I read and enjoyed The Duke Undone by Joanna Lowell in 2020, and the second in the series, The Runaway Duchess, was a wonderful follow-up. This historical romance novel features a “mean girl” main character, Lavinia, falling for someone of a different social class, Neal, after running away from her husband shortly following her wedding.

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The summary, from Amazon:

A runaway bride dumps a duke and rewrites her own love story in this enchanting Victorian historical romance from the author of The Duke Undone.

Pretty and pampered, Lavinia Yardley always dreamed of becoming a duchess. But family disgrace forces her into marriage with the most vile duke in England, and she finds herself desperate for a way out. When a rustic stranger mistakes her for globe-trotting botanist Muriel Pendrake at a train station, Lavinia has a split second to decide whether to submit to her fate or steal someone else’s.

Neal Traymayne spent his youth traveling the world as Varnham Nursery’s most daring plant hunter. Now he runs the nursery and is ready to settle down with a like-minded wife who’ll fit right in with his large, happy, down-to-earth family. His correspondence with Muriel Pendrake proved they’re the perfect match. Odd that the woman in the flesh seems more like a society belle than a scientist.

As they tramp the Cornish moors together, Lavinia and Neal discover a wild and rare desire. But this blossoming love is rooted in lies, and when the real Muriel Pendrake shows up, they can’t hide from who they are. The truth may wither their hopes of happiness, or it may bloom into the sweetest love of all.

Buy The Runaway Duchess here.

And don’t forget to check out Book 1 in the series, The Duke Undone. Read my review here.

Lavinia is everything society raised her to be – pretty, polished, and perhaps a little vapid and cruel. Her father was recently arrested for embezzlement, and she and her mother have suffered the consequences. Now they are outcast from society. When an elderly duke proposes to Lavinia, she accepts, knowing it will save her and her mother from a life of poverty and societal exile. Lavinia overhears that her betrothed expects her to be a virgin, and she realizes that she needs to escape this marriage. Lavinia had been counting on the old man to just be happy to sleep with a pretty young thing. Some years ago, Lavinia was in love with George, a marquess who made her promises that he would marry her, something Lavinia still believes he would have to this day despite his philandering nature. Unfortunately, George died in an accident, leaving Lavinia heartbroken.

Lavinia escapes her marriage night by giving herself an allergic reaction, and at the train station the next morning, wanders away. She bumps into Neal, a wealthy man whose trade is gardening and plant hunting. Neal mistakenly believes Lavinia is Muriel Pendrake, a widowed botanist he has had an epistolary relationship with and hopes to marry. Lavinia goes along with Neal’s false belief, following him to Cornwall where she falls in love with him and gets to know his family. Eventually, Lavinia’s secrets come to light, and she and Neal realize they only have so much time together before she either has to disappear to France or return to her husband.

This is a wordy novel for sure, but I appreciated that. It took me ten days to get through the first 100 pages, but then I read the remaining over 200 pages in less than 24 hours. If you like romance novels with lots of pining, this one’s for you. Though Lavinia remains entirely herself – creative, capricious, and a little cruel – her love for Neal and his family helps her to realize that the brand of femininity she’s been forced to practice all these years is not something she has to adhere to. I liked that she developed so much as a character while still remaining herself. This was truly one of my favorite reads of 2022 so far and I rate it 5 stars.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

The Runaway Duchess (Duke Undone #2)The Runaway Duchess by Joanna Lowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one started slow for me. It took me 10 days to read 100 pages… and then 1 day to read the rest. Once I got hooked I couldn’t put it down. I cried so much reading this. I loved seeing a “mean girl” – someone who has fulfilled everything society requested of her as a woman – come to her own decision about her expression of femininity and to fall for someone who loved all her facets, whether it was the debutante or the writer or the, well, mean girl.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Is it true that a relationship between two very different people could be a good thing? Why or why not?
  2. How does Lavinia change throughout the course of the novel? How does Neal change?
  3. How does Lavinia find joy at the beginning of the novel versus at the end?
  4. Why does Lavinia believe Neal’s family won’t like her? Is she potentially correct in her assumption at any point in the novel?
  5. Is Lavinia a snob? Is Neal a snob? How so?
@daily.manifestationx This one hit all my romance novel desires. Pining? Mistaken identity? Angst? Class differences? Sign me up. #romancebooks #booktok #romancebooktok #historicalfiction #historicalromance ♬ original sound – Marissa

Interested? Buy The Runaway Duchess.
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