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Siege of Hearts by June Calvin
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19542-6
****
What a simply delightful Regency romance June Calvin has written! No suspense, no ghosts, no villains, nothing but the sweet love story of a seemingly unlikely pair who are just right for each other.

John Stanwell, Viscount Maitland is one of the tonís prime catches. Handsome, rich and heir to an earl, he is also a war hero. Jack has had his fill of the society misses who have set their caps for him. He thinks of retreating to his Scottish estate, but his friend Tom Garfield convinces him to join a shooting party at the Garfieldís Yorkshire estate instead.

The other prospective guests are not pleased; they are hoping to woo Tomís beauteous sister Penelope while visiting Yorkshire. For his part, Jack accepts the invitation only because he believes that the women will be on their way to Brighton for the summer. When Jack arrives and discovers that Penelope is still in residence, he would have liked to turn tail and run. Unfortunately, a riding mishap makes this impossible.

The other Garfield daughter, Amanda, greets Jack on his arrival. Amanda and Penelope are fraternal twins and could not be more different. While the latter is blonde and buxom and fashionably gorgeous, the former is slight and brown-haired and is generally considered to be plain. Since her mother insists that Amanda dress just like Penelope and since the styles and colors that flatter the one look simply dreadful on the other, it is no wonder that Amanda did not ďtakeĒ during the season and chose to return to Yorkshire rather than be the beneficiary of her sisterís popularity.

Never having seen Penelope, Jack is surprised that no one can see how attractive Amanda is, or would be, should she not be required to dress like her very different sister.

Having agreed to stay, Jack becomes almost by default one of Penelopeís court. He considers wooing her, especially since her most prominent suitor is an old rival. But the time he spends with Amanda is so restful and refreshing. However, he is unable to persuade her that she has her own special kind of beauty.

For her part, Amanda finds herself falling in love with the handsome viscount. Yet she cannot imagine that anyone could find her attractive or lovable with her sister in the picture.

When fate (and the machinations of Jackís rival) force the two into a compromising situation, Jack does the honorable thing and offers for Amanda. But she will not marry a man she sees as her sisterís suitor just to satisfy propriety. At first furious that his hand is forced, (Jack is avoiding marriage because his autocratic father is trying to force his hand) Jack comes quickly to see that wedding Amanda might be just the thing.

One of the most effective elements in Calvinís character development is her refusal to create stereotypical characters. Penelope is not the typical spoiled beauty; she loves and values her sister. The Garfields are not playing favorites in their treatment of Amanda. They simply donít see her very different beauty. Yet, despite the fact that the family loves and values Amanda, their treatment of her has undermined her own confidence so much that she cannot believe that Jack can possibly be attracted to her.

Amandaís very real and understandable insecurities thus drive the story and the misunderstandings that threaten the happy ending arise naturally out of her character. Nor does the author draw them out unreasonably.

Siege of Hearts contains more than a few humorous moments, but it also provides a keen look at the way oneís experiences shape oneís self-perceptions. Jack clearly sees what everyone else had overlooked - the real and lovely Amanda. This is a most enjoyable Regency romance.

--Jean Mason


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