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Lady Wesley's Salon

Historical romance.

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The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #6)
Jennifer Ashley
The Shadow and the Star (Victorian Hearts, #2) - Laura Kinsale When Lisa Kleypas rates a book as a Desert Island Keeper, attention must be paid.

Our hero, Samuel Gerard, is a survivor of childhood abuse who has been rescued and reared by the wealthy Ashland family in Hawaii, then a kingdom. The family's Japanese butler, Dojun, helps this damaged boy by teaching him the techniques and philosophy of Eastern martial arts. Samuel becomes a skilled warrior, unbeknownst to the family, and works in the family shipping business. He loves his foster sister, Kai, from afar, but his training has taught him that his sexual side is dangerous and must be suppressed by self-discipline. (Note: Samuel is not a ninja; the word never appears in the book.)

In 1887 the entire family comes to London to celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, and Samuel has a series of chance encounters with Leda Etoile. He is immediately attracted to this genteel but impoverished seamstress, who works for one of the leading modistes. After she unfairly is dismissed from her job, Samuel hires her as his secretary. She begins living with, and treated as a member of, the Ashland family. Samuel and Leda fight their attraction to one another, but eventually Samuel seduces Leda. They are exposed the next morning, and the Ashlands persuade a reluctant Samuel to marry Leda, destroying his hopes of marrying his true love, Kai.

The action shifts back to Hawaii as Samuel and Leda journey there to set up their home. Eventually, Leda helps Samuel overcome the legacy of his abuse and become devoted, happy husband.

What I Liked
Samuel is a delicious hero: strikingly beautiful, fabulously wealthy, horribly tortured, but ultimately passionate. Leda is strong and proud and dedicated to helping her husband succeed in his personal and professional struggles.

There is lots of interesting detail about life in Hawaii, as well as London, during the 1880s, along with fascinating secondary characters. The Ashlands are not your typical Victorian family, which leads to often humorous scenes.

The love scenes are amazingly touching and erotic, particularly given that the two lovers are both virgins. Kinsale does not yield to the temptation, so often seen in other books, of making the couple suddenly adept at love-making on the first few tries.

What I Didn't Like
There isn't much to dislike, but the last few chapters involving a bizarre power struggle between Samuel and his rival are too long and rather silly.

I can do no better than to quote Lisa Kleypas:
I reread this book occasionally to remind myself of a few things . . . that a romance writer needs to push the boundaries of a story beyond what is comfortable, and to give the hero a necessary streak of vulnerability that will emphasize his strength. Exotic locations, colorful characters, expert writing, a tender love story . . . The Shadow and the Star has it all.