The Awakening of Ivy Leavold (Markham Hall, #1)To see spoiler content, head over to this review on Goodreads.

The Awakening of Ivy Leavold by Sierra Simone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How did I get here? Researching romance author websites for inspiration on what to do with my own led me to Sierra Simone’s site, and to her limited-time giveaway of this book.
This took me two days to read only because I had to put it down for adulting time. I usually don’t read historicals, and I’ve lately been turned off by the virginal woman/rich older guy pairing. But I 5-starred the first book I read by Sierra Simone, Misadventures of a Curvy Girl, so I thought this was a safe bet. Turned out to be an entertaining historical romantic suspense. Now of course, I have to have all 4 books.
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The Premise: Nineteen-year old Ivy Leavold is now alone in the world, homeless, and being sent to live with her late cousin Violet’s widower, Julian Markham. Pretty, young girl; rich, handsome dude living in a dark, shadowy mansion? No need to read further; we know how this is going to go, right? Wrong.

The Setting: I usually read contemporary, so I don’t mention the setting, but here I feel I should. This is a historical novel set in England in 1879. The women are wearing gowns and chemises and corsets, people are riding in open-faced horse-drawn carriages or walking, and the mention of the Prince of Wales is NOT Princes William and Harry’s dad. This plays a part in my review.

The characters: This is told from Ivy’s POV, and her POV is a refreshing one. She’s down-to-earth, a mixture of high-society and sassiness, virginal, but somewhat knowledgeable about sex. And this is where the time period comes into play. What made this character believable was that it’s 1879. A virgin who hasn’t been taught about sex except for the unholy lesson or two from her worldly cousin makes sense. In a contemporary novel, I would find this eye-rolling and fake. Here, it works. Plus, her out-of-line sassiness, her constant mentions of her church teachings (v. what she’s actually doing), her upbringing/genes v. others, and her station in life—if she doesn’t stay with Markham, she’s going to have to work *gasp*–are all believable and don’t come off as overdone or hokey. If she were acting like that in 2019, I would have been like “Get a Life, girl!” and put this book down. But I appreciate her more for this mix of personality traits in 1879.

Mr. Markham is in his 30s, not a settle-down type but not really a playboy (that’s his friend Silas—who I’d love to see get his own book! I like to see a charmer get knocked off his feet by a self-assured woman). He’s a bottled-up guy with a tendency to be rough. My first thought was, this guy’s a Dom, or at least a bit kinky. But I pulled back a little on that because again it’s 1879, and men treated women like helpless pets who need to be cared for and scolded when misbehaving. It gives the novel that edge that keeps you wondering. And then there’s the mysterious death (or more??) surrounding him. It will be interesting to see what others thought about him.

There are a lot of other characters that I loved and loved to hate. I can’t wait to see how some of them figure into the story in books 2-4. They are the ones that make you feel like this could totally be a movie.
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The story/The sex/Overall: Confirmation that Curvy Girl wasn’t a fluke: Sierra Simone knows how to write a sex scene! She has the right mix of sensation, emotion, and physical description to keep you reading and interested. I never once had to go back and wonder if I missed something. Even in the (view spoiler). This is how a romance novel should read.

And again like Curvy Girl, there’s real story outside of the sex scenes. This is definitely a romantic suspense. There’s shadowy Markham, mysterious death, lots of gossip, police investigations. And not just thrown together with a predictable ending, either. I am still trying to figure out some things that I know will not reveal themselves until Book 4. And while you get an HFN—which is a must for a romance novel—you know there’s more to the story and you want to read on. All of the series is on my TBR list.

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