My Darline Caroline

Stolen Charms

Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth
(Jove, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-515-12866-X
The task of summarizing the plot of Winter Garden is not an easy one. Usually when this is the case, it's because the novel in question has no plot to speak of, or a very weak and jumbled one at best. Reverse that observation in the extreme for Winter Garden. Adele Ashford has woven together a storyline so intricate and powerful, that it is difficult to give readers very many descriptions of it without giving away too much. Keeping that in mind, let me attempt to summarize the plot of Winter Garden.

Thomas Blackwood is an agent for the English government who has gone to the village of Winter Garden to bring to justice a nobly born gentleman dealing illegally in the opium trade. It is easy for Thomas to blend in with the Winter Garden locals without bringing undue attention to himself because he's known to them as a recluse and a scholar...a role that comes readily to him since he truly is both of those things.

Thomas has lived alone for years. He has isolated himself both physically and emotionally from the rest of society and has no one in his life that he is close to, save a son who is studying abroad. He wishes, however, that his fate were different. And from the first moment he laid eyes on Madeleine DuMais, he knows with all certainty where his destiny lay...

Madeleine DuMais is a French-born woman of lowly birth who was fathered illegitimately by an Englishman. She carries many deep, unhealed emotional scars as testament to her horrid childhood. Nevertheless, Madeleine has managed to carve out a place for herself in gentle society. To the French aristocracy, Madeleine is known merely as a celebrated beauty; to a select group of English government officials, she is known as one of Britain's most revered spies. Because of her gender, Madeleine is able to glean information in ways that are socially impossible for a gentleman in the mid 1800s to do. So when she is called from France to Winter Garden in England to aid in the capturing of an opium smuggler, she is prepared to give her all. What she isn't prepared for, however, is the giving away of her heart to a mysterious, reclusive man who makes her feel emotions she'd thought long dead...

Winter Garden is a sensuous, erotic and emotional tale that will leave readers fanning themselves one minute and reaching for a tissue the next. The sensuality level of this novel is very high and expertly woven throughout, while its erotic atmosphere is achieved through both character dialogue and (explicit) love scenes. The emotional intensity between the hero and the heroine only heightens the effect.

Although the plot itself is extremely engaging, the storyline's true power emulates from Adele Ashworth's character development. The author has penned a hero who, for lack of a better description, simply takes your breath away. You feel for him, root for him, and even cry for him. The heroine is just as intricately crafted and just as able to draw out your emotions. She's a woman readers can relate to, much more readily than the innocent, doe-eyed virgins most historicals are centered around.

Winter Garden is not a book to skim through during a time when you're anticipating possible interruptions; it's a novel to absorb yourself in while left in solitude. Although I haven't yet read this book's predecessor Stolen Charms, I definitely plan to pick up a copy of it this weekend. If it's even half as good as Winter Garden, it will be an enjoyable weekend indeed.

--Tina Engler

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