Monday, September 6, 2010

All He Desires

Far from home and her noble relatives, Miss Caroline Huntington has been injured in a fall from her horse. Called to her side, Alex Trentham knows he must assist her, though he has not practiced as a physician for a long while. Just to see so lovely a woman in a state of undress is a hard test of his self-control. Caroline is all that is warm and feminine, beautiful and pure. Brave to a fault, she does not flinch under his hands, and soon she is on the mend. To hide his feelings becomes impossible and Alex cannot. Her radiant innocence is dangerous to a worldly man. . .and she seems achingly eager to experience all the pleasure he could show her. . .

A steamy Victorian adventure that takes you to the Mediterranean...

All He Desires was written by husband/wife team Anthea and Lawson.  I just wanted to clarify that so when I reference the authors, you will understand to whom I'm referring.  This is the first book I have read by this writing team, and it appears that All He Desires is related to their debut novel, Passionate, although I did not know this until I was introduced to the brother of the heroine of this book and realized his story had already taken place.  I do wish that authors (in general) would show the book or series connections on their websites because when I checked before reading this book, it was not evident.  Oh well.

Anyhoo, let's dive into All He Desires.  This book is set in Victorian England and Crete, giving us a beautiful taste of the Mediterranean.  It is here where we meet Miss Caroline Huntington who has just fallen off her horse and found herself alone and injured.  When her friends locate her, they take her to fellow Englishman, Alex Trentham, a former physician assisting with a local archaeological dig.  Insistent he cannot be of any help, he is persuaded and agrees with much reluctance to help this one time. 

As the story continues, we learn that Caroline is en route to Malta to help her friend, Maggie Farnsworth, establish an orphanage.  Together they had already founded a charity boarding school for girls, a project with future plans to add a dispensary.  But when Caroline and Alex start spending more and more time together, what will happen when Caroline is recovered enough to travel and eventually leave Crete? 

Meanwhile in London, Caroline's cousin, Reginald, is in a tizzy because his father wants to make Caroline his adopted daughter.  Although a noble and loving move by his father, Reggie is seething because he will lose a portion of his inheritance to his adopted sister.  So, when money talks, it speaks volumes as the beginnings of a plot unfold.  But back at the ranch, Caroline receives word that the funding for the dispensary project has been pulled by the Ladies Auxiliary leaving her with a big question... who will support her cause financially?

This story has a lot going on and moves at a pretty good clip.  But I confess, it did strike me a bit odd in places.  Firstly, the chaperone... or rather, lack thereof.  There were, in fact, two gentlemen that Caroline spent a large amount of time with (*gasp*) unchaperoned.  For the time period, it would have been scandalous especially for a girl of her age and relations, but the authors seemed to have ignored this facet of social custom.  Obviously this little detail would have hampered the story in many ways had the custom been properly addressed but unfortunately, this is sure to be a gripe to those who read a lot of historical romance and know how socially unacceptable these meetings and outings would have been. 

Secondly, the authors and editor did not review the rules of correct form of address for an Earl, which may not vex the casual reader.  But for a published piece of work, a little extra time to be sure people were addressed and introduced by their correct names and titles would have been points in their favor.  For instance, Caroline's Uncle Denby is referred to as Lord Denby, but he was the Earl of Twickenham, and should have formally been referred to as such or as Lord Twickenham.  For the avid historical reader, it's these little details that become a pebble in one's shoe. 

Story-wise, there was a lot crammed into this book, but I liked the flow and all the different things that happened.  I also liked the parts with Viscount Keefe.  The genuineness he portrayed to Caroline and her charities really seemed like the real deal, even though we know the whole time that they are not.  But one could hope and almost feel sorry for the guy.  I would have liked to have seen him come clean and maybe sweep up Pen, Caroline's sweet companion, courtesy of Dr. Trentham. Pen's plight and abandonment struck a chord with Caroline's charities, but Caroline took her under her wing and empowered her with the opportunity to learn the ropes and as she worked alongside, we got to see her strengthen and blossom over the course of the book. I would expect to see Pen as the focus of the authors' next offering. 

But another thing that struck me odd in this story were the initial suspicians Alex had about Mr. Simms.  Those feelings felt forced and unsupported to me, even though we, the reader, meet Mr. Simms in London and learn early on that he is an unsavory character.  As far as Alex and the others in Crete knew, Mr. Simms has done nothing wrong or out of the ordinary to bring attention to himself, yet everyone was suspicious of him.  I remember thinking "you guys don't even know him.  Leave the poor guy alone to his sportfishing," but of course this was the authors' way of  setting up the potential threat of an enemy. 

In retrospect, it almost seems like Caroline is just bad luck all the way around.  I certainly won't spoil all the events of the story by drawing out a timeline, but really, when you think back after you've finished the book and look at everything the girl has gone through... all I can say is SHEESH!  There's just a lot that happens in this story, taking place within a span of seven months.  And Caroline is no ditzy klutz (thank goodness).  She's a smart and spunky girl with a real heart for her charity work who happens to fall in love with a man with a tortured soul.  And speaking of Alex, he was a handsome, intelligent, brooding man with a troubled past, but it takes a while before he 'fesses up to exactly what has driven him away from his home in England to live permanently in Crete.  And though I could sympathize with the event that made him flee the country, I didn't quite feel it was enough to keep him away from the woman he obviously had grown to care about.  Not once, but TWICE I wanted to just pick him up by his collar and shake him, the devil. 

All in all, this was a pleasant read that rated pretty high on the sensual meter.  I didn't feel the love scenes to be too over the top, but nicely weaved into the natural course of the story.  I think my only eye-rolls were related to the plethora of events that seemed to follow Caroline like a proverbial black cloud at nearly every turn. The last several chapters were my favorite... explaining why would reveal too much, but I was very pleased with the ending and didn't feel like there was a mad dash to wrap things up.  The climax of the story hit around chapter 22, leaving seven chapters to ease things down, get more things explained and wrap it up with a very nice happily ever after.  No complaints there!  I'll be keeping an eye out for a next book... at the moment, the authors' website does not indicate any future releases.

My rating:  6 - It was a pleasant read

The books in this un-named series (so far?)...

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