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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 7 September 2011
Leah George had only been married four months when she caught her husband with another woman in their home. Devastated she loved Ian and believed that he had loved her, obviously she had deceived herself. For a whole year she lived a half life, trying to carry on a normal existence. Ian still made love to her, she could smell the other woman's perfume on his skin. Here she was trapped in a marriage her husband loved another, she no longer loved him, her heart was broken. Then one evening waiting for him to return home, she is informed that he and his mistress have been killed in a carriage accident. Suddenly she is free, but now she is is forced to go through a year of mourning wearing black, just as much a prisoner as she was when Ian was alive. She decides to hold a house party, something which in her position would be scandalous. Leah knows she would become a pariah, but for once in her life she is going to do something she wants, Leah knows that people will accept her invitations, if out of nothing more than morbid curiosity. Sebastion Earl of Wriothesley was Ian's best friend he is outraged when he hears of the house party and determines to attend, even though he was not invited. He cannot allow Leah to cause any form of scandal. He has his own very personal reasons for this, that do not include any concern for Leah.
This is a first read for me of this author and boy oh boy was I surprised, this book was excellent. The plot was original I do not remember reading a period romance with anything like this storyline. We are introduced to the two lead characters gradually getting to know them as the story progressed. I loved the change in their feelings from hate, anger, to desire. The book was so well written and very well paced neither being rushed or dragged out, I was totally engrossed from the first page to the last.highly recommend.
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on 22 December 2012
I enjoyed this book because it was a different take on a typical historical romance - contains SPOILERS!

This story is split into 2 parts really, the before the wedding & after the wedding.

Briefly, this story starts wth the hero & the heroine married to their respective spouses; the husbands are best friends. Both marriages are shattered when a carriage accident kills both spouses. Sebastian is deeply in love with his wife, while Leah loved her husband until she found out he was having an affair over a year ago with Sebastian's wife! After the carriage accident, Sebastian realises that he was being cuckolded by his best friend, & approaches Leah to comfort her in her grief and ask her to avoid a scandal so that he can protect his son.

But Leah needs no comforting; she realises that her husband's death releases her from the restrictions and lie that she has been living for the last year.

In short, Leah decides to host a house party (terribly scandalous) so Sebastian attends to try & lessen the scandal. As the plot and house party develop, Sebastian fights with his increasing feelings for Leah and his grief for his wife, while Leah is enjoying her new found freedom whilst ignoring her feelings for Sebastian. Ultimately, Leah steps too far & she is then "ousted" by polite society and Sebastian leaves her to her own devices.

But Sebastian reaslises he can't let her face her scandal alone and so offers her marriage to repair her reputation - as he is an Earl & therefore she would become a Countess! Leah accepts because he proposes for practical reasons & says it has nothing to do with love; but, obviously, they rather satisfactorily fall in love.

I loved the way the relationship between Sebastian & Leah developed. This book was full of tension, frustration, grief and ultimately love. I read another review on this book and that reviewer stated that you witness Sebastian's grief but not Leah's; I don't think that's right, I think they both grief but in completely different ways, & although Leah believes she grieved for her husband & marriage when she found out about the affair, once she marries Sebastian you witness how much she has bottled herself up and how much damage her husband's infidelity caused her. Sebastian really has to coax her out of her insecurities and I think the way he is with her is so lovely :)

All in all a great book & I would definitely recommend it. I took 1/2 a star off because at times Leah pushed it a little too far for me, but a great attempt & I look forward to further works by Ashley March! :)
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on 20 October 2011
My first thought when I read the blurb of Romancing the Countess was that Ashley March was a very brave author. To build a romance story around widowed and cheated spouses finding their happiness with each other had so many dangers that I was very much curious to see whether she would succeed in pulling it off and how she would do that. I can tell you that she did and Romancing the Countess is a highly unusual love story.

