There are always a few books I can point to and say, “This was my favorite read.” In 2020, it was Rachel Lynn Solomon’s Today Tonight Tomorrow and Colleen Cowley’s Clandestine Magic Trilogy. This year there is notably one book that always comes to mind in connection with “2021” and “favorite,” Sarah MacLean’s Daring and The Duke (2020). This is the second chance romance of all second chance romances I’ve read.
Upon the throne she has built with her brothers in Covent Garden, Grace provides a safe space for women and men to dally. While her brothers have found peace, she continues to pick up the pieces of her shattered heart. When Ewan appears, she promises revenge but even his past transgressions can’t keep old feelings from stirring awake, and he’s prepared to do what it takes to ensure he doesn’t lose her again.
Daring and The Duke is a historical romance and the third book in MacLean’s The Bareknuckle Bastards. It’s not necessary to read the first two to understand the depths of Ewan’s betrayal and the longing that characterizes Ewan and Grace’s current relationship. The book provides enough of their history to comprehend why Ewan and Grace are enemies, yet continue to pine for each other.
Second chance romances can be hard to navigate because the past complicates the present and future of the main couple. Normally, I struggle with second chance romances because reconnecting with an old love means providing an opportunity for the same person to hurt you again. Ewan not only grasps the extent of his past actions, but he is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to be with Grace. He spends the entire book making up for what he did, and the key here is that he does it while also respecting Grace. He doesn’t force his will on her but wants her to choose to be with him. Should the outcome be one he disagrees with and even if it will be painful, it becomes clear he is also willing to let her go. Ewan valuing Grace’s autonomy was one reason why I adored this book so much.
Grace is smart and tough as well as kind and empathetic toward the people under her care. In turn, they not only respect her but protect her as well. She is proud of who she is. Rather than compromise the woman she has become, Grace remains true to her character and ensures Ewan understands the woman she is now. Grace is a heroine I genuinely liked, and I wouldn’t love the book half as much if I didn’t feel this way about her.
The writing is evocative, especially as Ewan tries to persuade Grace of his love and Grace tries to convince herself she is over him. The book seduced my emotions as I struggled along with her. I loved Ewan, but I wanted Grace to enact revenge so he could feel her wrath. I was hopeful they would choose each other, but I wanted Ewan to continue to grovel and make amends for the pain he inflicted. It was a plethora of mixed emotions, and I enjoyed nearly every moment of the book. I love emotional reads, and MacLean skewered me by the end.
While it’s not perfect, Daring and the Duke reigns as my favorite read of 2021 and one I highly recommend. Read it for the groveling lovelorn hero. Read it for the strong and intelligent heroine. Read it for the wave of emotions Maclean will put you through as Ewan and Grace grapple with their feelings. Most of all, read it for the HEA that will leave you satisfied, believing that love can be better the second time around.
Thank you so much to Mackenzie at Lit Lemon Books for allowing me to guest post.
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