|Donna Birdsell: The Painted Rose|
Berkley Sensation (Paperback), ISBN 0425198049
Arts, flowers and desire come together beautifully in The Painted Rose, the debut novel by Donna Birdsell. The story focuses on Lucien Delacourte, once the favorite painter of the King of France, who flees penniless to England to escape the memories of his dead wife and daughter. He hires himself on to teach painting to the sister of the Earl of Darby.
Lady Sarah, betrayed in love, hides her face behind thick veils. Resigned to a life alone, she spends her days in the gardens, until she meets Lucien. But how could such a gifted painter love her ruined face? And even if he did, what could they do? A high-born lady should not love a painter.
Birdsell takes the old story of tutor and student and breathes new life into it. Sarah emerges as a talented and passionate young woman, forced to play the recluse through the power of her own fears. Lucien too hides behind the pain of his loss so that he misses out not only on love but the joy his painting once brought him. These two people, damaged by life, teach each other of the healing power of love.
Yet the book offers much more than the love story between Lucien and Sarah. Birdsell creates a host of memorable minor characters both in the Darby household and the local town of Whitford.
Chief among them is Sarah's brother James Essington, the Earl of Darby. Haunted by guilt for his role in the accident that disfigured Sarah, he hires Lucien to teach Sarah to paint. James loathes his wife Julia, and his own love story plays out in parallel to that of Sarah and Lucien. In fact, his story held more interest for me. I knew how the story would end for Sarah and Lucien; the only question concerned how they would get together. James's story was the wildcard, one that nevertheless played an integral role in the central plot. He would make a convincing hero in a romance of his own.
Birdsell possesses a fine sense for weaving together the lines of a story, which complements her skill for creating sympathetic characters. Only one questionable plot twist, later explained away but not to my satisfaction, marred an otherwise delightful book. Birdsell has written a novel about the pain that comes with love but also the power of love to heal. Sophisticated, intelligent, and deeply felt, Birdsell's novel promises and delivers a truly fine read.
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