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Saturday, April 15, 2006:
Falling in and out of love with Eloisa James
had been encouraged by many people with similar reading tastes to read Eloisa James' Four Sisters series. So after some procrastination, I finally did this week. I am very anal about starting at the beginning of a series, so I waited until I could find "Much Ado About You" at the bookstore. Then I picked up the following books, "Kiss Me, Annabell" and the recently released "The Taming of the Duke". I'll give the synopsis for each book, then explain my reaction to each book.

Book Cover

When you're the oldest daughter, you don't get to have any fun!
Witty, orphaned Tess Essex faces her duty: marry well and marry quickly, so she can arrange matches for her three sisters—beautiful Annabel, romantic Imogen and practical Josie. After all, right now they're under the rather awkward guardianship of the perpetually tipsy Duke of Holbrook. But just when she begins to think that all might end well, one of her sisters bolts with a horse-mad young lord, and her own fiancé just plain runs away.
Which leaves Tess contemplating marriage to the sort of man she wishes to avoid—one of London's most infamous rakes. Lucius Felton is a rogue whose own mother considers him irredeemable! He's delicious, Annabel points out. And he's rich, Josie notes. But although Tess finally consents to marry him, it may be for the worst reason of all. Absurd as she knows it to be, she may have fallen utterly in love…

I loved this story; it really set the tone for the series. Tess is a smart woman, looking out for her sisters and making sure they never have to worry about money again. They all grew up virtually counting every penny (or whatever the English counted back then). We also meet her younger sisters, each very different and noticeable in their own way. Since the series is called "Four Sisters", we already know each one is going to have her own story, and therefore the behavior of each is noted carefully.

Sent to live with their guardian when their father unexpectedly passes away, the girls are greeted by Raphael Jourdain, Duke of Holbrook, who was not prepared for 4 grown ladies. In his mind he was picturing 4 young girls, still in the nursery. But the Duke is not one to split hairs, and he adapts rather quickly to the change in plans. Of course he never thought when he agreed to be a guardian that he would actually end up with the duty, so he does flounder throughout the whole business, but with a constant drink in hand, the details become one big hazy vision that does not perturb him overmuch.

Lucius Felton, not titled but obscenely rich, is a wonderful match for Tess. He notices her beauty, true, but then her other sisters are quiet beautiful as well. Tess is also smart, and rather practical, and very protective of her younger siblings. He also knows that for the first time, maybe ever, his money cannot buy him what he wants, what he needs. It isn't until he lets himself be vulnerable to his new bride that he gains his heart's desire..... Romantic, sensual, beautiful. This is what I love in a story. I could not wait to read more.

Book Cover

The RULES OF MARRIAGE...according to Miss Annabel Essex
A husband must be:
Make that very rich. She's had enough of leaky roofs and thread-worn clothing.
London is the center of the civilized world, and Annabel has a passion for silk and hot water.
AMIABLE. Good-looking would be nice, but not necessary. Same for intelligent.
Isn't she lucky? She's found just the man! And her chosen spouse is nothing like the impoverished Scottish Earl of Ardmore, who has nothing but his gorgeous eyes, his brain -- and his kisses -- to recommend him.
So what cruel twist of fate put her in a carriage on her way to Scotland with just that impoverished earl and all the world thinking they're man and wife? Sleeping in the same bed? Not to mention the game of words started by the earl -- in which the prize is a kiss. And the forfeit...
Well. They are almost married, after all!

Annabell is the sister who uses her looks to get what she wants, but she is not completely mercenary. Having grown up as the one in charge of her family's finances, Annabell knows what it's like to watch every shilling, feels the frustration of a father who cares more for his horses than for his daughters, and decides at a young age that she will only marry for money. Relying on her God-given beauty, Annabell sets out to find a wealthy husband, one who will appreciate her beauty and her love of beautiful things. But she is also a bit of a rebel, and while she realizes that some of her tendencies are looked upon with disapproval, she is not willing to let any man completely control her. She wants her future husband to know that while she will be the perfect wife, she will not be a complete doormat.

When she is involved in a scandal, she must marry right away, but instead of the rich man she always imagined, Annabell is to marry a Scottish earl who is said to not have a penny to his name and has come to London to find a wealthy bride.

Ewan Poley, Earl of Ardmore, is captivated by the lovely Annabell, and by her practical goal to marry a rich man. When she refuses his overtures, he decides she's not worth the trouble and sets his sights on another suitable female. But then the aforementioned scandal happens, and both are resigned to a marriage between them. Ewan is not altogether unhappy with the match - he is attracted to the blonde beauty and is glad of her own Scottish background which indicates she has more mettle than the majority of the delicate females of the ton. Now he must convince his bride that he did not marry her for her beauty, and that she alone can cause him to lose his temper and damn his soul, over and over, for her, the keeper of his heart.

