Top critical review
Enjoyable but didn't love it - Bit of a struggle
Reviewed in the United States on May 25, 2020
Full review appeared at Reader's Edyn on 05/24/20
Caroline is a member of the ton. Orphaned at a young age and left in the care of her brother, he has indulged her in very nearly every whim. His only irritation the ridiculous amount of funds she spends on modistes. However, the dress obsession has turned into talent and Caroline is now high in demand for her beautiful creations inspired by both English fashion and Alucian fashion. Her brother is appalled at the idea of her working and decides its high time she gets married. Nearly on the shelf herself, she determined long ago to marry only for love. Her best friend Eliza may have found the kind of love with her handsome Prince that makes Caroline green with envy, but Caroline is sure love will not be in the cards for her. If it were to happen, she’d want it to be with Leo, Eliza’s brother-in-law. But alas, Leo has no recollection of their meeting in England and seems to be annoyed whenever in her presence, so she is left with little but her own whimsical fantasies to indulge in. Until everything changes. Suddenly she has an opportunity to make the sexy prince hers, if only for a small amount of time. Resigned to her life as a spinster and finding joy in her exquisite gown creations, she isn’t beyond taking every bit of pleasure she can with Leo for as long as she can have him, counting on the memories to get her through her lonely future. She’s no fool. She fully understands that he can never be hers in the way she truly desires, but a brief amount of time is better than no time at all. And before too long she and the Prince of her dreams are passionately intertwined in romance and intrigue as they fumble their way through a heinous plot stretching across the seas and involving both of their homelands. But an ill-timed rescue puts Caroline’s reputation in shambles and separates her from everything she holds dear.
Leo has only ever wanted to be embraced by his parents and thought of as useful. But he is merely the spare with all privilege going to his brother Sebastian; the heir. Once he realized he would never be anything more to them, he indulged in a life of excessive drink and debauchery, most often in England. He returns home for his brother’s wedding but is eager for the festivities to end so that he can return to his life of ease in England. To his horror, his parents have conspired an arranged marriage for him and expect him home permanently just as soon as he wraps up his affairs across the sea. How dare they now make use of him as it suits them. It doesn’t suit him at all. Still, he will concede to their wishes. It’s not as if he had anyone else he was planning to woo. But an odd encounter sets Leo on a mission he is initially loathed to accept. Even as the deeper he falls into the dastardly plot the worse his reputation suffers, still he continues on his quest. But with his lackluster status snatching away invitations, he finds himself in need of a confidante and who better than Caroline? She’s well connected and can get him into the homes he must search, so he confesses all, but just a bit at a time. And the more time he spends with her, the more he is drawn to her. It confounds him. He also isn’t willing to walk away from her until he is forced to by his ridiculous upcoming engagement. If he can only have her for a while, he will have to take what he can get and let the memories keep him going while suffering in a loveless marriage. His brother may have been able to marry the love of his life, but there is no way Leo will get that lucky.
To begin, I can’t say that I would describe this blurb as precisely accurate. I wouldn’t say every young man was after her hand initially. Perhaps some, but that changed once her brother let slip a bit of information that then had every young buck running after her. And I do not believe that she went after Leo in the gossip sheets maliciously for revenge. She just happens to have a very close friend who publishes one so when she confides in her, snippets of her confessions make it into the publication. I did find it odd that at times she didn’t swear Hollis to secrecy though. Friends or no, she shouldn’t have had to worry about everything she confided being printed. That was a bit low. Or enterprising. I suppose it depends on how you look at it. Overall, I struggled with both of these characters. The book is a slow burn with nearly half of it occurring before Caroline and Leo even engage one another again following the wedding in Alucia. And while Caroline is ridiculously attracted to Leo and vice versa, they both refuse to acknowledge such in the presence of one another for an ungodly amount of time. Once they do, it’s always a rush because they never know how much time they will have before tempting discovery – or if there will even be a next time. But what is most aggravating is the contradiction that both of these characters are. Leo morphs from what seems to be disgust at Caroline’s atrocious behavior to noting how beautiful she is, to observing what a nuisance she is, then becoming utterly besotted by her. His inconsistent emotions towards her gave me whiplash. And Caroline isn’t any better. A member of the ton from birth, she is fully aware of how she should behave, yet she refuses to. But she does so in a sorely off-putting and almost obnoxious manner. I believe she was meant to be charming in her confidence that had her continually breaching the rules of society, but instead, it took me forever to warm up to her and finally not be so annoyed by her mannerisms. Ironically, she wished for a man who would love her for who she is, yet she engages in a game with each of her potential suitors as to how long it will take to have them wrapped around her finger. When playing games, how does one discover love? I also did not at all like that she so quickly fell to the worst of explanations regarding Leo’s curious behaviors or preferences as the rumor mill told it. Granted he was a self-proclaimed rake, but for the feelings she claimed to have toward Leo, her quick acceptance of anything negative toward his character was disheartening.
I did appreciate the title. It was completely appropriate as each of them tends to confide just a bit more in one another after each interlude they share whether innocent or not. Additionally, each time she kisses the Prince, she confides to Hollis, and more information ends up in Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies. Kiss and tell at its most literal I suppose. Now that gazette was a gem. Every chapter had an article to start it out that gave just a bit of information as to where the chapter could be heading. It also was quite entertaining in its advice for ladies both in fashion, life, and beauty. But again, as per the theme of this book – contradiction – Hollis longs to write real news articles that can make a difference and inspire change, yet she continues to push out the chin-wagging column. She could have made the leap far sooner then she discusses. I also don’t really understand why the prince and heir was allowed to marry a commoner but somehow Leo is forced to marry by arrangement. Granted, I did not read the previous book, which is the first in this series. Perhaps I missed some enlightening information. But neither was I inspired by Eliza or Sebastian enough to want to actually read the first book in series. There is also the fact that it is highly unbelievable that Leo would have carried out the actions that he did himself. With guards and others in his employ around him, it would stand to reason that he would have hired people to do the “dirty work” for him. Not to mention his list was never completed that I recall. And possibly most disheartening were the decisions handed down by the King regarding several of the corrupt individuals surrounding him following Leo’s return home with the information he has uncovered. I mean what kind of crooked crud is he tangled up in that he would fail so miserably in doling out punishment? I was completely miffed to say the least.
Admittedly, I do not have much experience with Ms. London’s books. Her name is familiar, so I may have read something at some point, but was unable to locate a previous review. I cannot speak to if this book is typical for her writing style. Unfortunately, for me, it was more miss than hit. I dislike having to say that about any book if I am being honest. But honest I am. Now there were some fun elements and fantastic scenes within this book. I did end up enjoying it despite aggravating flaws. I was able to finish reading it with little issue. But given so many glaring inconsistencies and a couple of main characters that fell short, I was less than moved. I will say that I recognized traits that I generally find enjoyable in a historical romance read though. For that reason and those few redeeming qualities that had me smiling and giggling within these pages, I would be willing to give Ms. London another go … just perhaps not within this particular series.
Kindle version provided by NetGalley/Harlequin in exchange for an honest review.