TBR Day. To Love a Thief / Julie Anne Long. 2005

Today is TBR Day and the theme of the month is urban fantasy, paranormal, SFR, fantasy. But I honestly don't have any of that in my TBR pile. I like some of those once in a while, but I'm pretty much a historical junkie and when I went to the shelf, that's all I found. Interestingly, as I was composing this review in my head, I was thinking that this book has a bit of a fairy tale quality to it. The AAR review called it a Pygmalian story. So we'll pretend this book qualifies for this month's theme because it skirts the very edge of fantasy with an engaging, but rather predictable plot involving a girl living in the slums who is rescued by a hero who just happens to need rescuing himself. Sound familiar?Here is the blurb from the publisher:
Lily Masters has a gift for picking pockets and telling stories—skills that come in handy for surviving London’s slums. She’s proud of providing for herself and her lively young sister, Alice, and she’s never been caught. Well, there’s always a first time. Gideon Cole is a brilliant barrister with an unfortunate weakness for clients who can’t pay. His latest charitable misstep: buying the freedom of a daring, beautiful thief. To repay the debt, Lily agrees to his proposition: pose as the object of his desire and help him snare a wealthy bride. All he has to do is transform the impudent Lily into a diamond of the first water. But the education of Lily could cost Gideon his carefully planned future. While she plays cards with his invalid uncle and Alice charms the servants, the honorable Gideon is harboring less than honorable thoughts. For sweet, stubborn, and sensual Lily has a way of slipping past a gentleman’s defenses—especially when she’s stealing his heart!
That's actually a pretty accurate description of the book. Lily lives a hand-to-mouth existence in St. Giles although she and her young sister were being raised to be gentlewomen when their parents died. Left with nothing, Lily has no other choice (short of prostitution) but to resort to theft in order to buy food and shelter. There's a well-written scene between Lily and Gideon when he questions her morals and she asks him what he wouldn't do for his own sister. Lily is a character who has had to make some hard choices. They may not be "right" ones, but they've allowed Lily and her sister to stay together and survive day-to-day.
As I said above, this really is a familiar plot. Gabriel catches Lily in the act of picking his pocket. She escapes, but is caught again by someone else a day later. Gabriel happens to be nearby and in exchange for the last 30 pounds he has in his pocket, he takes charge of her. He discovers that she'd been educated and so he makes a bargain with Lily. She will help him snare the wealthy bride he's interested in and she will regain her freedom. Lily and her sister Alice go with Gabriel to his uncle's home in the country where Lily learns how to navigate in society. While there she falls in love with Gabriel. Then they go back to London where Lily triumphantly enters society only now Gabriel has to decide what it is he really wants out of life and who he wants to spend it with.
If you're a Regency purist, you'd hate this book. There are some title usage errors that even I noticed. It's a little too easy to introduce Lily to society. A house party is planned and the chaperone seems an after-thought. Stuff like that was bothersome. But while I did note these things, I still found myself really enjoying this. I accidentally left it at work the other afternoon and nearly talked myself into turning around and going back for it--I was very upset with myself. Truth is, Ms. Long has an engaging voice. She lets her characters' dialogue and actions move the story forward so the book doesn't get bogged down with too much introspection. Also, I really liked the depth of Lily's feelings for Gabriel: she loves him and continues with the plan to help him win the bride of his choice because she wants him to have what HE wants, even if it may not be the best thing for him. Gabriel thinks of things much like a man of his era would have--why can't he have both his bride and his Lily as a mistress? It's certainly the example he grew up with. So that part felt true.
In the end I do recommend this book. The fairy tale feel and entertaining voice made it an enjoyable read.

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