Eva Leigh, I decided on a back-to-back listen. The results were mixed.
Scandal Takes the Stage is the second book and was the real dud in the series for me. I liked the first book well enough, although felt there were "pacing issues." This one? I was just bored. Literally, nothing happens. Maggie Delamere is a playwright at the Imperial Theater in London. She's feeling pressure from the theater benefactors to write a sequel to her most successful play and she has horrible, awful writer's block. She's stymied. Into the mix enters our hero - Cameron, Viscount Marwood. An heir to a Dukedom, a notorious rake, and completely smitten with Maggie. Of course she's having none of it - loathing the aristocracy as a general rule because she was "done wrong" in her younger days.
And that's it. Maggie doesn't like aristocrats and has writer's block. Cam is warm for Maggie's form. No, really. That's it. Eventually they get together, fall in love, and must move past the minor obstacle that Maggie is a nobody and Cam is a Duke's heir.
None of this is helped by the audio narrator, who is merely serviceable. Is Mandy Williams the worst narrator I've ever listened to? Hardly. But there's something flat about her delivery which isn't helped by the flatness of this romance. Honestly I would probably grade this lower, but Leigh handles the time period well and the world-building is really good. I can't in good conscience slap this with a D. So....
Final Grade = C
Temptations of a Wallflower came in. Given my lackluster response to Scandal, I had serious doubts jumping into this one right after - but in for a penny, in for a pound. Turns out I really enjoyed this book - and I think it's the strongest book in the whole trilogy!
Lady Sarah Frampton is a Duke's daughter and has been labelled by the ton as the "Watching Wallflower." Our girl is half a breath away from being "on the shelf." What nobody knows however is that she's also the Lady of Dubious Quality, a writer of salacious erotic novels. She has gone to great lengths to keep her identity under wraps, recognizing that the scandal would ruin her parents and likely result in her banishment from England.
Jeremy Cleland is a third son of a demanding, moralistic Earl, which means Jeremy was slated for the Church. Now a vicar, he's in London, having been summoned by his father and uncle to ferret out the Lady of Dubious Quality. Daddy sees this as a way to remind people of all his wonderful (ha!) work being the voice of morality for the county (ugh!) but he's not about to go sleuthing at his age - so he orders Jeremy to do it, or else he'll cut off his allowance.
Jeremy and Sarah happen to meet at a garden party and are immediately drawn to each other. But even though he is an Earl's son, he's a third son. Which means a Duke's daughter is way, way above him. But they can't stay away from each other and, naturally, fall in love. But Jeremy doesn't know that Sarah is the Lady and Sarah doesn't realize that the man she loves is trying to ferret out her true identity so his father can ruin her.
This does sound fairly unsavory, but it works. Sarah and Jeremy are both characters forced into boxes by outside forces. Sarah is expected to play the dutiful Duke's daughter, the perfect society girl, and catch herself a husband. Jeremy's life is not his own, having been strong-armed into his father's plans and wishes. I suspect some readers will question why Jeremy doesn't just tell his father to go hang - and I'll admit there were moments I was frustrated with him. But I also can understand that a third son of an Earl, making a living as a vicar, would be concerned with his father cutting him off financially. Sarah's motivations for keeping her secret are, frankly, blatantly obvious.
The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and by the time they fall in love, the suspense of the story kicks up several notches. The Big Secret is literally a Sword of Damocles hanging over the second half of this story. Also, this was by far the sexiest tale in the trilogy. These are two characters so perfectly suited for each other, and you have the added complication of their different social standings. The attraction is immediate, steamy, and the anticipation is particularly well done. I tend to get easily bored by love scenes that don't really mean anything in romance novels (other than beef up word count or because "readers expect them!") - but the passion is particularly well-written in this book and makes the Black Moment when the Big Secret is revealed all the more blacker and gut-wrenching.
The audio version is particularly well done, with Eva Christensen narrating. It was a pleasure to listen to. I also appreciated how the author chose to end this story. Like the previous two, she avoids the trap of everything being Absolutely Stunningly Perfect on the final page. Our couple is happy, but there is collateral damage. People who turn their noses up at unconventional unions, parents not happy with the choices made by their children. And honestly, that's so refreshing it somehow manages to make the happy ending even more rewarding.
Final Grade = B+