Friday, 4 June 2010

55: "His at Night" by Sherry Thomas

Publisher: Bantam
Page count: 432 pages
Date begun: June 3rd, 2010
Date finished: June 3rd, 2010

Miss Elissandre Edgerton is a truly desperate woman. Living isolated from the world, she has to devote her life to the care of her bedridden aunt, constantly terrorised by her uncle. The one time she tried to leave, guilt brought her back within the day, and her aunt's situation greatly worsened. The only thing she has as a comfort is a travelogue describing the island of Capri, her uncle has purged the house of all other English language books. She needs to get herself and her aunt away, but sees no way of ever escaping.

Lord Vere is a man of few words, but society in general believes him to be a half-witted idiot who can and will prattle on for ages about the most inconsequential of subjects. This cover serves him well as an agent of the Crown. It also keeps the matchmaking mamas of the ton away, even though he is extremely wealthy and very handsome. Elissandre's uncle, Edmund Douglas, is suspected of selling artificial diamonds. Vere and his agents create an excuse to stay at his house when he is away, and for the first time in years, Elissandre sees a slim chance at escape.

Three days later she has managed to get caught in a compromising situation with Lord Vere (who was only trying to prevent his younger brother from being lured into said situation) and they need to be married as soon as possible. She successfully removes herself and her aunt from her uncle's oppression, but her joy is short-lived. Lord Vere believes her to be a duplicitous, manipulative social climber and detests her, and as soon as her uncle discovers what she has done, he threatens both her and her new husband with grave harm, if his wife is not returned to him swiftly.

I read a lot of lighthearted, humorous romances, which chiefly divert and entertain - they are excellent comfort reads. Sherry Thomas does not write fluffy romance. Several of her books deal with estranged couples, full of resentment towards each other, learning to see the other in a new light and rediscovering the love they once had for one another.

Elissandre and Vere both have deeply troubled pasts, and a lot more emotional baggage than your run of the mill romance protagonist. While it seemed like a brilliant idea to Vere to play the idiot to cover up his covert activities, twelve years of hiding his true self from everyone but a select few, is taking its toll. He is nearly constantly playing a role, hiding his brilliant mind from all who care for him, including his beloved younger brother.

Elissandre has been forced by her uncle's cruel whims to always play the cheerful, dutiful and grateful niece, she has an arsenal of brilliant smiles to hide her inner despair, always with the knowledge that the outside world never suspects what a monster her uncle is. To escape his clutches, she is willing to do almost anything, even marry complete stranger who she believes to be an oafish moron, who clearly detests her for entrapping him. The couple's slow realization that the person they married is not what he or she appears to be, and their discovery of what they can be for the other, is beautiful.

Romances frequently have some form of antagonist, who creates problems for the couple, and slow their progress to the Happily Ever After. His at Night has a true villain, and features some scenes of pure, shocking violence very unusual for the genre. There are scenes of real menace throughout the book, and it is not difficult to understand Elissandre's profound terror of her uncle.

There is also a minor subplot in the book featuring Lord Frederick, Vere's younger brother. Sherry Thomas introduced him in her first novel, Private Arrangements, where he lost in love to Lord Tremaine. In His at Night he finally gets a Happily Ever After of his own. After four novels, Sherry Thomas is now one of the authors whose books I will not only buy, but pre-order.

54: "Ten Things I Love About You" by Julia Quinn

Publisher: Piatkus Books
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: May 26th, 2010
Date finished: May 26th, 2010

WARNING! CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!

The Earl of Newbury needs to father an heir as soon as possible, or the nephew he hates, Mr Sebastian Grey, will inherit the title and accompanying fortune. He needs a fertile woman of good family, and Miss Annabel Winslow, eldest of eight children, is rumoured to be so fertile the birds sing when she's near. While her aunt was fortunate enough to marry a Duke, Annabel's mother did not make as favourable a match, and the Winslows face poverty if she does not find a wealthy husband. Her wealthy grandmother has offered to sponsor her for a season, and now her most ardent suitor appears to be the Earl of Newbury. While Newbury may have been considered a great catch in her grandmother's day, Annabel is not very enthusiastic about the idea of marrying him.

Mr Sebastian Grey is not actually that bothered about inheriting his uncle's title (although the money would be nice). As he is in a state of limbo with regards to his social status, he is invited everywhere - after all, he may be a wealthy Earl one day. Of course, if his uncle does remarry and produce an heir, he is an ex-army officer of indeterminate income - not as eligible a catch for the young ladies. That he has a rather substantial source of income is something he'd rather not reveal, as his deep, dark secret is that he is the writer of a series of wildly popular Gothic novels under a female pseudonym.

Due to a series of unfortunate coincidences, Sebastian and his uncle are suddenly rivals for the hand of Miss Annabel. The more time Sebastian spends in Annabel's company, the more taken by her he becomes. And with every moment spent in Sebastian's company, the prospect of marrying Lord Newbury, even to save her family from poverty, becomes less and less desirable to Annabel. Should she follow her heart and doom her family, or marry sensibly, and be miserable for the rest of the Earl of Newbury's life (as her grandmother points out, he will almost certainly die before Annabel does)?

Ten Things I Love About You is a much more enjoyable read than The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, and much more like Julia Quinn's other novels. It features a lovely heroine and a very likable hero, and the reveal that Sebastian was the author of the lurid Gothic romances that played a central part in What Happens in London filled me with delight. The central couple in What Happens in London, Sir Harry and Lady Olivia also feature in this novel, and it also seems to set up Sir Harry's younger brother, as well as Annabel's cousin Louisa for romances of their own in the future.

The only thing that didn't really work for me in the book, was the "villain", so to speak. There is no good reason for Lord Newbury's hatred of Sebastian, we are given no explanation except spite as why he is so loath to have Sebastian inherit. He is very one-dimensional and feels out of place in what is otherwise a very fun and fluffy read.