Title: The Secret to Seduction
Author: Julie Anne Long
Published: 2007, Warner
Category: Historical Romance
I first bought this book months ago after Rosina Lippi (aka Sara Donati) mentioned Julie Anne Long on her blog. (God bless Google, here's the link.) Lippi seems to be quite picky about her romance, so when she endorses someone I'm interested to see why. Most of the post is actually devoted to Long's failings at representing dialect correctly -- this didn't bother me, though I wasn't reading the same title that Rosina was talking about (um yeah, plus I don't have a PhD in linguistics or whatever). What finally brought Secret to Seduction out of the TBR was Janine's great review at Dear Author (which is much longer and more complete than my own).
Sabrina Fairchild is in love (a very polite sort of love) with her village's curate. The curate goes to visit his wicked cousin, Rhys, Earl of Rawden, aka The Libertine, rake extraordinaire and author of scandalous poetry. Sabrina finds a way to get invited to the house party, hoping that she can see more of the curate away from the close watch of her father. Rhys is bored; Sabrina is so irritatingly proud of her "even temperament" and immunity to the evils of a passionate nature. Obviously, it's a challenge Rhys can't refuse and he sets about seducing her. They are caught at it in the library, and Rhys is forced to ask her to marry him. They seem to be falling for each other and on the way to HEA when Sabrina learns that Rhys is guilty of a crime -- one that ruined her family's happiness -- and she has to decide whether or not she can forgive him.
Yes, there are some seriously overdone elements here -- the experienced rake introducing the innocent girl to sexual desire, the compromising situation and forced marriage. And this is points against the book, but I was surprised by how fresh it felt here. Sabrina's innocence isn't irritating, as she is really intelligent and we see that she's not so much a prude as just repressed. The subplot of what happened to Anna's mother was my favorite part. Her matter-of-fact acceptance of her troubles and her ability to forgive and forget were great -- a very wise woman and maybe my favorite character in the book.
I also really liked Long's writing style -- I'll definitely be getting more of her books. Secret to Seduction is the last of a trilogy; Sabrina's sisters' stories are told in Beauty and the Spy and Ways to Be Wicked.