My Darline Caroline

Stolen Charms by Adele Ashworth
(Jove $5.99 PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12565-2
One of my favorite novels from last year was the impressive My Darling Caroline by Adele Ashworth, which won the 1998 RITA award for best first book. So I was delighted to be asked to review her newest release, Stolen Charms. Would this latest effort compare favorably to her marvelous debut? For the most part, yes.

Natalie Haislett is bored with the stiff, self-centered gentlemen her parents present as prospective husbands. She is afraid if she marries one of these men she will become “one huge, unproductive lump of fat.” She desires a man who will love her for who she is, not for what dowry she brings or heirs she can provide.

She dreams of a relationship with a man who is exciting, well traveled and intelligent. Someone like the Black Knight, a mysterious thief, whose exploits are the talk of Europe. Natalie decides he would make the perfect husband. There’s only one problem. The only person of her acquaintance who actually knows the Black Knight is Jonathan Drake, one of England’s most eligible bachelors and a notorious womanizer.

Five years earlier, a teenaged Natalie embarrassed herself by professing her love for Jonathan, which he gently rebuffed. She has avoided him ever since, but now has no choice but to swallow her pride and seek him out, if she wishes to meet her elusive hero. Jonathan agrees to her request, and they travel together to France, in order to track down the Black Knight.

Jonathan is a complex character and not the dissolute rake he first appears. He is not as unaffected by Natalie as she thinks, and being a typical male, is confused by his emotions. He decides traveling with her will help him understand why she captivates him so. Natalie soon discovers she is still in love with Jonathan, but his reputation as a ladies man has made her wary of becoming involved. She believes he will eventually grow bored with her and set her aside. Each must work through misconceptions that keep them apart.

This is only the slightest sketch of this complicated tale. Everything is not quite what it seems, but to reveal more would detract from the twists that await the reader along the way. Both Natalie and Jonathan have secrets that send events into unforeseen directions. This is one of the delights of Adele Ashworth’s writing; her characters seldom do or say the expected. Her ability to paint vivid word pictures and create lush sensual tension draws readers deeply into the story. The passion that exists between these two characters is palpable.

I deliberated long and hard in awarding a rating to this book. For me, a five-heart book is one that you cannot put down, but if you must, the characters stay with you until you can pick it up once again. As well written as Stolen Charms is, I found I was able to put it down (twice, actually) and not think about it until I returned to it later. The reason for this could be the fault of the intricate plotting, which required concealing Natalie’s true motivation for the first half of the book. I found it difficult to make a solid connection with the character. Unlike Caroline in her first book, Natalie was an enigma to me for much of this story.

Even so, Stolen Charms is like a breath of fresh air. An intelligent story by a most talented writer. I eagerly await her next book.

--Karen Lynch

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