~ I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS BOOK; BANALLT IS ONE OF THE BEST HEROES I'VE READ IN A LONG TIME (4.5 stars) ~
My thanks to my GR friends who recommended this book and kept reminding me to read it! Such a fabulous book. Perfect for fans of reformed rakes / persistent men and sad widows / self-contained wallflowers. I got it from the library, but will definitely be buying my own copy so I can easily reread in the future. So much better than my other Carolyn Jewel experience, INDISCREET.
* Main characters together - Both Sophie and Banallt have made it onto my favorite heroines and heroes lists, respectively. They are absolutely perfect together, such a wonderful pairing! Love the sense of ease and camaraderie between them.
* Sophie (26) - She is one of those heroines I love: intelligent, somewhat socially awkward, not pretty, quiet, but also opinionated, strong, and (at times) passionate. She has such an inner strength from what she had to do in order to survive her first marriage and not let herself be completely broken down. She definitely guards herself, but it's very understandable why and I thought her wariness combined with Banallt's persistence - and how it slowly breaks her down - was very well-done.
* Banallt (33) - He was utterly fabulous. His "before" and "after" both feel very authentic, yet the transformation between the two is believable. In the present-day of the story, he's become the reformed rake and ::sigh:: he's just dreamy - so passionately in love with Sophie and a very, very decent man. I love it when he's deliciously, quietly jealous - and totally does not want to be! I also love his persistence, determination, and possessiveness / feelings of self-sacrifice. We get a great deal of internal monologue from him and in some ways I felt like I knew him better than Sophie. Minor, but I *loved* Banallt's necktie problem - his necktie was always askew and Sophie was always fixing it right. Too cute!
* Chemistry - Definitely felt it between Sophie and Banallt, and in some places positively sizzles. For the most part, the love scenes are wonderful, though occasionally too many descriptors and metaphors are used, to the point where I wasn't sure who was doing what where.
* Authenticity - In many ways, Jewel's book is quite "realistic" (mind you, everything's relative). Our main characters have suffered a lot. Bad things happen. Sophie used her talent and ingenuity to make ends meet when she was married to her crapola of a husband. Pre-reformation Banallt is quite unlikable - charming, yes, but still not hero-material - and a blatant and unrepentant adulterer and scoundrel. Other things.
* The back and forth - The book mainly takes place in the "present," but is interspersed throughout with flashbacks to the different meetings between Sophie and Banallt during her marriage to Mr. A-hole. Those chapters are very well-integrated and I'm so glad they were included; I was afraid we wouldn't get to enjoy how they came to know one another. I also like how we draw closer and closer to that last meeting (in the past), when we see why they parted so badly.
* Supporting characters - They were great additions, while also not - as I feared at one point - being used for any plot-lengthening or obstacle-placing ploys.
* Names, names, names - This is a minor pet peeve of mine, but I don't like it when a whole book goes by and not once does the heroine call the hero by his first name. It bothers me. Drives me crazy. You're more than a drinking buddy - the man has been inside you, for god's sakes - maybe your address can be a little more familiar and you don't have to always call him by his title. Just a thought. On the subject of names, what was up with all the weird first and last ones here? Sophie and her brother are the only "normal" ones all-around.
* Unbalanced feelings - Banallt was so passionately in love with Sophie, and even though he is often quiet about it on the outside, as a reader we know it because we're hearing his thoughts and told his feelings. While Sophie did also have strong feelings for him, I don't know that they always measured up and because of that, I thought her declarations needed to be a little stronger and more emphatic (prime ex: the ending; see second-to-last bullet). We know very clearly that it is far more than her looks and body that appeals to him (though those do as well), while with Sophie we hear a little too much about Banallt's looks and not enough about his other attributes.
* Sophie's lack of faith/trust - Personally, I think this went on a little too long. Granted, we know what Banallt is really thinking and feeling, so we know he's being honest and will be faithful, but she should have at least been more conflicted about whether or not to believe him. And when faced with rumors, I wish she had just straight out asked him, instead of thinking maybe they were true, maybe they weren't.
* Sophie's love for her husband - I'm actually torn on this one. I think that it was probably more realistic that it took awhile for her love for her husband to die, even after she realized he wasn't the man she thought he was. Such strong feelings don't just die in one day, and sometimes it seemed like it was the idea of him, of what she had thought he was, that she continued to love. Other times though, even though she hated what he did and how he treated her, she seemed to still care for him, and I found it hard to understand.
* Banallt's wife - I would have liked more details on her and their marriage. I also still have no idea what happened to her and how she died; think Jewel forgot to wrap that part of the story up completely.
* Rushed ending and no epilogue - Everything went at a nice, steady pace, until that very last scene. It was an important part of the story and of their relationship and definitely warranted more page-time. Especially given the rushed feeling of the ending (and that the book ends when Napoleon has just escaped Elba), an epilogue should have been included.
There are more, but here are a few. Typing these up is going to make me fall in love with Banallt over again! ...
"Anxiety pressed in on Banallt, which annoyed him to no end. What he wanted from this moment was proof she hadn't taken possession of his heart. That his memories of her, of the two of them, were distorted by past circumstance. They had met during a turbulent time in his life during which he had perhaps not always behaved as a gentleman ought. They had parted on a day that had forever scarred him. He wanted to see her as plain and uninteresting. He wanted to think that, after all, he'd been mistaken about her eyes. He wanted his fascination with her to have vanished. None of that had happened." (p. 2)
"Met they had, and Christ, he'd fallen hard. Precisely, he thought, because she was so unexpectedly the opposite of everything. The opposite of his expectations, the opposite of his desires, the opposite of any woman ever to flit into his imagination." (p. 6)
"Just that one look from her and all his pent-up and repressed feelings for her returned in force: his anticipation of her company; his delight in her intellect, her wit, her eyes; the way his body clenched when he was near her. No, nothing at all had changed." (p. 11)
"'I would not marry a man I did not love. And therefore, if I were married to you, it would be because I was in love. And to a woman in love, faithfulness is the air she breathes, not a meal she chooses. One day this, another that. Changing menus all the time because one grows bored.'" (p. 84)
"Before Sophie, his interaction with women had been, in essence, about him. [...] With Sophie, the compulsion to stare came from someplace deep inside him, and he could no more stop himself from looking at her than he could stop breathing." (p. 154)
"She wasn't his. Not legally. He could as yet lay no claim to her heart. He wanted the ceremony that would make her indisputably his. He wanted Sophie to be the mother of his children. He wanted Sophie. He wouldn't ever be whole without her." (p. 180)
Based on plot or character similarities:
TO SEDUCE A SINNER by Elizabeth Hoyt (5+ stars)
HEIRESS IN LOVE by Christina Brooke (5 stars)
THE PERFECT RAKE by Anne Gracie (5 stars)
WED HIM BEFORE YOU BED HIM by Sabrina Jeffries (5 stars)
SIMPLY PERFECT by Mary Balogh (4.5 stars)
MIDNIGHT'S WILD PASSION by Anna Campbell (4 stars)
MISS WONDERFUL by Loretta Chase (4 stars)
UNLOCKED (novella) by Courtney Milan (3.5 stars)