Cat & the Countess

Nick of Time

A Spirited Seduction

Tiger by the Tail

A Thing of Beauty by Casey Claybourne
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-17695-9
My favorite books are those with unique, complex plots, in-depth characterization and a heart wrenching romance. I wouldnít use any of those attributes to describe Casey Claybourneís latest book; yet, when I closed the cover on A Thing of Beauty, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this light, frothy confection.

Belinda Croft is not an accepted member of the ton and she really couldnít care less. Itís science that excites her. She would much rather spend her time working in her stillroom developing medicinal cures, than wasting precious time at boring society events. But Belindaís stunning, if somewhat self-involved, cousin Sissy changes all that.

While dressing for her first society ball, Sissy notices a miniscule blemish on her face and, naturally, a crisis ensues. Belinda reacts quickly. Grabbing a bottle from her stillroom, she pats a bit of the concoction on Sissyís face while assuring her cousin that this beauty cream will be as effective at removing the tiny spot as all the other remarkable remedies that Belinda concocts.

Sure enough, it appears the blemish has miraculously disappeared and Sissy is off to the ball. Unfortunately, Sissy canít wait to tell anyone who will listen about her cousinís amazing new beauty cream. Soon the entire ton is courting Belinda for a chance to get their hands on her secret recipe and she is inundated with society invitations.

Marcus Barrrow is the tonís arbiter of good taste. All of society, including the Prince, look to Marcus for approval of any new fashion, art or music. When the Regent hears of the new beauty cream, he enlists Marcus to discover if the cream is really as miraculous as claimed.

Marcus is sure the so-called miracle cream is really an attempt by some vixen to swindle the ladies of the ton. So, he is stunned when he first sets eyes on Belinda. Itís impossible to believe that the shy, mousy girl in a hideously ugly gown could be responsible for creating the formula that has the entire ton in a stir.

But when Marcus quickly discovers the beauty that lies beneath. Belinda is attracted, as well. Until Sissy points out that Marcus is equally as interested in the formula. Could Marcusí attentions to a dowdy spinster be hiding his true motive?

A Thing of Beauty certainly passed my canít put it down test. Itís fast paced and easily read in one sitting. I took few notes, which usually indicates I was too involved in the book to stop and write. But when I did jot a note, the word "light " shows up repeatedly. This is the perfect book for anyone looking for a humorous Regency romp and the humor is subtle, not the laugh out loud type.

Belinda makes a strong, appealing heroine. Although she has no experience dealing with the unforgiving members of the ton, she holds her own and is never cowed. Her inability to recognize her own inner beauty and why it would prove so appealing to Marcus is realistically portrayed.

It took me a little longer to warm up to Marcus, but he eventually redeemed himself. Especially in the climatic final scene. He proved himself to be the most perfect of heroes.

The secondary characters were especially well developed. Cousin Sissy started out as the stereotypical snotty cousin, but grew into a likable character with backbone. Belindaís father was unique, a man afflicted with agoraphobia so severely, that he was unable to exit his front door.

A Thing of Beauty is a humorous story with a serious moral: that true beauty lies within. I recommend it to anyone looking to get away from it all with a charming, light read.

--Karen Lynch

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