About the Book
Book #1 in The League of Scoundrels series
Genre: Historical Romance
Perspective: 3rd person limited, dual-POV
Publication Date: March 9, 2021
Format: eBook – Netgalley ARC
Length: 368 pages
TW/CW: parent death, alcoholism, abandonment, grief, death of a family member, sexual assault, forced marriage, fighting
In this irresistible historical romance debut, a seasoned spy sets out to rescue the childhood friend he once loved from a reputation-destroying rumor—only to discover that she is actually the source.
After enduring five interminable seasons, Lottie Carlisle has had enough of shallow London society, her boring little life, and her uncle Alfred’s meddling. When he demands she accept a proposal by the end of next season or else he will choose a husband for her, she devises a plan: create a scandal shocking enough to make her unmarriageable and spend her spinsterhood far enough away in the countryside where no one will ever recognize her.
Alec Gresham hasn’t seen Lottie since he left his childhood friend without a word five years ago. So he’s not surprised to find her furious when he appears on her doorstep. Especially bearing the news he brings: her uncle is dying, her blasted reputation is still intact, and Lottie must return home. As they make the journey back to her family estate, it becomes increasingly clear that the last five years hasn’t erased their history, nor their explosive chemistry. Can Lottie look past her old heartache and trust Alec, or will his secrets doom their relationship once again?
Rating: 3/5 stars
I absolutely loved the first quarter or so of this book. The two MC’s were intriguing and had amazing chemistry, and the setting in the Italian countryside was enchanting and unique. Early on, I was sure I would give this book at least 4 stars, hopefully more, but unfortunately as the story continued I felt more and more whiplashed and found I didn’t mesh with the author’s choices for the plot.
As I mentioned, I initially really enjoyed the characters. Unwilling London heiress Lottie fled to Italy to avoid a forced marriage, and from the get-go she proved to be tenacious and cunning, yet kind, with a wonderful rebellious side. It was immediately clear she and our hero were a perfect match when tragic, fragile Alec, a spy working for her uncle in service to the Crown, arrived to bring her back to England. They shared incredible chemistry from chapter one, and with the fake marriage ploy the two of them put in place, the story seemed set up to be a never-ending cycle of the much loved “only one bed” trope. On top of that, it also promised to take Lottie and Alec traipsing through the Italian countryside all the way to Venice, with Alec playing tour guide along the way and fighting not to give in to desire. His history with Lottie was sweet, as Emily Sullivan did an excellent job integrating the childhood-friends-to-lovers trope to establish how much the two still cared for one another. Their meet-cute included some amusing banter, and the sexual tension was so intense that I couldn’t wait to see how Sullivan would continue to build it throughout the book. All in all, the beginning of this book was amazingly set up, and therefore it had me so excited to read the rest. I had to stop myself from staying up too late once I started; it was just that good.
Sadly, around the time Lottie and Alec ran into the first “only one bed” scenario, things started to go downhill. It felt like the tension and desire lessened between them as they got caught up in their heads about their feelings for each other and what they should or should not do. For two people who grew up together, Lottie and Alec were not very good at communicating with each other, despite their clear bond. Instead of heightening the stakes, this made it feel as if most of their problems could have been solved if they talked openly with one another. Seeing them dance around their feelings and miss opportunities to explain their past actions ultimately became more frustrating than compelling.
In addition, the plot veered away from an Italian-voyage-will-they/won’t-they story and instead became inundated with spy drama and family turmoil. When they arrive in Venice, Alec finds he must complete some spy work at a party, and he begrudgingly takes Lottie along. It felt a bit forced and ultimately did not add much to the plot, especially because the end of the book focused more around Lottie’s uncle forcing her to marry than it did espionage. All of the elements did not weave together well and, again, I was disappointed to see the tension-filled journey across Italy fade into the background.
I settled on a 3 star rating because I truly enjoyed parts of this book, in particular the beginning, and Emily Sullivan is a talented writer. This is a solid debut, though I’m not sure I’ll continue this series given that Alec’s spy friend, Rafe, is the main character in book #2. He played a small role in this book, and regretfully I did not like him at all. That being said, I will definitely be on the lookout for future books by Sullivan and look forward to following her writing career.
Thank you to Forever (Grand Central Publishing) via Netgalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
About the Author
Emily Sullivan has been an avid reader and writer since childhood and in 2019 won RWA’s Golden Heart award for Best Historical Romance.
She has both a BA and MA in English and her writing has been featured in a variety of print and online publications, including The Southampton Review and The Toast.
Her debut novel, A Rogue to Remember, is the first in a new series coming in March 2021 from Grand Central Forever.
A life-long New Englander, Emily shares her home with her husband, shelves of books, and a piano she should really use more.
Her other talents include baking chocolate chip cookies, correctly identifying guest stars in old Simpsons episodes, and not overwatering her houseplants.
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