My Favorite Countess
by Vanessa Kelly
(Zebra, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-1-4201-1483-6
****
My Favorite Countess is the story of Bathsheba Compton, widow of the fifth earl of Randolph. Lady Randolph has her coming of age in this tale, and while it can by no means be mistaken for a teenage unraveling, it has the same life-changing impact on our heroine.

We meet Bathsheba, Lady Randolph, in Yorkshire, which isnít at all her kind of place. She is visiting he cousin Matthew, the current Earl, when he learns that the estate left by Bathshebaís husband is mired in debt. Matthew is sweet and gentle and has no doubt that Bathsheba will make a fabulous match for a wealthy man in London, settling their debts and allowing them to live happily ever after. Bathsheba is world weary and isnít nearly as optimistic as Matthew. Then, at an otherwise boring country dinner party, Bathsheba meets John Blackmore, a very talented and handsome physician, and very complicated sparks start to fly.

The countryside in Yorkshire seems to be a small place as Bathsheba and John run into each other a few times during their short stay and each encounter gets more intense. Bathsheba knows that a random affair with a doctor is exactly the opposite of what she should be doing, but she enjoys it and doesnít intend to see Dr. Blackmore again once she heads home to London.

Once home, Bathsheba begins her husband hunt, but also finds herself distracted by a pregnant friend in need of good medical care. Bathsheba humbles herself, and seeks out John to see if he will care for her friend. John agrees, but also wants to continue his relationship with Bathsheba. While they occasionally see each other, Bathsheba also lets herself be courted by Sir David, a very nice if very bland man who seems to fit the bill for her intended marriage. Bathsheba needs to marry, not only for the familyís financial relief, but because of two long buried family secrets. She has a hidden sister named Rachel who suffers from a long term medical ailment, and she also carried deep guilt related to events that transpired during her marriage to Lord Randolph. Bathsheba hopes that the money from her upcoming union will help pay for Rachelís upkeep, and she intends to marry an insipid man who will spare her the passion, fury and shame that she experienced with Reggie.

However, John has other plans. He has seriously fallen for Bathsheba and knows that if he can just learn her secrets, earn her trust and confidence, he can take care of her for the rest of her life. Bathsheba isnít the type to trust easily, or look for an emotional protector, so John has his work cut out for him and their epic battle is fun and at times heartbreaking for the reader.

My Favorite Countess is a tale of self realization for both our of lead characters and I liked it very much. John Blackmore is a very detailed man, his past is sketched clearly by Kelly and provides the reader with a great human background for our very talented doctor to rest on. All too often, doctors are portrayed as super human machines and with John this is very definitely not the case. He is a very sympathetic hero but stops short of being a pushover. His determination, great backbone and stand up for what you believe in without being a preacher type will appeal to many.

Bathsheba on the other hand likes to paint herself the villainess. She takes great pains to mention her mistakes, bad habits and unbecoming traits as we get to know her, and while this makes her a most unusual heroine, it also makes her infinitely more likeable. Bathsheba, who has a horrible first name that Iím still not sure why Kelly chose it, is a really strong, capable and fallible woman underneath her countess outfit and I couldnít help but like her.

While John and Bathsheba are together, the we-shouldnít-be-doing-this vibe is strong, exciting and works well. The unlikely and wonderful combination of their very different personalities and personal failings work so well together and mesh so entirely that it seems that this star crossed pair really do make each other better people.

I really appreciated Kellyís obvious research into early 1800s medical practices. Some authors will name a characterís profession or hobby without ever delving into details. I love details and realistic touches in a book that make the story special, and Vanessa Kelly truly goes above and beyond in this aspect of the story.

While I liked My Favorite Countess, the characters and the story, I didnít love it. It was a bit of a winding tale, where there seemed to be a lot of extraneous happenings to the main plot that helped bog it down, especially in the middle. That said, I do recommend it. Itís a strong 4 heart read and if you pick up a copy you might want to skip the middle bit, but wonít be disappointed by the characters.

--Amy Wroblewsky


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