I was lucky enough to get an ARC through the Dear Author giveaway and promised a review in return for receiving it.
I'm happy to say it was no hardship to read this book. Despite the rather lurid title, the story is thoroughly enjoyable.
Anthony Hamilton, a man with a rather bad reputation, falls in love with his friend's younger sister, but she marries Lord Bertram without ever finding out about Anthony's marriage proposal. Celia and Anthony meet again after her husband's death, but Celia is not sure she ever wants to marry again, since her love match with Bertie turned out to be pretty disappointing.
The first third of the book is rather more realistic than one usually gets in Regency fare and was quite a surprise to me. We learn about Celia's marriage through short entries in her diary that chronicle her journey from happy bride to deeply depressed widow. And she's not depressed because her husband died, but because their 3 year marriage had deteriorated to the point where she's not even sure she mourns him. Bertie is not a villain, but after a very short courtship, neither knew the other and he and Celia were just not suited well enough to make a go of their marriage. Bertie's father's involvement in their lives just made the situation worse. Realistic indeed!
After her year of mourning is over, Celia's mother brings her back home and invites some of Celia's friends for a house party in an effort to revive her spirits. When David, Celia's half-brother, also invites Anthony against Celia's mother's wishes, the stage is set for the second (longer) third of the novel that deals with Celia's fears about falling in love again and ending in another bad marriage, and Anthony's concerns about his reputation and fears that he might drag down Celia because he's just not respectable. I really liked this part and there are some fabulously tender and deliciously sensual scenes as Anthony coaxes a depressed (and I mean that in the medical sense) Celia back to life.
The last and shortest part is taken up by a subplot that seemed kind of tacked on and didn't do much for me and I wish there had been more emphasis on Celia's mother (if we absolutely had to have a subplot) instead of what actually transpired.
I also felt that the author didn't spend enough time on introducing all the characters. I should mention that this is the third book in a series. I'm absolutely not a friend of infodumps, but it took me a considerable time to figure out who Molly is and how Celia is related to the rest of her family. That threw me out of the story and made me also pay more attention to details. I had asked readers who had read the first books whether I would need to read them and was assured I didn't. I think I would disagree at this point. While the events of previous books were not essential to the plot of A Rake's Guide to Seduction, I was left wondering about things that could have been clarified with a sentence here or there without devolving into an infodump, but I can see how a reader who had read the previous books might not notice that there was just a bit too much shorthand going on for readers who came to the series cold, as I did.
The second thing that really threw me out of the story was hopefully a typo, but it took me a while to figure it all out and did distract me considerably from the story: the age difference between Anthony and his friend David and between Anthony and Celia. I do not believe that David and Anthony could have realistically been expected to be friends with a 7 year age difference, and even less likely that Celia, who's 8 year younger than Anthony, could have in any way been part of this group. I really hope they catch that before it goes to print.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I haven't quite made up my mind what kind of grading scale I want to use, so I'd go with good overall and very good, if I exclude the last subplot.
A Rake's Guide to Seduction is a June 08 Zebra Historical Romance release.