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REVIEW: Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas

Dear Ms. Thomas:

Private ArrangementsI know your debut book, Private Arrangements, has already been reviewed well here and elsewhere, so I don’t know if I can add anything new to the chorus, but this book made such a positive impression on me, especially in your crafting of the heroine, Gigi, that I wanted to review it simply to articulate my appreciation for such supple and nuanced characterizations.

Philippa Gilberte Rowland is a young woman with no particular confidence in her womanly charms but a strong and practical faith in the appeal of her considerable fortune. Saved in a most bizarre fashion from marriage to a dissolute duke, Gigi becomes quickly captivated by the duke’s young cousin, Camden Saybrook, who may be at least one death away from the dukedom but who is intelligent, handsome, and as immediately taken with Gigi as she is with him. Between the strong mutual attraction, however, lies a promise Camden has made to another woman, an incredibly shy beauty who continued to waffle on a final decision to marry Camden, despite his honorable intentions to wait her out. Gigi is not so patient, however, and despite Camden’s refusal of her proposal, she ultimately schemes to bring Camden’s attraction more directly into alignment with her intent to marry. It is a ruse Camden discovers before the wedding, and his anger morphs into a plan to humiliate Gigi without sacrificing his access to her considerable fortune. Thus, after one night of wedded life, Gigi and Camden are separated for a decade, still married but fully estranged. When Camden arrives at Gigi’s doorstep demanding an heir in exchange for the divorce she is now seeking, all the unsettled emotion between them flares, bringing the civility of ten years’ separation to a quick, blessed end.

Here’s how impressed I was with Private Arrangements: for most of the book I forgot I was reading a Romance. That statement is not to be construed as an insult to the genre; obviously I choose Romance because of its unique generic characteristics. But many of my favorite books in the genre are those that categorically identify as genre but also transcend it in particular ways. Private Arrangements is such a book for me, crafted very definitely within the overall pattern of Romance but in such a way that it feels as if the story and the characters could stand independent of genre classification. In other words, it feels to me, as a reader, that the characters demanded this particular story rather than the other way around.

For me it all starts with Gigi. Here is no false intellect, no half-hearted schemer. Gigi does not recognize her own beauty or innate sexuality, but she is very confident in her industriousness and understanding of money. Composed of an incredibly strong will, she is a complicated young woman who allows her mother’s ambition to become hers, but largely, one suspects, because she shares her mother’s practical world view and determined nature. When Gigi meets Camden’s intended, for example, she is immediately repelled by the young woman’s indecisive nature and overall uncertainty. That disgust convinces her conscience in the plan she eventually effects to win Camden’s hand, although it does not fully eclipse Gigi’s sincere feelings for Camden and a hidden desire for his true affection. Gigi understands that – as a wealthy woman — she is a certain type of prey, and responds by trying to be a smarter predator, ruthless but not unfeeling. It would be nice to have personal happiness, but she tries to convince herself that it doesn’t have to be packaged in romantic love. Until Camden awakens Gigi’s romantic side, that is.

Camden is a handsome and engaging young man who has single-handedly kept his family from financial ruin, and, like Gigi, understands the importance of wealth and the value of hard work. As a man who will someday assume the dukedom, though, he has far more social options than Gigi. The true power of Camden’s position becomes apparent after he discovers Gigi’s deception and cultivates a plan he believes is grounded in honor rather than the same impetuous immaturity that drove Gigi to her desperate machinations. Despite his strong feelings toward Gigi, many of which reside beneath the flies of his trousers, Camden convinces himself that Gigi deserves whatever he chooses to bestow on her. That Camden cannot see a blow to his pride for what it is, and cannot, subsequently, embrace the maturity he sees Gigi lacking, initially puts the course of their relationship in his hands (which makes sense in that her sin is in trying to steer it all by herself). That we can see these things is a large part of what makes Private Arrangements so compelling. Here we have two very imperfect, very independent characters who are more alike than different, and who are both victims of youthful immaturity and passion-driven mistakes.

The early chapters of the novel proceed as a dual unfolding of Gigi and Camden’s relationship, past and present. The strategy works well, helping build the emotional tension in the couple’s current estrangement by slowly revealing the events leading up to it, including the incredibly strong connection between Gigi and Camden at the beginning of their relationship. I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to be on Camden’s side of the argument, but very early on my sympathies are engaged with Gigi, first because I want her to subvert her mother’s ruthless ambition for that coronet of strawberry leaves (marriage to a duke) and then because I believe that Camden’s revenge is so much immature cruelty. Yes, Gigi does something terrible, but no more terrible than what Camden does to her, and frankly, I thought his actions even more selfish (I mean, at least Gigi was driven by love, however twisted her plan). Anyway, the side-by-side storytelling invests me quickly in the prospect of Camden and Gigi’s reconciliation, despite his apparent disgust for her and her insistence that she really wants to marry the steadfast young man who currently seeks her hand.

