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Saturday, July 17, 2010

'Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage' Highland Pleasures #2 by Jennifer ASHLEY

From the BLURB:

Six years ago, eighteen-year-old Lady Isabella Scranton scandalized all of London by eloping the night of her come-out ball with the notorious rake, Lord Mac Mackenzie. After three turbulent years of marriage, she scandalized London once again--this time by leaving him.

Now the reformed Mac has returned, and he wants one thing: Isabella back in his life, his house, his bed. He'll do anything he has to, play any game, as long as he gets her back. Isabella resists, but when she agrees to pose for erotic paintings he's been working on, she realizes her body has never stopped craving her husband’s very skilled touch. Mac is determined to show Isabella that he's a changed man, but three years without her has only increased his hunger for her.

When an ingenious forger with designs on Mac's paintings, and Isabella herself, comes dangerously near, Mac sets himself up as Isabella’s protector and vows to never leave her side, whether his independent and proud lady likes it or not.

This is the second book in Jennifer Ashley’s ‘Highland Pleasures’/’Mackenzies’ series about the Mackenzie brothers. The first book, ‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ was an instant-favourite of mine, and told the story of youngest Mackenzie brother, Ian. This second book is about the second-youngest brother, Mac, and his efforts to win back his wife, Isabella, who left him three years ago.

I went into this book with no expectations, which is unusual for me. I loved ‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ *so* much that in the back of my mind I knew Ms. Ashley couldn’t possibly reach the lofty heights of that first book again, at least not in my mind. On the one hand I think I was right not to expect another book like Ian’s, because I would have been disappointed... but in another way I was pleasantly surprised...

When I learnt the reason behind Isabella and Mac’s separation, I initially had a moment of deflation and saying “is that all?” The reason seemed a little anti-climactic – when you think that Isabella and Mac have been estranged for 3 years you start to expect the reason will be crucial and awful – infidelity, abuse etc. The real reason is quite sad and tragic, but not on-par with what I was imagining. But thinking back on it now, I quite like the fact that there wasn’t a huge precipitating event that tore Isabella and Mac apart. The reason for their separation is actually quite common, and relatable – a matter of words unspoken building up over time to fester into resentment and hostility that eventually led to Isabella slipping away.

“This isn’t a game. It is our lives – your life. Your art. And I’d be a bloody fool to play any game you invented.”
Mac leaned to her as the carriage slowed. Isabella had no idea where they were, and she didn’t have the energy to lift the curtain to find out.
“It is a game, my love.” He held her gaze. “It is the most serious game I've ever engaged in. And I intend to win it. I will have you back, Isabella – in my life, in my house, and in my bed.”

I love the fact that Jennifer Ashley’s heroes and heroines in the Mackenzie series are slightly older, and dealing with more pertinent marital and relationship issues than we’re used to in historical romances. Case and point is Mac and Isabella – a separated couple who are trying to rebuild their marriage. This could have been a very hum-drum romance about regaining trust. But Ashley knows that romance doesn’t stop with “I do” and a husband and wife can be just as steamy as a debutante and bachelor rake. And I thought it was ingenious of Ashley to give Mac and Isabella a past that was shrouded in romantic mystery – she was 18 when Mac swept her off her feet at her coming-out ball and they eloped the same night they met. That could have been the story – Mac abducting a virginal ton darling and marrying her, but instead the story is what happens *after* the debutante and her rake get their ‘happily ever after’ and it doesn’t all go according to plan. Wonderful!

I think Jennifer Ashley excels in writing flawed heroes. With Ian, it was the fact that he was ‘mad’, quite literally – he was thrown into an insane asylum when he was a child. Ian’s ‘madness’ will never be cured; instead it was a matter of Beth loving him regardless of his little quirks and foibles, and even appreciating a few of them.
I wish Ashley had placed more emphasis on Mac’s version of ‘madness’ – his alcoholism. When the book begins Mac has been sober for three years, and only recounts the hellish time he had getting sober. I would have really appreciated reading his recovery – even to have some consistency in the series as an observation of these very imperfect, damaged brothers who learn to cope and accept their various short-comings, and who likewise find women to accept them too.

‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ also worked well because there was a murder-mystery plot running simultaneously with the romance. That secondary plot worked really well with Ian and Beth’s romance, because it allowed Beth to learn about the Mackenzie brothers’ shady dealings, and also forced her and Ian’s romance to be sped up as dangerous matters came to a head.
There is a second storyline in ‘Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage’ – this one concerning a doppelganger to Mac who is forging his artwork. But this ‘whodunnit’ plot isn’t particularly well developed until the latter half of the book, when that plot really starts to make sense and complement the Mac/Isabella romance.

I had a few problems with this book – mainly the lack of friction with regards to Mac’s reformation and a secondary plot that was hard to get stuck into. But I loved the fact that this is a story about rebuilding a marriage – it made for a very different historical romance when virgins and rakes rule the genre, Ashley is writing about what happens *after* ‘happily ever after’.

I really look forward to the last two books in this series, about Cameron and Hart Mackenzie. Ashley whets reader’s appetites in this book by introducing Cam’s HEA, but August 2011 is a looooooong wait! Hart is my favourite Mackenzie, I think. I like a good tragic hero, and Hart seems to have been given the bulk of tragedy in the series, so that alone appeals to me. And I am very eager to see how Ashley breaks down Hart’s many, many barriers and defences (and addresses his eye-brow raising sexual predilections) but his book will be a 2012 release – Ye gods! That is a LONG wait!

3.5/5

Book 1: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Ian) May 2009
Book 2: Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage (Mac) July 2010
Book 3: The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Cam) August 2011
Book 4: The Duke Takes a Wife (Hart) May 2012

3 comments:

  1. Awesome review! this actually looks like a series I might like, even though that it is def a great departure from my comfort zone =)

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  2. btw hon, your visit reminded me that I was gonna make one for Alien Tango LOL I just added it hehe =)))

    xoxo

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  3. I want HART!! ;)

    I agree that more into why they separated would have been beneficial. I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would :)

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