I became a huge (read HUGE) Wicklund fan a couple years ago after reading her then-obscure book 1 in this series. Great dialogue, interesting plots, & well-developed characters are to be expected from this author, & she usually delivers. Unfortunately, this book didn't meet my now-high expectations, although it's still worth reading & a better offering than many books out there. I would rather give this 3.5 stars, but Amazon is not that progressive yet.
James is a penniless Earl with a large family of dependents in need of a cash infusion. Amanda is the only offspring of a fabulously wealthy businessman. After being approached by Amanda's father, James agrees to meet Amanda to determine whether or not he might be inspired to marry her with the promise that, should he do so, he will receive a large fortune & be wed to the sole heir of an even larger one. The rub? Amanda has already turned down several marriage offers & will only marry for love. When she discovers her father's & James' subterfuge, can she be convinced that there's anything more to the arrangement than fiscal enticement?
Alright, here goes. (And Wicklund, you know I love your work...let's just get that out there first.)
The story focuses on the loss of trust and the difficult path back to restoration, & overall, Wicklund portrays said path quite honestly &, dare I say, even insightfully. Unfortunately, I spent the first three chapters or so simply bored. Had I not already been a fan, I might've given up completely. Finally I set the book aside hoping that maybe it was just my mood. I found myself annoyed by the amount of time skimmed over, effectively skipping the entire courtship & leaving me with no insight into the couple's relationship before their marriage. When I came back the next day, having allowed my annoyance to ease a bit, I found the book more interesting & quickly replaced my boredom with eagerness to see how the couple would overcome the difficulties laid before them (b/c, c'mon...we're all reading these books for the HEA).
James' live-in family were my favorite characters, especially his uncles. James was a little too bending (& ideal), while Amanda was a bit too exacting. Thankfully, Wicklund was very adept at providing their internal monologues, which helped take the sissiness out of James & the edge off of Amanda...somewhat. Wicklund's skill at character development saved them from being completely two-dimensional cliches. I can't say these characters are very memorable, but that also means they weren't terrible. James' cousin, Derrick, & mother were ignored in the Character Development Department, unfortunately. (If I have one complaint about Wicklund's stories, it's her tendency to NEVER explain why or how the evil settles in characters or where their motivations lie...but it's a minor complaint, so oh, well.)
The dialogue was generally strong with some cheesiness creeping in only occasionally. However, per Wicklund-style, the dialogue is stronger than the norm & really helps hold my attention with its believability. I cannot stand not being able to tell which character is speaking or having to suffer through childish, romantic inanities. Blech.
The plot was not the best (book 1, along with Lord of Always, remain some of my most favorite plots ever...of all time...yes), however despite its rather unoriginality, Wicklund works within her self-inflicted constraints to provide a well-developed story with good pacing & a rewarding conclusion. Whereas I might've been tempted to blow off the conflicts as immature, Wicklund manages to express why the betrayal of trust on any level is damaging to relationships. She managed to add depth to what could've easily been trite and cliche. I actually found myself highlighting a couple of passages to save for later. (Should I be embarrassed to admit that I occasionally find profound thoughts in romance novels? hahaha)
So, to wrap this up, although this isn't my favorite Wicklund book (& quite possibly my least favorite), it's still a pleasant read that can provide a few hours enjoyment. And it's still better than a lot of the options I've seen floating around out there. I definitely remain a huge (read HUGE) Wicklund fan.
This is fourth in a series of four:
1 - In the Garden of Temptation (The Garden Series Book 1) (Often free, so watch for it!)
2 - In the Garden of Seduction (The Garden Series Book 2)
3 - In the Garden of Disgrace (The Garden Series Book 3)
4 - In the Garden of Deceit (The Garden Series Book 4)