The most complicated thing about Private Arrangements is the characters themselves, and in the grand tradition of Judith Ivory’s Black Silk, the trick is in making two somewhat selfish, conflicted, and difficult individuals fit in a successful romantic engagement. Gigi may have been humbled by Camden’s long-ago rejection of her, but she is still independent and intensely focused on her business pursuits. Camden claims disgust with Gigi, but he is clearly resentful of his own overwhelming feelings for her, something I suspect drove him powerfully in his original punishment. That he is so obviously still besotted makes me root for him over the perfectly lovely but even-tempered Freddie, but his persistent blindness to his own need for control (disguised as honor) makes me want to smack him upside the head. A man who would sit contentedly waiting for a beautiful but penniless girl to finally decide she wanted to marry him – when she could barely stand the most casual of human interactions, let alone intimate contact – is a man who strikes me as unsettled by some of the implications of his own passionate nature. I both love and hate this about Camden, because while it reveals the depth of that passion (and Gigi needs someone who can match her in this respect), it also demonstrates the stamina of his prideful idiocy (in sacrificing ten years of marriage all the while capitalizing on loans he received based on his marriage to Gigi).

As Gigi and Camden renew their attachment, the novel does slip into somewhat familiar Romance terrain, especially with Gigi’s martyred attempt at honor in choosing to go through with her engagement to Freddie despite Camden’s articulated desire to start their relationship over. It is the one move in the novel that feels artificial and somewhat inconsistent with the idea of honor Gigi claims for herself. Despite that stumble, though, the novel proceeds on the strength of these two flawed characters, the lack of technology facilitating quick remedies (this relationship could only proceed the way it did because there were no cell phones, rapid transit, and other innovations facilitating instant communication and connection), and a unique narrative voice.

Whether it’s the “defoliated willows,” that look “like naked old spinsters, all thin and droopy,” or “the somber melancholy of a high-born woman who could only afford to have a parlor maid come in every other day, who moved in the dark after sunset to save on candle wax,” there is a lean elegance to the prose. Gigi’s passion for Camden is expressed as much in the way she long ago designed her home to reflect his tastes as it is in the repeated attempts she makes to win his affection back after he abandons her. Camden’s sensitivity is expressed in the youthful gift he makes to Gigi of a Corgi puppy named Croseus (knowing how much she wants one) and in his effort (he’s a mechanical engineer) to make his sister a ball gown during the lean family times before he meets Gigi. There is an incredible amount of detail furnished in the prose – the way the rooms and the clothing looks, the smells and sights of the various settings — and yet it is not overly ornate or excessive, and the nuances of the characters are communicated indirectly. The sensuality, while not expressed with clinical exactitude, is potent and abiding.

Despite the faltering of the later part of the book, the unexpected romance between Gigi’s hard-edged mother and the reclusive Duke down the road buoys this section of the novel, largely because Victoria Rowland is just as eccentric as her daughter, and the reluctant Duke just as enigmatically aloof as Camden, providing a lovely mirror for that other very complex pairing. The relationship humanizes Victoria in ways that finalize her status as more than a genre-element (the scheming mamma against whom the romantic daughter must rebel, blah, blah, blah) and provides a much-needed respite from the inanity plaguing Gigi and Camden’s relationship at that point in the book. Plus it’s great fun to watch Victoria struggle to maintain her famous composure (the scene with the kitten was wonderfully rendered and skillfully revisited later). With Gigi and Camden almost fully revealed by this point in the book, the parallel unveiling of Victoria as so much more than the scheming mother reminds us that every character has the potential to be an interesting person in the hands of someone who cares and is interested in crafting them as such.

Private Arrangements is not a perfect novel. I felt at times that the passion between Gigi and Camden was more prominent than their emotional connection, especially during their reconciliation. I was a bit surprised at Camden’s insistent disgust with Gigi given what we eventually find out about his actions in Copenhagen several years earlier (although I can chalk it up to his incredible sense of pride). And of course there is the later relationship conflict, which arrives as a dull thud in an otherwise delicate production. But the book has so many moments that struck a perfect pitch for me that the overall effect is really sublime, and the wonderfully romantic ending reminded me fondly of one of the final scenes in Black Silk, making me aware of how often I ignore or forget the endings of Romance novels. In this book, though, the ending was vivid and reflective of the very best in these two colorful characters. Overall, I feel that the strengths of Private Arrangements are strengths of talent and craftsmanship and will therefore persist across books. The particular strengths of this one make it difficult for me to grade it less than an A-.

~ Janet

This book can be purchased in mass market or ebook format.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

30 Comments

  1. Estelle
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:07:04

    Oh, darn, I had almost decided to read this book despite the long separation and adultery committed by both parties but it’s the second review of PA I’ve read that throws the hero in a very bad light.

    I like it when the characters aren’t perfect but his actions seems so much worse than Gigi’s that I fear this is going to be a very unbalanced book when it comes to the ‘distribution’ of power in the relationship. Ie, I fear that it’s the heroine who gets humbled while the hero gets off scot-free. I’ve seen it happen very often in romance.

    Is that the case? Or do Camden redeem himself in some way? I don’t mind spoilers at all.

  2. Janet
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:23:11

    Estelle, I’m sorry if I implied that Camden isn’t sufficiently humbled himself. He is, I think. It’s just that it takes him longer to learn his lessons, IMO. But I was never in doubt that he deeply loved Gigi and was ultimately her “match” — and you’ll see that he’s very capable of a grand romantic gesture as well as many small acts of kindness for his family, to whom he’s devoted. It’s just that when it comes to Gigi he has a stubborn attachment to his pride, which he’s convinced himself is really honor, and he has to unwind himself and Gigi from the mess he’s helped create, which challenges his ability to strategize effectively.

