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Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Countess by Lynsay Sands

The Countess by Lynsay Sands
Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (371 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemun

The fairy tale courtship did not turn into a happily-ever-after . . .

Not until her husband dropped dead, that is. He had been horrible enough to Christiana during their short marriage, and she was not going to allow the traditional period of mourning to ruin her sisters' debuts as well. So she decides to put him on ice and go on as if nothing's happened . . .

Until the real earl appears. Richard Fairgrave had every intention of confronting his villainous twin who had robbed him of his name and title . . . only to discover that he had died. Quietly assuming his identity, Richard must now deal with a maddening desire for his ravishing inherited "wife"— certainly a gold digger and possibly a murderess. And Christiana must deal with an unwanted new "husband" . . . and they both must figure out what to do before the ice melts!

If a reader is searching for a madcap comedic romance with more twists and turns than a pretzel, they can’t go wrong with this delightful and entertaining romp by Ms. Sands. The Countess kept me guessing and smiling all the way through.

The main crux of the story is two-fold. How can a woman overcome the degradation of her first husband’s cruelty and trust a man who looks just like him? How can a man overcome his need for revenge and learn to trust the woman he thinks might have killed his brother? Sounds heavy doesn’t it? Those are the initial dramatic threads that rope a reader in by instilling a ‘need to know’. That need is cemented by the creation of two wonderfully fascinating characters that truly are fun together.

Christiana’s initial reaction to seeing her dead husband alive was classically funny. Richard’s reaction at her seeing him was equally entertaining. What comes after, the slow discovery of who and what Christiana is really like was akin to watching a rose bloom – petal by petal unfurled to become a woman Richard is helpless to resist. It was the quality of writing that pulled it off to my satisfaction.

The truth will set you free, or so they say. In this story, the truth makes more conflict, more trouble, more plot twists and more hilarity than a reader would expect from the blurb alone. I had no idea that the cast of characters that Ms. Sands populated The Countess with would be so adorable, entertaining, and integral to the motivation and plot to the degree they are. I don’t think this book would have been as fully fleshed out if even one of the secondary characters was shoved into the background. They all played key roles in the humor of the story. Certainly when it came to figuring out who the villain was, they were indispensable.

Speaking of the villain, what an interesting bit of writing that was. Even though the guy was dead, he still managed to cause an inordinate amount of mayhem for the hapless couple. Add to that another wrinkle that I never saw coming and one that I highly suspected but wasn’t sure of until the great reveal. I enjoyed how Ms. Sands wove those threads throughout the book. It was a steady, low-level hum of drama and suspense that flavored this tale that kept me as fascinated as watching Richard and Christiana fall in love.

My favorite parts were when Christiana got drunk, looking for the “strawberry”, when Suzette described what she heard, which made the heroine blush and sent me into a giggle fit, and I got a kick out of Grace, Christiana’s maid. And how could I forget the scene when Richard was so overcome with passion he forgot which bed he dropped the heroine onto. Of course that scene was not only chock-full of sensual tension but it was quite important to the progression of their romance…and other things.

What made this story even better was the secondary romance going on between Richard’s best friend and Suzette. Plus I think there is another simmering. What I appreciated about them both was how the author handled the extra romance threads – they enhanced the main story and didn’t dilute it in the least.

The Countess is entertaining romance at its finest. The author’s writing kept the pace brisk, pertinent, and showcased the best of what historical romantic comedic fiction has to offer. The dialogue was incredibly important in helping me understand the main characters and their motivations. It highlighted their personalities and foibles and when they declared their love, it was sweet and spicy all at the same time. The Countess has so much going for it, and is written so well, it’s not only a keeper to be re-read but a book that is worth recommending to other reader friends and fans of funny historical romances. I’ve read Ms. Sands’ paranormals before but this was the first I've tried of her historicals. I guarantee that this will not be the last. This author is very talented!