Author: Monica McCarty
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: I was dubious about this book, but it completely won me over, with the best plot, best sex scenes, and best love interest of any of the romances I picked up this month.
Kenneth Sutherland wants nothing as much as he wants earn his place in Robert the Bruce’s elite highland guard. A surprisingly seductive encounter with Mary of Mar makes him equally determined to win her over, but Mary’s past relationships make her reluctant to give up her independence. Although both Kenneth and Mary feel an undeniable connection, it may be impossible for them to come to trust each other’s feelings as they’re moved by the tides of war.
A Bad Beginning
In further proof that I don’t know how to pick a romance book, this book that turned out to be my favorite read of the month was also the book I was most dubious about. The back-of-cover description was melodramatic and revealed nothing about the plot, making it impossible for me to guess whether I’d like to the plot or not. The way the book started off didn’t do anything to make me less nervous. The love interest seemed like an even more arrogant, womanizing version of the jerk in A Kiss at Midnight. I felt as though I was reading a particularly misogynistic male fantasy about being so impressive that women will overlook you being an ass and throw themselves at you anyway. In a single chapter, he thought about how if his wife wasn’t attractive, at least he could think about other women he’d slept with; he wished his sister was more biddable and wouldn’t marry someone he didn’t like; and he decided to sleep with a random woman because he was upset. I was beginning to think he would be unredeemable, but things got better from there – thank goodness!
Awesome, Meaningful Sex Scenes
Things started to look up with the first sex scene with Mary. The guy got a verbal yes – way too rare in the romances I’ve read so far – and the woman actually wanted to have sex. She didn’t want to fall in love, but she wasn’t having mixed feelings about having sex. The sex scene was longer and more detailed than those in some of the other books I’ve read. This was possible in part because the book was longer, enabling a more detailed plot as well. The more detailed plot was a good thing, especially since it appealed to my love of historical fiction about women.The longer sex scene was also a really good thing because it allowed the author to write at least four distinct sex scenes into the book. Without the detail provided about each sex scene, they’d probably have all seemed the same, as with the two sex scenes in And Then She Fell. And being able to write in multiple sex scenes also meant the author didn’t have to resort to some contrived reason there wouldn’t be any sex until the end of the book, as in both Fantasy Lover and A Kiss at Midnight.
Great Character Growth
The main characters also turned out to be completely fantastic, despite Kenneth’s bad start. Kenneth’s concern for Mary’s pleasure and immediate sense of connection to her were very sexy. His attitude towards women in general and Mary in particular gradually improved throughout the book. I thought his character growth was believable and turned him into a truly desirable love interest. It also made sense, given the historical setting, that he might start with some pretty archaic beliefs. This made his initial unlikeable nature more forgivable for me. Mary was amazing throughout. Unlike the women in all the other romances I’ve read so far, when she says no, she means it. When Kenneth isn’t able to convince her that he’d be loving and faithful, she truly walks away. She doesn’t just put up a token protest and then let the hero kiss her into compliance. She also has some great character growth, learning to trust Kenneth.
Would Read Again
This book has made me think that historical romances might be my thing. I thought this read like any other historical fiction story I’d love with the added bonus of great sex scenes. The plot and character growth weren’t just window dressing leading up to a single sex scene. I’ll definitely be reading more books by this author in hopes they’re not too formulaic, but are equally lovable.
Oooh, this is innnnnteresting. I have SUCH a hard time picking romance books. Seriously, it’s like the publishers go out of their way to make sure all of the covers are equally bad and all of the blurbs equally melodramatic and actually entirely useless in evaluating a book. I wrote about this a while back and collected a list of recommendations from other romance readers, if you’re interested…
I’m adding this one to my list and trotting off to check out your other reluctant romance posts.
Thanks Kerry! I’m very excited to check out your list. I think looking for recommendations and trying to find people who have similar taste to me might be the best way to go, because I definitely don’t get much out of the blurbs.
TJ @ MyBookStrings
I would be dubious about this book as well, snobbishly judging it by its cover. How did you decide which books to read this month?
I effectively picked them at random. The only one I picked out was the fairy tale retelling I read last week and it’s something I’d put on my to-read list a long time ago after seeing a review. The others are a book I won in a giveaway, a book I picked up at ALA, and one a friend gave me a book swap. I was happy they were part of diverse romance subgenres, but things just worked that way 🙂
Jenny @ Reading the End
I shall wait patiently to learn slightly more about your romance reading tastes, and then I will be ALL up in your comments section with recommendations. BE PREPARED.
I am generally willing to try any of the subsets of romance genres — ooh, I wonder what my girl Meljean Brook is up to these days — but I admit that I cannot with Scottish historicals. I just cannot. I had a scarringly embarrassing experience with one once, and I’ve never been able to look at them since.
That sounds fantastic! I could use some recommendations for further romance reading 🙂 I was particularly dubious about the whole Highland Guard thing in this one. I didn’t see any special appeal to that setting and the description was really melodramatic. I’m very surprised it worked for me!
Wow. I wouldn’t expect very good writing from a book with that cover. I can’t believe it was a 5 star review. That’s fantastic. It seems like you’re really having a good experience with your Reluctant Romantic books. 🙂
It’s not something I’d rave about because of the writing, but it was just as good as many books in other genres I’ve enjoyed and certainly good enough to let me enjoy the book for the plot and the character development. I was very pleasantly surprised!
This sounds really good! I have a difficult time with romances, too. I want to get into the genre but it just seems so overwhelming to find books that I’ll enjoy… there are just SO MANY to pick from. I have read a Sarah MacLean and liked it a lot but I don’t know what else to look for.
I haven’t tried anything by Sarah MacLean, but I feel as though I’ve been hearing great things about her before and since starting this project. I’ll have to give one of her books a try 🙂 Out of the books I’ve read this month, this is definitely the one I’d recommend the most.
Allison @ The Book Wheel
WOW. This is truly a romance cover. Glad it surprised you!
Haha, yes, it is!
I would never have thought that a book with that cover would turn out to be a 5 star read. You are even tempting me to go out and get this one (well, from the library anyway). Now I’m very curious…
Good, in-depth review, btw!
I’d also love to know how you chose the books you read this month? I would feel completely overwhelmed in the romance department and wouldn’t have a clue where to start.
Haha, it surprised me too! The first book I read this month was a gift from a friend and I picked the fairy tale retelling because I tend to like those. The other two were from a giveaway and from ALA. I liked that the romance novels I had happened to be from a lot of different sub-genres, so I decided to just go with them 🙂 I’m glad you didn’t feel like the review was too much! I’ve been very surprised by how much I have to say about each romance I’ve read and I think it’s a result of thinking about what I like in a new genre as I go.
I must admit, when I saw the book cover I was prepared for a laugh. And then I saw the 5 stars!
I’m glad you enjoyed it. Sorry I didn’t join for the challenge. I’m still not where I should be in terms of reading, etc.
I admit, I was prepared for a laugh when I started reading it! It really did turn out to be a fun read though.
No worries about not joining in on the challenge! I never have enough time to join all the events I’d like to myself 🙂