27 October 2013

The Sum of All Kisses (Smythe-Smith #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

He thinks she's an annoying know-it-all...

Hugh Prentice has never had patience for dramatic females, and if Lady Sarah Pleinsworth has ever been acquainted with the words shy or retiring, she's long since tossed them out the window. Besides, a reckless duel has left this brilliant mathematician with a ruined leg, and now he could never court a woman like Sarah, much less dream of marrying her.

She thinks he's just plain mad...

Sarah has never forgiven Hugh for the duel he fought that nearly destroyed her family. But even if she could find a way to forgive him, it wouldn't matter. She doesn't care that his leg is less than perfect, it's his personality she can't abide. But forced to spend a week in close company they discover that first impressions are not always reliable. And when one kiss leads to two, three, and four, the mathematician may lose count, and the lady may, for the first time, find herself speechless ...

New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn's enchanting third novel in the Smythe-Smith quartet is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and tug at your heartstrings in equal measures.

Sarah feigned illness to get out of playing in the Smythe-Smith musicale (which, fortunately for her governess Anna and cousin Daniel, led into the love story in A Night Like This). The only way out of the quartet is marriage or death. Sarah, though, currently doesn't have any prospects of marrying before next year's musicale and wedding season is now upon her, first Honoria and Marcus (from Just Like Heaven) and then Anna and Daniel a week or so later. She's thrown together with the person she holds chiefly responsible for her unmarried state: one Lord Hugh Prentice, who was gravely injured in a duel with Daniel during her first Season and whose absolutely deranged father caused Daniel to flee the country in disgrace. It may be an irrational belief, but it's one she clings to.

Hugh, for his part, has put all the pieces of that night back together and concluded that he was as much at fault as Daniel. He made it possible for Daniel to return to England by holding ransom the only thing his father holds dear: Hugh's own life. If Daniel comes to harm, then Hugh will kill himself. The Marquess of Ramsgate cares only that Hugh live to continue the family line and so the tenuous peace holds.

For now. Hugh and Sarah gradually get past their prejudices. He initially thought she was a flighty, overdramatic ton miss; she let him know in no uncertain terms that she did not like him. Daniel, ever the instigator, coops them up in a carriage with Sarah's three younger sisters.  This is possibly the funniest scene Julia Quinn wrote in a very long time because Hugh and Sarah are forced to read a scene from one of Harriet's plays. Also, if you have any number of younger siblings and spent a long car ride with them you will find the dialogue in this scene to be perfect. When Sarah injures her ankle, Hugh keeps her company...and romance takes off.

There are a lot of lovely beats in this book. Hugh is a mathmatical savant, he counts things almost involuntarily. Sarah and Hugh dancing together when they have only two solid legs between them. But a lot of realism runs through The Sum of All Kisses, chiefly that the law is no protection from a member of the peerage with a sadistic bent. Hugh's father overshadows so much of the story that the ending, while satisfying, is tinged with bittersweet. Characters make decisions partially out of self-preservation when they would have freely made those decisions out of love. This is why I love historicals from Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Tessa Dare, and Sarah MacLean - they are breaking aspects of the genre and it brings up the quality of the storytelling. Speaking of Eloisa James - the cross-pollination that saw JQ's characters in Once Upon a Tower brings Gowan and Edie into The Sum of All Kisses. If you aren't familiar with EJ, I highly recommend her Fairy Tales series (standalones, so you can start with Once Upon a Tower if you wish, but then jump back to the first one, A Kiss at Midnight, which is EJ's take on the Cinderella story).

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