TITLE: HIDDEN PARADISE
AUTHOR: JANET MULLANY
Pages: 315 (Kindle)
Details: Received from Harlequin
Louisa (Lou) Connelly an American Jane Austen scholar who has recently been widowed after only five years of marriage, is finding it very hard to come to terms with the loss of her beloved Julian while at home on their Montana ranch. When two friends invite her over to England she jumps at the chance to change her surroundings and the opportunity to think about what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
Lou’s friends, Peter and Chris, are in the last stages of opening Paradise Hall, a resort in which people will have the opportunity to experience an authentic Georgian country-house weekend and they need her knowledge about Jane Austen and her time to make sure they are getting all the details right. However, while the weekends will be authentic as far as setting, food and clothing are concerned it is anybody’s guess if their ideas about the sexual exchanges between the visitors are also true to history.
Once in Paradise Hall Lou finds that while being there doesn’t make her feel any closer to her deceased husband as she had hoped, it does re-awaken her interest in men and the joys of intimacy. Her exchanges with Mac Salazar, a journalist with a lot of Mr. Darcy qualities, are belligerent and exciting and soon lead to steamy encounters. And then there is Rob, the young servant who Lou can’t quite get out of her head and who has a lot to learn from her.
Two shocking discoveries later it seems that Lou’s time in Paradise is well and truly over. The real world beckons and with it some tough decisions.
This is a book that both delighted and disappointed me. I loved the idea of the Jane Austen naughty weekends and enjoyed the descriptions of the house, its surroundings, the clothes, food and activities. In fact I would have loved more detail like that. But it seems that the author was so busy making sure that every character who got mentioned more than three times had a back-story with some drama in it that there really wasn’t the time or pages to get more period –or any other - detail in. Don’t get me wrong, I want the characters in my books to have a back-story as well as issues they have to resolve. However, I do not think the story improves just because every single character has issues. If the author had left some of the characters – Peter and Chris, Di – issue free she could have devoted more time to the three main characters in this story as well as the historical detail and I feel the story would have benefited from such an approach.
I’m also not sure how happy I was about the perspective in this story being shared between four characters with every chapter being narrated by somebody else. I found this to be a bit confusing at times and it didn’t help the smooth reading of this book.
Having said all of that, overall this book was easy to read and the story managed to carry me away to its fantastical setting on several occasions. Some of the plot lines in this book were fascinating and could have deserved a whole book of their own rather then being squeezed in here amongst many others.
I’m not very knowledgeable about Jane Austen, her books and her time so I can’t commend on how true to those origins this book is. What I do know is that despite my reservations I did enjoy this story and loved the naughty nature of the weekends. The sexual content, while in good supply, was rather straight-forward and sweet, as were the relationships between the characters.
Overall I spend a few enjoyable hours with a charming story that could have been quite a bit more.