Desert Isle Keeper Review
March 2008, European Historical Romance (1880s - 1890s [Victorian] 1883 - 1893)
Bantam, $6.99, 351 pages, Amazon ASIN 0440244315
To put it simply, rarely have I read a debut book as accomplished and polished as this one. Private Arrangements isnít perfect, but there is more than enough here to satisfy readers tired of formulaic romps and longing for books as intriguing and adult as those once written by the great Judith Ivory and the incredible Susan Johnson back in her heyday. Though one book does not a career make, Iím optimistic that the wait is finally over.
The tale the author tells takes place primarily at two points in time: The first is ten years after the disastrous marriage of Lord and Lady Tremaine; the second concerns the events surrounding the marriage itself. Widely viewed by society as the most courteous of artistocratic couples Ė living on separate continents will do that Ė Gigi, Lady Tremaine, seeks a divorce from Camden, her long-estranged husband, in order to marry a sweet, younger man who adores her. The reaction she gets from her husband is exactly the one she dreaded most: Camden appears on her doorstep. Even worse, he demands that she provide him with an heir before he will grant her the freedom she so desires.
The author tells concurrently the story of exactly what happened ten years earlier to make Camden and Gigi so despise each other. It seems that practical Gigi engaged in a deception to encourage Camden to marry her. To the young woman, it made eminent sense: She and Camden were powerfully attracted to each other and, though her bloodlines left something to be desired, the money she would bring to Camdenís noble family would more than make up for that lack. Unfortunately, Camden didnít quite see it that way. He discovers Gigiís deception on the eve of the wedding, marries and deflowers her anyway, cruelly leaving her the morning after their marriage.
Gigiís initial hurt eventually evolves into bitter anger, while Camden soon enough nurses his sense of betrayal into full-out hatred of his wife. This sorry impasse constitutes the state of their marriage for the next ten years until Gigi breaks the status quo by petitioning for a divorce.
To get it right out on the table, Camden and Gigi are multi-layered and deeply flawed characters whose behavior doesn't often conform to what romance readers expect of their heroes and heroines. Both are idiots when it comes to the other, each willfully and deliberately believes the worst of the other, and the two, to put it bluntly, are more than deserving of an occasional whack on the head. With that said, I loved them.
Adding to the pleasures of the book is a secondary romance between Gigiís mother and a reclusive duke with a scandalous past. The story of this formidable woman Ė not surprising considering her daughter Ė and her lifelong ambition to bag a duke provides a sweet, funny, and satisfying interlude.
As for quibbles, there were a few too many near-misses between Gigi and Camden for me, but, considering the myriad pleasures to be found here, I got over any minor frustrations quickly enough. I also found myself intrigued by what appears to be references to a previously told story in an unpublished book featuring Gigi as a secondary character. I can only hope it will someday see the light of day.
Bottom line for me? Private Arrangements is historical romance the way I love it. This is a meaty, three-dimensional story featuring fascinating, alive, and altogether real people who just happen to be richer, more noble, and more beautiful than any of us will ever be. And make no mistake about it: This is a glossy tale perfect for those who want to escape into the romantic past. The pleasures it delivers are substantial Ė far, far more substantial than those provided by the fare to which most historical romance readers today have sadly become accustomed.
-- Sandy Coleman
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