The Book of True Desires by Betina Krahn
Jove: August 29, 2006 (Historical Romance)
I discovered this little gem of a book while I was doing a little bit of weeding at my library. It’s always fun discovering a new author serendipitously and this one was a delightful surprise. The Book of True Desires was an absolute hoot. This was a tale of adventure and romance, and my absolute favourite part, how about a butler for the hero?
Cordelia O’Keefe is your average lady Indiana Jones (quite a feat in 1898) and is hoping to be off on a new adventure; however, this time she wants the support of her estranged grandfather. Cordelia’s grandfather isn’t exactly thrilled to see his granddaughter, he disowned his son when he married Cordelia’s mother. That said, the grandfather is a manipulative old coot and decides that if Cordelia wants his money she’s going to have to earn it. Only by locating the Mayan “Gift of the Jaguar” will Cordelia receive a penny, and she’ll have to take along her grandfather’s surly, proper, British butler to serve as financier.
Hartford Goodnight is not your average butler. He’s disrespectful, grumpy, and altogether too stuffy to be off on a jungle adventure. However, his employer dangles his freedom: find the cure for his gout and Hart will be released from his indenture. Now if only that woman weren’t leading the expedition.
The Book of True Desires was a fantastic adventure novel that moves from Tampa to Cuba and finally to Mexico. It was so entertaining to see Cordelia and Hart deal with one another throughout their adventure. Cordelia was an unlikely heroine. She wasn’t the meek and innocent miss that you associate with historical romance; she was smart and courageous and determined to make her own path in the world. Cordelia has been traveling for years and her adventures have graced the pages of famous magazines. It was utterly hysterical watching Hart deal with her “antics” and his constant shock at her actions:
“Try slouching a bit, will you?” she hissed. “You’re drawing attention.”
“Well, excuse me” – he stretched a defiant bit taller – “but my height is not exactly within my control.”
“You stick out like a sore thumb. If the soldiers stop you and find you’re carrying a pistol, they’ll arrest you.”
“A pistol?” He gave a “tsk”. “It so happens, I’m not carrying a gun.”
The news, delivered in his customary tight-jawed tones, rasped her last intact nerve. It was all she could do to keep from punching him.
“Then it’s a good thing I am.”
Hart stood immobilized, watching her head for the stone arch visible at the end of the street, grappling with the twin realizations that she had been serious in her suggestion that he carry a loaded firearm in the streets and that she was actually carrying one herself, somewhere on her person. He had difficulty swallowing. As if she weren’t already dangerous enough. (p. 57-58).
Hart, for his part, is rather ill-equipped for his jaunt in the jungle. Instead of the helpless female that you expect in the romance genre, you get the helpless butler/chemist/indentured servant. Hart does not adapt to jungle living quickly, he does not like the heat and he’s sea sick every time they board a boat. Quite frankly, it was refreshing to see a hero in this more secondary role and kind of unexpected in a romance novel that I would have labeled “old school” based on the horrible cover alone. But the real treat of Hart’s character is his journal recording their travel expenses; it’s that and more. In this journal readers are privy to Hart’s thoughts on the jungle, the expedition and Cordelia herself – they were highly entertaining, sarcastic comments abound.
January 24, Day 4
Bathing water for three: $2.00. Afternoon tea: $1.50. Dinner: ?
Found the university. Entire place could use a coat of paint. Found Arturo Valiente. More like a waiter than a professor, the way he dishes it up. Wretch pointed out there was a cat head in the drawings – DO SAY – then announced he was coming along to look for it. Tried in vain to get O’Keefe to see what a bad idea that is. He took us to a restaurant, fed us stuff that turned my mouth inside out, and introduced us to a Yank on the government’s enemy list. Place was raided by government soldiers.
Blasted woman really does carry a firearm – strapped to her thigh! Just yanked up her skirts and hauled the damned thing out!! I nearly had a heart attack. God help me – every time I close my eyes for the next month I’m going to see her naked leg (p. 75-76).
With asides like these, how can you not be entertained by this book? Seriously, if you in the mood for a great adventure story, you cannot go wrong with The Book of True Desires.
And on that note I simply have to mention the title. I have no idea how it relates to the book, which is my only gripe about the book. The title really doesn’t reflect the story at all. While I assume the title refers to Hart’s journal, I still think it could have been more aptly named.
The Book of True Desires was a book of pure escapism and one I would recommend if your looking for a romance with a heavy dose of armchair travel. I can’t wait to check out Krahn’s other adventure novel, The Book of Seven Delights (sounds like another bad title?).
If you like the armchair travel aspect as well as the antagonist relationship between the hero and heroine, Connie Brockway’s The Other Guy’s Bride is not to be missed. It is such a fun read! See my full review here.
For another armchair travel read, but one with a more tropical feel, I’d recommend Candace Proctor’s Beyond Sunrise. While I had some issues with this one, it is still solid romance story. Bonus points for making me think of warm climates while it’s -20.
Lastly, I’d also recommend Elizabeth Essex’s A Scandal to Remember. Who doesn’t love romance on the high seas? This one is definitely sweeter than The Book of True Desires, but it is another lovely example of romance in an exotic locale. And I thought the hero was rather adorable.