Desert Isle Keeper
I was entranced by this book. To begin with, the cover is as beautiful a one as I have seen in a long time. So often in the field of romance, the covers are full of shirtless men, and women who are falling out of their bodices. Winter Garden features a fully dressed man in period clothing standing by a garden as if he is waiting for someone. It is as simple and elegant an image as one could want.
Winter Garden is not a plot-driven book – actually some might complain because the plot is so slight, but I didn’t. While I love a good eventful plot-driven book, I love memorable characters more, and it’s the characters who are the main focus of this book. They are a memorable pair.
Madeline DuMais is the daughter of a French actress and an English naval officer. Life with her mother was terrible for Madeline. Her mother was addicted to opium and totally absorbed in herself. She kept their daughter from her father and neglected to tell her of his death. Madeline has reacted by becoming a fierce British patriot and has worked for several years as a spy for the British. Her current job is to find out who is smuggling opium into England, and in this job she is to work in the small costal community of Winter Garden with Thomas Blackwood.
Thomas Blackwood is a dark and tortured hero, but he is not cruel, and he is not arrogant. Thomas is actually quite paradoxical. Big, strong, dark, scarred yet handsome – he is one of the most vulnerable characters I have encountered. There is an instant attraction between him and Madeline, and Winter Garden sets out to trace their sometimes halting journey toward love and intimacy.
Despite the smuggling elements in the plot, there is no Big Mystery in this book. We know who the villain is, we know pretty much how he is smuggling and we know that he will be foiled. The plot serves only as a backdrop to the character study of Thomas and Madeline, and they were such strong characters, I did not miss a strong plot at all.
Winter Garden takes some of the standard historical romance novel traditions and inverts them. Madeline is not a sweet little miss. She is 29 and experienced, though not promiscuous. Traditionally the woman is the one who wants commitment while the man is the one who has to be persuaded. It is exactly the opposite in this book. And finally, it is Madeline who take the lead in the initial sexual encounters – she is the one who seduces Thomas.
The love scenes in this book are very sensual, and they show Madeline and Thomas’s deepening commitment to each other. There are a few romance authors who excel at using love scenes to illustrate not only the physical, but the emotional responses of the characters. Mary Jo Putney is one, Barbara Samuel is another. With Winter Garden, Adele Ashworth joins them. The love scenes in this book have a sense of awe and wonder at the sheer power that love has to bind and heal two hurting people.
If you enjoy a character-driven romance, Winter Garden will be just what you are looking for. Thomas and Madeline are two of the most vivid characters I have encountered this year. When I closed the book, I wondered what would happen to them, and I wished for a sequel. Even now, I can’t stop thinking about them and I know I will not forget them anytime soon.