My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I’m heartbroken and disappointed over the latest Sabrina Jeffies book, the first in a new series called The Sinful Suitors, The Art of Sinning. I dived in, thinking I’ll have a good time nonetheless as I do with any SJ book. Unfortunately, that was not the case. This simply turned out to be... boring.
When I read about The Sinful Suitors, I wasn’t surprised to find that it’s connected to The Duke’s Men. Most of SJ’s series are interlinked thru characters; secondary characters of one series having their own books in a new one. I’d recommend you read both Hellions of the Hallstead Hall and The Duke’s Men series, though The Sinful Suitors doesn’t connect with the former directly at all. There maybe the mention of a character of her older series here and there, but you’d recognize them only if you’ve read the series. It won’t be hindering your enjoyment.
The Art of Sinning starts with Jeremy Keane, a famous American artist new to England in hopes to garner the same name he has had in other countries. He was introduced in book 3 of The Duke’s Men, How the Scoundrel Seduces, as the h Zoe’s distant cousin, also the living male heir to her father’s legacy seeing Zoe was the only child. Lord Olivier wanted Zoe to marry Jeremy in hopes to unite the two brunches, also to keep whatever is theirs in the family. However, some vital things were unraveled regarding Zoe’s birth, which led her to meet Tristan Bonnaud, an investigator of The Duke’s Men, a PI company.
Well, after that Jeremy knew Zoe isn’t going to be his. Not that he was attracted to her in that way. Actually, though they liked each-other, Zoe and Jeremy had no visible attraction. Jeremy wasn’t interested in the money and property either since he’s rich on his own. Not only he comes from a very financially prosperous family, but also he had his own earnings, and a reputation build on his artwork; Good or bad, that’s debatable though. Jeremy was known as a womanizer, and soon London was abuzz with the gossip of him frequenting brothels every day. That was also another reason why Zoe had doubts about him. Jeremy seemed like a nice guy (minus the rakish reputation), even with a bit of a don’t-give-a-damn attitude but I didn’t think him important enough to have his own book.
Jeremy is also superbly good-looking; blonde with blue eyes so no one doubted his rakish reputation. Everybody knew he was trying to make a mark here in London but he had another reason to escape America. He hasn’t been back to his own country for more than 10 yrs. now, travelling all around the world. His father has passed on, leaving their mills and other business ventures to his slightly younger sister, Amelia. Jeremy was supposed to be running it all but of course he had no interest beyond his own venture in Art. I can understand that; my mother being an artist/painter... they live in their own world, it’s true. LOL
When the story opens up, Jeremy has been attending Jane and Dom’s wedding (story in The Duke’s Men #4, If the Viscount Falls). He also meets up with Zoe and Tristan, now happily married, all the while trying to escape Zoe’s very unsubtle matchmaking. Jeremy’s head is filled with an idea of a new artwork, which may just be his biggest masterpiece yet. It’s something to do with Art being sacrificed to Commerce. Marriage is definitely not on his forethought. Jeremy is looking for the perfect model for his ‘Art’. He had no luck with his ‘usual ventures’ to find that model and was quite frustrated over it....... but then, Yvette Barlow walks into the room and Jeremy had eyes for no one else but her.
Yvette was a completely new character. She’s the sister of Edwin Barlow, the Earl of Blakeborough, who was also Jane’s ex-fiancé. Edwin is broody, a way too serious man who likes to keep to himself. Sarcasm is always lost on him. But he loves his sister. It pains him to see how his younger brother, the rogue the bunch, Samuel turned out to be (story also in book 4) but there’s no saving him. He was a gone case way before this latest mess with Jane’s cousin; the elopement-turned-abduction that had seen Samuel to the gaol. Yvette also loves her brothers, hoping that she could somehow save Samuel from the misery of his own making. Recently he came to her with a letter that contains the news of another by blow with a former actress who maybe now living in a brothel. He had asked for Yvette’s help in posting the letter so that his son can be helped. But Yvette won’t just stand back and watch when her nephew maybe suffering for the lack of a better life. Since Edwin refuses to help, she’d taken it on herself to help Samuel and her unseen nephew.