  3. Sharp Words » Blog Archive » Yeah, what she said! (Private Arrangements)
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:35:52

    […] blah blah. But Jayne over at Dear Author, she writes a hell of a review, and it so happens that her review of Private Arrangements is exactly what I would have said if I weren’t such a […]

  4. bettie
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:40:18

    Eek! You make one typo in a blog post, and Trackback snaps it up! Sorry to misattribute your lovely review, Janet. I’ve read this book, loved it, and this review encapsulates everything I loved about it.

  5. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:07:00

    LOL, bettie, don’t worry about it (and it was kind of a change of pace, since most often my posts get tagged as Jane’s). I’m glad you enjoyed the book and the review, though. Now I’m really looking forward to reading Delicious!

  6. Estelle
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 14:21:08

    Thanks Janet! Looks like Camden does some growing up in the book then. I’ll wait for more buzz from readers before deciding whether to buy the book or not though because I have trouble rooting for characters who take a long time to ‘see the light’. It frustrates me and I have so little time I can spend reading these days that it tends to make me less forgiving and more impatient. I might not do justice to the book by reading it right now. I’m still afraid of getting burned with this one so I’m on the fence. I’ll just wait and see :o)

  7. HelenB
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 14:53:06

    In reply to Estelle, this is a book in which both main characters grow up and accept past mistakes, it might take time but they have are moving from deeply entenched positions. Camden is the one to “break first” in declaring his feelings, Gigi has tied herself into knots at this point ans so takes a little longer to be honest to herself let alone anyone else. I also never felt one was much stronger/powerful than the other, the time setting helps here. By 1893 one could talk about divorce realistically unlike Regency times when a woman really was trapped by marriage.

  8. Janine
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 15:06:08

    What a great review! I agree with almost everything you said in it, especially in your noting of the wonderful elegance of the prose and the rich and nuanced portrayal of the characters.

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    I also agree with what you said about Camden’s words and actions post-Copenhagen, and would have loved a little more insight into the progression there.

    But where I disagree is in regards to the later relationship conflict which revolves around Gigi’s reluctance to break Freddie’s heart. I saw the motivations for her actions there as having two levels, just as you did with regards to Camden’s sense of honor being just as much about control and pride. In the case of Gigi, I felt that her sympathy and compassion for Freddie were very real, but that underlying them was also a certain degree of compassion for herself in regards to the relationship with Camden. As strong as Gigi was, I still felt (and maybe this was because, like you, I was squarely on her side for much of the story) that a reconciliation with Camden would require a tremendous amount of courage, after what he’d put both of them through. I mean, no matter how right he was for her (and I agree that they belonged together) wouldn’t almost anyone in Gigi’s shoes, having been through all that she and Camden had gone through, be at least a little tempted by Freddie’s sweetness and lack of judgement? I know I would.

    So the way I read that later section was that Gigi, while outwardly focused on Freddie and his feelings (what she saw as “honor”), was inwardly also a little afraid to trust Camden again, and needed that time of parting from him at the end to have the space in which to decide what she really wanted and then to gather her courage and go after it full throttle.

    In fact, if Gigi had been eager to reunite with Camden any earlier, I think I would have been disappointed. That she took her time at the end showed me that she had a healthy respect for the depths of emotions that she and Camden engendered in each other, and a good sense of self-preservation. I was glad, too, that Camden got to suffer a little there and understand what he had put Gigi through ten years before. So for me, this section of the book was actually one of my favorites.

    Disclaimer: Yeah, the author is a good friend of mine and a some time critique partner as well, but we actually never discussed Gigi’s motivation at the end there (I did not critique PA), so I am only speaking of how I read that later section in my own personal reading.

    Edited to add: Would love to hear what you think about this theory, Robin/Janet.

  9. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 15:56:23

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    So the way I read that later section was that Gigi, while outwardly focused on Freddie and his feelings (what she saw as “honor”), was inwardly also a little afraid to trust Camden again, and needed that time of parting from him at the end to have the space in which to decide what she really wanted and then to gather her courage and go after it full throttle.

    I can definitely see Gigi as hesitant to believe Camden, but I don’t see that insecurity as necessarily tied to the Freddie situation. In other words, I think I would have been more convinced had Gigi recognized her feelings as fear and confronted them — as she did so many other things — and broken off with Freddie straight away, knowing that even if she couldn’t trust Camden that her feelings for Freddie were compromised by what she felt for Camden and what she had been doing with him during her engagement.

    I have to say, though, that I did really appreciate the fact that there wasn’t an easy solution for Freddie vis a vis the other woman who cared about him (and Freddie’s belief that she was too ambitious for his career, an insight I really loved that he made). But still I think the way it was set up in the book, the way it was overtly set up, that is, felt very Romance novel-y to me, and inconsistent with the Gigi I had come to know by that point in the novel. Actually, had Gigi really struggled overtly with a real fear of Camden’s newly articulated commitment to her, I think that would have provided a great build up to the ending and the courage she shows when she goes to NY.

  10. Janine
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 16:17:33

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    I see what you are saying, but I think that sometimes people are the least self-aware where their strongest feelings are engaged. And while I think that characters’ moments of self-awareness can make for very powerful reading, I also think that sometimes characters can be so self-aware that they lack the blind spots that real people have and that make us recognizably human.

