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~ HAD MY DOUBTS, BUT ENDED UP LOVING THIS WELL-CRAFTED AND EMOTIONAL ROMANCE (4.5 stars) ~
I wasn't sure whether I would like this book, since the plot seemed a little used and contrived, but it ended up working well. Duran was very realistic in her portrayals and depictions, and one knows she did research on in order to stay true to what life would have been like for Nell. Oftentimes in romance, if a main character is living in poverty at any point it's somewhat (if not very) romanticized. Reminded me of Judith Ivory's The Proposition, which is another romance that does a great job with this.
The main characters are excellently written, which is what I have come to expect from Duran. She writes very unique, three-dimensional, and compelling leading people each and every time; this book is no exception. What is interesting is that I actually disliked the heroine and didn't really have a feel for the hero for the first section of the book; I had huge doubts about whether or not the book would end up working for me, since I really wasn't feeling any connection. Oddly enough, I think in some way this made the experience better, because it allowed me to fall in love with Nell and Simon right alongside them falling in love with another. It made me that more invested in them and in their relationship.
Nell was a very, very strong heroine; tough as one would expect who grew up as she did, but also vulnerable, sensitive, and affectionate. I loved, LOVED Simon and I think he really grew through his relationship with Nell. He was definitely indifferent and somewhat uncaring at the beginning, but he becomes so much more passionate, aware, and sensitive as the story goes on. Fantastic hero and definitely ended up being one of my favs.
One of the other reservations I had regarding the plot was that I wasn't looking forward to a society-based book, where the whole thing would be about trying to prove Nell is a society girl and have her integrate with that fake and glittering world. This did not prove to be the case though, with the majority of the story actually taking place in Simon's home though, as they teach Nell all the things that as a society miss she should know. I liked this because the book was then able to focus on them getting to know one another and their developing relationship.
I've said this before and I'll say it again, but so often authors have the last obstacle / problem be of the hero's making and then he has to go and prove himself to the heroine. Which is why I absolutely love it when that's turned around and it's the heroine who takes that role. That was the case here and I commend Duran for doing it. Really accurately portrayed the difficulties in their relationship and stayed true to both characters.
Finally, I greatly appreciated that while there could have been some extreme cases of Big Misunderstandings or Things Left Unsaid, they were avoided. When authors try to keep a secret from the reader about one of the main characters, they either do a fantastic job or it's a dismal failure; Duran didn't even attempt that here and we are introduced to Nell's history as she learns it, which is another thing I appreciated. One of the "bad guys" was a little over-the-top for me in his characterization, but not a huge deal - didn't keep me up nights.
So that's that. Read and enjoy!
There were some great passages, especially involving Nell's humor and Simon's sarcasm or sweetness, but I enjoyed the book too much to stop and take not every time. Some I did love though:
(p108) - He smiled at her: he simply couldn't help himself. He was so glad she'd wandered into his house to kill him.
(p137) - "You interest me," he said, and his tone suggested this fact itself surprised him, meant something more to him than perhaps it should: a man surprised by being interested was living a piss-poor facsimile of life, in her view.
(p197) - [Etiquette teacher]: "'When in doubt, whenever possible, one uses a fork. The spoon is somewhat vulgar, the knife definitely so."
[Nell]: Then what in bloody hell was it doing on the table?
(p271) - His smile faded a little, growing softer, more intimate, like the look he'd showed her in bed this morning. "You haven't learned yet when to lie." Slowly, as if the words were being dragged from him, he added: "I confess, Nell, I hope you never learn." She found herself staring at him. Unsteadying thought: there was something hot in his eyes that wasn't purely want. It was too tender, too ... affectionate.
RECOMMENDATIONS (based on plot or character similarities):
* The Proposition by Judith Ivory (5 stars)
* Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas (5 stars)
* Seven Secrets of Seduction by Anne Mallory (4.5 stars)
* Surrender to the Devil by Lorraine Heath (4.5 stars)
* Never A Lady by Barbara Dawson Smith (4 stars)
* Her Notorious Viscount by Jenna Petersen (4 stars)
* Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas (4 stars)
* Midnight Pleasures With a Scoundrel by Lorraine Heath (4 stars)
* Lady of Desire by Gaelen Foley (was okay)