Passionate by Anthea Lawson is a debut novel by a husband and wife writing team, and it just so happens it's up for the Best First Book RITA award at the RWA conference next week. How timely then that I wrapped it up this evening!
Lily Strathmore comes from a very fine Victorian family. Her father is a Marquis and a very influential man in Parliament. You know what that means right? Yep, her mama is determined to make her a fabulous match and drag her down the altar by her hair. Sigh. All poor Lily wants is to paint and travel, preferably with her uncle Edward's family. A lovely and adventurous family. Sadly though, mama has other ideas, and Lily finds herself agreeing to consider the very proper Lord Buckley's hand. In exchange, she gets to travel one last time with her uncle's family and continue to paint. Then James Huntington shows up.
James and his sister, Caroline, were poor relations taken in by their uncle after their parents died. Their uncle is a kindly sort though, and is hoping to see them both settled before he departs the earthly plain....mostly because his son, their cousin Reggie, the heir, is a vile, jealous creature. Lord Denby tells James that one of the country estate is up for grabs. The catch? He has to find his grandfather's long lost journals, which were hidden somewhere in Tunisia, North Africa. Grandfather was a enthusiastic botanist, and the journals were hidden/lost during his last expedition. Lord Denby suggests James hook up with Uncle Edward, since he was a friend of his grandfather's, and can aid him in an expedition.
What follows is James, Lily, and Uncle Edward's family trooping through the wilds of Africa looking for a fabled blossom and the lost journals. Naturally James doesn't know everything about Lily (oh, like her mama's plans for her) and Lily doesn't know everything about James (the real reason behind his desire to go to Tunisia). There's also the small matter of cousin Reggie, who serves the roll of villain and crops up to throw a wrench in the works.
I'll be honest, this was a second-half book for me. Part of me suspects that it's because I've been reading a butt-load of Harlequins lately, and any book longer than 250 pages is going to seem "slow" to me. The other part of me thinks that it was a simple matter of pacing. The author has a number of secondary characters to address, along with the stage to set, so the first part of this story, while quite charming, did drag a bit for me. That said, once we get to Africa (about the halfway point), that's when it starts to cook. The adventure begins, the sexual tension kicks into hyper-drive, and the conflict begins to boil.
Lily is one of my favorite types of characters. An independent-minded young woman who bristles at what society expects of her. The fact that her mother is desperate for her to toe the line only adds to her frustration. James is charming, with a hint of roguishness, and finds himself out of sorts when he realizes just how "important" Lily's family is. He's a man with few prospects, and Lily is way above his station.
This was a nice, charming read, with a light tone and style. I know a number of readers who enjoy these types of historicals that feature adventure-seeking characters, and Passionate certainly fits that moldy nicely. It didn't knock my socks off, but it was a pleasant diversion, and as far as first books go? Pretty darn good.
Final Grade = B-