    In any case, I do see that insecurity as being tied to the Freddie situation, which to me was all about fear — seeking the relative safety of Freddie to begin with because it was less frigtening than what she’d had with Camden, and later the fear of hurting Freddie as she’d been hurt by Camden, then the fear of being hurt by Camden again, and the fear of recommiting herself, when her early marriage had such disastrous results. It is possible that I am projecting my own feelings into it, but that is part of the reading experience for all readers, isn’t it?

    I couldn’t agree more about the way Freddie’s situation is resolved! I loved that too. It was very mature, I thought.

  11. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 20:05:03

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    In any case, I do see that insecurity as being tied to the Freddie situation, which to me was all about fear -‘ seeking the relative safety of Freddie to begin with because it was less frigtening than what she'd had with Camden, and later the fear of hurting Freddie as she'd been hurt by Camden, then the fear of being hurt by Camden again, and the fear of recommiting herself, when her early marriage had such disastrous results. It

    None of this seems out of line to me, Janine. It’s just that as written I wasn’t cued to read it this way, even if I might come away with that conclusion, if that makes sense. Surely there’s some of the reader projection going on for both of us, but in the way that I can pick out and articulate clues for why I felt Camden was afraid of his own passion, I can’t do the same for your theory of why Gigi made the decision she did. I could likely make a circumstantial case, but if that’s the direction Thomas was going with that part of the book, I think there would have been many ways to render that clearly without banging readers over the head with it. In other words, to me there’s a difference between an author indirectly communicating the characters’ motivations and readers having to ferret them out. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I’m not sure I can articulate what I mean, in part because I think the difference is subtle and perhaps part and parcel of the individual relationships between one book and many different readers.

  12. Janine
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 20:12:46

    I think the difference is subtle and perhaps part and parcel of the individual relationships between one book and many different readers.

    Yes, that’s true, and an interesting reversal in this case because while I found your theory that Camden was afraid of his own passion interesting and your arguments persuasive, I did not view him in that light myself when I read the book. Of the two main characters, I felt more connected and in tune with Gigi throughout the book, which may be why, though I would have liked more insight into Camden (the kind of insight you have provided in the body of your review and in your comments here), I did not feel the need for such insight into Gigi’s behavior and did not think her feeling that she should stay with Freddie was out of character for her.

    Edited to add: To me it seemed that she was mainly with Freddie to begin with and for the entire period of that relationship because he was the “safe choice.”

  13. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 21:33:45

    Of the two main characters, I felt more connected and in tune with Gigi throughout the book, which may be why, though I would have liked more insight into Camden

    Well I admit that I sought out a greater understanding of Camden, because I thought what he did to Gigi was so stupid — at least on a superficial level — and I wanted to understand how it could have created a ten year separation like theirs. My frustration with the situation actually jeopardized my love of the book for a while, because I kept thinking ‘there has to be more to this than meets the eye, considering the consequences.’ At first I had this whole internal dialogue about the difference between my being irritated over something that seemed so stupid and the sometimes stupid things people do, and then as I thought more about it, I started looking more closely at Camden’s character, especially at his attachment to Miss S (I can’t spell her name) and at the way he continually fights his desire for Gigi, and voila, a theory was born!

  14. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 21:42:54

    Edited to add: To me it seemed that she was mainly with Freddie to begin with and for the entire period of that relationship because he was the “safe choice.”

    I think that’s true in the sense that he was so utterly in love with her, but doesn’t she say somewhere that Freddie accepted her without question when her name was linked with so much scandal? I guess that makes him the safe choice, but I wonder also if her willingness to be with him marked her own healing from the feelings of guilt and shame she had after Camden left. Because I can’t see someone who couldn’t forgive herself embracing someone who accepted her so unconditionally.

    What I really liked about Freddie was that when we get to know him a bit better it’s obvious that he really does have a lot of self-awareness and some real depth. He’s a painter of some talent, he has enough sensitivity to feel urgent about marrying Gigi at the point where we understand her feelings are really engaged elsewhere (i.e. he seems cued to the subtext there even if he doesn’t put everything together — although I wouldn’t be surprised if he understood what was going on better than he let on), and his kindness seems a genuine characteristic and not a function of weakness (in fact, doesn’t Camden or someone note this about him?). I felt sorry for him when he noted that Gigi was one of the first people to accept him for who he was, but I also got the sense that he had actually grown under her regard and not that he was simply dependent on her.

  15. Janine
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 22:14:45

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    I think that's true in the sense that he was so utterly in love with her, but doesn't she say somewhere that Freddie accepted her without question when her name was linked with so much scandal? I guess that makes him the safe choice, but I wonder also if her willingness to be with him marked her own healing from the feelings of guilt and shame she had after Camden left. Because I can't see someone who couldn't forgive herself embracing someone who accepted her so unconditionally.

    I think she did forgive herself but don’t you also think that, beyond all that, Freddie was, in (to borrow your words) his willingness to accept her without question and unconditionally, the antithesis of Camden, at least in that regard? And so in my eyes, the choice of Freddie as a lover was also a deliberate, if perhaps not fully conscious, rejection of Camden and of his judgement of her. Which is why I also saw the reluctance to part from Freddie as an indication that in some part of her, Gigi didn’t completely trust Camden’s forgiveness and new maturity, and wasn’t completely ready to let her statement of her rejection of the younger Camden’s judgement of her (what a mouthful that is) go.

