Pandora's Box

Under a Lucky Star

Diane Farr
2004, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Signet, $6.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451211707

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Derek Whitaker meets and kisses a beautiful woman in a theater, only to have her give him the public cut at a ball. The woman is Cynthia Fitzwilliam, known in the ton as "the Frost Fair" because of her beautiful looks and very detached personality.

She has grown up very much under her mother's thumb, and her mother expects her to marry a very rich man to shore up the family finances.

A few years later, Cynthia and Derek meet again when they are guests in the same home. This time, Derek is much more persistant, and Cynthia finds that she may have the strength to defy her mother after all.

Blythe:  Well, Linda, all month I have been eager to find out what you think about Diane Farr. I know this is your first experience with her, and I'm a huge fan. With a single exception, I've loved all the books I've read by her. I really enjoyed this latest offering as well.

Linda:   I have three of her books in my huge TBR pile and will definitely be moving them to the top. I really enjoyed the book and once started I ended up reading it in one sitting and finished at three in the morning. What I really liked is that the focus is on the protaganists instead of plot mechanisms and since I have been reading a lot of mystery and romantic suspense lately it was a nice change.

Blythe:  I am so glad you liked it too! I, too, couldn't put it down. This is fairly unusual for me; I usually have a thousand things going on, and I am used to reading books that I can take or leave (or worse, mostly leave). I had actually started Under a Lucky Star late Saturday night after I got off work. I read until three in the morning, and then got up and kept reading Sunday. I had about thirty pages to go when I had to go to church, and I was so annoyed...I actually toyed with the idea of just being late so I could finish the book. I was jealous of my kids, who can still get away with reading in church. I ended up being a grown-up about it and finishing the book when I got home.

Linda:   Well, I'm proud of your restraint.<g>

These were such lovable characters! Derek was such a nice hero. A lot of authors would have had him treat Cynthia cruelly for a lengthy period after they meet again. But, he was intelligent and figured out quickly that there was more to her giving him the "cut direct" than he had originally thought. He was also charming, funny and loving - what more can one ask for in a hero? But, the real joy of this book is watching Cynthia grow up, assert herself and realize what her family has been doing to her.

Blythe:  I loved and adored Derek. I mean, come on, who wouldn't? But I think I found Cynthia the more interesting character. Cynthia's "type" - reserved and dutiful - is not ordinarily a type of heroine I understand well. Usually I find people like her irritating; I just want them to stand up to their annoying, tyrannical parents. But Farr made me understand and appreicate how Cynthia operated. I really sympathized with her and found myself rooting for her. I can probably count on one hand the number of times an author has taken a plot or character type I dislike and written it so convincingly that I enjoyed it. I'll add this one to that short list.

Linda:   Yes, on the surface Cynthia seemed like the typical obedient shallow young Miss. But, as she acknowledged her feelings for Derek, Cynthia began to see her mother with new eyes and realize that her mother has been manipulating her her whole life. I also liked the acknowledgement of the fact that there would never be enough money to make her parents happy. When she realized that they would have spent the 30,000 pounds as fast as they did the 10,000 pounds, Cynthia was well on her way to growing up enough to deserve Derek. I agree with your comments; it's not often that I like the doormat or Cinderella-type character (I keep wanting to shake them), but Cynthia turned out to be complex, quite interesting and by book's end nobody's doormat.

Blythe:  One of my favorite parts of the book is when Cynthia realizes that her obedience to her mother has caused her to hurt her friend Hannah. She pursues a man her friend loves - simply because her mother tells her to do it. When she finally sees the effect this is having on her friend, she apologizes, and while she talks with her friend, she realizes that even virtues (like obedience) can be taken to such an extreme that they become flaws. And yes, her mom is a nasty piece of work. It's fun to watch her get her comeuppance in the end.

Linda:   That was a real "road of Damascus" moment for Cynthia and her true loving nature finally showed through. Also it was wonderful to see Cynthia's mother realize that it wasn't Cynthia who was ruined in the ton, but herself. I felt like cheering!

What I really liked is that this is a true old-fashioned romance - no really heavy plot action going on - yet the writing is so compelling I couldn't put the book down.

