Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley
Following up The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie must have been a daunting task for Jennifer Ashley. That book was brilliant in every way. Creating a hero with Asperger's Syndrome was a gutsy, courageous, and wonderfully successful endeavor by Ashley. The book came alive because of the originality of Ian's character, the raw lust and emotion between the hero and heroine, and of course the incredible appeal of the eccentric Mackenzie brothers.
Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage has taken a very big chance as well, in quite a different way. There has been scandal, heart break, bitterness, neglect, debauchery, isolation and betrayal in Isabella's marriage. But we don't see these things. They have taken place in the past. That's a pretty big gamble for an author to take when writing a novel. The story picks up in the aftermath of these traumatic events, and we are witnesses to Mac attempting to win back his wife. In fact, I think Jennifer Ashley took a huge leap of faith writing this book. We don't get to see the fights, the anger, the hopelessness as the marriage crashes and burns. We get tiny glimpses of things that reflect their history....a cradle symbolic of a lost child, a letter from an estranged sister, failed paintings as an artist struggles to regain his talent.
This book is a love story, pure and simple. Yes, the plot involving the doppelganger "Mac" is interesting and keeps the story moving along, but the true star of the show is the relationship between Isabella and Mac, and how two estranged lovers find their way back to each other. It is a timeless theme, which could be found in a contemporary novel just as easily as an historical. There is an incredible sweetness to this story. Ashley, as usual, has incorporated very lusty scenes into an emotional storyline. The HEA is magnificent and utterly satisfying, just as it should be.
This is why I read romance novels. The book isn't perfect. I wish there had been more interaction with the brothers, the motivation behind Mac's raging alcoholism was never adequately explained, the motivation behind the villain's actions was never adequately explained, and Mac's "baring his soul" at the end of the book didn't make a lot of sense to me. But frankly, I don't give a damn. I loved the book, I loved the characters, and I love romance novels that celebrate the purity of love like this.
Jennifer Ashley is a hugely talented writer, and her magic is totally apparent in this book. I am really looking forward to her tackling the rest of the family. Mackenzie Brothers Forever!