  16. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 23:10:08

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    Which is why I also saw the reluctance to part from Freddie as an indication that in some part of her, Gigi didn't completely trust Camden's forgiveness and new maturity, and wasn't completely ready to let her statement of her rejection of the younger Camden's judgement of her (what a mouthful that is) go.

    Possibly. But I think it’s scenes like these two following that cued me in another direction — at least at the surface of the narrative — and made me less convinced than you that the narrative was leading me to see Gigi primarily in the way you did:

    “I wish the same. That I'd caught you that day, somehow.” He sighed, a heavy sound of regret. He turned toward her, and turned her toward him, his hand clasped firmly on her upper arm. “But it's still not too late.”
    For a long moment she didn't understand him. Then a thunderbolt crashed atop her, leaving her blind and staggered. There'd been a time in her life when she'd have walked barefoot over a mile of broken glass for a reconciliation with him. When she'd have expired from joy upon hearing those exact same words.
    That time was years and years ago, long past. Her imbecilic heart, however, still leapt and burst and rolled around in clumsy cartwheels of jubilation.
    Right into a wall.
    She was promised to Freddie. Freddie who trusted her unconditionally. Who adored her far more than she deserved. She'd reaffirmed her desire and determination to marry him every time she'd met him, the last time only two days before.
    How could she possibly slap Freddie with such a gross betrayal?
    . . .
    She covered her eyes, but her head was still babel and bedlam, feral thoughts cannibalizing each other, wild emotions in a pandemonium of roundhouse and fisticuff. Then suddenly a siren song arose above the din, sweet and irresistible, and she could hear nothing else.
    A new beginning. A new beginning. A new beginning. A new spring after the dead of winter. A phoenix arising from its own ashes. The magical second chance that had always eluded her futile quests now presented to her on a platter of gold, on a bed of rose petals.
    She had but to reach out and-‘
    It was this very same insatiable craving for him that had overcome her a decade ago, this very same impulse to damn everything and everyone else. She'd surrendered her principles and acted out of expediency and untrammeled self-interest. And look what had happened. At the end of the day, she'd had neither self-respect nor happiness.
    But the siren song descanted more beautifully still. Remember how you giggled and prated together about everything and nothing? Remember the plans you'd made, to hike the Alps and sail the Riviera? Remember the hammock you were going to crowd in warmer weathers, the two of you, side by side, with Croesus stretched atop the both of you?
    No, those were mirages, memories and wishes distorted through rose-tinged lenses. Her future lay with Freddie, Freddie who did not deserve to be ignominiously cast aside. Who deserved the best she had to give, not the worst. He had entrusted his entire happiness to her. She could not live with herself were she to trifle with that trust.
    What about-‘
    No. If she must endure the siren song, like Odysseus, thrashing and flailing in temptation, then she would. But she would not abandon Freddie. Nor her own decency. Not this time. Not ever again.

    And later this:

    Two days after their return to London, Camden had left to visit his grandfather in Bavaria. But the damage was done. He'd been gone more than a month now, and not one of the nearly eight hundred hours had gone by without her revisiting their last night together and catching her breath anew at his intrepid offer. Everything reminded her of him. The details of her own townhouse, which she'd barely noticed anymore, had suddenly become a narrative of all her once-fervid hopes: the piano, the paintings, the Cyclades marble she'd selected for the floor of the vestibule, because it matched the color of his eyes exactly.
    Had she made the right choice?
    She knew what it was like to have made an unethical choice. She knew the fear and the corrosive anxiety that bled into and adulterated every joy, every delight. In this instance, she was fairly sure she hadn't come down on the wrong side of the moral divide.
    But where was the sense of inner strength conferred by the right choice? Where was the peaceful slumber and the clear sense of purpose? Why, if she'd made the right decision, did it feel oppressive, and on some days palpably suffocating?

    I’m not saying that I think your interpretation is wrong, Janine, just that the narrative didn’t bring me to the same place it did you, thus my disappointed reaction to that section of the book.

  17. Janine
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 23:38:47

    Yeah, I see what you are saying and I read those same passages (though it’s been longer for me). I still think though, that Gigi is operating on two levels here. Consciously, she’s afraid to hurt Freddie, but unconsciously, I think she is afraid to get hurt again herself. This passage that you quoted here is actually one that makes me all the more certain of that:

    It was this very same insatiable craving for him that had overcome her a decade ago, this very same impulse to damn everything and everyone else. She'd surrendered her principles and acted out of expediency and untrammeled self-interest. And look what had happened. At the end of the day, she'd had neither self-respect nor happiness.

    How I read her thought process here is — I let myself love the guy, and I gave up my self-control and self-respect. I let myself believe in what we could have (the siren song), and I ended up devastated. Yeah, I too feel that consciously it’s about fear of hurting Freddie for Gigi, but unconsciously, I feel that the author has left plenty of clues that there is more than just that going on for Gigi here.

  18. Janine
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 23:42:11

    And on further thought, I think that Freddie may be a kind of stand in for her self. That the thought of dumping him seems so painfully wrong because of the excruciating way she was dumped by Camden.

  19. Robin
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 11:33:02

    How I read her thought process here is -‘ I let myself love the guy, and I gave up my self-control and self-respect. I let myself believe in what we could have (the siren song), and I ended up devastated.

