Where's Your Book Today?

That's what people always say to me at work, if I don't have a book or my PDA or my eBookwise Reader with me at lunch. I love to read and I guess it's obvious. So many books, so little time...and so much dust in my apartment.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

"The Devil You Know" by Liz Carlyle

I seldom read "historicals" - I tend to get frustrated with the preoccupation with balls, ballgowns, and a bunch of gossipy old biddies (also known as the ton). And I've never been a big fan of stories where women are treated like property. But every now and then, I get a taste for losing myself in another era.

Yesterday I finished "The Devil You Know" by Liz Carlyle. This was the first time I'd read anything by her and I enjoyed it. On my very subjective scale, I gave it a 4 out of 5.

And before I go any further - please remember I don't read this genre with any regularity. So I have no real clue about the book's geography or history or even fashion, except what I could take from context. So, for example, if I call something "country" and it turns out it would be considered "town", please don't write and complain. I understand that regular readers of historical romance often become experts in the where's and why-to-for's of the genre...I'll freely confess I am not.

I'll admit up front, the Prologue almost made me take the book back to the library unread. The language was flowery and obscure, especially compared to the more relaxed writing later in the book. It seemed she was trying to sound like a 19th century writer...until the heroine comes upon the hero in the garden taking a leak in his host's shrubbery! I don't think I ever found that particular topic in Jane Eyre.

Our heroine, "Freddie" - that's Frederica, of course - has returned to the family's country home after a disappointing "coming out" season in London, hoping to take up with the comfortably ordinary boy-next-door she left behind. It turns out, however, that he is being forced into a marriage with a cousin (or risk disinheritance). Freddie decides - with all the melodrama of youth - that this means she'll never marry. So maybe, just maybe, she ought to get a taste of what she won't be getting.

Enter our hero, Bentley. Bentley's a rake, a rogue, a scoundrel...okay, he's a man-slut. And as far as my limited exposure to this genre, he's definitely the worst I've ever read about! He's a friend of the family, known to Freddie most of her life. And he happens to be handily nearby when Freddie has her little melt-down and decides to have a little fun before she shrivels up and dies on the shelf. Oh, he makes a few weak attempts to put her off, but...hey, he is a scoundrel. He can't be expected to be strong in the face of such temptation.

Naturally, Freddie gets pregnant and has to admit to her horrified and protective family that she's been ruined. And she has to admit to seducing the scoundrel, because otherwise the family wants to blame poor ordinary boy-next-door. After a little will-she-or-won't-she, Freddie finds herself married to Bentley and facing an uncertain future.

And before you accuse me of giving away all the book's secrets, I haven't told you anything that isn't on the Amazon.com website blurb.

Turns out, Bentley is one of the more tortured of romantic heroes. (Did I mention that I'm an absolute sucker for tortured heroes?) And Freddie, who has her own share of insecurities and just plain youthful inexperience, has to help him face his past if they're ever to have a chance at a relationship, rather than just an arrangement.

While I thought some of the secondary misunderstandings were a bit contrived (always a risk with romance, with the story's conflict often built around a Big Misunderstanding) and drawn out a bit too long, I loved how Freddie supported Bentley and tried to understand (and ultimately exorcise) the demons that drive him.

I will definitely be looking for more from this author...when I'm next in the mood for a historical.

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