Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Spare by Carolyn Jewel

Book Description:
Captain Sebastian Alexander was The Spare, but as the younger son he inherited more than a title after his brother's murder. He acquired a family estate with dark secrets that threatened his life. He took on a quest to avenge his brother. But most troublesome of all, he found a red-haired beauty who was either a guileless witness or a ruthless seductress.

Olivia Willow was missing three days from her life. She'd been a guest at Pennhyll the night of the murder, but now she could recall nothing. The new earl was determined to help her remember. He charmed, he beguiled - he matched wits with her. And soon, instead of trading barbs they shared kisses, and instead of seeking out the past, they were fighting for a future.

Once again I really enjoyed one of Carolyn Jewel's early regencies.  This one had a ghost story and mystery added to the story line that made it nearly impossible for me to put down.  I read it in one day.

While convalescing, Captain Sebastian Alexander, of His Majesty's Royal Navy, tries to solve the mystery of who murdered his brother and his brother's wife. One young woman, Olivia Willow, is the key to the mystery, but she has lost all memory of the event.  How does this impoverished, red haired beauty fit into Sebastian's life - and what is the meaning of the ancestral ghost that roams his castle? 

There were many complexities to this romance, it wasn't just an ordinary historical.  Much of the book read like a murder mystery with an eerie and ghostly overtone, not unlike the same feeling I got while reading The Turn of the Screw.  It kept me reading non-stop to find out what happens.  Plus, I was also curious about the two leads, Sebastian and Olivia and what their backgrounds were all about.  

I liked Sebastian, our hero, though at first I thought he was awful, but before long he grew on me.  Wounded in battle, Sebastian is on leave, waiting for his new orders and a new ship.  While recuperating from a chest injury at his ancestral home, Pennhyll Castle in Umbria, he is trying to get to the bottom of the murder of his brother, the late Earl of  Tiern-Cope.  Sebastian is considered quite the catch now that he's inherited the title from his brother.  Single women and their matchmaking mamas have descended upon the castle for a house party which has been organized by an old friend who thinks it prudent Sebastian marry his younger sister.  This makes Sebastian all the more cranky, resentful at the idea of marrying to carry on the family line.  Yet, he agrees to marry her and announce it at a ball to be given in three weeks on St. Agnes Eve.  Frustrated at being on land, he longs for a the sea.  Sebastian is like a wounded animal, snappish and rude to everyone.  His blunt demeanor and manners leave much to be desired.  He's used to being in command of a ship where everyone jumps at his orders.  He is not a man who will be crossed.  Needless to say, he hates the fact he is still weak.  He wants to get out and do something. 

He needs to find his brother's killer.  He also needs reassurance that he's not losing his mind.  Is it just his imagination, or is that really the ghost of one of his medieval ancestors lurking in the shadows?  Is there any truth to the legend of the Black Earl?  Are the claims that he is seen by the present earl when he is soon to marry his bride true?  What about the legend that he returns to roam the corridors of the castle from dawn to dawn on St. Agnes Eve?

One of his houseguests is Olivia Willow, a spare female and the heroine of the story.  When an extra woman is needed to even out the numbers for a dinner party or house party, Olivia is often called in to fill in the spot.  A local spinster, she was present at the time the late earl was murdered and nearly died herself of a gunshot wound because of it.  With no memory of the traumatic event of the murders, Sebastian singles her out for answers.  She wants to remember just as much as he does for she feels strange at having no memory.  She needs to remember for her own sake and peace of mind.  Sebastian is torn, he is attracted to Olivia, yet he doesn't completely trust her.  She is refreshing compared to the other women who have perfected the art of boredom, but as the story develops we learn of some alarming events that may or may not have occurred between her and Sebastian's late brother.

Sebastian's feelings for Olivia are all over the place.  He has trouble believing that Olivia is as good as she seems.  Is she really as guileless as her demeanor indicates or was she his brother's mistress?  At times Sebastian treats her abominably, fighting his attraction towards her and trying to get to the truth of what happened that night.  He callously questions her, jumping to conclusions about her relationship with his brother, no matter her denials.  The mystery becomes murkier as we learn of what really happened to Olivia the night of the murders besides the gun shot wound.  Her loss of memory is now a blessing in disguise.  Sebastian softens towards her when he learns the truth.  If she regains her memory to find out who murdered his brother, she will also remember the terrible events that led up to the murder.  She may fall to pieces if she remembers what happened to her that night.  Can he do that to her and risk hurting the woman that he is beginning to fall in love with?

