Sunday, 8 May 2011

36-38: "The Ralston trilogy" by Sarah MacLean

36: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
37: Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord
38: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart


Total page count: 1200 pages
Date begun: April 28th, 2011
Date finished: May 2nd, 2011

Sarah MacLean sure has long (and rather silly) titles for her books, but don't let that put you off. If you like historical romance, with a good deal of emotional development, these are very enjoyable books, each in their way.

36: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
Gabriel St. John is the Marquis of Ralston, and has a reputation as a rake, a libertine and a bit of a rogue. He and his slightly younger twin brother Nicholas, are both tall, dark, rich and handsome, and have trouble trusting women after their faithless and scandalous mother left their father when they were ten, and ran off to Italy. There she married an Italian merchant, had a daughter, and promptly ran off again, leaving Miss Juliana Fiori unaware that she had older half-brothers until her father dies, and she is instructed to go seek them out in London.

Neither Gabriel or his brother are prepared to foster an orphaned young lady and bring her out into society. Added to their own rather dubious reputations is the fact that Juliana is not titled and can quite possibly be considered illegitimate. The gossips of the ton could eat her alive, unless the St. John brothers find the perfect allies. As luck would have it, Lady Calpurnia Hartwell turns up on Gabriel's doorstep late one night, and the two strike a bargain.

Callie is sick to death of being a wallflower and spinster of impeccable reputation. While her younger sister has just secured the proposal of the season to a man she adores and will soon be Duchess, Callie has spent eight long years on the marriage market, never stepping a foot out of line, approached only by fortune hunters and undesirable men interested in her dowry. She's made a list with nine things that she wants to experience to fill her life with adventure, and the first thing she wants is a proper kiss. Who better to get it from than London's most notorious rake, and the man she has always fancied?

In return for a truly spine-melting kiss, Callie agrees to sponsor Miss Juliana's entry into Society. Her job is made easier when the two women like each other immensely upon meeting each other. But instructing the opinionated young woman on the finer points of manners and dancing means spending a lot of time in Gabriel's town house. During the course of ticking off the points of her list of adventure, she keeps running into him a lot, and the Marquis is surprised that the prim and proper, and rather plain Lady Calpurnia deep down has hidden depths and is clearly an adventurous and spirited woman, who he can't seem to get out of his mind after kissing her.

37: Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord
Lord Nicholas St. John may not be titled, but he's as rich and handsome as his Marquis brother, and they can be told apart by the scar Nick has on his cheek, which he sustained thanks to a treacherous lady during a campaign in Turkey. A seasoned solidier, adventurer and trained archeologist and scholar, Nick is desperate to escape London after a popular ladies' magazine votes him one of the city's most eligible bachelors. When his old school friend, the imperious Duke of Leighton, asks him to use the skills he learned in the army to track down the whereabouts of his younger sister, Lady Georgiana, who's gone missing. Happy to avoid the grasping clutches of the young ladies of the ton and their match-making mamas, Nick agrees, and sets off to the north of England accompanied by Rock, his huge Turkish former comrade-in-arms.

In a crumbling manor house in Yorkshire, Lady Isabel Townsend has just been told that her father, the wastrel Earl, has died, leaving her and her younger brother, the new Earl, completely penniless. Isabel has to find the money to fix the leaky roof, send her brother to Eton and feed and clothe the two dozen women under her roof. Isabel wants her ten-year-old brother to have a proper education so he can become a proper gentleman and raise himself and the Earldom above the reputation their father left. She is also running Minerva House, a refuge for abused, battered and helpless women from all over the country. Their newest arrival, Lady Georgiana, is pregnant and desperate, and despite the warnings from her various members of staff (all former Minerva House refugees) about this likely leading to trouble, Isabel determines that the young lady gets to stay.

In order to get money, Isabel resolves to sell off the large collection of marble statues she inherited from her mother. Though she loves the collection, her need for money is greater. Imagine her luck when famous archeologist and expert in antiquities, Nicholas St. John turns up in her village in Yorkshire, saving her from being trampled by a carriage and offering to appraise her valuables for her.

Nick is less than impressed with the willful and stubborn Lady Isabel, who while very pretty, insists on courting danger by stepping in front of speeding carriages and balancing on crumbling manor roofs. As the village near her manor is the last place Lady Georgiana was seen, he figures that he may as well use the excuse of the marbles to gain entry into her house. Little does he know that while he though he'd escaped match-making, Isabel's all-female staff are avidly reading ladies' magazines and feel that Isabel marrying the rich and handsome lord would be a much better solution than selling her beloved marbles.

38: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart
Miss Juliana Fiori keeps trying to behave impeccably in the stifling London society, but everywhere she goes, there is malicious gossip about her, her brothers and most of all, about her scandalous mother. Possibly even more damaged by their mother's faithlessness than her brothers, Juliana constantly fears that sooner or later, blood really will tell, and she will prove to be just like her mother. After all, she kissed Simon Pearson, the Duke of Leighton, just to provoke a reaction from him at the Royal Art Exibition, and he's been cold and utterly disdainful since he discovered her identity.

Juliana doesn't realize that Simon holds so rigidly to correct manners and propriety, not just because of his lofty title, but because he knows that scandal will inevitably erupt around him once society discovers that his younger sister, Lady Georgiana, is hidden away in Yorkshire having a child out of wedlock. He needs to work damage control, and ally himself with a family of impeccable taste and reputation, before everything blows up in his face. So he will marry a young lady of good breeding, even though his heart beats faster every time he sees or speaks to the vibrant Juliana.

When she makes him a wager that she will prove to him in less than 14 days that a life without passion is not worth living, he knows he should refuse, but is powerless to resist. Soon the icy Duke of Disdain will discover that when it comes to a stubborn and fiery Italian beauty, he doesn't stand a chance.

The first and the last book in the series are absolutely the most enjoyable of the two, with a lot more happening and a greater sense of adventure. Nick and Isabel's book takes place over a very short space of time, confined to the wilds of Yorkshire, and not that much actually happens in it. It is still a useful book to have read for further insight into the characters, and especially to give backstory to Simon, the seemingly extremely stuck-up Duke of Leighton. All three books can be read independently of each others, but work very well as a series, and I will absolutely be checking out any new novels Sarah MacLean writes.

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