Again, a wonderful story. Annabell may be beautiful, but she is not completely shallow. She's had to live with the stigma of being beautiful, (a problem some of us wouldn't mind having!) and wondering if her husband truly loves her for herself or her looks. Ewan may be a religious man, but he has never truly been tempted to stray from his beliefs, and his relationship with Annabell tests his faith and shows him just how human he really is. Love is not a safe emotion, but rather an all-consuming passion that turns their lives, and their expectations, upside down until they realize just how important an emotion it is and that it is worth fighting for. James expertly handles their conflict, making each obstacle realistic and strong enough, and the doubts Ewan and Annabell have are legitimate and need to be addressed before they can make their relationship work. Also, I loved how James had Annabell and Ewan get to "know each" other, both physically and emotionally. It was a delightful way to bring them together and she draws out the sexual tension between the two so well that when they finally do make love, it is as emotional as it is physical. Another keeper...

Book Cover

Imogen, Lady Maitland, has decided to dance on the wild side. After all, she's in the delicious position of being able to take a lover. A discreet male who knows just when to leave in the morning.
But Lady Maitland is still under the watchful eye of her former guardian, the wildly untamed Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook. He believes she is still in need of a "watchdog." She laughs at the idea that someone so insufferably lazy and devoted to drink can demand that she behave with propriety.
It's Rafe's long-lost brother, a man who looks precisely like the duke but with none of his degenerate edge, who interests Imogen. To Imogen, he's the shadow duke...the man who really should hold the title. But when Imogen agrees to accompany Gabe to a masquerade...whose masked eyes watch her with that intense look of desire? Who exactly is she dancing with? The duke or the shadow duke? Rafe...or Gabe?

Okay, this is the story that has me, and apparently many other readers, conflicted. We have known Rafe and Imogen since the first book. Imogen had impetuously married her first love only to lose him 2 short weeks after the wedding. She is a passionate creature interested mostly in her own needs and wants, not giving a damn who she hurts in the process. But Imogen evolves from the first book, even through the third book, and I actually started to like her. She has realized how her behavior has hurt other people, and comes to terms with the loss of her husband and her supposed role in his death. Now I probably wouldn't like Imogen at all if I didn't already know she was going to have her HEA with Rafe (this information was gleened at some of the blogs I visit).

We have seen Rafe as a drunkard, always having a glass of alcohol in his hand, no matter the hour. He has let his looks go; has a paunch, unruly hair, and clothes that have seen better days. But he cares deeply his wards, and takes his responsibilities rather seriously. We even see glimpses of his strong reaction to Imogen in "Kiss Me, Annabell", which he may not fully understand other than to know that she has the power to drive him to a rage. What we see is a man who gets irrational whenever Imogen intimates that is she about to take a lover, and cares not a bit about her scandalous reputation. Rafe is beside himself trying to save her from her destructive behavior, until one day he feels desire for her, a reaction he has not felt in years.

Another reason has him giving up alcohol for good, though it is not without struggle and suffering. Rafe is slowly coming back to life, and realizing that he suddenly wants to marry. But he has competition in the form of his brother Gabe, who looks like him but is much more appealing and worthy, in Imogen's mind. Events lead to Rafe disguising himself as Gabe, with Imogen none the wiser, or we are lead to believe anyway, as he sets about seductively courting his future bride, a contrary woman who has no desire to marry, him or anyone else for that matter.

Again I will mention that I knew Rafe and Imogen were going to end up together before I started this series, so I waited with bated breath, carefully reading each exchange between the two of them, interpreting each gesture, each fit of rage, each brief and lingering glance, as part of the dance that would lead to their HEA. The expectation was set on high but I was not worried because I thoroughly enjoyed the first two stories and had no doubt that Eloisa James would pull it off a third time. Well, yeah, she did. She peppered the story, especially the 3rd half of the book, with clues to answer the numerous questions readers had while reading "TTOTD". I was a bit slow on the uptake, but after going back and re-reading, I felt that most of my issues were addressed, albeit in a subtle fashion (sometimes I prefer the glaringly obvious). But what bothered me, no, really, really annoyed me, was the lack of a pay-off. I felt short-changed. Yes, Imogen and Rafe admit their love, and she accepts his proposal. But where is the rest of it? I felt like at least a page, if not more, was missing from the ending. They had been through so much, together and apart, that I felt there should have definitely been "more". Something that would have put my mind at rest and made me feel both Imogen and Rafe finally found peace when they found each other. I'm not bashing the book or the author, I just felt like something was missing - like the frosting off the cake.

Apparently I am not the only one who felt this way. had several unhappy reviews, and Eloisa James herself has spoiler bulletins at her own website as well as at the Avon Authors' board to explain the ending. Last I heard, another chapter was going to be written or more detail was going to be provided in the fourth book, Josie's story. Since Josie is my favorite sister, I do plan on reading it. We will wait and see, because overall, I like James' writing and I truly do want to find out who Josie ends up with as her (hopefully) deserving hero....could it be Mayne?


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