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Monday, December 30, 2013

When The Marquess Met His Match
I know every author wants readers who will love their books, but sometimes I think that makes for a harsh mistress.  Maybe I'm the only one who does this, but when an author manages to not only write my favorite romance novel of all time (Breathless) but has written two other "keepers" in the Bat Cave stash (To Dream Again and Conor's Way) - I'm always afraid I'll judge Laura Lee Guhrke, perhaps unfairly, based on her past performances and my expectations.  I started When The Marquess Met His Match, her first new release in two years, with some hesitancy.  I mean, if I don't love it to bits, does that make the book a failure?  The answer is, of course, no.  I liked it.  I really did like it.  I didn't outright love it - but it's still a good read.

Lady Belinda Featherstone is a young widow, which is just the way she likes it.  Her family was "new money" back in the US, which means none of the snooty blue bloods there would even bother to look her way.  So when a dashing British nobleman sweeps her off her feet, she falls head over heels and agrees to marry him.  Only to find out after the fact that he doesn't feel the same way about her and married her only for her sizable dowry.  When her husband dies while in the arms of his latest mistress, Belinda is left with nothing.  Charles burned through her dowry and Daddy lost the family fortune in the last stock market crash.  So Belinda must rely on her friends, her connections and luck - making herself over as a matchmaker.  She pairs up lovely American heiresses who cannot crack society at home, with British lords looking for an influx of cash.  Belinda, naturally, gets a finder's fee, and everything is going along swimmingly - until Nicholas, Marquess of Trubridge shows up at her door.

Nicholas has been living in Paris for the last several years and is great chums with Belinda's brother-in-law.  It's a connection that does not serve him well, given that their collective reputations precede them.  Deeply estranged from his father (a Duke), Nicholas is home to fetch a bride because Daddy has cut off his trust fund.  Nicholas has spent his entire life doing whatever will displease his father the most, so he gets it in his head to marry an American heiress - then he can tell Daddy to go to the devil. The problem is that he needs Belinda's help and she seems rather disinclined to do so.

I've always felt Guhrke is a bit under appreciated, skill-wise, as a writer - and the reasons that make her really good are on display here.  She excels at writing adversarial relationships.  The kind of romances where the hero and heroine are at odds, do a lot of verbal sparring, and try to one-up each other for a good portion of the story.  These are not easy to write, with many a writer trying to pull it off and leaving the reader feeling like they just spent 300+ pages with jackasses.  Guhrke has a way of writing these types of stories with a lot of verve and spunk.  Part of the reason she excels at this is because of her characters.  Her characters tend to be practical, forthright people - but with mountains of hidden, aching vulnerabilities.  Her very best stories, in my estimation, feature heroines who aren't stupid, know the way the world works, put on a brave face for the world - but hide a lot of inner pain. 

Both Nicholas and Belinda have their hidden vulnerabilities.  Nicholas has major Daddy Issues, and basically plays the rake to show the man that he cannot control him.  Belinda put her heart on the line and had her girlhood dreams of the fairy tale crushed by her rat-bastard husband.  They both worked for me as characters, but they're not always easy people to like.  Nicholas makes no bones about wanting to marry for money, but at least he's honest about it.  Belinda is a bit more troublesome.  For someone who had her naivete soullessly crushed, you'd think she'd be a bit more practical.  She's appalled that a blatant fortune hunter like Nicholas would dare darken her doorstep.  I mean, really sweetheart?  What about all those other men sniffing around the girls you are helping make matches?  Just because they aren't honest about wanting to marry for money doesn't make them somehow better.  Again, at least Nicholas is honest.  Given her track record to have Belinda still holding on to romantic ideals strained for me.

But they make up for it with their banter.  If this were the 20th century Nicholas and Belinda would have been cast in a Spencer Tracy / Katharine Hepburn picture.  The verbal sparring is top-notch, and once the two strike up a bargain (of sorts) that doesn't put an end to the games.  And what does verbal sparring really mean?  Yeah, foreplay.  Basically Nicholas and Belinda spend a big chunk of this story in a long dance on the way to hitting the sheets.

It's a quick, lively read featuring two spunky characters.  I wasn't madly in love with it, but I did finish the whole affair positively chomping at the bit to get my hands on the next book in the series.  The author does a good job of setting up her future books without being excessively intrusive, and given the brief glimpses of Edie in this story?  May cannot get here soon enough.

Final Grade = B-


Phyl said...

I hadn't realized it had been so long since Guhrke's last release. She is pretty much still an auto-read for me too. And I have this one in my TBR. I must move it to the top.

nath said...

I'm sooo looking forward to Edie's book! It sounds really good :P It has the potential to be a wowzer and hopefully, Ms Guhrke will deliver!

I liked When the Marquess Met his Match better than you did :) The banter was good and I liked the characters... I guess you're right, Belinda was a bit naive, but in her defense, I think she was more used of American heiresses coming to her than the bachelors seeking for her services.

Wendy said...

Phyl: I ran into her at RWA this past summer. She had cover flats for this book, and I think I made a comment that it had been a little while between releases. She told me she took some "time off" for happy reasons - she got married!

Book two is coming out at a fairly good clip after this one (late April) - so it looks like she's back in a writing groove.

Wendy said...

Nath: I liked it, wasn't in love with it. Guhrke writes good adversarial couples though, and that aspect of the story was really well done for me. And OMG - I am DYING to read Edie's story. I just loved the little snippets of her we got in this book. I agree, it could be a wowzer!

Tracy said...

I think I've been living under a rock because I completely missed this release! I really like Guhrke's books so I'm gonna go get this one now. :) Thanks, Wendy.

Happy New Year!

Wendy said...

Tracy: A November release for Avon - which means it had a late October laydown date. I really liked this one, and it's a quick, fun read. I zipped through it in a couple of days, and that was with the nuttiness of the holidays going on.