Monday, May 19, 2014

Loving the Earl by Sharon Cullen

My Experience:  A
Synopsis:  Having vowed never to wed again, widowed viscountess Claire Hartford is about to do the unthinkable: travel unaccompanied across the continent in search of a lover. Her adventure begins sooner than expected, when she meets a magnificent cloaked stranger on her ship’s gangplank. He is Lord Blythe, a man whispered about in London’s ballrooms and drawing rooms, a scandalous rogue hell-bent on seduction. 
Nathan Ferguson curses the day he agreed to look out for his best friend’s wayward sister. The charismatic earl is traveling to Paris to uncover the truth behind his father’s death, but his desire for Claire threatens to be his undoing. From France to Italy, on a journey of passionate discovery and danger, Nathan is honor-bound to protect her—from himself most of all. What can he offer Claire? Only love, as he sets out to prove to the woman of his dreams that she belongs to him—body, heart, and soul.

Despite the Half-a-Face Man Boob Cover and cheesy blurb I purchased this book on the recommendation of a friend.  I'm glad I did. I enjoyed every single page of this romantic adventure.  I laughed, giggled and once or twice might have snorted in an unladylike manner.  [Please, don’t tell my mother!]

I was with Claire Hartford, Lady Chesterman, the whole way, rooting for her to rise up and claim her life, to see the changes she was demanding of herself and the world.  Because it was true, not her vicious husband’s death or that platitude time could set her free.  Claire had to take her freedom with both hands using what courage she could fan to life. She was as afraid that it was too late as she was that there was nothing left of her courage and well, zest for life.  Every step forward, she felt jerked to a stop and wondered if she'd finally gone too far, would the hope die too.

Nathan Ferguson, Lord Blythe, understood the need to gamble on a better life, and was the perfect traveling companion, precisely because he did irritate, frustrate but never did he underestimate - at least not after the second time she eluded him.  He made mistakes, wasn't perfect and yet, he never discarded his kindness or compassion. Nathan was not only ready for answers about his past but he was more than ready to get on with his future.  He’d restored the family fortune, repaired the family domain and accepted the price he paid was of his choosing.  Meeting Claire when he did, in transition from old life to new, his heart wasn’t as guarded and so she slipped in well, not gently, but she arrived before he realized self-defense was probably pointless.

Without conscious intention, he assisted Claire in focusing on just what she wanted for herself at the end of her adventure and as is often the case, did the same regarding his own future.  They were both courageous despite the odds and combined, they were a formidable couple.

The plot was believable because these characters made it so.  I could see a woman tired of cowering under the tyranny of her late husband and all the admiration he carried, spurred on by family emphasis on perfection throwing all caution to the wind.  That she felt if not now, when was made clear without resorting to endless internal monologue, just enough mantra and "I can do this," was provided to catch the spirit, in my opinion.  Ms. Cullen obviously knows breaking free is not one giant leap but many, oh so darn many, baby steps, over and over.  I appreciated the glimpses of that instead of a *magik wand of lurv* that cures all doubts and repairs all hurts.

The writing was well handled, from both view points.  Sentence fragments were used well - just as a person tends to think - but not overdone so they became annoying.  Observing each other first warily, then grudgingly and finally with genuine admiration, they allow awareness of themselves to lead them to an awakening of the other.  It was delightful to hear them work through their doubts, independently and together.

Dialog was amusing and felt real even when one or the other drew back.  From the beginning they both respected the other’s boundaries during the verbal sparring and I truly, truly enjoyed that about this book!   Secondary characters were there but not overwhelming, even if they felt that way to Claire.  The mystery was a nice twist and the conclusion somewhat surprising but not distracting.

Their intimacy was not rushed, was realistic for time and situation, and in a rare twist of trope, grounded them both in a better reality.  Uncertainty exists even after the UST is resolved, but this couple [omigosh] discussed their feelings, considered more than the moment, and didn’t toss the gift of connection out the window with the morning after wash water.  Even so, they were forced to struggle a bit to reach the conclusion I was certain they would.

I keep skipping around synopsis and description because this is a book I totally do *not* want to give even one spoiler for.  READ the sample pages, you’ll not be disappointed with the rest of the book.  Oh, and best of all, there is No Epilog!!!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you Ms. Cullen; I can endure Man Boob cover in exchange for the lovely sigh at the end and those precious post-book moments where *my* imagination carries on in a blissful haze.

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