Taken By Desire by Lavinia Kent
(Avon, $7.99, PG13) ISBN 978-0-06-198604-8
****
Taken By Desire is an enchanting love story made unique by its wonderful heroine.

Hello Anna Steele, a heroine after my own heart. From the moment we meet her, she is an interesting and uncommon lady. In the first pages of the book, she throws herself into a scandalous if not too passionate embrace to save her half sister from her jealous husband, and ends up in a pickle. Anna realizes that there will be buzz about her seemingly dramatic clasp with the unattached Alexander Struthers, but she has no idea that her spectators will believe that she should marry him. Alexander is a good looking, wealthy man but Anna doesn’t wish to wed anyone at all. She’s an independent lady of financial means due to an impressive inheritance, and she doesn’t want a man to have control of her fortune, and her decisions.

Alexander Struthers isn’t a stranger to Anna before their moment in the hallway at the house party. He was a friend in her childhood, and a close confidante of her fiancé Christian, who died suddenly years ago. Alex promised Christian that he would look after Anna, but he’s failed in this regard, having only recently returned amid speculative rumors of becoming less than a gentleman to make his fortune in India.

Alex seizes the chance to do his duty by his old friend, and thinks it might be convenient to have a wife. Anna is dismayed and then horrified once the implications of this possible engagement, knowing full well that she will lose control of her life when Struthers becomes her husband.

At the same time, Anna abruptly learns of her American cousins’ arrival. This is a big problem because Anna knows that her male cousins are quite upset that their mutual uncle left the great portion of his estate to Anna rather than to them, and they have come to try to destroy Anna’s credibility and house her in an asylum to become her caretakers and take control of her accounts. After all, they say, who would let a woman control her own life, oversee business interests and manage investments? Anna’s prior refusals of marriage, her outrageously large contributions to charity and the selling of her assets must point to a woman of unsound mind.

So, Anna believes that marrying Struthers would be her best tactical move, but she intends to teach him a lesson about how a woman can manage her affairs and her life. If Struthers expects an obedient wife, he will be very surprised once Anna moves in.

Oh, Anna, I would love to have you as a friend. That magic feeling towards a heroine is often absent in all but the very best love stories, and Taken By Desire is a wonderful read in part because of her.

Anna is a plotter, she carefully takes into account her opponents, and her strategy reflects her intelligence and her wit almost all of the time. There are the endearing, imperfect moments when Struthers knocks her off kilter, disconcerting her and upsetting her perfectly laid plans. This sense of reality in the charming story really helps bring the reader into the story. It also serves to make the flawed Anna even more likeable.

Struthers is a gentle man if not always a gentleman in the eyes of society. It takes him time to open up about himself and his past to Anna, which is believable. He is also willing to be open and honest with her once they start to trust one another, and his slow revelations make him appealing.

Anna’s dysfunctional family makes the story move along at a fairly fast pace, and they add to the love story’s background. There is Anna’s drunken father, her cheating, entitled, yet somehow sweet sister Maddie, her high-handed money hungry cousins Ernest and Nathanial and her duel-crazy, jealous brother in law, Lord Milson. Luckily, Struthers doesn’t have a great cast of family characters hanging about or the story might have ended up being confusing.

While I loved Anna’s character and her lessons about womanhood and the actual powerlessness during this time of the fairer sex, there was something missing within the story that didn’t quite make it the best read of the year. Perhaps it was that Anna shone so brightly that the other characters seemed to be a little shadowed by her. Or at the very least, less developed emotionally in the reader’s imagination.

Regardless, Taken By Desire is a fantastic afternoon on the couch with a cup of tea, and I highly recommend it.

--Amy Wroblewsky


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