Really lovely romance. Bonus action/adventure.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 22 May 2017
You know how there are certain romance authors that, based on their writing and way of developing characters, you just know would make wonderful friends? Like Mary Balogh, for instance? Or Jayne Fresina? Well, Alissa Johnson is another one, IMO. Her stories are character driven and her characters are almost always very appealing to me. Sometimes the stories are quiet, with little action other than personal interactions, and I am happy with the quietude of the gentle story. This one, however, adds in quite an entertaining adventure/road trip (no, not the annoying kind of road trip) along with the sweet romance and is all the better for it.
Johnson has also added in a disability for the heroine. Jane Ballenger suffers since birth from CAPD (central auditory processing disorder), which causes difficulty processing sounds and conversation, especially in noisy environments, and some difficulty in producing sounds or words at times, confusing them with similar ones. Johnson has a family member who suffers from this disorder and I guess decided to bring it to public attention to promote a better understanding of the problem, which is not an issue of deafness but of neural processing.
But imagine it's the 1800s and you suffer from this at a time when the disorder is an unknown and people just perceive the person as being mentally deficient. That's what's going on in Jane's life. After a lifetime of cruel treatment by others, including her own late father, she is now living an isolated life at Twillins Cottage, accompanied by an understanding and loving couple, and avoiding as much contact as possible with people who misunderstand her problem.
When Jane's only relative, brother Edward, dies in Europe, all his belongings are sent to her cottage and that's when some other troubles begin. Seems that Edward had some secrets and there's something among his possessions that must be recovered by the Crown. Sir Gabriel Arkwright, the last-standing bachelor of the three thief takers of this series (A TALENT FOR TRICKERY, #1 and A GIFT FOR GUILE, #2), is charged with recovering this information and also with keeping it out of the hands of a possible double agent. He also charges himself with keeping Jane safe.
So that's where the adventure really begins. When the hidden papers are found, off Gabriel and Jane set in one direction and Jane's caretaker couple and Gabriel's partner in another, to confuse and avoid the bad guys. There's lots of adventure, jumping off trains, hiding out in the woods, confronting villains, etc, which add interest to the story, yet it's still essentially a character-driven romance. Gabriel has some issues from his childhood that have made him the somewhat-troubled man he is today. Some are secrets he has never told to anyone. And, of course, Jane has this disability and horrendous traumatic childhood experiences in her past.
Jane has been made to feel ashamed of her hearing problem and does not confide in Gabriel for a large portion of the book. This will cause a few problems in their relationship and in their ability to work together in avoiding the evildoers. But once Gabriel becomes aware of Jane's disorder, he shows an inordinate amount of sensitivity and understanding and is the perfect partner for her. And Jane becomes the one person in the world Gabriel is willing to reveal things in his past to. A perfect pairing of two lovely persons. And a romance that develops slowly and beautifully.
All in all, this is a very good story. I enjoyed the adventures and I loved the romance. Great character development and excellent slow road to love for the H and h. Good insight into human character and the human condition shown by the author. This would have been a 5-star read for me, except that I found it slow at the beginning and didn't really start to fully appreciate it until near the halfway point. Perhaps that's my fault because I do tend to be impatient at times (almost always?) but I'm still reserving 5 stars for books that impatient me loves from beginning to the end.
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