Review – A Matter of Sin (The Ladies’ Book of Pleasures #1) by Jess Michaels

A Matter of Sin cover image

Publisher: Samhain
Publish Date: 15 Jul
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher

The widowed Lady Isabel Avenbury has one remaining younger sister to shepherd into an advantageous marriage, and then she will be free. Free to take a lover to fill her lonely nights—the only option left for a woman on the delicate edge of a certain age.

Except when she chaperones her sister to a country house party, she is taken aback by her sudden, undeniable attraction to the host. And deliciously scandalized when she finds a copy of the notorious, much-gossiped-about Ladies Book of Pleasures in his library.

When Seth Rowland, Marquis Lyndham, notices his book is missing, his interest is piqued as to which of the potential young brides at his party has absconded with it—and he’s shocked to discover it’s Isabel. Though older than the women he’d planned to court, the powerful beauty exudes a sensuality he cannot ignore.

The book inspires them to begin a desperate, passionate affair. But their time together is running out and they must choose. Follow society’s rules, or take a chance at love.
This blurb came from the author’s website.

The first paragraph of the blurb had me from the very beginning, then as I continued reading I saw a pivotal plot point for this series happened to be a particular book. I couldn’t request A Matter of Sin fast enough, and I am so glad I did. It has been a while since I read a historical romance that made me laugh, blush, anticipate some of what was going to happen but look forward to it nonetheless, and start looking around for the next installment as soon as I finished.

A couple of overall things stuck out to me as I was getting to know Isabel and Seth. Both had close relationships with other people. Isabel had a couple of really close girlfriends and even though she raised her younger sisters, they were also friends. Seth also had a good friend, and had a mostly strong relationship with his mother. It was refreshing to see those relationships, and know each had someone in their corner as they struggled between duty and happiness. The second thing which stuck out to me was a sense of guilt and the weight of societal expectations, and how that colored Isabel and Seth’s lives. It was such a powerful combination that even a hint of selfish happiness had to struggle to survive long enough for acknowledgement.

Isabel was a paragon who was sick and tired of being a paragon, which I loved. She was determined to have a life once her last sister was married off. I could understand her logic in waiting because she wanted her sisters to find happiness, and the propriety of her behavior cast a direct reflection on their chances in society. I really enjoyed how she knew something was missing from her life and went in search of it, yet was still very sensitive to the nuances of others’ interaction. It was a lot of fun to watch her experiment and truly feel as she explored a little scandalous book.

Seth, still mourning the loss of his father and older brother, felt an incredible amount of pressure to marry and start producing the next generation of Rowlands this season. He was the last direct heir to Lyndham so he felt he would let the memory of those before him and his mother’s expectations down, but the thought of courting some insipid bland young debutant made him wince. He was determined to do the “right” thing but kept finding himself looking at and thinking about Isabel. I thought how Seth was faithful to Isabel even when it was just supposed to be momentary pleasure said a lot about his personality and his overall feelings towards her.

I had a lot of fun watching Seth and Isabel interact together. Outwardly, they accepted what society said was their role, but inside both of them were rebels. Their conversations together always contained a hint of something more even before their first unexpected private encounter. I absolutely loved how the Ladies Book of Pleasure not only gave a sense of freedom to Isabel but it also served as a guide for some of their interludes. I thought Isabel’s struggles with guilt and shame after enjoying herself fit her mental growing pains as she tried to break out of her rut. It also did a great job of showing the stark differences between what society allowed and encouraged for a man versus what was allowed and encouraged for a woman.

A Matter of Sin was a very entertaining historical to read. It was well rounded with both the hero and heroine experiencing character growth. As I mentioned much earlier in this review, I enjoyed the relationships both Isabel and Seth had with their friends and family. I loved how most of those outside relationships played a key role in the HEA. I was also very very glad to see Michaels ended this story without anything hinting at the arrival or impending arrival of the next Lyndham heir. I was left feeling that the decision Seth made wasn’t stripped of its importance by future events. As a result I plan on not just anticipating the next installment in this series, but also taking a look at Michaels’ backlist.

I give A Matter of Sin a B+

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