Duchess in Love

Enchanting Pleasures

Fool For Love

Potent Pleasures

Your Wicked Ways

Much Ado About You
by Eloisa James
(Avon, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-073206-7
Raphael Jourdain, Duke of Holbrook, has been named guardian of Lord Brydoneís four daughters. He was only slightly acquainted with Brydone and never met the daughters, but being a duke, heís named as guardian in a number of wills. When they arrive, he discovers to his surprise these arenít four little girls; only one, Josephine (Josie), is still in the schoolroom. The older sisters, Teresa Essex (Tess), Imogen, and Annabel, are in their 20's. Raised in Scotland, the sisters have led fairly isolated lives. Their father had little thought, time, or money to spare for anything other than his beloved horses and racing. Each of his daughters has a dowry of a valuable racehorse.

Arranging advantageous marriages for the sisters is a high priority. The dukeís friends including the Earl of Mayne and Lucius Felton are possible suitors. The earl is interested in Tess once he learns exactly which horse is her dowry. A neighbor, Lady Clarice Maitland, is asked to stay with the sisters for proprietyís sake. Her son, Draven Maitland, is engaged to the paragon, Gillian Pythian-Adams. Imogen, however, who met him in Scotland, is hopelessly in love with him and determined that they should marry.

The peerless Miss Pythian-Adams is equally determined to get Draven to break their engagement. In the pursuit of this goal, she has tried to make herself as boring and unexciting as possible. All this has done is raise the admiration of Lady Clarice.

Meanwhile, Tess is finding herself actively courted by the Earl of Mayne even as she finds herself in Mr. Feltonís company more and more.

Eloisa James has recently been revealed as the alter ego of Mary Bly, a Shakespeare scholar. Presumably, the title Much Ado About You is a consequence of her day job. A more accurate title might be First Impressions, which was the original title of Jane Austenís Pride and Prejudice. A number of first impressions in this story turn out to be quite the opposite of what weíve seen before.

Readers who are familiar with Regency-era romance will recognize many of the elements of this plot: surprised guardian expecting little children, arranged engagement obstructing true love, orphaned heroine, hero estranged from his family. What makes the light-hearted Much Ado About You so entertaining is how the author gives them an unexpected twist. Itís obvious early in the story that Tess is to be the heroine, but the hero takes more time.

There are several subplots as well as a larger number of main characters than usual. It took me a while to get everyone sorted out, but after the first few chapters the story flowed smoothly and I was enjoying myself greatly. The authorís use of dialogue is particularly effective. The reader discovers each character through what they say as well as what they do.

This is the first in a series of books featuring the Essex sisters; the heroine in the next is Annabelle. I will be looking for it. But the story I really want to read is the one with Gillian Pythian-Adams. Much Ado sparkles whenever sheís in a scene, and I hope this isnít the last weíll see of her.

--Lesley Dunlap

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