Desert Isle Keeper
An Affair To Remember
a Retro Review
originally published on July 2, 2002
I’ve been a bit worried about European historicals lately. In the past year or so I’ve run across far too many featuring ridiculously contrived cutesy plots, heroines for whom the TSTL designation is unquestionably an understatement, and, of course, that oh-so-familiar cardboard “rake” with the macho nickname.
With this book, Karen Hawkins has stepped onto that higher plane of authors those who can be counted on to propel a plot by character, not by contrivances; who give their characters motivations, depths, and feelings that real people can actually recognize; and who have the gift of delivering those incredible “heart clutching” moments that turn a good book into a far better one.
I have to admit that as much as I enjoyed last year’s The Seduction of Sara, I found myself on some levels enjoying the verbal sparring that took place between Anna, Sara’s best friend, and Anthony, Sara’s half-brother, even more than the main story. Clearly, these two couldn’t be further apart in character and attitude, and just as clearly, they were meant to be together. Their affair, as told here, is, indeed, one to remember.
Anna is a very smart, resourceful, no-nonsense kind of heroine who, due to the irresponsibility and poor investment sense of her grandfather, has to give up her life in society and work as a governess. But, since the woman we’re talking about here is far from just any woman, Anna becomes more than just a mere governess. Using the common sense with which she was so amply blessed, Anna has set herself up as the authority on troublesome children, with all the ton currently clamoring for her highly priced services.
As head of the feckless Elliot family, Anthony is disgusted to find that he is one of those competing for the services of the woman he professes to dislike so violently. Now guardian to his late cousin’s five troublesome children, his carefully ordered existence has been completely disrupted by the governess-destroying terrors. And since Anthony is also one major control freak, no price including virtually bribing the reluctant Anna take the job is too high to pay to restore his peaceful existence.
Since Anthony and Anna disagree on just about every topic imaginable, it’s not surprising that child-rearing is one of them. And while the two battle it out over the children, they also find themselves battling the powerful attraction that was always beneath the surface.
Within this very simple plot structure, Karen Hawkins tells a rich and compelling story. One of her greatest skills is the ability to create real characters who are very far from one dimensional. In the hands of a lesser writer, Anna could easily be a self-sacrificing plastic saint, nobly bearing all the misfortunes that come her way. But, Anna understandably resents the position she’s been forced to assume, misses her life in society, and freely admits that part of her financial problems are due to the fact that she has a weakness for beautiful clothes. In fact, I’m quite certain if she lived today, Anna would be shoe shopping right along with the rest of us.
And, even though we’ve met the control freak hero before, we may have never so completely understood his motivations. Born into a family notorious for their irresponsibility and raised by a stepfather he adored, Anthony is determined to prove to society and himself that the Elliot family is worthy of respect. His word of honor is everything to Anthony and he is a richer character for it.
There seems to be a trend lately dictating that in order for a book to be considered “good” all the conventions regarding heroes and heroines need to be broken. It’s a trend, frankly, that is giving me some problems. I read romance for fantasy and, while I welcome fully developed characters who come alive on the page, it’s still nice to dream. Karen Hawkins has managed, in my opinion, to strike the perfect balance. I loved Anna easily one of the best heroines of the past few years and while Anthony is as emotionally complicated a character as you could ask of any writer, he is also oozing with tall, dark, and handsome sex appeal.
My quibbles with the book are minimal. Anna’s grandfather was occasionally annoying, even more so since he (quite unrealistically) tags along to Anthony’s estate when Anna goes to care for the children. And sometimes some of the book’s humor was a bit forced. Frankly, this book represents a different voice for Karen Hawkins, one that is less reliant on humor and one that is decidedly more romantic. I hope it’s a voice she plans to keep!
Without contrivances and without pandering, Karen Hawkins has created in An Affair To Remember a book that is easily her finest effort yet. And for those who love European historicals set in the Regency period, it is one not to be missed.