Two Little Lies, by Liz Carlyle

>> Thursday, January 19, 2006

Liz Carlyle's new trilogy continues with Two Little Lies, sequel to last year's One Little Sin.

I was lucky enough to win this one in a contest the author offered the members of her mailing list (yep, I'm a Liz Carlyle fangirl and I've been on her mailing list forever), so I got to read it pretty early!

BTW, for her contest, Carlyle asked which was our favourite cover in the trilogy, and I chose this one. I just love the colour (though it looks more greenish in the picture than it really is, at least in my copy), and the model's pose... it seems to me as if she's wondering "should I, or shouldn't I?", and the least proper option is winning ;-)

Handsome scoundrel Quin Hewitt has been living a devil-may-care existence in London for years. But when his father dies unexpectedly, Quin finds himself saddled with an earldom he never wanted, a country estate that seems to suck the very life out of him, and a mama who won’t quit crying. Reluctantly, Quin faces up his family duty, and decides to find himself a sensible, suitable wife so he can beget a sensible, suitable heir. And who better to marry than his best friend’s governess, the proud and pretty Miss Esmée Hamilton?

But when Quin’s euphoric mother throws an impromptu betrothal party, Quin finds himself faced with a very unexpected guest. The beautiful Viviana Alessandri has been called by duty back to England, the land she loathes. No longer the unknown opera singer Quin once kept as his mistress, Viviana is now the powerful Contessa Bergonzi di Vicenza, worshiped throughout Europe for her voice and her passion. But despite her new title and wealth, to Quin’s eyes, his old love has not changed. She is not suitable. She is not sensible. And she still takes his breath away.
Yay, Liz Carlyle is back! One Little Sin was a bit of a disappointment, and, to some extent, so was The Devil To Pay. They were good, but not as good as I was hoping for, and I got the feeling the writing style that I had liked so much ever since My False Heart had become less distinctive and more generic.

TLL is a return to the Liz Carlyle of her earlier books. Lush, passionate and romantic, it was one of the best books I've read lately. An A. Wow, that's the second one this week, and I'm not one to hand them out lightly (only 4 non-reread books got one last year).

Note: I'm going to follow the lead of the AAR reviewer and discuss what I guess might be considered a spoiler in my review. As far as I'm concerned, it's so obvious, even in the very first scene, that I wouldn't call it a spoiler, but just in case, proceed at your own risk. Oh, and the whole early action of TLL is also a bit of a spoiler for the first book in the series.

Opera singer Viviana Alessandri and Quin Hewitt first met when they were very young and Viviana had just arrived in London. Her father, a well-known Italian composer, had sent her there alone, since the situation between her and his patron had become intolerable.

The very young and inexperienced Quin, also newly arrived in London, had fallen in lust with Viviana at first sight, and pursued her relentlessly until, after truly attempting to resist, Viviana gave in and became his mistress. Their very tempestuous relationship ended when Viviana left Quin and went back to Italy to marry her father's patron, the Count Bergonzi di Vicenza.

Nine years later, Viviana is back in Englad with her father and her three children, the eldest of which (and here's that pesky supposed spoiler) is actually Quin's. See, the catalyst of Viviana's marriage to the Count was the fact that she had become pregnant and Quin had made it pretty clear that he wouldn't consider marrying a woman like her. Being the heir to an Earldom, he explained, he was going to have to marry a suitable young lady with a spotless reputation. So Viviana, instead of telling Quin and hoping he'd miraculously change his mind about marrying her, simply goes away.

(BTW, really, considering the very obvious morning sickness and the maid's comments in that first scene, if anyone didn't guess about the pregnancy, then he or she must have been skimming).

Anyway, back in England, Viviana and her family are invited by a friend of her father's to his country house. The thing is, said friend is Quin's uncle, and his country house is within walking distance of Quin's country seat, where he is in order to celebrate his engagement to Esmée, the heroine of OLS. Here the action overlaps with the action of the first book, and we see all those events which culminate in Quin and Esmée's break-up from a different perspective (including that scene between Quin and Viviana which takes place in the study and which had me so anxious to read TLL).

Fortunately, this part with Quin engaged is quite short (I say fortunately because there wouldn't have been much tension otherwise, since I knew exactly what was going to happen, having read the first book not that long ago) and the action soon proceeds with Quin and Viviana getting reacquainted and finally getting to understand each other.

Because, you see, this book might be considered a "big misunderstanding" + "secret baby" story. And it just goes to show that you should never say never, because just about any plot can be as wonderfully done as these were here.

The book works so well because the original misunderstanding between Viviana and Quin was so completely understandable. Those two were just heartbreakingly young when they first met; two innocents trying to pretend they were much worldlier than they actually were, and each succeeding so well, that the other felt at a disadvantage in their relationship. Carlyle shows it quite clearly even in the first scene, and as they later begin sharing what they had been feeling at the time, it becomes even clearer and more understandable why they each behaved as they did.

I loved that, as they slowly begin to rebuild their relationship, their chemistry is as powerful as ever, but now they are grown-ups, so the relationship that develops is much more solid and mature. Unlike nine years earlier, they are each confident people and they relate as equals.

As for the secret baby thing, I quite liked what Carlyle did with it. As I said, in this case it fell under the "understandable" category that Viviana would have kept it a secret. I guess I'm more willing to accept it in a historical. I loved seeing Quin with his daughter, even before he found out the truth. And when he did, which really pissed him off, the scenes between him and Viviana were powerful stuff, especially because both were right, to a certain extent.

I read TLL in a single sitting last Saturday morning. Once I started it, I just couldn't stop. Quin and Viviana really captured my imagination, and I came to care for them and be very affected by their romance. The book provided plenty of the stomach-clenching sensation that I think is the true mark of a really good romance. And I loved that there were no distractions from the romance, no pesky murder investigations or any spies running around. Just Quin and Viviana and their developing relationship, and that was more than enough plot to keep me riveted.

Can't wait for April, which is when Three Little Secrets will come out!


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