November 2012, European Historical Romance (1890s Italy)
Berkley Sensation, $7.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425251071 Part of a series
Juliana Gray has also written under the name Beatriz Williams.
There was sufficient buzz surrounding Juliana Gray's "debut" novel (she writes under a different name) that I was particularly excited to review A Gentleman Never Tells. I haven't read the first book in the trilogy, but this second novel lives up to the author's reputation.
Six years ago, Lord Roland Penhallow's life was great. He was young, he was in love, and he was a newly appointed intelligence agent for the Crown. When he returns from his first expedition abroad, though, he finds Elizabeth Harewood, the love of his life, engaged to marry another. Pride gets in the way, and he never approaches her, never fights for her. And he never sees her again. Until, however, they run into each other in Tuscany of all places. She is there with friends to escape her husband; he is there because someone is slandering him, and he needs to get out of London for a while. The two have an Encounter, but Lilibet (as Elizabeth is called) assumes she will never see him again.
Of course, it wouldn't be a romance novel unless the two were forced together after their indiscretion. It turns out that both traveling parties --Roland and his brothers, and Lilibet and her friends -- were leased the same castle. Now Roland and Lilibet are stuck together. He is delighted, as he is ready to fight for her. She is afraid that his reputation as a rake will eventually lead him astray, leaving her and her son nowhere. Meanwhile, their encounter had more permanent consequences than she anticipated.
Two great relationships develop in this novel: Roland and Lilibet, and Roland and Lilibet's son Phillip. Each has rough spots, but grows into a beautiful thing. Between Roland and Lilibet there is real affection and real roadblocks -- namely, her husband, who is not a decrepit old man likely to die and conveniently make her a widow. Nor is he the type to turn a blind eye to his wife's affair, and he's a definite threat, given his violent nature. Divorce is an option, but a very difficult one. I cannot attest to the accuracy of the divorce logistics in this novel, but part of it hinges on the fact that the petitioner must be blameless. Despite this, Lilibet and Roland's relationship grows and strengthens. The two have real chemistry, and love scenes are just that -- love scenes. There's definitely a sense that they are making love, not just having sex.
In regards to the other relationship: Roland and Phillip are wonderful together. Their bonding is not smooth, and Roland makes Phillip cry more than once because he does not understand children. But like Roland's relationship with Lilibet, the two get to know each other and learn to communicate, and the sincerity of the affection trumps any awkwardness. Phillip is a great character, one of the child characters I enjoy: realistic, not overly cute, and with a real personality.
The characters are what drive the story; the plot is interesting, but not nearly as compelling as Lilibet and Roland together. I had a hard time putting the novel down. As I hadnít read A Lady Never Forgets, there was a bit of confusion as the books occur simultaneously. However, it wasnít enough to really distract me. It was more of an awareness that something else was going on behind the scenes. Regardless, Juliana Gray tells a wonderful story.
-- Jane Granville
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