A Booklist Top 10 Romance of the Year Jo Manning's latest Regency romance is replete with period charm, lively dialogue, and fascinating detail. Lady Sophia Rowley, thrice married and thrice widowed, has returned to Rowley Hall to rusticate. Meeting vicar Charles Heywood, who was named guardian of her sons on the death of her third husband, she is at first angry . . . and then intrigued.
Unlike the usual Regency-era heroine, Lady Sophia Rowley is neither powerless, chaste nor (in the terms of the period) young. Instead, she's wealthy, much married, the mother of two sons and a woman with a well-deserved reputation for sexual laxity. As the novel opens, Sophia who has spent most of her time in London, ignoring the restrictions of motherhood and marriage in favor of a frivolous existence among the fashionable set returns to her country estate to face the death of her elderly third husband. The local vicar, Charles Heywood, has been named guardian of her two sons. To her surprise, Heywood is not a pious curmudgeon, but a diffident and handsome young man. Charles is also surprised, not just by Sophia's beauty but by signs of intelligence and tenderness, which belie her lurid reputation. As time passes, both Charles and Sophia begin to understand how being sold into an early marriage by a grasping father forced Sophia to hide her vulnerability under a flamboyant mask. Their developing romance is complicated by the arrival of her father, who connives a variety of plots to steal her just-inherited riches. Manning (The Reluctant Guardian) has a light touch and crisp pacing that keep this familiar intrigue from cloying, and she faultlessly balances a lively plot with just enough period detail for an authentic Regency flavor. The unconventional power balance between the lovers adds a welcome twist, as does the magnitude of the inner challenges Sophia must confront. In the end, the reader is genuinely touched when the once-wayward heroine finally recognizes not only her true soul mate but also her real soul. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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August 13, 2012
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