Pros: Great use of humor, good depiction of attitudes of the time
Cons: I would’ve enjoyed just a touch more tension between the two
Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
Rafe Ramsey is not looking forward to the upcoming marriage that his brother, the Earl of Axebridge, has set up for him. The terms, once he found out about them, incensed him so much that to escape for a while, he is going to Egypt in search of Ayisha Cleeve, who disappeared six years ago. When he arrives in Egypt and finds Ayisha, he is amazed to find instead of a pampered, frightened girl, a young woman with honor and courage who has survived on the streets using her wits. It is up to Rafe to convince her to return to England with him, to be reunited with her grandmother. But the more time he spends with Miss Cleeve, the more fascinated he is by her. And when she risks her life to save his, will they be able to deny the attraction that is rapidly blossoming between them?
If I were a cat, books that deal with Egypt would be my catnip. I was so excited to find Anne Gracie’s To Catch a Bride in my review pile, and promptly dove right in. When I did, I found so much to enjoy besides just the setting. One of the first things that stood out to me were the supporting characters. Ayisha’s young friend Ali reminds me so much of any young boy eager to learn, and her protectress Laila, despite the situation she finds herself in, is full of wise advice and well-placed moments of humor. Even some of the British characters are full of surprises, such as Mrs. Ferris, who joins Ayisha and Rafe on deck to defend the ship during a pirate attack. This is not a novel where each character behaves in a predictable pattern.
One of the other things that I enjoyed immensely were Gracie’s touches of humor scattered here and there throughout the book. My husband and I were reading together, and I kept interrupting him to read a tidbit that was so funny it made me laugh out loud. He enjoyed them too. One memorable exchange, for example, occurs while Rafe and Ayisha are in quarantine together. Ayisha is sleeping on the floor in an attempt to convince Rafe that there is no need for them to get married because nothing happened while she was in his room nursing him back to health. Rafe joins her on the floor, and she tells him several times to get back in bed, as he tries to convince her to take the bed. No sooner does she give in than he slips in beside her, pointing out that she had told him several times to get back in bed. There was another hilarious exchange at the end of the book where the merits of a lady riding a stallion versus a gelding are discussed. I still laugh when I think about that one.
Another element of the story that was less enjoyable but still very well done was the depiction of British attitudes towards Arabs and people who have “gone native”. Baxter a British gentleman, has “gone native” and immersed himself in Egyptian business and ways of life. He even goes so far in the book as to marry an Egyptian woman. Yet when Ayisha mentions him to people on the boat or in England, they are disparaging of him because of the way he’s chosen to live his life. This was the prevalent attitude of the time, and Gracie does a good job depicting it; it’s just unfortunate to me that it was the prevalent attitude.
The one thing that I thought could have been improved upon was the way that some of the romantic tension dropped away between Rafe and Ayisha. After she locks herself in with him during a bout of extremely bad fever which the ship’s passengers are convinced is plague, everyone except Ayisha (Rafe included) believes that Rafe and Ayisha are going to be married. Ayisha’s protests count for very little. Again, I realize that the propriety of the time dictated that they be married, but it seemed like such a foregone conclusion that the tension decreased significantly for me.
Despite that one little hitch, I enjoyed this book very much. It was lovable and laugh-out-loud, full of heart and of memorable and interesting characters. I’m looking forward to looking through Anne Gracie’s backlist and hopefully finding other gems that will be as wonderful as this one was.