    I think she’s more afraid of herself there, though, because of the extremes she went to the first time she fell for him (i.e. she lost her self-respect because of her deception, not because of Cameron’s rejection). In fact, there’s another passage in that same section where she’s processing that understanding of what she did to him at the deepest level; in fact, I think that paragraph precedes the section I quoted where she starts pulling back. Again, I’m not saying I can’t imagine her as afraid of Camden, just that the narrative pulled me quite overtly in another direction (in part I think this may also be reflective of the greater insight we have into Gigi because we get so much of her POV throughout the book).

    And on further thought, I think that Freddie may be a kind of stand in for her self. That the thought of dumping him seems so painfully wrong because of the excruciating way she was dumped by Camden.

    I think she might say something to that effect to herself later on, actually.

  20. Janine
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 14:11:32

    I agree she is afraid of herself too, I just see it as all jumbled together, and I don’t know if she is a character who would overtly admit to a fear of reuniting with the man she loves, since so much of her personality is about going after what she wants. It sounds to me like we are only disagreeing about a matter of degrees. In any case this portion of the story worked for me very well, maybe also because I wanted to see Camden cool his heels for a bit before getting his happy ending.

  21. Kathleen MacIver
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 09:03:20

    I’ll chime in here, since I received one of the free copies.

    I liked the book… and didn’t like it. The prose was beautiful, definitely. The characters were very real, leaping off the page. Everything was painted so clearly in your mind’s eye. I loved that.

    I, personally, found BOTH characters very sympathetic. I thought Sherry did an excellent job building Camden’s character in such a way that I found his reaction totally believable AND sympathetic. I love his understanding and kindness on so many levels. I loved how he understood Freddie’s attraction, and how he treated Freddie well. Yet, despite his many, many good qualities, Sherry told the story in such a way that it is totally understandable how such a man acted like he did. First we are shown his extreme sense of honor in such a way that we can totally understand how he came to have it. I believe that those whose own sense of honor is stronger are therefore hurt much more when someone they trusted betrays them. Then, to bury that pain in anger was most realistic, for me.

    I also loved HOW Camden realized, in the end, that he’s no better than Gigi was. I love that he had to make a choice that wasn’t too much different than the one that Gigi had made her mistake in, and that he discovered that his honor forced him to make the more difficult choice now. I loved that this was realistically difficult for him to make, and that its difficultly was what finally enabled him to understand how Gigi had made her mistake.

    With GiGi… I loved her character and how realistic it was. She wasn’t a mysteriously emancipated female stuck in the wrong time, like many historicals portray. Her character seems a perfectly understandable result of her lot in life.

    But I do wish there had been more non-sexual interaction between these two. I wish more of the chapters included scenes that were an integral part of their reconciliation. The whole scene where GiGi is Mrs. Croesis really had very little to do with the plot line, other than the fact that it showed her compassionate side and allowed Camden to see it. I would have liked to either see her sense of compassion develop through the story, or I would have liked to see it there from the beginning. Without either of those, that scene seemed just stuck in there to make that point. (Unless, maybe I missed something?)

    The scenes with Gigi’s mother and the duke: I liked them, and I generally do love a secondary romance in a book… but I was disappointed that the two romances separated early on, and then had nothing to do with each other. I would have loved it more if somehow their romance had been interwoven with Camden and Gigi’s reconciliation. Camden and Gigi might have been able to learn some things from Victoria and Perrin’s experiences and stories.

    I just went back through the book, and out of 351 pages, only 67 of them (if I counted correctly) take place during the reconciliation period (after Camden’s re-entry into her life and before they finally get together), AND show both Camden and Gigi even in the scene together. Those 67 pages are what I read romances for… to see how the characters interact and fall in love (or reconcile, in this case). I would have liked the story better if at least 200-250 pages portrayed Camden and Gigi in the same scene and working out their reconciliation, even if arguments were decent portion of the first 100 or so of them. I’m not saying that those pages should be nothing but talking… I’d just like them to be in the scene together, at least. I enjoyed the two or three sections where they talk about Camden’s ships, but I wish those conversations had inched into civilized communication about their relationship.

    I guess I’m saying I wish the balance between scenes in the past, scenes with Victoria and Perrin, and scenes in the present had been weighted different. I generally don’t enjoy reading how things fell apart. I’d much rather read that they did fall apart (as in past tense) and then enjoy the coming back together, ie: those 67 pages. My preference is that such stories focus on the reconciliation. After all, one day’s mistake can take months or years to reconcile.

    But that, I suppose, is the story that this book tells. Could it have been told in a way that I would have loved more? I don’t know. I would have loved it if their reconciliation had relied on learning to communicate more, and sex less. (I did find some of the sex scenes a little unbelievable – physically impossible, one of them – but I suppose what’s realistic for one woman might not be for another.)

    In addition, the fact that they really didn’t learn to communicate made the HEA a little unbelievable, to me… much less believable than Victoria’s and Perrin’s. Victoria and Perrin learned to communicate and trust each other with painful histories… they learned to communicate. That is what I wish we could have watched Camden and GiGi learn. What guarantee do we have that Camden and Gigi won’t be totally thrown by the next struggle that life throws their way? They’ve learned to forgive each other for the sins that they committed against each other during that one month period of courtship and the day after their wedding… but they haven’t really learned very much that will help them make it through the next hurdle (for there always are more to come, in any marriage). Instead, they seemed to know that they belonged together because of their sexual attraction. We, as readers, see that they also match each other mentally, for example. But do they know that? After ten years apart, I think they would have needed to discover this all over again. I would have liked to see Camden become a part of Gigi’s enterprises, and Gigi became a part of his. But as it is, what is going to keep them together when that baby is born, and Gigi is so exhausted from months of sleepless nights that her libido deserts her? What is going to happen in another decade or so, when the world is torn by war? Will their marriage have a stronger foundation by then, hopefully?

