Fun day today - a blog tour for St. Martin's Press for Manda Collins' new release, Ready Set Rogue! A copy was provided to me for an honest review, which is included below. You will also find an intriguing excerpt at the end, as well as buy links below the book cover.
This is an interesting book to review, because it's one of the rare books where the romance was not what held my interest. I enjoyed the murder mystery aspect much more, as well as the secondary characters and their quirks. While the romance was pleasant, it did not draw me in as I would normally expect it to. Miss Aphrodite Wareham, or Ivy, has just been awarded the prize of her life - a house to share with other bluestockings like herself, which allows her freedom from the restrictive life she lives with her large family. Along the way to the house, she runs into her benefactor's nephew, Torquil Beauchamp, the Marquess of Kerr. Quill is taken by her at first, but when he learns that his aunt willed her the house, he immediately assumes the worst and accuses her of stealing the house away from the family. Their volatile meeting develops into a grudging partnership when it's discovered that his aunt may have been murdered. And when it becomes obvious that now Ivy's life is in danger, Quill realizes that his strong feelings for her may be closer to love than loathing. As I said before, the romance was not the main draw for me. I felt their relationship developed too quickly, and the way they acted towards each other just seemed off to me. It was only towards the end of the book when I really started to believe in their love. I found the secondary characters much more intriguing, particularly Daphne and the Duke of Maitland. Both were so unique, and I can already see how fun their book will be. The murder mystery was very well written. While I had a feeling I knew who the killer was, it took me a while to work it out. It was suspenseful and kept me on the edge of my seat. I enjoy Manda Collins' writing style, and I look forward to reading more books in this series! I hope that we get to see more of Daphne very soon, although I am also intrigued by Quill's cousin, Serena. Both will be great stories, I can already tell.
He’d known she was attractive—had categorized her as such almost as soon as he saw her in the Fox and Pheasant earlier that day—but even that observation hadn’t led him to imagine what she’d look like in such dishabille. Well, that wasn’t quite true, he amended. His mind had conjured her in much fewer clothes than this before he’d realized just who she was. But any such imaginings had been snuffed out as soon as he’d known her destination. The reality of facing her here, now, in her virginal bedclothes, however, with her lovely red hair framing her face like a halo was far more tempting than his fantasy had been.
So, yes. She was disturbing him, but likely in a way she didn’t even comprehend.
Suppressing the urge to tell her just that, he said instead, “I was too restless to sleep. It takes a bit for me to settle in to a new place. So there’s no harm done.”
Moving farther into the room, she set her candle down on one of the large library tables and wrapped her arms across her chest. “It’s chilly in here,” she said frowning. “I hadn’t expected it this close to the sea. I thought it was supposed to be milder here.”
Wordlessly, he looked away from her and moved over to kneel before the fireplace, stoking the embers back into a blaze. “It’s still early spring,” he said on standing, brushing his hands together more for something to do than to remove any soot. “The breeze off the channel keeps the air fairly cool until summer.”
But she wasn’t paying him any mind; instead she scanned the shelves that lined the walls behind him.
“Looking for something in particular?” he asked, noting the impatience flash in her gaze before she replaced it with polite indifference. “Something to read before sleep, perhaps? Something to steal?”
Her brow furrowed at his question. He’d meant it to be playful, but her response told him that it had come off more sharply than he’d intended.
“I’d hoped you’d decided to stop treating me like an opportunist here to steal your inheritance from you,” she said, pursing her lips. “I have it on very good authority that you’ve a great many houses as part of the Kerr estate— ones much grander and more impressive than this one. I do not understand why you cannot manage to accept the loss of this one. Unless, of course, like most boys you dislike sharing your toys.”
She said this last part dismissively over her shoulder as she stepped past him and openly began to read through the shelves on the far wall.
Turning to watch her move from shelf to shelf, he sighed. “I suppose I deserve that after the way I behaved this afternoon. But let me assure you that it’s no petty childhood jealousy that made me distrust you and your compatriots, Miss Wareham.”
This must have surprised her, for she turned and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “No? Then what?”
He thrust a hand through his hair, fighting the urge to look away. “Have you never faced the removal of a childhood memory?” he asked, finally. “Never wished to hold onto the last bastion of somewhere that gave you comfort?”
Arrested, she tilted her head. “And that’s what this place was for you?” she asked. “A bastion of comfort?”
He wasn’t sure why, but Quill felt more exposed in that moment than he would have if he were stark naked. But he knew he owed her an explanation. Especially after the way he’d treated her earlier. “For me, for Serena, and for my cousin Dalton,” he admitted. “Our own homes were not particularly . . .” He broke off as he tried to think of a word that wouldn’t shock her. He could hardly tell her about the debauchery that had reigned in his own house before his father died. And the circumstances of Serena and Dalton’s upbringing weren’t his to reveal. “Let’s just say that we found our visits to Beauchamp House to be a relief from our own homes.”
Something flashed behind her eyes. Sympathy? Or something else? Quill wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t fail to note the way she squared her shoulders. As if she’d come to a decision.
Abandoning her scan of the bookshelves, she turned fully to face him, her hands clasped before her so tightly that her knuckles were white with it. “Lord Kerr,” she began, her green eyes shadowed with trepidation. “There is something I must tell you.”
Quill felt his stomach drop, and a pang of disappointment ran through him. Now she’d admit that she and the others actually had found some way to trick Aunt Celeste into leaving them Beauchamp House. The whole business of the competition had sounded like a farce, and though he’d known his aunt to possess a playful streak, he’d never guessed it would reveal itself in such a way. Certainly he’d not supposed she would play fast and loose with the disposition of Beauchamp House, where she’d spent so many happy years.
“Then by all means,” he drawled, allowing every bit of the world-weary ennui that cloaked him in town to settle over him. “Tell me all, Miss Wareham. I confess I am curious to hear how you all managed it, never having set foot in Beauchamp House before. It must have taken a great deal of coordination amongst the four of you.”
But if he’d expected her to surrender completely, he was to be disappointed. “What?” she asked, her nose wrinkled in puzzlement. “I thought we’d just put that behind us. And yet, here you are with accusations again. You are like a dog with a bone, Lord Kerr. Honestly!”
“If not that, then what is it you wish to tell me?” he demanded, exasperated. He’d never thought himself to be a particularly emotional man, but since he’d met this chit on the road he’d gone through more feelings than a year in London had elicited from him. He must be sickening for something. “You can hardly blame me for jumping to conclusions when we’ve just been speaking about my earlier suspicions.”
“I can blame you all too easily,” she retorted with a scowl. “But I will not because I am tired of being at cross purposes with you. And I do not believe your aunt would like it.”
Indicating with a wave of his hand that she should go on, Quill waited.
“I found a letter from your aunt waiting for me in my bedchamber,” she said, her fine features marred by worry. “I greatly fear that Lady Celeste was murdered.”
Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.