scandal for stratford coverRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

 

James Lewis, the Earl of Stratford, enjoys his quiet life in the country on the family estate. He has his horses, his writing, and the man he loves, his stable master Harold Granger. James would be happy to never leave his home; he has no interest in society and only goes to London when he must. James is an anxious man, soft-spoken, and often timid. Being around people and out of his routine can be overwhelming for him. On top of that, James has secrets. One is that he is the anonymous author of the scandalous Maiden Diaries, a series of books that has all of London talking about the titillating depravities within its pages. Another secret, of course, is his relationship with Harold. It would be a tremendous scandal if anyone found out that an earl was having an affair with his servant. But things would be even more shocking if anyone learned the nature of their relationship, as James is a submissive and likes to be hurt and controlled by Harold.

Harold loves James and would do anything for him. That includes making sure he is eating and sleeping when he gets distracted writing, and disciplining him when James needs to feel Harold’s dominance. As far as Harold is concerned, their relationship is just perfect. He would protect and shelter James in whatever way he needs, but he can’t help but worry a little that James is too isolated. He knows being out in the world is hard for James, but he also worries that perhaps James needs a little nudge to open up his world a bit.

When James learns his estranged brother, Frederick, is coming to stay with him, he is quite worried. James has many secrets, and having someone else living in the house means a lot of effort to keep them hidden. Not to mention he’ll have to stay away from Harold with a guest in the house. But James is also anxious given that the brothers parted on such bad terms, and Frederick has always been cruel to him. However, James wants to mend the relationship if he can, and so he agrees to go to London with Frederick despite his desires to stay home. When he gets there, the situation turns to disaster as keeping his secrets becomes impossible and Frederick is ready to capitalize on them in horrible ways. Fortunately, James has more people at his side than he ever imagined. Not just Harold, but the fledgling friendships he has made with some of the men from the Bucknall Club. Now, with unexpected allies by his side, James may just be ready to take on the threats from Frederick. And along the way, he may discover that he is not as alone as he once believed.

A Scandal for Stratford is the sixth and final book in the Lords of Bucknall Club series and it brings the series to a really satisfying conclusion. These books each feature different couples, but the timelines overlap and they weave in and out of each other’s books. While this story could probably stand alone from a plot perspective, your experience will be much richer if you have read at least some of the other books and had a chance to meet the men. James also appears as a distant side character throughout the series, so we have had a chance to get some hints about him along the way. But here the book really delves into his character and all the many secrets he has been trying to keep hidden. This story has a bit of a darker tone than some of the others — though I do find the series fluctuates in terms of heavier and lighter tones across the books. There are some very intense emotional moments, as well as dark points where things look very bleak for James, so I found this one very an emotional read at times. But it is balanced out by the sweetness of the love between Harold and James, as well as James’ new realization that he has people who care about him and are in his corner.

I really enjoyed Harold and James together. They live a quiet life alone in the country and are generally content with no one but each other. The servants mostly look the other way, but they do have to hide their relationship, which takes a strain. They also have to hide the kink they share, as Harold likes to dominate James, and James enjoys the control, pain, and discipline Harold provides. James is a man who really struggles emotionally. He lost his parents and became earl too young; he is estranged from his brother and they are on bad terms; he hates crowds and is nervous around people and is generally quite shy. James is often just overwhelmed and at a loss and Harold is there to help him, support him, and make sure he knows he is perfect just how he is. But James suffers from so much self doubt, the story can sometimes be hard to read. I think the authors take a nice approach here and show Harold struggle at times with how to best help James. Should he push him a bit out of his comfort zone, encourage him to try for more? Or should he help shelter James? It ends up being a little of both, and while things do go wrong, they also end up really right as James finds friendships he never expected. I also really like how while James is full of doubts about many things, he is confident in his gender identity, which fluctuates from male to female. James may be insecure in many ways, but he is clear he is who he is and doesn’t need “acceptance” from anyone.

As I said, part of the story is James finding out he has friends he never expected, which gives us a chance for the Bucknall Club gang to make an appearance here as they gather round in his time of need. As Hartwell says, “[…] we’ve unexpectedly become a rather formidable gang of gentleman crime-fighters, and we have taken on numerous villains this season, proving our worth on every occasion.” As always, the men are somewhat of a disorganized muddle (except for Gale, of course), but they mean well and they are there to support James and provide him with some sorely needed allies. It helps bring the series all together and really cap it off in a nice way.

I have really enjoyed these books and love the alternate regency world the authors have created where same-sex relationships are accepted. This is a fun group of men and an entertaining series and definitely worth checking out, particularly for historical fans.

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