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I always find it interesting when the heroine in the story does something she isn't expected to. In Lady Catherine's case, she loves fencing and she dresses up as a boy in order to learn fencing from Bernini, the best fencing master in London. To be a young lady engaged in something so unladylike is already a dangerous thing, but, in Catherine's case, she has to be doubly careful: her father only recently inherited his title and their position in society is very precarious. Add to that, her brother has a potential scandal looming over his head. Their family isn't powerful enough to withstand one scandal, let alone two.
How could she bring herself to disappoint her parents and flout convention? She might have been doing it privately for years, but here, on the precipice of a catastrophe, she finally understood what she was risking, not just for herself, but for everyone around her. And rather than a sense of triumph at defying convention, she could only feel shame for putting so many others at risk.
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I was very excited when I started reading Sheridan Jeane's latest novel, and it reminded me a it of Gwyneth Paltrow's own "cross-dressing" scheme in the movie Shakespeare in Love. The story starts out really well, establishing Catherine's secret and her passion for fencing, but the plot slows considerably as the story moved forward.
The introduction of the Marquess of Huntley and his friend, the Earl of Wentworth, was a point of confusion. Wentworth came across as quite adversarial and I had expected him to be one of the (if not the main) source of conflict in the story. Instead, he disappears for a good chunk of the book, only to resurface at the end (behaving more kindly towards Catherine). When Huntley and Catherine are introduced at a party, the attraction is very obvious and I really enjoyed the interlude between the hero and heroine in the library -- and I wished there were more scenes like that. It would also have been interesting to see Catherine juggle her two identities, and how each one interacted with the marquess. But the author decides to take the plot in a different direction: a villain surfaces, one who is plotting against Huntley, and Catherine becomes collateral damage.
There are several problems that needed solving in the novel:
1. Catherine's secret
2. Huntley's issues about his father's madness
3. The villain
4. Catherine's brother's problem in Cambridge
When I envision most plots in the romances I read, I see a funnel, and all the elements swirl and become more and more concentrated: building up towards a high climactic resolution. Lady Catherine's Secret flows freely and more loosely. There isn't one dramatic finish, but a series of small victories for our hero and heroine.
This is a novel with a lot of details, which I see as both a plus and a minus. On one hand, there are a lot of wonderful, thoughtful details that the author adds to the story. On the other hand, there were some details, which I felt were extraneous and slowed the story.
She wished she could ride astride rather than in this tiresome sidesaddle. With her right leg locked in place by the fixed pommel, and her left tucked under the lower leaping horn, she could only use her hands to control Wildfire. At least her left foot was tucked into a proper stirrup, rather than dangling there alongside her loose right foot. And poor Wildfire. He had to manage her weight off-centre on the left side of his body.
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The one area that I wish the author had added more detail was the romance between Huntley and Catherine. This particular segment of the novel was very well-written (especially the love scenes). There was such a wonderful feeling of anticipating whenever Catherine and Huntley crossed paths: would he recognise her? Would she tell him?
"Thank you for your help, Lord Huntley," she said, staring down at her hands as she plucked at her leather riding gloves.
As she licked her lips nervously, Daniel found he couldn't look away. The memory of last night, and the feel of her lips against his, suddenly crashed upon him as though it had only happened moments ago.
He could almost hear an echo of the slight moan that had escaped her lips.
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This is the first book in Jeane's Secrets and Seduction series. The connection between this novel and It Takes a Spy is Monsieur LeCompte, who remains quite a curious character. I'm certain we'll see more of him in future instalments.
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Disclosure: I received this review copy from the author. Yes, this is an honest review.