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REVIEW: Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley

Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer AshleyDear Ms. Ashley:

I really enjoyed The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie and started reading the sequel featuring a brother of Lord Ian the minute Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage dropped on my doorstep.      Lady Isabella met and married Roland Mackenzie on the night of her debutante ball.   Mac, as he is called,   crashed the party on a dare but the moment he saw her, he had to have her.   In true Mackenzie style,   he swept her out onto the terrace and convinced her to elope with him.

Her father, Earl of Scranton, disowned her for eloping with Mac, a debauched artist with a dissolute reputation.   Isabella’s father was a good judge of character because while Mac did truly love Isabella, he was an alcoholic whose moodiness, debauchery, and frequent, unexplained abandonments   drove Isabella to leave the marriage.   At the start of the book, Isabella and Mac have been separated for three years.   They both love each other deeply but Isabella feels like the pain of living with Mac was simply unbearable.     Mac, spurred by his brother Ian’s happiness, is determined to win Isabella back.

At the start of the book, Mac has   dried out.   He has changed a great deal from the man that Isabella loved and then left.   All of his former friends have left him because Mac is simply no fun anymore.   He’s not into whoring or drinking or general revelry.   His entire passionate focus is on one thing and that is Isabella.

Isabella brings herself into Mac’s sphere in order to inform him that he is being expertly forged by some unknown artist.   Mac, who hasn’t painted a decent work since Isabella has left him, is intrigued rather than dismayed.   Mac defined himself as an artist but never thought much of his own product.   Upon seeing Mac, Isabella is struck by how much she misses him in her bed and in her life but also that he looks like the same Mac – tartan clad, wild eyed, and bad for her.

Because the book starts with a reformed Mac, it was hard to get a grasp on why Isabella, who so clearly loved Mac and who believed that Mac loved her, would not immediately forgive and begin anew.   As the story progresses, we get a clearer idea of the painful tragedy that was Isabella’s marriage.   There were some very poignant images portrayed toward the end of the story which would have made Isabella’s initial resistance more understandable.   (For example, at one point Mac is remembering how he delighted in showing off how he could convince Isabella, a very proper young woman, to engage in scandalous acts    which embarrassed her but she did anyway because she loved Mac so much).

I wish    we had seen more of Mac’s recovery from alcohol dependence rather than having been presented with a fait accompli but the book is focused on how Mac wins Isabella’s trust post alcohol dependence versus having her see him struggle to recovery and renew their relationship in that way.

Isabella’s inability to trust Mac waged war with her deep affection for him and, well, her lust for him.   Everything that the two of them had shared was built upon that first instance of impossible-t0-ignore lust which deepened into love despite the troubles of their marriage.   The elopement typified the marriage.   It was an act of recklessness and brought them both to their knees, emotionally.

A romance built around two people who really truly love each other from page one and are open about their feelings for one another seems like it would be conflict free but instead it’s fairly heartbreaking.   Mac isn’t sure what he can do to convince Isabella he is changed and Isabella feels like she has gotten to a point in her life where the poignancy of the loss of her marriage isn’t killing her emotionally.   Mac wants to be in Isabella’s bed but recognizes that lust has never been a problem for them.   Both of them struggle with whether being physical with one another is harmful and so each sexual encounter is tinged with a bittersweet emotion and post coitus recriminations.

I’ve always loved a marriage in trouble story and this is a slightly different take on a favorite trope.   The suspense plot was a bit ridiculous and I think the story could have easily excluded it without making a bit of difference.   I loved revisiting Ian and Beth and the other members of the family.   I think you are doing a great job of building interest for the future books without being intrusive about the fact that these brothers are sequel bait, even if they are sequel bait.    B-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

7 Comments

  1. GrowlyCub
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 12:38:08

    I felt that the slow reveal about why she left was detrimental to the emotional impact of the story and the first sex scene seemed very un-organic to me at the point in time it came.

    Also, the vignettes at the beginning of each chapter made it way too much tell rather than show for me (I’ve noticed that these things are being used more and more these days – I assume to lower word counts – and I really dislike them, because they are shorthand for things that should be fleshed out).

    As with Lord Ian, I enjoyed this book, but I felt it had the potential to be so much more, which is even more disappointing in a way that if it had been a bad book.

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  2. Joanne
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 13:13:42

    I have to agree somewhat with Growly Cub, I think this story had so much potential that wasn’t met. I wanted more for and from both of the main protagonists but that may come from “marriages in trouble” not being a favorite trope of mine. It may also have been just that I loved Lord Ian’s story so much that there was no hope of the second book hitting the same mark with me. Dunno.

    (I do almost always like the little sketches at the start of each chapter).

    I really liked that Isabella acknowledged her lust for her husband in the same way that Ms Ashley allowed Beth to own her lust for Ian. I love Ian – I really hope there is never even a HINT of him being ‘cured’.

    I agree that I’m hooked and waiting for Cam & Hart’s stories (Daniel too, if I live that long!) and with the grade.

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  3. KristieJ
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 14:31:54

    I adored The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie and read and reread it many times before moving on. And I’ve been waiting for this since the very second I finished TMOLIM the first time through. But this one is on my list of books I hope to get at RWA – and thus I didn’t rush out as soon as it became available. And it’s killin’ me Jane – just killin’ me not to have that instant gratification I’m become so accustomed too.
    But the wait isn’t too long now. I just hope there will be copies available otherwise I shall go quite mad.

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  4. EGS
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 15:30:39

    I just started this one and have been enjoying it. I really liked Ian’s story and was excited for Mac and Isabella’s book, especially since I’m rather fond of already married couples. And it’s nice to read something not set in the usual regency setting: I love me some bustle dresses!

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  5. FD
    Jul 09, 2010 @ 08:10:01

    I read this last night and enjoyed it, but as noted above, suspense plots don’t seem to be Ms Ashley’s forté.

    Did anyone else pick up the Little Women shout out? It threw me horribly out of the story, although it is contemporaneous with Manet. After thinking about the reaction, I felt that it was partly due to my not getting a particularly period-rooted feel from the book.

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  6. meoskop
    Jul 09, 2010 @ 11:12:10

    @ FD – that threw me out of the story as well, for the same reason. The time period wasn’t so firmly established that is smoothly flowed, it felt like a forced reference.

    @ Jane – I agree. I might even go C on this. The emotional honesty in the book was very good, (especially the carriage scene) and when it was working with the interpersonal relationships the book shone, but I wanted it to matter to me and it never did. Everything involved with Aimee fell flat and seemed out of place. The initial ‘mystery’ could have had a number of more interesting resolutions, instead it was overly familiar. (Although, the disorientation scene was very well done) & the resolution of her family issues was so abrupt. I actually wished I had book 3 because it’s preview caught my interest more than the last 3rd of book 2.

    But then, when it was good – it was so VERY good that it’s frustrating to say I didn’t like it. I did – except when I didn’t. A lot like the h/h marriage.

    ReplyReply

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    Mar 03, 2011 @ 04:02:01

    [...] Too bad the dude is not wearing a white nylon windbreaker.  But! You are the Jennifer Ashley who writes those amazing historicals and this book is about shifters which have become my latest hunt.  I [...]

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