Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bonus Review: Kisses, She Wrote

Kisses, She Wrote
By Katharine Ashe
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: 
December 3, 2013

Charles Camlann Westfall, the Earl of Bedwyr copes with a painful past by living life on the surface. Incredibly handsome, with more than his fair share of charm, he has found this strategy a viable way of life as he moves lightly through ballrooms and gambling dens and through the hearts and bedrooms of willing widows and dissatisfied wives. Only a few close friends realize that there is more to Cam than the witty charmer the ton knows. For a variety of reasons, Cam finds it convenient to make an extended stay at the Brittany chateau that belongs to his cousin Luc, the Comte de Rallis. Life is much quieter there than in Cam’s usual haunts such as London and Paris. It is restlessness that sets him looking for a deck of cards. Instead, he finds a diary belonging to Jacqueline, Princess of Sensaire. He can’t resist reading a few pages, and once he begins, forgetting all notions of honor, he continues, uncomfortable and intrigued to discover that he figures prominently in the princess’s thoughts.

Jacqueline may be a princess by birth, but she has little in common with princesses of fairy tale fame. She is plain of face rather than beautiful and straight in body lines rather than curvy. Shy and bookish, she also lacks the social skills expected of a princess. There is no villainous stepmother in her life, just a determined mother who has always found Jacqueline less than satisfactory as a daughter and a princess. Jacqueline knows that regardless of her lack of feminine allure and accomplishments, she will soon be wed to an English lord of her brother’s choosing. Reiner loves his sister, and Jacqueline is confident that he will choose a kind husband for her, but he also expects the alliance to be one that will benefit Sensaire. And he has warned Jacqueline that while the Earl of Bedwyr may be a friend of the Prince of Sensaire, he is not husband material for the princess. But Cam, who is her opposite in every way, captures Jacqueline’s heart and imagination. He may have no place in her life, but he has a central role in her fantasies, the ones she records in her diary.

As Cam becomes more and more captivated by Jacqueline’s diary, he makes a point of getting to know Jacqueline the woman and comes to appreciate her intelligence and her honesty. A friendship of sorts develops between the two. When the Brittany party moves to London, Cam finds himself seeking out both Jacqueline and her diary, which is growing more and more filled with sensual details of her fantasies. Jacqueline’s fantasies feed Cam’s own, and they inspire him to capture the story in verse form. Meanwhile, his great-aunt offers him the one thing from his past that he associates with happiness. All he has to do to claim it as his own is marry the coldly proper beauty that his aunt has chosen for him. Separate paths are clearly marked for Cam and Jacqueline, but their fascination and understanding of one another deepens with every encounter. Is the shared world their imaginations create for them individually strong enough to withstand the expectations of reason and reality?

This is a near perfect novella. Part of Ashe’s Prince Catchers series, it can be read as a standalone but will be especially appreciated by readers who liked Cam and Jacqueline in I Married the Duke. Novellas can seem padded as if an author is stretching a slim story to fit the form. I find more often, the story seems too large for the form, leaving the reader, no matter how engaging the characters, longing for more chapters to give a satisfying conclusion. Ashe avoids both these traps. Her novella feels fully developed, and it offers readers a wonderful, sigh-worthy conclusion. Even the title and the cover fit!

Kisses, She Wrote is also a deeply romantic story. I loved the use Ashe makes of the diary and the fact that the seductive hero, who is articulate and graceful in speech, is himself seduced by the power of the written words of the heroine, who can find speech awkward. And I loved that the thread involving the power of the written word is introduced in the beginning and runs through to the end.

I’m adding this to my list of favorite novellas. If you are looking for a quick read with a Christmas setting that features likeable, interesting characters and a sweet, sensual romance with a different twist, you can’t do better than this one. I highly recommend it.

I was thrilled when Cam was revealed as a poet. I’ve known some sexy poets, and I think it’s only just that one gets his day in romance fiction’s hero spotlight. How do you feel about poets as heroes?


Mary Chen said...

Superb review, Janga! Cam's poetry is certainly something. I think, of all the romance heroes I've encountered, he is the only one whose poetry I, as a reader, have had the chance to read. Most are a descriptor, rather than a display. To that end, I applaud both Katharine Ashe and Cam in their verses. :)

Janga said...

Thanks, Mary. I really liked that KA included portions of Cam's poem too. I liked pretty much everything about this novella.