In Maya Rodale’s Duchess by Design, (Avon) Miss Adeline Black is a seamstress on a mission to change the world, one pocket at a time. A dress isn’t just a dress to Ada — it’s a statement. In 1895 New York City, the right dress on the right woman could be life-changing, especially when the goal is to be the most sought-after dressmaker for the exclusive Four Hundred of High Society.

When Ada bumps into the Duke of Kingston, she vows not to let him distract her from her purpose. But then, neither can Kingston become sidetracked in his quest to find a wealthy bride who will save his inheritance from ruin. If only he wasn’t so “enchanted” by the sharp, brave, uninhibited working girl who is astonishingly not impressed by his four grand titles.

Kingston can’t stay away, and when his proximity to Ada inadvertently results in her being fired and she refuses his help, he’s at a loss. He stumbles upon Ada again, mere weeks later, and discovers she’s now the proprietress of her own dress shop funded by a mysterious benefactor whose identity Ada refuses to share. What she does share is the real story behind two of the heiresses Kingston has been courting. And he’s suddenly no closer to finding the duchess he has traveled across an ocean to find than when he started.

Not that he’s ready to let the enigmatic Adeline go, far from it. Instead, they make a deal. Ada will help Kingston choose a duchess, and in return her dresses will get the attention they deserve with her on the arm of the most talked-about man in town. With Ada’s reputation and the Duke’s honor on the line, it’s a risk, but one they’re both willing to take.

Rodale sets her novel in the Gilded Age and uses the Women’s Rights Movement as an appropriate backdrop to fuel Ada’s motivation. It works. Ambitious and progressive, Adeline Black is a character any reader would be proud to know. She’s independent and driven with an entrepreneurial spirit that matches the historical figures – both real and fictional – that act as her mentors. It’s not hard to admire Ada. Even though she knows she’ll have to earn her spot at the table, she’s not afraid to seize the opportunity.

Ada challenges Kingston to see the world in color. She takes his old-fashioned view of marriage, duty and honor and flips it on its head. Kingston is hysterical in his cluelessness, but his charm more than makes up for it. Kingston is a standout character not just because he’s a Duke who seeks a woman’s fortune to save his estate from certain disaster, but because he’s secure enough to let a woman lead him to his truth.

The story is sweet and smart. The way Rodale alludes to past events made this reluctant history student itch to do some post-read research (I did). The language is true to the times, but with a modern flare that only serves to make the subject more relevant, without sacrificing its appeal. More than once I lost myself in Ada and Kingston’s dialogue, their moments together reading as though I was experiencing the scene through a soft-focus lens.

It’s inspiring. Not in a “love conquers all” way, but in a way that eliminates the fear of digging deep for answers to life’s tough questions. It’s a reminder that we all have the power to inspire change in ourselves and others. All we need to do is dare to be different, dare to change the world.

Duchess by Design is now available to purchase.

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Photo courtesy of Paul Brissman

Maya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence. She is now the bestselling and award winning author of numerous smart and sassy romance novels. A champion of the genre and its readers, she is also the author of the non-fiction book Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation Of Romance Novels, Explained and a frequent contributor to NPR BooksThe Huffington PostBustle and more. Maya lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.