Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bonus Review: It Takes Two to Tangle

It Takes Two to Tangle
By Theresa Romain
Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: 
September 3, 2013

Henry Middlebrook has returned from the Napoleonic War a changed man, externally and internally. The most obvious change is that he has lost the use of his right hand, a devastating loss to an artist. His attempts at painting with his left hand have been less than stellar, and his frustration at daily adding to the list of things he can no longer do gracefully such as present flowers to a lady or write a response to a letter is mounting daily. Worst of all, Henry no longer feels at ease in the society that he left behind when, over the objections of his older brother, the Earl of Tallant, he became a soldier three years ago.

His brother and sister-in-law are persuaded that a wife is just what Henry needs to ease his adjustment back into tonnish activities, and on this issue at least, Henry is in total agreement. When he meets Caroline, Countess of Stratton, a beauty who has taken England by storm since her own return to London after the death of her elderly husband, he decides she will be the perfect wife. Given the number of gentleman in Caroline’s court, he enlists the help of her companion, Frances Whittier, a woman whose honesty presents a marked contrast to the mannered moves of most other guests.

Upon the urging of his sister in-law, Henry makes the acquaintance of Caroline, Lady Stratton, a widow and one of the most sought-after catches of the season. One look at Caroline and Henry knows that he needs Caroline: he needs her confidence, connections and, most especially, her popularity. Seeing the competition for Caroline's attention, Henry employs the assistance of Caroline's companion, Frances Whittier, a woman of wit and acumen in whose company he feels surprisingly at ease.

Frances Whittier, daughter of a baronet and six years a widow herself, has accustomed herself to blending into the background as companion to her cousin, the beautiful Caroline. The handsome Mr. Middlebrook wins her interest and her sympathy when they meet, and she agrees to aid him in his courtship of the popular Caroline. When Henry’s first visit to Caroline ends awkwardly, she sends him an encouraging letter that he concludes was penned by Caroline. He asks for Frances’s help in writing a response, and Frances, conscious that correcting his error would embarrass both of them, chooses not to correct his error. As the exchange of letters continues, complications ensue, Henry, whose focus on Caroline is fixed, is slow to realize that it is Frances who is his perfect match.

It Takes Two to Tangle is the first book in Romain's Matchmaker Trilogy. It is a promising start to the series. Henry’s heroism, both in the late war and in his attempt to rebuild his life, evokes ready sympathy. I also found his relationship with his brother and sister-in-law interesting. Their affection and concern for him rang true, as did their inability to fully understand the changes that had taken place within him and their inability to ease his way back into the world. But it is Frances, the more complex character, who wins this reader’s greater allegiance. Her intelligence, her ability to understand those around her, and the past that has shaped her make her an appealing, layered character.

She was always out of step. She had grown up in wealth but married a workingman. Now she served as a companion, yet she raised her eyes to the son of an earl. She did not know for which world she was better suited. At times, both lives chafed, as though she lived in a garment cut wrongly and fitted for another's body.

Romance readers who know Romain through her Christmas romances, Season for Temptation and Season for Surrender (with Season for Scandal scheduled to be released October 1) will find the same charm and blend of humor and darker elements in this book. If you haven’t discovered Romain yet, this first book in a new series is an excellent way to remedy that omission. The second book in the Matchmakers series, To Charm a Naughty Countess, will be released in May 2014. Romain describes it as a marriage-in-trouble romance, one of my favorite tropes. I’m hooked already.

Correction: Ms. Romain tells me that Season for Scandal is the marriage in trouble story. To Charm a Naughty Countess is a take on Pygmalion with a virgin hero. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that sounds like a story I don't want to miss.

Matchmakers seem to be popular in historical and contemporary romance fiction. What’s your favorite matchmaker romance?

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