I know I'm cutting it close for May, but I finally got to Keishon's TBR challenge, which is a Regency for the month of May. (I'll try to do this earlier next month.) I chose A Magnificent Match by Gayle Buck because it occurs partially in Russia, has a Russian hero, and because the heroine is atypical.
Now, because you all probably know by now that I pay close attention to covers, I have to say that I hate this cover. The painting is terrible! The horses are nice, because they are important to the story, but the hero and heroine look old. Maybe the clothes are true to the Regency (I wouldn't know), but they don't look appealing to me at all. If I hadn't had someone recommend this book to me, I wouldn't have picked it up at the bookstore. The problem with a lot of these traditional Regencies is that they all look the same. There is nothing to distinguish them from the hundreds of others out there.
Anyway, to the story. A Magnificent Match is the story of Megan O'Connell. She is an 19-year-old Irish girl who is the youngest of four children. Her father is one of the few Irish families to hold on to his lands, and they supplement their income by breeding horses. The people in her family are all selfish and live separate lives. Her father is wrapped up in his horses, her mother in society, spending most of the year in London. Her oldest brother is married and following in her father's footsteps. Her sister fell in love and eloped with a man no one else can stand. Megan's brother Colin is now a captain in the Lifeguards. Everyone else, and especially her mother, is so wrapped up in their own lives that Megan is virtually ignored. She's 19 and she hasn't had a Season, and the possibility does seem that probable.
So when the opportunity arises to visit a friend of her mother's, a princess who once visited London, in St. Petersburg, she decides to make the most of it. This is where I decided I really liked Megan. Here is a heroine, who rather than martyr herself to her family, decides that she has to be like them or she will end up miserable and un-cared-for. She manipulates her mother very adeptly into paying for a new wardrobe for herself and her companion, gets an expert maid to accompany them, and convinces her father to extend her a letter of credit. She proves herself to be resourceful, clever, and realistic, yet still behaves within the mores of the day. All of this means that I can forgive her for acting like a teenager a couple of times later on, especially since she still is one.
Megan visits St. Petersburg, is a great success, gets 11 proposals, none of which she accepts. The princess gets mad at her for not marrying one of them, and sends her back home. It's only when Megan is being sent away that her son Mikhail realizes that he has feelings for Megan that are more substantial than he has felt before. Here's another thing I liked about the book. Mikhail is a prince and we are told that he has had many lady friends over the years, but we aren't bashed over the head with it. In fact, I don't think he is once described as a "rake".
So Mikhail follows Megan back to London. The romance between them is very well-done by the author. It is clear they both have feelings for each other. Megan doubts that Mikhail really loves her, but she's not one of those "I'm not good enough for you" heroines. Their courtship plays out across the London Season.
There is also an interesting secondary story between Megan's oldest brother and his wife Sophronia, who have been estranged. I liked Sophronia, who learns to stand up for herself. It was also refreshing to see an author describe a troubled marriage where things weren't solved overnight.
Usually I prefer a little sex in my romances. I lean toward steamy stories most of the time. I have a few Regencies and other "sweet" romances on my keepers shelves, but I don't search them out. This book is definitely "kisses only", but I still felt the romance and the connection between them. With their positions in society and with the time period, but mostly because of their own characters and how they were presented, I didn't mind at all.
I don't usually grade books that I read. If I want to read them again, I keep them (if I bought it) or I purchase a copy (if I got it from the library). If it was really good, I'll add the author to my watch and buy lists. If I don't keep a book, its probably a C grade or so. I guess my absolute favorites are A's. This is probably a B+/A- book. I really enjoyed it, but it doesn't quite measure up to my absolute favorites. I will definitely read it again.