Much Ado About You

Eloisa James
January 2005, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0060732067
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

Much Ado About You is a sweet European Historical with plenty of characters and plenty of action to keep the reader interested. The multitude of characters and plot twists, though, tend to detract from the hero and heroine at times.

When Raphael, Duke of Holbrook, suddenly becomes ward to four females, he has no idea that these little women are actually grown adults. Still, even though Rafe is a bit of a slob and a drunk, he is intent on being a good provider. He will not only give the girls what they need materially, he will also find them suitable husbands. But it is soon obvious that the Essex women have their minds made up on pretty much everything, and there is little Rafe can do to dissuade them.

The Essex girls grew up with a wastrel of a father. It is no secret that dear old Dad cared more for his horses and racing than he did for his daughters. But now that their father is dead, it is up to Tess to keep the headstrong and independent sisters under control. Imogen is in love with a loser just like their father and thinks only of him, Annabel flirts with any man with money, and youngest daughter Josie is much too independent and knowledgeable for her own good. Poor, dear Rafe is going to have a heck of a time keeping the girls under control. The best thing that Tess can do is marry well so that her sisters can find good husbands of their own.

But how is Tess supposed to find a husband when she has three sisters to take care of? Fortunately, Rafe has single, wealthy, male friends who happen to visit. And there is one man in particular, Lucius Felton, who greatly intrigues Tess. Unfortunately, Mr. Felton seems to want nothing to do either with Tess or marriage since he has enough problems with his own family without adding a nagging wife to the mix. But there is definitely something about Tess that fascinates him. When his friend Mayne takes a sudden interest in Tess and they agree to marry, Lucius realizes just how much he admires the woman. But he can't steal Tess away from his friend, so he is left to stand by and watch her slip away.

Even though Tess isn't sure her heart is into marrying Mayne, she knows it is the best thing for her family. Besides, she has other things to worry about since Josie is having a difficult time accepting their father's death, Imogen is intent on marrying a man who is already engaged, and Annabel is intent on seducing any man she sees worthy - including Lucius. And, for some reason, the idea of Lucius with any other woman is driving poor Tess to distraction.

By far the most interesting aspect of Much Ado About You is the multitude of characters, in particular the sisters and their relationships to each other. No sister is perfect, each has her own particular flaws and wants. The multiple storyline for each character certainly keeps the book flowing and the reader from becoming bored and the time period and the sisterly relationships give the book a bit of a Sense and Sensibility feel that I greatly enjoyed. And, once Tess and Lucius start to interact, it became rather sweet and romantic. The fact that these are regular people with regular problems and no clear bad guy, make this book a bit of a unique experience.

Unfortunately, the most interesting aspects of the book are also the most problematic. The many characters often take away from the story of the hero and heroine and it takes much too long for the relationship between Tess and Lucius to blossom. The men are the least developed characters, although they do gain more depth toward the end. Instead of having one male who refuses to marry for some lame reason, we have three in this novel. And the fact that Lucius kept flirting and kissing Tess while she was engaged to his friend did bother me.

Although the multiple characters and storylines keep the reader from becoming too deeply involved in any one character, the suspense, laughter and relationships between the characters still make this book worth the read.

-- Lori Sowell

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