  22. Kathleen MacIver
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 09:07:30

    (I forgot to check the notify box.)

  23. Robin
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 17:45:11

    In any case this portion of the story worked for me very well, maybe also because I wanted to see Camden cool his heels for a bit before getting his happy ending.

    I definitely agree with you on wanting Camden to be put off for a while,especially after so many attempts that Gigi had made to win him back.

    I believe that those whose own sense of honor is stronger are therefore hurt much more when someone they trusted betrays them. Then, to bury that pain in anger was most realistic, for me.

    An interesting insight, Kathleen, and I certainly understand Camden’s anger, even if I think his own impetuous stubbornness matched his sense of honor, driving him to do something really extreme (beyond the bounds of honor, IMO).

    I just went back through the book, and out of 351 pages, only 67 of them (if I counted correctly) take place during the reconciliation period (after Camden's re-entry into her life and before they finally get together), AND show both Camden and Gigi even in the scene together.

    I struggled with this, too, but I didn’t realize that the page count came out the way it did! I didn’t mind the long sections devoted to their early relationship, because that really built the tension for me. But I did want more of their post-estrangement relationship to develop outside the bedroom and outside of Camden’s perpetual lust for Gigi. Had Thomas not done such a good job with the relationship development early on in their courtship and in drawing Gigi as a heroine, my grade for the book would have been much lower, I think.

    In addition, the fact that they really didn't learn to communicate made the HEA a little unbelievable, to me… much less believable than Victoria's and Perrin's.

    I think Camden’s attempts in Copenhagen were supposed to set us up for the ending, but I agree with you that it felt a bit abrupt based on the separation previous to it. What I determined for myself was that in a sense they would be starting their relationship more than picking it up, because they had spent SO MUCH time apart relative to the time they knew each other that the ending was more like an initial proposal, if that makes any sense.

    Instead, they seemed to know that they belonged together because of their sexual attraction. We, as readers, see that they also match each other mentally, for example. But do they know that? After ten years apart, I think they would have needed to discover this all over again.

    Yes, I agree with all this, and as I said above, I really saw their HEA and a happily ever beginning, although I don’t think that is a complete or perfect answer to your quibbles, and I shared a number of them, especially the attraction outside the bedroom.

  24. Kathleen MacIver
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 18:21:50

    Thanks for your thoughts, Robin. You’re right… the HEA is also kind-of a happily-ever-beginning. :-)

    I still say that the writing was beautiful and well done, despite my struggles with the story itself. I’m still looking forward to Delicious. It looks like its plot line is bound to be different, and if this hero and heroine get to enjoy the conversations and getting-to-know each other the way Victoria and Perrin did, (I’m expecting a few good arguments, too), then I anticipate enjoying it.

  25. Elle
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 00:05:07

    Very nice review, Robin. I also really enjoyed this book, particularly the complex, rich characterizations of Gigi and Camden and the lovely prose.

    I think that Jen’s comment (made elsewhere) that many of the scenes in the book had a “cinematic quality” really is on the mark, and I also loved that about the story. Jen used the example of the scene on the boats in Copenhagen in which Gigi and Camden pass each other on the water and she runs down the deck of her boat gazing into his eyes, trying to keep him in view. But the book is full of such scenes–Camden watching a vibrant, laughing Gigi on the carousel in Copenhagen; Camden meeting Freddie at their club in front of a crowd of avid witnesses; Gigi’s dramatic entrance into Camden’s dining room near the end of the book ….

    I loved the way that Gigi and Camden were so *aware* of each other–of the way the other laughed (“You still laugh like a little girl getting tickled, all hiccupy and breathless.”), the way the other felt and smelled (“He slid a strand of her hair between his unsteady fingers. It was as cool as well water. He lifted it and pressed it to his lips, inhaling its sweet cleanness, as fragrant as the blade of a young leaf.”) They listen for each other’s footsteps outside their doors (I liked the two scenes in which Camden is in bed, waiting and listening to Gigi pause at the doorway to his room.) At one point Camden says to her: “You breathe and I’ll know it’s you.”

    The giddy happiness of their early courtship was very well done (“She glanced about them in the mischievous way she had, signaling to him that she was about to come forward and kiss him, the public nature of her front lawn be damned.”) While I agree that in the reconciliation portion of the book, their connection seemed to be focused on their sexual attraction/compatibility, I probably let that slide a bit more than I would have otherwise because of the development of their relationship earlier in the story. I bought into Camden’s attraction to Gigi’s vitality, intelligence and pragmatic spirit. Honestly, what man could resist a woman who refers to him as “an impoverished nobody“?

    SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

    S
    P
    O
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    R
    S

    As Gigi and Camden renew their attachment, the novel does slip into somewhat familiar Romance terrain, especially with Gigi's martyred attempt at honor in choosing to go through with her engagement to Freddie despite Camden's articulated desire to start their relationship over. It is the one move in the novel that feels artificial and somewhat inconsistent with the idea of honor Gigi claims for herself.

