Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Darling Caroline by Adele Ashworth

From Booklist
Caroline Grayson is a brilliant, independent nineteenth-century woman whose true passion is botany. Denied her dreams of studying at Oxford University because of her gender, she is also prevented from putting her auxiliary plan of attending New York University into action when her father compels her to marry the mysterious and sullen earl of Weymerth, Brent Ravenscroft. They both enter into the marriage with visions of personal gain. Brent wants to get his horses back from Caroline's father, who bought his estate while he was away at war. Caroline wants to annul the marriage, thus gaining the freedom to sail to the U.S. and achieve her dream of becoming a world-class botanist. But their hearts have other ideas. Caroline gradually realizes that her husband means as much to her as her flowers and that his unconventional respect for her intelligence represents a form of freedom her peers can only vaguely imagine. Ashworth's smart dialogue, complex characters, and complicated plot twists make this debut novel a joy to read.

Do you ever feel like you can't wait to get home and snuggle into bed and read your book? You look forward to it all day long at work, and think of the characters and what is going to happen next? That's how I felt about this romance. This book was recommended to me from a friend at LibraryThing who said it was her favorite romance novel and I really wasn't sure what to expect. Set during the Regency period in England, I thought it would be another steamy type of regency romance, lightweight and frothy - but I was so wrong. Yes, it was steamy at times, but this was a thinking woman's historical romance. It makes you think and the plot was complex. At times, I thought it was a bit too coincidental or convoluted, but by the end, it all made sense and it was a perfect epilogue. I loved this book!

Caroline is a botanist, she breeds roses and dreams of one day traveling to America to study at Columbia University to live her life long dream. She is gifted with a natural genius for numbers, doing complex computations in her head, but this kind of talent only gets her odd looks during the time and age of which she lives. Her father marries her off to an arrogant, yet strangely gaunt and desperate nobleman. Caroline has no intention of remaining married to him, planning to run off to America and pursue her dream of studying botany and getting an annulment.

She and her new husband, Brent, are distant with one another at first, but he is attracted to her and the build up to consummating their marriage is sexy and evocative. She, a 26 year old virgin tells him he will not be her first and he believes her. But, on their wedding night she bluntly informs him that she cannot bed him. He respects her wishes but little does he believe she means she will never bed him! He is drawn to her dark good looks and - intelligence. He soon sees for himself that she is different from other girls. He respects her aptitude with numbers and immediately puts her in charge of his finances. Theirs is a marriage of convenience but he is determined to seduce her by any means he can think of.

Caroline comes across at first as selfish with her own intentions. Even though she is beginning to like her new husband, and his deaf illegitimate daughter that she takes under her wing and becomes mother to, she still plans on leaving them. I had a hard time with this concept, and I was glad to see at one point in the book, Brent points this out to her, how selfish she is. Even though she is extremely bright and intelligent, she can be glaringly dense in some matters - likes others feelings and learning to recognize what makes one truly happy. Fortunately, over time, Caroline cannot stay immune to his charms and she finds her desire to leave him for America less and less appealing until eventually she gives the idea up altogether. But, once Brent finds out what she intended to do, all hell breaks loose!

All the characters in this romance are complex and not what they seem on the surface - there are many layers to them, with underlying scars or tortured wartime nightmares. At first Brent seems like some obnoxious earl, but as we get to know him, he is so much more and we grow to love him and his interesting history. I don't want to give too much away, but he's not your typical alpha male, larger than life romantic hero, he has much more depth to him, and it's moving to read what he says aloud, when he finally gives in to his feelings and wants to let Caroline know how he really feels about her. I really loved their courtship and relationship together.

The main theme running throughout the story is one of women and how unfair the world was to them during this period. It was simply a man's world back then. Someone like Caroline faced many obstacles to be able to become a botanist - it would have been virtualy unheard of and impossible for her to achieve her dream in real life outside a romance novel. Intelligent women were not treated seriously by most men and this is driven home in the story. Caroline respresented the women of the day, and Brent supported her, going against the typical male stereotype of keeping the little woman in her place, born to marry, have babies and tend their flower gardens.

There is much, much more to this book than I've described. Some other plotlines are that Brent has a few secrets from his past we want to know about, he also has a nemesis from France who is stalking him, waiting to kill him, and Brent must come to terms with his sister from America who has returned to reconcile with him. But, the main plot is how he and Caroline grow to care for one another. What starts out as an awkward arranged marriage truly becomes a meeting of the minds; they are ideal for one another.

Do yourself a favor and read this book, it was interesting and well written, except for Brent's constant use of the word sexy, which I thought sounded a bit too modern for a Regency, but I still enjoyed it very much. I intend to read more by this author in the future!


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