When Jeremy notices Yvette, he promptly makes inquiry. Not a big problem as he was already on the way to becoming chummy with Edwin, who informs him that it’s his sister he’s eyeing (... so back off Keane! kinda thing). When he refuses to let her become Jeremy’s model, he somehow manages to strike a bargain of sort. I thought it was… childish. You see, both Amanda and Yvette are in their, shall we say, spinsterhood. Even though Yvette is tall and beautiful, she was burned by love once and has not had the courage to trust another man. Edwin was worried about her, wanting to see her settled. And Jeremy wanted Amanda married so she’d leave off her infernal nagging for him to return home. It didn’t help that she and their mother are already on their way to England, so Jeremy also wanted Amanda married and settled. So this is what Edwin and Jeremy came up with; they’d help see each-other’s sisters settled. For that Jeremy would paint a portrait of Yvette, er, to help the cause even though he doesn’t do portraits at all. In turn, Edwin would see that Amanda is also settled. What Edwin didn’t know is that Jeremy was planning to find a way to convince Yvette to become his Art. Won’t be a big deal for him since he’d be living in their estate, Stoke Towers, for the time being. All Jeremy has to do is to light up his charm in a way that she can’t even think of saying ‘no’.
But Yvette was not a demure or shy lady. She was vocal, stubborn and would actively pursue if something interests her. Apart from the fact she found Mr. Keane sinfully handsome, Yvette thought he’s the correct person to help her with finding her nephew. She was looking for someone who knew, er, brothels well and would be discrete about the whole thing as Edwin can’t know about her ‘adventure’ (or misadventure, however you see it). When Jeremy offers her that deal about being the model for his masterpiece, Yvette also drives a hard bargain. She’d do it only if Jeremy helps her locating her nephew.
Edwin remains in the dark about their bargain when Jeremy comes to Stoke Towers to paint Yvette. He was already drowned in lust, very much attracted to her, knowing this won’t do any good since Edwin wouldn’t approve of the match. Moreover, he himself wasn’t amenable to another marriage... which is when we learn that Jeremy was married once for a short time a long ago. It was obvious that his wife and a baby boy she’d borne had died; probably the reason why Jeremy didn’t return to America, to escape the painful memory of their death. We still don’t know what happened that made him so haunted but he remains adamant of never marrying again. I assumed the wife died in childbirth as a few times Jeremy thought about Yvette with his child, then shoving the idea away, shuddering. He’s determined to ignore his feelings and keep Lady Yvette as far away from him as possible.
But easier said than done, mainly because the lady in question is as nosy as they come. I absolutely didn’t like Yvette’s nosiness in things that weren’t her business and the way she began poking and prodding Jeremy to divulge his past, the reasons why he doesn’t return to his country etc. etc. I mean, they were virtual strangers who just met. How can she expect him to divulge his private matters to her, just like that? She keeps questioning him on their sessions, with few direct answers in return yet evade Jeremy’s question about her own problems. When that failed and the secret sittings after midnight (for that masterpiece) turned to kissing and groping, she begins daydreaming about marrying him. Jeremy would push her away, then they’d go about it again... then she’d bring up marriage and he’d close up. Pretty much this is what happened in the first 50%. Needless to say, I got tired of this at one point.
In between, as promised, Jeremy makes certain that Yvette gets to visit a brothel in Covent Garden. She doesn’t confide much yet expects Jeremy’s full co-operation, which is another dumb move IMO. Jeremy had to coax her to come forward with more info, even then she holds back the important parts. I mean I can’t blame him. He needed to know what he’s dealing with, right? It’s when they visit the brothel is when things begins unraveling about this matter. For one, Yvette learns that Jeremy is hardly the whoremonger people here think of him; that he only uses the prostitutes as his models. Oh he’s no saint but he doesn’t shag anything and everything in skirt. When Yvette gets into an argument with not-very-forthcoming-with-information Madame of the brothel, almost blowing their cover as Jeremy Keane and some actress, he learns why she’s here after all. Yvette requests him to keep this secret until they can find the boy and make certain it’s Samuel’s child.
