A Noble Masquerade (Hawthorne House #1)
by Kristi Ann Hunter (Goodreads Author)Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marlow, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.
When Marlow accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marlow is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.
My Review: 9/10
I fell in love with this book and its characters.
And like any lasting love, it was not insta-love. In fact, I almost put it down and labeled it DNF. Thank God for persistance and a sense of obligation. It was the narrator's voice- not first person, yet infused with personality, and one that I was almost ready to dismiss as ditzy. Miranda, starting her story briefly as a child, seemed silly and immature to me. Marlow's story was set up in an unnecessarily confusing way. I thought I could see where it was going, but it was presented in a way that I felt like I -should- know what was going on, but I wasn't 100% confident that I did. As I had little to draw me in to either of their stories, I was just about to write it off when something changed.
What happened? Marlow, the valet/spy, stumbles upon a journal-like entry of Miranda's. His discovery and attitude threw doubt (albeit, ever so slightly, but just enough to keep me turning pages) on my understanding of the current plot outline. I just wanted to see what would happen next.
When "next" turned out to be mailing those private thoughts and then openly admitting it to Miranda, I was hooked. This guy was not who I thought he was going to be. And how was she going to deal with the consequences of what he did?!
After that I really began to appreciate the distinct character voices and frequent, intelligent humor. Especially as Marlow was a little cocky, a little rough around the edges, and you knew just enough to understand why. I loved that he didn't always do what was "right." Sometimes he was mischievous or an instigator. Realistic and entertaining, for sure. Just the way the book was written was enjoyable. For example: *very small spoiler*
"He glared at Ryland. 'Find yourself another lackey. I won't do it.' Time stretched on, the clicking of the mantel clock the only sound as the two men stared at each other. -Chapter 25- 'My lady, Mr. McCrae has arrived.'"
Maybe that's the kind of thing that you have to read up to, to appreciate, but I burst out laughing. And that's rare for me with books.
Neither was built up as the epitome of feminine or masculine perfection. There wasn't a bizarre immediate obsession. At one point, Marlow thinks, understandably, that Miranda is trying to casually fish for information as if she's considering marriage to him, the valet. His thoughts are natural. But before the bad taste could settle in my mouth, her true train of thought was revealed and both Marlow and I felt a bit the idiot for going there. I appreciated what I perceived as a set up and set down for my presumptions by the author. In fact, Miranda really teeters back and forth between her options, including embracing being single, and isn't entirely sure what she wants until the end. And that was well done too. It was in line with her character. Her objections and doubts were understandable, not just the product of trying to make the plot more suspenseful.
I thought the undertones of faith were perfectly done. It's not preachy or pushy, but natural; mentions of God are casual enough that you get an idea of the character's upbringing and faith without having to be told. Miranda turns to prayer when she's at the end of her rope. God doesn't necessarily speak to her or provide divine intervention, but He fills her with calm and clears her mind, allowing her to face her circumstances. Things like that.
I think the biggest compliment I can pay this book is that it reminded me a lot, in style and quality, of Regina Jennings' work. I can't wait to get my hands on another of this author's books!