On top of everything else, Sebastian and Olivia are having these strange dreamlike moments involving one another.  I found them hard to follow and understand at times, for it was difficult to distinguish what was a dream and what was real.  Erotic in nature, both are finding themselves drawn to each other more and more and the dreams are very realistic.  They are blending with reality to the point where Sebastian is not sure if he has made love to Olivia or not?  Was it a dream or did it really happen?  Somehow the ghost of his ancestor has something to do with it as well.   There's a bath scene that I'm still not sure if it was a dream or not.

As complicated as it all sounds, I really loved how the whole mystery played out.  Sebastian's transformation over the course of the weeks is remarkable.  He becomes a kinder and gentler man, no longer the domineering and gruff captain who seemed to take pleasure in making people feel uncomfortable.  I was happy for him in the end when he realizes he loves Olivia and wishes to take care of her.  Olivia  needed someone badly to help her and I'm glad the Captain came into her life.   By the end of the book, we find out who the killer is and all is wrapped up, although I found it slightly anti-climatic.  Still, I found the conclusion satisfying, although I felt like Olivia sort of faded into the woodwork at the big finale!  Sebastian told her not to leave her room and that was the last of Olivia while all hell was breaking loose!

So far I've really enjoyed Carolyn Jewel's books, I find the settings evocative and in this one, the action was gripping and suspenseful.  The romantic relationship between Olivia and Sebastian was not as hot as in her other books, but the ghost story and mystery behind the story more than made up for the lack thereof.   I also found parts of the book reminiscent of Austen's Persuasion. It's probably just me, but there was something that kept making me think of it! It must have been because Sebastian was a sea captain and Olivia's cousin returns with the intention of marrying her. She does not like him for some reason, there is something about him... not unlike the feeling we get with Anne's cousin, Mr. Elliott in Persuasion, but that's about as far as the similarities go.

A quick and compelling read, I recommend it.  


Yvette said...

Now this sounds like something I'll have to add to my TBR Mountain of Reads, Julie. I haven't been reading much romance lately, but every now and then I get a hankering for a Regency love story. I definitely like the sound of this one.:)

Yvette said...

Meant to ask you if you're familiar with the books of Anne Stuart. She didn't write many regencies, but she has written tons of romances, some in modern settings, some historical. She has a style that is unique and identifiable. I've read her for years, though I must admit I haven't so much lately. But if you're not familiar with her, I recommend her highly. She's quite wonderful.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Yvette, you've mentioned Anne Stuart to me before, but I have yet to read anything by her What's a good book to start with?

I really like Carolyn Jewel's books, they are more than just your ordinary romance, the plots are complex as well as the characters who are usually fighting some kind of internal turmoil. Give this a chance, I hope you like it!

Yvette said...

I was just checking for Anne Stuart's books and boy did some of those titles bring back memories. Mainly because at one time I scoured the country for all of Stuart's books and began buying them from all the used bookstores I could find. But somehow over the years I've lost track of those old paperbacks. Now and then I find one (as I did the other night) and do a quick reread to remind myself why I always loved her books.

She writes historicals and contemporaries. I love both. But here are a few historical titles I especially liked. I haven't read any of her newer stuff simply because there's just not enough time anymore to read everything I want to read and I'm reading more mysteries these days than ever before...Although Stuart had written some romance/thrillers that are very good. Anyway, see if you can find some of these titles:

SHADOW DANCE (If I remember correctly) This is the one where she has a man masquerading as a woman and a woman masquerading as a man. It is a total historical romp. No one and I mean NO ONE else would have the nerve.

LORD OF DANGER I love the mysterious hero in this one. I think he's some kind of wizard or magician or something equally dark.

Really though, you can't go wrong with any of Stuart's historicals. They all have a slight edge and usually something uniqaue about them that makes them stand out from other romance writers.

I also love her contemporaries, but I don't know if you read those or not. I'm probably more familiar with those. She wrote a lot for Harlequin American. Some of my favorites: CRY FOR THE MOON, about a widow who inherits a run down apartment building in Chicago with some eccentric tenants. The hero in this one is not your run of the mill kind of guy. This is the one I reread the other night.

NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM is another good one. Oh look, any Stuart book is generally a good book. She's just one of THOSE writers. I don't think I ever read a bad one by her.

Oh, there's one I can't remember the title. But it takes place in New Orleans and the heroine falls for a man who is supposed to be insane. His family keeps him locked up and you begin to wonder what Stuart is doing, but she makes it work. She's just such an inventive writer.

So many good reads...

Yvette said...

Another Stuart I just thought of that I know you'd like is PRINCE OF SWORDS.

Okay, I'll stop now. Ha!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Yvette, thanks for all these titles this gives me tons to look for and look forward to as well!

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

I still need to read something by this author, this one sounds great!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Carrie, so far I've loved all her books, but my favorite is "Lord Ruin!"

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