by Christina Britton
Series: Isle of Synne #1
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Get swept away by a Regency romance of broken engagements, second chances, and stolen kisses from the author whom Publishers Weekly calls "irresistible".
After her third fiancé leaves her at the altar, Lenora Hartley is beginning to think she's cursed. One thing's for certain: she needs to escape London and her father's tyrannical attempts to find her yet another suitor. The Isle of Synne, an isolated and idyllic retreat off Britain's northern coast, is blessedly far from society's gossip, but it also carries haunting reminders of her first fiancé. Letting go of the past to find happiness seems impossible -- until Lenora is thrown in the path of a gruff, mysterious blue-eyed man who makes her pulse race.
Next in line for a dukedom he doesn't want to inherit, Peter Ashford is only on the isle to exact revenge on the man who is responsible for his mother's death. Once he's completed the task, he'll return to America where his life can finally be his own. Yet when he meets the beautiful and kind Miss Hartley, he can't help but be drawn to her. Can Peter put aside his plans for vengeance for the woman who has come to mean everything to him?
I have a definite fondness for “wow that’s a big dress!” historical covers, and this one doesn’t disappoint in that aspect. Unfortunately, the rest of it doesn’t quite work for me, with a lot of elements that are good in and of themselves but never quite gel.
“Everything you now love will be turned to dust before I take my last breath. I wanted you to know that before you died, for you to look on the face of the boy you once damned, and see a man who no longer needs you. And you have no one to blame but your own cold heart.”
Peter is, well, one of my least favorite types of romance hero. He’s unpleasant, gruff, cool, uncouth, etc, etc but all that’s required is the love of a good woman to bring him up to snuff! The duke turned him away as a child when he sought help for his dying mother, and, now that he’s the duke’s heir, he’s obsessed with a childish revenge fantasy of letting everything the duke loves fall to ruin – including his promise to let the Duke’s line end with him. Peter promised his mother that he would stay with Lady Tesh – who, after hearing that the duke turned him away, showed up to help instead – for a month after her death, a promise he reneged on by immediately fleeing and ending up in America. Thirteen years later, he can’t let go of the guilt for breaking that promise or his anger at the duke – especially now that he’s the heir – so he agrees to stay with her for that required month. It just so happens that Lady Tesh has other visitors, as well.
After another failed engagement, Lenora and her best friend return to one of her favorite childhood spots, Lady Tesh’s house on the Island of Synne. It’s not free of unwanted memories, either, though, as it’s where she was courted by and got engaged to Hillram, the duke’s heir – and where he died. Her father wants her to remarry immediately – and if she fails this time, he’ll cut her off completely. While her friends think it’s grief over Hillram’s death that’s ruining her engagements, Lenora knows it’s guilt. But guilt over what, exactly, is something that is slowly revealed as the book goes on.
“Will you meet me in the dead of night, Miss Hartley?” he murmured, the faint mocking in his voice doing nothing to hide the thickness beneath. “Will you risk your reputation to help me, a man who has taken your lost lover’s place? Even you, for all your sweetness and light, cannot be that good.”
The relationship between Lenora and Peter relies strongly on an overwhelming instant attraction. Lenora is all sweetness and light and guilty conscience while Peter’s angry and still dead set on revenge, even after realizing that the duke is actually pretty decent for the aristocratic set, and that allowing the duke’s lands to go into disarray would hurt a whole bunch of tenants and farmers and, you know, all those regular people that Peter seems to think he’s a part of. While I thought the chemistry was well done, the more romantic part of the relationship was lacking for me, especially the banter. Banter is one of my favorite measuring sticks for a relationship, and I like it a little bit steamy, a little bit feisty, and a little bit witty, and unfortunately it never quite hit any of those marks for me.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the love story between Synne (for whom the island is name) and a Viking. Lady Tesh has written a history of the story, and all it needs before it can be published (she’s a rich old lady, mind) is some watercolors of the various island locations featured in the story. It’s a framework that shadows Lenora and Peter’s own relationship, and as someone who loves stories-within-a-story, I loved it. It also brings up another manifestation of Lenora’s guilt, as while she was a quite talented painter, she hasn’t picked up a brush since Hillram’s death.
Overall, the romance never quite gelled for me. There were enough things I liked about it, though, that I will most likely pick up the next book in the series just to see if a change in characters helps.