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Monday, July 9, 2012

More Than A Stranger

by Erin Knightley

When his family abandoned him at Eton , Benedict Hastings found an unexpected ally in his best friend's sister. Her letters kept him going--until the day he had to leave everything behind. Years later, Benedict has seen his share of betrayal, but when treachery hits close to home, he turns to his old friend for safe haven....
After five torturous years on the marriage circuit, Lady Evelyn Moore is finally free to live her life as she wishes. So when her brother shows up with a dashing stranger, she finds herself torn between her dreams...and newfound desires.
Despite his determination to keep Evie at a distance, Benedict cannot deny the attraction that began with a secret correspondence. Yet as they begin to discover one another, the dangers of Benedict's world find them, threatening their lives, their love, and everything they thought they could never have...

Book reviewed by Sara Anne Elliott
Characters who fall in love through letters is one of my favorite plot devices, so at the start of More Than a Stranger I was ready to love it unconditionally. However, as the story unfolded I found I couldn't completely ignore some of the weaknesses in the plot or characters, making this more of a mid-grade read for me.
Lady Evelyn Moore and Benedict Hastings began a correspondence during his early days at Cambridge, with their first letters being sharp tête-à-têtes with her trying to break his friendship with her older brother Richard while he was intrigued by the guile of a young woman writing to a stranger. Small excerpts from the letters open each chapter and through their words you see how each was opening themself up, forming a bond that was as close to friendship and love as possible though post. Sadly, when Benedict makes a choice about his future he severs all ties to Evie, leaving her stunned and betrayed by his actions.
I enjoyed Evie's character, a woman who was brash enough to write a young man and be as frank with him as if he were part of her own family. Yet for all of the bravado that Evie shows, she is quickly revealed to be a woman hiding her vulnerabilities and softer side. At twenty-six, she claims to want to put the marriage mart behind her and quietly fall into spinsterhood; however, inside she craves a relationship like she had shared with her pen-pal all those years past. When Evie meets her brother's “new” friend Mr. Benedict she is immediately smitten, wanting him to see her as a woman, and opening her heart to the flutters of romance that she meant to deny herself.
Benedict was a much harder character to like as he came across as ineffectual when he should have been intelligent for the line of work that he was in. For years Benedict has survived on his own, rarely forming new attachments. His relationship with Evie was supposed to stay a part of his past, something he could always look back on fondly but not anything to return to. During a moment of crisis in his life, Benedict turns to his oldest friend Richard Moore and they travel to Richard's family estate never thinking that the family may still be in residence. Benedict literally bumps into Evie and right away he does all the wrong things, lying about his identity and trying to keep her at arm's length when a part of him wants to hold her close. I quickly got annoyed with the back and forth of Benedict's feelings. One moment his honor, duty, and future are all standing in the way of their being together, the next he's spending time with her and encouraging her tendre for him all the while knowing that he's courting her under false pretenses.
Even though all of the component parts were there to make this a great read, the book never fully engaged me and I found myself putting it down for short periods before coming back to the story. For all of the positive traits that Evie displayed in the opening chapters of the story, at roughly the midpoint in the book she changes into an unforgiving shrew. Benedict, who wasn't the strongest of characters to start, became even weaker when all of his deceptions blow up in his face. It is a slow crawl back to the point where I wanted to see them both together again. The espionage plot that is running in the background of the story wasn't very interesting and it only reared its head when necessary to throw another roadblock between Evie and Benedict.
However, for as much as these parts of the book weren't my favorite, I do have to give the author credit for portraying more realistic reactions to the unusual situations the characters find themselves in. Most books would have the heroine just forgive the hero his transgressions because of that overwhelming love she feels and with a quick grovel on his part everything would be perfect again. In this book, Evie reacts with anger and a sense of wanting him to hurt as much as she was hurt. Benedict's apologies were heartfelt, with knowledge that he may have destroyed his best chance at happiness when making his mistakes with Evie.
Overall, with a strong start to the story and a satisfying resolution, I came away liking this book and happy to see Evie and Benedict slip back into the love they had shared before.


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