    I (rather paradoxically) agree with both you and Janine in your interpretation of this segment. I also felt that Gigi’s rejection of Camden’s offer of a new start and her decision to cling to her pledge to marry Freddie seemed like something that a “romance novel heroine” would do. It just seemed slightly off-key with the rest of the story, and that section and the part that immediately followed represented a bump in the pacing for me. That said, I can definitely buy into the theory that Gigi was afraid to trust Camden again after the way that he had hurt her in the past. And there was a certain lovely symmetry to the story, with initially Camden and then Gigi clinging stubbornly to the idea of marrying someone who was all wrong for them due to some mistaken notions of honor and duty. On one level, it was nice to see this concept brought full circle with Gigi being the one to hold firm and not give in to her heart’s desire and Camden beginning to understand the desperation that had driven Gigi to her unscrupulous actions before their marriage.

    I liked the way that Thomas had Gigi set aside Freddie, and Camden turn away Theodora thoughtfully, after a period of separation from each other (i.e. not in an immediate post-coital, sexual haze), and without the guarantee that they were heading for an HEA with each other. That signaled to me a maturity in their emotional development.

    I also approved of the touch of Freddie not being *too* conveniently paired off with Miss Carlisle at the end of the story. I actually liked his character a lot.

    The Duke of Perrin and Gigi’s mother were an interesting secondary couple, but I find that I am actively skipping over their sections as I re-read. Their resolution seemed a bit too pat for me, although I liked the scene with the two of them gambling using chocolates, and the one with the mother and the cat. In fact, the only section that I could have done without is the Lady Croesus passage. I found it hard to believe that Gigi had time to be Lady Bountiful as well as a ball-busting businesswoman and a party-all-night socialite.

  26. Lizzy
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 10:12:19

    Just finished.

    I was seriously divided on this book. While I felt it was better written than many other romances I’ve read, I felt it struggled in its overall plot. And although romance novels, as a genre, are full of deus ex machina-type happenings, this book seemed to have several that were glaring to me: Lady Croesus, for one. Obviously, this is just there so that Camden can follow here and so that Gigi can say: We all deserve a second chance. Because the prose was elegant, this kind of inelegant narrative device only served to jar me and bring me out of the story.

    I also found the structure tiresome, and wondered if anyone else did. While I don’t mind if authors dip frequently into the past to reveal the present, I wondered if that was because this author was simply having a hard time telling her story.

    At any rate, after I read the interview with the author and she said how she had written the book and then put it away and, later, re-examined and done re-writes on it, I felt that I could feel that influence.

    However, the strength of the writing was there. Too often, romance novels just recycle their prose and don’t challenge, and this was a lot of fresh stuff. On the basis of that, I would give the book high marks, even if I felt the plot and structure were unsatisfying. I will definitely be reading Delicious to see what Thomas will do next.

  27. Beth
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 11:14:25

    Thanks for the two reviews and wonderful threads on this book which I just finished last night. I agree with much of both the praise and critique, and your comments have helped me to reinterpret some motives and dialogue in helpful ways.

    I wonder that no one has remarked on how cruel Camden is to Gigi when he returns to London. His insults and their first sexual encounter threw me back forcefully to my teenaged years of reading Rosemary Rogers.

    SPOILERS—

    I was also glad that Gigi did not give in right away to Camden’s attempt at reconciliation, not because of her devotion to Freddie, but rather because Camden had not been civil enough to her for long enough (groveled enough, in your lingo). In fact, I wonder that anyone can think a good shag and a half hearted query could make any heroine forget a decade of incredibly childishly cruel behavior, which continued, I might add, unabated, until mere weeks before said attempt at reconciliation.

  28. Keilexandra
    Mar 31, 2008 @ 20:24:27

    Interesting–for me, I loved the entire book except for the ending, which I found sappy and atrocious. It broke the author-reader contract and made me question the excellency of the rest of the book. Admittedly, I’m not a Romance reader and I hate tropes–that may have a significant impact.

  29. Robin
    Apr 02, 2008 @ 01:55:20

    Kathleen: I totally agree about the quality of the prose!

    Elle: I also loved some of the phrases you quoted and the detail in the early relationship between Camden and Gigi. Like you I gave the later relationship a bit of a break because of all that, but it also made me miss some of that focus later on. I also think you’re right about Victoria and Perrin’s HEA, although the build up was so amusing I kind of forgave the pat quality (esp. Victoria’s revelations about Perrin’s guilt *sigh*), especially because of the way she totally mistakes her early influence on his mother. ;)

    Lizzy: I am torn about the Lady Croseus aspect of the novel. I was so hungry for some kind of out of bed contact between the two that didn’t require mutual combat that I think I gave that bit a pass. But I agree that it was probably a bit out of place relative to the rest of the novel. And frankly I liked what Gigi was doing, lol.

    Beth: I’m glad you brought up Camden’s behavior upon returning to London, because while he was definitely a jerk, once we learn about his actions in Copenhagen I really felt that his behavior early on in their reconciliation was a product of his fear that Gigi would reject him and what I saw as his fear of being completely at Gigi’s whim (since his feelings were so strong for her and his sense of power attained only in his disdain).

    Keilexandra: How would you rather have seen the book end?

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