Monday, April 7, 2014

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

The Husband Campaign (The Master Matchmakers, #3)The Husband Campaign by Regina Scott -- Inspirational Regency Romance

Lady Amelia Jacoby has an argument with her mother and dashes away on her horse. She ends up crying herself to sleep in a little used stable, where she is discovered by the owner, John, Lord Hascot. John is shy and socially awkward. He knows little about women and a lot about horses. He thinks he'll just leave the lady alone and no one will be the wiser, but when a terrible thunder storm spooks the horses and wakes the lady, John is stuck comforting them both. Though nothing happens, John knows he must offer for her. His offer is soundly rejected. Amelia has no intentions of marrying anyone she doesn't love and she doesn't care what the ton thinks of her. She actually relishes the idea that no one of consequence will ever offer for her. Amelia's parents, the Marquess and Marchioness of Wesworth have other ideas. Lord Wesworth desires nothing more than Lord Hascot's horses. John refuses to sell to anyone who will not treat his horses with the care and respect they deserve. They are his friends, his children, his life; not ornaments to be collected or beasts to be ordered about. Against his instincts, John finds himself accepting Lord Weworth's offer of Amelia. Amelia is reluctant to wed the quiet young Baron but she doesn't have much choice. She hopes at least she will have children to care for and keep her company during the lonely days and nights her husband spends with his beloved horses. When she learns her husband has no intentions of making the marriage a real one, she becomes determined to campaign for his love. John is hesitant to open up to Amelia. He has difficulty finding the words and he fears that a Society beauty like Amelia will not care for him as he is. He loved once, only to have his heart broken and he fears to love again. Can these two unhappy souls find their way to each other?

Usually I hate marriage of convenience novels but I ended up really liking this one. It was different and sweet. The plot is engaging despite the lack of murderers and traitors. Though this is an Inspirational novel, there isn't a lot of Christian content and the message isn't at all heavy handed. It's very similar to Regina Scott's older books for Zebra. It's slightly darker in tone. The main characters are both psychologically damaged and in need of each other. They have to learn to trust each other and care about each other before they can be together. This isn't an easy task given the characters' back stories. Neither had a particularly happy upbringing and Amelia's parents continue to be horrible and interfere with her life. After her marriage, Amelia thinks she's becoming a new person, but I think she was really just becoming the person she was all along. Unhindered by her beastly parents, she's free to speak her mind. In her own home she can take control and finally become an adult. She could be a Mary Sue (or Fanny Price) because she's so sweet and kind and good, but I didn't see her that way. She's also strong and can be outspoken when she wants to be. She fights hard for what she wants. She displays brief moments of temper and impatience with those she considers rude. I really liked her and her journey. The way she blossoms and learns to stand up for herself is wonderful. At first I did not like John. I wanted to because he's shy, socially awkward and loves animals more than people, but I found his brooding to be completely unfounded. He has no reason to neglect his wife. I kept wondering what was wrong with him! Perhaps it's a difference in the male/female way of thinking that he couldn't see how Amelia was lonely and suffering? Then a quarter of the way into the book, he reveals his reasons for brooding. He was once bitten and is now twice shy. He is afraid of being hurt again. With his horses, he knows where he stands and they wouldn't deliberately hurt him. I can understand that but I still think he treated Amelia badly. He was also quite clueless about why Magnum didn't like Amelia. I don't know much about horses but I figured it out right away. Once he realized he could trust Amelia and began to open up, of course I liked him much better. I think at first he thought of her like one of his horses who was being mistreated so of course he had to rescue her, but once she was at Hollyoak Farm, he panicked. He wasn't so off the mark though, Amelia is a lot like a combination of two of his favorite female horses, the wounded, proud Contessa and the fiery Fiernza. The relationship develops slowly and quietly. It's paced just right and doesn't go too fast or drag on with too many misunderstandings the way marriage of convenience plots usually do.

There are also secondary humans in the story, in addition to the horses, who are the main secondary characters. The villains are largely stock characters culled from the standard book of Regency villains. They show a tiny bit of depth but not a whole lot. I didn't like any of them or feel anything except annoyance at them. I wished they would disappear from the story and let the h/h have their HEA more quickly. The servants don't play a large role in this book but I liked the outspoken Turner and her unwavering devotion to Amelia. She offers up a little nudge when needed. Hennessey too takes a minor role in directing the love affair and the vet, Marcus Fletcher, offers his unasked for opinions. The servants aren't funny the way I expected them to be though. Only Dorcas offers some comic relief. Rounding out the secondary characters are a grande dame Duchess, Lady Bellington and her daughter, Lady Prudence. Lady Bellington would get along with Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady Prudence is an amusing hypochondriac. Her chronic, scientifically named diseases made me chuckle. I didn't find her manipulative, merely wanting attention and felt a bit sorry for her.

There was a bit too much about horses and horse training in this novel. If it was dogs, I would have listened with rapt attention, but I'm not a big fan of horses. I also noticed some small errors. A vet would be titled Mr. not Dr. and sugar cubes didn't exist yet. Sugar came in loaves and had to be broken off into lumps. I'm sure the author knows that and the publisher chose to make it the more familiar cube instead of lump.

This is a sweet, tender, heartwarming love story. I recommend it to everyone who wants more substance with their romance, and Mr. Thornton lovers, as the hero is modeled a bit on Richard Armitage. (The picture on the cover is supposed to look like him, but I don't see it. Brooding John Hascot and Brooding John Thornton are sort of similar though.)

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