by Lynne Connolly, historical (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-683-3
Orlando Garland - you can stop screaming now, girls, it's Garland, not Bloom - needs a companion for her sister Perdita. Poor Perdita had a riding accident the year before, resulting in both her legs being broken, and she hasn't walked since then even when both her legs have healed. Orlando hopes that a woman of her sister's age will help poor Perdita become her old self again and rejoin Society. Therefore, he finds himself interviewing one "Miss Lambert" for the job.
"Miss Lambert" is dowdy and plump, but in reality she's Violetta Palagio, the beautiful (of course) daughter of an infamous (and very successful) courtesan Donata, or La Perla as she is more popularly known as. Growing up in her mother's household, Violetta has gained the sobriquet "La Perla Perfetta" due to the mask she always wore when her mother had, er, guests. She didn't take part in the business, what with the mask being a way to protect her from unwanted advances from men, but the mask also gave her a mysterious appeal, hence the sobriquet.
Violetta decides to be "Charlotte Lambert" for her job because this is part of the plan to allow Violetta to have a respectable life since no one has actually seen her face apart from her mother and a few trusted close friends. On her part, Violetta has mixed feelings about being a courtesan's daughter. She believes that she is fine with her mother being who she is and in a way she respects her mother for making something for herself in a time when women have very little opportunity to do so, but a small part of her is hesitant and even ashamed to go about openly in public as La Perla Perfetta. Still, she is grateful that her mother's money allows her to try to find some semblance of respectability in life.
Anyway, back to Ms Lambert's new job, Violetta reveals a natural affinity to help Perdita walk again. You know these heroines in this kind of stories, they always have some kind of Magic Healing Heart ability up their sleeves when it comes to this kind of thing. However, her disguise doesn't fool Orlando and things get more complicated when both employee and employer start making eyes and more at each other.
A Chance To Dream alternately delights and perplexes me. Despite the familiar premise, this story is quite refreshing in that both Orlando and Violetta are refreshingly honest about being attracted to each other. Orlando isn't offering marriage - that comes later - and Violetta is pragmatic enough about who she is not to expect more from him. Whether she will accept what he offers is, of course, up to the reader to find out because I'm not giving away everything about this story.
Orlando is on the whole an interesting hero because he's a nice guy but he's nice without being bland or wimpy. He behaves like a man of his time but at the same time he can find humor in a situation to laugh at himself. I like him - he's pretty adorable. Violetta is also a refreshing heroine who for the most part has self-awareness and brainpower. She's not some silly ninny willing to make a martyr of herself in the name of love. However, Ms Connolly often makes her characters do bizarre things, such as Violetta deciding to auction herself to the highest bidder at her mother's place just because she feels that Orlando is challenging her to do so when it's clear to everyone that she cannot follow through. Even more unfortunate is how these out-of-character moments of bizarre behavior move the plot along.
Still, this is a fun story to read despite its occasional bewildering antics of the characters. There are some really amusing moments of comedy that catch me by surprise and make me laugh and yes, I like the characters despite some of the things they do in this story. I have heard plenty about this author and her previous books had me wondering what the big deal is about her. With A Chance To Dream, however, I may just start to believe what I hear.
Oh, and isn't the color combination of the cover marvelous? I tell you, if Anne Cain's covers are real life guys who move in next door to me, my marriage is going to be in big trouble.
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