Leah has been married to Sebastian's best friend Ian for years, but has been living the last couple years of her marriage as a torture, ever since she discovered her husband was having an affair - when she believed that their marriage was a happy one - and with none other than Sebastian's wife! All her young idealism and rose-hued love were shattered along with her heart when she discovered the betrayal of her husband. So when word arrives that her husband and his mistress (=Sebastian's wife) died in a carriage accident, she can't help but feel relieved. Relieved that she doesn't have to continue to live a painful lie, a charade in front of society and pretend everything is well between her and her husband. She relishes her newly found freedom and wants to experience her independence to the fullest.

This is where Sebastian enters the picture. Sebastian was and still is very much in love with his wife. Discovering her betrayal comes as an ice cold shower, he never saw it coming and has a hard time accepting it. I loved how Ashley March did not make him stop loving her wife upon the discovery of her adulterous behaviour but made it realistic, love can't cease instantly, you can't turn it off with a switch. His struggles with his lingering feelings of love and anger and grief at her betrayal were poignant. Sebastian fears that people will speculate about the unusual circumstances of the accident (=why their respective spouses were together) and he wants to present a united front with Leah so as to quell all speculation and not tarnish the memory and reputation of their deceased spouses. And he very much fears that Leah enjoying her freedom will make it obvious to everyone that she is not a grieving widow and people will jump to the conclusion which is the truth.

For this reason he tries to spend as much time with Leah as he can so he can keep an eye on her and stop any foolishness she might do. What he doesn't take into account is that Leah slowly but steadily starts to get under his skin. First it is her gaiety at enjoying her freedom then later a physical attraction develops between them which make him think more and more about her.

"I didn't kiss you because I wanted revenge on Ian or Angela. I kissed you because I wanted to. Because I wanted you."

"Do you like the dress?"
"Do I like it? No. Do I want to tear it off of you: Yes."

What was interesting is the way Ashley March explored how Sebastian and Leah dealt with their grief differently: Sebastian was devastated and enraged, while Leah wasn't grieving because of her husband's death, she did her part of grieving a few years ago when she lost her husband and her innocence upon discovering his deceit.

Leah's quest and need for independence was very sobering. We tend to forget that a couple centuries ago women were really considered property of their husband and father and were only "allowed" to do things if their husband saw fit to it. Ashley March did a wonderful job reminding the reader of the way things were back then and bringing such realism to it by making us experience these abstract notions through Leah's own personal predicament that the reader couldn't not get a taste of what it would have felt like to be a woman in that age. (And give thanks for enlightened men and living in a more feminist and equal opportunity world today.)

I have to applaud Ashley March for not writing a fairy tale too rose-y story of this setting. For not making Sebastian get over his beloved dead wife right after he discovered her deceit. His grief and suffering ensured the story remained realistic and believable.

I have to confess that I much preferred the second part of the story (the marriage of convenience part) to the first one when Leah and Sebastian were at Leah's garden party, and would have liked to get there earlier but I understand Ashley March had to build the foundation for that.

With such a setting I feared that it would be difficult if not impossible to believe that Sebastian a man who was much in love with his deceased wife would forget about her and fall in love anew, especially so soon. But Ashley March did it! She made me believe in it (though if a bit more time had elapsed after their spouses' death it would have been even easier for me to believe it).

Sebastian was a wonderful hero: intense and determined, his dialogues and declarations always gave me goosebumps:

"But I want to marry you, Leah George, not someone else. You see I've become rather accustomed to your smile. Even if it angers me when I'm so determined to be miserable. And I've grown to anticipate your devilish antics - it seems I like watching you enjoy your freedom as much as you like exploring it. " The love story between Leah and Sebastian was such a satisfaction because besides their love, Sebastian truly respected Leah and wanted to give her her freedom, so she could freely dispose of it. Which shows better than anything his deep understanding of her character and the depth of his affection for her.

Verdict: Romancing the Countess was an emotional read: don't expect to read it and not to be moved and unsettled, it will shake you up and stir you, but at the end you'll close the book with with a happy sigh. A quite unusual but well executed historical romance. Congratulations to Ashley March for taking risks and I can't wait to read more from her!

Plot: 8/10
Characters: 8/10
Writing: 8/10
Ending: 9/10
Cover: 10/10 - only one word: beautiful!!
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