I know I normally do three books during these ARC reviews, but I hope you’ll forgive me and indulge my current whim to do just two. I wrote long-ish reviews for both of these so it seems fitting anyway. The books I’m talking about today are The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan, which was absolutely everything I needed and I hope you’ll love it too, and All Scot and Bothered by Kerrigan Byrne, which I have a lot of thoughts about. The Duke Who Didn’t is out today and I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy from the author! All Scot and Bothered is out next Tuesday and I received an advanced copy via Netgalley from St. Martin’s. So let’s jump in!
The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
I’m the person who puts Courtney Milan Release on my Most Anticipated of the Year lists even when there is nothing announced because I live in hope of a new book. For there to be this surprise book dropped on us in my birthday month?? The blessings. And, unsurprisingly, this book delivered such a satisfying read. And!! It’s something unexpected in craft, specifically, it doesn’t have a traditional bleak moment. But the stakes still feel pretty intense and the suspense remains. I thought it was masterfully done.
This book is set in a town, Wedgeford, where there’s this fun game that people from all over come to participate in. Jeremy started coming to town during this festival thing when he was fourteen, but for the last two (three?) years, he’s not come. Chloe is not interested in resuming their friendship or the possibility of something more when he shows up for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that Chloe is busy and does not have time for that. She and her dad are about to debut this delicious sauce that her dad makes and, well, it’s unnamed.
And now that you sort of have a plot, let’s talk about the fun stuff! This cast of characters are really, truly fantastic and I love the idea of this town and community and the game they created. I will always be a sucker for a book that captures community well, and this quote gave me a whole bunch of complex feelings I’m not quite ready to dissect:
Wedgeford happened the same way every other village in England ever happened. People stayed. That’s all.The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
The father/daughter relationship here was really beautiful and I loved the misunderstanding and the clarifications and… Okay, everything. Also, Jeremy and Chloe’s dad have the best interactions and I loved it so much.
And then, the stars of the show, Jeremy and Chloe, are both just absolutely magnificent in every single way. Chloe with her lists and general grumpiness. Jeremy with his optimism and also fear and complete determination that he will make Chloe see that she is absolutely perfect in every single way, even her imperfections. This quote has one of my favorite sub-sub-tropes about a person feeling like home:
“The truth is,” he told her, “I’m not like you. I don’t make lists. I don’t have rational explanations for everything. If you asked me why I wanted you, I wouldn’t be able to give a carefully thought-out account. I could only say that you make me feel like the home I want to live in.”The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
Honestly, there is nothing about this book that I didn’t love and I am really, really excited for Courtney Milan to return to this town because of how fun I found it. Also, this book is soft and great and exactly what I needed. And Chloe’s lists!! Okay, yeah, I need to stop typing this review before I use a hundred more exclamation points and like two coherent sentences.
As for #FallIntoRomBingo, I used this for Grumpy & Sunshine, but it would also work for Pining, Banter, or Makes You Hungry.
All Scot and Bothered by Kerrigan Byrne
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book because I liked a lot of the commentary happening here, but I didn’t love the execution.
Essentially, this book is about Cecilia who has suddenly inherited a gambling house and a school for girls/women and the man who is determined to ruin her business (because he’s convinced that she’s selling young girls to rich white dudes). Said man, Ramsey, is, um. He hates women. He says he doesn’t hate women, he just doesn’t trust them, but like, same difference in execution. And that… is difficult to read.
It’s fascinating because as the book unfolds there are truly fantastic lines of social commentary that fit with the times then, but ring equally true today. I did worry a little that these lines rely a little too heavily on an understanding of gender as a binary rather than a spectrum, but ultimately, those lines are what really held the book together for me. Sarah MacLean likes to talk about romance as fighting the patriarchy and this book feels like Ramsey, with all his starchy, rigid, and unbending ways, personifies so much of the patriarchy and Cecilia destroys him with her softness and kindness and understanding. This is not to say that she doesn’t get angry that Ramsey can be a complete brute with no compassion (literally, the man thinks being without mercy is a good trait to cultivate), but ultimately, she is constantly referred to as soft and kind and good.
So, for me, there are several aspects of this book that had so much potential and are ultimately what kept me going, but were also consistently shoved aside for Ramsey to wax on poetically about how feelings are bad that kept me from enjoying the book in the end. Furthermore, the suspense plot was great, but wrapped up much too easily, ultimately, and we missed some of the best parts of the tropes employed. I think there were just several aspects of this book where the balance was off, but all of that is to say that I think this book is 100% a your milage may vary type of thing. If you aren’t going to get invested in the suspense aspect of the book because you don’t like the hero, you’ll absolutely do better with this than I did. And if you can tolerate a hero who doesn’t like women, but is inexplicably falling for THIS woman, you’ll definitely do better than I did.
As for Cecilia, I liked her a lot and she’s a big piece of what kept me reading. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, I think.
I opted not to use this book for #FallIntoRomBingo, but it would work for pining, punny title, or makes you hungry (she eats so much chocolate and it’s delightful).
If you’ve already read either of these, let me know! I would love to talk more about either/both. And if you pick either of them up, definitely let me know that too!