At that point, Jeremy’s mother and sister reach London. Jeremy was reluctant to meet them but Amanda finds him before he could escape them. His reluctance to meet with his sister fuels Yvette’s nosiness and she turns it into an arsenal to prod him with. Why the hell he’s ignoring his legacy, ignoring it all? Why does he refuse to return? There must be something sinister going and she needs to unearth it no matter what! *SMH* She pokes and prods at him again, but Jeremy isn’t going to tell her. He leaves for London for a while, his mind in a whirlwind. There, he decides to leave off the paintings, then sneak off Stoke Tower in the middle of the night so that he doesn’t have to face Yvette and her disappointments. By then, Jeremy knew of her association with a sleazy friend of Samuel’s, a Lt. Ruston. He couldn’t get the exact details of their courtship and why it was broken. Why Yvette was so reluctant to marry until now, for that matter. Even then, the thought of her with Ruston made him blind with jealousy. But Jeremy won’t marry, so this was his plan to skirt around the complications that were already arising from his association with her. But Yvette catches him before he could sneak off, and they end up having sex when I was least expecting them to...... Jeremy’s now determined to marry her because of the circumstances. When Yvette gets the idea that that’s on his mind, now she refuses to cooperate. She wants to marry for love, not duty! As if she’s going to make Jeremy fall in love with her by force, if not, then manipulation.
Not to mention every time she said ‘Heavenly Day’ or he said ‘Thunderation’ in the story.... Someone shoot me now!
Over the course of the story, both showed an insufferable amount of stubbornness, Yvette more than Jeremy IMO, to have their own say and way in everything , which brought trouble more than once, silly misunderstanding and a sh!t load of frustrating moments for me. But which bothered me exceptionally was that apart from the above and intro to new characters here and there, nothing exiting was happening. Simply NADA. The whole book was filled with either Yvette or Jeremy pushing each-other away with reasoning as to why they shouldn’t be doing this or that, then going ahead and doing it anyway. As the story went on, it got old. For me it was pretty much like Please, PLEASE make up your freakin’ minds! I was not only bored, I was annoyed as hell.
Did I mention that one drunken night when Edwin and Jeremy becomes fast friends over... er, drinks? And from that drunken stupor comes forth this ‘stellar’ idea of a new club where the guardians of wards/sisters etc. would come together to save their female relatives from rogues and seducers, even if it means lopping off their ‘horns’. *blank stare* Guess I didn’t, probably because I myself wasn’t sure what the hell was that! I found it ridiculous to say the least. When this ends, the discussion of that new club was still ongoing. Guess we’ll see later if it comes to fruition or not. :/
Previously, I was pretty sure Amanda’s going to be paired with Edwin, but it seems that that’s not gonna be the case. There’s another pair of new characters, Warren, Lord Knightford and his ward, Clarissa. Knightford is a rake through and through but he’s also Edwin’s good friend, as Clarissa is Yvette’s. And it seems there’s something going on between Clarissa and Edwin that’s got nothing to do with big brotherly emotions. I wonder how that’s going to turn out. Guess, won’t know until I read their book.
In the end, all the truths are revealed, as we get to know the whole of Jeremy’s past and the reasons behind his guilty feelings. The Duke’s Men help find Samuel’s boy, though that part is very hastily dealt with, considering it was why Yvette and Jeremy came together in the first place. There were more of Yvette-Jeremy dramas with broken engagement etc. because she thought Jeremy was ‘too bound by his past’ to move forward with her bla bla bla. Poor Jeremy, he had to prove himself more than once to convince to Yvette that he deserves her, while she did nothing but moan and complain. By then, I simply didn’t care much.
Honestly, I can go on and on but the fact remains, this was not Ms. Jeffries’ best work IMO, not even close. This, by any means, isn’t a statement about her writing but just that, for me, the plotline and the characters were uninteresting. I literally had to push myself to finish it. But I’d very much like to overlook this and wait for the next installment with fingers crossed. 3.25 stars, wish I could rate it higher.
I was auto-approved for this ARC from Pocket Books via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.