Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: When She Said I Do by Celeste Bradley


I've been waiting for Celeste Bradley to release a new book and, after two years, When She Said I Do is finally here.

Calliope Worthington and her family sought refuge in the first house they saw after their carriage gets swept away in the river. The house looked abandoned and the Worthingtons are relieved to have a place to recover after their near-death experience. What they didn't know is that the owner of the house is at home, and he doesn't take too kindly to strangers, especially to strangers taking liberty with jewels and other valuables that clearly do not belong to them.

Ren Porter has come to Amberdell to die. His body and spirit broken -- and breaking more with each passing day, he has sworn off human companionship and prefers living in the shadows and darkness of his empty house. Their first encounter proves enlightening -- and awakens something in Ren that he thought had died a long time ago and so he strikes a bargain with Callie: one command in exchange for one pearl.

Callie ought to refuse and run away but, instead, she surprises Ren and herself when she agrees to the bargain.

When I read Callie and Ren's first "meeting," it worried me. I hadn't expected to read such eroticism in a Celeste Bradley book -- and the strong erotic tones continues after the bargain was struck and Ren proceeds with his seduction of Callie. I kept on reading because this is Ren's story and because Button (from Bradley's previous series) showed up -- and my decision proved somewhat rewarding -- this is a novel with a lot of good points and a few not-so-good points.

Here's are the major aspects of the story:
1. Callie and Ren's interaction:
Ren's so dark and morbid, so bent and rigid -- and Callie is this very fluid human being. I liked how Ren gradually shifted from "beast" to man with Callie's gentle urging. I thought Callie was a great match for Ren -- she was tenacious and whimsical.

"Are you quite sure you won't reconsider? Just a cook ... and a few housemaids, of course. A laundress. Perhaps a stable boy. A housekeeper to run matters. And it wouldn't hurt to do something with the grounds ..."

He turned to gaze her from the depths of his hood. She couldn't see his eyes but she glared at him anyway. His eyes were in there somewhere. How far off could they be?"

"No."

The toe-tapping increased in speed. "I'm afraid I can't hear you. It must be the muffling effect of all that wool. Say again?"

He stepped forward slowly until he loomed over her and she could feel the warmth of him on her skin. Despite her suddenly hammering pulse , she managed to keep her gaze fixed on his "eyes."

Worthingtons had great fortitude.

Said fortitude took a blow when he leaned close into her and bent his hooded head next to hers.

"No." It was only a murmur, husky and deep. It rang through her like a bell. Her heart skipped, her knees weakened, and there was something wrong with her vision ...

She managed to draw a breath. "Go? I that what you said? Go hire a full staff, this very day? Well, I did have a relaxing day of lying about planned, but if you insist --"
- pp. 71-72

She exasperates him; he annoys her -- they are a classic opposites-attract tandem. I have to say I preferred the lighter moments of the story over the darker ones. I understand why Bradley introduced a darker kind of sexy for Ren because it is who he is -- and he does shed a bit of his doom-and-gloom aura towards the end of the story, but I didn't like the lack of transition: lighthearted turns heavily erotic so quickly (read pp 175 - 180).

2. The Worthingtons:
First books in a series always bear the burden of introducing the main characters that will be featured in the series -- and it is a challenge to do so without overshadowing the main hero and heroine and the main story. The challenge is even greater in When She Said I Do, considering the number of members in the Worthington family.

They are:
- the Worthington parents (Iris and Archie)
- the Worthington aunts (2 of them: Poppy is obsessive compulsive and the other one, Clementine, hides dogs in her bosom.)
- the Worthington siblings: Daedalus, Castor and Pollux, Atalanta, Elektra, Orion and Lysander (who is dead?)

From the description and narrative, they seem like a very vibrant and eccentric family but I think they encumber the story and slow down the main plot with too many voices and too many personalities.

Attie was particularly confounding -- she's part of the more sinister aspect of the story (read Chapter 8 and then pp. 336 - 340). I thought she wasn't resolved properly in this story and I wonder if she will still have a role to play in the later books in this series.

Then there are Ren's relatives (?), Bertrice and Henry, who are the other half of the sinister aspect. This wasn't developed very well and felt a bit extraneous -- which leads me to a question: What was the purpose of introducing danger in this story? Ren and Callie didn't need any more reasons to come together -- their banter, their own personalities, the situation they were in were enough to propel the story forward.

3. Ren's former group + Button:
They are never named. Long-time Bradley fans will be thrilled to see them again but new readers might be a bit confused by their presence in this book.

I've read most of the books in Bradley's backlist (my favorites are her Runaway Brides and Heiress Brides series) but it took me a while to recall them. Thankfully, the author provides an extensive guide to the characters in her books on her website. Click here.

Button is a delight, as always. It's uncanny how incredibly efficient and skillful he is. He's served as fairy godfather in many of Bradley's stories. ^_^

There are a lot of loose ends in the story (Ren and Callie's relationship with the nearby village and its inhabitants), the presence of Ren's former group, etc. -- but Bradley does succeed in presenting a unique love story in Ren and Callie.

When She Said I Do is the first book in Celeste Bradley's new series (about the Worthingtons). The next book, And Then Comes Marriage, features Castor and Pollux Worthington and will be released on July 30, 2013. To find out more about Celeste Bradley and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook and on Goodreads.


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