Blythe:  Yes, it's nice not having a contrived suspense plot. What I also found interesting about this book (and several of Farr's others) is that she writes really good full length romances - with little or no sex in them. I think there are people out there who think that that can't really be done, and I've heard authors claim that they were pressured into adding more sex than they felt was strictly necessary. I don't object to sex scenes (or I'd be in a different line of work) but it's nice to see a book that flows naturally without them.

Also, the bulk of the action takes place at one estate, before the start of the season. It's more or less a house party, which is a plot I enjoy anyway. I like to see a small group of people interacting together. To give some background, all the guests are at a dual estate awaiting the birth of what they hope will be the heir. Natalie, Derek's sister (and heroine of Under the Wishing Star) is pregnant and awaiting the birth of her second child. FWIW, I don't think you necessarily have to have read the first book to enjoy this one, but it does help to know some of the back story. Just as this book has Cynthia's mother as a realistically nasty villain, Wishing Star had Natalie's half-brother and his boorish wife. If you enjoy a good revenge scene you might want to check out that one too.

Linda:   I felt there was just enough exposition to put you in the story without boring those who have read the first book. I liked what I saw of Natalie and Malcolm and will definitely want to read their story. I thought it was interesting to see the pressure that was on Natalie to produce a male heir and felt a little sorry for her sister-in-law, who'd given birth to only five daughters.

Blythe:  Natalie is a really fun character. Again, in some ways she is very ordinary, which I think makes her interesting. Extraordinary women who are spies, geniuses and the like can be interesting too, but I like how Farr writes about people who are in some ways less flashy. Her characterization is insightful.

Linda:   What I really liked about Derek was his sense of humor - especially his play with his niece, Sarah. Cynthia earned a great deal of sympathy from me for being afraid Sarah would be hurt as a result of their playing. When she told Sarah about her childhood and how she had been punished for just simple fun, one couldn't help but hurt for her. I suspect that a lot of women were raised to be perfect ladies, even as children, which left absolutely no room for fun or laughter in their young lives. Derek is so comfortable with himself and is so engaging that it was easy to see how Cynthia could overcome a lifetime of duty to love him.

Blythe:  I think the book is full of scenes like that. Sarah also plays a major role in the first book; Natalie and her husband first meet because of Sarah, and Natalie's understanding of Sarah is one of the things he loves most about her.

One of my favorite details about Derek is his ability to scope out the nooks and crannies of a place. This talent comes in handy several times during the book. I also loved that he was so patient with Cynthia - and willing to understand why it was so hard for her to stand up to her mother.

Linda:   Derek was just an all round great hero. I also admired his patience and the fact that he didn't treat her cruelly even when he thought she was a heartless jade who led him on only to humiliate him. Romance books are full of heroes who would have made Cynthia pay dearly for the cut she dealt him. It was fun to watch him draw out Cynthia's true personality, which she has kept carefully buried in an attempt not to draw her mother's wrath or attention. Her mother watches her continually, but it is hard for her to realize that her mother did many things - like dressing her in revealing clothes - specifically to draw out moneyed roues who would subsidize Cynthia's money-grubbing family in order to marry her.

Blythe:  If you'd like to read more of Farr, I'd recommend the aforementioned Under the Wishing Star, as well as my personal favorite, Duel of Hearts. Once Upon a Christmas (one of her traditional Regencies) is also quite good. The only book of hers that I disliked was Fair Game - I thought the hero was a big jerk. However, many people (including LLB and Ellen Micheletti) really liked that book as well, so you might as well.

Linda:   I think I have The Fortune Hunter near the top of my portable TBR pile, I think I bought it because our AAR reviewer was so enthusiastic about it. Farr's writing style provides enough description to set the scene and very detailed characterizations without the least tendency to purple prose at all. The book reads very quickly and I really cared about the characters.

Blythe:  Well, I am always happy when someone else discovers one of my favorites; it's one of my favorite things about being a reviewer. What's up for next month?

Linda:   We are reading Kate Bridges' The Engagement. She is another new-to-me author getting a lot of buzz on-line. Since I have been having good luck with the books I've read lately and hope that will continue with next month's book.

Blythe:  I've done very well with our Pandora books lately. Bridges is new to me also, but several of our reviewer's loved her last book, The Surgeon, so I have high hopes. I'll see you next month.

Linda:   Happy reading!

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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