn't angry at the world, he doesn't have a chip on his shoulder. If you love tortured heroes but are looking for something a bit less cliche look no further. Jeffrey's struggle with OCD was very real. As a reader I was almost annoyed by the repetition of his obsessions (specifically unwanted sexual thoughts, fear of harming others, particularly Grace and perfectionism) and compulsions (always the number eight) but his illness would not have been believable otherwise. Jeffrey really doesn't have time to hate the world because he's under a constant struggle to control himself and keep that world from learning his shameful secret. I thought this was very well done, although the portrayal of how he begins to get a better at handling his disorder could have been more developed. Julia London also maintained a precious balance; Jeffrey was very sexy yet his disorder was never glorified or objectified, a mighty feat indeed. The one thing I really would have appreciated is an Author's Note detailing her research for this book because I wanted to learn more.

4. The examination of mental illness only started with Jeffrey. It seems that Grace's mother has Alzheimer's, judging by the rapid growth of her symptoms although it was some time after suffering a head injury that her symptoms appeared, so dementia is suspect as well. I look forward to reading about the younger Cabot sisters because I would like to learn more about their mother. We definitely feel how they are already mourning her loss despite her being right there. It is heartrending. In a lot of ways, besides the fact these girls are sisters, their mother's illness is the connecting, overarching story in this series.

5. Grace and Jeffrey's romance definitely punched me right in the chest. This story was darker and made me sad at times, but Grace was so full of hope and every time Jeffrey let a little more of her in I was absolutely touched. This book showed how much work a relationship really is. It takes place almost entirely during their marriage, so if you appreciate an after-the-wedding romance you'll like this book. If you've actually read this whole monstrosity of a review you may guess this is a very character-based romance. There really was no villain, no bad guy trying to ruin our couple's day. What makes this book so great is that main conflict is internal but kept me turning the pages like I was reading a thriller; I could not put it down without knowing what happened next.

If there was one thing I didn't care for it's the title. Jeffrey is not a 'devil' nor do the characters consider him one. He is an enigma and a shut-in who has demons. I can easily overlook the title. As much as I love titles and covers, it's really what's between the pages that counts. Anyway, the takeaway: Julia London hit it out of the park with this one. I was so invested in a happy ending for these characters, which is the whole point of romance, I think. If you're on the fence about reading this one I'm here to tell you go for it!
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