Monday, July 7, 2008

Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase *****

This book was just released recently, and has been on all the romance discussion boards and blogs. The AAR Review gives it an A with DIK status and I have to say, I am in complete agreement with this reviewer. Others are still using words like "disappointed" and "meh" (whatever that means) - which just goes to show that it takes all kinds, and everyone is different!

The heroine is Francesca Bonnard, a divorcee turned courtesan, living in Venice. She was married well and young through the "marriage mart" but it turns out he was bad news, with a series of mistresses and bad political choices. In a naive effort to get him to pay attention to her, she has an affair which causes the breakdown of the marriage and the disastrous divorce. She manages to find evidence of his treason in letters that she takes with her and taunts him with over the years. There are 2 camps that want these letters - the camp that wants to out him as a traitor and ruin his political career, and the camp that wants to destroy the letters so he can move up.

When we meet James Cordier, our hero, we know he is there to get the letters but it isn't clear which camp he is in. He's a master spy, master jewel thief, master mimic and 2nd son - he thought he was at the end his spy career until pressed into service one last time to get the letters.

He first meets Francesca at the opera, in disguise as a servant, and realizes right away the charm and appeal she has for all the men in her life. She is currently between lovers, and is stringing along a series of men, waiting to see which one will be her new protector.

Francesca has been using her wiles to attract men for 5 years - skills she learned from a madame in France. She is independent and strong - character traits she honed from her experience with men abusing her trust, mainly her father and her first husband.

From the start there is a chemistry between James and Francesca, but what makes their story different is that both have had lots of experience with lust and sexual chemistry and the use of sex as a weapon or a ways to an end. They go into their relationship with eyes wide open, knowing (or assuming) each is only good for one thing. She teases him and leads him on only because she assumes he could not afford her services, and he plays along because he is only looking for the letters. What they don't see until they are both in the thick of it is how their relationship has evolved, how their teasing and intrigue has changed, and how they have both fallen so deeply in love, against both their better judgements. In fact, in a conceit I love, he realizes it and voices it first and often.

Chase's writing skill is unmatched in my experience - she manages to write layered, complex stories that are still light and funny and witty and romantic and steamy and still ring true. I almost wrote "unique" and I guess "unmatched" isn't exactly right either. The other author who writes like this is Jo Goodman, but they aren't the same and they don't write the same style or the same stories. It's just their abilities to craft words into experiences that are similar, and unlike any other authors I've read. Not sure if that makes sense... I sure don't have that talent.

5 stars and a definite keeper (although I'm so tempted to grab a PBS credit by swapping mine out....)

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