Two Little Lies
It says a great deal about my reading year that Two Little Lies is the best romance novel I’ve read in 2005, and it’s a 2006 release. No matter what its official publication date is, this is still a very good read containing the elements too often missing in the genre these days.
Viviana Alessandri and Quin Hewitt once shared a passionate affair. She was a young Italian opera singer dazzling English society with her magnificent voice. He was an infatuated young man who pursued her relentlessly until he won her over. Their relationship was marked not only by passion, but by constant arguments caused by Quin’s youthful jealousy. One night Viviana, having been summoned home by her father to marry his wealthy patron, mentioned to Quin the possibility of marriage. He firmly informed her how impossible that would be. As the heir to an earldom, he could never marry someone like her. All he could offer was a chance to be his mistress. With no other options, Viviana left England shortly afterward to be married.
Nine years later, Quin is now Earl of Wynwood, having inherited his father’s title. Never having gotten over Viviana’s abandonment, he turned to a life of womanizing and debauchery. But to satisfy his mother’s concerns about his lack of an heir, he recently became engaged to a young woman who would make a suitable wife. Their relationship isn’t based on love, but mutual understanding. Then Viviana returns to England, now a widow with three children, including an eldest daughter with whom Quin shares an instant rapport. Her reappearance so soon before his marriage raises his suspicions. For her part, Viviana had hoped to avoid him entirely. After that hope is dashed, it soon becomes clear that the passion that once burned between them hasn’t cooled one bit.
Those who avoid spoilers at any cost may wish to stop reading now, with my assurance that all you need to know is that this is a lush, vivid and most gripping read, because I’m going to reveal a key plot point. It’s both the kind of thing some readers will want to know going in and something that’s so obvious that only readers who’ve never picked up a romance novel are likely to be surprised (although even they will likely have no trouble connecting the dots). So, that child I mentioned? Yes, she’s Quin’s. This is a secret child book, and easily one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
The plotline contains no real surprises, hitting mostly expected beats for this type of story along the way. And yet, it never seems predictable or commonplace because of the vividness of the characters and the emotions evoked by their journey. Carlyle does what I wish more authors would do when plowing this familiar terrain. She creates characters the reader comes to care deeply about and imbues the story with so much feeling that it rises above the staleness of its premise. There were scenes and crises that I knew were familiar of this type of story, yet Carlyle made it all too easy to forget that. I didn’t care that the secret child plot has been done to death. All I cared about were Quin and Viviana. The author makes this story theirs alone.
For someone who’s supposedly a womanizer, Quin seems to be so more in name than deed; the reader never sees much of it. That might make his redemption a little easier to pull off than it would be otherwise, but it in no way diminishes its power. There are some very emotional moments where Quin comes to terms with his past behavior and the emptiness of his life that are most effective. Viviana is a strong, courageous heroine, and I loved both her musical background (the reason I chose the book for review in the first place) and Italian heritage. The children are cute rather than annoying, and thankfully don’t take up much space. Carlyle’s writing is lush and evocative, especially when it comes to the lovemaking scenes, which are just as emotionally involving as any other part of the book.
This is a completely character-driven book that keeps the focus on Quin, Viviana and the gradual evolution of their relationship as they work their way past the misunderstandings and secrets that drove them apart. There are a few minor subplots that remain just that: subplots that don’t draw much attention away from the main one. For the second book in a trilogy, Carlyle does a masterful job making it a stand-alone read that’s accessible to newcomers. I haven’t read the first book in this series, One Little Sin, and didn’t feel like I’d missed anything in the least. There were obvious signs that some of the supporting characters were primed for stories of their own, but they were seamlessly integrated into this story and in no way detracted from it. In fact, I actually thought Quin’s fiancee Esme and his friend Alisdair were being set up for their own book, only to discover that they were the hero and heroine of One Little Sin. It was impossible to tell, that’s how unobtrusive their presence was.
This time period is easily my least favorite, and I generally have little tolerance for the secret child plot. Two Little Lies swept right past my reservations about either element, pulling me into this absorbing read and not letting go. When I started the book, I intended to read just a few chapters, only to finish the whole thing in one sitting. Emotional and romantic as too few romances I’ve read this year have been, it’s a great read.