Saturday, February 23, 2008

Courting the Countess by Barbara Pierce

A scoundrel whose fame as an artist, libertine, and notorious seducer of beautiful women is ongoing fodder for the ton, Mallory Claeg has a secret obsession-Brook Meylan, Lady A'Court, a beautiful widow who abandoned London two years earlier, deliberately severing all ties to her past. Under the pretense of his interest in the primitive landscape of the Cornish coast, Mallory watches her, fascinated and utterly mesmerized by her beauty...

Brook tried to escape the gilded cage of the ton's merciless gossip, the memory of a cruel husband, and the pity of well meaning friends. But meddling relatives and unwanted suitors shatter her peace. At first, Mallory Claeg was another intrusion. Yet his sinfully handsome face and irresistible charm bring both temptation and torment. Now Brook must choose between opening her heart-or sealing it off forever...

This author was Author of the Month for November in the HistoricalRomanceChat group that I belong to. Prior to that I had seen her name around but had never had any inclination to pick up anything by her. And it seems that that inking was with good reason!

What happens when an author gets one thing really right in a book, but the rest just doesn't do it for you. Well for me, it means that the book ends up being really, really average!

Brook Meylan, Lady A'Court has been living out in the country away from the ton, after there was a huge scandal surrounding her husband's early demise. Her family is now trying to convince her to return to the bright lights of London, and her husband's heir, his cousin, is trying to convince her to become his bride. Brook has said that she will not marry anyone, leaving her unwanted suitor a little vexed.

One day, as she is walking along the cliffs near her home she meets notorious rake and artist Mallory Claeg. Over a period of months Brook and Mallory begin to have a friendship, that explodes into passion, usually played out in out of the way locations in woods and things like that.

The romance between Brook and Mallory would have been fine by itself, but instead there is so much back story here that the heart of the novel gets a little lost. Both Brook and Mallory have terrible secrets from their past - hers in the past treatment by her husband, loss of her child, and the ongoing treatment by her mother in law. Mallory is also carrying the memories of how his first wife died. In addition, every time we were introduced to characters from earlier books in the series (which I haven't read) there was inevitably their emotional baggage to be sorted through. Too much!

For a while it wasn't clear exactly who the villain of the piece was going to be. In the end it was someone from his past, but Brook's suitor certainly seemed to be a likely candidate for a little while there. And then there was the figure from Mallory's past, but it could well have been his harridan of a former mistress as well.

The first thing that really threw me in this book was the names - Brook and Mallory. Maybe it was just the mood I was in, but for me Brook is definitely not a name for a historical romance (too many Bold and the Beautiful connotations) and Mallory...well enough said!

From the epilogue it does seem as though there was meant to be a further book in this series, but from what I can tell it was never written. That in itself closes the book on a strange note too.

Actually, of everything in the novel, Mallory was the thing I liked most. Whilst he was most definitely a rake-like character, he also had a sense of purpose, a sense of passion for something outside of himself, and I had no doubt that he had fallen for Brook completely - as to why....well, I never really felt very strongly about Brook myself, so I just couldn't see it, but to be fair, I have said here on numerous occasions that I am all about the hero when it comes to romances!

One other thing that is relatively positive - the cover is very definitely representative of a scene in the novel, which isn't always the case.

This is the only book by this author that my library currently has. There would have to be a lot of buzz around the place for me to even think about handing over my hard earned for any of her other books.

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