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REVIEW: Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas

Dear Ms. Thomas:

I first learned about you when Sybil sent me a link to your excerpt (this is a link to your blog because your website? It is gone!). It was enticing but your book wasn’t due out for months and months so I tried to put it out of my mind. But then my friend, Janine, mentioned that she was your critique partner and that she loved your book and maybe she could wheedle a copy out of you to read.

Private Arrangements by Sherry ThomasAs you know, I stayed up late to read it. As is my normal course when I love a book, I begin emailing everyone I can to share the love which, in the case of early books, is like the author. I remember that I read this into the early morning hours and even forgot to set up a post for the blog for the morning.

Gigi is a very rich young girl who wants to marry well. Through a series of incidents, Camden Saybrook becomes Marquis of Tremaine. Camden has promised himself to a distant cousin, Theodora Von Schweppenburg. Gigi sets her sights on Camden because he is not only the heir to a dukedom but he is someone she is fiercely attracted to. Gigi is drawn to Camden’s decency and intelligence. Camden to Gigi’s vibrancy and lust for life.

These two are very young and act their age, meaning often impetuously and without thinking. Gigi schemes to get Camden to marry her. Camden finds out about her deceit and is devastated. This leads to years of separation.

Camden returns ten years later to respond to Gigi’s demand for a divorce. He agrees to the divorce on the condition she try for one year to give him an heir. It is fairly common trope in romance but the uniqueness is that Camden’s desire for reconciliation is transparent to the reader as is Gigi’s own feelings even though neither would admit it. Why else would Camden demand conjugal rights. Why else is Gigi’s home decorated in exactly the way Camden had dreamed as a young man it would be down to the very last Monet painting. Oh, the literary irony.

The backstory, or the years of separation, is told in flashback so that we do not have extended periods of time while the characters are apart on the pages. The reworking of the reunited lovers theme in this book was masterfully done. The flashbacks added depth and poignancy to Camden and Gigi’s past. It showed that neither had really given up their love for the other even if that love became deeply suppressed in their subconscious. The backstory showed real growth of the characters, their flaws, their strengths, and truly embodies the romance genre concept that true love conquers all.

The use of language in the book is wonderful as it helps to set the stage both in dialogue and description. Take, for example, this parry between Camden and Gigi when Camden returns to England to exercise his conjugal rights.

“You have a choice,” he said amicably.”We can resolve it privately.Or we can have sworn testimonies from these gentlemen.You know every word they utter would be in all the papers.”

She blanched.Freddie was her very own human miracle, steadfast and loyal, loving her enough to willingly take part in all the hassle and ugliness of a divorce.But would he still love her when all her former lovers had testified to their affairs on public record?

“Why are you doing this?”Her voice rose.She took a deep breath to calm herself.Any emotion she displayed before Tremaine was a show of weakness.”I had my solicitors send you a dozen letters.You never responded.We could have had this marriage annulled with some dignity, without having to go through this circus.”

“And here I thought my lack of response adequately conveyed what I thought of your idea.”

“I offered you one hundred thousand pounds!”

“I’m worth twenty times that.But even if I hadn’t a sou, that’s not quite enough for me to stand before Her Majesty’s magistrate and swear that I’d never touched you.We both know perfectly well that I shagged you to a fare-thee-well.”

I loved the frankness, the rawness of language that was used combined with the elegance or almost poetic phrasing. “I…wasted a river of sperm masturbating to these fantasies.” Then there is the description of Camden’s early response to Gigi and his struggle with his honor:

He’d turned down every last one of those offers, with tact and dignity when possible, and ingenuity otherwise.A man of honor did not profess love for one woman while welcoming a host of others into his bed.

It wasn’t easy, but it was doable.Being busy helped.Having no moral or philosophical opposition to solitary releases helped.Immersing himself in his chosen field helped–thermodynamic equations and advanced calculus tended to keep one’s mind off breasts and buttocks.

But nothing helped now.He was busy all day long, seeing to the beast of an estate that was Twelve Pillars, yet thoughts of Miss Rowland clamored every other minute.Whatever he did in the privacy of his bedchamber only created more fantasies of her to agitate him the next day.Thoughts of her breasts and buttocks–not to mention her morosely hungry eyes and her heavy, cool spill of hair– rendered him slow and bungling before simple quadratic equations, and utterly impotent in the face of integrals of logarithms.

And yet if it were only a case of simple, rampant lust.That would be perfectly understandable in the case of a young man of robust appetites who stubbornly refused to surrender his virginity.But he wanted more than just to touch her.He wanted to know her.

The book stumbled for me toward the last third when I felt the conflict between Gigi and Camden was artificially extended. But because I was so invested by this time in Gigi and Camden’s journey, I could not stop reading even though I questioned the why of the situation. I suppose you could make the argument that this conflict was borne, in part, out of the fears which were fostered by the long separation.

There was an interesting dichotomy that was used with a sort of mirroring effect (probably a literary term for this, but I don’t know what it is). In their youth, Gigi played the hubris role and Camden the honor. In the 10 year reconciliation, Camden seemed to be the one to act with hubris and Gigi, with honor, because was it really honorable for Camden to act as he did, to continually punish Gigi for making him fall in love with her? And wasn’t honorable for Gigi to push for a divorce and reclaim a life with one she thought she loved. And it seemed hubris on Camden’s part to push for an heir, to exercise his long dead conjugal rights. I thought that role reversal; the power struggle was uniquely played out.

I appreciated particularly that you made great use of the late 1900s 1800s, a time of incredible change in both the fledling America and within Great Britian. At times I had to keep reminding myself of the period of the book because I have been so steeped in regencies that some of the phrases sounded modern. (There was a reference to the Statute of Liberty and in googling, I realized that the Statute of Liberty was indeed given by France in 1885).

When I think about the story, I think most about the ending which was glorious. It was big, dramatic, and romantic. And I think it serves as emblematic for the entire story. There is a sense of grandness in the language, the setting, and the way that the story is told. In some sense, it is a true retro (meaning a revisiting of the past) romance because it brings to bring to mind the big grandiose romances of the past. Gigi and Camden are very passionate people and their gestures are big, particularly in their devises to get what they want out of life.

I am excited about the state of historicals because if this is the type of story that we readers can expect on a regular basis, the historical may once again be the queen of romances. (If you can’t tell, historicals are my favorite romance sub genre).

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market on March 25, 2008. I assume that there will be an ebook version.

***

In the first of what will be a big giveaway month here at Dear Author, I am early blogging about this book because the publisher is graciously giving us 20! early copies of this book to be shared with the Dear Author readership. The catch is that you must post about the book at some public place, whether it is a message board, forum or blog and you must send me the link. We’ll choose one review to repost at Dear Author on the day of the release of the book. This contest will run until Friday, 12 am CST, and any commenter who leaves a comment to this review will be considered in a random drawing.

Edited to add:   When I say “post about the book”, I mean just a post that I read this book and I liked it, I didn’t like it, it’s coming out March 25, 2008. No need for a formal review or anything like that.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

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