Feisty Italian miss Juliana Fiori has little interest in fitting into the upper echelons of the English ton, but she has promised to try for her half-brothers' sakes. However, all of her good intentions go out the window when she decides to teach the extremely proper Simon, Duke of Leighton, a lesson. One illicit wager later, Juliana is in the middle of her most outlandish adventure yet as she embarks on Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart in Sarah MacLean's new historical romance.
Morgan: One word, three syllables: delightful!
Whitney: One word, three syllables: perfection!
Morgan: Everything about this story simply shines. From the scandalous heroine to the overly uptight hero. The sparkling dialogue, the look back at favorite characters. One of the best historical romances I have read in a super long time!
Whitney: You know what this feels like? Classic Julia Quinn but with Sarah’s distinctive spin. That’s not to say you would ever confuse the two authors but that Sarah’s books consistently evoke the same reaction from me that Julia’s do, an “I can’t believe how amazing this book is” reading stupor.
Morgan: Most of that amazing feeling, for me, came from the irrepressible Juliana. I love that she is from Italy and foreign with a capital "F". Because English customs are so different from those in her homeland, the reader gets a look at the Regency from an outsider’s perspective.
Whitney: Juliana knows that the ton is never going to truly accept her, something which her mother’s outrageous behavior certainly plays a part in. Juliana is absolutely aware that she is wearing a giant invisible scarlet letter — a big red "S" for scandalous. There is literally no getting around that status.
Morgan: So instead of trying to avoid scandal, Juliana faces it head on. Shoulders straight, ready to stare down the malicious gossips, she takes pride in her ability to see past the pomp and circumstance that society thrives on.
“You are a rigid, passionless group, more concerned with the proper distance between dance partners than in the world in which you live. You think your traditions and your manners and your silly rules make your life desirable. They don’t. They make you snobs.”
Whitney: Juliana is more than willing to flout convention, which definitely plays a part in why she both enchants and infuriates Simon. Although this impulse often ends up with her in less-than-desirable circumstances, Juliana is all about wild horse rides at the crack of dawn, secret messages and grand passion!
Morgan: She is a “walking scandal” as Simon puts it. But Juliana has more heart and passion than a million simpering misses.
Whitney: So true, so true. And she’s not afraid to indulge in her feelings — or to challenge Simon to indulge in his!
Morgan: With Juliana having so much fire, the cool, calculating Simon appears that much more rigid. How do you get past of generation after generation of starch? Juliana does it by letting him know just exactly what she thinks of his position:
“The way you behave, one would think you’d actually done something to earn the respect these English fools afford you instead of having been sired, entirely by chance, at the right time and by the right man, who I imagine performed the deed in exactly the same manner of all other men. Without finesse.”
Whitney: Juliana definitely has a point; there are moments when Simon treats her very callously.
Morgan: You say callous, I say he acted like a complete ass. Just look what he said when he learned who Juliana really was:
“Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”
“Does it matter?”
“Which part? That my mother is the fallen Marchioness of Ralston? That my father was a hardworking merchant? That I haven’t a title?”
“All of it matters.”
Whitney: Hold up, like it or not, in Simon’s world it really does matter. Not only does he believe that people expect him to act in accordance with the rigid social structure of the ton, but this actually is the way he’s expected to act.
Morgan: So unlike other “rake” heroes we usually see in historicals.
Whitney: There is no “I get to make up the rules because I am a duke” in Eleven Scandals. Simon is a hero whose hands are tied, whether or not you like (or agree) that he is bound by society’s strictures, he believes that he is.
Morgan: Yet despite his adherence to the rules, he still is unable to protect his family.
Whitney: The man is drowning here. He’s trying to shore up his family’s defenses before society learns that his younger sister is about to become an unwed mother.
Morgan: Simon feels so much guilt and responsibility, that he is unable to really be himself. Just when he starts to come out of his shell and we see a glimmer of the man he could be if he didn’t let society dictate his actions for him, the Duke persona returns and with it a cold distance from Juliana.
Whitney: But I think anyone, the Grinch himself, would have a problem staying cold and distant from Juliana! She is literally overflowing with life and love.
Morgan: Which why it is so wrong to crush her like Simon does — repeatedly. Juliana wishes so hard to be something she is not and Simon is so unbending that I wanted to cry along with the heroine especially when she tells Simon, “I am sorry that I came to be something you … regret.” Warning reader, this book is going to break your heart over and over again.
Whitney: But the story will also put the broken pieces of your heart back together again. You have to bleed with the characters that you love, so that you can share in their triumphs.
Morgan: And we not only get the triumphs of Juliana and Simon as well as some of our favorite characters from Sarah’s first two books in the Love By Numbers series. I especially loved Juliana’s older brother’s advice. Ralston says of his wife Callie, “I no longer focus on meeting [society’s] expectations because I am too focused on outdoing hers.” Now there is your happily-ever-after!
Whitney: The story really is as much about the influence that Juliana and Simon’s families and friends have on them, as it is about two people trying to find a way to be together despite differences that seem insurmountable.
Morgan: Speaking of influence, Simon’s unwed sister Georgiana has more to regret than anyone else, she certainly has more of a scandal than anyone, yet she is the one with the most mature attitude. She says that with a healthy baby she finds it difficult to care what anyone thinks about her. All of the characters — all of the readers — can learn a lot from her.
Whitney: So true! She’s fantastic. I think I’d be way more freaked out if I were in her shoes. But clearly Georgiana shares some of Simon’s backbone, because she is just as determined as he can be when he sets his sights on something.
Morgan: I so hope that the author’s number books are not over. Georgiana would be a perfect heroine to feature in the future....
Whitney: I think they may be done, I know Sarah is embarking on a new series next, but that doesn’t mean that we might not see some familiar faces in the future!
Do you agree with Morgan or Whitney about Simon, or are you now desperate to pick up your own copy of Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart? Let us know what you think in the comments below. And if you want to read along, for next week's Dish, will be about the new dystopian novel Nightfall by Ellen Connor (aka writing team Ann Aguirre and Carrie Lofty)!